August 31, 2006

More day off

I forgot to mention that yesterday I also visited an awesome cooking shop on the Ferdinand Bolstraat called Duikelman. Actually I'd been there once before in search of a good stew pot. They do have quite a lot of high-end, expensive stuff, but they also have a lot of stuff in general, so it's a good place to go to find something you haven't been able to find anywhere else (you just may not be able to afford it once you do find it).

After checking out the cookie sheets (which were all too big to fit in my puny oven), I found a corner of the store filled with cooking and baking stuff. I was probably back there for a good 20 minutes oohing and aahing at the selection. There were cake pans in all sorts of shapes and sizes, including an official Betty Crocker brand that was a normal US 9" round cake pan (and not that expensive). There were cookie cutters in many shapes and sizes. There was stuff for candies as well, like little papers to hold bonbons. The best thing, for me, was the American-like selection of decorations for cakes and cookies, like various sprinkles, cinnamon red-hots, stuff to make frosting, and even the same food colouring my parents would use to colour the frosting of the cakes they'd make for me and my brother when we were kids. It was awesome to find that stuff over here. It stirred a baking bone within me. Now if only my kitchen had the space for more stuff and my oven could hold two cake pans at the same time, I'd be happy.

August 30, 2006

Day off

I took today off, with no real plans to do anything. I had hoped for slightly better weather, but that wasn't going to happen. In the end, I popped into town and bummed around. I bought way too much stuff (in a weight kind of way) and was very thankful I took my backpack rather than my smaller shoulder bag. I'm gonna have sore shoulders tomorrow.

I first went to the Albert Cuypmarkt and wandered through there. The last time I was there was over 6 months ago, during xmas break, when I said I'd try to pop by the toko, Tjin's, every couple of months. Yeah, didn't quite happen. Oh well. But I went back today! And ended up with 4 jars of stuff which is one reason my bag was so damn heavy. I got some curry paste; some natural, corn-and-black-bean salsa which was really too expensive, but I couldn't resist it (it'd better be worth it); and some plum sauce and hoisin sauce to make a dip that the wife of a colleague of O's has made when we've gone to their house and it is so yummy. I hope the sauces I got are ok, I didn't expect the plum sauce to be the lighter colour that it is.

Then on the market itself I got almost a kilo of chicken drumsticks to make another thing that this wife of O's colleague made once when we went over: honey chicken. Also very delish. To go with it, I got some corn on the cob at a huge veggie stand. The corn looked pretty good, mostly I only see corn on the cob wrapped in packs of two here, and they look a bit plastic, but these were sold by the piece and looked more natural. The corn was all already half peeled though, as if they expect that the people buying the corn wouldn't know how to take the outside part off. Or maybe just so you can see what shape the corn is in. They were two pieces for a euro, which at the time I felt was pretty good, but I know that must be way more expensive than in the US. You can probably get 10 for a dollar there.

In the on-and-off rain, with my weighty backpack, I trudged over to the Utrechtsestraat and found a decent-looking cafe to have lunch in. I sat in an upstairs area and read a bit while waiting for my order, an uitsmijter with cheese. Damn, it was good. It was on this hearty, possibly corn-based bread that didn't get soggy, the eggs had still-runny yolks, and the cheese was nice and melty. So. Good. I was a happy, satisfied bunny after that.

As I ate, and the upstairs area emptied out, I was left there with only two other women just across the room having a deep, heart-to-heart chat, fortunately in English. So I eavesdropped while trying to appear like I wasn't eavesdropping, though, really, what else would I be doing if I'm sitting there eating on my own? They were talking about life and how they want to improve their lives and be better people (and I thought, oh good, I'm not the only one unhappy with my life) and then they moved on to talking about relationships and men. One of the women, who was Dutch, was talking about problems she's had with trusting her boyfriend, but then I'm not sure the problem all lies with him. She mentioned a couple of times when he'd go out and she'd ask when he'd be back, and he'd either rush in the door at the last minute before his "curfew" was up, or she'd call him a couple of minutes before the time he said he'd be home and ask him where he is and if he's coming home. Um, are you his girlfriend or his mom? I mean, ok, I don't know their history or the background behind doing this, but that kind of stuff ain't good. She was also talking at another point about not wanting to dent men's fragile egos and fortunately her friend said that not all men are like that, you can talk to some men and not have them freak out. I dunno, some people have weird relationships...

On the Utrechtsestraat, I visited Get Records and got the latest Josh Ritter CD (though we have it downloaded) and tickets to see Two Gallants in November. Our first concert tickets since the spring! After that I was mostly tired of hauling around the weight on my back, so I dragged my butt home. Back to work tomorrow unfortunately.

August 25, 2006

A trail of my procrastination

My god, this has been one of the most boring weeks for me at work. I haven't had all that much to do since Tuesday and today I've really not done anything work-related. I actually thought that the beginning of the week would be hectic because we had a big pitch to prepare for this week. I was prepared to work like crazy and stay late on Tuesday, the last day the pitch team was in the office, but in the end they didn't really need my help, so I guiltily didn't work much and left a bit early. The pitch went really well though, according to one guy who came back to the office this morning, so we're very confident about getting this work. The only problem now is finding the staff to actually do the work...

I've cycled through the usual websites I read to procrastinate and have now been reading various blogs I came across links to. In one, I saw the blogger took part in something called Bloggers in Amsterdam, which was a gathering here in February of this year. I browsed through her Flickr photos of the trip which had some cool and unique shots. They were different than the typical tourist photos and included a lot of graffiti and close-ups of fresh things for sale in the Albert Cuyp and animals at the zoo. But then there were a few photos from one night where some of the bloggers did a panel at the American Book Center Treehouse along with members of Democrats Abroad. And in one of the photos, there's a guy I know, Brian, the one sort of bent over in the middle. Before I got to this photo, his name was mentioned in the caption of another photo and I was freaked out at first, but then I remembered that he's involved with Democrats Abroad, so it makes sense that he was there. Still, a bit random to see someone I know amongst these photos taken by someone who doesn't even live in Amsterdam.

And if anyone can tell me what cheese shop is pictured near the beginning of the set of photos, I'd be happy. I see some stuff in those photos that looks very yummy. All the caption says is that it's near the Dam.

The other day I got the acceptgiro from the IND for my permanent residence permit, attached to a vaguely threatening letter saying, basically, "Pay this or face the chance of losing your permit." I mean, I know that is what would happen if I didn't pay, and that likely the sooner I pay, the sooner they move along with processing my application, but as O said, they could have worded it a bit better. But what is the IND for if not for instilling fear into all of us buitenlanders? Oh, the cost of the permit came out to 201 euros. Which is about what I expected, but still damn expensive.

I came across this cool meme on coco_keesses' site where you can list the logos of subways in which you've ridden. Here's mine (mouse over to find out the city the logo is from, a good guessing game...)

Got at!

If you go to the main page of the site where I got this, it's fun to look through the logos, especially at how many variations of an M there are. Some get a bit modern and stylistic. In a couple of months, I'd likely be able to add the MUNI and/or BART logos to the list. Though I've been to San Francisco before, the last time I was there we mostly used a car, so I don't think we ever took public transport, apart from the ferry to Alcatraz and the obligatory ride on a cable car.

August 20, 2006

Haarlem sauna

A week ago, when the weather wasn't this dark, doomy, pouring rain weather we're having today, O and I went to a sauna in Haarlem to celebrate our anniversary. I'd been wanting to go to a sauna/spa kind of place for awhile - in fact, we tried this idea for our anniversary last year, but the place we went to wasn't really what I had in mind. This place, though small, was what I wanted and we had a very relaxing day there.

Tha sauna is called Sauna van Egmond and it's in a residential area of Haarlem north of the train station. Though it's surrounded by houses (and even a church across the street; I wonder if they get on as neighbours), it was quiet and felt worlds away from anywhere. No, it's perhaps not as nice as some of the spas which are out in nature and have more space and greenness around, but this one was reachable by public transport and was only in Haarlem, so that worked for us.

I don't know what the building the sauna is in used to be, but it was a great place. There were all sorts of big open ceilings and stone walls and such. In the restaurant area, there was a big metal wheel up high in the ceiling that looked like a torture device, and then at one point it actually started to turn, letting out a big rope. Turns out it was the most complex system for a dumbwaiter to lift food up to a second level of the restaurant. Awesome.

Anyway, we arrived and got a bathrobe and towel each and then went to change into the robe. Yes, everything is co-ed and yes, most people just walk around naked (except in some areas where you need to wear a robe). I've gotten used to this idea by now, though I can remember thinking the idea was weird a few years ago when someone was saying that saunas here are co-ed and everyone is nude. I did swim nude for the first time last year at the place we went to for our anniversary, and that was fine really. This was fine too. I dunno, it just seemed kind of normal because everyone else was naked as well. Though not all; some people would wrap up in towels when they walked around and others would have their robes on, but in general there was a lot of nudity. And since no one else seemed very embarrassed, I didn't either.

The joke usually is that the people who go to a sauna like this, or to nude beaches, are the people you don't actually want to see naked, but it wasn't so bad at this place, meaning O and I weren't the youngest there or anything. I think the average age was a bit high, but there were plenty of people who looked to be in their 20s or 30s. There were some groups of girls who were just having a fun, relaxing afternoon together. There were many younger couples. There was even one pregnant woman. So it was quite varied.

They had quite a few different types of saunas, in varying degrees of temperature and humidity, so you could pretty much find one that you were happy with. My only previous sauna experience was going into a Turkish bath with O in our hotel in Budapest, and we ran out of there after a couple of minutes because we couldn't breathe anymore. At this place, we first went in a pretty standard sauna: quite hot and a bit humid. It was ok, but if you breathed in too deep, you did feel like your nostrils were burning. We didn't stay in there too long.

We next went in the one that was my favourite. It was a bit less hot and humid, plus it was a quiet room (no talking) and they had nature noises playing (running water, bird sounds) and in the ceiling were lots of little lights that changed colour. I laid on my back and just watched the lights and didn't think about much and quite enjoyed that. We probably stayed in for about 10 minutes. It's quite weird in the sauna because it is hot and you start dripping with sweat or condensation or both, but you don't really feel sweaty and the heat you feel in there is different than being in hot weather. I don't quite know why. It was a unique feeling. I would come out surprised at how soaked I was because in the sauna I didn't feel sweaty.

Outside in a little courtyard there were various cooling-off options. There were a couple of cold water showers, a pool of water with buckets you could use to dump the water over yourself, and an old fashioned metal tub that ice would dump into down a chute, and you could throw some ice on yourself, I guess, I didn't see anyone using it. O and I would just come out and sit in a garden chair that was out in the sun and dry up. The sun was great. It had been absolutely miserable on Saturday (much like today), but then it was all blue sky and sun on Sunday, so I sat in the sun feeling endlessly grateful for it.

We'd then pop into the pool inside, which was a lovely 34 degrees or so, so you could just walk right in it, no need to get used to the water. There was a nice jacuzzi in one corner as well.

After lunch, O and I had massages scheduled. His was by machine though. He reserved the hydrojet massager, which was like laying on a waterbed, and hard jets of water would spray up at you from below. You could adjust the strength of the water and how it moved around. He said it felt pretty good.

I had a proper human back massage, which I'd never had before. It wasn't as relaxing as I thought it'd be, the guy pressed quite hard, but it was needed really to get out some knots in my back and shoulder. I was sore the next day from it though! Yeesh. The best parts though were when he rubbed his hands fast together to warm them and then rubbed all the way down my back (doing this a few times), and when he massaged the upper part of my neck, at the base of my skull. Ahhh, that was good. When I stood up, I realized how relaxed I was though and how sleepy. I really could have just curled up and gone to sleep then, but O was waiting for me down in the pool, so I had to go meet up wth him. Next time, I'll plan to do nothing after the massage.

And we do plan to go back. Maybe make it a thing we do every few months. I'm thinking it'll be especially nice in the winter, after being tired of being cold all the time, to lay in the sauna and remember what it's like to be hot. We really enjoyed this place, it was quite comfortable to be at and the decor was quite nice as well, very soothing. The one thing that wasn't as good was their restaurant. I expect a sauna to have light, healthy food available, and they served more typical cafe food, so it wasn't the best, but it was ok. Other than that, I really liked it there, and it's so close and not too expensive for a day of sitting around and bobbing in the pool and popping into the sauna occasionally. I recommend it.

August 12, 2006

Another cartoon

One that made me laugh about the whole fucking air travel mess: Thank you, silly Wondermark.

August 11, 2006

Expat interview

A few weeks ago I got an email from a woman with a site called Expat Interviews, which is pretty self-explanatory. She has inside info from people of all different nationalities who have moved to countries all over the world. The people discuss the good things and bad things about the country they moved to, weird customs, how they found a job, how expensive it is there, etc etc. Anyway, she was asking if I would like to participate, so I did. The other day my interview went up. I think I manage to keep my moaning about the Dutch to a minimum. Well, I didn't want to go on forever about fighting people to get on trains and the lack of customer service and... well, I could go on here, but we foreigners complain enough I suppose. Which, as O likes to point out, makes me more Dutch than anything.


The air regulations thrown into place yesterday after the news of a broken-up attack plan have left me so frustrated and angry. The way the US and UK governments are acting, you forget that the plan wasn't meant to be carried out for another few weeks. It's as if something as big as 9/11 actually happened and they need to look as if they are doing something purposeful. But how can it be of any purpose to look for the things these particular terrorists would have been using, when that plan was stopped and a new, different one will take its place? I know, I shouldn't try to understand governments. And I'm naively thinking these stupid regulations won't last long. I mean, how long are all people flying out of Britain going to be forced to carry only the essentials on board in a clear plastic bag? And no electronics of any kind, not even your bloody car key that likely has a remote lock/unlock button. Are you even allowed a book, or are you meant to stare at the back of the head in front of you for however many hours your flight is?

I saw O looking at this comic this morning, though it should be addressed to both dumbasses, Mr Bush and Mr Blair. Mr Blair is actually the one more in need of a relaxing cup of tea.

I feel glad that, for now, the US rules are actually less strong, though I am not happy of the thought of being made to get rid of any water with me since it is one of the essentials I carry with me on any trip. Once again I'm hoping, though it's probably very unlikely to happen, that this silly rule will be gone by the time we go to the US in less than 2 months. We'll see.

I hope the rest of Europe is not pressured by the UK or US to incorporate any of this bullshit. Especially since most of the flights I travel on are just within Europe. But what was a simple little flight over to the UK is now a royal pain in the ass. Will people consider a ferry or the train more often now? You don't need to arrive 3 hours early to be hassled and stripped and have all your belongings taken away from you if you go by ferry. A co-worker of mine has recently moved to a UK office, but the plan was that he'd pop over to Amsterdam once or twice a month. I hope for his sake he pushes for other travel options. There's the Eurostar. I'm sure, even going via Brussels, you'd get here quicker, and you'd get to keep your laptop during the journey.

I dunno, I've been angry and stressed and sad this week. I'm not really sure why. So this whole development didn't really help things. I just hope things can get better.

August 9, 2006


O a few minutes ago played CCR's Fortunate Son and I went looking for the file I know I had of Sleater-Kinney playing that song live, but the file had mysteriously disappeared. No matter, I downloaded it again (assuming it is the same version I had) and enjoyed that. Now I'm enjoying them playing Rock Lobster live with Calvin Johnson at the Capitol Theater in Olympia. I was actually at this show, a New Year's Eve concert to ring in 1998 (one of the best years of my life; no wonder, the way it started out) and when they started this song, I totally freaked out. It is so fun to dance to and I had a personal history of rocking out to it at the dances we had when I went to summer camp. Somewhere back at home I have a video of the whole New Year's Eve concert, if it's not ruined by water damage.

Anyway, so I remembered that S-K's last two shows are coming up this Friday and Saturday and it's just so wrong. I envy deeply all the people who get to be there. I'll miss them so much.

August 2, 2006

A week in Spain, part three: The Family

The whole purpose of the trip to Spain was to see an older cousin of mine, Jeff, who moved to the Basque country with his wife, Begona, and their 6-year-old daughter, Satya. Jeff grew up in Southern California and then ended up living for years in Spain, mostly in Madrid, after he graduated from college. He met Begona in Madrid, though she's originally from San Sebastian, and they got married in Seattle. My family went to their wedding, which was when I was about 15. It was the first time I had seen Jeff since he stopped by my parents' house on his way to Europe after college when I was only about 7. A couple of years after they got married, Jeff and Begona moved to the town where I was going to college because Jeff got a job as a Spanish professor at another college nearby. Even though they were just a short drive away, I only saw them once in the couple of years we lived in the same town. I knew they wanted to go back to Spain though and I always planned to visit them when they finally moved back.

They live in a small town called Hondarribia which is right next to the French border, on the coast. It's a lovely little town with hills and old streets and interesting hotels built in refurbrished noble houses or fortresses. There's a bay with a couple of harbours and a beach, and a lively enough center with bars and restaurants. It's about a half hour away from San Sebastian which is where Satya goes to school at an English school. She can speak English, Spanish (which I think she prefers), and a bit of Basque (taught in all Basque schools) and French. Sometimes Jeff takes her to a kid's movie over in France to help increase her exposure to it.

As the time came closer to going to see the family, I started to worry about what I was getting myself, and O as well, into. We'd be staying at their house and be shown around by them, which is great, but it can also go horribly wrong if you don't mesh well with the other people. Also I could only hope O liked them and vice versa. My worries were only quelled by remembering how well I got on with them the last times I had seen them, I remember how easy they were to talk to. That still left me worrying about how 4 days with a 6-year-old would go.

In the end it all went fine. As for the 6-year-old, I think it took us a couple of days to get used to each other, but by the time we left, I could tell we were all more comfortable with each other. It was difficult when she was being really fussy the first night we were there, but most of the time she was fine to be around. It helped that when we went out sightseeing, it was only me, Jeff, and O, so we had a lot of time away from the kid and mostly only saw her in the evening. Also she was on school holidays and spent a lot of time out playing with neighbourhood kids.

At first I felt Satya was a bit princess-y and not polite, but I think it's just that age, mostly (and Jeff said one thing they're working on a lot lately is her manners). It was funny how one moment she would be playing pretend and make-believe, but the next she would be very matter-of-fact. O was wearing a shirt one day that has a muffin saying "Ah munna eat choo!" on it (no, it doesn't make much sense, but that's not the point). So O was asking Satya if she could read what the muffin was saying, and she couldn't really get it, but O helped her out and once Satya knew what it said, she just looked confused, like "What's that supposed to mean?" So O made up some story about the muffin being angry for everyone eating his muffin friends and he was going to take revenge by eating everyone. And Satya gave him this priceless look of "What are you on?" She didn't buy a word of it. She asked O how he knew why the muffin was angry, and O said the muffin told him. She said shirts don't talk. He said, that doesn't matter, the muffin told me. She just kept looking at him with one eyebrow raised, all "I don't think so!" She was not impressed.

Satya was however happy with the present we brought her, a Nijntje doll, because we of course had to bring something Dutch. I was worried that she would open it and say something like "I hate rabbits!", or say Nijntje was ugly, or who knows what, but her eyes went wide when she opened the gift and I think she even immediately gave Nijntje a hug. Nijntje was then instantly christened "Christina" for reasons unknown. But Satya had her nearby often when she was in the house, like on the table while she was eating breakfast or next to her as she did some summer homework, so I was very pleased with that. She might have ditched Nijntje/Christina by now, but at least in the days we were there Satya genuinely loved the doll.

For some family history, I didn't grow up near any of my dad's family, so I don't know that side of the family very well at all. We visited various people when I was a kid, but then my dad had various falling-outs (the reasonings of which I know nothing about) and we didn't reconnect to some parts of the family until I was in high school. My dad's side is also rather complicated due to his older age and various remarriages by him and his brothers. It's why Jeff is about 20 years older than me, but is my cousin, and he has a half-brother and half-sister who are a couple of years younger than me (I also was an aunt before I was born because of an older half-sister of mine). But despite not knowing these people as I was growing up, and despite the age differences, I discovered a lot of connections running through that part of the family, and a lot of things that were common. For one, there is certainly a creative streak in the family, in one form or another. My dad did building as a job and is an excellent artist and painter. I didn't know that his brother - Jeff's dad - also is artistic until I saw the drawings Jeff had of his dad's around the house. Jeff does a bit of DIY himself, and his younger half-brother is also a talented builder to the point that he was hired on straight away with a company when he hadn't even finished college. I got none of the artistic talent (which I'm still bitter about, I would love to be able to draw anything past stick figures), but I can write, which Jeff and his half-sister do as well (and my dad has dabbled in, but I don't think it's his strong suit). I think I maybe grew up around the wrong side of my family, feeling all out of place growing up with my mom's sister and brother and their families, and feeling like they never understood my interests. It was just a bit weird connecting again with someone from this half of me that has largely gone ignored and seeing that maybe I belong more on that side than I thought.

Another thing I had in common with Jeff is a massive sweet tooth. I was surprised by it. But there we were, after our first lunch at their house, having some tea and biscuits, and Jeff was eating one biscuit after the other. That, and eating digestives with a nice layer of butter in between. I guess I thought he'd eat healthier, though I'm not sure why. And when O and I would go out with him to see the area, he would always be checking out the desserts or bakery windows or encouraging ice cream, which I totally do as well (and get laughed at by O for doing it). One day we had ice cream for lunch, on his suggestion, though he asked that we not tell Begona that we did that. I loved it. As someone who doesn't understand when someone says something is "too sweet", I felt like I'd met a soulmate.

O got on really well with both Jeff and Begona which, for him, was a sort of relief, to find a part of my family that he could relate to more than the people he's met from my mom's side of the family. We had a lot of good chats with them about all sorts of things, and of course they understand wanting to travel and live in Europe vs the US and all of that. They were as easy to get along with as I had remembered, which was really good since we were around them for 4 days.

The last part I will write about Spain is about what we did and saw in those 4 days, and I hope to get that posted soon.

August 1, 2006


I had a very good weekend this weekend just gone. Friday night I got together with my friends, Vicki and Laura, for a bit of a girls' night out in Scheveningen. We had dinner and drinks and watched the fireworks that they have every Friday night in the summer. The fireworks were great. We had ice cream at two different places. We had a lot of good chats and a lot of laughs. Laura and I stayed the night at Vicki's and then trudged back to Amsterdam the next day.

Saturday evening, O and I had dinner with another couple, the guy being a colleague of O's. They're much older than us, like twice our age, but we share a lot of the same opinions and viewpoints. We had the guy over for dinner a few months ago (when O got locked in our own bathroom) and this dinner was for the occasion of meeting his partner, who was really sweet. She lives California, but was over for a long visit, seeing some of Europe and a lot of Holland. Since she lives just south of San Francisco, we made plans to meet up when we are in SF and maybe go to the Winchester Mystery House together, since she's never been, despite living in the area for some 20 years. We had dinner at the Indonesian restaurant, Indrapura, which was a bit fancy, but very yummy. I hadn't had really good Indonesian like that in awhile and we all left stuffed.

I'm looking forward as well to next weekend. Friday night we're going to dinner at a couple's house in Utrecht, but it's a sort of strange situation in that we really hardly know the couple, heh. They are two Americans we met after the Decemberists show in May and we ended up chatting with them while waiting to see if the band would come out to talk to people. It was fun talking to them and O gave them his email address, so we kept in touch and then planned to get together. It's just weird because in a way we hardly know each other, but we can share stories over dinner.

Saturday is Amsterdam's big gay pride parade on the water and we missed it last year, so O wants to go and hopefully get some good photos this year (and push his site back up as a top hit for searching "gay guys" in Google images). We'll go with the aforementioned Vicki and Laura and, if the weather is better than it is now, it should be a really good time.

Saturday is also O's and my 7th anniversary, but we're not celebrating it til the following weekend when we go to a spa in Haarlem that looks quite nice and has a lot to offer without being horribly expensive. I'm getting a traditional back massage (my first one, I kept chickening out when I had a chance to get one before) and O will try the hydrojet massage, which hits you with hard streams of water. Then we'll probably go somewhere nice for dinner or something.

In non-weekend news, I got the offer from work about my raise and I'm quite happy with it. The raise works out to an increase of 6.8%, which is pretty good. And, something I didn't expect, since I moved up one whole salary scale, I also get an extra day of vacation per year. Sweet. The only problem is that the letter says that this will go into effect from August 1, but it should be from July 1, so my manager is working on getting it changed. If it works out soon enough, I should get a nice paycheck this month.