Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving in Leiden

As many long-time readers of this blog will know, striving for gratitude has been pretty important in my life. Last year, my housemates and I had a "wall of thankfulness," a wall covered with post-its noting things for which we were thankful. It was right next to our kitchen table, so as we ate together, or cooked, or just sat in the kitchen, we had a constant reminder of all we were and had been grateful for. 

This year, Owen and I took an idea my cousin Carly mentioned about a tree of thankfulness, and we adhered a paper cut-out of a tree to the large window we have in our entranceway. 

I cut and painted a whole bunch of leaves, and as we were thankful for things, we wrote them on leaves and stuck them to the tree. While we have many things we are thankful for, one day in particular marks the growth of an unusually high number of leaves of thankfulness. I will not tell the whole, long, brutal story of sending ourselves a shipment of our belongings, but please believe me when I say it was wretched, and took months and countless hours of emails, phone calls (some of which were in Dutch!), paperwork, and it ended up being much more expensive than we expected. It was basically a nightmare. But like a nightmare, it ended! And on November 21st, we got all eight undamaged boxes and four small folding chairs: our one cubic meter of household goods for which we are so so so grateful.

It still seems like a miracle.

The colored tissue paper made it feel even more like presents!

We are reunited with our books!

Hooray for organic sugar!  Especially the brown and powdered!

My Dad's painting!
And warm clothes and more books and a hammock and a turkish rug

And so many wonderful kitchen things! (And maple syrup!)

So. Happy.
Another really lovely thing which left us intensely thankful was having our Thanksgiving celebrations. The week of Thanksgiving, I had a joyful visit with my sister in Sweden, and late on Thanksgiving Day I returned to be with Owen. On Saturday, many of our new friends from our Bible study got together for a real Thanksgiving feast.

Here I am attaching the green bean casserole to Owen's bike.

And here's my bike loaded up with bike bags for the first time.

It was a feast. 

And full of good company.

We don't feel like strangers here anymore.
Because we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday, it fell as the last day before advent, the last day of the liturgical year.  As we begin Advent, it is wonderful to look back with Thanksgiving, and look forward with hope. There's much we do not know about what is coming in the next weeks or months, but we rejoice in a God who has poured out his faithfulness and love into our uncertain lives. Our cup overflows. 

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Owen and I have been in The Netherlands for a long time now. Almost three months. There has been entirely too little of us geeking out about how cool the Dutch are on this blog. Let's change that now. With windmills. This past Saturday we visited not one but two windmills. 

This picture of De Put was taken on a different day than other photos appearing in this post.
Our plan was to visit "the big one" up in the North of the city center, The Valk which is a windmill eight stories tall and open to the public as a museum. 

The mill is so tall because it was located in the city and had to be higher than the surrounding buildings to have free access to the wind. So the bottom levels of the mill were the millers' home.

including this adorable kitchen
Other floors told the story of the history of milling, the history of windmills, how the windmill shaped Dutch economics and society and even the landscape. There were lots of cool little models and things, and a short documentary film available in four different languages, including English of course.

When we got up to the fifth floor, there's a balcony? Porch? not sure what to call it, that goes all around the windmill, so we could go out and admire the city and the windmill and look at it all with fresh eyes based on what we were learning. One of the things I learned was that the Dutch brought the windmill idea back from the crusades but had to alter them to fit the Dutch weather. In Turkey (I think it was Turkey?) the winds almost always blow the same way so they could have the windmills fixed in a certain direction. In The Netherlands, the winds blow from lots of different directions, unsteadily, unpredictably, so they needed a way to turn the mill to face the wind. Sometimes they built little box mills around a stationary center post so the whole box of the mill can be turned around that center point(De Put is one of these mills). And sometimes they made bigger mills (like De Valk) out of a stone or brick tower, with a turnable cap up top, so it too could shift directions to face into the wind. 

This is the giant wheel they'd use to turn the direction of the cap of the windmill. 
Our beautiful Leiden. Can you see the other windmill??

you can see the sail rolled up and wrapped around the white beam here.

Another thing we learned: Windmills needed to be able to adjust the amount of wind they were handling at a given time, so rather than making solid wooden arms, they are latticed, and then, when in use, covered with sails. Finally, many ladder/stairs later we got to the top of the mill where all the gears would turn. De Valk is still functional, but only runs on special occasions. 

this is for you, Dan and Amanda.
It's just really cool.
After we finished our trip through De Valk, we went to the little windmill, De Put. When we were up in De Valk we could see De Put in motion, which was very exciting. When we got there however, it had stopped moving, but was open to the public so we went on inside. Because De Put is so regularly used, it had big bags of grain lying around, and you can buy some freshly milled flour as a souvenir.

We were all happy just looking at the views from the peep holes and admiring it's beautiful wooden gears when this happened. The workers were turning the wheel down below to turn the whole mill. I don't mean the windmill arms started turning, I mean the whole box mill we were standing in turned so that the mill faced into the wind and the arms could turn. You can see the video Owen took here:

Apparently all I can say about it is, "so cool," but that is how it felt. Happy Thursday everyone!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shower... where?

Hello Friends!

This is just a quick post showing an amusing piece of our lives right now. We are looking for an apartment of our own now, as we need to be out of our current place a month from today, and so we have been to visit two places already this week (quite nice, both of them) and are excited about setting up a home.

Now, it goes without saying that an apartment in The Netherlands, particularly in the city will be either very small or very expensive or both. So we've been looking at apartments with as small as 25m square surface area, and many in the 35-40m arena. And we're pretty excited about the sparse intentional life-style it will promote. However, we are unused to some of the very creative solutions for fitting the most use out of these small spaces. For example, most Dutch apartments have the toilet all by itself in a little closet. So where does the shower go? The washing machine (if the apartment has one) is typically either in a shower room or the kitchen. And... if there is no shower room where does the shower go?

Sometimes the shower is in the kitchen too.

In this one, you can see that the left picture was taken from inside the shower pictured right 
This was an otherwise fancy apartment! Lots of light! Several decent sized rooms!
This last one doesn't even have fuzzy glass! What would you do if you had guests?!
Another post concerning an adventure with windmills coming soon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Misadventures of the Trailing Spouse: More Bike tales, Calculus, Dutch and Foul Smelling crockpots.

I am learning new some skills. This means that there's a lot of things that I'm doing all the time that I'm not good at yet.

Example #1. Biking.
Now, for everyone who read my first story about biking, I should say I have made a lot of progress. I am no longer frightened of biking, and enjoy the freedom of being able to zip around town, particularly now that we have suitable raingear and I don't get drenched if I bike in the rain. That said, however, I'm still not a fast or confident biker and this past week or so I've had three bike crashes. In the first one, a bus came up behind me and was honking (probably not at me) and I got scared so I started biking even closer to the curb, and when I looked back to see if Owen was still with me, I swerved into the curb and ended up catching myself beautifully on the concrete. Scraped knuckles, some small bruises, but all my stage combat work has taught me to fall well, and my instincts kicked in nicely. I was mostly just rattled (as busses are usually extremely courteous towards bikes) and once I got home and had a good, "I'm glad I'm alive" cry, everything was fine.

Bike crash number two was rattling because it was so soon after the first crash. There were a lot of slippery wet leaves in the bike path, and I must have just lost my grip or something because next thing I knew the leaves and I were becoming very well acquainted. Again. No injury worth speaking of, just had a good, "why is this happening to me?" cry and got back on my bike the next day.

The third time I crashed my bike was on the way home from church and was the scariest by far. Owen and I were biking home from church and we had just zipped through an intersection on a yellow light, and found ourselves going a good bit faster than the bike ambling along in front of us. All of the sudden he swerved and then slowed down even more, so instead of trying to pass on the left (like a sensible, sane, person) I instead caught a glimpse of the giant signpost, and knew I was done for. You know in Calvin and Hobbes, when Calvin tries to practice catching or batting a baseball? The ball grows fangs and chases him. I feel this way about posts. I see a post, (which to anyone else would just be a normal unremarkable post) and I see it grow teeth and snarl, "Ima get you." My brain has time to think, "Post, what are you talking about, I'm here in the bike lane you're over there, and oh no!" Something happens, and the post gets me. This happened to me when I was little too, and I think the best explanation is one I learned in a skiing lesson. "If you're looking at it, you'll go to it." So advice to all of you who don't bike much, or might possibly be less experienced than I am: don't look at the things you don't want to run into. If you think "I'm gonna run into that." Look at something else! Preferably something far away! This crash needless to say was messier. Owen looked back just in time to see and hear my head hit the road, I got a giant bruise on my arm, the bruises around my knees were a veritable bouquet, and one of my fingers and toes still hurts five days later. It was also very public, as the older man I nearly ran into stopped and made me sit on the sidewalk for five minutes, kissed the top of my head, and told us in Dutch if I wasn't okay we could call the ambulance, and it would be okay, we would not need to pay for it! A couple other people stopped and everyone was asking me if I was okay, and I was trying hard to stop crying so they would believe me. In the end, I sat for a bit and biked the rest of the way home, but it wasn't fun, and now I'm confronted with the whole, new task of finding a general practitioner, so that I can go to a doctor, whenever that becomes necessary. I'm also beginning to seriously doubt the wisdom of a whole country biking without helmets.

Example #2. Speaking/Reading/Understanding Dutch.
It will be a great joy to be able to speak Dutch, but it is pretty tough when you're starting out. The use of the English language is one of the things I have spent a huge amount of my life studying and practicing, and my ability to communicate is an ability I treasure, so floundering in Dutch class, not knowing what to say when asked a question, or just exasperation at not being able to express myself is a hard thing. It's sad to pass bookstores and feel like a diabetic kid in a candy shop. I'm learning, I'm working on it pretty much every day, but it's hard. I also have a lot of tasks to do like, calling about the customs paperwork for our shipment, and let's just say calling government offices is never fun, even in your mothertongue. It's wretched when you have to write down the "Speekt u Engels? Mijn Nederlands is neit goed..." so that you don't freak out and forget when you have a person speaking rapid Dutch on the other end of the phone.

Example #3. Calculus.
Owen's teaching calculus twice a week, and I get to sit in on his classes which is really exciting and interesting. Also humiliating. Somewhere I had got the idea that if I worked hard and paid attention, I would not just get the math, I would excel! I had not thought I would be decidedly below average in my speed in picking up concepts, or struggling over the notation. For the second class, I had not had time to review the notes from the previous class (something I thought of as being helpful perhaps, but not necessary,) and I was the only one in the class to fail the first quiz. Lesson learned, I studied hard for the next class, and got a perfect score on my first homework (without even getting help from the teacher!) but it was still humiliating. Since then I've learned that most of these students have already taken calculus (why they're taking Intro to Calculus, I'm not sure) and that has made me feel a lot better about everything. But still. Not something I have any of the skills to breeze by in. Just have to put in a lot of hard work.

Example #4. Slowcooker shenanigans
Owen brought home a slowcooker (very rare in the Netherlands) from an Asian grocery store. The lady running the cash register had to make sure he knew "this is not a rice cooker" "Oh, yes, I know. It's for cooking things at a low heat for a long period of time." "Good." I thought, "Hurray! Something I know how to use and do!" However I spent my whole morning looking for a new apartment (we have to be out of this one in about a month) and didn't get the food into the crock pot til after lunch. But I thought, "that's okay. 8 hours on low won't work at this point, but 4 hours on high will still have this food done in time." So I carefully washed the slowcooker, and put together the meal and turned it on high. And the house slowly began to fill with the scent of.... burning plastic. I was horrified and worried, "Is this normal? Do we have a defective machine?" but found reassurance on the internet that this is indeed normal, and should only happen the first time or two as the encasing around the wiring breaks down. The house smelled so bad that I opened the windows and still had a terrible headache, so I thought. "It's a crockpot. Full of liquid. The chicken in there is frozen. It will be fine if I give it a stir and then go to the library." So that is what I did. It made me feel a lot better to not be breathing in any more burning plastic fumes, and I got some work done, ready to come home and find that the crock pot had burned everything around the base, and that only two hours later, the chicken was totally shreddable. Ladies and gentlemen, beware the vigorous Asian crockpot. I was able to salvage the meal (which did not taste at all like plastic or even burnt stuff, and was actually pretty great) but I think it will take some work to identify the cooking patterns of this particular crockpot, and it may be awhile before I have the confidence to put it on the "auto" setting.

This has all sounded pretty sad. So let me end with this. My last year at Mary Baldwin I started weight training. Just a couple times a week, at first, and not for long at all. I had a class at the gym from 8-9:30, so it just made sense to stay for another half hour before heading back to the dorm and showering. When I started it was terrible. I hated it. I was in pain, and as one of my friends grimly told me "your muscles are actually ripping so they can grow back stronger." I had never felt so weak or pathetic, and the worst part was that when I started it didn't start going uphill. It went downhill first, for a good while before going uphill. But as I did it, I started to like it. Between Thursday and Tuesday I would miss the crazy happy exhileration, and I would find myself trying to figure out if I could go another day. By the time the spring semester rolled around I didn't have a class at the gym but I went anyways, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday the whole semester. Can I just say how fantastic it felt to lift or press or pull twice or three times as much as when I had started? By late spring I would see girls come in and I would have to try not to smile at their surprise when they used machines after me and found they needed to take off a lot of the weight before they could make a rep. So here's hoping that in six months, or eight months or by the time we leave this country, I will be happy with my past self for all the hard work when the work was hard.

Also! In all my free time when I'm not learning Dutch, calculus or battling asian slowcookers, I now write a weekly column for the Shakespeare Standard, you can see my articles here:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Foods making us happy in Leiden

One of the things that we were not expecting to be so wonderful here is the food.  Our Dutch friends helpfully warned us before we left that clothes and electronics would be much more expensive in the Netherlands than in the US, but they also said that food would be cheaper.  What they didn't tell us is that the food would be delicious.  Here are two of the star ingredients we are so delighted to be eating:


We had heard that potatoes are a staple of the Dutch diet.  One of Van Gogh's peasant paintings is called "The Potato Eaters"; we saw it on our trip to the Van Gogh Museum:

The Potato Eaters
Even now, french fries with mayonnaise are standard fare alongside Dutch cuisine, even if that cuisine is pancakes.  But now we know why the Dutch eat so many potatoes: Dutch potatoes are amazing.  (Something about the soft, wet soil and the mild winters, I'm guessing.)  We've been eating potatoes chopped in soups, sliced and baked with vegetables, and about once a week mashed as the topping of shepherd's pie:

Yes, Clara and I ate half of the pie so you could have a cut-away view.  Not because it was so delicious we forgot to photograph it first.


Okay, it's true: we're not yet in the habit of photographing our food before we eat it.  As further proof, here's a picture of the same dish as above, now not-containing roman apple cake:

We've made this cake several times and each time forgotten to take a picture for you.  When we post the gluten-free recipe, we'll include a photograph then.  But to give you an idea of how delicious this cake is, we fed it to a friend who afterward told us he had never before enjoyed a baked apple dessert.  Yet here is this friend, all smiles!

Some of you may recognize a game of backwards-IZZI being played.
Another way our lives are improved by the apple products here is the applesauce.  Since I'm allergic to the sulfites used to bleach most non-organic sugar, we do a lot of shopping at health-food stores, at one of which Clara found this gem of a product for 1 euro per jar:

Ingredients: apples.
It tastes like apple pie.  Sweet and tart with a beautifully thick texture... we have it on pancakes, mixed into rice pudding, or by itself as dessert.  Yum!

Delivery Burgers

Now you can order online!
Just kidding!  We got this advertisement for delivery burgers in our mail.  We're not using them in our cooking (for multiple reasons), but it is one of the foods making us happy here in Leiden.

Have you ever traveled (or moved somewhere) and been blown away by the food? Tell us in the comments!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Things making us happy in Leiden

1. We now own rain gear.

It rains a lot in Leiden, and biking is our means of transportation. Owen is a strong enough biker to hold an umbrella while he bikes, but I'm still getting to that point. And although I have a couple of jacket-like articles of clothing I didn't have anything resembling real rain gear til this week. After last Sunday's trip to church and getting soaked to the skin both ways, I went and bought us both some cheap raingear. 
grocery bags don't really cut it.
rain gear is much better!
2. Visitor!

Mark, one of Owen's closest friends, and a friend of mine since Deerwander days came to visit us here in the Netherlands. It has been a blast having him around during the days, going to museums with him and having him in and out over the last nearly two weeks. He's come and gone a bit, going on adventures to Scotland and Ireland, making the most of this visit to Europe. It's been great. 

3. Museums.

I mentioned that I've been heading to museums with Mark during the weekdays, but Owen and I have also been going. He's writing up a blogpost about the Naturalis Museum now. I should say that for a city this size, Leiden has a ton of excellent museums, all with a very Dutch flair. They are usually bilingual throughout the museum (which is so nice for us) but the museums are always eager to point out local achievements. These artifacts were brought by the first Dutch archeologist working in Egypt, these tools belonged to an innovative Dutch surgeon, these tile pattern was originally based off of Chinese influences but became emblematic of Dutch domestic culture and export. I think in the US, we are much happier to dip our fingers into other people's achievements, or to not care as much how the things we use came to us. I like this Dutch national pride. And it makes sense. They have a lot to be proud of. 

4. Baked goods.

It's been chilly in our house, and although we now have learned how to turn on the heat, a cold house has made me very eager to bake. I will post another post very soon with the recipe I use for Roman Apple cake adapted for the gluten intolerant, but for now, here's the original recipe I found online. 

5. Dutch class.

Owen and I are taking a Dutch class at his department. It's an immersion class so you really have to do the work or you'll look like an idiot, but I already feel like a bit of one given the other students. We have a lot of students from Italy in the class, and many of the students know four or five languages. This past week we all went around the room saying where we come from and which languages we speak. The first student said, "Ik kom uit Italië, ik spreek Italiaans, Engles, Frans, Spaans, en een beetie Nederlands." There were almost as many distinct languages as students, with languages as diverse as Latin, Romanian, Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, Serbian, and it made my shaky accomplishments in highschool French look poor indeed. Everyone in the class is fluent in English as well as their native tongue, (Owen and I are the only native English speakers) and most students knew at least three if not more. It's so easy to think of my language as the only one worth knowing, (particularly with all the time and effort I've put into studying it) but how simple to not realize other people think the same. 

6. Knitting. 

Another way we've been keeping warm is knitting. I am very nearly finished with my first ever sweatervest, and I'm thinking fondly of my mother-in-law and new family and our happy trip to Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool festival a year ago this weekend. Here's what I wrote about it last year.

7. The Prague fiasco

Here is some of the furniture at our gate. 
Now this story may not sound like a happy story at first but stick with me. Mark, Owen and I had planned to be in Prague this weekend. We thought it was high time to explore a little more of Europe, and Mark was eager to see Prague, so what better occasion? After much careful planning (it can be tough to travel with significant allergies in yet another unknown language) we got up very early yesterday morning to head to the Rotterdam Airport, a place full of cushy couches, delightful little coffee-drinking nooks, security with our shoes on, and decor with a whimsical flair putting us in mind of the Oegestgeest Bank office. Our flight was cancelled, and then merely delayed, then cancelled for real, no reasonable flights to take us there a little later, so our plan was a wash. Mark was still eager to go and see another country, so he caught a train to Belgium, and we planned on heading back home, figuring out how to cancel the rest of our flights, and get our money back and our new plan was to meet him in Brussels today. But here's what happened. We got home and my stomach with which I had been on nebulous terms all day, decided to outright revolt, and I found myself sicker than I've been in about seven years, probably longer. Which brings me to the happy parts of the story. I am so thankful that I was sick at home with a immeasurably sweet husband taking care of me. Not in a youth hostel. Not at some great historic landmark. Not on a train. Not in a plane. Not anywhere but home. New weekend plan? Sleep. Stay in bed. Watch old Disney movies. Eat applesauce and bananas, maybe rice. Work on finishing the sweatervest--or possibly just watch Owen finish it. Maybe go to church and a baby welcoming party if I'm feeling stronger tomorrow. Mostly? I'm planning on loving and being loved. 

The Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Hello again, friends!  Here's another post by me, Owen.

We've posted before on going to the Van Gogh Museum, but Leiden itself has a lot of museums we can visit for free with our Museumkaarten.  Last weekend, Clara and I went to the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, whose exhibits on the variety of life are astonishing.

More pictures below!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why is Clara learning Math?

One of our readers asked about a note in the corner of our whiteboard in the kitchen. It has my to do list for every day, three things: learn math, learn dutch, finger puppets. The reader understood the bit about Dutch, and who knows about the finger puppets, but what is this about learning math? Owen already knows math, but why is Clara spending her time every day learning math? Here are some reasons. 

Which makes the implication false?
Because I am married to a mathematician. 
As the wife of a mathematician it is totally socially acceptable for me to say, "oh I don't know anything about math" or "I don't understand any of it!" It's totally acceptable for wives of mathematicians, biologists, computer scientists, etc. to not know or care about their husbands' work. This not a thing I like. In a letter to Owen I remember saying that when I'm dealing with math I feel like trying to scuba dive with only snorkeling equipment. I know there's incredible stuff to see down there, but I don't have the resources (be it time, education, or perhaps determination) to dive down and actually see it. Owen compared our individual fields to countries. Theater-land is very tourist friendly. It's made for visitors. But Mathland? "It's a nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit." This is probably part of why it is so standard for the friends and families of mathematicians to be okay with not knowing about math. But I don't want to be acceptably ignorant.

Because I spent three years with the PEGs.
Perhaps one of the reasons I don't want to be "acceptably ignorant" is because of three years living and working in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, with girls (affectionately known as PEGs) as young as twelve going to college early. There was no such thing as "acceptably ignorant" in that dorm. I was surrounded by young women who wanted to create whole worlds, who would sell geeky Math Club valentines in February, who worked with animation. PEGs who did cognitive and behavioral research with shrews, slicing the brains of their experimented-on shrews to understand more about how our own brains function under certain stimulus. PEGs who loved math classes best of all, perhaps because no one was telling them it was a thing for boys

Because I want to become the role model I would want my kids (or nieces, or nephews) to have.
Amelia Earhart? Not a mathematician, but her quote holds
I love a lot of things associated with traditional femininity and domesticity. I like to cook, and I'm glad that I can have built up kitchen skills for adapting recipes, substituting ingredients with confidence and ease. I play the violin. I like costume dramas, and have read all of Jane Austen's novels. I have two masters degrees in Shakespeare. I love fairytales. I have a lot of poetry memorized. I knit. I crochet. I sew. I even embroider. I do a lot of papercrafting, and although I'm not sure I would qualify the work of my hands as art, I certainly fall into the highly skilled side of the crafting frontier. I love children's books, and have been told dozens of times, "You will be such a great mom!" With all these (often) gendered skills and activities, it would be easy for me to just stay in the "right brain" side of the world. There's enough in art and music, in fairytales and all these interests to last me a lifetime. It would be easy to stick to the creative and artsy humanities side of things. Let other people (guys?) do the math and science "left brain" stuff. But I don't want to be that example for the world's next generation. I don't want to encourage girls to go into math and science because I approve of that idea, or because it frustrates me that our world still thinks of math and science as things that women aren't good at. I want to be a woman who is competent and capable with numbers. I want to actually think that math is fascinating and beautiful. 

Paper engineering? I love this stuff.  
Because math is fascinating and beautiful.
A lot of things I've loved my whole life are math-y things. Origami, patterns, logical thinking puzzles. In college I took a class on "Advanced Logic" which was really a giant excuse to read Godel, Escher, Bach-- which is a gorgeous, complex book, full of ideas so fascinating I still lie awake thinking about them six years after taking the class. One of the reasons I fell in love with Owen was all the years of hearing about math from him. He would tell me about theorems or paradoxes which fundamentally changed the way I thought. Learning to think in new ways made my world bigger, full of even more questions, more things to discover. This sort of learning feels great. Don't believe me? Listen to RadioLab online. Watch Planet Earth on Netflix. Or just watch some Vihart videos, like this one about Fibonacci numbers (I bet I can tell you how many petals are in a flower!) . Or if you think that factorization isn't beautiful? Watch this, fast forwarding when you like but make sure you get to 243. Owen got all excited when our friends' house number was 243, and I didn't get it till I saw the animation. Which is another thing that's crazy and wonderful. Owen sees numbers as special and interesting, the way I think about words, not just a combination of digits but entities with meaning and relationships. I want to dive down into that. 

Owen used tea to explain logical implication. (see first image)
IBM has a bunch of short films out with little girls interviewing women working in technology for IBM, and they end every interview saying "Let's build a smarter planet!" I like this plan, but I'm also excited about us all just becoming smarter people. Stanford offers a ton of classes online for free! I'm taking the one on Mathematical Thinking, and it's great. I'm glad I have so much opportunity to learn here. Learning Dutch. Learning about a whole country and its history and its place in the history of the world. Learning to edit video, learning screenwriting, and yes, learning math.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Leiden's Relief: a city-wide party

The celebration of having food to eat is something I can get behind.

This week marks the anniversary of Leiden's Relief in October 1574.  Short version: after Leiden's city council decided to swear loyalty to Prince William of Orange, rather than Sovereign Lord King Philip II of Spain, Spanish armies sieged the city for several months, and the inhabitants ran out of food long before help came.  But eventually, a fleet of Dutch rebels broke dike after dike to flood the land around Leiden, and the Spanish forces fled the rising waters.  The fleet brought white bread and herring to feed the starving citizens, who had also scavenged the abandoned Spanish camp for some "Hutspot" (mashed potatoes, carrots, and onions).  These dishes are traditionally eaten every October 3rd since.

I had originally thought that this was something the rest of the country quietly noted, but apparently it's all and only Leiden that closes shop to celebrate.  (Thanks, Michiel, for the correction!)  I got both Thursday and Friday off work, but the city had been gearing up all week—on my Monday morning commute, I noticed the sudden appearance of a roller coaster in the town square:

Meanwhile, Clara tried to post a letter and discovered that the postbox had been temporarily sealed so that (in the words of a helpful passerby) "drunk people don't try to pour beer into it."  Two notes: 1. This was three days before any celebrating was due to start.  2. Yes, we now have stamps and can reply to letters!  If you've written to us already, we are on it!

By October 2nd, on whose evening the party started, I was having difficulty getting home on my bike through the crowd, so when Clara and I decided to see what the celebration was like on October 3rd, we went on foot.  Here are five things we noticed:

1. Crowds.  Not just near the open areas by the train station, like we'd thought at first, but thronging the streets and canals.  It was clear from the massively multiplied quantity of parked bikes and cars that this was an event people travel from far and wide to witness.  We had left our valuables at home and took only a little cash, but even then we didn't feel comfortable stopping to take pictures except from some quieter vantage points (so you don't get the full effect from these photos).

2. Temporary platforms had been raised over the canals to facilitate the festivities.  We think there might have been some temporary bridges too, but we're not sure yet.

3. There was so much garbage.  Empty plastic cups and cans, paper plates, even a mostly full but abandoned wine bottle in the street.  Here's a shot of a (usually pristine) grassy area so you can see some of the detritus.

4. The city was just generally decked out.  Even to the rigging on some of the ships, everyone seemed really happy to be celebrating:

5. Live music.  Mostly people singing English pop sings with Dutch accents, but Clara and I love to hear people singing.  Tiny venues like this one sprang up all over town, so that you could always hear someone playing as you walked. 

By midday on Friday, everything was back to normal: streets swept clean and people going about their business.  Next time this happens will be Queen's Day King's Day, when not just the city but the whole country celebrates.

Thanks for reading!  You've asked for shots of funny Dutch signs (we're on the lookout), more candid photos of inflatable kayaks (may be a while, folks), and more pictures of us happy.  Here's an installation on the last request:

Does your hometown, or anywhere else you've lived, have any unique holidays?  Tell us in the comments!