April 24, 2006

New ring

For a little while now I've been wanting to buy a new ring to replace the one I wear on my right hand. The old ring was sort of a gift from my parents for my 8th grade graduation, and I've worn it ever since then, so for 15 years. That's why I wanted to replace it and not just go without anything, I'm too used to wearing something on my finger. The skin is even indented from wearing the ring for so long.

I was getting tired of the old ring though, which is made from Black Hills gold in the shape of a flower. The flower part is pink gold, with a little diamond in the center. It's a little too cutesy. I also felt a bit guilty and silly over getting it in the first place. My parents didn't just go out and get it for me as a gift, I talked to them (well, my mom mostly) about a gift for the graduation "cuz other kids are getting gifts from their parents," and then she and I went to a shop where I picked it out. It was more expensive than they really could afford, so she told me not to tell my dad about it for awhile. All of that, coupled with the fact that it was bought for such a lame "milestone", made me start to regret the thing and want to get something that fit me more now.

I had the idea to look for something on holiday so that it would seem a bit more special and I could think back fondly to the place where I'd bought it. I looked vaguely at some jewelry shops when we went to Portugal last year, but other than that I hadn't really looked anywhere. Going on this last trip to Florence though, which is known for its jewelers, I wanted to have a look around. And so I managed to find something, on the Ponte Vecchio no less, that was pretty much what I was looking for (though admittedly I had a rather vague idea of what I wanted) and it was something I could afford. It's a very simple band of gold, but laid in the middle is a band of smooth, polished, reddish-brown enamel (they also had ones in blue and green). I started wearing it yesterday and sometimes I feel like I'm getting used to it, but most of the time I move it around on my finger like it's the old ring, trying to center it, forgetting it's a smooth band all the way around. Plus I always nervously fiddled with the old ring and it had all sorts of places where I'd run my thumbnails sub-consciously, and now I can't do that. I still keep being careful around sweaters, thinking I need to watch that my ring doesn't snag on them. I wonder how long it will take to erase 15 years of habit.

April 21, 2006

I'm back

We have returned from our trip to Italy. We had a pretty good time, though I enjoyed the first part of the trip (Lake Como) more than the second part (Florence). Overall the weather was pretty up and down, we only had sun and warmth for about half of the week, which was a bit disappointing for Italy. But we enjoyed the sun when we had it, unlike the Italians who treat a lovely 20 degree (C) spring day like it's mid-winter and about to rain (always bundled up in coats and scarfs still).

I'll do a proper write-up of the trip when I can find the energy. We also have over 600 photos to sort through, edit, and get online at some point. There are some gorgeous ones though, especially from Lake Como, which was just too beautiful for words. I miss nature like that. Especially nature that actually has changes in elevation.

I expected the trees to be more green when we got back. We can still see through the skeleton limbs of the trees in the park across from our house. I guess spring is just really delayed this year, though Dutch trees do seem to take their time to get their leaves again. The weather report for the next few days looks very positive though: calm winds, 20 degrees, mostly sunny. I'm very pleased about that.

I'm also very pleased with the paycheck that was waiting for me when we got home. I mean, I knew I'd be getting paid of course, I just didn't expect I would get paid so much. April and May paychecks are always larger because my company gives their profit share in April (along with a little bonus for Queen's Day), and then in May you get your yearly vacation pay. I had checked what I got last April, and yeah, it was a bit more than normal. Then I open the paycheck I just got and found it to be a lot more than normal. I'm not quite sure what happened, but I was very happily surprised. And I really needed it since my finances are a bit bungled up due to my health insurance problems. I may treat myself to a couple of the CDs that have come out that I've been waiting to get.

April 13, 2006


We finally are heading off for our week-long holiday to Italy. It feels like it's been too long since we really went anywhere. Ok, we did take some long weekends in November, but that was November. So it's been that long since we went anywhere. And then our last longer holiday was when we went to Portugal with O's family, so that wasn't quite normal. Definitely looking forward to this, though I have my fingers crossed that we don't get rained on, at least in the first part of the trip. Stories and photos to follow when we get back.

April 9, 2006

Bastard insurance company

In the midst of the new health insurance law here, where there is no longer a distinction between "basic" health care and "private", only various levels of care you can choose from, I have changed health insurance companies to the one my company went with in their collective agreement. I pretty much didn't have a choice since I get discounts in the collective agreement that make my premium about 20 eur a month cheaper than if I'd stayed with my old insurer. So far though, the new company, Zilveren Kruis, has not made my 20 eur savings worth it.

First of all, the letter with my customer number and all of the details of my coverage only just arrived yesterday, even though I had sent in my application around the 11th of January. The company's website says that if you sent in your application before 11 February, you were supposed to get your information packet by 1 March. So mine was a little late. O, who is also with Zilveren Kruis because his company chose them for their collective insurance, sent in his application at least a week after I did, but he got his packet in February. So I called up Zilveren Kruis in early March (and waited on hold for 10 minutes at 5 cents per minute, like why do they make you pay to get customer service?!) to be sure they even got my application, and they had. But it was still being processed, for whatever reason, and then the girl tells me that I should get my packet in about 3 weeks, making that near the end of March. I stupidly didn't ask why it was going to take so much longer (my only thought is that it's because I'm a foreigner, because the girl asked me, sort of out of the blue, if I was American, but I had insurance here before and it's via my work so I obviously have a job), but I waited 3 weeks. Still nothing. I call them again and I get a girl who isn't the brightest bulb. I tell her that I applied for my insurance ages ago but still have received nothing, and then she asks for my customer number. Um, what part of I HAVE RECEIVED NOTHING FROM YOU GUYS did you not understand? She tells me that it's waiting to be mailed (?!) and I should have it in a week. A bit more than a week later and it's finally here, over a month after I should have had it anyway, and after receiving the nice letter from them informing me that they're taking 350 eur from me in one go to cover the first 4 months of 2006. Sure, go ahead and take my money when you haven't even provided me with a letter saying I'm covered by you.

But that's the part that's sorted now. Yesterday another problem came up. I checked my bank account and thanks to them taking all that premium at once, I suddenly had all of 20 eur in my bank account. But it was also due to my old insurance company also taking a payment from me for April. My insurance with them was supposed to be cancelled; the first time I called Zilveren Kruis they told me it had been done already (I - again being stupid here - left the cancellation to Zilveren Kruis: you filled in a little form with your old insurance company's details and they took care of the cancellation). But here is the old company still taking money from me. When was I supposed to get my money from them refunded? So I call up the old company, and you guessed it, I'm still insured with them and they have no record of a cancellation. I am so fucking pissed. To cancel it now, they need a record that Zilveren Kruis did send the cancellation before 1 March because there was a rule with this new law that you could cancel your previous insurance up to 1 March, otherwise you were stuck with your old company. I tried to then call Zilveren Kruis about it but they seem to only have hours on Saturday to sell you coverage but not to have any customer service for their current customers. I thought I found a way to talk to customer service anyway, but after waiting on hold for 20 minutes (at 5 cents per minute), I gave up. So I have to wait until tomorrow to call them. I am too cynical about Dutch customer service to believe they will help me the way they should help me, to say "Man, it seems something went wrong, we'll take care of it for you straight away," but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I'm prepared to go off on them if they don't get it taken care of.

Beyond this I have another issue with them that I'm waiting to see how it'll play out. I had my usual dental cleaning in February and when I got the bill, I was still thinking my new insurance packet was going to be arriving any day. So I waited til the last minute to pay the bill and then asked Zilveren Kruis how to get it reimbursed. They told me to send it to a certain address, and they were able to at least give me my customer number by then, so I put that in a letter with the bill. The thing is is that on their site they tell you to send in bills for reimbursement, but they don't say whether you are supposed to pay them yourself first. So I put in the letter that I have paid this bill myself and to reimburse it to my account, but I have this feeling it'll go wrong. Obviously I don't have the biggest faith in this company. Way to start off well with a new customer.

April 5, 2006

Piles, pants, and poker

The past couple of weeks I've been dealing with one of the most annoying things about living in the Netherlands (aside from women who insist on wearing too-short pants; that style is done. DONE!): pile driving. Every time a building is constructed here, many piles - long, wooden poles like those that hold up piers - have to be driven into the ground to support the building and keep it from sinking into the soggy swamp that this country is. Since this is done with a big machine using hydraulics or something, it creates a lot of noise that echoes around whole neighbourhoods. The pile driving going on near us is about 3 streets away, with many houses between us and the construction site, but the noise still winds its way to our bedroom, which is fortunately facing away from the direction of the sound. The workers, being the morning people that they always seem to be, start the pounding between 7 and 7:30 every morning. I normally get up at about 8:30. So there's been many mornings where my last hour or so of sleep is very on and off as I would doze off when they stopped for a bit, but then I would wake up when they started again. I would try to tell myself that it's really not that loud, because it's not, but once my mind got annoyed by it, there was no trying to ignore the sound. It doesn't help that there are actually two sites where they are building new houses and each one has two pile driving machines, so the noise increases while the chances for a silent break decrease. This week, since I'm already losing enough sleep because I have been having a hard time getting back to sleep at other points during the night, I decided to put in some earplugs when the machines started. Bit drastic, but it does the job. At the same time though O has been on a training this week and actually leaves the house before I'm up, so he has to try to say goodbye to me while I can't hear him. I also worry about not hearing my alarm clock, but so far it's gone well.

Last weekend I bought some very much needed new clothes for work and one thing I really needed was a new pair of dress pants. I found an ok pair at We, which I've never really shopped at before. A couple of nights later I was trying them on again at home and I bent over a bit, it really wasn't that far!, and a hole ripped in the back seam. Way to make me feel not fat. It ripped so easily though, which hardly surprises me since I tried on a different pair in the store and one of the belt loops came unattached at one end when I barely touched it. I doubt I'll be going back there again.

I learned how to properly play some poker last night and it was really fun, though I lost fairly early. This guy invited people over to his house to teach poker to those who didn't really know how to play it. There was a group of about 11 of us and after the rules and a couple of practice rounds, we started a tournament where you dropped out if you ran out of money. We weren't playing for big money of course, we each only put in 5 euros. I lost a lot of my money on a hand that wasn't quite good enough, and I was just about doomed to be the first person out. But then I managed to win on my last hand so I got enough money back to stay in for a few more hands. I hope to get the chance to play again, it is quite addictive.

April 4, 2006

Prison Break/Medieval Italy

O and I have been spending a lot of time lately catching up on episodes of Prison Break, and in a recent one we watched, the main character mentioned Hooke's Law of Elasticity. Then last night I was reading my book about the dome of the Florence cathedral, and Hooke was mentioned, not really in an engineering sense, but in talking about how scientists and inventors in those times would use different means of disguising their notes, like how da Vinci would write in mirrored letters. Hooke turned his law into a Latin phrase, which he then turned into an anagram to protect the idea from others. Actually, it's sort of similar to the various ways Michael disguised parts of the escape plan in his tattoo, sometimes using a mnemonic device or using a Latin phrase that only meant something to him, etc.

Anyway, then further down the same page in my book, the Italian mathmatician, Fibonacci, was mentioned, and in Prison Break there is a character named Fibonacci. It was just a bit weird, those two things on the same page when it wasn't really talking about engineering.

April 2, 2006

Eastside walk

Today I went on a tour of Amsterdam's eastern islands with a group of people. It was good, though a bit long. We were walking around for over 2 hours. I think we touched on just about every one of the main islands that are closest to the center. I've been on a tour before though, by boat, so I kind of knew some of the stuff the guides talked about.

As we walked down a particularly yuppie street (well, ok, most of every island is upscale and yuppie, but this seemed to be more so), I started paying attention to the names listed next to the doorbells. If there were two people listed, they never had the same last name. Assuming the two people are a couple and not just housemates, that is a lot of unmarried couples or married women keeping their last name. Not that I'm against it, the same applies to the nameplate O and I have, I was just surprised that I never saw even one where it was like "John and Judy Smith". The closest was one where the woman had a hypenated name. Quite signifying of how people tend not to marry here or women stick with their own name.

Other things of note: long ago I put a little logo in the sidebar that says ITMFA, which stands for "impeach the motherfucker already." It comes from Dan Savage, who has a well-known advice column and often uses the abbreviation DTMFA in his advice, which stands for "dump the motherfucker already." Someone then thought to change it to ITMFA and now there's a website and people making shirts and buttons to stand behind the cause of getting rid of Bush. So I thought I'd add the logo and you can click on it to get to the website.

Also, I am no longer reading the book The Plot Against America, even though I've not finished it, but not because I didn't like it. It's because O surprised me yesterday and gave me two books as a surprise and one was Brunelleschi's Dome, which is about the design and building of the dome of the Florence cathedral. I am reading it now since we'll be in Florence in just over 2 weeks, so when we climb the dome, I'll know all about its construction.

April 1, 2006

Bottom of the pit days

Man, I haven't been posting much lately. Not a whole lot going on, though I could have talked about the nice trip we took to the Rotterdam Zoo a couple of weekends ago, but I didn't get around to it.

It's been another long, difficult week. I'm back on my old medication now, and while it's seemed to have done well in soaking up my teariness, it's not done much with my lack of energy. I've had a hard time getting myself to do anything this week. When I have some time at home and I think "I could read this, read that, wasn't there something I wanted to do?...", all I can bother doing is watch TV. At work I can manage to do things if I feel they are needed right away, but if something isn't, I have to literally sit there and tell myself, this must get done. Now. C'mon. I keep meaning to listen to some music at work and haven't even done that in awhile, perhaps because I'd get stuck when faced with the decision of what to listen to.

Part of what makes decisions hard is that nothing seems exciting or interesting to me. I get in this mood every once in awhile, where things feel very dead. Normally, you know, I can think "I hate being at work today, I wish I could be at home reading or catching up on something," if I'm in a situation I'm unhappy with, I can think of what I'd rather be doing. But not in this mood. What plans I do have don't seem like things I feel like doing, maybe I'm even wanting to just cancel them. I try to think of something to excite me or something I would look forward to, and I can't. It's very scary, it feels like there's nothing that would ever make me happy again. I tell myself every time this happens that it's happened before and it always passes, so it will pass again, but at the time it's of course hard. And this time it's a bit worrying because it usually only last a few days, but this has been going on all week.

Part of the feeling also is that I feel very distant from O and he basically annoys me more than anything. It's not his fault, but it does create more of the feeling I have that everything is not the way it should be. Last night, I came back late from a friend's house and he was still out drinking with people from his work. I got ready for bed and was sort of dreading him coming home because he'd be drunk and I just didn't want to deal with him, even if he were sober, really. I just wanted to be alone. Then he called and said he was heading out to a friend's house and would be spending the night there. After I hung up the phone, I felt really angry or sad or something, even though I was just given exactly what I wanted. I don't know what was wrong with me. But I was eventually glad to be on my own for the night and have the place to myself for a bit. Now I don't know when he'll be getting back, but I was planning to do some shopping in town and I'm kind of hoping to leave before he gets home. I have to talk to him eventually though.