Little Gardens in The Hague

Little Gardens in The Hague

One of the things I love about the Dutch is the delight they take in flowers. Since we arrived in March, there has been a temporal cavalcade of blooms, beginning with daffodils, and cycling through the famous tulips in every conceivable color and shape, and then irises, wisteria, poppies, foxgloves, roses, and various others whose names I don’t even know.

Flowers bloom in abundance on canal railings, in tiny niches of earth on city streets, on balconies, and in a wild profusion in tiny front gardens. To say nothing of the city parks, which are a pleasant mixture of hidden playgrounds, beautiful shade trees, walking paths dotted with romantic benches and picturesque bridges, the occasional cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, and little patches of formal and botanical gardens. In fact, I was speaking a few months ago with a master’s student in ecology. He said The Netherlands was a very difficult place to find natural ecosystems, because the Dutch cannot seem to restrain themselves from planting flowers even in “natural” areas.

Which leads me to the topic of this post: the hofjes, or little gardens of The Hague. Hofjes are hidden courtyard gardens, usually surrounded by (tiny, adorable) houses for elderly women. They date back to the Middle Ages, and originally served as a form of social housing. In fact, that’s still the function most of them serve, and the gender and age requirements have remained intact. As part of my new job, I was invited to go on a tour of the hofjes in The Hague last week. Obviously, I’ll be writing an entire post about my new job one day soon, but suffice it to say here that we utilize a lot of volunteers. And since we can’t provide them with financial compensation for their time, we tend to pay them in tours and chocolate.

Thursday’s tour began not far from the Binnenhof, which just happens to be the oldest house of Parliament in the world still in use. You can see what I mean about the ubiquitous flowers (in these case more perennial geraniums). The flags represent all the different provinces of The Netherlands.

Binnenhof

Our first hofjes looked like this from the outside. Over the door you can see the date it was founded (1616). The sign on the door says “access forbidden,” or in other words, no trespassing. Most of the hofjes are private, and you would never know they existed from the outside.

door

Inside, though, it’s like stepping into a tiny oasis of calm (and horticultural obsession). You can see the quaint little houses that surround the garden. Each one has just a tiny kitchen and sitting area on the ground floor, and then a bedroom and bathroom above. In the early part of the 19th century, the hofje was in danger of being torn down because there was no indoor plumbing, just eight bathrooms (two in each corner of the courtyard). Fortunately it was saved, and now each house has normal plumbing. There is, we were informed, one man who has been allowed to live there–the male half of the caretaker couple, who does the gardening. I think he earns his keep.

garden

Our guide told us that the pear tree in the middle of the garden is as old as the hofje itself. He may have been exaggerating a tiny bit, but it did look quite ancient, and is being held up by several well-placed cables. It still, however, bears pears.

pear tree

I won’t show you photographs of every hofje we visited, since there were quite a few, and by the end my feet were properly tired, like I had been walking around sightseeing all morning. Our tour guide was the height of an average Dutch man, which is to say practically a giant. He had correspondingly long legs, and was forever having to wait at street corners for us to catch up. My favorite garden was one that had two separate mini-courtyards. Here’s the entry courtyard, laid out with what I thought was an extremely tasteful balance of color, shape, and space.

unidentified object

Did you notice the interesting object in the middle? It looked to me like some sort of nautical navigation instrument, but was probably just a pretty sculpture. Here’s a bit of a close-up, which also shows the lovely rose-lined pathway in the middle of the garden.

closeup

Something I noticed here and in Italy as well is the extreme attention to detail. I think it’s something that comes partially from having very limited space. Every square meter in the garden has to count, whether it’s on the ground or up the wall. Here’s a little plant hanger on the wall, which stands out beautifully against the bricks.

wall-hanger

Through a little archway was another, smaller garden, all abloom with hollyhocks and hydrangeas and a great mass of sweet peas climbing the wall. I think Dutch horticulture strikes a lovely balance between wild abandon and cultured formality. Everything is very much artfully placed, but the effect doesn’t seem artificial. One imagines that this is exactly how the flowers would have chosen to grow, had they been allowed to decide for themselves. Or perhaps all these floral extravagances were just poetically turning my head.

pathway

The final garden we visited is a more modern one, and lacks the social welfare component. Anyone can live here, provided they can pay the rent, which I imagine is somewhat prohibitive. It’s far larger than any of the other hofjes we visited, and what it lacks in charm and intimacy it makes up for in breadth and drama. I think this photo gives the best impression of the sheer size of the courtyard.

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Each of the gardens had different rules about where visitors (who normally weren’t allowed at all, so rules within rules) could go. Here, the rule was that we could walk to that tiny brick shed in the middle, which marks the halfway point of the garden. This garden was on a grand scale, but the little details were still very much in evidence. In fact, the residents got into the spirit of things. Here’s the area right outside someone’s front door, decorated personally by the tenant.

tenant

Even the administration building presided over this large-scale hofje with an air of grand authority, although it still follows the general style of all the hofjes with its brick walls and those ubiquitously charming red shutters.

administration

And I hope you’ve enjoyed this little vicarious tour of the hofjes of The Hague. I didn’t manage to include everything, so if you want to know about Spinoza’s house or “Keep an Eye on It” Street, or the building with the faces of conspirators carved on it, then you’ll need to visit The Hague yourself (and visit me too).  I’m actually impressed with myself for how many of the details I recalled. As well as with the fact that I remembered to take almost all my photographs in landscape orientation, since they’re so much more bloggable then. I didn’t have to crop a single one.

And that’s all! Good night, friends, and may you dream of flowers.

Palaces and Puppet Shows

Palaces and Puppet Shows

One of the things we love about living in Amsterdam is visiting the city centre. While Amsterdam is famous for its multitude of, shall we say, earthly delights, there are also plenty of wonderful family-friendly activities here. Shortly after we arrived, we bought ourselves the Museumkaart, a card that allows you to get into most of Amsterdam’s museums and other historical sites like the Anne Frank House for free.

Our first couple of times using the cards at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum were somewhat less than successful, due to a combination of crowds, long lines, and insufficient parental ingenuity. Today I was determined to make a better plan. We started off the morning with hot chocolate and pain au chocolat (keyword: chocolate) at De Bakkerswinkel, slathered liberally with their signature strawberry jam, lemon curd, and pineapple basil preserves.

While everyone was still on a sugar high, we cycled over to Dam Square, site of the Royal Palace, our cultural destination for the day.

Holding hands

When we asked about kid-friendly things to do while touring the Palace, they informed us that unfortunately the audio tour for children had been discontinued. Undeterred, we opted for the adult audio tour for everyone, which the children ended up finding fascinating.

Headphones

The Palace was full of all manner of marble reliefs and gigantic paintings depicting Greco-Roman themes, so I once again was happy that I spent the first 6-8 years of my children’s lives thoroughly indoctrinating them in Classical mythology. For example, here’s a fairly terrible photo of a relief of Icarus, placed, appropriately enough, above the room designated to hear bankruptcy cases.

IcarusIn this photo you can see Atlas holding up the sky, whilst presiding over three gigantic floor maps depicting the Eastern Hemisphere, the Western Hemisphere, and the night sky, complete with constellations. Political borders and European knowledge of North America have changed significantly during the few hundred years since the maps were made. But the stars have not.

Royal PalaceOnce finished inside the Palace, we went back out to the square, where a delightfully atmospheric puppet show was in progress.

puppet showStreet performers in Dam Square today included a Darth Vader, a Yoda, two Grim Reapers, a nude woman being progressively covered in body paint, and this impressive Neptune (who is, you’ll notice, pulling Axa’s hair. Why?!?).

NeptuneThe usual bubble blowers were out in force as well, and Axa and Raj are clearly not too old to partake in some gratuitous bubble popping.

BubblesAnd yes, we are “those tourists” who shamelessly feed the pigeons.

pigeons

It might seem like an innocent photo, but the pigeons here are really a bit of a problem. Not only have I seen them brazenly stealing food off of (occupied) outdoor cafe tables; they are not above flying in and snatching a tender morsel out of the very hand of an unsuspecting passerby. In fact, watching these pigeons in action, it’s easy to imagine how the tale of King Phineas and the Harpies, who stole an entire banquet off his table every night before he could even begin to eat, got its start.

Speaking of which, we finished off the afternoon with Dutch hotdogs, complete with all the trimmings. Which in this case included ketchup, mustard, curry sauce, mayonnaise, diced onions, pickle relish, red peppers, sauerkraut, french onions, and mini potato sticks. They disappeared into our mouths so quickly the pigeons didn’t have a chance.

hot dog

At Home in Amsterdam

At Home in Amsterdam

rijksmuseum

Four months in Amsterdam have flown by. I’m not sure where to start with telling you about it, so I suppose I’ll just start with this moment, right now. I’m sitting on my balcony, enjoying a long summer evening. It’s after eight at night, but the sun hasn’t yet set, and it won’t start getting dark for another couple of hours.

We live in an apartment in the south of Amsterdam (just one train stop away from Schiphol International Airport, in fact, ideally located if you’d like to pop in and visit–please do). Many summer days have been like this, bright and blue and sunny, but with a touch of a breeze in the evening. Other summer days are bleak and rainy; but it’s hard to remember those exist on a day like this. We even had one entire week of actual hot summer, culminating in an agreeably sweltering Fourth of July; our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning (I think most don’t), so we broke down and bought fans, but we haven’t even used those much since.

So much for the weather, the extreme unreliability of which is always a reliable topic of conversation here. Now that I’ve broken the ice and managed to sit down and blog, I’ll no doubt be able to tell you in future posts about our children’s first experience in a (Dutch) public school, how much I adore the fact that we sold our car before we left the United States, and I haven’t missed it once, the way the canals look at twilight with the sky slowly going from indigo to black, reflected in the water, and why, more than anywhere else we’ve ever moved, this place really feels like home.

Among other important accomplishments during our time in Amsterdam so far, we’ve done the following:

Acquired yearly museum passes and visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum

van gogh

Bought new hats at the flea market

hats

 

Visited IKEA not once, not twice, but three times

IKEA

Eaten ice cream. Yes, more ice cream. No matter the temperature.

ice cream

Taken too many bicycle selfies to count. Yes, I do have my own bicycle too. I only ride on the back of Tony’s on special occasions.

bicycle selfie

So far, Amsterdam is treating us very well. We’re thinking we should stay here for a while. Like, forever.

The Tenth Circle of Hell

We finally finished packing up our house yesterday. Remind me never to live in a four bedroom house again. Also remind me that just because I see something free on the curb does not mean I should take it home and find a use for it (see Dumpster Diving in Deltona, Parts 1 and 2). This week we left our own pile mountain of junk treasures out in front of our house. Actually, we did it multiple times, and each time the stuff, whether it was a duct-tape repaired beach umbrella or a large rubbermaid tub full of dirty old scratchy towels, it was all gone within hours, if not minutes. If you haven’t lived in Deltona, it’s hard to imagine, but there was very little left at the end for the garbage man. Which I applaud, because that means less of it goes to the landfill. Still, sometimes I wonder if we should all stop endlessly passing the junk around. Sorry I neglected to take a photo of the mountain of trash, but you didn’t really want to see it anyway, and I definitely don’t want to see it again.

Moving is the worst. I hate it with a fierce passion. But paradoxically, the longer you go between moves, the worse it is to move when you finally do move. I guess the only real solution to that is to never move at all. Maybe that will happen to me someday. It could happen. I hope it does.

I did spend some time walking around the house and crying once it was all empty. It’s weird. I never particularly wished to move to Florida, and while it was a very nice house, I was never terribly attached to it. In fact, this is where I decided that I absolutely hate living in the suburbs. Living in a housing development with an HOA gives me a special kind of desperate angst. It’s like all my deepest fears and suspicions are incarnated in the landscape. And the fact that it all looks so deceptively, devastatingly innocuous, so . . . pretty, makes it all the more ominous. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because there’s this:

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”

And this too:

“Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small,
Then we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And there’s no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.”

Those are lyrics that have run through my head so many times as I sat on my manicured lawn looking down the rows of nice little identical houses. So it was hard to explain to myself my sudden attachment to the house just as we were leaving and I had finally finished emptying it out of all my ridiculous belongings. I guess it was partly that I was saying goodbye to all the things that have happened to me in that house–these three years of our lives that have passed here. Axa was just seven years old when we moved here. I was a stay-at-home mom. We were staunch Mormons. We’d spent the previous year living in Tunisia, and the future was hazy. It all seems like forever ago. And yet, the time has passed almost in the blink of an eye.

I think one of the things that makes moving so emotional for me is that it sets two powerful impulses against each other–my fear of change, and my simultaneously rabid craving for it. Anything could happen in the future, especially if the future is going to happen somewhere new and strange. It’s terrifying. And exhilarating. And it’s coming at me like a steam-roller.

So anyway. Enough amateur psychology. My socially aware self realizes that my privilege is talking here. First world problems, and all that. In any case, even though it was rough, I’m happy that we’re done packing up the house.  For the next several weeks I’ll be staying at a cute little bed and breakfast in Deland, run by an English couple. Here’s my home sweet home for the next few weeks:

It’s a classic old Florida house, with a big wrap-around porch (complete with rocking chairs and a swing) and wavy glass windows. I had my first yummy English breakfast this morning, and here’s my cute little room, which is on the bottom floor on the left in the photo above. You can see my teddy bear is already getting cozy.

Family Photos

Family Photos

When we were out in California, Tony’s mom undertook the monumental task of having a four-generation photo shoot. Tony forgot to tell me about the dress code beforehand, but we were fortunately able to scrounge up blue and grey clothing from what we had packed for the trip. I’m not sure if this is the photo that ended up being THE family photo, but here we are with his parents, his grandma, and Tony and his siblings,with their significant others and kids.

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It was a little chilly and windy, and it had been raining almost the whole week beforehand, so the shoot had to be moved from it’s original picturesque rural location in front of a barn (which happened to be surrounded by a very muddy field) to a more urban setting. I think it turned out nicely, though. After the big shoot, we got some individual family shots taken too. Here are the four of us:

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And just my two little Bobbles:

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And another, because I think they’re cute

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Especially laughing.

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Here are Tony and I

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And just my hot husband:

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Being hot.

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And here’s one of just me:

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And this one, because as you know, I just like photos of myself looking off into the distance and laughing at some unexplained object.

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Happy New Year from the Familias!

Battlestar Galactica and Paranormal Romance

So, this was me last week:

I’m home alone, OK? And since I’ve been through all eight seasons of the new Doctor Who multiple times, it was really time to branch out. Battlestar Galactica is kind of fun, because it was originally created by a Mormon, who included stuff like the home planet being named “Kobol,” a Council of Twelve, and the inclusion of the phrase “with every fiber of my being” in the presidential oath.

As with Doctor Who, I’m watching the 2004 reboot, rather than the original 70’s show. There’s plenty of interesting political drama, as well as gut-wrenching moral dilemmas and, of course, lots of sci fi themes and action. Also, I think it’s hilarious that they made up their very own expletive (did a little research, but was unable to find out whether the usage of “frak” was simply atmospheric, or intended to get around television profanity restrictions at the time). And the series is pretty placatory to my inner feminist, passing the Bechdel test in nearly every single episode.

In short, living alone hasn’t been too terrible this time. And despite the temptation to spend every waking moment (and a significant percentage of moments that ought to be sleeping moments) watching Battlestar Galactica, I have made a concerted effort to get out and do stuff, rather than just staying home. Even my introversion has its limits. For example, I went out and shopped for my own clothes for the first time in years (I normally try to get by on whatever Tony brings home for me; he has great taste, so it usually works pretty well). I got some screaming deals on several really cute outfits. Yes, they’re all in shades of black, grey, and navy, but that’s me. I’m terrible at The Bathroom Mirror Selfie, so I won’t post any photos. Maybe when Tony gets home to be cameraman I’ll do a fashion blog, but maybe not. No promises.

Sunday my friend Ali came over for the afternoon and we cooked dinner together, per his recipes. He’s a pretty amazing cook. We had chicken with brown and green cardamom, ginger, and garlic, raita, a lovely minty yoghurt sauce, and cardamom rice with caramelized onions. The food was divine, and it was great to catch up with him.

Monday I went to my very first Meetup group ever (“Area O” – The Orlando Area Sci-Fi Meetup). It’s a fairly geeky group that gets together and talks about science fiction every month. We sat around eating Panera soup and talking about The Hobbit, Doctor Who, Marvel movies, and even Downton Abbey. Plus a bunch of other sci fi and fantasy I hadn’t even heard of. It was pretty cool. They were an intelligent, well-read group, and I enjoyed myself, although I did duck out a little early, at 8:15. I didn’t tell them it was so I could get in an episode of Battlestar Galactica before bed, but I could have. They would totally have understood.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with Carole, one of my favorite people from our former Mormon ward. And then yesterday evening I went to the first instance of a new yoga class I’m taking this year. It was awesome. I can’t believe I haven’t been to a yoga class in almost ten years. I do yoga at home (or on the beach), sometimes regularly, sometimes sporadically. But when I do it on my own, I usually skip the poses I don’t care for, and I rarely (O.K., never) spend an entire hour on it. It’s nice to have an instructor, not to mention a room full of other people who are also trying to balance on one leg while twisting themselves into the shape of a pretzel. And I slept very well last night.

I’ve also done some (very) light reading lately. YA Dystopian/Paranomal/Romance novels are just the thing for pure literary escape. Indulgences for the week include:

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This reminded me vaguely of Sylvia Louise Engdahl and some of Ursula LeGuin’s other-planetary adventure novels, but it really lacked depth. In the end, it was just another story about a boy and girl stuck in a remote and dangerous location, who predictably fall in love. I kept waiting for there to be some kind of twist, but their relationship continued to be both stereotypical and annoying. Oh, well.

Also, there were multiple plot elements that stretched credulity, among which the fact that I don’t think this author has really thought about how big a planet is. Because the fact that her characters could reliably determine within such a short time that an entire planet was uninhabited is weird. Even the hints at alien life were cliche and uninspiring.

Oh well, what do I expect from run-of-the-mill YA sci fi? More than this, apparently.

Fallen (Fallen, #1)Fallen by Lauren Kate

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m afraid I have nothing more to add to the litany of reviews marking this as an even more cloying version of YA paranormal romance than Twilight.

I’m also embarrassed to say that I listened to this entire book, along with two of the three sequels. I can’t explain it. I just get in these sappy romantic moods, and nothing will do but reading about some teenage couple’s impossible but eternal true love.

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reminded me rather a lot of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, not because the plots or characters necessarily had anything in common, but because of the pacing of the book, and the slow uncovering of devastating truths. Also, I think the reader on the audiobook may have been the same for both books, and she’s quite good–perfect for this sort of story.

Like a great many dystopian YA novels these days, this one deals with a disaster scenario that threatens the survival of humankind. But unlike most such novels, it describes the disaster with a calm, measured rationality very different from the sensationalized tone more usual for such descriptions. Somehow, the sanguine approach, rich in small details of how their lives are slowly but irrevocably affected by the disaster, rings truer and hits closer to home.

I was especially impressed with how she explored the subtle but important long-reaching effects of such a tragedy on her characters’ psychological health and relationships with one another. Rather than focusing on the short-term trauma of a devastating natural disaster, Walker was more interested in exploring the long-term effects of the aftermath of such a disaster.

If you need a fast-paced plot and a lot of excitement, this book is not for you. But it’s a pretty impressive debut novel, and an illuminating twist on the usual dystopian trope.

View all my reviews

Next week Tony is coming back by himself. My in-laws have graciously offered to watch our children while we spend two weeks packing up our house. So it will be basically like a second honeymoon. Except that I am working full time and we will be packing up an entire four-bedroom house. But still, I’m sure we will still find some nice quality time to spend together.

Our Family Christmas Letter (+ a Destination Change)

If you are Facebook friends with me or on our woefully outdated Christmas email list, this may be the second or third time you’ve seen this. But if you missed it, here’s 2014 in a nutshell:

Dear friends and family,

It’s been another year in Florida. Probably the most exciting thing we did was get out and actually see some Florida landmarks. At the beginning of the year we visited St. Augustine, which locals like to call the oldest city in the U.S, although Wikipedia uses rather more adjectives to define it precisely as “the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the Continental United States.” Whatever its exact claim to fame, St. Augustine is atmospheric, in a Pirates of the Caribbean sort of way. Our first stop when we got there was the Pirate Museum, which boasts a creepy life-sized talking Blackbeard head, as well as a variety of real-life artifacts recovered from sunken pirate vessels off the coast of Florida. Our trip also included a visit to St. Augustine’s main landmark, the Castillo de San Marcos, which isn’t actually a castle, but an impressive fort built out of the native coquina stone, with seashells embedded in it. The highlight of our fort visit was watching the cannon being fired by a bunch of guys in red stockings and tri-cornered hats.
Firing the Cannon
The 4th of July found us in Miami, where we ate amazing ceviche while watching the World Cup with a large, noisy crowd of various Latin American nationalities. On the way home, we popped into the Everglades, which we experienced unforgettably via airboat. The mangrove-lined waterways had a sort of dramatic, unearthly beauty, at least until the still air and reflective water were shattered by the deafening roar and roiling wake of our airboat. We’re still nursing some environmental guilt over that.
    Airboat in the Everglades
Axa and Raj had another great year with Irish Dance, culminating in going to the Oireachtas (the big regional competition) with their team.
Irish Dance
Sarah’s still doing marketing at work, and has developed an obsession with Doctor Who, which has spilled over to the rest of the family in the form of a homeschool history class based on the Doctor’s travels in time and space, and a Whovian Halloween. Tony is still doing marketing from home, as well as managing the homeschooling. He also bought a massage table, and has become quite an accomplished masseuse (yet another reason to come visit us).
Whovian Halloween
Actually, if you want to visit us here, you’ll have to make it soon, since we’ve already begun packing up our house. Yes, the time has come to say goodbye to Florida. Our original plan was to move to a Greek island and start a commune. However, after our prospective co-communists eventually all bailed on us (you know who you are, and how much we’ll miss living on a commune with you!) we decided to try a different plan: Amsterdam! We leave in March. Sarah will keep working remotely for her company, and Tony is planning to do a Master’s program at VU University in Amsterdam. We are excited to get back on the other side of the Atlantic, and start a new international adventure, not to mention ditch our car and start biking everywhere like true Amsterdammers.
Tony&Sarah
We hope it’s been a great year for you, and that next year will be even better. Let us know what you’ve been up to, and have a wonderful new year!
Love,
Tony, Sarah, Axa & Raj
New Year’s Eve, Blooper Reel Edition

New Year’s Eve, Blooper Reel Edition

After a lovely week with family in California, I’m pulling a solo couple of weeks again, while Tony and the kids spend some more laid-back grandparent time. Fortunately, it’s not summer this time around, so the lawn looks to be in a fairly dormant state (which for Florida means bright green still, but not shooting up like a jungle). So I don’t think I’ll have to mow it, which is good, because I hate mowing the lawn, it takes me forever, and I’m terrible at it. I may trim the bushes, which I actually enjoy, and which by itself goes a long way toward preventing our house from turning into The Haunted Mansion.

I haven’t been quite as successful in other areas. For example, I have been home exactly three days, and I am 0 for 3 when it comes to breakfast. The first day I made my regular breakfast (oatmeal smoothie), but left it in the blender and realized halfway to work (at which point I would have been an hour late for work if I’d turned back) that I’d forgotten it. At least I remembered my laptop, which I have forgotten before, inspiring Tony to make me this sign and tape it on the inside of our front door:

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I stuck the unused breakfast in the fridge when I got home, and then enterprisingly took it to work the next day, realizing only belatedly that I should have smelled it first. When I opened it to take a swig, I was assaulted by the heady aroma of highly fermented milk. And not fermented in a trendy, health-food way either. More like a milk-left-out-on-the-counter-for-ten-hours-even-if-it’s-amond-milk-spoils kind of way. I know, I know. Cue food safety lecture.

Today I actually made it out the door with my (freshly made) breakfast smoothie. Precariously balancing my lunch bento, my green lunch smoothie (OK, I’m into smoothies), and my breakfast smoothie, I turned to responsibly lock the door, recalling that there would be nobody in the house all day. The lock is a little sticky, so turning the key requires some force. Unfortunately, the force required sent my breakfast smoothie tumbling to the ground, where the plastic blender bullet bottle shattered, spilling breakfast smoothie all over my front porch, my welcome mat, my shoes, and my feet.

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As you can see, my first thought was that I should take a foot selfie so I could at least get something out of the situation by blogging about it. Since I was now balancing only my lunch smoothie and lunch bento, I was able to easily re-open the front door. I removed my shoes and cleaned off the worst of the smoothie with a rag, but eventually determined it would be best to reserve the shoes for a more thorough cleaning at my leisure. Fortunately, seven wet wipes later, I was able to salvage my tights, which was good, since I knew that all my other black tights and leggings were dirty, so changing would have required me to change my entire outfit. (Maybe it’s time to do some laundry?) I put on another pair of shoes, and headed back out the door. I really need to stop doing this, because it resulted in my third straight day eating kit-kats out of the office candy jar for breakfast. Don’t tell my kids.

With only a slight twinge of guilt, I left the puddle of slowly congealing smoothie on the porch. Nobody is likely to visit me and see it while I’m gone today anyway. By the time I pulled out of the driveway on my way to work, I was, of course, running rather late. So when I glanced behind me and saw that my garbage can (which I had forgotten to put out Monday morning) had been knocked over in the night, probably by a black bear, a gang of rabid raccoons, or a conglomeration of tortoises, armadillos, and opossums (thank you, Florida!), I just left it.

Tony, I love and appreciate you for many things, among which two of the more minor, but very present in my mind today, are that you always remember to put out the garbage, and that you spoil me by making me breakfast.

But not everything is bleak. The breakfast smoothie disaster is now completely cleaned up, and the garbage can is upright with its contents replaced, hopefully to be put out and emptied (by waste management, not the local wildlife) this coming Monday. And this is me, ringing in the new year with seared scallops in white wine sauce (with a little more white wine on the side for good measure), quinoa, green bean salad, bruschetta with Trader Joe’s artichoke tapenade, and Battlestar Galactica.

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I’m actually rocking this whole living alone thing. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Footloose and kid-free in San Francisco

Footloose and kid-free in San Francisco

This year, Tony’s parents gave us the best Christmas present ever-a totally kid-free anniversary! Like so many BYU students, we got married between semesters (I seriously have at least half a dozen friends with the same anniversary as ours). It seemed like a good idea at the time, but having an anniversary two days after Christmas can make it difficult to have the energy or resources to plan anything special in the middle of the holidays. It’s been at least five years since we went a full 24 hours without seeing our children.

So celebrating our anniversary in San Francisco alone together was pretty much the most enjoyable thing we’ve done in a long time.

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Actually, spending the day in San Francisco was one of the first things we ever did together (our second date, to be precise). In fact, Tony has a photo-of-the-month for every month since we met, and the very first one is me in front of The Stinking Rose, the iconic San Francisco restaurant where they “season [their] garlic with food.”

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Here’s Tony in front of the same restaurant, eleven years later.

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We took BART into the city, which was fun and saved us from trying to navigate the narrow, crazy San Francisco streets and paying exorbitant parking rates. It did not, however, prevent us from getting lost on multiple occasions, even with our tourist map in hand. San Francisco tourist maps should really be topographical. I forgot how insanely hilly it is. We did eventually make it to dinner at the Stinking Rose, and probably also preemptively walked off every single calorie contained in all the delicious black linguini and clams that we subsequently ate.

After dinner we went home to our hotel room, where we hung out with cheese and grapes and champagne and reveled in our kid-free state.

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Next morning it was down to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions and street performers. My favorite was this guy, who was playing Scarborough Fair on a twelve-stringed piece of wood.

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Of course, we also had to eat clam chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl. Yum!

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And before we came home, because we had not yet climbed enough hills, we hiked up the hill to Coit Tower, which I think is built on the highest point in San Francisco. We skipped the 40-minute wait to ride the elevator to the top of the tower, but the view from the bottom, next to the grandiose statue of Christopher Columbus, was still pretty breathtaking.

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Here’s to another 11 years! (after which we may actually be permanently kid-free. How crazy is that?)

 

Period Presents

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“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” ― Rudyard Kipling

I try to stay away from those braggy “my husband is so awesome” types of posts, because I know they’re insufferably annoying. Typically, I only indulge when Tony is off in California for weeks on end without me, because I feel like if I have to suffer through living without him, the least the rest of you can do is indulge me in my mushy ramblings about how dreamy he is.

But we’re going to California at the end of this week, and I’ll be coming back a couple of weeks before he does, so I guess I’m already in gushy romantic mode again. And I have to tell you about this one snuggly thing he does. Hopefully, this will not be TMI. I promise it has nothing to do with sex, if that’s what you’re worried about, but this post does have to do somewhat with my period.

Now, I’m not one of those women who has periods so bad she has to take industrial-strength painkillers and curl up in the fetal position in bed for a week every month (my sincerest condolences if that is you). In fact, as long as we’re doing TMI, I have pretty light periods, that usually last 3-4 days from start to finish, with a day or so of moderate cramping and maybe a bit of a headache at the beginning. I don’t think I complain unduly about my period, but maybe I do.

In any case, several months ago, out of the blue, Tony came up with an idea to make my period a time of celebration. He proposed that each month during my period he would give me a full-body massage, make me liver (to keep my iron levels up), and give me a “period present.” Of course I agreed to the proposition. What was not to love about it? Who minds a little bit (or a lot) of extra pampering, especially at that time of the month? And plus, it fit in well with my determination for my daughter to grow up feeling positive about her body and her period.

I confess that I was secretly skeptical that his plan would last more than a month or two. After all, it’s a lot of work to do all that stuff, and it’s not even something I asked him to do. But he’s been doing it all every month, without fail, ever since that first month. He makes a mean liver and onions, even if the kids do complain about having to eat it. He’s an amazing masseuse. In fact, he got a massage table a few months ago, which makes it even more heavenly. And he somehow manages to come up with a new, thoughtful gift every month.

The gifts range from the romantic and traditional (jewelry) to the more pointed and personal (a twelve-pack of tweezers, since I have a habit I can’t seem to break of losing them/leaving them all over the house). But this month he went above and beyond thoughtful gift-giving, and presented me with this:

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In case you’re perplexed, yes, that is a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Be still, my heart. I was one of those kids who habitually read things like dictionaries and encyclopedias in linear fashion just for fun. But my favorite recreational reference book as a kid was Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The quotes in this book introduced me to a number of authors, whose books I subsequently read, always with a little thrill of pleasure when I happened upon the original quote. But Bartlett’s Quotations also gave me intimate and tantalizing glimpses into history, since many of the quotations in the book were things people actually said at dinner parties or during Parliament debates or on the eve of battle. There’s often a sketch of the context in the footnotes, to set the scene for the reader. I used to go through the book, page by page, and write my favorite quotes on 3×5 cards, which I kept in a file box, organized by subject. Nerdy, I know. But so much fun.

If you’re my Facebook friend (aka denizen of my global village), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve recently taken my addiction to quotations public, and post a regular quote-of-the-day (and if you’re not my Facebook friend, I would love to be yours, if you’ll have me). I think of those quotes as a constantly evolving poetic expression of my philosophy of life, expressed in more beautiful words than I could come up with, by people far wiser than myself. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” You might think it would be hard to come up with new quotes every day (although I’ll confess here that I typically use life skills I’ve learned at my marketing job to schedule a month’s worth of quotes all at once). It is hard. But so satisfying.

Lately I’ve been much enamored of the Quote section in Goodreads, which can be searched by topic, author, or keyword. The only problem with Goodreads is that anyone can add quotes. So I usually have to wade through dozens of quotes by people like Cassandra Clare and John Green before I even get to Montaigne or Whitman. To say nothing about the fact that not everyone is, shall we say, meticulous about avoiding misquotations. I’m pretty good at telling by feel if a quote is legit (and being especially wary of things supposedly said by Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain), but I also make liberal use of Google and wikiquotes’ misquotations page.

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So I’m quite thrilled to have my very own copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to provide me with flawlessly attributed quotes from the time of the Ancient Greeks all the way up to . . . I’m not sure when. I think the introduction mentioned something about the moon landing, but I haven’t made it to the end of the book yet. It’s already filling up with tiny post-it notes marking my favorite passages.

So to end this post on an appropriately gushy note, thanks, Honey Bunny, for a gift that is thoughtful on so many levels. And thanks for being my lover, partner, and favorite person ever.

“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.” ― Edith Wharton

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