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!