Monday, September 28, 2009

Holland: Day 5

After our nice trip to Rotterdam on Tuesday, my mom and I went back for some more the next day. We took the tram to the train station and then took the train to Rotterdam to meet my aunt Nancy for lunch. We were early, so we passed the time by shopping in a very nice store called de Bijenkorf across the street from City Hall, or Stadhuis. As we passed the Stadhuis, we saw a dark-haired couple, the woman in a white wedding dress and the man in a dark suit, standing next to a white horse-drawn carriage in front of the Stadhuis steps. In Holland, I think people get married on weekdays more often than in the U.S.

De Bijenkorf sells everything from fresh, non-boxed bonbons (strategically located by the front doors so you see and smell the decadence when you walk in) to clothes, home accessories, and lots more. In the store, my mom found a nice grey wallet to replace the black one she's had for at least 10 years, which was falling apart. She also bought a designer cheese grater — no, that's not a joke. It's made by Alessi and looks really cool:

I found two blue-and-white Dutch potholders and matching oven mitts, and I was very happy with my purchase.

We then had a nice lunch at a restaurant's outdoor patio with Nancy. Rotterdam is a bustling city during the week, and I'm sure in the evenings and weekends as well. The area by the Stadhuis has wide plazas of gray stone, with lots of shops and restaurants, and a tram line running through it. When I was there I imagined what it would be like to live and work there, taking the train to work and walking in my heels or boots to an office, then walking around the city to grab lunch and run errands during my break, perhaps meeting friends for a drink at an outdoor patio after work sometime.

Of course, it's easy to idealize a place when you're a visitor and don't have to deal with any of the inevitable daily annoyances that plague all places. But still, there's something just a tiny bit magical about a place where you see a beautiful couple getting married on a Wednesday, across from a store with chocolates and sweets piled high in enticing displays, as multitudes of pedestrians make their way from one place to another.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Holland: Day 4

My mom had planned an outing on my fourth day in Holland: she, my aunt Ellen and I were to take a ride on the Spido, a ship that tours the Maas River on Rotterdam Harbor, the third-largest harbor in the world.

So, on Tuesday Sept. 8, we took a taxi to the Spido, bought tickets, poked around a tourist shop, and then waited to board the Spido. As the previous tour group was disembarking, I noticed some of them were disabled in some way, apparently mentally; some of them were teenagers or young adults and a few were older adults. It must have been a special school or group or care facility taking a day trip.

Once we boarded the Spido, of course coffee and cake were the first priority!

Some of the most memorable sights we saw from the boat were:

The Holland America pier from which my grandparents and their five children set off for Australia in 1956. The journey took six weeks. While in Australia, my aunt Ellen was born, and once the family returned to Holland several years later, the seventh child was born.

The architecturally stunning Erasmus Bridge.

The river-side edge of my hometown in Holland, complete with a picturesque windmill.

After our boat ride, we ate lunch at a lovely little outdoor lounge at the river's edge, enjoying the sunshine and relaxing atmosphere. Here's a view of the boardwalk, with the restaurant on the left:

Our quiet Tuesday in Rotterdam on the Spido along the Maas River was a pleasant one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Holland: Day 3

My third day in Holland, Monday Sept. 7, was warm and sunny. My mom, my aunt Ellen and I visited my other aunt Nancy and her family at their newly built, supermodern house in Rotterdam.

Nancy and her boyfriend recently spent a couple of years designing this house with an architect and then having it built along a canal in a lovely neighborhood. The house is all white, black and steel; with hard slate and wood floors; and the garden is a work in progress with native plants and a pond filled with little frogs.

Getting to Nancy's house was an interesting trip. First, the three of us walked to the tram stop near my grandmother's house and took the tram to the metro station, where we boarded the underground metro train, or subway. I scanned my ticket the wrong way at the door and accidentally invalidated it. Because I knew I had paid, I slipped through the door behind my mom, whose ticket was still valid, but the doors shut on my elbows and set off an alarm. I was too surprised to be embarrassed at that point. I walked over to the office and told a metro staff member what happened. He seemed amused that I even bothered to go over to them to explain what happened, and waved me on.

It was warm enough in the metro train to be slightly uncomfortable, made worse by how crowded it was. My aunt got a call on her cell phone and talked too loudly on it, the way older people often do, causing the young Dutch man sitting behind her to smile a small smile to himself. The walls inside of the metro train had been spray-painted with graffiti, and while the paint was still wet it had run down the walls in rivulets. Most of the paint was black, so against the beige walls of the train, it looked like running mascara, as if the train were depressed.

We arrived at our subway stop and exited, and because my ticket had been previously invalidated I again had to squeeze out the doors directly behind my mother, and again the alarm went off. But this time my aunt was standing right outside the doors, ready to whisk us away in her getaway car to her new house.

Funny how you can go from sitting in a hot subway train with crying walls to relaxing in a luxurious house with wine and snacks and sunshine on the patio in just a matter of minutes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Going Dutch for Dinner

For my birthday, my good friends Amy and Charlie presented me with a heavy, red Dutch oven. The very next evening, I decided to put it to good use. Although I've been a pescetarian for three years (meaning I eat no other meat but fish) I had a hankering for chicken and decided to splurge on some organic, free-range chicken from Whole Foods.

I've never cooked a meal in a Dutch oven before so luckily Amy and Charlie gave me a cookbook as well. I picked a recipe and modified it a little.

I used skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cumin seeds, cherry tomatoes, red onion, whole wheat pasta, olive oil, vegetable broth, salt, and pepper, with the convenience of a bag of frozen vegetables on the side.

I also added whole cloves of garlic to the mix.

I pre-baked the cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper for 15 minutes.

Then I combined the rest of the ingredients with the tomatoes.

I baked the dish for 50 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

My end result falls short in the presentation department, but it sure tasted good. The Dutch oven seems to allow the flavors to combine well, and the food turns out nice and hot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Holland 2009: Days 1 and 2

Last week, I visited the country in which I was born: Holland. Although I would have ideally liked to write about each day there as it happened, I didn't have a computer with me, and my aunt's was too slow to rely on. So, instead I will spend the next few nights blogging about my visit in retrospect.

The day I arrived, Saturday Sept. 5, I was jetlagged and had to take an afternoon nap at my grandmother's house — a place of great comfort and fun since I was a small girl. I then used my brand-new video camera (an early birthday gift from my fiancé) to record images of my grandmother, one of my aunts, and my mother, who had travelled to Holland several weeks before for a visit as well. I also videotaped the view from my grandmother's balcony, overlooking the canal and bridge where ducks congregate. When I was little it was the highlight of my day to take my grandparents' old bread crusts, which they saved for the ducks, down to the canal's edge and throw the bits of food to the quacking animals.

The next day, Sunday Sept. 6, my mom and and took a lovely walk in the Delfland, a farmland area near my grandmother's apartment. Below is one photo I took during our Sunday walk:

Here is a photo of one of the little farms in the Delfland:

One of the many nice things about Holland is the everyday beauty it has — you can find it in the little things, like the window displays of chocolate shops, sailboats nestled near each other in canals and rivers, old-fashioned windmills made of brown brick, flower pots on window sills, cafés, architecture. This Delfland is another example. It's a beautiful area in between the cities of Schiedam and Delft, and while Schiedam is not known for its beauty, it still offers this pleasant, relaxing farmland in which to walk on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tomorrow, I Turn Thirty

Tonight is my last evening in my twenties.

For the last few months, I've been dreading turning thirty. Mostly, because I feel like I missed a lot of opportunities in the last decade. Opportunities in education, friendships, in my personal development, in saving money, and other areas. Today, though, I realized that instead of dwelling on what I didn't get done in my twenties, it would be less depressing to catalog what I have accomplished.

I won't bore you by listing all those things here, because one's accomplishments are really most interesting to oneself, but I suspect that once I really start thinking about it, I will have a long list of achievements or activities that will make me proud of how I spent the last 10 years of my life. And, I hope that when you read this blog post, you too will give your own self-esteem a boost by taking stock of everything you can be proud of in your life so far, no matter your age.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Land of Orange

I am in Holland this week, visiting family and making plenty of mental notes for future blog topics. I arrived Saturday, Sept. 5, and the weather was mildly sunny, and it felt nice to be back in my grandmother's little apartment, but also strange because it's been three years since I last visited. I had a bad case of jetlag, for some reason, perhaps because of the cold I picked up just before I left, and I am still fighting feelings of fatigue several days later.

Holland has changed. At least, the part of Holland where I am now. Or, perhaps I have changed. In the last three years, it seems that I have become more attached to my home in the U.S. and have begun disconnecting from what always felt like home here in Holland. Maybe that's because I bought my first house in the U.S. Maybe it's because I am turning thirty in a week and, in turning over the page to a new decade in my life, I am also leaving behind some of my childhood attachments to this place.

However, I have enjoyed some very nice, familiar things on this trip so far. The beautiful September sun. The cute, bricked roads. The flowers everywhere -- on restaurant tables, in shops, on tour boats, even. My grandmother and aunts and cousins. The incredibly bucolic Delfland just around the corner from my grandmother's apartment, with pastures, farms, horses, sheeps, cows and neat rows of trees lining walking paths.

But, for the first time, I do not feel completely safe walking or riding a bike from my grandmother's to my aunt's apartment -- a journey that literally takes about a minute and a half on the bike. There are suddenly "hang jeugd" -- or "hanging out youth" -- loitering around my grandmother's building where before I do not remember ever feeling unsafe. On the news there are stories of armed robberies, teenagers caught in crossfire, and women being pushed off their bikes and attacked.

As a virtual foreigner in my own land, it's entirely possible that I am letting a tiny feeling of nervousness turn unnecessarily into paranoia . . . but for the first time since I moved away from Holland I find myself yearning for the boring small town I used to live in near the coast. Today I spoke to an old friend of mine who still lives in that town, and I asked him if things had changed there. He said, no, not one bit. I felt a great sense of relief where before I may have felt a tinge of disdain.

On Friday I will go and visit my friend in that town, and I will see for myself if it has changed. But as I am idealizing it, it would behoove me to remember that when we lived there, aggressive pubescents also took pleasure in terrorizing other kids. Perhaps then the fear was of bullies. Now it's of bullies with guns.

Regardless of how Holland has or has not changed, I stil love it, just as I love my home in the U.S. It is interesting to be from two places at once. It's a feeling I can't quite describe -- its not like a having a split personality but rather having double personalities. Two in one.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mercy and Money

I read an article yesterday about how the egg hatchery industry kills 200 million baby chickens each year — some by throwing them alive into a grinder — simply because they are male and can't produce eggs.

For anyone who cares enough to do even a tiny bit of research, it's excruciatingly clear how much suffering and misery exists in any industry where large numbers of animals are raised for food, whether it's for meat, eggs or milk.

Here are a few excerpts from the article I mentioned:

These chicks, which a narrator says are males, are then shown being dropped alive into a grinding machine.

In other parts of the video, a chick is shown dying on the factory floor amid a heap of egg shells after falling through a sorting machine. Another chick, also still alive, is seen lying on the floor after getting scalded by a wash cycle, according to the video narrator.

For some people, the answer is to not consume any animal products. That is definitely a choice I find no fault with. However, my ideal solution would not be to force everyone to become vegetarian, but instead for it to be possible to people to enjoy meat, eggs and milk without contributing to the agony of millions and millions of living, breathing beings. That means the horrors of factory farming would need to end. Sadly, the only way those horrors will end is if it becomes more profitable for the factories to care well for the animals than to mistreat them.

As a friend of mine wrote to me today, "It is so much work trying to shop and buy from a company with good practices and standards." And that is what's so frustrating as a consumer. Grocery stores and shops are like minefields, filled with factory-farmed chicken that claims to be "natural", toxic baby formula, poisoned pet food, lead-tainted toys, and who knows what else.

Why have the world's markets — and the world's consumers — allowed profit and convenience to come before basic human decency? Who is protecting the baby chickens being manhandled along a conveyor belt that is heading toward a grinder, and who is protecting us from our complicity in their deaths?