Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Haarlem 10k Run

My office has a running club that gets together every Thursday night for training.  I think it's a good idea, but I never attend.  They also participate in some of the local running events, so when one of those events was a 10k (6 mile) run in Haarlem, Lori and I decided to go.

Haarlem is a historic city that I've always wanted to visit but just haven't found the right time.  The city has been around for 900 years; it's church was built in the 1400's.  The church houses the Muller organ, one of Europe's most famous with three keyboards, 68 registers and 5000 pipes.  It is about 100 feet high.  I learned all this from a book; we didn't have time to go inside the church.  The book also states that the organ was played by Handel and a ten year old Mozart.

The run turned out to be quite fun.  The city of Haarlem really turned out to support it; there were lots of people lining the streets to cheer us on.  We headed out of town, ran through a large park and retuned to finish by the church.  The weather was cool and cloudy (it was Holland after all) so it was a pleasant run.  And we got medals just for participating.

This gives you some view of the church

Note the official Jacobs jackets.  You just borrow them for the race.   Afterwards, we had to wash them and bring them back.   You can also see Lori's medals.  

Photo of our team before the run when we still had lots of energy.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Construction Project

The coots at their new home

After living in the canal in our backyard for two years the family of coots decided that they needed an island.  I don't know what drove this decision --perhaps it was like Noah building the Ark.  Once decided, the entire family dedicated themselves for a week to the task.  They grabbed any stick, piece of grass or leaf and began to pile them at a shallow point in the water.  It truly was non-stop.  Within a day they had broken the surface.  By the end of the week they had their island.  
In the beginning.....

Bringing leaves back to the spot. 

Success!  A new home in less than a week.  

Per Wikipedia, a coot is a noisy bird with a wide repertoire of crackling, explosive, or trumpeting calls often given at night.  David Attenborough of Princeton University adds that "Coots can be very brutal to their own young under pressure such as the lack of food. They will bite young that are begging for food and repeatedly do this until it stops begging and starves to death. If the begging continues, they may bite so hard that the chick is killed."  Let that be a lesson to our younger readers who pester their parents for snacks.  

Once it was built the other birds, ducks in this case, used the island as well .
The heron liked it too.  

This picture doesn't have anything to do with the coots.  I just like the reflection in the water. 

More reflection

The construction supervisor at work.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Mark...and more

When you log into Google's blogspot to create a new post, it tells you when you posted your last entry. Aug 19!  Reading that is kind of like stepping on the scale every morning.  You already know you won't like the answer but you do it anyway.  Sorry about the extended silence.  Here are a few pieces of news.

Obviously not enough candles.  Note the dog strategically positioned between me and the cake.  

First of all, Mark celebrated his 52nd birthday last month.  No real milestone at 52, but since I had already mentioned my weight and lack of postings I thought I would continue with the hard truths.  Actually, I spent my birthday in Manchester, UK on a business trip.  So we celebrated that weekend by having some friends over for dinner and, of course, one of Lori's delicious cakes.  I chose the Tuxedo Cake from Rebecca Rather's Pastry Queen cookbook.  It probably gets selected for over 50% of our birthday celebrations and for good reason.  It's great.  The only problem is that it's one of Grant's favorites so he and I battle it out for leftovers.

Now on to other news.  In addition to celebrating my birthday, The Netherlands held elections last month.  As you may have heard earlier this year their government collapsed.  Living in America I always wondered what that term meant.  It sounded so harsh, like the country had fallen into some horrible turmoil.

Not to fear, it wasn't anything like that.  The Netherlands has about 10 or 15 political parties including a religious party, an against-everything party, a green party and an animal rights party.  To form a government some combination of parties must get together, agree on a common platform and form a majority in the legislature to select a prime minister and form a government.  It used to only take two political parties to reach a majority but lately it has required three.  So last spring the three parties that had agreed to agree with each other decided that they couldn't agree on the Euro-crisis strategy and so the government collapsed.

So for four months we had no government.  Actually, everyone was still in office, including the Prime Minister, but they didn't really do anything because there was no majority.  This dysfunctional state is not all that different than the US if you think about it, the Dutch simply admit it publicly.  Belgium had not government for 18 months and no one there seemed bothered at all by that fact.

It doesn't look like the Animal Rights Party does much advertising.  Seems like a picture of a puppy or kitten could really help their cause.  

That was a rather long introduction into how their national elections provide another example of Dutch practicality.  About three weeks before the election, temporary signboards begin appearing around the town.  Not a lot, maybe 5 or 6 in our village.  The candidates use the boards to post their advertisements.   No ugly signs in people's yards.  No continuous trail of signs along business fronts.  No flyers posted on telephone poles.  It's all very tidy.  And everyone seems quite civil when they post their sign on the board...they don't cover up the picture of an opponent and no one seems to draw mustaches on anyone else.  Two days after the election all the boards are gone and the town is beautiful again.  What a great idea.  

Last weekend Grant and I travelled to Belgium for my company's family day celebration at an amusement park, Bobbejaanland.   His normal roller coaster companion (Lori) was conveniently on a business trip to the US so I was his partner on the rides.  We warmed up on some kiddie coasters and log flume rides (it was raining so we were already wet).  Then we got to the park's two signature coasters, Dizzy and Typhoon.

Dizzy was a fairly tame track except that in addition to traveling around the track your car would also spin.  Not a lot of spinning but enough to make some of the curves very interesting.  It actually turned out much better than I expected -- I even went on it twice.

Grant in front of the Typhoon
Typhoon had a little higher thrill factor to it.  You begin by going straight up (as in 90 degrees, vertical, rain hitting you in the face) at a very slow speed.  Then you come over the top and go straight down at a very high rate of speed.  In fact you go more than vertical; it's similar to coming over the top of a capital "R".  Of course after that you go through loop the loops, cinnamon twists and all kinds of gut wrenching turns.  I also went on this ride twice, but the second time might have been a mistake.