One thing that really bothers me–besides males who leave the toilet seat up and all things Trump– is an errant plastic bag. Not just bags, but all plastics gone wild: plastic grocery bags caught in a tree, smeary sandwich wrappers discarded on the sidewalk, bottles stuffed into bushes, plastic forks and straws cracked and muddy in the gutter.
Much to the embarrassment of my family, I pick up plastic I find on the ground because I don’t want it to end up in the ocean or in the stomach of a bird, whale or sea turtle.
I’ve been feeling a bit like a freak in my pursuit of herding in the stray plastics over the past few years, because 1) people look at me funny 2) besides the guys and girls in lime green vests who have to pick up the street litter, no one else seems to even see the plastic on the ground, and 3) It’s kind of gross picking up plastic, but I can’t seem to help myself.
But the good thing is, times, they are a changing. I’ve met others like me. They are organizing neighborhood walks with friends to pick up trash, they plan beach cleans ups. They use Apps to take pictures of each piece of trash and that goes into a major database, which shows all the trash that people around the nation or world picked up that day.
Even Theresa May, Prime Minister of England, joined the plastic crusade. I haven’t seen her chasing a plastic bag through a parking lot, though you can use your imagination with this particular photo. However, she’s making huge impacts on a national level, and announced back in April that her government would be effectively banning single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds (I think cotton buds means cotton swabs or Q-tips in American English). She’s no newcomer to the plastic revolution. Back in January 2018, she was already lining up a long term plan to eliminate all “avoidable plastic waste” by 2042. I want to give her a hug and three kisses, even though I’d probably get arrested and insult her at the same time. Brits aren’t all that in to hugging, and the three kiss thing is something I’ve picked up while living in The Netherlands. God help me.
Sometimes you feel a bit nostalgic when something you felt was kind of ‘your niche’ is infiltrated by others. This is so not one of those things! I’m no longer the lone crazy lady chasing a plastic bag. The more the merrier! In fact, please join me. Maybe you’ll inspire others to follow suit.
On that note, I saw this hilarious Plastic Invasion video today that takes on the plastic insanity with humor and a realistic call to action in preparation for World Oceans Day on June 8th, 2018. Considering I’m already getting my hands dirty picking up wayward plastic, this is a natural step for me. What about doing this together? Doing what, exactly? Check out the video and let me know what you think. Seriously. You have a twitter account. You’re social media aware if you’re reading this post. Let’s do this together! If you’re game, please let me know in the comments section.
I’ll leave you with three cool links that all provide various ways of getting a grip on our worldwide plastic problem.
Disclaimer: No single-use plastics were used in the creation of this post. However, this post was typed on a computer keyboard made of plastic, connected to a plastic mouse and a monitor, largely made of plastic. Holy Hell!
I grew up in Solvang, a small Danish-themed tourist town in California, and like many Americans, there was a soundtrack to my childhood.
It started out with a hodgepodge of what my older brothers and parents listened to: The Beatles and The Velvet Underground (artist-musician brother), Blue Oyster Cult and Rush (football star party-animal brother), Andy Williams, Sinatra and Beethoven (definitely the parental units). That was accompanied by the soundtrack of greater society: what you hear in the mall, on the radio, at your friend’s houses. Initially, I mistook my family’s tastes for my own, gravitating the most toward artist-brother’s selections. I knew the lyrics to many Beatles songs by heart, and with each new album he purchased–the Red album, the Blue album, the White album, Abbey Road–my song repertoire expanded.
By the time I was in junior high school, I started my very own collection of tapes. I would save up my allowance, beefed up by the occasional pilfering of shiny quarter wishes from the bottom of the town fountains and head to Santa Barbara to expand my music collection. I believed my tastes to be in the ilk of Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses, but when it came to parting with my quarters and actually purchasing albums, artist-brother’s British tastes had infiltrated my own selections. Although I had quite a few Billy Joel, Huey Lewis & The News and Bruce Springsteen albums, The Police, Dire Straits and Duran Duran were in the mix.
I knew that American bands were known abroad, but I somehow imagined this was mainly the case in England and other English-speaking countries. My first trip to Europe in the late 1990s seemed to confirm my assumption; I spent three weeks in Italy, where I only heard Italian music on the radio and in the shops and restaurants.
Without any other European experience, my expectation was that The Netherlands would be a land filled with Dutch music and that the soundtrack of my life up until I moved abroad would be a nostalgic compilation left on the other side of the Atlantic.
Oh. So. Wrong. Maybe Americans and Brits are no longer “everywhere” but our music sure is. It’s on Dutch radio, in the gym, in the restaurants, in the clubs. I should have been clued in when I started dating a Dutch guy who knew most of the music I listened to. Now that Dutch guy is my Dutch husband.
We have a running joke about music in public spaces: When we walk into a pub or restaurant, we affect the median age of customers on the premises and the music on the radio adjusts accordingly to our musically formative years i.e. high school and university years.
In other words, I can hear Guns & Roses, Bruce Springsteen, The Police and just about anything else from my youth by just walking into an establishment. Or maybe we just had some kick-ass music during our youth that has stood the test of time.
According to a large number of articles over the past five years, you are no longer what you eat; you are what you post! Does this small representation of the thousands of songs I was exposed to in my youth now become a shortlist of how I am represented? Am I simply a summation of a few lines of text? No Husker Du or Black Flag, The Carpenters or Carole King, no Antara & Delilah, Ben Howard or Jim Bianco?
I am an American shaped by American and British music. But to think that this music was somehow an exclusively American or British experience is just not the case. While we were Rock’n in the Free World (Neil Young or Bon Jovi cover style), so were high school and university students in The Netherlands and presumably countless numbers of others throughout the world.
What most likely remains rather exclusive is the local music, the indie bands that are amazing, but never make it to a national or global level. But this is no reason to keep it to yourself. Support these bands; honor their contribution to the rather niche soundtrack of your life and spread the joy of their music.
I have experienced a strange duality of interests over the past few days. In The Netherlands, we experienced a freak snow storm that resulted in code red warnings, early closures of businesses and horrendous travel conditions that basically shut the country down for two days. Despite all of the hassle, it was stunningly beautiful and surprisingly quiet for those few days the snow lasted.
It’s quite common for people to turn inward and be less social when in cold climates, especially in the middle of winter. Snow changes that dynamic. There is an almost contagious giddiness and excitement that spreads through the population.
Adults give way to their inner child, children go berserk and even stoic figures known for their curmudgeonly behavior lighten up a bit. With less traffic and workers advised to stay home, people of all ages were out in their snow clothing, pulling children in sleds, engaging in snowball warfare and building snowmen.
Even though I’ve been living in The Netherlands for seven years now, I’m still a Californian at heart and I stay in touch with events going on in my home town. Just like in The Netherlands, people on the Central Coast of California have also been advised to stay inside and work at home, but for drastically different reasons.
While I have been throwing snowballs at neighbors and taking up way too many megabytes on my iPhone on snow videos, a massive fire known as The Thomas Fire has been burning through the central coast region of California.
I’ve been in contact with my brother, getting updates on his experiences and watching the news as the fire grew from 50,000 acres to 230,000 acres and is still going strong.
Fires are a natural part of the ecosystem and can actually help replenish nutrients in the soil. Yet that renewal comes at a deadly cost. Many animals have died, homes have burned and although the human death toll has remained very low, the Thomas fire is full of devastation for many.
Thick ash covers the streets, the air is dark, hazy and it’s hazardous to breathe in the particulates floating through the air. According to some, it feels like living in a war zone or some strange apocalyptic world. I wish I could send some of our rain from the Netherlands to California to help put out these fires, but nature seems to know what she’s doing, as do the legions of fire fighters keeping the fires away from the majority of homes.
I’m praying to the weather gods in tandem: for more snow ball material to fall from the skies in The Netherlands and for rain to pour down on my California homeland.
If I were to tell you one of the highlights of our summer vacation was spending a night in prison, would you think I’d completely lost it?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our vacation started out well enough. We arranged to stay at a house in Haarlem for five days and had done the preliminary work of picking up the keys and security codes. We packed the night before to make our morning departure easier. We slept in anyway, and still caught a train on time and easily made the transfer to the second train.
As we rolled our suitcases toward the Haarlem house, I could feel the idea of vacation settling into my shoulders. We were four blocks away when my husband suddenly stopped walking.
“I don’t have my bag!”
His suitcase was in his hand, our bag of snacks over his shoulder. My son and I both had our suitcases and backpacks, so there was a moment of confusion until I noticed that his black shoulder bag was not strapped to his body.
“How’s that possible?” I asked. Misplacing or forgetting items was my specialty, not his. He’s the one we entrust with all important things.
“The keys to the vacation house are in that bag. Besides that, nothing of monetary value,” he claimed.
We called NS, the service that runs the Dutch train system and he precisely described where he had left his shoulder bag and provided a detailed list of its contents down to the red ball point pen in the outer pocket. They promised to call us if they found it.
If the bag was lost or stolen, we were in trouble. If they found the bag, it would take five days to mail it to us–either way, our vacation was looking like a bust.
But the day was still young and I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. If the keys were lost, we could still get a hotel for at least one night and explore Haarlem or maybe move onto another, less familiar city or village and have a mini-vacation. Or we could go home.
Remarkably, NS called us back within the hour and the bag had been found! Yippee! They could mail it to us within five days or we could pick it up . . . in Leeuwarden, way the hell up north.
Leeuwarden or Bust!
As the capital of the Dutch province Friesland, Leeuwarden is a historical city dating back to the 8th century. A percentage of the population doesn’t even speak Dutch, but Friesian. Ljouwert is how you say Leewarden in Friesian. Onward with my tale.
We arrived in Leeuwarden around 5:30pm and retrieved the missing bag without problem. The next challenge was finding last-minute lodging on a Saturday night.
I had called multiple Bed & Breakfasts and they were either fully booked or had a max of two people per room–thus no room for the kid. I found a decent, yet uninspiring hotel on the edge of town that still had rooms as back up, but I hoped to find something in the center.
Google maps reported there was a hostel 400 meters from where we stood. I had read about the Alibi Hostel earlier, but to tell you the truth, I’m not a hostel girl. I’m most peaceful and comfortable in a private hotel room that has its own bathroom and shower. With a hostel, you run the risk of sharing your sleeping quarters with a total stranger and having to leave your room in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom.
I ended my internal debate by calling the hostel to discover they had one private room left. The man on the phone agreed to hold it for us until we had a chance to look at it.
We walked the four hundred meters and arrived at Blokhuispoort, our final destination.
We entered through the main portal of this massive building complex and followed the signage to Alibi Hostel through several construction zones. When we arrived, we were surprised to discover Alibi Hostel was a converted prison. Instead of downplaying this gruesome fact, they actually turn it into a selling point. Book a cell now!
The first prison at this location was built in 1580. The current building was constructed in the mid-1800s and renovated multiple times over the years. It stopped serving as an official prison in 2007 because it was no longer up to penitentiary code, but bad guys and gals had stayed in these cells up until just a decade ago.
We were led to our cell. It had one of those big iron doors, thick walls, black beds, bars on the windows–you know–like right out of a movie. But unlike the movie version, there was something hip and modern about these renovated cells.
It definitely said “prison,” but the smooth walls, new beds and fresh minimalism spoke of proper investment in turning this old penitentiary into something cool. I checked out the shower room and the women’s restroom. Both were immaculate. And did I mention that it was affordable?
“We’ll take it!”
The beds were incredibly comfortable and even though there were bars in front of the window, you could still open them for fresh air. Room secured, we headed into Leeuwarden for dinner and a stroll through the city center.
We returned to Blokhuispoort around 10:00pm and ran into two men who showed us a more direct route to the hostel. Like the owners of the hostel, they were upbeat and friendly. In no time at all they were telling us about the restaurant they were opening in the next few weeks within the Blokhuispoort.
Young people hung out in the courtyard chatting, while a few other families were also returning to the hostel for the evening.
What was going on here? I learned over the course of the evening and following morning that the municipality had designated Blokhuispoort as a site for a cultural center, including a youth hostel.
I soon discovered that our hosts Peter and Jurrien (pictured below) were two of the four owners of the Alibi Hostel. Sjors and Marieke, who weren’t on duty that day, round out the team.
The four friends had been talking one night at the pub and came up with the idea of opening a youth hostel in Leeuwarden. The idea stuck and they began doing research and trying to find a location, but weren’t having any luck. Then they saw an advertisement in the paper.
If I have my facts right, a national development company called BOEi purchased the entire Blokhuispoort complex from the municipality for one euro. You can’t even get a bottle of Cola for that price. Of course the developer has to meet the city’s vision of a cultural center, including ateliers, restaurants and a youth hostel. The renovation would cost millions and millions.
Because of the size and scope of the project, it is being finished in sections and the developer rents to different entrepreneurs, such as the four young friends who started the Alibi Hostel.
The hostel only opened 8 months ago, and a variety of businesses are slowly filling the other spaces, turning this old prison into a cultural hub, just as the municipality had hoped.
Hard to say why this is so appealing, but Alibi Hostel has style. The ground floor comprises a series of ateliers from tattoo shops to cheese shops and the stone, metal and glass create a hip, modern atmosphere.
Despite the comfortable beds and almost soundproof rooms, we all had a bad night’s sleep. Could that have something to do with sleeping in a prison cell? Did the developer forget to call in a pranic healer to cleanse the energy in the rooms? Or did we just eat too much the night before?
In the morning, I ran into another guest who was visiting from just outside Utrecht. He and his family of four had nabbed two private rooms with double beds. He found the whole concept great and was impressed with the renovation. He’s pictured here relaxing in a small lounge next to a wall of barred windows. They slept just fine, by the way.
In fact, everyone I saw seemed completely fine with being locked into a former prison cell and leisurely hanging around a facility with bars wherever you gaze.
So if you’re a die hard Orange is the New Black fan, or just want to know what it’s like to spend a night in prison without breaking the law, I highly recommend Alibi Hostel. It means a trip way the hell up north, but I must say, we quite enjoyed our cell and this Friesian city.
Have you ever walked through your neighborhood and heard one of your neighbors playing live music and wished you could walk in and listen? Glanced into an open window to see art lining the walls of a ground floor residence and wished you could enter that home like a gallery? Or wished to enter that beautiful garden?
On Saturday, June 24th, you can follow that impulse in my neighborhood during the “Parelroute.” Starting at 11:00 and going until 4:30p.m. neighbors as well as five public venues will be open to the public to share their creative talents, from musical performances, painting and sculptor to ayervedic knowledge and fictional writing. Celebrating it’s ninth year, The 2017 Parelroute features 44 stops along the route. The only problem with the Parelroute is that there are so many cool things to choose from and just one day in which to do it all!
I’m drawn to Katharina van der Leeden and the B-Project that will be held at the Christus Triumfatorkerk, Juliana van Stolberglaan 154 (above).
I would also like to see Elleke Davidse’s paintings (Van Reesstraat 61).
But perhaps some live music is a better use of my time. For example, I would like to catch the jazzy music of Bart Riemsdijk and friends at Spaarwaterstraat 17, or visit the nature town ATV Loolaan at Ijsclubweg 5.
Or maybe a workshop on making illustrations with Manuela Bianco?
Oh the choices!
As a resident of Bezuidenhout, I’m honored to be one of the “parels” this year as well. In addition to blogging, I’m an author of two novels, Green (2013) and The Things We Said in Venice (2017). I will be reading from my second novel and sharing how living in The Hague influenced the narrative of this work of fiction. Too bad they put the wrong address in the brochure that went out to thousands of people (correct location is the Haagse Hout Library). Here’s a carefully revised brochure.
When you’ve lived in a country long enough–even if you tend to live in a bubble or under a rock–eventually local cultural phenomena infiltrate your consciousness. As Easter approached this year, I had one of those moments where something that had vaguely hovered on the periphery a few years in a row suddenly punctured my little bubble and made it’s way in: The Passion–a live Christian rock opera of sorts combined with a silent march that occurs each year on Holy Thursday and is broadcast live on TV.
How did I find out about it? Through my church? No. Through my Dutch husband or friends? No. Actually, it occurred while I was reading a rather heart-wrenching New York Times article on my iPhone while waiting for my son to finish his guitar lesson. It was about a U.S. soldier who was imprisoned while suffering from PTSD. When I saw an advertisement pop up, I actually clicked on the ad as a means of postponing my knowledge of this one young soldier’s fate.
The advert took me to an article about The Passion 2017 that would be broadcast live that evening on television. You could virtually “join” the march online. My mind reached into its memory banks and excitedly announced that this “Passion performance” was something I’d come across before. Coincidentally, we had just resolved a technical issue with our television, which means I had access to TV once again. I put it on my digital agenda and hog tied my son into watching it with me.
To be honest, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of contemporary versions of Bible stories, but that night, I gave my critic a rest and settled into the couch to watch the live performance. I wasn’t alone. According to NOS news, 44 percent of all viewers who were watching television at that time were watching The Passion along with me! That equates to almost 2 million people. Another 16,000 were participating live in Leeuwaarden.
Considering The Netherlands has a population of approximately 17 million, that’s more than 10% of the nation! Almost twice as many people were tuned into The Passion as those tuned into the quarter finals of the European League soccer match between Ajax and Schalke. And the Dutch LOVE their soccer.
Jesus was played by Dwight Dissels, a tall, dark and handsome singer with an amazing voice.
A striking red-haired woman named Elske DeWall played Mary and she sang in Frisian, a language spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands. This was also quite fitting considering the concert was held in Leeuwarden, which falls within this province. Omri Tindal, a young man from Rotterdam with a rich musical career and fantastic hair, played Peter.
The entire performance was in Dutch (Frisian part was subtitled in Dutch), which meant that it was also like a musical Dutch lesson for me. Although many people say I’m close to fluent, I still can’t read the NRC newspaper without looking up at least 10 words per article. But the words used in this broadcast were completely within my grasp.
The cast was diverse, talented, energetic. I Enjoyed the entire performance and felt like I’d learned something that night about how the expression of religion doesn’t need to be confined to a church. I don’t view these sort of performances as a means of converting anyone, but it can certainly make an important religious story accessible to a broader segment of the population, and make it fresh to those who have heard it before. Well done folks!
When we were first dating, my husband used complex English words, some of which I, as a native English speaker, didn’t even know.
Consider the word “ambulatory”, which means to the ability to walk about (thus not bedridden). I don’t know how ambulatory came up, but he correctly guessed the meaning at a time when I was struggling to come up with one. I think that might have been when I began to fall for the tall, smart Dutchman.
Ancient greek writing on stone background
He’s a smart one, but it also has to do with the European education system and perspective. My husband attended “Gymnasium,” which is the equivalent of high school for university-bound students. Latin and Greek are part of the curriculum offered at this level, and many words in the English language have Latin or Greek roots. Due to the education he received as a teenager, he knew that the Latin word “ambulare” means “to walk or move about.” Thus ambulatory was a logical step in his reasoning. So he basically charmed me in my early thirties utilizing his high school education. (Just to clarify, he’s my same age, so this is not a cougar story of cradle robbing).
His knowledge of language also has to do with location.
Growing up in the west coast of the U.S., I could travel for two weeks straight across America and not encounter any other languages besides English and some occasional Spanish. In The Netherlands, you only need to travel for a few hours to reach another country with different laws, a different language, and it’s own set of cultural norms.
If you live in a large Dutch city, you can have this same experience walking down the street. On any given day, I can hear Moroccan, Turkish, Spanish, Iranian, French, Arabic and other languages just by the common activity of walking my child to school.
My son’s school alone is filled with students from over 40 different countries of origin, yet it is a Dutch school. The children are discouraged from speaking other languages on the playground or in the classroom. Yet all of those kids have parents, who just like me, when they come home or leave the school, most likely speak to their children in their mother tongue.
The Netherlands is a small country, and with such a diversity of cultures just past the border, or within its borders, it only makes sense that multiple language acquisition is the norm.
As a lingua franca, English has a special place in this process of language acquisition. They start teaching English as a second language in school around the age of 8 or 9 years old.
When you live abroad long enough, you tend to learn the local language. I spend a good deal of my day speaking Dutch. Although it’s exciting to be able to communicate in Dutch, it also has a downside. As my brain acquires more and more Dutch, my English is surely but slowly eroding. That’s why I seek out other native-English speaking expats. It’s also why I signed up for Miriam-Webster’s Word of The Day newsletter.
Each day, I receive a new word in my inbox with a definition, examples of usage and the history of the word. Most of the time I know the word, and get a shot of native language confidence as I say to myself “already knew that!” But this morning a word showed up that upon first encounter, made me flicker my eyebrows: Gimcrack.
Before I even opened the email, I was forming definitions in my head: Gimcrack: 1) That unfortunate view one is exposed to when a plumber bends over to fix a sink, or 2) A person at a gym doing squats and accidentally displaying a portion of their buttocks, commonly known as crack.
To my relief, both of my definitions were wrong. Here is the correct definition:
Gimcrack (pronounced Jim krak): A showy object of little use or value: gewgaw.
Say what? Gewgaw? It’s a knickknack or in other words, a kickshaw or a tchotchke. Where do we come up with all of these words?
Try using Gimcrack in a sentence. It will either impress the socks off someone or earn you a misguided punch in the arm.