Monthly Archives: May 2014

Trading in the dogs

I spoke to my neighbor yesterday over the terrace wall and I told her that I was thinking of trading in the dogs for a vegetable patch. When I saw her later on the street, as we were going for our nightly walk, she stopped me and asked if I was serious. And she said didn’t you bring them with you all the way from America? I assured her it was just a joke, I would never trade them in. She seemed relieved. Sometimes, my sense of humour loses a lot in translation. When people asked me what I was going to do to celebrate my birthday I said that I would be going to down to the AOW (like Social Security) office and signing up for my pension. People very seriously told me that you don’t get your pension until you are 68 and that I couldn’t just go and sign up now. This leads me to a couple of conclusions. The first being that I am not always as funny as I think I am. The second being that the Dutch really do take you literally and I need to be aware of that.
I am sitting on the couch listening to an album of all rockabilly versions of Ramones songs. Yeah, the Ramones being played on a banjo. It is fun. This might be something I need to incorporate when I go on tour with my banjo. Speaking of banjos, during my lesson this week I lost my temper with myself. My teacher, Paul, must be used to teaching frustrated children because he immediately told me not to get upset, not to expect myself to learn everything perfectly the first time. I actually yelled “SHIT” in the middle of our lesson. I get so busy with thinking about what I should be playing, chord changes, etc that I forget to just play. I do too much thinking. Like all good teachers, he’s always got something to fall back on and it went better the second half. He also told me that the next day, Hemelvaart, there was a bluegrass festival in Utrecht. To be exact, the first Bluegrass Festival of Utrecht.
I asked my cousin, Sjoerd, if he wanted to go. I have slowly been exposing him to banjo music, rockabilly, country and stuff like that. Heh, it is a subversive action. He was up for going and we took the train to Utrecht. We had a great time despite the weather. It was so inspiring to see people play the banjo live. Of course, there were other instruments, but I was focused on the banjo. I met some other banjo players and in October, I will be going to Banjo Camp in Germany. I am excited! The festival was in an old land house called De Parel van Zuilen. It was really beautiful, it reminded me of Frankendael. One things for sure, when I go on stage, I am definitely going to have to dress up. I am already starting to imagine some of the great costumes I can put together.
Friday I was back in Utrecht. I needed to take Astrid for a drive again to charge up the battery. Which reminds me that this week I really need to find a SAAB mechanic because her belts are squealing something awful and I smelled burning coolant. I was in Utrecht to meet with a family that has started a small vegan cooking and catering company as a way for their daughter become more included in society. The young woman doesn’t speak and she has some other challenges but cooking is her passion. Her whole family is oriented around healthy, vegan stuff. And I went to meet with them to figure out how we can work together. I am very interested to see how that is going to turn out. I know the family because the father worked at my local Ekoplaza until today. He’s now going on to be a mediator and advocate for people with disabilities. I supplied his older daughter with scobies from my super scoby from Goldfinch Kombucha and she is brewing away. She also makes kefir. They are a really neat family and inclusion is a big deal for them. Apparently, here in the Netherlands, because there is insurance and a social care system, most people with disabilities like their younger daughter’s are cared for in institutions.
My secondary mission in Utrecht was to hang out at the Intratuin. I was on the hunt for hostas for the front beds since they don’t get much sun. Hostas were also some of my mom’s favorite plants. I spent 3 hours in the Intratuin. I got the hostas. I also rescued some plants out of the plant hospital and I hope I have half the luck with them that my mom used to. While I was looking around, I came across a camellia that had her name. Seriously, it was the camellia Mary Williams. I didn’t know what to think. I just stood there staring at it until I took a picture. I also got a chimenea from Mexico. My mom and I used to talk about them and look at them at Fred Meyer and never buy one. So I did. Looking at it reminded me of the times that my mom and I had in Mexico and how much she liked it there. I figure they probably also have chimeneas in Ecuador but she didn’t get around to getting there. And because I just can’t handle it, I bought a frame and dirt so I can build what’s called a stairs vegetable garden on the terrace. It won’t take up more than a square meter of ground space because it goes up like a staircase. I have to grow some vegetables. After all, something has to keep the Weibe-dori tomato plant company! And I bought copper tape because like the Pacific Northwest, those juicy brown slugs are always here after the rain. They are super slimy! I had to pick them off the Weibe-dori and even after washing my hands twice, my fingers still had slug slime on them. Yum. Maybe you could hang wallpaper with it!
Today’s Saturday and the last day of May. Henry and George had an appointment for a bath and nail trim this morning at 9AM. They look very handsome with their big red bows on their collars. And since they have only been on the leash today, they still smell clean 🙂 After that start to the morning, I went to the farmer’s market at the Noorderkerk to get fresh veggies. I haven’t been in a couple of months. All the lovely greens are coming in, the basil, the arugula, stop me now. I managed to control myself and only bought one bunch of each and some asparagus since the season will be over soon. Green asparagus is cheaper than white which is fine by me because I like the taste of the green better. Most people here prefer the white asparagus. I also went to the baker this morning and got some amazing rolls. I am really grateful that I do not have to follow a gluten free diet!
From the market, I pedaled over to Rollende Keukens festival to meet up with Joanne and Pieter and their in-laws from the north. Highlights of the festival include: the eggplant tempura, the rabarbcello (which I bought a bottle of), the vegan ice cream (I went there twice) and ending the afternoon on the terrace. The rabarbcello is a distilled from rhubarb. Like limoncello but pink. You drink it very cold and it is super yummy! I have it out of reach of the boys because you never know with these two! I also took home a slight sun burn. I think it might be worth my while to invest in a cool hat for summer.
Tomorrow I will get busy with building my staircase garden. I would like to say I am just going to veg out but I think we know that is not going to happen! And this time I will remember to water the plants in the front. Even with all the rain we had this week, they are under the overhang so they don’t get any rain. Which might also explain why I always see my neighbors watering their front patches. You think? Right now I hear my mom saying” For someone so smart…”

Oh for stylish raingear

Well,it has been raining since 3pm this afternoon. Just a steady, steady rain that alternates every now and again to be more forceful. Yesterday I rode to work. Weather in the morning was fine but by 5pm it was not so nice. And the weather radar showed rain until 10PM which was too long to leave the boys home alone. Of course, I didn’t have a jacket, I was wearing summer clothes and I also didn’t have an umbrella. Sometimes the only thing you can do is throw yourself into it. Which is exactly what I did. If I only had the foresight to bring along laundry detergent, I could have done my laundry as well. By the time I got home, rain had even soaked through my recycled rubber laptop bag.
So, where am I going with this? Well, obviously I am now in the market for some very lightweight and functional bike raingear that can pack down to the size of space blanket. I guess in a pinch I could use trash bags as I saw some enterprising fellow cyclists doing. Ideally, it would be something I could leave on my bike all the time. Of course, leaving stuff on your bike is an invitation to lose things. Of all things, Eliza has had her 1 euro HEMA seat cover stolen twice.
I debated going into the office tomorrow but the forecast is showing more of this lovely pisweer (translation Piss Weather) so I think I will give that a big skip. I expect it will get nicer in time for the weekend. We’re going to take a day trip somewhere on Thursday in honor of Hemelvaart. Saturday the boys have an appointment at the dog wash at 9AM so that will pretty much ruin Henry’s weekend. George will be happy because he likes the attention. And then he especially likes the chance to roll in something stinky to cover up the lingering smell of soap. I know how this goes!
Another banjo lesson tomorrow. I am looking forward to it. Last week was very challenging because I was listening to the voices in my head instead of the music. I am working on trying to meditate those “helpful” inner critics right on out of there. Too bad you can’t stick your anxieties and stressors in some sort of mental health craigslist!
A birthday card came in the mail today. From my dad. It is the only card I got this year because most people are electronically oriented now. I was glad to get it. I save cards. A card still gives a better way to experience a memory than reading something on a screen. I know, could I be anymore old fashioned? I was raised on cards and letters, from my Oma and Opa on the thin, onionskin airmail paper to cards and letters from Joanne covered in stickers. And all the cards from my mom. I am glad I have so many paper memories.

Lazy Sunday

Let me say first off that the most strenuous thing I have done to today is take a long walk with the dogs today where I let them direct the pace and not the Fitbit. It is just after 7PM and I have made and eaten my salad for dinner (minimal work) and am sitting down now with a cup of coffee. I think I actually took two naps today. It was a late night last night, cycling home around 3 so my schedule is a little off.
This past week has been a particularly busy one. It is near the end of our fiscal year so from now until about the 30th of June, everyone is in “this must be done” mode. In addition to Monday’s daylong customer event, I had another one Wednesday where the folks didn’t leave the building until 830PM. Plus here when it is your birthday, it is expected that you will bring some cake or something to work. So Wednesday was also the day that I brought three cakes into work. This would have been an occasion where a Costco would have come in handy. Instead I went to the bakery and picked out three cakes under the guidance of the counterwoman. The cakes here are not large, smaller than your regular pie just so you know. Apparently, they were good because one person came back four times!
Quite a birthday week. On Tuesday itself, I celebrated by going to my banjo lesson and then later on to the community yoga class that I participate in. And the boys each got a whole egg to themselves as their birthday treat. On Thursday, I met up with Eliza because her birthday was Friday so we sat on a terrace and drank fancy gin and tonics. On Friday, I escaped north to the peace and quiet of Pieter and Jo’s garden in Schagen. It was so calm and nice to be out of the city for a bit. The boys worked on their tans while we sat around the table drinking very good white wines and eating super aromatic and yummy Moroccan food. Technically, Schagen is about 40 miles from Amsterdam but it feels like another world.
It is starting to get very busy here, with the tourist season and it seems that everywhere you go there are massive groups of people and big double decker busses full. Not to mention all the people on rented bikes. It is good that people want to come and see the city but I really wanted to be out of the way, so that you don’t feel like people are waiting for you to leave your terrace table so they can grab it (which they usually are). Hence sitting in the garden in Schagen felt like a holiday.
Marianne’s birthday is Tuesday and she always celebrates at the same place. She asked me if I wanted to come and we could jointly celebrate our birthdays. What a great idea! A party that all I have to do is show up with a gift! That was last night and we managed to stay outside for most of it, the weather held. I met a lot of her friends and family. One of her friends that I had met once before and had a long talk about organic gardening brought me a tomato plant that he had started from seed. It is the Pomodori variety and I have it on the terrace in the sun. I will have to stake it this week. I thought that was such a cool gift. And in honor of the giver, it is a Weibe-dori tomato plant instead of the Pomodori.
Now you know why it was 3AM and I was cycling home earlier this morning. It is really great to be able to do that. One of my coworkers came last night and she brought us each a bouquet of flowers so there I am, with my Weibe-dori plant and my bouquet and gift in the basket, with my purse wedged in along side in my party clothes on the bike. It is so much nicer than having to worry about taking a taxi or driving. As long as you can find a place to lock up your bike, it is all good.
I biked twice last week to work. The second time I had a headwind. Which I told myself would give me an extra boost on the way home. Instead the wind changed direction so in the afternoon I had a headwind as well. With this warm sunny weather, it is hard to find more time on the bike a bad thing.
I know it is Memorial Day weekend in the US. And of course, I can’t help but notice people walking around with white shoes. Even though those rules don’t apply here. I have also noticed the white pants coming out. For the life of me, I have nothing but sincere respect for those people that can wear white pants without getting any dirt on them at all. I don’t know how they do it and I do know that I can’t. I’ve also noticed that there is a peculiar color here that seems to be a cross between a red and a fluorescent orange making it a kind of coral for lack of a better term. It is a very popular color for men’s shorts and pants. I have noticed a definite trend in the number of men wearing these color shorts. I will have to ask Sjoerd if he has a pair, he’s not afraid of bright colors!
Next weekend is a four day weekend for most people. Hemelvaart is Thursday so then most people have Friday off. My only grand plans include renewing my museum card and maybe taking a day trip to the beach with the boys. It will depend on the weather. Oh yeah and going to the Rolling Kitchens festival for a day. That would be basically a food truck festival. I am curious to see the differences.
Thanks to my dedicated reader who collected a few hotel toiletries on my behalf during their recent jaunt to France! I can now keep a set in my locker at work and have an effective shower 🙂

Waiting for a text message

Twice a year in Seattle, I used to attend a week of really intense sessions that I would laughingly call “Nerd Camp”. My mom would call it “Tech Wreck” because by about Wednesday, I would just be cranky and suffering brain meltdown and over stimulation from networking, dinners and roaming around the convention center with 5000 other attendees. My mom could be counted on to send me text messages during that week. She would sent me messages like “Is your ass numb yet from sitting on those chairs?” and “Will you be unpleasant by the time you get home or will you leave it at TechWreck?” Those messages never failed to make me laugh. Every time I go to any kind of training event that involves sitting listening to speakers and watching demos, I still keep an eye on my phone waiting for a text message from my mom. Something suitably obnoxious that makes me choke back my laughter and act like I am just coughing. I am sitting at one of those events right now and the phone is unfortunately still and my ass is definitely numb from the sitting on the benches.

Beatrix and I made the commute this morning. It was a gorgeous ride. It is about 71 degrees today so this afternoon should be a great ride home. Of course, I knew I would have to be dressed appropriately today since we are throwing this technical event. We have showers at work, unisex. I knew from a coworker that I would have to bring my own towel. I was prepared to do that. I didn’t realize I also needed to bring my own soap. Although when I think about it, from the thrifty Dutch perspective, I can see that expecting people to bring their own soap makes sense. Kind of like how you pay for condiments here. Too bad I don’t collect hotel toiletries any more, they would be useful to keep in my locker. I will work something out.

I had a very calm weekend. On Saturday, we tried the bike again. This time I used the seat belt fasteners for the car to secure Henry and George to the side of the basket so they stayed put. We went to Frankendael Park which was another place that my mom played “I could live here” and where we had her memorial dinner last year at the Restaurant Merkelbach. Dogs are not allowed off leash at Frankendael except for in a restricted area. I thought I could sit under a tree and struggle through the Dutch paper while the boys played nicely with other dogs. Well, I didn’t get much of the paper read. Henry likes to help me mark my place by sitting exactly on the page I am reading. My scary dragon cat, Mikha, used to do this too. It was one of her delightful characteristics and I am pretty sure that she was whispering in Henry’s ear, instigating the habit. Kind of like how she sends Moortje messages from the great Cat beyond and gets him to run around the house at night talking. She passed Mother’s Day 2010 after an 18 year reign of terror. After an hour or so of trying to read the paper, I gave up and we got back on the bike.

Saturday was Rupert’s birthday. So, to pay tribute to his ability to eat fried food, I went to the FEBO (the snack automat) that sits very close to the Amstel river. Sitting on a bench overlooking the river, I toasted his birthday with a small order of fries. It has to be the nicest view for a fried food dinner in the city. There’s this ritual of doing the diagonal at FEBO which I would never try. It basically translates to eating one item from every window down the diagonal. I think this is on Rupert’s bucket list. And I expect that he will be able to do it.

Today is Joey Ramone’s birthday. He would have been 64 today if my math is correct. Wow. Still love the Ramones.

Friday night

and here I am sitting on the big orange couch. Henry is passed out on the orange armchair and George is curled up on their blankets. It is light here until about 930 pm and a perfectly sunny day. I am so tired after this week that I am happy just to be home. I know there will be many more days of beautiful weather so I am not forcing myself to hunt out a terrace and sit tonight. I have had the feeling all week that I am somehow running a day behind. I had a moment of panic today, convinced it was the 17th and it is not. Rupert’s birthday is tomorrow. So I didn’t miss it. Rupert and Meredith will be coming to visit me in August so we’ll have to celebrate then. My mom was always in the habit of celebrating her birthday on a different day, the 4th of July instead. But I think you know that story already.
Speaking of my mom, Rupert called me earlier this week because he had finally gone through his voicemail box. In all of his messages, he found one from my mom that he had never heard. I think that’s a really perfect gift because it was one of her funny ones. And yesterday, on my way back from work meetings in Groningen, I stopped by Marum to spend some time with mom. The tiny church will be open on the 25th of this month so I will go back up there. I am curious to walk around the inside of it, knowing that as a girl my mom might have done the very same thing since they lived there for a while after the war. That would be World War II.
An email came today with an offer for 29 euro fares to Paris on the high speed trains this summer. Of course, there are like three tickets per train available, you have to book between 82-90 days out, you can only wear the color chartreuse and other assorted special conditions. But seriously, for 29 euros each way, who wouldn’t want to go to Paris for the day?? The high speed train takes 3 hours and you definitely can’t drive it for that. Filling up Astrid is around 75 euros each time, about $100. Gas is between $10-12 per gallon here. Yes, you read that right, I did not make a typo.
I was in the center of Groningen yesterday – coincidentally so was the king but we didn’t carpool. It is very cute. I feel like if I didn’t live in Amsterdam, Groningen might be somewhere I could be interested in. I am going to have to explore it more thoroughly. It has the old canals and canal houses as well but they are quite a bit more affordable than Amsterdam. My favorite clerk at the Eko-Plaza (I supply his daughter with kombucha scobies from Goldfinch Kombucha in Seattle) told me that Groningen also has a swinging music scene and the people are very cool. I am fine with where I am today. I think I play a bit of the same game as my mom did – the “I could live here” game.
Henry has decided to grace us with his presence and is now trying to distract me from typing so I can pay proper attention to them. Tomorrow I think I’ll do a bit of deadheading all the pots and cleaning up the terrace. And then I think we will try the boys on the bike again. I have an urge to go to Frankendael Park and it would be nice to do that via the bike. This time, they will be wearing seatbelts!

Checking In

Yesterday was pretty difficult. I think about my mom everyday, not just on Mother’s Day but all the same I was glad to wake up and have it be Monday.
Yesterday was also a day that I made the poor choice to take the boys on the bike because I needed to have Astrid jump started since she had been sitting too long in the garage while I was gone. I discovered this on Friday when I was trying to go to work. They didn’t have anyone available to help since it was such a busy morning at the conference center. On Saturday, the one guy that has the keys to the closet where the jumper cables are stored had gone home for the day already so that left us with Sunday morning in the pouring down rain. Thinking I could get us there faster if we took Beatrix, I put the boys in the basket and jumped on. Well, half a block into our journey, George was perched on the rim of the basket and I went over a big bump and he fell out. Of course, the rear tire going over the big bump had me convinced that I had run over George. But he was fine, just shaking and scared. No yelps or howls and I checked him out thoroughly for broken bones and sore spots. Of course, after he got done shaking, he was right back to peeing and trying to eat chicken bones that someone had thrown out. So, he’s okay and after about 4 more years of intense therapy, I might eventually get over it too.
Anyway, after driving 30 miles or so on the highway to recharge the battery, I got gas and jumper cables on the way back. I also need to sign up for the Dutch equivalent of AAA. Especially since I have to go to Groningen again this week.
So, Chicago. It went by so quickly. When I arrived at O’Hare, I was greeted by my very own orange wearing entourage holding up posterboard signs saying (in Dutch) “hand over the cheese or Rupert will start cutting it”and “give up the cheese and no one will be hurt” – it was cool. And we recycled the signs for Cedric’s arrival 90 minutes later. As kids we made signs for my Oma and Opa’s arrival every year. My mom would encourage us to work together which was only moderately successful because as the oldest, I had very clear expectations that my brothers should just do what I told them to. I’d like to say that this has changed as I have grown more enlightened but really it hasn’t. It would be so convenient if they did what I told them to but they rarely do!
We had alot of time with each other and my dad. I think it went pretty well, considering the circumstances and the mix of personalities. It also helped that during all of the wedding events we were seated at the same table so we had to work on getting along. Funny moment, I didn’t recognize Cedric and Dylan with hair gel. I have never seen them that way. I think the best part of the visit was when we were all sitting on Rupert and Meredith’s balcony before the wind out muscled the sunshine.
I did get a banjo strap too! Made in Chicago from recycled seatbelts from the Old Town School of Folk. And I got a chance to play a few measures while I was “making sure the strap would fit a banjo properly”. That was my cover story and they bought it. Who knows, maybe by the next wedding I go to, I will be able to serenade the party with things like the Wedding March played on a banjo!
It is nice to be home so I can squeeze all my pets. Of course, since I have been back it has been raining every day which is not so great. I am ready for some warm and dry weather.

Going home

I’m sitting in the KLM lounge, waiting for the call to board. I can see the big 747 right in front of me and I am watching the loading process of cargo with an air of nostalgia. Seems so long ago that I too was a ramp rat. Loading the airplanes, running around with a set of light wands in the pockets of my coveralls, perfumed in Jet A (aka kerosene) and generally cussing up a storm and paying no attention to the state of my hair. Years later, I still don’t worry much about my hair, my sense of smell has recovered from the exposure to jet fuel and I still have a pair of my light wands in the storage closet.

Leaving here is a little bittersweet. I had to get out of the car before I lost my composure and cried on Rupert, Cedric and Meredith. We had a super dinner last night at The Chicago Dinner (slogan Meat free since 83) and spent the evening watching House Hunters International and creating stormy digestive clouds. Those are the things that we consider family bonding.

It will be good to be home. And I have 14 packs of tortillas with me. So, we are good until my next trip to the US in July. I can’t wait to hug the pets and to get on my bike. And to go back to shopping in tiny grocery stores. I had information overload in the pharmacy here and in the grocery stores. I have a new found appreciation of how BIG everything is in the US.

Anyway, I’ll write more in the next few days. The wedding survived us 😉 and we did okay with each other. I think Mom would have been proud because I remember her saying after Thanksgiving to the oncologist that all her kids had gotten along for the day and even if they were faking it, that just proved they could do it.