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22 January 2012 / M

Photo Sunday: Open Monumentendag

In an attempt to catch up on my backlog of photos, and to post more regularly, I am going to try to post photos every Sunday. We’ll see how successful I am…


Every September for one weekend, historic houses, castles, churches, windmills, warehouses, and much more open their doors to the public to share their past and show their architecture. I’ve gone 2-3 times in Leiden and there is never enough time to visit all the places that would be wonderful to see, especially since many of them are accessible by tour only and the tours fill up early.

Regardless, B and I managed to hit quite a few places: the Sint Elisabeth Ziekenhuis, the outside of the newly renovated observatory (the tours were full), an old warehouse, the former orphanage, and, top on my list, De Meelfabriek, a former flour mill that is in a state of decay. We got there too late on Saturday to join one of the tours, so we planned better for Sunday and got a spot for later that afternoon. It is fitting that the theme for 2011 was New Use – Old Building; many of the places we visited are used in different ways from what they were originally built for. Photos of many of the places we visited below, or the full set begins here.
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13 January 2012 / M

June trip: Oklahoma

In June I went to the US for a bit more than two weeks. The main purpose of the trip was to attend a family reunion in Oklahoma. To make the trip more interesting, I also visited Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota and Austin, Texas. I posted about the Minnesota portion of the trip earlier. I’m jumping ahead here to part three: Oklahoma. Austin will come later. The full set of Oklahoma photos are here.


My grandpa grew up during the Depression in a large family in a rural part of Oklahoma. From the stories I’ve heard, it was a life I can barely imagine: learning self-sufficiency, spending days at nearby swimming holes, hunting for squirrels. All with one or more of his many siblings and friends from neighboring families. It was a tough life, but one they look back on fondly. Over the past couple of decades, all the brothers and sisters and their growing families had regular reunions. They were usually held in the SE part of the country though so my family was never able to make it. I normally wouldn’t go to middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma all the way from the Netherlands, but I wanted to attend this time since they would be remembering my grandpa who passed away a couple of years ago. I also felt I should take the chance to see a lot of family I haven’t seen in at least 15 years, plus my mom, aunt, and uncle were all coming out from Portland.

B and I drove up from Austin, which took us a good 7 hours. I grew up in the country, but it is nothing compared to the area where my grandpa grew up. It’s a tiny town not very close to any other decent-sized town. Once we turned off the main highway, which didn’t have much along it, it was almost another half hour to get to where the reunion was. The town had one main street lined with closed-up shops. There was a gas station, a store, a couple of restaurants, and… that was about it. The remoteness, coupled with the Southern attitudes, made it a very different world. But it was surprisingly green and hilly. In some ways it looked similar to Oregon. It was actually rather pretty.

Park on Clayton LakeThe lake where the reunion was held. It was a lovely spot.


Clayton Lake at sunsetSunset over the lake.


The weekend was filled with meeting a dizzying number of relatives and hearing my great-aunts and uncles tell (and retell) stories from their childhood. We visited the family plots in the local cemetery. I helped my aunt tape photos from my grandpa’s life onto boards to display at the reunion and she reminisced about earlier parts of his life, such as when he was a chef in Portland. I often felt like there was so much family history I didn’t know.

The reunion drew to a close and my aunt and uncle flew home. My mom stayed for a couple more days which gave us the chance to spend a day in Oklahoma City, a 3 hour drive away. It was a bustling city compared to where we just came from, but it still didn’t have many tourist draws. Regardless, we managed to fill the day visiting the couple of things it does have: the memorial museum of the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, and the National Cowboy Museum.

The bombing memorial museum was quite well done, giving a short history of the federal building before recreating events from the morning of the attack. They then covered the full timeline of events from rescuing people from the rubble to the capture and trial of Timothy McVeigh. Outside, a moving memorial park symbolizes the moment of the blast and the lives lost.

Gate and reflecting pool


Empty chairsAn empty chair for each person who died in the bombing.
The smaller chairs represent children (there was a daycare in the building).


After the rather heavy experience at the museum, we went across town to the cowboy museum. Everything Old West was covered, from frontier days to rodeos and celebrity cowboys. Most rooms were just filled with cases of artifacts, but two parts were a bit more interesting: a replica Old West town you could wander around, and a rodeo ring.

Old west town at the National Cowboy Museum


Old west town at the National Cowboy Museum


Rodeo ring


After the excursion into the world of a Fly-Over State, it was time to say goodbye to my mom and head back south to Dallas before flying back to Amsterdam. I left B behind for a day before he followed with the hope of being allowed back into the country which, as we now know, fortunately had a happy ending.

26 December 2011 / M


I know technically it’s still sort of Christmas (Tweede Kerstdag or Boxing Day), but here’s a rundown on how I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…

On the 24th, B and I decided to go out and see the 3 DJs be freed from the Glazen Huis. They had been locked in a glass box for 6 days and weren’t allowed to eat to raise money to help single African mothers who’d lost their husbands during wars or conflicts. We puttered around the square for over an hour, checking out the cafe where interviews were being held (the cafe being one of B’s usual hangouts when working during the week) and noting some of the crazy outfits people had. A trio of girls had on tinsely Christmas tree hats, but they were outdone by a woman dressed as a Christmas tree, complete with lights. We then joined the crowd around the house and were fairly near the front by the time the DJs were let out. We got caught in one fundraising effort, a kiss chain that was going around the square which raised 1 euro per kiss. An Indian woman was planning to pass the kiss on to B, but he got shy, so she kissed me and I passed it on to a woman next to me. B was glad I saved him, and the woman’s daughter laughed and said it was probably for the best, just in case her father sees her mom kissing another guy on tv. After bouncing around to songs and watching the DJs look wistful now that the end was here, the door was finally unlocked and they walked to a nearby stage to be reunited with their girlfriends and be given an apple, their first solid food all week. Then the final tally was revealed: over 8.6 million euros, which is just insane. We headed over to that stage ourselves just in time to see some fireworks going off. Everyone was in good spirits and dancing to the music that was playing from the stage.

We wandered back home, but on the way we decided to pop our head into the church that’s near our house. B was curious if they had a Christmas Eve service and we wondered what the church might look like when it’s in use. We followed some people in, turned a corner, and found an entire congregation facing the entry, all quiet and waiting for the choir to start, which we were standing right next to. So much for sneaking in at the back… We felt obligated to stay then and also we couldn’t just stand at the back, everyone was sitting down. So we grabbed a couple of chairs and hid in the corner. We’d been given sheets with the program, so I could at least see what was coming up. I’d never really thought about going to a church for Christmas, but it was nice, especially in such a grand, old church with the organ playing. The hour even struck while we were there, so we could hear the bell tolling the hour from inside the church, the same bell we can hear from our apartment, which I found pretty great. We stayed for a couple of songs and heard the preacher read the Christmas story and talk about the importance of children before we snuck out during a song.

On Christmas morning we first opened our presents. It was nicely filled under the tree, especially thanks to B’s parents sending things over.

Christmas tree, pre-opening presentsPre-present madness. Never mind the killer rabbit to the right, he just wanted in on the festivities (and our BLOOD….)

I got some nice kitchen items from B and a book I had asked for, De Zachte Atlas van Nederland. He also got me a bottle of Westvleteren 8. The bottle was wrapped thusly:

Monster presentMonsterish present

From B’s parents, I had a gift bag that was very heavy. It turned out to be filled with not just one, but two bottles of maple syrup. One was shaped like a Santa penguin. We’d better get making pancakes.

Penguin maple syrupRoughly one-third of the more than 750 ml of maple syrup I now have…

After a bit of relaxing with the presents, I got started on making dinner which took way longer than I thought it would. I’m so slow or inefficient or something… Anyway, instead of cooking turkey this year, I decided to roast a guinea fowl. It was a suggestion from a coworker as an alternative to turkey. I found a recipe online that seemed easy enough and it was easy to get a bird at a poelier in town. It wasn’t even that expensive. It was a free-range bird from France that had a bit of rusticness to it: there were a few feathers that still needed some plucking before it went in the oven. Not a step I’m used to doing. But it looked pretty good before getting roasted (photo taken by B):

Guinea fowl ready to be cooked Thank you, bird, for being so tasty…

I don’t have a photo of it post-roasting, but I can attest that it looked pretty good and tasted even better. Along with it I made an apple and Italian sausage stuffing, glazed sweet potatoes, and cranberry-orange sauce. For dessert, I baked a panettone bread pudding with amaretto cream sauce which was utterly decadent.

Panettone bread puddingYou, and my arteries, don’t want to know what this contains.

Today we are being lazy, I, at least, am still in my pajamas, and at most we might go to see Sherlock 2 later on. A good start to a chill week away from work so hopefully I start off 2012 well.

17 December 2011 / M

Lost camera, gained iPad

Last weekend, B and I went to Cologne to visit the Christmas markets. We had a wonderful time and overdosed on winter spirit and Glühwein. Sunday evening we got on the train home and had a quiet trip back, the sausages and booze making us sleepy. At some point on the way back I either left my camera behind or had it stolen. I’m not sure what happened or when. There was only about one place I might have forgotten it and only about one chance for someone to have taken it, so it seems so baffling that when I got home it wasn’t in my backpack. But it does seem to be gone, along with all of the photos I took during the weekend. And unfortunately I hadn’t downloaded the photos that were already on the card, so I also lost the photos I took while visiting friends for Thanksgiving, and photos taken after we put our Christmas tree up (a big lesson learned there to always clear the card before I go on a trip). I’m not feeling so horrible about the camera being gone (I bought it secondhand for not that much money), but I’m pretty gutted when I think about the photos that I’ve lost.

The Deutsche Bahn has a great lost and found database, so I entered my camera into it the same night we got home. It hasn’t turned up so far though, so my hopes for getting it back have dwindled greatly.

A bright spot after that was to find out this week that my kerstpakket from work was an iPad. It was quite a surprise. My company is small and doesn’t usually give us many nice perks like that. At most, we’ve gotten a USB stick and a mug. So I almost couldn’t believe that they’d bought everyone iPads. I wasn’t too thrilled either since I had no desire to have one, so almost immediately I decided that I would sell mine. I was going to put it up on Marktplaats, but before I could, I was asked by a colleague if she could buy it, strangely enough, since she’d just received one herself. She wanted it as a Christmas present for her boyfriend.

ipadMy temporary possession of an iPad.

It was all taken care of quicker than I could have hoped. For now I still have the box, and I admit I am tempted to take it out and see what it’s like, but it’s not like I don’t know where to find one if I want to give it a try. Selling it though will give me more than enough to buy a replacement camera, which works out quite nicely.

30 November 2011 / M


One cold and rainy day at the end of August, B and I decided to go to Apenheul, a place that’s like a zoo with only monkeys and apes, some of which are roaming around freely. We went despite the bad weather because we had a train discount ticket to use, so we wanted to head somewhere a good distance away to get the most out of the ticket. Besides, the forecast had not been that bad, there were going to be sun breaks later, but in reality it was a rainy day with the occasional dry break. Still, we had fun seeing so many monkeys and apes, some very closeup.

Taking photos was a challenge for me. I had bought my new (used) camera only about a week beforehand and this was the first time I really took it out and properly used it. And then it was to take photos of difficult subjects that didn’t often sit still. Straight away I felt I didn’t know what I was doing with the camera, but by the end of the day I was more comfortable with it. I was definitely happy with its incredible zoom ability and I got some great closeup shots taken from yards away. Some photos from the day below, more are on Flickr

Squirrel monkeyThese were the first monkeys we encountered, scampering around and begging for some food. There’s a reason they make you either put your bags in a locker or carry them in a monkey-proof bag… These are called “doodhoofdsapen” in Dutch — “skull monkeys” because the markings around their face resemble a skull. I think they are called squirrel monkeys in English, probably because they’re so squirrely.


Orangutan and babyA rather tired-looking orangutan mom who looks like she’s done with her baby’s antics… One of the photos where I was quite pleased with my camera’s zoom.


GorillasGorilla mom and baby.


Proboscis monkeyA proboscis monkey (with some unfortunate window reflection). They were as weird as they look. A couple of the males had no problem showing another appendage of theirs to the crowd…


MonkeyI can’t remember what these monkeys were called. As the day went on, they all blurred together and I took less photos. Partly that was due to the rain. Sometimes I felt rather foolish walking around in the rain while all the monkeys stared at us from underneath little shelters they had.


Silverback gorillaThe silverback gorilla. He was a rather young silverback and still looked like he lacked confidence or experience. Especially compared to the male gorilla I saw at the Melbourne Zoo.

14 November 2011 / M

Turning to winter

Right around the first of November, the winter lights started coming on around Leiden. They’d already been hung for a week or two, but now that it was post-turning-the-clocks-back, some extra light in the evening was needed.

In addition to the shopping streets spanned by lit garlands and banners of lights with the crossed keys of Leiden in the center, the trees along the Nieuwe Rijn are all hung with strings of little white lights. The row of trees in front of the old canal houses and reflected in the water is so simple, but incredibly beautiful.

Lit trees along the Nieuwe Rijn


Lit trees and the stadhuis

Just wait until there is snow as well.

A funny story that happened the day after I took these photos: I was making a little video for my family to show them a bit of what it is like in the area where I live. I was standing on a bridge over the canal and doing a little introduction. In the background, some people took advantage of the dry, sunny (though cold) day to boat around town. They were in the video until they went under the bridge I was on. Later that evening I was watching the video again and happened to look at the name of the boat as it came near. Coincidentally, it was named Marie. What are the chances…

21 October 2011 / M

June trip: Minneapolis/St. Paul

In June I went to the US for a bit more than two weeks. The main purpose of the trip was to attend a family reunion in Oklahoma, but since I didn’t want to go all that way and only see tiny, rural towns and a lot of family I barely know, I looked into additional places I could visit. In the end, the trip contained two other parts: a visit to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, to see a college friend I hadn’t seen in 8 years, and a stay in Austin, Texas, which I was just interested in seeing. The photos below are from the first part in Minnesota. The full set of photos are here.


I’d had stopovers in Minneapolis once or twice in the past, but I didn’t know until rather recently that one of my college friends, M, had moved to the area. It wasn’t hard to fly there, so I stayed with her, her husband, and her various pets in their cozy house in St. Paul. The 4- (and 3-) legged inhabitants:

Dog my friends were dogsittingNacoma
Not technically M’s dog, but they were dogsitting him the first couple of days I was there. I was sad when he had to go back to his owner’s house; he was such a sweet boy.


M’s energetic, mischievous, sweet, 3-legged dog


Whiskey hanging outWhiskey in one of her favorite poses


Massively fluffy and incredibly friendly


She has a second cat too, Caspian, but he was less people-friendly and usually hid out in the basement, thus I didn’t get a photo of him.


Mags and meM and me
This was taken from the top of a bluff in the city of Red Wing. The stranger who took our photo took 3 shots and my eyes were closed in all of them. Oh well, at least M looks normal.


Views from Red Wing bluffView of the Mississippi River from the Red Wing bluff


I was surprised to learn that the Mississippi ran through Minneapolis and St. Paul. It just didn’t connect with my idea of the river as belonging to the South. But such a long river has to start somewhere.

One day I went to downtown Minneapolis and took a walk along the river. There is an area with some of the old mills that once thrived there. I didn’t realize that companies like Pillsbury and Gold Medal Flour started in Minneapolis.

Stone Arch BridgeStone Arch Bridge
A former railroad bridge now in use by cyclists and pedestrians. It is right next to the old mill area, as well as next to a large lock on the river.


Old Gold Medal Flour millGold Medal Flour mill
Part was destroyed by a fire. Now it houses a museum dedicated to the history of the mills.


Grave of Thomas E. Burnett JrM took me to a national cemetery where Tom Burnett is buried, one of the people who helped bring down flight 93 on September 11.


Willow Creek


Willow CreekMy friend and her husband are passionate rock climbers. One of their favorite spots, aside from the Red Wing bluff, is Willow Creek, just across the border in Wisconsin. We drove there one day to enjoy the park and the water. Quite a few people were also climbing the cliffs next to the falls.


St Paul skylineSt. Paul skyline and the Mississippi River

16 October 2011 / M

Two ways to enjoy the sun

How two women soaked up some of the sun in a park today…

Sunning in the park

I suppose it wasn’t really that warm out there…


Sunning in the park

18 September 2011 / M

Out into the country

Earlier this year I came across a map of the Leiden region, Vers Uit de Regio, that shows nearby organic farms and places where you can buy local products. It also features cycling and walking tours that take you past a few of these places or through the fields. I kept it in the back of my mind as something to do this summer. And then, well, this summer didn’t happen, so week after week went by without good cycling weather. Finally in the second half of August there was a plan-free Saturday that promised sun and no rain, so we plotted a simple enough route that would take us to a dairy that makes and sells Leidse kaas (a low-fat cheese with cumin seeds added to it) and to an organic farm. In the early afternoon, we headed east around Leiderdorp towards the dairy.

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12 September 2011 / M

De Parade, Amsterdam

Trying to catch up on my backlog of photos…

I’d never been to De Parade, and had never really thought about going, but I wanted to give it a try this summer. De Parade is like a fringe fest in tents that visits each of the 4 big cities of the Netherlands over the course of the summer. It ends up in Amsterdam in the middle of August. Once the weather seemed to take a breather from doing nothing but rain, we headed there one evening after I got off work. After checking out the different tents and grabbing some not-too-bad, but too small and overpriced, tacos, we headed to a show in De Blauwe Hemel tent. It was an acrobatic show of sorts, about a family with bratty kids and parents who just want a quiet moment to themselves. It wasn’t your average family though as they did gymnastics around the room, climbed all over the furniture, and did tricks on bikes and unicycles.

Later on in the evening, we decided to see Boot (Boat in English), a short performance featuring one guy as the captain of various vessels, staged in the tail of an old plane. B and I lucked out and got the last two spots available, standing at the back (toward what would have been the front of the plane. Are you following me here?) in the 4th row in a full house of about 25 people. It was silly and full of non sequiturs, just good fun and it had some creative “special effects”.

Some photos of the Parade grounds… (And a few more.)
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