Countryside observations

One of my favorite things about traveling is observing ordinary life, but done different.

We were up in Oroville, in north central Washington, for the Labour Day weekend. Oroville is an old town, in Apple picking country. To get there, you simply drive East of Seattle, and turn left just past the mountains. If you hit the border, just turn around and there it is.

More than anything, though, Oroville is a small town, filled with small town folk who occupy a lazy long weekend very differently than I do.

On Monday, we had to make a quick trip into town to gas up the boat. As we drove in, we passed a family, sitting and enjoying the sun in a semi-circle of lawn chairs while kids played amongst colourful objects spread over the dark green grass. We couldn’t make out what was going on, but everyone was smiling and enjoying life. 😄

On the way back, we drove just a little slower to see what lawn game they were playing. This was a new one.

The colourful objects were beer cans. The parents, occupying the lawn chairs, would chuck their empties out onto the lawn. Each new van would then dance about as the kids gleefully pulled out BB Guns and competed for marksmanship.

Shooting empties with your family on the front lawn. 🤷 To each their own.

A sword made of light…

Last night was the peak of the Perseids meteor shower season. It was also really cloudy.

But, I explained to Xavier that the meteor shower would be on all night, with the best viewing hours between midnight and 5am, when the moon is at its darkest. Just around midnight, X got up to use the bathroom, and dragged me out of bed to go look at the falling sky.

We each grabbed a blanket, and laid down on the grass in the backyard. While it was still quite cloudy, there were holes in the clouds that we’d watch intently. It took us a while, but eventually X spotted what he had been waiting for.

“It’s like someone took a sword made of light and cut a hole into the darkness.” The kid can be rather poetic at times.

All in all, we spent about 45 minutes just watching the night sky, and spotted three meteors.

If you have nothing smart to say, better to say nothing at all.

So, I have a friend, who posts things on facebook that make me go 😲🤯😡🤬.
But, as this person is a friend, I try to 🙊
I’m not always good at it.

Here’s something that’s been helping. Me. I don’t know if my friend finds it helpful. I’m probably still annoying.

When I see the posts that look like misinformation, I try to reply with actual information, and citations. This means I first have to do research and think. 🧠

Thinking is so much harder than yelling.

It takes work, but it is also making me more informed about the things that I’m passionate about. And sometimes it turns out that my opinions don’t line up with reality. That’s a hard one to accept. 😞 But, part of learning.

Retconning the blog

ret·con (verb): to revise retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events.

I started this blog forever ago as a sort of journal of major or interesting things that have happened in my life. It’s been delightful to look back and see some of the things we’ve done that we’ve forgotten about.

But, as with most hobbies, this one gets frequently neglected. Since I’ve been stuck at home for more than a month now, I’ve made it through enough of my todo list that “finishing that blog post I started in 2015” is now bubbling up to the top of the list. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to go back and add little things here and there. I’ll see if I can get a round-up done for mid-may.

I’ve been at home too long

2020 will be the year of not going outside. Not that I’m much for going outside in the first place. When the advice came out to encourage social distancing, both Sarah and I looked at each other and said “Stay at home and don’t talk to people? We’ve been training for this my whole life! We got this!”

Our first encounter with Covid-19 seems like forever ago now. Xavier and I ducked out for a routine trip to Costco one Sunday morning. Feb 29th to be precise. When we pulled into the parking lot it was PACKED. Not weekend-shopper packed, but pre-thanksgiving dinner or the week-before-Christmas packed. We would have left but as fortune would have it, someone pulled out right as we pulled in and we landed a choice spot. Score!

As we walked up and down the aisles searching for what was on our shopping list we couldn’t help but notice that nearly all the shoppers there were only buying Clorox Wipes, Toilet Paper and bottled water. We definitely had the feeling that some global memo had been sent out to the residents of Kirkland that we’d somehow missed. People were clearly “apocalypse shopping” but we didn’t know why.

Side note: “Apocalypse shopping” is a phrase that has entered my vocabulary since moving to the United States. This is when everyone goes to the store to prepare for short-term societal collapse. Often on account of major weather events, like a blizzard.

We picked up what we needed, queued up, and asked the teller at the exit what was going on. She leaned forwards and whispered:

“In about 3 minutes, there will be a major news conference that will announce the first Coronavirus related death on US soil,” she may have said “that’s not travel related” but I don’t recall for sure. Then she gestured to the massive queues and added “Obviously it’s not a well kept secret.”

X and I listened to the press release in the car.

Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Washington State Department of Health are announcing new cases of COVID-19, including one death. The individual who died was a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions who had no history of travel or contact with a known COVID-19 case. Public Health is also reporting two cases of COVID-19 virus connected to a long-term care facility in King County.

The man had been treated at Evergreen Hospital, which is 13-15 minutes from where we live, and very much a part of our extended neighborhood. All three of us see medical professionals at Evergreen, and frequent the nearby shops. We drive through that area several times a week as we go about our “normal” life.

This is how we learned we were Ground Zero for the US-edition of the Covid crisis.

At that point, out of an abundance of caution, we decided to play it safe and stay at home for a few days. By Wednesday, we’d been notified that X’s school would close for a few days. By Thursday, I’d been told that I could work from home for a few weeks. By the following Monday, school was moved to online-only learning and we’d gotten guidance to just stay at home to work unless we had good reason to do otherwise. Things have only gotten more restricted since then.

We spent two weeks in full lockdown mode, and then I made a quick day trip up to see Mom on March 15th to celebrate her birthday with a HUGE Costco shopping trip so she wouldn’t have to leave the house for essentials for a bit. Since then, I’ve been here.

That’s 49 days since we started out lockdown, and 34 days since I’ve left home.

That’s a very long time.

 

Green Card

Cross posted from Facebook.

I have a green card.

We left Canada in 2008, and have called three different countries “home” during that time. But, today is the first day in nearly 12 years where my right to live in a place is not directly tied to my employment.

It’s hard to put a name to it, but there’s a feeling you get when you know that no matter how long you stay, it’s always as a temporary guest. That feeling is gone.

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X: My bed is too comfy

So I walked past Xavier this morning before breakfast and he had this super sad look on his face. 😞 

“What’s wrong kid? Why so glum?”

sigh” he sighed. It was a good sigh too. “It’s just that my bed is sooooo comfortable when I wake up but I know I have to get up at some point”. 

“…and…”

“No, that’s it. I’m just remembering how nice it was in bed, but realizing I can’t go back”

X’s First Story

Xavier got interested in typing after realizing that the “big kids” take typing classes, and he should probably learn this skill too. So, I popped him in front of the laptop and opened a simple text editor, thinking he’d just bash away at the keys for a bit. Instead, he wrote a story. Here’s the complete, unedited version of X’s first typed work.

wonce upon a time ther wus a boy named jon.jon had a cat named kiwi. kiwi and jon played in the sun on a nice day. but jon dinit realized that kiwi wus stolen. when jon noticed that kiwi wus gone ! jon searched in the house . then in the front yard . then he called 911 and the police . the police asked jon some qestcheins . and cote the robber . the end!

Eating my way through Europe: Deep fried gravy balls

The last time I came to Amsterdam, we tried something Bitterballen. This local snack is made by first creating a roux, loading it up with little bits of chopped meat, somehow breaking into bite sized portions, and then deep drying the whole thing. We recognized it as deep fried gravy balls.

While I did grab a bite of bitterballen along my walks, I found it’s big brother: The Broodje Croket Sandwhich while tiptoeing through the tulip gardens at Keukenfeld farms. 

If Bitterballen is deep fried gravy balls, this was a deep fried gravy sausage, served with hot mustard on a brioche bun. 

The interior is really similar to what Americans call sausage gravy; that’s the chunky stuff they pour over biscuits. The main difference is that the Dutch version is influenced by their settlements in Indonesia and is lightly spiced with a bit of nutmeg, and some sweet soy sauce.
Not surprisingly, this was a pretty filling meal, and made up most of my afternoon nutrition. This and two more terrible coffees. I don’t know what coffee did to offend the Netherlands, but it’s obviously resulted in a deep and lasting feud.

After my adventures in tulip land, I hopped back on the train and eventually followed the crowd out of the wrong doors at Amsterdam Centraal station. Instead of walking towards the city, I came out the backside, towards the wharf. No biggie, I used my famous sense of direction to get horribly, horribly lost amongst the walkways and waterways that make up Haarlem to the west of the city. This neighborhood was much more mixed residential than I’d previously seen in the city, and it was a real joy to pop into bakeries, cafes, fromageries, and various other small food vendors. 

While munching on an amaretti cannoli I was stopped in my tracks by this beautiful sight:

This sandwich is literally everything I miss about Europe. Sold by a ham specialist (pic below) it’s made fresh on premise with items from the neighborhood. He buys fresh baguettes from a guy around the corner, cuts them in two, rubs tomato on one half, and olive oil on the other, and then carves a pile of iberico ham off a leg to go between.


Mmmm…  ham. 

Lunch/dinner out of the way, I didn’t make it far out of Ibericus before I started eyeing up desserts in bakery windows. This streusel and its friend the apple pie both came back to my hotel room for a later snack. 

At this point, I was tired, but there was still a few hours of daylight, and I’d promised to bring home some gifts for the family. Gifts in this case amounted to cheese from Henri, who I gather is a big deal in the Dutch cheese making world.

I gave holland one last chance at coffee on the way home with mixed results. What I’d ordered – the Special – was a thing of beauty. A moka with whipped cream, cookies, chocolate, and at least a little coffee. It wasn’t really “coffee” though. I give up. My coffee shop experience being a little less than I’d hoped, I decided to look for some late night munchies instead.

I’d read about a fry house not far from my hotel that apparently was the best in Amsterdam. What luck! Vleminckx serves nothing but Belgian style fries in a paper cone. They have a variety of sauces, but I had it in good authority that the Oolog was the best of the best. This house speciality mixes equal parts mayonnaise and peanut sauce, with a sprinkle of fresh chopped white onion. The fries were superb! The mayo of course delicious. I think I might leave the rest for the locals. 😉

Banksy exhibit in Amsterdam

I didn’t have many things on my tourist todo list for Amsterdam, but seeing the Banksy exhibit was probably my first, second and third priority.

Banksy is a modern day artist who rose to fame for his politically charged street art. More than just the art, Banksy was notable for their anonymity and the incredible locations of the artwork, which appeared in banks, war zones and even an elephants cage at a city zoo. Between the desire to remain anonymous, and the difficulty associated with moving the “canvas”, there have been relatively few exhibitions for someone as famous as Banksy. All the more reason I was excited to find that the Moco art museum in Amsterdam was playing host to an exhibit of collected works.

The Moco is an old house – probably a mansion by Amsterdam standards – that was vacated in 1939 and later donated for public use. The exhibit made great use of the space, using the natural light from the windows to accent some of the pieces, and placing art in slightly out of the way spaces – above the door, or a hard to see wall – so you still had the feeling of having to look to find everything (and that, perhaps, you wandered right past a piece without seeing it). It was very light on explanation though, which is also fairly true to the artists work. Consequently, I now present a few pieces with minimal explanation as well. Enjoy!