Monday, September 26, 2011

Nothing Runs Like a Deere

Last month I decided to take my 10 year-old John Deere walk-behind lawn mower to the shop.  There were several items that needed attention, but the one that pushed me into action was the clutch cable.  When that broke, I became the "self" in self-propelled and that got old fast. 

So what does one do when their trusty John Deere needs service in Holland?  You remember that you just live in another country, not another planet.  So you go to, click on Dealer Locator, click on The Netherlands, put in your postal code and taa find that there is a dealer about 10 km away.  Not bad. 

The dealer's sign.  Tuin is Dutch for garden which is what they call their yards. 

I decided to call first, just to make sure they serviced lawn equipment.   For most local calls  you apologize to people, tell them (in Dutch) that you speak very little Dutch and would they mind speaking English.  Most Dutch reply that they only speak a little English, then go on to conduct the entire conversation in very good English.  When I asked the John Deere dealer if he could speak English, the reply was quite simply no (or nee).  So we both talked past each other in our native tongue long enough to convince me that they did indeed repair lawn equipment. 

Based on that phone experience I knew that I needed a different approach to describe the repairs I wanted done.  I was reminded of my haircuts while I lived in Hong Kong, where the barber didn't speak English -- I didn't want to repeat those results with my lawn mower.  So I typed my five requested repair items into Google, hit the translate button, printed the results and away I went. 

When he read the list, the repairman seemed to understand what I wanted and sent me on my way.  Two weeks later I got a phone call from someone speaking a lot of Dutch.  After a bit of listening I realized who it was and said "my mower is ready".  There was a very happy "Jaa" on the other end.

If the repairs had not been possible, I could have spent 1500 euro on a new tuinmachine. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Mark!

I celebrated my birthday last week.  In addition to getting a cake of my choice, I also got a special birthday breakfast.  You'll recall that our former neighbors, the Grabers, were visiting.  When we lived in Beaumont, they would invite us over on New Years Morning for Bill's world famous huevos rancheros.  He usually also served some wickedly alcoholic milk punch, but that was just a side light to his delicious Mexican egg dish. 

When Bill arrived in Holland his suitcase included corn tortilla's, a can of refried beans and Hatch's Green Chili sauce, the perfect topping for huevos rancheros.  And on the morning of my birthday he was up bright and early cooking breakfast.  The supply of good Mexican food over here is limited, so it was a great way to start the day. 

The chef at work

Huevos Rancheros may be one of those dishes that tastes better than it looks.  Those are refried beans at the bottom of the plate. 

My birthday cake choice continued the theme of ethnic foods -- Italian Creme Cake.  Thanks to Lori for baking another delicious cake.  Remember readers -- visit on (or near) your birthday and you can choose  any flavor birthday cake.  You will not be disappointed. 

Happy Birthday Mark


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alkmaar & Texel


We had some time before school started so we took a long weekend trip to Texel (pronounced Tessel) which is the westernmost of a string of islands that band the northern coast of Holland.  It's about 20 miles long and 5 miles wide.  It's west coast is an unbroken stretch of sandy beach on the North Sea.  The east coast borders the Waddenzee (Wad is a Dutch word for mud flats). 

On the way we stopped at the town of Alkmaar, famous for its cheese heritage.  The land surrounding Alkmaar is flat, soggy and unsuitable for crops.  But it's fine for raising cows and the Alkmaarians have been making cheese here since the 1300's.  The town was granted exclusive rights to weigh the cheese for the region (there must have been some serious lobbying) and grew prosperous from the taxes collected. 

The Waag, or Weighing House. When you've got a monopoly on weighing, you can afford a beautiful building.

A cheese press is used to press the whey out of the cheese and give it shape. It was an important piece of eqiupment so they were often given as wedding presents. That also explains why some were so fancy, such as the one shown here.

One of the early Miele appliances -- this one is a butter churn.

With all that history, it is no surprise that Alkmaar has a cheese museum.  It's actually quite interesting.  And it hosts a traditional cheese market every Friday, which was the day we visited.  The cheese market merits two different reviews from separate guidebooks.  One calls it "popular and well worth the trip".  The other calls it an "ancient affair that these days ranks as one of the most extravagant tourist spectacles in North Holland".  There is truth in both statements.  It is certainly popular.  The trip is only an hour, so it was worth it.  And spectacle is an appropriate description as well.

The market depicts how cheese markets operated in the 1700's.  Large wheels of cheese line the market square.  Buyers inspect the cheese by boring out a long round piece.  Then the buyer and seller negotiate with a series of hand slaps, much like a variety of high fives, low fives, head fakes, etc.  Although it would be interesting to know the origin of this "language", none was provided.  When the deal is concluded a team from the Cheese Porters Guild (i.e. transportation union) carries the cheese on an ornamental trays to be weighed.   It was all very lively and it certainly drew a crowd. 

Looking down on the cheese market.  Lots of people line the sides.  Some of the cheese is covered due to rain. 

A Cheese Porters Guild team carries away the cheese to be weighed.
This is the Red Team (there are four different guilds).  The men kind of trot as they carry the cheese. 
These guys are tossing the cheese to load the tray. They never hand it to each other; it's always tossed.

As you can probably guess, Hond is the Dutch word for dog.  I don't think we'd trust Graber pulling a cart of milk; there would be a lot of crying. 

An interesting home in Alkmaar

We decided to take this street back to our car because the flowers looked so nice.  Little did we realize that about half way down the street it became the red light district, which in Holland is a very public business. 

From Alkmaar we finished our drive up to Texel.  Since this was a Friday afternoon in August there were several thousand other Nederlanders doing the same thing, so traffic was a bit heavy.  We finally made it onto the ferry and scooted across to Texel.  We did everything you would expect to do on a vacation island -- played three rounds of golf on the par 3 course, rode horses, rode bicycles, visited the sea life center, walked the beach and toured the lighthouse.  The one thing we didn't do was sky dive, even though it seemed like everyone else on the island did.  The planes were dropping sky divers all day long. 

It's only about a 15 minute ferry ride to Texel, which seems short compared to the 90 minute wait to get on the ferry.

I took several pictures of gulls following our ferry. This one was about the only interesting shot.

The leader is in the bottom left of the photo.  As you can see, due to my lack of horse riding skills I'm paying close attention to her instructions. 

Grant thanks his horse, Werner. 

We visited a working cheese farm.  If you look closely you'll see a cow in this automatic milking machine.  The Dutch title for this was "Milkrobot". 

This is a true Dutch cheese maker.  He was about 7 feet tall.  Here he has taken the cheese out of the mold and is shaping it. 

The linksters


Changing houses at one of the beaches

At the Sea Life Center, feeding time was very popular. 

After lunch, this guy sacked out in the sun. 
Good think for digital cameras -- you end up taking 50 shots of the seals. When you review them later, most of them are just seals playing in the water.

How many flounders can you see in this picture?

The dunes between the beach and the farmland. 

View of the beach from the lighthouse.  It was low tide. 

The lighthouse was actually a lighthouse within a lighthouse.  The first one was partially destroyed when some POW's revolted against the Nazi's in WWII.  The Nazi's opened up with full fire to quell the uprising, which unfortunately severely damaged the lighthouse.  After the war, a new lighthouse was built around the old one.  Here are some bullet holes on the old lighthouse wall. 

Grant and Lori trying to build sand stuff with very dry sand. 

Every barn on the island was built in this style.  The sloped roof faces the prevailing wind (which I'm sure can be quite strong coming in off the North Sea).  The large doors are on the left face where they are protected from the wind. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

If You Invite Them -- They Will Come

For years our Christmas Cards have always included an invitation for folks to visit us if they're nearby.  And for years that invitation has been unheeded by most people.  However, this month we hit the jackpot with two visits from family and friends. 

First, my cousin, Sue, and her husband, Phil, stayed with us for three days.  They had just finished a six week sojourn around Germany, Switzerland and Denmark and were on their way home to Seattle.  It was nice to host people who weren't fighting jet lag -- no one fell asleep at dinner.  We gave then a quick glimpse of The Netherlands -- Den Haag (Mauritshuis, Escher Museum, Binnenhof) and Leiden (Pilgrim's Church, Rembrandt's Home, Windmill Museum).  They also biked to the beach for a walk along the shore.  I think they felt at home in the rainy, cool Dutch climate.  We really enjoyed seeing them. 

Sue, Mark & Phil

In front of the Binnenhof, the seat of the Government in Den Haag. 

These people look pretty happy considering they're about to eat my cooking. 

The canals of Leiden

After they left, Bill and Laura Lee Graber, stayed for three days on their way to Istanbul.  Bill and Laura Lee were our neighbors when we lived in Beaumont.  Among their other notable accomplishments are a bird sighting list that exceeds 750 species.  Unfortunately, we didn't add to that during their visit.  Astute blog readers will also notice some familiarity with their last name -- we named our dog after them.  They were good sports about it and even acted honored.    However, there were a few confusing moments during their visit when we would yell "No, Graber" and Bill and Laura Lee would look a little surprised. 

Bill and Laura Lee in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  The museum is huge, but most of it is closed for renovation so they consolidated all the best stuff into a condensed exhibit.  It worked out great.  We saw lots of paintings by the Dutch Masters but didn't have to walk forever to do it. 

Bill & Lori

Bill in front of William of Orange's tomb in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. 

Touring the canals of Delft. 

Delft is a beautiful Dutch town.  Here you see the Nieuwe Kerk's tower above the downtown. 

At the Royal Delft Factory.  Two artists spent a year creating Rembrandt's masterpiece, "The Night Watch" in actual size on Royal Delft tiles. 
Graber with his namesakes

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Name -- Same Great Quality

The time has come to retitle this blog.  As a title, Wassenaar Living was easy to create and provided a good title for my first posting at a time when I wasn't sure if there would be a second posting.  Now that I'm entering my second year of publishing the name seems a little too boring and underwhelming for the informative, cutting-edge writing provided here.  We needed a new title -- but there was no budget for a media consultant.  So we settled for a naming contest. 

I came up with Dutch Treat, which ties in well with our new location.  But it doesn't truthfully portray how this blog works because, unfortunately, none of you pay anything to read it so there is no sharing involved.   

Lori did much better.  Her nomination of Dutch Letters is a name that provides readers with an enjoyable double meaning.  The first is obvious and reflects the intent of this blog -- letters home to stay connected with family and friends.  But the Sinterklaas posting in December 2010 and the recent posting on the trip to Jaarsma's Bakery also introduced readers to Dutch Letters  -- the delicious baked pastry filled with almond paste.    And what could be better than a title that reflects something I love to eat.

There is no need to make changes to your computer to continue reading; the webaddress remains the same.  And we are always willing to consider additional nominations for a new name.  Unfortunately, the financial status of this blog precludes any monetary prizes, but worthy submissions will be prominently mentioned in future postings. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kate's White Coat Ceremony

Kate spent the first week in August at orientation for Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.  I was surprised by how much effort the school put into welcoming the new students.  I figured med schools told you when the first day of class was and everything else was up to you.  Not in this case.  RWJ held a full week orientation which covered basics like parking passes, lockers, lab rooms, etc.  She ordered her doctor tools - stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and who knows what else.  The week also included social activities to help the 130+ new students to get to know each other -- they will certainly spend a lot of time together over the next four years.   One of the tips they learned from the second year students was to wear old shoes to anatomy class.  It seems that there is some spillage and you don't want to ruin your good shoes.  Ughh. 

On Friday RWJ held the White Coat Ceremony where the new students received their student doctor coat.   Except for being shorter than a real doctor's coat, it looks like the real thing, her name embroidered on the front, big deep pockets for holding equipment, etc.   The ceremony was very well done; it was a great way to welcome them into the university. 

The new students entered while the orientaiton committee clapped and welcomed them. 

Students received their white coat from faculty members five at a time.

It fits.

How long until Kate can give Grant his school physicals? 

Kate and her roommate, Julianne, or Jules. 

Kate and the Dean, Dr. Peter Amenta. 

We celebrated afterwards at the Frog and Peach Restaurant in New Brunswick.