15 October 2012

Fall break!

In Minnesota, the 3rd weekend of October is affectionately known as "MEA break." The former Minnesota Education Association changed its name to Education Minnesota years ago, but the only place you see it used is on the school calendars. The fall professional conference happens this weekend every year. It's a great time to pick up some continuing ed credits and network. Many families in this part of the country take the long weekend to work in some fall fishing or hunting, or button up the family cabin. It's also a great time to take a quick trip. We had some travel vouchers ticking away, so we weighed our options for using them up. After a bit of hemming and hawing, we booked a trip, and I am pecking away on my iPhone as I listen to the Pacific pounding in the dark against the coastline of Costa Rica. My husband's AFS sister has remained part of the family since she came to the US as an exchange student 30 years ago. We've finally been blessed with an opportunity to visit. I tacked a couple personal days onto the weekend. She brought us to the beach for the weekend, and we'll go to a national park tomorrow. For now, we're content to visit with the family and relax in the hotel.

29 September 2012


     Once we returned home from Europe, it seemed as if someone set the rest of my summer to fast forward.  The apples started dropping quite early, due to our dry weather, I assume.  We had just had our house connected to the new sewer main in town, so the back yard was bare dirt rather than the usually overgrown grass that would camoflage the fallen apples.  This year, instead, they lay on the bare ground, chiding me to make use of them before they spoiled.  I got a couple batches of applesauce and jelly done and got some frozen for pie, before our friend in the country asked if he could take groundfall for the pigs, and I was officially off the hook.
      I planted two cherry tomatoes that survived, and it seemed just to spite me, they produced like mad.  I had to strip those last week before our first hard frost, and I am wondering if they'd make a mock gooseberry pie?
      In the midst of all this, we packed up our two elder Things for college.  They are going to the same school now, a state college a short hour away.  Thing 1 ventured off to Black Hills State last year, but transferred closer to home at semester break.  She loved the campus there and made some good friends, but its one of those schools that sort of closes up on the weekends (as is her current one) and she found herself very isolated.  Now, she and her sister found an apartment in a complex that borders campus.  iPastor and I both lived there at various points in our college careers.  I took the opportunity to furnish their apartment with all our extra stuff.   They bought a bunkbed/futon unit so they could share a bedroom without dismantling our loft, were gifted with some items from friends, and could not resist a couple of curbside finds.  Otherwise, I was appalled, after so many years of percieved progress at decluttering, to STILL have enough stuff to completely stock their kitchen, and furnish an apartment.  Over 22 years of marriage, inherited things from his mom, my brother, grandma moving to the nursing home, and various other acquisitions,  although I have purged, donated, regifted and even sold items, I still have TOO MUCH STUFF.  We're down from an impassable five-room basemsnt,  to two neatly organized rooms, two in progress, and one where I just shut the door and ignore it.  In the meantime, my two oldest have their first place of their very own.  It ain't Martha Stewart, but it functions.  They've fluttered out of the nest, returning weekends to do laundry and work a few shifts for their dad.  He brought them on to help fill some odd shifts during a staffing turnover, and it turns out they've been more reliable than anyone else he can find.
      We're also taking a year off from hosting exchange students.  We're hoping to get some work done on our poor neglected house.  My kitchen is in desperate need of help, and we need to bite the bullet and refinish our poor old hardwood floors, or tack in some carpet until we can give them the attention they deserve.  With the extra rooms emptied, we've been doing some cleaning and rearranging there, as well.  We moved the TV out of the living room and set up a den, much like we had when we first moved in.  We emptied a room and are in the process of painting and rearranging to create a library.  This led to a collection of oddball furniture in the upstairs hallway, so last weekend, Thing 2 and I arranged them in a bedroom, Tetris style, and affectionately dubbed it the Bunkhouse.  I took the opportunity to replace all the bedframes (the Things preferred their mattresses on the floor,) head/footboards, and extra bedding from storage.  My linen closet and the aforementioned basement have slightly more breathing room now with all the stuff in use.  Meanwhile, downstairs, the living room had become weirdly empty, with only two recliners and an end table, set up in a manner that made me start calling it the throne room.  Folks wandering in the front door could some directly in for an audience.  The foyer has always seemed a bit of an odd catch-all to me.  So, I did more rearranging, and have a cozy little sitting room in the foyer.  I pushed the piano into the cavernous living room, and now we have the Jones bunkhouse and dance hall, complete with pinball.  At least until I rearrange some more.
      Now, I find myself up too early on a Saturday, piddling around on teh interwebz instead of doing something productive.  It's shaping up to be a beautiful fall day, so I'd better get to doing something with it.

23 July 2012

All good things...

I tried to stay up late to ensure that I'd sleep some on the plane, so we packed and replaced for most efficient passage through security and customs. We had chosen to travel with only carry-on bags, but DDs family gave us an old suitcase for overload. It was actually larger than we needed, so the challenge was to make sure that anything that could be construed as liquid got checked, and the carry-ons were easy to put through security. I
We were eventually satisfied with the results, and settled in for a nap before flight time. We were up and on the road in plenty of time. Once our goodbyes were said and we'd resolved not to wait so long to do it again, we headed into the airport, for our blessedly uneventfully flight home.
We had hoped to meet with our very first student, our Brazilian Boy, in Newark for lunch, as he was also travelling through NYC, but it didn't work out. Our return flight to MSP was delayed by about 45 minutes as they worked (successfully, it turned out) to route us away from some storms and turbulence. Once we were airborne, we had smooth sailing, and we're met by Thing 2 at the airport. We got her deposited at her Twin Cities digs, then headed out for the 3-hour drive home. iPastor made a quick stop at Bunde, MN, to dovetail with our trip through Bunde, Germany, then we were home and crashed unceremoniously. Nearly a week later, I'm still off schedule, but it's summer and lazy so it's all good.


Our last day in country, DD1 and her boyfriend brought us to Volendam, the most "touristy" destination of our trip, but absolutely delightful. Volendam epitomizes the concept that the Dutch are out of space, do they use every inch as efficiently as possible. The homes were hard to discern from the shops, as many fronted the sidewalks directly, and decorated their picture windows accordingly, to give them some sense of privacy, while being pleading to the passerby's eye. Every possible inch of real estate was occupied. Once we wandered through town to the harbor, we were greeted with the quintessential fishing village vibe. Lots of open-air shops, food stands, boat rides and entertainment. We wandered around, buying souvenirs and sampling the food, then headed home via the grocery store, where we picked up equivalents to make a Dutch version of tater tot hotdish. We ate al fresco, enjoying the last sun of a gorgeous day, then reluctantly went inside to pack.
iPastor took most of the pictures today. I'll have to steal some and add them in later.


We headed out for our Dutch home base, routed through Leer, a town in Ostfriesland heavily connected to iPastor's genealogical line. We hit heavy traffic immediately, so we rerouted the GPS and started over. After that was smooth sailing. The autobahn is not the speedway some Americans romanticize it to be, but we clipped along nicely. The "suggested" speed is 130 kph, with slowdowns of various extremes in high congestion or construction zones Although we didn't encounter much heavy truck traffic, semis, as well as campers and busses, are required to stay in the left lane. The center lane held close to 120-30 kph, and those who felt the need for speed kept to the right. It was easy driving, and the condition of the road, even in construction zones, was impeccable. I did open up to 160 kph for a while when conditions warranted. It was delightful.
We got to Leer and wandered our way through it and the connecting little towns. The various neighborhoods we've been in have all been similar in many ways. Although we were in Germany, we were spitting distance from the Dutch border, so the houses had that same close proximity, and red brick was prevalent. DD2 spotted a local restaurant to try, and it was amazing. Luckily, we wandered through a couple of cemeteries, requiring us to walk around and move, otherwise we'd have been hard pressed to stay awake. The cemeteries we visited were pleasantly different from many in our neighborhood. Frequently, the area over a grave had been gravelled over and surrounded with edging. Little container or rock gardens were common within the edging. All the plots were well-kept, and watering stations and cans were available for use. Much nicer than some of our flat-marker-no-plants-allowed "memory gardens." iPastor did find some ancestors, so he was pleased. We drove back to 't Goy in the waning light. We're a couple latitude lines north of home, and the light stays much later here. At 10:30 it was still light out, though the sun was long down.

22 July 2012


GD#2 got home from work, and there was much laughing, hugging and card playing. I crawled off to bed before the rest, but I'm told the night dragged out plenty late.
The rain finally went away, but it was still pretty cool for July. We had a relaxed morning before hopping the train downtown to see some wall-related sites, eat, and watch people. We picked up GD2's boyfriend at the train station and headed for home.
When we got back, Elle had a backyard bonfire planned with the neighbors, and it was a lovely evening at home. We'd brought s'mores supplies by request, and they were a hit.
Again, commonplace ideas for them seem so remarkable to us. No place we've stayed has had more than an apartment-sized fridge. They shop much more frequently, but only have to hop across the street or swing by the store on the way home. Although there is no absence of supermarkets, neighborhood fruit stands, bakeries and meat markets still thrive, and prices are competitive. Groceries so far have been slightly cheaper here than at home. The packaging is more sensible, as well, and everything recycles. Many drinks here are still bottled in glass, and more are in paper, shelf-stable cartons. A larger variety of cars run the roads, and more fuel options wait at the pumps. Our road trip vehicle is an LP/petrol SAAB, and I'm becoming quite spoiled.
Saturday was a day to relax with family. We ate, lazed around, and iPastor and the kids played games, while I ran with Elle and Sven to a friend's farm for more firewood. We girls walked on the woods a bit while the lumberjacks did their thing. We came home for another night around the fire, and took pictures as we prepared for our first goodbyes. iPastor also made some cinnamon rolls from scratch, per request. SD had to take the 440am train to the airport. After seeing her off, we slept in a bit, were fed and pampered then said our goodbyes to Berlin and hit the road for Ostfriesland.

21 July 2012

Road Trip!

I'm using the iPhone version of Blogger, which is a bit limiting. I haven't found a way to insert or caption pictures in any sensical order, so they're just getting thrown in until I get home to fuss with them on the laptop.
Thursday, we were on the road by 5:15 to Berlin. Autobahn driving, at least the route we took, was never any faster than a Dakota interstate, but frequently slower, since summer is universally road construction season. We slowed down for quite a stretch in the middle for a traffic jam that put 494 on a weekday to shame. Never did figure out why. We got to Falkensee, a Berlin exburb, at about 1pm, where we were graciously hosted by the family of German Daughter #2. Our GD#2 had to work until late, but her parents are very warm hosts. SD was also there from Switzerland to spend the weekend. We had a wonderful bowl of soup, then Mama Elle took us to visit Charlottenburg castle. We chose to walk around the grounds and gardens, dodging the remnants of the persistent rain which dogged our whole trip, then she took us on a car tour of some of the major tourist sights. As before, iPastor got much better photos, but these'll have to do for now.

Hangin' with the locals.

Wednesday was quieter and more relaxed. DD and I ran errands in the morning and went to Curves. In the afternoon, her boyfriend joined us, and we drove around the "neighborhood" of little villages and dikes. We also visited the equivalent of a Sams Club or Costco, where we sticked up on most of our food and candy souvenirs, at warehouse prices, rather than souvenir stand prices. We stopped at Beatrixsluis lock and dam and watched some ships move through. It really is a fascinating system. They took us by ferry to a little local restaurant not well-known to tourists, and fed us far too well. Oy. We headed home and prepared to wake and hit the road at 5am for our road trip to Berlin.


It seems I've started and saved this post several times, but when I come back, it's gone, and I'm usually too wiped out to hassle with writing coherent thoughts. I am exhausted daily, but loving every minute of it. As we rode the train to Amsterdam Tuesday morning, it occurred to me that many of the experiences I find remarkable, the folks here think of as commonplace. That's a good thing, so long as they remember to appreciate them; for instance, the train ride itself, on a functional and efficient public transit system. The development of the auto and US highway system over the years has brought many improvements to our quality of life, but at the expense of reliable public transportation options in all but the largest cities. Rural America is left in the lurch, needing expensive cars and expensive fuel, when perhaps our resources could be better invested elsewhere.
We got to Amsterdam and wandered around at a leisurely pace. We checked out some public squares with street performers and buskers, and went to the Rijksmuseum. Neither the iPastor nor I are well-schooled in the fine arts, but even we could appreciate the talent of Rembrandt and the other Dutch masters on display. The Rijksmuseum wins for being highly accessible to noobs. :)
Afterwards, we headed for Vondelpark, both for historic/sightseeing significance, and to check out some sights from John Green's latest book, _The Fault in Our Stars_. He's a family favorite, so I needed some pictures for the Things at home. The man singing to the ducks made the trip worthwhile all on his own. We walked back and visited the Anne Frank House. The line to get in was daunting, but it actually moved along quickly, yet didn't feel too rushed once we were inside. Visiting a place that one reads about is an interesting experience anyway, but the gravity of the story of the Hidden Annex made it all the more surreal. We walked back up near the train station, and took a canal tour. We'd been walking past and over them all day, so it was quite interesting to see the city from the opposite view.
Afterwards, we headed back to 't Goy and settled in for the evening.

16 July 2012

Day 3: Antwerp

We headed out with both DDs for a day trip to Antwerpen, Belgium. Couldn't be this close and not sneak one more country in. Did the sightseeing thing, ate, walked, ate more, and just had fun visiting with our girls. :). Have to steal pics from the iPastor. He was far better with the camera thani was today. We visited a lovely cathedral and the "Hidden Street," as well as an America Today store, where we could purchase Mountain Dew for DD#1. It was rainy but still pleasant, and the highlight of the day was just knocking around with our girls. They hadn't met before, and it was fun for them, I think, to compare "war stories" of their time in Minnesota. We made our back to Holland, and put DD#1 on a train back to Vlissingen, while we headed back to 't Goy.

Day Two

After going 36 hours straight, I finally crashed about 8pm local, only to wake at 4 am. We had a little Skype session home, then managed to go back to bed for a while. We headed to Vlissingen where DD (Dutch Daughter) #2's parents are vacationing, and where DD #1 lives. We had a quick visit with the parents at the beach, then we're off to celebrate our Dutch Granddaughter's 5th birthday. She was outside waiting for us to pull up, and I was greeted for the first time by shrieks of "Grandma!!" it was a little disconcerting, but I could get used to it. We were awash in babies and adorable children who I will not plaster on the Internet, but suffice it to say the extended family and friends were warm and gracious, and a loud time was had by all.
Supper was takeout from the local fry shop, which was a hit with adults and kids alike. We wound down with some Dutch and American TV.

14 July 2012

And we're off!

Greeting from 't Goy, Netherlands. It's rainy and too cool for July here. But we are here to spend time with our kids, and weather be damned. Our flights were blessedly uneventful, uncrowded and smooth. I read 1 1/2 books of the Hunger Games trilogy, and tried unsuccessfully to sleep on the plane. We were picked up at the airport by Dutch Daughter #2, who took us home to feed us and let us grab a quick shower, then we were off to explore old Utrecht with her sister. We wandered the old downtown and the open air market, then toured a museum of old carillions and mechanical orchestras and hurdy gurdys, which was surprisingly charming. She brought us home and fed us yet again, and we are currently in danger of lapsing into a food coma. It won't be long before jet lag has its wicked way with me, so I'll leave you with a couple of photos.