a little booktalk

I had to travel for work recently so was able to catch up on some reading.

I read The Elephant Keeper’s Children (Peter Hoeg) for bookclub — it was okay. It was an interesting mix of madcap adventure, religious philosophizing, and quirky first-person narrative. It reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, and also a Flavia De Luce mystery, with some oddments of structure thrown in. I liked it but had problems with it. It was a little hard to connect to the characters, and those that I wanted to know more about, were closed to the reader.

Then I raced through the latest Pendergast novel by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, Two Graves. This series is hit or miss, but I thought this was a hit. Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast was back in all his pale, elegant mysterious glory, and there were Nazis! And twins. And a volcano! It was just exactly what I needed to read on a 9-hour journey home (three-leg flight plus significant wait time at the airport…) I like it when books promise adventure and thrills and deliver just that. It was totally brainless but had enough fun plot twists that it kept me thoroughly entertained on the long journey home.

Now I’m reading Shogun by James Clavell. I don’t know what possessed me… but so far it’s quite good! I wish the writing were a bit smoother but it’s really interesting and entertaining so far. It gets rave reviews and seems to move along quickly so hopefully, even though it’s enormous, it won’t take forever to read. Has anyone read it?

So far reading seems to be going better this year. I hope to at least get 52 books — 60 would be terrific. The number doesn’t matter, but it’s nice to have a tidy list at the end of the year to look over and remember. Plus there are SO MANY BOOKS and only one lifetime — we must make progress!

Home sick today (actually, just taking care of a sickie, but since it was a violent stomach bug, I’m worried that my time is coming…) so got some reading done. Just a bit, since I took a five hour nap. I never nap. But hardly slept last night, so it was necessary. Thomas the kitty has been carefully watching over us and enjoying an extra day in bed.

Things have been busy — I was gone for a week to LA and Pennsylvania, and previous to that had gone skiing for a day. Tomorrow night we are going to see Eddie Izzard — I’m so excited! And Sunday is a live performance of Philosophy Talk which is syndicated on public radio stations… not totally familiar with it, but it sounds like fun. Berkeley is good for things like that.

A very busy spring is planned: a trip to Nashville, a ski weekend, a trip to Oregon, a visit from Erin, and another TBD trip in May. We were planning to go to Scotland in May but have decided to go in the fall, instead. If not Scotland, perhaps Spain or something else — whatever seems like the best idea. That little nagging feeling says, “Stay stateside in the spring… overseas in the fall.” Since I ignored that little voice last year and went to Amsterdam anyway and was a zombie the entire trip, I’ll listen this year. We’d still like to go to Scotland, but the trip isn’t coming together for some reason. We’ll see what happens.

Have I mentioned that I love being able to travel again?

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a catch-up post in photos

This year I finally got a white Christmas tree. I’ve wanted a white or silver tree for many many years, and this year I finally found one for the right price, that was the right size (6.5 ft) and it’s perfect. I love it. IMG_1128IMG_1126
IMG_1130 IMG_1132I’m actually excited about Christmas this year. I felt inspired to decorate a little. We have some fun plans involving San Francisco light-display touring and a dinner out and going to see the lights at the zoo. Everything feels celebratory and happy, not obligatory and stressful. This is pretty nice, I have to say.

Some other photos to catch you up on where I’ve been… This takes us from Muir Woods and the Pelican Inn when Tammie came to visit at the start of November, to San Francisco (Sutro Baths and an otter spotting! with Tammie as well), to driving home from Oregon, to the Santa Monica trip, to autumn in the backyard, finally wrapping up with some cute Thomas shots.

It’s been so busy, but good. I continue to be so grateful for my current life. Next post: Books!

Muir Woods with Tammie The Pelican Inn Perfect lunch by the fire at the Pelican Sutro Bath ruins, Cliff House OTTER!! Driving home from Oregon Santa Monica PIer Santa Monica Amazing breakfast: bread pudding with baked apples Santa Monica Autumn backyard Thomas exploring the wet yard More gratuitous kitty photos Hiding!!

camping weekend!

Went camping last weekend at a wonderful place in Guerneville called Schoolhouse Canyon. Officially now my new favorite camping spot. It was wonderful for many reasons, but one of the very best reasons was the amazing private swimming hole, perfect for dogs and people (and babies riding dogs). Deep enough for real swimming but the perfect temperature — cooling and refreshing, not cold. We stayed out for hours (sorry, no pics of me in a bathing suit… nope.) The entire weekend was wonderful and relaxing (that’s my friend Janet and her cute pup, Jesse). Two nights of perfect camping bliss.

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travel wrapup: quirky photos

Well, I intended to report on the last few days of Amsterdam but apparently I already put lots of those photos in the first post. Oh well.

Instead, we will do something much more fun. Here are some of the quirkier photos I took. Enjoy!

Here is a woman attempting to defend her pastry from the bakery kitty. I would have been more than happy to share with the cutiepie (the cat, not the lady) but he was not interested in my pastry, only this poor woman’s.

Here we have very rude (but colorful!) dwarves. I place this phenomenon in the “peeing frite” category. Whatever that category is. Rude in animate objects?

Next up we have righteous maids at the hotel. I happen to agree with this, but thought this was kind of funny. Also a little bossy. You there! Are the lights off?!?

Always happy to see a rainbow flag being proudly flown. Even if I wouldn’t be allowed inside this fine establishment.

Also, lest you think Amsterdam all clean and shiny, may I present to you a very dirty street corner. Here is something handy for if you are a man and happen to be in the right place at the right time with the right need… just pull up to an open urinal and have at it, like the gentleman here pictured! Broad daylight, street corner, why not?

And now for the cute portion of our slideshow: cutie cute doggies in adorable situations:

I’ll leave you with this: A drunken man wearing a frog hat, balancing a flowerpot on his cranium. He made it about a block or so! I was impressed.

Oh, the things you see when you travel. Anyway. That was my trip. It was good fun, and I’m very glad to be home, where the fries do not pee (that I know of, anyway) and gnomes generally do not flip you the bird as you walk down the street.

to the land of frites, chocolate, and a small child taking a perpetual whiz

Onward to Belgium!

First stop was beautiful Bruges (Brugge), where I took my favorite photo of the entire trip while on a canal tour. I love the tree, the water, the houses on the left and the church spire on the right.

Bruges is a town straight out of the medieval times. It stopped developing somewhere in the 1600s, I think (maybe it was the 1500s?) until around the late 1800s when tourists discovered it. It’s been a well-preserved medieval attraction ever since. I loved it. I stayed in a youth hostel in Bruges, which was, while not an entirely new experience for me, certainly not something I’ve done much of in recent times. It was totally fine and pretty fun, actually. The bunks had curtains so it was relatively private, and there was a great bar attached to the hostel and I met some people and had a nice beer or two (Belgian beer… mmmmmm). The only thing was the co-ed bathrooms, which I’m not opposed to at all, except that every time I went in the one next to my room, there were only young German men in there, brushing their teeth, gelling their hair, etc. I just pretended that I knew what I was doing and no one called me out, but I had this odd feeling that somehow I’d missed the “Men” sign on the front (I checked, but it was co-ed. But still). Other than that slight discomfort, it was a fine place to stay. I don’t think I need to be brushing my teeth next to a tall pimply German teenager anytime soon again though.

Then it was on to Brussels, where I was scheduled to meet Vanessa. We were going to wander the town that evening and then the next day go to the Magritte Museum.

I got there first, checked into the hotel, then went on a walk. I immediately came upon the Grand Place (traditional city square). Grand indeed.

The unofficial mascot of Brussels is a tiny little statue of a little boy taking a pee. I really don’t get it, but you could get every kind of souvenir featuring this little guy. Um. Whatever. 

I much preferred the frites version. Yes, that is a french fry relieving himself. Tasty!Declining the urinating frite, I decided it was high time for a real Belgian waffle. OMG, it was so good. Light and crispy and almost sourdough-flavored, with powdered sugar and strawberries. I don’t think whipped cream is traditional but the guy asked me if I wanted it and hey, why not? Yum. Later that evening we went out and I had a Trappist beer, this one a nice dark mellow one. I loved the beer in Belgium. I am not a big drinker in general but I am an Oregon girl (home of the microbrew!) and I love a good beer and Belgium definitely won me over in that regard.Truthfully Belgium won me over in general. I don’t know why I liked it so much, but I had a great time there and almost preferred it to Amsterdam, although I couldn’t really tell you why. I loved the food (maybe that’s why) and although the people weren’t as friendly as they were in Holland, I liked that it really felt like an elegant European country. Holland was so friendly and accessible, which is great, but I really felt like I was somewhere else in Belgium. Also: beer, chocolate, waffles. I think the mystery is solved right there. 

Tomorrow just a bit more of Amsterdam to wrap up the trip, and some final thoughts about my travels. I really enjoyed Belgium even though the train ride from Amsterdam was strangely difficult. I felt sick the whole time and was plunged into a gloomy mood, which was immediately lifted upon seeing how beautiful Bruges was. I liked having a few days to myself and really had a good time with no schedule, no museums, just me, my camera, my journal and oh yes, the beer.

the best place in the whole world

Is, to be precise, home in my own bed with my kitties.

However, it is fun to go away sometimes and see something new. Got home last night from a long trip to Amsterdam and Belgium. I had a great time, but I have to be honest — I was kind of a zombie half the time and it was about two or three days too long for me. I think if I could have gone in April or even May, that would have been better, but this is the time we went and this is the experience I had. It was really beautiful, we had lovely weather, I loved seeing the Anne Frank House (I cried through the entire exhibit) and eating yummy things and having some really amazing beer in Belgium, and I loved Bruges and Brussels and the Magritte Museum, and the Van Gogh museum, and riding bikes along the canals in Amsterdam. I thought the red light district was fascinating (especially during the week, when it wasn’t all crowded) and my friend’s great-aunt was a treasure and kept us well-fed, laundered, and rested.

A few highlights here. If you’re friends with me on Facebook I posted an edited bunch (if you want to be friends with me, just ask)

Schiphol was the very best airport I have ever been to. A LIBRARY in the AIRPORT. With a napping room upstairs. And a museum inside the airport, showing Dutch masterpieces. And a kid’s playroom. And a spa. I could live there.

Furniture hoists at the rooflines. Amsterdam houses are too narrow and stairs too steep to load furniture, so they have to be hoisted up and brought in through the windows.

Lovely scenes from the Dutch countryside on the bus ride home to Tante Maud’s (Vanessa’s great-aunt, whom we were staying with)

Commuter bike parking at Amsterdam Centraal (the major transportation hub)

Canal houses and a really cool streetlight. 

The best restroom of the whole trip: the lovely WC at the Tassen (the Handbag Museum). There is even a fancy little evening bag display inside the stall!

Amsterdam canals at night. So pretty. 

A gallery of photos from Amsterdam. I’ll do Belgium tomorrow and then cover anything else I left out. If you hover over the image, there should be a short explanation. Not sure if the explanations show up in the slideshow. You get the idea.

I am really glad I went. I’m also really glad to be home.

Reading notes: I barely read at all. I was exhausted on the plane trip over and tried (unsuccessfully) to sleep through most of it. Read some at home base (Tante Maud’s house), read some in Belgium, and then read half of Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam on the journey home, which Vanessa was reading — it was a strange book, and then I got a splitting headache and didn’t finish it. I like my Kindle a lot (ooh! made a very neat cover for it, more on that later) but I really didn’t use it very much. What I did use a lot was my iPod Touch, for email, web, maps, etc., wherever there was free wi-fi. That was extremely handy. I was too tired or mentally overwhelmed by the end of each day to read. Mostly I just tumbled into my little single bed and was out.

Today I’m resting. I need to go to the grocery store, but other than that, I’m going to be on the couch or back in bed. I’ll deal with the real world tomorrow. So glad to be home.

prepping

My mom is arriving this afternoon.

  • vacuumed: check!
  • cookies: check!
  • abandonable plans: check!

I go skiing in just over a week:

  • skis found: check!
  • in-shape and ready to go: check! (are you kidding? I am so out of shape…)

My best friend arrives in two weeks:

  • nothing planned: check! (all the better to spontaneously have fun, right?)

I travel to Amsterdam in 2.5 weeks (two and a half weeks!!)

  • New suitcase purchased after my old one mysteriously disappeared: check!
  • Stylish rubber boots: check!
  • Reading material for the plane: check (crap!! I must go back and check ya’lls recs)
  • Lots of plans made for the trip: check (nope, have barely done any research at all)

This new me who has juuuuust enough energy now to get through regular days without exhaustion (such an improvement from a month ago!) has no extra energy to plan ahead for much. I have to say, this is kind of a relief. Who knew? Just see what happens! Go with the wind! I kind of like it.

stroopwafels, here I come!

It’s official: I’m going to Amsterdam in March! Made my reservations with my friend last night. I’m so excited. We may take a short side trip to Belgium as well, or maybe Germany? It doesn’t matter, it’s all good.

I struggle with feeling guilty for going (for many reason) but I figure: I’ve had to say “no” to so many things for a long time, that this feels like a very much needed “yes.” Even though I’m not very rich right now, and even though I feel bad leaving the kitties and work and blah blah blah, I think this trip will be very good for me. I’m going with a close girl friend and we’re staying with her aunt, and I expect it will be wonderful.

I want:

  • to eat really yummy food
  • to have some excellent beer
  • to ride a bike over the bridges and waterways
  • to see a castle or two
  • to remind myself that I am a citizen of the world and not just my little wee routine

Other than that, I’m open. My friend has been many times and is playing tour guide, sending me links of museums and sights that we could consider. I haven’t done ANY research at all, which tells you how out of it I’ve been (although SO much better) — usually I adore trip-planning in all aspects. This time, I feel content to just go along and see whatever comes our way.

As long as there is some coffee and stroopwafels, of course. That’s essential.

It will likely be cold and blustery so I must pack wisely (and warmly). I have just over a month to think about things and plan my packing and what I’d like to do. I think I will pack pencils and sketchbook as well. I’ve always loved the idea of having a sketchbook devoted just to travels. I think that’s a must.

Also: I need book recommendations! What’s a good airplane book? We’ll be looking at guidebooks but I’ll need a big engrossing chunkster for the plane and evenings. This is where a Kindle would come in handy, I suppose, but I haven’t gotten around to getting one of those yet. Thoughts? Favorite travel books? Perhaps Dutch-themed?

home again

I’m back after a week away in Oregon to see my family for the holidays. It was a very good week. I actually got some rest and am feeling much better. I also got to see Tammie, which is always awesome and never long enough (next time! Thrifting!). We had the promised fondue and fabulous chitchat. I’m terrible at chitchat but then again we are both introverts, so maybe it was okay. Right?

More soon. Time to finish up unpacking and head to bed early. Glad this year is almost over. It’s been a rough one in lots of ways. Hoping the new year brings with it some good.

a bright spot

Today I had lunch with a friend. During the lunch, she asked me if I had any plans for myself in the coming months. What was I going to do to take care of myself? Anything I’m looking forward to?

I said something about just hoping things stay relatively stress-free, hoping to do some things with friends but not having any definite plans.

She says, “Well, I have an idea. I was wondering… if you would like to go to Holland with me in the spring and stay at my aunt’s house, who lives just outside of Amsterdam?”

I had to think really long and hard and consider the question for about .03 seconds before I shouted, “YES!”

I even have a valid passport.

I am *so* there. I don’t care if I have to work extra to afford the airfare (who knows what my finances will look like at that point) — I’m going. That sounds so good. And there is a piece of advice a fellow exchange student once told me, which I am going to follow for the rest of my days, “Never turn down a free place to stay overseas.”

This definitely helped my mood.