Sunday, November 23, 2008


I have recently rediscovered the soundtrack to the musical Wicked. Lousy book, but fabulous Broadway production. Much to my surprise, the boys have taken to it like mad, and won't let me play anything else. They have memorized the track numbers of all their favorites and shout at me in the car, "play number 1, play number 9." Even Charlotte shocked us the other day but screaming out, on exactly the right note and beat, "DAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY!" (the last word in a particularly rousing song, "One Short Day." We just learned that Salt Lake is on the upcoming tour next spring, but after getting a busy signal for three hours we concluded that all the tickets had been bought by scalpers. Luckily it's still in LA and San Francisco, two cities we still have ties to, so we've got a good plan B.

So just what have we been doing?

Frankly, it doesn't seem like too much, and yet I remember a steady stream of "hurry up, we'll be late!" and "you need to do X, and Y now, because later we've got to do Z" coming out of my mouth.

Charlotte wins the prize for most drama as of late. We had noticed a strange growth on one of her toenails. Pediatrician referred us to a dermatologist who said it needed to be biopsied. So after a shot in her toe and having most of the nail scraped off, I took a screaming child and a sample of bacitracin home to await lab results. Whatever it was, and they never did figure it out, it's benign, for which we are grateful. Now we wait to see if she will ever have a toenail regrow on that toe. I hope so. As I said to the doctor, "I know this is vain, but when she's a teenager she's going to want to paint her toenails and wear cute sandals."

Carden and Seth finished a session of swimming lessons, and both passed to the next level. This is major cause for celebration since I have shelled out $30 for Carden to take Level 3 at least four times, in addition to a couple of bouts of private lessons.

We have contributed three stray cats to our local Animal Control office this month. Naturally most of this happened while Tyler spent his usual week in Japan. Animal Control only collects the animals--they don't actually catch them. You, the tax-paying citizen get to put down a $75 deposit for the privilege of setting a trap in your backyard and capturing the critter yourself. We had a couple of false starts when I set the trap incorrectly, and the cats enjoyed a free meal and waltzed off. Then one cat somehow got trapped in our garage. I moved the trap into the garage and loaded it with food, but that dumb cat sat under the van and stared at it for 24 hours until I finally had to open the garage to get the car out and it escaped. On the bright side, I haven't noticed that one in the yard lately, so maybe it learned its lesson.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Netherlands Day 6 (last day) -- Amsterdam

We rousted ourselves out of bed and made our usual morning run to the bakery, indulging in cherry tarts and apple dumplings since it was our last day. And then, off to the station and Amsterdam. This picture isn't so good because of all the morning fog, but this is David and Julia's house. The single window at the very top is the one bedroom in the attic/loft-type space that they so graciously let us use (two floors above the bathroom!).

On a whim, we opted for a canal bus tour, hopping on and off the boat as it circles some of the larger canals. Other than poor Vid being target practice from a passing bird, it was great fun to see the city from the water and a nice rest when we didn't want to walk so much.

First stop: the Anne Frank House. The line was long, but the museum was worth it. Very sobering. To see someone so young, just wanting to live and make her mark on the world and not being allowed to.

We walked up the street to the Westerkerk (West church) and saw the church with Rembrandt's unmarked grave (he couldn't afford anything better than the 20-year grave). Someone was practicing the organ--you could tell from the repeated passages and occasional mistakes--but it was still beautiful to hear the music filling the enormous space.

Here's a shot of those lovely Dutch row houses. You'll notice that at the top of every house is a plank with a pulley attached to the end. Because of the narrowness of the houses, furniture and bulky objects were hoisted up to the correct floor and loaded in through the windows. Ouch. Many of the buildings are built to lean out a bit so that ascending objects wouldn't smash into the building, which caused more than a few to topple over. Lunch at the Pancake Bakery, a restaurant Tyler had researched online before we came. They had the biggest selection we'd seen: sweet, savory, anything you can imagine. Dutch pancakes are more like very large crepes--thin and stretchy. Tyler had his with tomato, onion, and mushroom; mine was lemon and powdered sugar; David ordered ham and cheese; and Julia chose chicken and onion. Then we stopped by a cheese shop and bought a wedge of cheese and a slicer, which has been my quest for many years.

We caught the canal bus to its next stop at the Rijksmuseum (the national museum) and Van Gogh museum. The Rijks was under construction, but we saw the highlights, including "Night Watch," several Rembrandt portraits, and some other stunning works. It was good to be forced through quickly since we were trying to see so much in our one day.

The Van Gogh was great. I hadn't realized that he tried a wide range of techniques--Japanese paintings, copies of Old Masters done in his distinct style. I guess because his working life was so short but intense you get the high points and his learning along the way. A lot of his famous works are scattered in other museums around the world, so we didn't get to see a lot of our personal favorites. But Tyler did get to see "Wheatfield with Crows" which doesn't do much for me, but he really liked. It's always such a different experience to see art in person. Van Gogh's work is so textural--the paint is almost a character in the pieces. I had never been that big a fan of his work, but seeing it in person gave me a much greater appreciation for him.

As the day wound down, we went through a shopping district looking for a few things for the kids but it was all junky tourist stuff. David suggested we try Hema, the Dutch version of Target. Success! Their toy section was small compared to US stores, but we found cool socks, art kits, and a gnome house for Charlotte. Needing our daily dose of frites, David led us to the frites shop, a small take-out restaurant serving nothing but paper cones full of salty Dutch yumminess. This place offered about 10 different sauces to dip yours in. We tried curry ketchup, regular ketchup, the traditional mayonnaise, and peanut satay sauce. Here's about the point that we really appreciated being with David, since the train station is on the edge of the red light district. He could warn us, don't look left, stay to the right. Let's go down this street, but not that one, etc. So we came away with a lovely impression of Amsterdam as a beautiful city well worth the visit.

Back in Leiden we zipped into the grocery store before it closed at 6 and bought some chocolates and stropwaffels for souvenirs and came home for our Phase 10 rematch. The next day we got up and headed to the airport.

It was a marvelous trip, especially enjoying the life of a "resident" by staying with David and Julia. European life seems so much simpler--small houses, small cars, small shops are such a stark difference from America's mega-everything. It's really made me wonder, how much do you really need. It's like those decorative signs that say "simplify." If you have to buy an accessory to simplify, isn't that sort of missing the point?

Netherlands Day 5 - Leiden

This was Sunday, General Conference day, so no church meetings were planned here because the time difference is so great. They watch tape-delay sessions the next weeks. Tyler had homework to catch up on so he worked on that and David, Julia and I walked around other parts of Leiden I hadn't seen yet.

First stop: the Burcht, a manmade hill with a circular fortress on top. When your whole country is below sea-level, you have to make your own hills. I'm not quite sure how they managed something like that hundreds of years ago. It was designed to protect the citizens from flooding by providing a small amount of "higher ground." You can see from the photo that they must have lugged an awful lot of carts full of dirt to do that. It has slits along the battlements attesting to its military uses as well. It had great views of various churches and the town hall, which we had passed earlier. Form one side the town hall is built of stone, on the other side brick, a later replacement when the original stone was destroyed in a fire. This older part of town was the area where the Pilgrims lived for 10-12 years before they went to England and chartered the Mayflower.

Walking back to their house, we passed an unusual building with a large courtyard (all the other buildings are built right up to the sidewalk). It looked museumish, so we popped in. Luck! It was the city historical museum, housed in the old cloth merchant's hall. Leiden was world-famous for cloth. We learned about the cloth making process and the quality control inspections (8 grades) and a neat display on various episodes in the city's history, especially the Siege and Relief of Leiden. They even had the Spanish pot the traditional hutspot stew came from. Lots of great art and decorative objects. There's a lot to be said for the smaller, more specialized museums.
We stopped in at a small (comparatively--it was still probably six stories high) Protestant Marekerk (this is their website; click on "Huren" to see photos) and saw that they were holding evening services. After dinner I convinced David and Julia to come back with me to hear the service. Our enthusiasm faltered a bit once we walked in and realized we didn't know where to sit, what to do, and for Julia and I, what they were saying and singing. The sermon seemed longer than usual (I have new empathy for small children in sacrament meetings), as we copied the other members in standing, singing, and listening. "Blah blah blah Ezekial." "Blah blah blah blah prophet blah." But the organ was magnificent, filling the space with such sound, it was all worth it.

Not understanding the sermon gave me a lot of time to think. 90 minutes, to be exact. I felt like a medieval peasant, hearing the mass in Latin, not understanding it but being awed by the music and architecture. I'd have made a good Catholic peasant, I thought. Then I thought of those rabble-rousing Protestant reformers who worked to translate the Bible and church services into the vernacular. I'd have made a good Protestant revolutionary, I thought. Then I thought of my own ancestors among the Mayflower arrivals and imagined them walking through the streets of Leiden and was grateful for the paths they took to lead me where I am today. The LDS Church wins for doctrinal clarity and applicability to daily life, but loses in the ability to inspire awe from the moment you step through the door. Oh well. Can't have it all. Home for dinner and to put our soaking jackets and gloves on the radiators to dry out before tomorrow.