Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The next Van Gogh?

We've had beautiful weather this week, and today was especially nice. So, I decided to take advantage of the 70 degree weather this evening. I grabbed a book and made my way over to a park near my house which overlooks a tree lined canal and beautiful 150 year old homes. As I'd read, I'd occasionally look up and watch a boat or two pass by.

At one point I glanced down the walkway and saw a man looking upward intently and wiggle his index finger in the air. I looked around to see if there was anyone on the other side of the canal that he could have been motioning to, but no one was looking in his direction. As I sat there watching him wiggle his finger, step back, move forward again and wiggle his finger, sit down on the bench behind him, stand back up and wiggle his finger in the air, I decided he must be painting the sky.

I couldn't help but smile while watching him, and wonder not only what his masterpiece looked like, but what it actually was he held in his hand and smoked as he admired his creation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

... and a bottle of Rum

There's no "Yo, ho, ho-ing" on this boat though. When I first saw the boat from afar I thought it could be a pirate ship, but when I mentioned it to a colleague he laughed and said it was a replica of a trading boat from the Dutch East India Trading Company. I gasped, "What? No Captain Jack Sparrow??" --what a disappointment. Then I remembered my great, great, great... grandfather was in the trading business and it no longer mattered that the ship didn't house pirates from a time long ago. (Although it does make it a bit cooler thinking that ships just like that one must have been taken over by pirates from time to time, right?)
So yesterday a friend and I went to explore how life was for a seaman. The boat really was quite neat. We both decided we could have sailed the 7 seas when the boat was operational... until we saw all the varmints that also inhabited the ship at that time. I personally like my food and living quarters bug and rat free.

The captains living quarters was on the upper deck, and it was uncomfortably hot in there... a good place to be in the winter, but not in the summer when the weather is nice. Most of the beds in there were the size of beds toddlers sleep in, but that was customary in the 1800's in all of Holland. Plus, the height of the room probably measured 3 feet max... talk about feeling like Alice in Wonderland. I decided the captain would have spent a lot more time in his office quarters since it's cooler, and he could stand upright.

The bottom of the boat is where they kept all their cargo, and where I'd have spent my nights during the summer (since the temperature was nice and cool)... had I been a sailor by trade.

I did try my hand at a few things, just to see which position I’d have wanted had I been a sailor. Steering the boat would have been neat, although you can’t see in front of you. Due to my naivety, I still can’t quite figure out how you’d know if you’re steering in the right direction or not. I assume they have navigators for that, along with help from the men on the masts. So, I made my way over to the ropes that lead to the mast. (I'd rather see where I'm going and navigate than be a blind driver). It came clear to me at that point that I’d either have to overcome my fear of heights, or I’d have to choose a different job.

I wouldn’t want to be chef (the kitchen was the size of a closet) and I really wouldn’t want to be the one with a mop and bucket cleaning the deck. I then spotted a cannon and had an “Ah-ha!” moment.
I knew what my role would have been on the boat. I would be extra help to blow up the bad guys, …and during times of tranquility I’d set up a hammock and relax. There couldn’t be a better job than that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Out to lunch

As I walked down the street today, I realized how American I am when I questioned how a business can survive if they close for a few weeks while the owners are on vacation. Once they return, how long does it take for their business to make the same profit it made before they left?

There are three restaurants around the corner from my house that are closed for at least 2 weeks for the summer holidays. Of course it's a common thing in Europe, since I've read about it in my travel guides... but it's still a difficult concept to wrap my head around. The longest I've seen a retail store closed during business hours is for 30 mins when they were out to lunch.

I guess this is more proof that we Americans love to overwork ourselves.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The day we took over the nursing home...

A man from my ward, Roelf, works at a nursing home nearby the church and asked the missionaries if they'd like to sing there. They readily agreed and quickly recruited a few other voices to join... including mine.

After figuring out which songs we'd be singing (along with deciding which songs would be in which language) we did a run through practice and were off. My friend Mathea and I arrived at the nursing home first and helped Roelf set up the seating. He spoke of the priest who comes to the nursing home every Sunday and wondered how the priest would react when he found out we were singing there. He then smiled and asked, "How about a little Mormon Tabernacle Choir to get things started?" Next thing I knew the entire building was filled with the voices of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir streaming through the loud speakers.

When the men and women were being helped to their seat, Mathea and I started talking to them. One of the ladies looked at my stilettos with wide eyes and said, "You'd better be careful near the tram tracks, otherwise you may get stuck." I smiled and thought, 'well, if they did get caught, I wouldn't have as far of a fall as I had the last time.'

Once everyone arrived and all the elderly were in their seats we performed a few songs for them. One lady had told us before we began that she used to sing in a choir, and while we were singing she was tapping her feet and waving her hands in the air as if she were conducting. There were also a few people singing along to the hymns that they recognized. I couldn't help but smile as I looked at all of them. It was great to be able to provide them with a little bit of enjoyment... along with practicing my ever growing language skills.

--- Oh, the priest came in half way through our performance. It looked as though he enjoyed it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let there be light!

I'm not hard to's the simple miracles that make me happy.

Since the first of April when I moved into my apartment until this week we have had no working lights in the hall. It was a bigger issue than just changing the light bulbs or flipping a switch on the circuit breaker. There was a wiring issue. Since the issue required an electrician along with a large sum of money, it took a while for the two other apartment owners along with my landlord to find a good deal to fix it.
For the past three months, the stairwell leading to my apartment has been dark. I'd use the dim glow of my cell phone to light my way as I'd stumble up the stairs. (Note: normal stairs in the Netherlands are slightly steeper than those you'd find in the US).
Once I arrived at the top I'd use the small light, which I had purchased the day I moved in and attached to the door frame, in order to see where the keyholes are. If I had friends visiting I'd make my way up first and turn on the small wall light so that they could somewhat see where they should place their feet on the stairs.

Then this week, just like magic, the lights worked. I would have never known (because I had stopped testing the lights) had my neighbors not been walking in the same time I was. Their 4 year old sounded more excited than I was when he saw the stairwell lit up.
It was amazing to really see my hall/entryway for the first time. Although the main thing I noticed is that it needs a good floor sweeping. ...That's something you just don't see well in the dark.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tuppence a bag

Pigeons. The most common bird in any big city. The bag lady fed them on Mary Poppins and it’s Bert (from Sesame Street's) favorite animal.

To me, those facts just aren't enough to justify a parent letting their baby crawl amongst the (and I quote my mother) "disease infested animals." In all actuality they may not hold a single disease, but I was brought up to think otherwise.
In the Dam, a huge square where the Queen's Palace is located, pigeons congregate in the thousands. There is also a large tourist population there at any given time of the day. Why they roam among the birds and allow their children to handle them is beyond me. But I wouldn't pass up a good Kodak moment.
As for me, the only interaction I ever have with the pigeons around here is trying to dodge them while on my bike, since they love to walk on the bike paths. … and that is how I'll leave our relationship.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whatever the weather...

This picture was taken today: July 8, 2008. I live in the northern hemisphere which means: it's summer. That's what dawned on me as I was looking around today. It's summer, but everyone is wearing a jacket... and light scarves even. I myself have on long sleeves and wore a jacket outside. Today was a crisp 61 degree summer day. I don't mind though. At least the temperature hasn't been in the 90's, like my US counterparts have been experiencing for the past few weeks. Actually, the temperature has never reached higher than 82 degrees since I've been here. Surprisingly, I don't miss the summer weather... (which may be due to the fact that there is no pool or warm ocean nearby).

However, it does pose just one question in my mind. We use the term "Indian Summer" for unseasonably warm weather in the fall, but what is the term for cold weather in the summer?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Zaanse Schans

... is not something I can pronounce very well. My mispronunciation proved most unfortunate when asking for directions to get there. While saying "Zaanse Schans" with a wonderful American accent, the person I'd be speaking to would stare at me quizzically for a few seconds. As I repeated the words, the person would lean their head closer to me, concentrating on what I was trying to say. Then as realization washed over their face they'd say, "OH! Zaanse Schans!"

Zaanse Schans is a cute milling village, a little over an hour north of Amsterdam by bike and two ferries. It's not a very pretty bike ride up there, since you pass an industrial area the majority of the way, but the village and the town of Zaandijk (right next to it) are very nice. I knew it wasn't going to be very scenic getting there, since my friends N.J. and Matt had gone to Zaanse Schans by bike when they were here visiting, but seeing their pictures of the village made me realize it was well worth the ride.

As I rode into Zaandijk the smell of bread filled the air, and then as I was searching for the ferry, the smell of chocolate took the place of the bread. I ended up passing the ferry due to the hidden path to get there, and found a very cute bakery which sold THE BEST chocolate filled croissant. It satisfied the craving I received due to the smells in the air. I knew then, that although the town was one I'd love to live in, I would never allow myself to. I just wouldn't be strong enough to fight the temptation to eat bread and chocolate every minute of every day due to the wonderful smells that filled the air. I was actually quite surprised not to see anyone overweight as I rode around... what will power!
After getting pointed in the right direction, I found the ferry and finally made it into Zaanse Schans. Windmills line the water's edge, and there are a number of houses turned into museums that showed what life was like in the late 1800's. There was a wooden clock museum, an Albert Hein (grocery store) museum, clothing museum, cheese museum, wooden shoe museum, bakery museum, and the list goes on. And once again, I'm grateful for having invested in a museum card, since I was able to get into each one for free. All in all, it was a very pleasant and relaxing day trip... one I'd recommend.