Monthly Archives: August 2014

I’ve got shots

I have to say, the idea that a doctor comes to your house and gives you vaccinations on a Sunday afternoon without a surcharge strikes me a big mark for civilization. I had a quite a cocktail today of immunizations. Yellow Fever, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, hepatitis A and to be followed with anti-marial tablets starting the day before I go and DEET spray against the bugs that carry Dengue. I feel more adventurous already just with the vaccinations!

After cocktail hour, we went for a long walk because it was momentarily dry and the boys had been waiting patiently all day. Today we had two young businessmen come to the door. Well, to the stoop in front of the door because Henry scared them with his barking. They were about 8 and they were interested in doing chores for ice cream money. I was very impressed and gave them the recycling to take out and bring back my carrier. Which they did. They were thrilled with the 2 euro coin I gave them. They couldn’t believe their good luck. I hope that whenever they get their ice cream, it is good. Of course, one scoop is about 1.50 euros so they still had to earn some more from my neighbors.

I have been practicing the banjo more regularly since I have some free time. It is coming along. I think by Wednesday’s lesson, my teacher will be able to tell that I have practiced.

I have been doing some research today on Ethiopia so I can have somewhat of an idea of what to expect. Tomorrow it is off to get the visa. And once that’s done, then travel can be booked. Oh, and during this week I have to pull together everything that I am going to be teaching for a week. It is a good thing I can improvise when necessary.

I am trying to strike the balance between my mom’s method of travel and mine. To prepare just enough without building up too many preconceived notions or anxieties. Mom always had me to be her logistics coordinator so she could just have big dreams about going and what she might see. I have to figure out how to fill both roles – dreamer and logistics. I will let you know how that goes!

Eliza is back in Amsterdam tomorrow night for one last work thing so we have plans to meet up. I am looking forward to it. It seems like everyone else I know right now is either just leaving for vacation or going within the week so it will be quiet around here for a few weeks. Hah, that sounds like I am Super Socialite. Definitely not!


Empty House

This morning, I dropped Rupert and Meredith off at Schiphol for their flight back to Chicago. It seems so strange to be sitting here on the big orange couch with just the dogs. The boys are in their post dinner coma so if it wasn’t for the sounds of the neighbors next door, it would be completely quiet. After the past couple of weeks of having the house filled with laughter, voices, burps and other noises, it seems really different.

They should be landing soon in Chicago, in about an hour. Never let it be said that I stop being the big sister that needs to know exactly when people have made it home safely. I did manage not to cry this morning when I dropped them off. Partially because I basically kicked them out at the curb and squeezed them both twice really hard and told them something along the lines of “get lost”.

We have had so many great adventures over the past few weeks. We saw the Netherlands in miniature at Madurodam. When we were kids, my Opa would take us there and walk with us patiently among all the buildings. We were four adults this time (even Joanne) and we all loved it. For sure it gave us lots of inspiration to see other things in the Netherlands like the castle Muiderslot. We visited castle Muiderslot yesterday morning, a mere 15 minutes from my house and had enough time to explore before I had to be back for my banjo lesson. It is a castle that originally dates from the 12th century but was rebuilt in 1370 – so modern you know! My favorite fun fact was that Dutch people used to sleep sitting up because the belief in the 16 and 1700s was that if you slept lying down, you could lose all your brains. Children were allowed to sleep lying down because they hadn’t yet developed the ability to reason. Followed closely by the fact that the beds had a cord you could pull and it would open a ventilation panel in the roof of the bed to let all the collected gases and aromas out that people generated during the night.

We also explored Haarlem while they were here with the dogs in tow. Haarlem was so cute that I needed a dose of speed metal or other antidote to the cuteness of it. If I decide to leave Amsterdam, Haarlem would be high up on the list of places to go. Tiny little car free streets with houses that are so old. The New Church dates to 1646. Then around corners are these little cafes and restaurants just tucked in somewhere under the wisteria and the planter boxes. Seriously, it was so cute it was killing me.

We also went to Alkmaar that same day. High up on the cuteness factor as well. We had dinner with our Dutch family at a little Italian restaurant called Mamma Peppino’s. The food was so good we stopped after the pasta course and went to the dessert course. We never even made it to the meat/fish. I was the designated driver so I only got to sample sips of the wine. Don’t feel sorry for me though, I made sure I enjoyed my dessert and my personal pot of espresso.

And on other days, we stayed in Amsterdam and we had leisurely evenings eating Indonesian. We also tried out bowling which was HILARIOUS. We also went to De Parade. When I was there with Marianne, we kept talking about the coupe de compress – the cotton candy hair. I completely misunderstood Marianne and thought we would have to go to a hair salon to have it done. No, they were doing it right there on the grounds under the tree with a couple of air compressors. Meredith and I had to do it! It was so awesome. We wanted to go back the next day and have it redone again for our family dinner party but they weren’t open yet, which was a big disappointment. We both had towers of hair standing up. Of course, Meredith has much longer hair than I have so her cotton candy hair was amazing. They don’t use any gel or spray or anything, strictly an air compressor. Can you guess what I might be buying myself for Christmas?

I picked up my new passport this morning. Sunday the doctor will come to the house and give me my vaccinations for traveling to Ethiopia. Monday I will pop down to Brussels on the high speed train to get my visa in person. That is the closest Ethiopian consulate. And it is first come first served so I intend to be standing on their front door before they open. I have been doing some reading on Ethiopia and it sounds like I am definitely going to be in for an adventure!

I returned the loaner bikes today that my corner bike shop had fixed me up with. If I was really Dutch, I would have found a way to ride my bike while towing the two loaner bikes. Instead I walked in between the two bikes and got there more slowly but with less damage to anyone passing by.

Going into the office tomorrow and as long as the weather holds, it will be a bike morning. It will be good to see my coworkers again too. It is almost too quiet right now!

Changing of the guard

Or at least the houseguests. After train rides to Paris and Brugge and a trip on a tour bus to see the wind mills, the Move Goddess and Rose Princess returned to Seattle. Currently, the guest suite at Hotel Small Dog is occupied by Rupert and Meredith. Or perhaps I should refer to them as Lead Instructors from the School of Chillaxing. In other words, they specialize in the cross disciplinary study of chilling out and relaxing. They are a good influence.

This time last year, my last little bunny passed away. She was well over 12 and the last of the 5 Mom and I had rescued. She went in her sleep overnight and is buried in Lawyerella’s backyard along with her sister, underneath a fig tree. Today is also the 12th anniversary of Ninja’s passing. He’s the Akita we grew up with. As my mother was fond of saying if she had to do it all over again, she would have had four Akitas instead of four kids!

Today Eliza left Amsterdam, going back to the proper city of London. We had a last dinner on Wednesday at Café Goos a few blocks away with her friend, James and Rupert and Meredith. I know our table was laughing for hours. I am not sure if all the other tables understood all the crazy stories from the overgrown kid in big boy pants (Rupert). And this morning James came to drop off Eliza’s bike, two boxes of tea, a bottle of vodka and a bottle of red wine. I didn’t really think today would actually come but it did.

In a couple of weeks, it looks like I will be going to Africa for work for a week. I think it was sort of a case where I definitely leapt without looking. However, I think it will come out okay. At any rate I will end up with more story material! I will know more next week. This is not something I had anticipated but hey, with some serious vaccinations and a visa (which I will have to go down to Brussels to get) I will be ready to go. After all, it has rained here all day and it will be nice to get somewhere warm.



Oh la la…

Paris today with the Move Goddess. We took the high speed train from Amsterdam Centraal. Those great deal emails from the Dutch Railway always reel me in and indeed, that’s how I had found tickets to Paris. Paris is so much larger than Amsterdam. It is beautiful in a very neo-classical way but so enormous compared to Amsterdam. And I will admit to missing the Dutch sense of orderliness and organization. I did get a chance to try out my high school French, which was fun.

My mom moved to Paris when she was 18. Being there today, I gained a new appreciation for her frequent references to having to learned to drive in Paris and so she was therefore unafraid of anything on the road. Looking up at all the old buildings with their garret windows reminded me of her stories of the families she was an au pair for. Having to go all the way down to the ground floor to use the bathroom and the overly friendly mannerisms of the men in Paris. I could imagine her there as an 18 year old, rebelling against the structure of the Netherlands and living in her little apartment. Of course, she didn’t stay an au pair for long, she went from there to working at the Dutch embassy. Definitely a wise career move.

After walking from Gare du Nord to Montmarte and wading through the tourists lined up for Sacre-Coeur, we had a lovely lunch of crepes in a tiny creperie up high above the city. And although the throngs of people were less than a block away, you couldn’t hear them at all. It was delicious!

Earlier this week, we had a little urban adventure. Rather than throwing my guests into the madness that is biking to the Centrum, we have been taking journeys with increasing amounts of traffic and stuff going on. On Wednesday, we rode to the Centrum and met up with Joanne and Eliza at a very special brewery, De Prael. From there, we took a walk through the famous red light district, while savoring bonbons from Puccini. And after souvenir shopping, we went to dinner which was really great. It was an evening full of laughter and good conversation. And I enjoyed seeing so many people from different parts of my life interact.

Rupert and Meredith arrived this evening after stopping over in Dublin for the day. We will pick them up tomorrow and then get on a big tour bus going for 6.5 hours into the country side, stopping at wind mills, a cheese market and a historic fishing village. You could say I am really getting my inner tourist out. I am looking forward to it, strangely enough. It will be really good to squeeze my little brother. And to seeing Meredith be the voice of reason for all of us.


Playing tourguide

Saturday evening I went to de Parade with Marianne and Joris. They graciously let me crash their date. It is in a park and it consists of various tents that offer all different kinds of performances. You can listen to the introduction or preview outside of each tent and then decide if you want to buy a ticket and see the whole thing. And in between are all kinds of food places and wine stalls. You can eat and drink really well. My favorite was the Silent Disco. At first I thought this was a really weird concept and there was no way I was going to do that. Then I realized that I should just try it, no one knew me so what the hell? Silent Disco is that everyone wears headphones through which music is played by a DJ just like a disco and you all dance in silence in a big cage. Here’s what it looked like…


The Move Goddess and her BFF, Rose Princess, arrived Sunday morning. Right now, the two of them are organizing my terrace, pruning back the hydrangeas and generally turning it into something from “House Hunters International”. I tried to half heartedly redirect them but they were on a mission. So, I am sneaking in a quick blog post!

We picked up their bikes today and took a familiarization ride through the park. I am not ready, as responsible tour guide, to throw them into the mess that is biking in the Centrum. We will need a bit more practice tomorrow first and perhaps they will need a couple of beers and then we’ll try the chaos.

Today was a trip to the Rijksmuseum where I left them so as to go on to my banjo lesson. It was a great lesson today. My teacher remarked that it went really well and what had changed about me? Heh. I guess the secret was that I didn’t get mad at myself every time I made mistake today, I just kept going. Oh, and at one point, I asked him to stop playing along on the guitar so I could concentrate. He took that pretty well.


Things that make you go hmm…

Wednesday morning I needed to be in Groningen for a customer presentation. I had to be there by 9 which meant being on the road by 7. And of course, I woke up at 230 from a nightmare and couldn’t go back to sleep. I dreamed that men in black sort agents were stealing my mom from me. When 3 AM rolled around and I was still awake, I fired up the Nespresso maker and started working. Of course, by the time I got to Groningen, I was ready to fall back asleep.

Fast forward through a four hour presentation and I was back on the road. I stopped by Marum to have a talk with Mom and to deadhead the flowers. And I stopped for coffee and a piece of appeltaart before getting back on the road, knowing that sugar and caffeine would surely see me through. I started falling asleep behind the wheel. Not even the usual tricks of windows open, radio blasting and sitting in uncomfortable positions were helping. It was getting pretty bad. All of a sudden, I felt Astrid being pushed. I thought it was just the wind or a passing truck. Then the radio started going crazy and spinning through the stations without stopping. At this point, I am doing 100 km/h or about 65 so I am at pretty steady clip and still nodding off. Without any warning, the engine stops just as I reach the top of a bridge. Like no power to the car, no smoke, nothing. Well, as you can imagine I got such a surge of adrenaline that I woke right up and proceeded to coast as long as I could on the shoulder.

Once I stopped, I tried to start her up but nothing happened. I started dialing the mechanic and I was kicking myself for procrastinating having signed up with the ANWB (the Dutch AAA) and a bright yellow truck from the Rijkswaterstraat (Water Management Ministry) pulls up. Apparently he had seen things start to go awry on the bridge. We agreed that this was a weird circumstance and there isn’t much he can do to help me except tow me to the truck turnout a couple of kilometers away. Which he does. Now I am in the truck turnout where truckers sleep and motorists stop to eat picnic lunches and pee behind the trees. I called the ANWB and asked if I can become a member? She’s very helpful, signs me up and tells me there will be a truck to me within 60 minutes and they will decide from there. It won’t be a tow truck though, that only comes if the first truck says it is needed. I grind my teeth and say thanks. So, I have an hour. I am not going to hang out with the truckers so I get back in the car and go to sleep.

An hour later, the ANWB truck comes and he starts looking all around the engine. He gives me a jump start (not needed at this point) and says he will follow me all the way to Amsterdam. Okay, I think, maybe we can just go straight to the mechanic because I have a feeling this is a problem. Barely out of the turnout and Astrid stops again, same thing. This time, after much hammering under the hood, he says it is the dynamo (the alternator) and he can bypass it so I can get to the ANWB garage or I can go on to Amsterdam. My choice is the garage. I should mention that he is still helping me even after I hit him full in the face with my laptop bag and knocked his glasses off as I was trying to get it out of the passenger seat to make room for him. Not my smoothest moment. He hooks up a bypass thingie to the battery and hangs it inside the car and tells me to follow him.

We get to the garage finally – 30 tense minutes later and they go to work. Needless to say I am wide awake now. It is 6 at night and I am thinking I better find a train and the dogs won’t get their dinner on time, etc. Turns out it is not the dynamo but rather the negative cable that runs into it was broken off. So, they make and connect a new one. And it costs me nothing because I am now an ANWB member.

Two observations: I was super grateful for their service and told them so. If I think about it, I think Mom had something to do with the cable because I was really doing something dangerous and I just been talking to her at the churchyard. There’s plenty of things I don’t understand about the world but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Astrid’s short circuiting and power failure had a little help. It certainly got my attention and woke me right up.

It also could have just been sleep deprivation but if I think on Eliza’s Lion King theory about who the stars really are (people who have gone before us and who can still see us), then it fits. Regardless of Mom’s influence or not, I am so glad I did not have an accident and hurt someone.

Yesterday I got a notice in the mail that my street parking permit has finally been approved. Yahoo! It was a 16 month waiting list so this was very unexpected. Mostly, I will keep parking in the garage, especially now that Astrid is renovated. It is nice to know that I can park in my neighborhood without paying if I want to.

The Move Goddess and her best friend arrive Sunday morning. The guestroom is ready, the dogs have been reminded to behave and tomorrow I will go to the Noordermarkt to stock up on healthy good food.

Have to go feed the boys dinner. I swear they have watches hidden somewhere. How they know it is just before 6PM and their dinner time beats me.


What time is it, please?

I was up at 346 AM local time and wide awake from that point on. I fired up the Nespresso and moved the boys out to the living room and got to work on my presentation for this morning. I have a feeling it might take me a day or two to get back to the cycle. I did manage to sleep on the plane yesterday so that might also account for some of the wackiness. And yesterday, I rode my bike of course back and forth to meeting Eliza.

When we were flying out, I spent the whole time from takeoff to over the Canadian border staring out the window in awe at all of the mountains and the beauty of Washington state. I wanted to imprint it in my memory. Especially flying past Mt. Baker and looking out over towards the San Juan islands. That stretch from Seattle north to the border is really gorgeous. I’d like to discover more of it so next time I am back in the 206, I want to do some exploring.

The flight was fine, other than the toddler that cried the whole flight in our row. Delta hands out complimentary eyeshades and earplugs now and I made extensive use of both. I think I was so relieved to be let on the plane, nothing was going to bother me. My passport expires at the end of September and I ran into a bit of a hassle. The check-in agent was being told by the system not to let me board because of the expiration date – which completely doesn’t take into account enough logical variables. Like for example that you have an appointment to renew it in the country you are currently living in. Instead, it assumes the worst. However, it was finally resolved when it was pointed out that the Netherlands is the country lets me in and the one I have a valid residence permit for. The US is the one that has the passport rule but I am exiting the US so who really matters in this question? Exactly.

I had a super brunch at Cafe Flora before I left. Yum, I ate really well in Seattle. And I didn’t even go to all of my favorite veg places. After all, I should save some for the next visit. I went to the movies, American style, which was fun. It was definitely easier to appreciate Seattle more this time. I think when I was there in January, it was too soon after the move to really have missed it. Sitting at Lincoln Park, looking at the ferries leaving from Fauntleroy is still something I really like to do. Of course, I would have liked to let Denzel offleash as well but that wasn’t allowed. Silly rules.

Speaking of being away, all the pets are doing well. I didn’t even get the usual standoffish routine from the cats. You know, the “Who are you and why should I care?” attitude that cats give you after you have been gone for awhile. However, two days ago the boiler stopped working so I have to make arrangements to have someone come and look at it this afternoon. I did take a cold shower last night and it isn’t something I would like to incorporate into my regular routine!

I want to share some pictures. I think that when you see them, you’ll get a good sense of why America has the reputation for doing everything bigger. It is kind of overwhelming.

This is one slice of pizza. The iPhone is in the photo so you can get a sense of how big that slice really is!
This is one slice of pizza. The iPhone is in the photo so you can get a sense of how big that slice really is!
Just your popcorn and drink combo at the movies. That's a 54 oz soda! And I think they even give refills.
Just your popcorn and drink combo at the movies. That’s a 54 oz soda! And I think they even give refills.