Monday, February 13, 2012

Dutch Curling Championships

Carol and Lori

Lori's sister, Carol, visited this past weekend and her timing couldn't have been better for enjoying wintersport in Holland.  On Saturday, our neighbors hosted the first ever Wassenaar Dutch Curling Championships.  Actually, it was just an excuse for a block party on the ice (I could have said an ice block party but the pun would have been too much).   The weather was perfect; bright sunshine and cold temperatures.

The crowd enjoying the day. 

Many of you may have watched curling in the Olympics, where a player (the skip) slides a stone down the ice trying to get it to stop inside of a circle.  His/her two teammates (sweepers) brush the ice ahead of the stone to create a path towards the circle.  Teams "throw" 8 stones each and the game is much like shuffleboard.  According to Wikipedia, curling is a very strategic game and is often called "Chess on Ice".

Carol cheers on her sister

A view of the curling "sheet" as the playing field is called.  
In the Wassenaar version of curling, wheels of cheese are used instead of stones, making the game uniquely Dutch.  The sweepers mainly just lean on their brooms, trying not to spill their drink.  And I did not detect high levels of strategy -- it was more like "Checkers on Ice".  Our home team consisted of Lori and Grant.  After an initial setback, they deployed a bit of strategy by moving Grant to the skip position.  Thereafter, they went undefeated all the way to the championship where they were awarded ---  a set of wooden shoes.  Well done, team.
Grant displays his championship form

 The victors with the coveted wooden shoes.  
Using cheese as a stone resulted in a few cases of dog interference.

On Sunday we went back to the ice to give Carol a chance to skate on the canals in Holland.   There was light snow falling so it was very picturesque.   She and Lori had pretty good form considering they have had about a 25 year break from the ice.

Photo documentation of Carol skating the canals of Holland

We almost look Dutch

We bought Grant a pair of skates so he could give it a try.  

I even got into the skating spirit.  No, I didn't buy any skates (they were sold out by the time I got up my courage).  I read the book, Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge.  The book tells the story of the Brinker family and life in Holland in the mid 19th century and of course includes a skating race on the frozen canals near Amsterdam.  Interestingly enough, Dodge never visited Holland until after she wrote the book; she depended upon research and her immigrant neighbors for background.  Another interesting point is that Hans Brinker is not the boy who plugged the dike with his finger.  That story is told within the book, but the hero boy is simply referred to as the Hero of Haarlem.

Unfortunately, that will probably conclude the skating season; we are having light rain and warm temperatures today with similar conditions expected all week.   It has been amazing to see the country's reaction to ice.  Skating was all that people talked about.  Not just the 11 cities race (which was not able to be held) but family skating, local races, etc.  It's a big deal and we were lucky to see it.

We hope that Graber realizes that he won't be able to walk on water when the ice thaws.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012


The Naarden Town Hall
Several weeks ago we traveled to Naarden, a small town on the east side of Amsterdam that dates back to the 10th or 11th century.    The Spaniards burned the town to the ground and killed most of the inhabitants in 1572.  Luckily they spared the 14th century Grote Kerk (Church).  It contains a wooden vaulted ceiling with 22 painted panels, half depicting the Old Testament and half depicting the New Testament.  The town itself is shaped in a star formation surrounded by double walls and thick earthen ramparts.

Distant view of the Grote Kerk steeple

The wooden vaulted ceiling

A close up of one of the panels
No soccer on the Grote Kerk lawn

One of three bridges allowing access to the old city.  

The earthen ramparts now serve as a park

One thing the ramparts don't keep out is gophers

Besides being able to walk around a well-preserved old Dutch town, we went to Naarden to attend an Art and Antiques Fair.  There was more art than antiques and all the dealers had their prices pretty high, so we didn't do much buying.  We did manage to buy a 18th century wall clock from North Holland and an early 18th century French wall clock.  Both of them chime on the hour and half hour, 24 hours a day so there is lots of chiming in our house now.  The weights on the Dutch clock have to be reset every day, so sometimes I "forget".

Dutch Clock, circa 1760's

Monday, February 6, 2012


We are in the midst of a strong cold snap with the weather expected to stay below freezing for another week or so.  We also had about 2-3" of snow on Friday so we are getting an official winter.  Skating is in full swing throughout Holland, although the snow reduced the quality of the ice.  All the local ponds were full of kids on skates all weekend.  Still no word on whether the 11 city race will be held or not.  The ice must be 15 cm (6 inches) thick to hold the expected crowds.

Philip, Grant and Graber
The little canal behind our home froze solid -- at least solid enough that we only heard minor cracks.  Grant and his friend, Philip, cleared off a skating area.  Unfortunately, Lori was the only one with skates.  The rest of us had to be content sliding around on our boots.  Graber loves the snow and ice, especially when we throw his tennis ball or the hockey puck.  The only problem is that they get too cold to hold in his mouth, so he can't carry them back to us.  As you can see in the video's below, it didn't take him long to learn that it's easier to run on the snow than the cleared ice.

Graber and his favorite outside toy, tennis ball

Grant and Philip found this frog on the ice.  I guess he didn't hear the weather forecast.  

Tai Tai snuggled up in Lori's sweater to keep warm.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Odds and Ends

Life has been kind of slow in our home lately; hence the lack of exciting blog postings or any blog posting at all for that matter.  Here are a few items of interest.

Open for business
Following our return from Bonaire I was walking the dog on January 2 when I noticed that all the public trash receptacles in our neighborhood were "closed".  Each one had a metal plate locked in place to prevent people from using them.  I finally figured out that this was a protective mechanism.  The locals love fireworks on New Years Eve.  They really love fireworks.  The trash containers are perfect targets for destruction so the town fathers close them down to prevent kids from blowing them up with firecrackers.  By January 3, all the plates were removed and the trash cans were open for business.  It's all very practical and very Dutch....rather than outlaw fireworks and ruin a tradition, they simply protect those things that they don't want demolished.  They also have "no fireworks zones" in areas where there are thatched roofs.

I recently baked a lemon meringue pie.  There is a long story about why I baked this pie, but let's just summarize it by saying that I ended up with a baked pie crust and needed to put something in it.  Lemon meringue pie seemed to fit that need perfectly.

I used the recipe from the Woodburn Family Cookbook.  My sister put this cookbook together over 30 yeas ago; it's a great collection recipes from cousins, aunts and siblings.   There are no contributions from uncles or my father.  Man cooking, especially among the farmer crowd, hadn't caught on yet.  My brothers and I all contributed.  Not that we ever prepared any of the recipes we provided; we just liked to eat them.   My contributions were cinnamon-raisin rolls, caramel corn, Hawaiian chicken, rhubarb crunch, apple dumplings and lemon meringue pie.  I guess Carol didn't tell me there was a chapter on salads and vegetables.

Even though the lemon meringue pie recipe had my byline, it was really my Mother's.  And so I was reminded once again of the pitfalls of using recipes from very experienced cooks.  They tend to assume you know as much as they do about cooking; therefore they don't write everything down.  For example, when I baked my pie the meringue shrank away from the edges, leaving a strip of exposed lemon filling that served as a "warning track" similar to baseball stadiums.  When I shared this result with my Mom, she  informed me that I was supposed to push the meringue all the way to the crust and form some sort of anchorage point.   My wife and daughter told me the same thing.  Seems like that would be a good thing to write in the recipe.   Regardless, the pie was quite tasty.

As I was baking the pie, I contemplated cooking my way through the cookbook much like the woman in Julie and Julia who cooks her way through Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking.  I'm sure it would provide more interesting blog postings.  However, I was reminded that almost half the recipes in the Woodburn Cookbook are for cookies or desserts.   I didn't think that my waist-line would survive.  Seems like the Woodburns weren't much for balanced diets.

Kievietslaan under repair
One big event in our life is that our street is torn up for sewer repairs.  Torn up as in demolished and closed.  Torn up as in we have to park 1-2 blocks away and haul everything to and from the house.  They've been replacing the sewer lines in our neighborhood for the past year and they've finally gotten to our street.  Hopefully, they've refined their technique during this time so that our downtime (and hauling) will be minimized.
Having this machine on your street is not a good thing

The other big event is cold weather.  Most of January was actually quite warm.  So warm that some of the crocus began to come up.  Now we've dipped down below freezing for the past few days and are expected to remain there for a week or so.  Everyone's excited because the canals may freeze enough to hold the Elfstedentocht, a 200 km outdoor ice skating race between 11 cities in northern Holland.  The last time that the weather cooperated and provided suitable ice was 1997.  If it happens this year, the entire country will shut down to watch.

Of course the downside to the cold weather is that the ground has frozen, suspending all sewer work.  So our street remains demolished but there will be no progress for at least a week.

I'm sure the Canadians across the canal will be playing hockey this weekend

Graber was wondering why I was taking pictures of the canal and not of him.  He had a bath this week so he's all clean and fluffy.  
We have a new neighbor.  Actually, it's a new neighbor dog.  He's an 8 month old German Shepherd.  He and Graber love to run along the fence and chase each other.  Unfortunately, this usually results in some sort of destruction to the landscaping that I installed last year.  Hopefully, neither one of them will figure out that they could get together and play by going around the fence on the ice of the canal.

On a final note, this is my first blog written on my new Apple MacBook Pro.  Santa felt sorry for me toiling away on a five year old HP hand-me-down from Grant so he brought me a slick new Apple.  I don't know that it has improved my blogging at all, but it's much more reliable.  It's interesting to see how Apple products have woven their way into our life.  Five years ago our Apple products consisted of iPhones for Kate and Lori, and maybe an iPod.  Now we have two iPhones, two iPads, an iPod, a Nano, a wireless router and four portable Apple computers.  I guess this explains Apple's record revenues in 4Q2011.