Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

We’re having a quiet Thanksgiving with just the two of us, plus Märzen, of course. John is making potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, dressing, Brussels sprouts, and chicken. It is possible to get turkey here, but it’s expensive, and with just the two of us and our small oven, a big chicken will do nicely. With all the dishes, we’re having the standard problems with refrigerator space, so John is stashing some dishes – and the bubbly – in the cockpit.

The temperature here is about the same as Portland, but as Mom pointed out when she called on Skype this morning, it rains a little more here – more like Seattle. If you still don’t know about Skype, you should check it out – at least, if you have any friends or family that are a long distance phone call away. It’s free computer-to-computer calling and very inexpensive computer to landline.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's snowing!

Yesterday it was just hail and sleet. Now the temperature has dropped, the wind has changed, and it’s snowing. So far it isn’t sticking much, and the forecast calls for a little warming, so we hope this won’t last long.

Yesterday we braved the elements to do some provisioning for Thanksgiving at the big market at Noordermarkt. We won’t be having turkey, but John will roast a chicken, and we’ll have most of the traditional accompaniments including cranberry sauce. Our first time through the market we couldn’t find the cranberries, but we spotted them on the way back. We’ve invited Dandelion to join us, but Kerry and Zelma seem to have met a lot of expat moms and babies here, so they may have other plans.

While exploring the Seven Seas Cruising Association website today, I discovered that there’s a third U.S. sailboat wintering in The Netherlands. Guardian, whose home port is Boston, is in Rotterdam. I’ve contacted them, and maybe we’ll arrange to meet sometime.

In big news from the States, our nephew Joel Stocks has just been promoted to sous chef at 50Plates in Portland, Oregon. I haven’t been there yet because it just opened in July, but I’ve read some of the online reviews, and it sounds great. I’m looking forward to checking it out when I’m in Portland for the holidays. We’re very proud of Joel and feel we contributed a little to his career by taking him to the French Laundry when he was still in high school. Of course, that was the only thing he asked to do when he visited us in San Francisco. Even then he wanted to be a chef.

Photo credit: I found the photo on the blog of Marc van der Chijs. Except for taking Märzen out and a trip to the store, we aren’t going outside.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sinterklaas is coming to town

Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam

Sinterklaas is pronounced almost exactly like Santa Claus and the two are very closely related. Sinterklaas is a shortening of Sint Nicolaas — you know, jolly old Saint Nicolas. You can read more about him in this Wikipedia article. Anyway, he’s arriving in Amsterdam by boat this morning, and there will be a parade this afternoon. It’s a very big deal here, and boats have been going by us all morning with children on their way to meet him.

This is also Zelma’s first birthday (she's the baby on Dandelion), so happy birthday, Z!

John and Zelma’s dad, Andrew, have been doing their part this past week to help with the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration. One of the canal boats at the marina needed to have some work done to get it running for today. With Sjoerd acting as their agent, the guys took care of everything. And our big outing of the week was a trip to the chandlery for parts and supplies.

At the end of last week, I also got to spend a few hours with my friend Marike. She was coming to the city to visit a Chinese store and get some CDs for her Qigong exercises and invited me to join her. We had a wonderful time. One of the stores we visited looks like a great source for kitchen implements and spices. I’m planning to take John there sometime since he’s in charge of the galley.

We also visited the farmers’ market at Nieuwmarkt. It was much less crowded than the one by us, which was nice, but what made it really special was that Marike knows a couple of the vendors and introduced me. I was especially impressed to meet a real Dutch farmer and get a close look at some of his produce. There were several root vegetables I’d never heard of like parsley root and black salsify. After looking it up on Google, I think salsify sounds tasty, and maybe we’ll try it one of these days. It certainly didn’t look very appetizing, but it seemed quite popular.

De Waag

To top off the outing, Marike treated me to lunch at a nice restaurant called Café in de Waag. We might meet Marike’s sister Gemma there one of these days. I hope so because I’d like to see her again too. One other thing is that we spoke Dutch the whole time, except for a couple of times when I lapsed briefly into English.

Photo credits: Sinterklaas came from Intelligent Travel from National Geographic Traveler, a pretty cool looking blog, but the photo credit belongs to the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Marketing. De Waag came from a Picassa photo album owned by BH. I left a note of thanks for BH, who seems to have traveled to many of the places we've also visited.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It’s good to be American

In the week after we elected Barak Obama to be our next president, it’s good again to be American. On the tram home from the election night party I carried one of the paper U.S. flags that had decorated the tables. People noticed. Many said, “Obama,” and smiled. We said “Yes!” and grinned broadly.

While waiting for the tram we got our first text message of congratulations from Maria, who was getting ready for work. We heard from all of the rest of our Dutch friends before the end of the day, either by e-mail or in person.

The Dutch were always friendly to Americans, but now when they hear our accents, they ask if we’re happy about Obama. Of course we are, and they let us know that they are too.

(Can you find us in the photo? We're towards the back and against the wall. The woman next to me is from Kentucky, but we know she voted the right way.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Too busy celebrating to blog

As the countdown to west coast poll closing started on CNN, it was echoed here in Amsterdam. When we got to zero and CNN announced that Obama is the president elect, the room went wild. Champagne was passed, toasts were made, cheering and chanting went on until McCain's concession speech. It was received with respect except for occasional outbursts of applause.

It was great to get a comment on the blog from Mom's family room. I'm sure you're all as happy as we are. A telling comment here was, "Now we can be proud again to be Americans." Everyone here is thrilled, and I was getting text messages from Dutch friends all afternoon wishing us the best, so I know the rest of the world heaved a huge sigh of relief as well.

We'll be hanging out here to see if the California voters do the right thing on Prop 8. We only get to vote the federal ballot, so we couldn't help with that. Congratulations to Colorado for their good sense in defeating Prop 48.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Valerie from Colorado spotted the computer and asked if she could see the Denver Post site to check on Amendment 48 The Definition of a Person (aka anti-choice). It is going down in flames with the No Vote leading with 73%. Valerie was a very happy women. Now if Prop 8 in California looses it will be a great night.

The Pheasant Pluckers

Early in the evening the Pheasant Pluckers provided a great mix of comedy and music in a cabaret style. When MSNBC called PA for Obama the band was performing and looked a little puzzled about all the applause.

PA Called for Obama!

With PA called for Obama the path for McCain has narrowed considerably. Shirlee and I are very happy.

Big Turnout

There is standing room only here at Boom Chicago. The crowd is happy and energetic. Here in the Netherlands the Dutch people are for Obama by 80%.

Lots of Happy Democrats

The party is in full swing. Just had a great performance of the national anthem. CNN just reported first results for Indiana. It looks to be a great night.

Election Party Live Blogging From Amsterdam

Tonight we are attending the Democrats Abroad campaign watch party in Amsterdam. It's an all night event at the club Boom Chicago. Shirlee and I will be online posting comments and pictures as Barack Obama is elected the 44th President of the United States. Go Vote!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Great weekend in Den Bosch

Thanks to our friends Lex and Maria, who we met here at Marina Westerdok in September (see our blog post from that time), we just spent a wonderful weekend in 's Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch as it is commonly called). They invited us to join them for one of the winter regattas that their yacht club has.

We, including Märzen, took the train from Amsterdam to Den Bosch, where Maria met us at the station. The train trip only took an hour, and Märzen behaved very well. She spent part of the trip in her Sherpa bag sleeping, but mostly she sat on my lap on top of the bag.

After we had coffee with Lex and Maria at their house, the four of us went downtown to see the sights and try a Bossche bol, a famous dessert that, by definition, is only available in Den Bosch. It’s a huge creampuff sort of thing filled with whipped cream and covered in dark chocolate. We had ours with coffee sitting across the street from the St. John’s Cathedral, which we visited next. (To get a better idea about what a Bossche bol is, you can enter it in Google. When I tried it, I got several articles and pictures.)

In the evening Maria prepared a feast of different kinds of stompot, which is potatoes mashed together with various vegetables. When the potatoes are mashed with carrots and onions, it’s a unique variety of stompot called hutspot. Besides the hutspot, Maria served a stompot with boerenkool (curly kale) and one with sauerkraut and pineapple. In my previous experience, stompot was served with smoked sausage called rookworst, and Maria had that, but she also served some other sausages and fried Dutch bacon. The Dutch bacon really doesn’t translate. John says it’s sliced pork belly; it isn’t cured at all. Anyway, it was delicious!

Sunday was the regatta. After a nice breakfast we went to the yacht club. Every member helps with the work of maintaining the club, as well as paying dues, and it’s a very nice facility. We sailed on 32-foot boat whose owner, Goos, lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years when he was a boy. There wasn’t a lot of wind, but it didn’t rain (except for a few sprinkles) and it wasn’t too cold, so the race was just right as far as we were concerned. After three times around the course on the lake, we finished sixth, not last, and enjoyed some wonderful soup and a salad at the clubhouse after.

The photo shows Lex at the helm during the race with Goos running the main sheet and starboard jib sheet. I had the port jib sheet. Maria is on the foredeck where she helped the jib across in the light air.

In between eating and sailing, we had several interesting conversations with Lex and Maria about the differences in the way things are in the Netherlands and the U.S., and of course, we also talked about politics. It was all enormously gezellig, a Dutch word I may have used before. There really isn’t a direct translation. It’s something like warm and friendly and cozy. We feel really lucky to have been welcomed into the home of this very kind Dutch couple and to have experienced a real Dutch weekend.