The Canal Parade

The Canal Parade

Ever since we moved to Amsterdam, people have been telling us about the famous canal parade that happens every August in celebration of Pride week. This place loves an excuse for a party, and as city renowned for its tolerance and open-mindedness, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam celebrates Gay Pride with panache and gusto. There are all-night street parties and other events for days before and after, but the main attraction is the canal parade on Saturday afternoon.

Accordingly, we arrived a good hour and a half or so before the parade was to begin. The crowds were already packed along the parade route, but we managed to find a spot on a bridge (we’d been informed that bridges offered the best view), almost in the front. We settled the kids with their legs dangling off the bridge under one of the giant hanging flower baskets. Yes, I did give more than a passing thought to the idea that they might fall in the canal, but no, it didn’t prevent me from allowing it.


Apparently an even better way to watch the parade is from one of the many boats moored two deep along the edges of the canal. Note to self: make a friend with a boat before next year.

A lot of the people in the boats along the side were dressed as garishly as the people in the parade itself. There’s a drawing every year, and “only” eighty boats are allowed to participate, so I guess maybe if you didn’t get drawn you just park your boat alongside. In the photo below, only the boat in the foreground is actually in the parade. All the rest are moored along the canal and full of people drinking, dancing, and enjoying the parade. And occasionally falling into the canal and becoming part of the spectacle if they drink too much or dance to vigorously.


This boat was part of the entre act, which also included this cool guy riding a waterspout. Yes, that’s my thumb over the top half of the photo. I was excited.


It was an impressive parade; I guess the official color is pink, but of course there was an abundance of rainbows.


Most of the parade floats (I don’t know if they officially call them that, but it’s a more appropriate name here than in any other parade I’ve ever seen) were big barges that were either pulled or pushed by boats.


Because the canal is crossed by multiple low bridges like the one where we were sitting, the designers of the floats had to be creative in including decorations that could be pulled down to fit under the bridge and then quickly re-inflated after the bridge. Sometimes the people on the barge had to lie down too. Here’s that same float halfway re-inflated after passing under our bridge.

WP_20150801_14_44_53_ProAnd here you can see it off in the distance, finally fully inflated as a blue man with rainbow wings. You can also see all the people watching the parade from their boats, as well as the crowds behind them on the sides of the canal.


The crowds, as you can see in the photo above, were pretty crazy. There was a fair bit of jostling on our bridge. In fact, I was almost pushed into the canal by a sturdy Dutch granny. The family next to us had started out with two members on the front row, but were busily trying to expand their holding, and had sent granny out as a wrecking ball. The family on the other side were executing a similar maneuver, so I was taken by surprise from both directions. Eventually I sat down like the kids, below all the jostling, as Tony endeavored to stand firm and hold the bridge. There was general disapproval that I bowed out on all the elbowing, since apparently that was considered a female domain; the men were just sitting back and letting the women go at it.

There were some pretty dramatic costumes, including these 70’s inspired flower heads.

It was not possible to tell in all cases exactly what sort of story the floats were attempting to tell, but this must be a good one, since it involves castles and unicorns.


As might be expected, marriage was a popular theme, and several different floats included wedding cakes, brides and grooms (well, brides and brides and grooms and grooms), and other wedding accoutrements.


Quite a few local businesses were featured, as well as several large internationals with offices here in Amsterdam.


The Dutch military had its own float.

WP_20150801_15_23_26_ProAs did the Dutch postal service, although where they found the time to decorate it when they were so occupied with striking remains a mystery. Or maybe that’s what they did while they were busy not delivering the mail.


We only made it halfway through the parade (perhaps 2 1/2 hours) before we reluctantly decided to call it a day and take our tired children home, although I’m sure there were plenty more impressive boats to come.

We had a great time at Amsterdam Pride, despite the incredible masses of people. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to psyche up my introvert self to go again next year, but we’re definitely happy to have experienced this bit of Amsterdam color.

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.


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.


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


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



Visited IKEA not once, not twice, but three times


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.

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:


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.


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.


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

Flunking the Holidays

So, here’s how Thanksgiving actually went down: shortly after I published my somewhat pathetic blog post about our (virtually nonexistent) plans for Thanksgiving, we received an invitation to Thanksgiving at the home of our friends, the Larsons. They are also the first people who invited us over for dinner when we moved to Florida almost three years ago, and the family who invited me over when I went to Church alone while Tony and the children were in California last year (and the year before). So, good people. And good cooks too.

Thanksgiving dinner was delicious, and followed by an impressive selection of pies, AND a gorgeous Brazilian flan contributed by another guest. (We contributed the somewhat more prosaic Not Your Mother’s Green Beans.) It was my first time trying butterscotch pie, and it was delicious, as were the flan, the brigadieros (Brazilian chocolate fudge balls), the berry pie, and the cherry cheesecake, all of which I also sampled.

To round off a lovely afternoon, after we’d let the pie settle a bit we adjourned to the sitting room, where Andrew Larson and his über-talented family, along with the guest who had contributed the Brazilian flan (who, it turns out, not only makes amazing desserts, but is also an accomplished vocalist) entertained us with vocal performances. And later that week we did make our traditional pineapple bacon wraps, and ate them for dinner with broccoli and quinoa, where they actually tasted even better than they normally do paired with a bunch of other rich foods. All in all, it was a delightful, stress-free Thanksgiving.

Which brings me to Christmas. We have a tradition of visiting a Christmas tree farm and cutting our own tree. In past years, this has involved a relatively quiet trip to a nearby farm where we chose our tree in the peaceful silence of an early December afternoon and then brought it home with relatively little fanfare. However, last year the tree farm was incredibly crowded, and they’d added a ton of carnival-type activities like a maze and a huge jumping pillow and pony rides and the whole shebang, which of course, being the great parents that we are, we couldn’t pass up. AND there were huge lines of people for every activity from measuring and netting the tree to getting in the petting zoo. It was like Disney World, but without the rides. So, yeah. When Axa said out of the blue, “we don’t really need to get a Christmas tree this year, because we’re going out to California for Christmas,” I opened my mouth to protest, and then closed it again. This was an unexpected parenting windfall, and I should take advantage of it.

So, we’re not getting a tree this year. I feel a little guilty, and a little wistful, but mostly pretty relieved. And lest Andrew Larson or another charitable soul think that this is a veiled plea for someone to drop a Christmas tree on my front porch, it totally isn’t. Also, full disclosure: I kept last year’s tree up until, oh, I don’t know, sometime in September. It was kind of a complex, emotional thing. I just couldn’t bring myself to take it down until I was ready. So I think my longing for a Christmas tree has not quite reset itself yet. No doubt next year I’ll be dying to put it up the moment Thanksgiving is over.

We HAVE done one pretty awesome thing for Christmas already though: made handcrafted consumable artisan Christmas presents for everyone in our families. I can’t be more specific, since they are meant to be a surprise, but I am absolutely dying to post a photo right now of how absolutely charming and vintage and–I don’t knowjust completely Pinterest-worthy they are. It’s seriously one of the most domestic, and simultaneously the most chic things I’ve ever done (which, admittedly, may not be saying all that much, but I’m pretty pleased about it).

And since I can’t post a photo of either my domestic exploits or our nonexistent tree, here’s a photo of our very first Christmas tree.


Yes, that is my seven-months-pregnant belly literally overshadowing the tree. At the time, awash in nesting hormones, I thought this was the most artistic, profound photographic composition ever. So much so that I made an artsy faux-tile piece out of it, which still hangs on our family photo wall. Now I think it’s a little strange.

Anyway. I’ll leave you with the perfect vocal accompaniment to this blog post, appropriately illustrated by some random person’s schmaltzy Christmas photos (some of which actually include a dry Christmas tree being disposed of). Right at minute 3:21 is the melodramatic line Tony would start belting all last year whenever the subject of taking the tree down came up and I refused to entertain the idea. Merry Christmas, and you’re welcome.

Thanksgiving in Florida, 2014

We’re kind of foodies at our house, so Thanksgiving is generally a gala affair. (See Last Year’s Menu and the Even More Dramatic Year Before) However, I’ve noticed that since I started working full time, I have less and less of a desire to spend my entire day off cooking when it’s a holiday. Go figure. Tony has even less of a desire to cook a big Thanksgiving, possibly due to the fact that nearly all of the everyday cooking at our house currently falls to him.

So this year we’ve decided to pare down Thanksgiving a bit. No, make that a lot. In fact, I’m embarrassed to even say what we’re contemplating, nay have actually determined to do. Suffice it to say that our plans for Thanksgiving do not involve either brining the turkey, wrapping it in bacon, cooking it upside down, or even stuffing it. In fact, they don’t involve a turkey at all. Are you ready for it? We’re going to pick up a rotisserie chicken. It was Tony’s idea, since I wouldn’t have been able to bear coming up with such an travesty. However, once he brought it up and I weighed the merits of a rotisserie chicken against the hours of preparation and the reality of turkey leftovers in the freezer for the next several months, I could see he had a point.

But his next idea was the real bombshell: Stovetop stuffing. I was not amused. Stovetop stuffing is too far even for me. I think he was mainly attracted by the ease of preparation, but he claimed (out loud!) that he actually prefers it to homemade stuffing. I was offended. Was he referring to the Leek and Wild Mushroom Stuffing I made last year? Or the  Apple, Sausage & Parsnip Stuffing the year before? Only when I promised to make a completely normal and unadventurous stuffing this year (and reminded him that I’d already consented to rotisserie chicken) did he relent and agree to the compromise.

So I am passing over recipes like Spinach, Fennel, and Sausage Stuffing with Toasted Brioche, Rustic Bread Stuffing with Red Mustard Greens, Currants, and Pine Nuts, and Masa Cornbread Stuffing with Chiles with many a sigh and backward glance. Instead, I have chosen the irreproachable “Simple is Best” Dressing, featuring those old staples of Thanksgiving and Simon & Garfunkel, parsley, sage, rosemary and time. Per the reviews on Epicurious (which one should always, always read, for entertainment value as well as culinary wisdom), I’ll double the herbs and add more broth, especially since I’ll probably sub in sourdough bread if I can get away with it under the nose of Tony, the Thanksgiving Grinch.

High on Axa’s list of important foods for Thanksgiving dinner is pumpkin pie. In fact, she’s been asking if we could have pumpkin pie this year since early October. Pumpkin pie is not my favorite thing, but since it doesn’t have a top crust, it is a candidate for my secret weapon/pie crust dodge (aka the easiest French Tart Crust recipe I have ever encountered). She’s looking forward to making it from an actual pumpkin, so there’s no cutting corners there. I am thinking of using this recipe, which includes white pepper, since I love using pepper in desserts and getting away with it. We fell in love with white pepper when we discovered it in Italy, and started putting it in everything. Everything was better with white pepper, until Tony put it in the breakfast oatmeal one morning. It took me awhile to figure out what the weird taste was, but I could barely choke down my oatmeal. We’ll have whipped cream (NOT the kind from a can) with the pie.

Pineapple bacon wraps are a Bringhurst family tradition. We used to make them for Christmas Eve, but since we’re so often out of town at Christmastime, we make them for Thanksgiving now. They are as easy as they sound–just slices (or half-slices) of bacon wrapped around chunks of pineapple. I think we sometimes might have used canned pineapple growing up, but we always get a fresh pineapple now. Tony learned how to efficiently cut up a pineapple on his mission in the Philippines. Here’s Benjamin managing to burn the pineapple bacon wraps when we invited him to Thanksgiving at BYU eight or nine years ago. No, that’s not a bad quality photo. It’s the smoke in the air.


True to form, Tony suggested that we just buy rolls this year, and get berry jam instead of making cranberry sauce. So no recipes to post for that. And our final menu item is roasted veggies, which we usually cook without a recipe, and are somewhere along these lines. And that’s it; the entire contents of our Thanksgiving spread this year.

What are you planning for Thanksgiving? Is your turkey already marinating? Will you be making homemade rolls, mashed potatoes from scratch, and fourteen kinds of pies? Or will you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did? Remember,

My Favorite Walks Around the World

I found this post mostly completed in my drafts folder, and thought I’d share, since it’s been awhile since I did a nostalgia post. One of the beautiful things about moving often is that you experience the “little things” of life in so many different ways. Like the smell of the plants outside your window. Or the way different fruits taste when they’re in season. Or the cadence of stray overheard phrases in different languages.

Among the constant yet changeable things in my life is the evening walk that Tony and I have taken ever since we got married. Besides being a great time to reconnect as a couple, talk about what’s on our minds, and get some fresh air, our walk also helps to explore whatever neighborhood is ours at the moment. Since we so often view the outside world through a car window, walking lets us take a slower, more intimate look at the scenery and notice things we wouldn’t otherwise see.

We have lived in so many places and become acquainted with so many evening walks that I can’t list them all. These are just a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Our walk in Tunisia began like this:

And ended like this:

Or on very special nights, like this:

Another favorite walk was in Ireland. We’d walk out to (I kid you not) the most idyllic cow pasture in the world. It’s funny to me how fondly we still speak of “our” cow pasture.


Our route left town just a block or two from our apartment in Mullingar, where we took a path that paralleled the Royal Canal.


At the time, we were reading Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, and I thought about it every time the train went by. This walk and the picnic we usually had at the end of it always made me feel like we were re-living some lost Victorian country childhood. This photo makes me remember so many things about Ireland: the authentic Irish brown bread that I always made, the wellies my kids lived in, and how very little they were back then.


And then there was our beautiful little Italian village. Here’s how our walk started out there:


And then, you know those stock photos of the road between trees that converges on the horizon with a perfection that looks like it can’t possibly really exist? Ours did in fact exist, although this photo is less about the perfection of the road than the exuberance of a very pleased little Axa.


After the tree-lined walk, it opened out into beautiful Alpine fields backed by mountains.


We had similar beautiful walks in Vancouver, Washington, where the spring was a delicious parade of different flowers that seemed to go on for months, and in Carmel Valley (San Diego, California), where we lived in a neighborhood where all the houses followed a strict Spanish-style architectural code, the sidewalks were always perfectly swept, and there was nary a blade of lush green perfect lawn out of place.

In La Jolla, we walked by the Mormon temple every night, enjoying its dramatic beauty and our memories of getting married there. Even here in Florida our walks through our little suburban neighborhood are nice, although it’s sometimes so hot and muggy we only make it once around the block. We’re looking forward to beautiful walks on Kea, where the walking paths date back to the ancient Greeks, and the Mediterranean is visible from all over.

Silence in the Library

As per our usual Saturday routine, I took the children to the library this morning. Upon walking in the door, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a book sale going on in the Book Nest, our library’s resident book store. It was one of those $3 per bag sales that I absolutely love, because I don’t have to weigh the relative merits of each book–I simply have to concentrate on stuffing as many books as possible into my allotted grocery bag. I’ve become quite an expert at this. Here’s my haul for today:


I always hit the classics shelf first. The librarian working in the store was surprised and delighted to find that I was buying the large, ancient tome of Plutarch that she thought nobody read anymore. It’s true that I do have another edition of Plutarch, also the Dryden translation, but it doesn’t contain nearly as many lives. And now we can read it as a family. I also netted a more modern Penguin Classics edition of Plutarch containing just six lives: Sulla, Crass, Cicero, Pompey and Caesar, complete with copious notes.

I got nice hardback copies of Milton (Complete Poetry and Selected Prose)Pride and Prejudice, and Far From the Madding Crowd, along with a paperback of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami, which I haven’t read (although I did see the rather silly film adaptation with Edward-the-Vampire in the title role). Also Beowulf, since the kids have been listening to a kid version on Librivox.

The drama shelf gave me Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, as well as Hamlet, The Tempest, and Much Ado About Nothing in the “No Fear Shakespeare” editions that my homeschool friends are always raving about. I already have at least one Complete Works of Shakespeare as well as each play in adorable pocket-sized hardbacks, but one can never have too much Shakespeare.

Poetry was a bit sparse today, but I did net The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse.

I’m of course on the lookout for anything to do with Greece these days, and was pleased to find a Collins Pocket Greek Dictionary, although Tony rightly pointed out that one’s pockets would have to be unusually large to accommodate it. Will Durant’s 1939 The Life of Greece (part of his Story of Civilization series) looked promising, as did Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, since I’ve read and loved her previous book, The Greek Way. I don’t typically buy random books I’ve never heard of at book sales, but The War at Troy by Lindsay Clarke sounded interesting, and also Greek, so I popped it into my now nearly overflowing bag.

My library usually does not have very much good children’s fiction at book sales, but today I was pleased to find a darling edition of The Wind in the Willows. I already own two copies of this book, but it’s such a lovely book, and the illustrations in this particular copy were so sweet that I couldn’t resist. I also found Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, along with its three sequels, all matching.

A heavy-duty Childcraft Children’s Dictionary rounded out the kids books, unless you count 100 Heartbeats, which I got for Axa because the author, Jeff Corwin, is her hero, and possibly also her first crush. In a similar vein, we also picked up Among the Great Apes, for more nature-related reading.

By this time my bag really was splitting at the seams, but I managed to cram in a final book: Literary Houses, a sort of idiosyncratic old fashioned coffee table book about ten iconic houses in famous literary works, and their real life inspirations, among which Manderly from Rebecca, Satis House from Great Expectations, and Northanger Abbey from Northanger Abbey.

I’m seized by a sort of madness when I go to these book sales. For years, I’ve been collecting books because I knew someday we would move far away from the library, to somewhere where the only books my children would have in their native tongue would be the ones I had collected.

That original impetus for my book collecting is still in force–we are indeed moving to a Greek island next year. But the drive to collect books has become something more for me now. I can feel the relevance of good, old fashioned books slipping away. It’s not that I oppose the digitization of books; I love my Kindle and can’t get enough of sites like Gutenburg and Librivox. These days I’m as likely to read a book on my Kindle or listen to it on my phone as read the printed page. Not that I’ve given up the printed page either; I’ve just learned to be omnivorous. I love having a book by my bed, but I love being able to access my whole Kindle library on my smartphone too.

I’m all for every book ever written being available online to anyone in the world who wants to read it. But at the same time, I can’t help being affected by the prognostications that printed books and libraries are becoming obsolete, and pretty soon everything will be digitized. I’m not a luddite. I want them all digitized. But I want them as books too, real books that I can touch–the bodies that hold their souls.

And so I continue on in my melancholic mania, buying so many books that my shelves are overflowing with printed bounty. It’s my own little way of holding back the dark. When I’m old (and wearing purple, of course, with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me) I won’t be a cat lady, I’ll be a book lady. And then again, maybe the doom-sayers are wrong, and there are enough people who just like books, real books, that they’ll never go out of fashion or completely out of print. Maybe the Doctor is right when he says in Silence in the Libary,

“People never really stop loving books. Fifty-first century. By now you’ve got holovids, direct-to-brain downloads, fiction mist. But you need the smell. The smell of books.”

Here’s hoping. But I’m keeping my own book collection, just in case.

Getting Stuck with Needles for Fun


Over the past couple of years, I’ve done acupuncture several times for anxiety and insomnia. It’s extraordinarily effective. But we always seem to move after a couple of treatments. Not strange; we move a lot. But acupuncture is most effective when you have several treatments close together to deal with the acute problem, and then taper off slowly to ensure long-term effectiveness. So this has become yet another plus side to living somewhere for more than a few consecutive months.

For my latest foray into acupuncture, I looked up providers covered by my insurance. There were two within 100 miles of my house. One 45 minutes away, and one an hour and 45 minutes away. So I picked the one that was 45 minutes away (toward downtown Orlando). It was totally worth the drive, especially since our insurance paid the whole thing, even covering the copay.

I spent a couple of months going to my acupuncturist twice a week, and then once a week. The difference in how I felt was apparent immediately. The obsessive worrying, anxiety, and resultant irritability and inability to concentrate were gone. It was like the constant static in my head had been suddenly turned off. The insomnia took a little longer, but it eventually went away too. By the time I went out to California last July, I was feeling lots better.

When I came back and started my job, though, I couldn’t keep going to acupuncture. I work in Palm Coast, which is an hour north of where we live, and my acupuncturist was 45 minutes south. It was logistically impossible. This didn’t matter for the first couple of months, because I was still feeling pretty good. However, eventually I started to feel the anxiety creeping up on me again. It wasn’t as bad as before. Yet. I could still sleep at night. But I knew I needed to hunt down an acupuncture solution. To make matters worse, we were switching insurance, and our new insurance didn’t cover acupuncture at all. I didn’t know how I was going to afford it without insurance coverage.

Enter the blissfully beautiful idea of community acupuncture. Acupuncture in the United States has traditionally been a sort of high-end boutique alternative medical treatment, performed in private, hour-long sessions that cost you $75 to $100 and/or your insurance $300. Several years ago, an acupuncturist clinic in Portland, Oregon had the idea of treating people in recliners in one big communal room so they could charge less and make acupuncture available to anyone who needed it. They called the idea “Community Acupuncture” and offered a sliding payment scale of $15-$35 per treatment. It turned out to be wildly successful, with the increase in clientele more than making up for revenue lost by lowering the price. The idea caught on, and now there are Community Acupuncture clinics all over the United States, and abroad.

Ours is called Deland Community Acupuncture. I’ve been going once a week for several months now, and it’s absolute bliss. MacKenzie, my acupuncturist, is also very artistic, so her clinic, decorated in vibrant greens, is like a mini Zen-retreat, complete with music, white noise machines, and at least 1000 paper cranes. My stress levels drop the moment I walk in the door.

As well as anxiety, depression, and other psychological complaints, she says she treats a lot of back pain and other chronic pain issues. It’s a very non-invasive way of treating these types of conditions (the needles are no big deal, I promise!), and most people, including me, fall asleep during treatment. And the only side effects I’ve noticed are improved digestion and a general feeling of well-being. So if you deal with a chronic health issue and would like another effective and inexpensive treatment option (it works fine in conjunction with other “natural” or conventional treatments), go ahead and check out Community Acupuncture. And if you live near me, I’d love to introduce you to MacKenzie!

And no, she didn’t pay me to write this. I’m just a very happy client, and I think everyone should have a chance to give acupuncture a try.