Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tulip Farm

I took this picture last spring near the Tulip Farm

Last week we toured a local tulip farm, Flower Farm Overdevest.  The farm was interesting, but the family history was even better. 

The owner's grandfather had started the farm in the 20's.  When tulip prices in Holland dropped, he packed up his bulbs, sailed across the Atlantic and sold them in America.  He would go around to nurseries selling his product, getting a larger business each year.  As a result, he made a good living and two of his sons settled in America.  

When the Nazi's invaded Holland in 1940, the owner's father thought it best to move his family from the farm into the town of Wassenaar.  When he returned to their home several days later, someone had thrown a grenade through the front window and there were three dead Nazi's in the home.  They still have the helmets.  And bullet holes are visible on the outside of the home.  I always thought having a hand-hewn log in our basement was cool, but this was way better.  Looks like his father's decision to move was a wise one. 

Different types of bulbs for sale. 

He told us that tulip bulbs have traditionally been raised in the sandy soils of western Holland (where we live) because of better water management and ease of harvesting the bulbs out of the ground.  Within the past 15 years farmers have learned how to grow bulbs in the peat soils of Northern Holland.  The bulbs do better and yields are higher.  Unfortunately, world tulip demand is decreasing about 2-3% per year.  It seems no one wants to work in the dirt on their knees for a flower that they won't see until next spring.  Prices right now are around 5 cents/bulb to the farmer. 

This farmer's specialty was forcing the bulbs.  He stores the bulbs in huge freezers at 2 degrees C to simulate the 14 weeks of cold weather necessary for the bulbs to grow.  Then he transfers them to a greenhouse to finish growing and flower.  This way he get tulips in February and March, when natural tulips don't arrive until mid to late April.   

You can see how tall the freezer is..about 20 feet. He had a wall of freezer that was about 50 feet long. That's a lot of tulips.

As part of the tour we got to make our own tulip basket. We'll see how mine looks next spring.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Grant!

Grant turned 14 on Saturday.  He didn't want to have a party or go anyplace.  All he wanted was to have three friends come over to play Xbox until their eyes popped out.  Well maybe not that much Xbox, but they played a long time. 

The boys enjoying one of my gourmet meals.

He had Lori bake a Tuxedo Cake from Rebecca Rather's Pastry Queen cookbook.  This recipe is certainly dominating the birthday cake choice contest in our home.   Lori's probably made it for over half of the birthday's that we've celebrated over here.  She had bought an extra cake pan while she was in the US, so she was able to make it a three layer cake this time.  Unfortunately, she had to bake the third layer separately since all three pans won't fit into our Barbie oven at the same time.  Despite that challenge, it was delicious. 

Despite a diet that is clearly under-represented in fruits and vegetables, Grant's first year as a teenager has been one of growth.  He's gone through two or three sizes of jeans, two full shoe sizes and his hand can stretch for an octave plus three on the piano.  He is taller than his mother (a sore point with her) and his hands almost match mine (which means he's started wearing my winter gloves on his bike - a sore point with me).  One downside to this growth is his reluctance to give up his favorite t-shirts.  I hide them in his closet, but he manages to find them. 

Happy Birthday Grant!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Graber

Graber turned two the last week of October.  One would think that he would be leaving the puppy stage and maturing mentally, but we see limited signs of this.  He and Grant are at about the same equivalent age right now -- there are several similarities, especially loving cheese and always being hungry. 

Kate was the only one who remembered Graber's birthday.  She sent him a new toy -- a small tire.  As you can see in the video, it's quite popular.  The only downside was that our house smelled like Farm and Fleet for several weeks. 

Graber with his birthday present from Kate

As part of this posting, I reviewed my blog comments from Graber's first birthday.  There I had complained about the high price of European dog food.  Since then we've started ordering his food online.  Now the price per bag is down to less than a tank of gas.  I had also commented last year that maybe we would take Graber to a restaurant (like all the other European dogs) when he was two.  Fat chance of that happening.  We barely eat our own meals in peace.  I can't imagine him with a room full of diners. 

Last year at this time, he was enjoying finding hedgehogs in the yard.  We only have one hedgehog this fall and he's often in the backyard when I take Graber out for his good-night potty.  Of course the sight of a hedgehog makes Graber forget all about going to the bathroom and our time outside is greatly extended. 

Our local hedgehog curled up in a ball.

Not knowing much about hedgehogs, I did a little research (I even used the on-line World Book, not just Wikipedia).  They are native to Europe, Africa and Asia and eat insects, small mammals, birds and bird eggs.  They are "easily tamed and in captivity get along well with cats and dogs".   The article further states that "care should be taken to protect them from large, aggressive and mischievous pets."  Looks like we won't be getting a pet hedgehog.  Tom should consider one though.  It could help his garden as hedgehogs are "a powerful form of insect control, sometimes eating 200 gr of insects per night".  And for the final bit of trivia, McDonalds in England changed their McFlurry lids in 2006 because the hedgehogs were getting their heads stuck and starving to death. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

San Francisco

Lori had some work meetings in San Francisco that coincided with Grant's fall break, so he & I went along to make it a family vacation. KLM offered a direct flight that was only 11 hours (going to Houston is a little over 10) so the travel was easy. Then in SF, the good folks at Enterprise Rental Car gave us a car with only 100 miles on it; it was like test driving a new car for a week.

We spent the first weekend across the bay from San Francisco, in Sausalito.  Our hotel was actually in Fort Baker, a former army site that once guarded the entrace to the harbor.  Over the past 20 years it has been converted into a National Park.  It was the perfect place to adjust to the new time zone -- lots of open space, walking trails, a beautiful view of the city across the bay and located almost right under the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Cavello Point Hotel in Sausalito. Many of the buildings are refurbished Army buildings.

From the hotel we could walk along the bay. 

San Francisco Bay sea life. 

The hotel was great, but there it did provide a few challenges to our time zone adjustment. We stayed up until 9:00 the first night, which was about 24 hours after we had woken up in Holland that same day. At 9:30 a band started playing at the wedding reception being held less than 100 feet from our room. It was like having a concert right in our own room. As you can imagine, we were not thrilled. We had to resort to putting on our Bose headphones to go to sleep. It worked, but I'm sure we looked pretty weird. The second night, a ship must have been coming into the harbor because it blew its foghorn for about half an hour at 3:00 am. It wasn't as close as the band, but we had no problems hearing it. Finally, the hotel's method of providing an extra bed for Grant was to use an air mattress. Not a roll-away, an air mattress. The housekeeping staff inflated the bed with a pump so at least we didn't have to blow it up ourselves. Grant was a good sport about it -- he'd just spent 10 days on an air mattress during The Horde's visit, so he was used to it.

Lori & I tried to jog across the Golden Gate Bridge one morning. The east side of the bridge is for walking/jogging, but it was closed at one location for construction so you couldn't go all the way across. Therefore we assumed that the west side must be open for joggers despite all the signs that said "bikes only!". We figured that we could always claim to be foriegn tourists who didn't understand the rules so we started across. We made it 75% of the way before encountering a policeman who was working a construction area. He politely told us we were on the wrong side of the bridge (which was consistent with the dirty looks we were getting from the cyclists) and turned us around. We still got to enjoy the view even if we can't claim to have jogged all the way across the bridge.

We ate at a dockside restaurant in Sausalito that was excellent.  Cash only, no credit cards.  The salads in Holland tend to be a bit plain, so this salad was a treat. 

We took the ferry into the city one day. What a great way to see the harbor and certainly better than trying to drive and park. Our primary objective was to walk to Chinatown for Dim Sum. We also walked up to the Coit Tower and discovered that San Francisco is a lot hillier than Holland. Our legs were aching. Then we walked down to the wharf to tour a WWII submarine moored there. 

We were the only non-locals at the Dim Sum restaurant.  Similar to the restaurants in Hong Kong, the old Chinese lady would push around the cart of food and you chose the ones you wanted.  Then she marked the items on the ticket on your table.  It's a good way to sell the food since we only know one or two items by name.  Later on we found a Chinese bakery for egg tarts.    

View of Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz from Coit Tower. 

Grant's favorite street.

This shot is taken down Lombard Street.  Although you can barely see it in this photo, on the facing part of the hill is where the street zig-zags sharply down the hill.  It's said to be the world's crookedest street. 

Segway tours for people who don't want to walk up the hills. 

The Coit Tower on top of Telegraph Hill.  In 1929 Linda Hitchcock Coit left one-third of her estate to the city and requested they use it to beautify the city.  This was the result.   

City skyline from the ferry. 

The next day we went to the Point Bonita Lighthouse which signals ships coming in from the Pacific. Then further up the coast we hiked through the redwoods in the Muir Woods. Both sights were gorgeous, great examples of why people love California. The rugged hills and pounding surf at Point Bonita and the 250 ft tall redwoods providing total shade for the trails at Muir Woods.

Seals sunning on the rocks near Point Bonita.

The suspension bridge leading to the lighthouse was under repair, so we couldn't go all the way. 

The Pacific coast.

It's tough to photograph 250 ft tall trees.  You had to be there (Muir Woods). 

After that, Grant & I dropped Lori off for her meetings and headed to Yosemite National Park for 3 days.  I've driven through Yosemite twice, but never stopped.   When the dates for this trip were set, I immediately made our reservations to camp in the park.  It turned out great.  The weather was perfect -- high's in the mid 70's, no clouds, lows in the upper 40's.  Since it was October, the park wasn't packed.  And our canvas tent came with a wooden floor, a real bed and a heater.  The bathrooms and showers were community style, but they were clean and the water was warm.  Rustic, but more than adequate.  And located in the heart of Yosemite Valley. 

The Camp Curry tents. The green lockers in front of the tents are "bear-proof". We had to store our food and toiletries in there.

As we were checking in, were got a reminder that some people travel a little simpler than us.  A couple in their late 60's/early 70's was in front of us.  They told the clerk "we've got two sleeping bags, what do you have to go with that?"  The clerk had an unheated canvas tent which seemed to suit this couple just fine. 

The first afternoon Grant & I hiked to the top of Vernal Falls.  At 3 miles and 1,000 ft of elevation gain it was listed as "strenuous" in the guide.  It got a little difficult at the top, but the final view was worth it.  It was a little sobering to see the signs posted looking for information on a young couple that was last seen "going over the falls" in July. 

We got off to a shakey start when I dropped the water bottle off the trail.  Luckily, Grant mountain goated down the rocks to recover it. 

A couple of Half-Domes

Vernal Falls

The final portion of the path to Vernal Falls. 

That night we ate at the Yosemite Pizza Restaurant (I didn't see the couple from check-in there. They were probably eating freeze dried beans in their unheated tent). When the waitress looked at my credit card, she told us that she was from Woodburn, Oregon. Faithful blog readers will recall that Woodburn, Oregon has a Dutch heritage and celebrates with a tulip festival every year. So I asked her "That town has a Dutch heritage doesn't it?". This didn't seem to connect with her, so I changed it to "You have a big tulip festival every year, don't you?" Yes, she knew all about that. Looks like the town fathers need to work on educating people on the reason for the festival. She said I was the second person she'd met by the name of Woodburn. 

The next day we hiked up the Yosemite Falls trail. This trail, with its over 60 switchbacks, is also listed as "strenuous" in the guide. We both noticed that maybe our legs weren't quite so fresh as they were yesterday, so we only did the three mile hike half way up the falls. At the stopping point, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, when we encountered some British guy who had hiked up....in street clothes.....carrying his 6 month baby and baby things on his back. There's always somebody in better shape than you are.   

Upper Yosemite Falls

One of the sixty switchbacks on the trail. 

Yosemite Vally as seen from the Yosemite Trail. 

Grant with Half Dome in the background.  During the summer they have cables strung to allow people to climb the rock. 

Yosemite Valley. 
When Grant & I rejoined Lori in Concord, we had our first earthquake experience.  He was showering off some of the Yosemite grime, when he called out to ask why the room was moving.  I looked out the window of our 8th floor hotel room and sure enough, we were moving slowly and slightly back and forth.  It lasted less than a minute.  Later that night at dinner, the earthquake was much sharper -- one quick motion like something had run into the house.  The news said the quakes were in the 3.8 to 3.9 magnitude -- just the right size for me. 

We had serveral more days of holiday after Lori's meetings concluded.  We spent the first back in San Francisco where we visited Alcatraz.  The tour is given via audio headsets and is narrated by former guards and prisoners.  It was excellent. 

The Rock.

I had forgotten that a group of Native Americans "took over" Alcatraz for 19 months beginning in 1979.  Here you can see some of their work.  Among the occupiers were Grace Thorpe, grand-daughter of athlete Jim Thorpe and Benjamin Bratt (then a child who was with his mother) who played opposite Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.   

With those shades I almost look Californian. 

No these aren't the Camp Curry showers in Yosemite.  This was for arriving inmates at Alcatraz. 

Not a very fun place to spend 20 or 30 years. 

From there we went to Napa Valley where we went ballooning, biking and winery touring

Napa Valley as seen from out hotel room. 

Now that is a fall arrangement. 
First they blow air in the balloon to get some shape

The pilot inspects the balloon from the inside. 

Then they begin to heat the air

The air warms up and the balloon begins to rise.

Our pilot checks out his gages prior to lift off. 

Lift off!

The vineyards from above.

Napa Valley

The morning was cool; you can see the fog pockets in the valley. 

This is looking up inside our balloon.  After we've landed, the yellow circle at the top......

....is pulled in to vent the hot air and deflate the ballon. 

Don't expect hot air ballooning to be an intimate experience.  Our balloon carried 16 people.  The one in this picture carried more people than I've had on some small planes. 

Many of the grapes have been bred and trimmed so the fruit hangs at the bottom for easy picking.  Much of the picking occurs at night when sugar content is highest. 

The grapes coming to the vineyard are sorted.  The bucket of grapes at the top right of the photo is dumped onto a conveyor.  There the workers remove sticks, etc.  Then the grapes move on to be crushed. 

Taking a welcome break during the bike tour. 

I'd like to say the trip home was uneventful, but that would be a lie.  We arrived at SFO around noon for our 2:00 pm flight back to Amsterdam.  We walked into the terminal and the KLM check-in had a huge line; not a good sign.  The plane was delayed 7 hours.  Ouch.  So we spent the afternoon and early evening relaxing at the airport.  We were originally scheduled to land around 7:00 am, which would have allowed Grant to get to school around 9.  We actually landed around 5:00 pm, so he got the entire day off. 

This blog almost didn't happen because I lost my camera on the way home.  As we were loading luggage into the car at Amsterdam Airport, I realized it was missing.  I hustled back to the KLM service counter and asked them to check the plane -- no camera bag.  That evening I sent emails to the lost & found at San Francisco, Amsterdam and KLM.  Then I waited.

The next day I got replies from SFO -- no camera bag.  The Amsterdam airport won't let you call about lost & found until 2 days after you've lost something.  I'm not sure of their reasoning; perhaps it allows items to make their way through the big airport.  When I called two days later, the person asked me the standard questions......color of the bag, make of the camera, other items in the bag.   Then she asked me what pictures were on the camera.....Golden Gate, Napa Valley, hot air balloons.  She kept going.  What about a famous place on the water?  I thought for a minute... Alcatraz.  With that correct answer, she told me they had my camera.  They must have looked at all 600 of my San Francisco photos.  That was Wednesday.  On Friday, I got a reply to my email to the Amsterdam Airport stating that they hadn't found my camera bag.  Another example that you always get better results when you call. 

I'm not sure where I left it.  Perhaps a blogging competitor stole it -- trying to sabotage my work.  Maybe I put it down when clearing immigration.  Who knows.  I'm just glad to have it back.