30 August 2013

I'm Angry!

I'm back in my house in the Netherlands for the weekend (in case you missed the news, I'm living temporarily in southern Belgium).   I had decided to make the trip up here even before I found out I needed to check on some issues at the new building (so I can claim this as an official work trip) and before I realized that Monday is a US holiday. So I'm here until Tuesday morning. 

It was really nice coming back here today but it also made me angry.  I don't want to leave! I've only lived in 3 other places as long as or longer than I've lived here and one of those was the house I grew up in (where my parents still live). And I love it here.  Never mind the fact that I've been here longer than expected.  I don't think I should have to leave.  It's not my fault that there's no more work for me here.  I don't see why that should mean I can't stay! I'm really not happy with this whole leaving situation. I've known it was coming for a while but that hasn't made it any easier.  I tried throwing a 3-year old-style tantrum but it didn't seem to change the fact that I have less than 2 months left here. 

I'm. Not. Ready.  I will not be ready regardless of how much time elapses.  I do NOT want to leave!

...tantruming resumes...

29 August 2013

the. book. chat. {Assigned Reading} - UPDATED!!

UPDATED...because I totally forgot the other book I wanted to talk about!!!

 This week (okay, okay, it's been a while since I linked up to the book chat...I know!) we're talking about  those beloved/dreaded school-assigned books. 


I'm going way back for this one (I spent one year of high school abroad and while I've read most of the books assigned then I didn't read them as assignments and I studied engineering in college so there was no assigned reading that didn't include equations!).  One of the school-assigned books that stands out most in my memory is Z for Zacharia by Robert C. O'Brien.  

[Image source: Wikipedia]

We read it in about the 8th grade. It stands out for two reasons.  One, I think, because it has a very strong, modern, teenage female heroine.  I don't remember a character that I could identify with (aside from the post-nuclear-apocalypse setting) so closely. The second reason it stands out to me is that I remember feeling like the only kid who didn't hate/make fun of the book.  And it's still (I won't say how many years later because I'm in complete denial about that!) brought up as a joke.  I can't say I know why, though.  I guess I'll have to ask the next time I hear it mentioned.  According to IMDb it is currently being made into a movie.

A book I read somewhat recently was not assigned to me but was assigned to a German colleague in his English class. It's a short book and a fast read called The Wave and is the semi-true story by Todd Strasser
under the pen name Morton Rhue (though modern copies are often under Todd Strasser's real name). It is a novelization of a teleplay by Johnny Dawkins for the movie The Wave, a fictionalized account of the "Third Wave" teaching experiment by Ron Jones that took place in a Ellwood P. Cubberley High School history class in Palo Alto, California. The novel by Strasser won the 1981 Massachusetts Book Award for Children's/Young Adult literature. [Source]
 Aside from the story, which was fascinating and frightening, I was interested to discuss the events in the book with my German colleague.  I had never heard of the book and found it very interesting that it was an assignment in a German school (I can't remember specifically but he either had to read it in high school or university).  Germans can be very sensitive about certain historical events...especially those surrounding the holocaust and WWII.  Many (even younger people who were born well after the end of WWII) won't discuss it at all.  My colleague couldn't believe that, given the horrors that occurred during holocaust, it would be possible for any such sort of movement (involving Jewish persecution or otherwise) could ever happen again, let alone so easily.  I wasn't at all surprised.  I think it has happened on smaller scales and could all-too-easily happen on a larger scale again.

Note: Apparently it's been made into a movie and can be seen on here on YouTube.

What books did you love or hate that you were assigned to read?

18 August 2013

Differences - Sundays in My City

I had a much better SIMC post planned for today but...well....things didn't go according to plan and I have to pack up my hotel room to move out tomorrow morning.  I'm headed to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet up with my brother and sister.  Remember...my sister and I are doing the Tough Mudder?  Wish us luck!!

I've spent the last almost-three years living in the Netherlands, right on the borders of Germany and Belgium.  Much of the time you wouldn't even know you've crossed a border except for the little sign and perhaps a change of language on the signs (perhaps...the north of Belgium is Dutch-speaking so there's no change there but the signs do change half-way through the country).

This crossing was into Wallonia which is the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium.

Still, there are differences and many of them surprise me considering the open borders and European Union.  You'd think many of these things would be standard across national lines. 

  • Milk -  Buying milk in the Netherlands is pretty simple. It's in the cold section between the butter and the yogurt.  Here in Belgium I cannot find any milk in the dairy case or any other cooler.  I can only find the super-gross shelf-milk.  And since I'm in southern Belgium and I don't speak French, I haven't managed to ask.
  • Driving -
    • Belgian (and German) drivers are much more aggressive than Dutch drivers.  Belgian roads are terrible compared to the wonderfully maintained roads in the Netherlands.
    • Belgium uses the seemingly absurd Yield to the Right rule.  This rule supposedly exists in the Netherlands but I've only seen it in a very few places.  Basically, as you're driving down the road, you have to yield to those approaching from the right. 
      The X in the triangle means you have to yield to traffic approaching from the side street on the right even though it seems to make much more sense for them to stop since you're continuing on straight.  I pretty much come to almost a full stop to look for oncoming cars but the Belgians get very annoyed with me as they may slow down a bit but certainly don't stop.  Approaching traffic, knowing it has the right-of-way, also doesn't slow down.  Frankly, it makes me extremely nervous!
    • Yielding in general.  Belgian drivers do seem to strictly observe who gets to go first at the many one-car-at-a-time road-narrows places.  Belgian drivers will stop if they see you approaching but Dutch drivers pretty much go with whomever gets there first.
      The opposing direction has a red arrow so you have the right-of-way.
      Your direction is red so you have to yield.
  • Language - Dutch students learn Dutch, English, French and German.  Most Dutch people speak very good English. Those who live along the German border speak fluent German.  The Germans whose houses I can walk/jog/bike to because they're as close to the border as I am do not speak a word of Dutch.  Belgium has both French and Dutch (Flemish) as their official language.  The Flemish-speaking Belgians (who live in Flanders)also speak fluent French and usually fluent English as well.  The French-speaking Belgians (in Wallonia) do not/will not speak Flemish (in fact, they don't even study it until high school). They might speak English but that's pretty hit-or-miss. I don't know why I look like someone who speaks French but despite my frequent use of my limited French ("je ne parlez pas Francais" and "je ne sais pas"..."I don't speak French" and "I don't know") people continue speaking to me as if I didn't just tell them that I don't speak French or that I don't know.  There's a lot of "smile and nod" going on.  I went to Flanders this weekend and it was so nice to understand people and to be understood!
  • Cleanliness and Maintenance - You rarely see trash or litter in the Netherlands and in Flemish-Belgium. Roads and sidewalks are very well maintained.  Roads and sidewalks are pretty crappy in Wallonia and there seems to be a lot of trash strewn about.  The road conditions in Wallonia remind me of Pennsylvania.  Lots of pot holes and patches!
  • Eco-Forward - The Dutch are very big on recycling and reusing.  Both plastic and glass bottles get returned to the store for a deposit refund (this is also true in Germany).  Most other plastic along with paper and metal and glass gets recycled.  There are bins in most neighborhoods for the items that are not picked up from your house.   I don't know about Flanders (although I suspect it's similar to the Netherlands) but here in Wallonia there's definitely no bottle return (which means I won't purchase anything in bottles) and very little gets recycled.
  • Short People - The Dutch are statistically the tallest people on the planet.  They tower over me.  Belgium doesn't even rank in the top 10.  There are short people here :)  That makes me happy!!
Unknown Mami

15 August 2013

Traveling Dogs

My dogs have literally traveled via planes, trains (twice) and automobiles. They've covered a lot of miles!! Last weekend (thanks to the ineptitude of Congress we've had 3-day weekend for the past 5 weeks) we went to Trier, Germany and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.  Luckily for me, the dogs love to travel and see new places!

On the banks of the Moselle River in Trier looking at the Romerbrucke...the oldest bridge north of the Alps that still carries traffic.

The hotel we stayed at in Trier (Hotel Deutscher Hof for anyone interested) left this for the dogs...how awesome is that?!?!  Two blankets, two water bowls, two food bowls, two packages of homemade dog treats and a door sign letting people know there are dogs in the room. I've stayed in lots of hotels with the dogs and never received anything like this. I would absolutely stay there again and have told all my dog-owning friends here!
Sitting like good dogs waiting for one of those homemade treats the hotel gave them.
Enjoying said treat.
At one of the Elephants in the Parade.
In Constitution Square with a view of the Pont Adolphe Bridge in Luxembourg.
The dogs were very popular amongst many of the tourists.  They received lots of attention and had their pictures taken may times.

The hotel in Luxembourg put us on the 4th floor and the elevator was so small that I had to prop one leg up in order for all three of us to fit!
The room wasn't much bigger than the elevator.  What you see is literally all there was. I'm standing in the bathroom doorway and the bathroom door opens against the room door. My bag is on the desk because putting it on the floor mean the dogs couldn't lie down. There was no other furniture in the room.
The dogs are getting a break from cars and hotels (they do miss having a yard where they can run freely) while I go to Scotland.  They will stay with a colleague who has a big fenced yard and fields behind so they will get lots of off-leash time.  I haven't decided where we're going next but you know I'll post about the experience here :)

Have you traveled with pets?  What's your experience been?  Any recommendations for places we definitely should check out or avoid?

12 August 2013

Elephants Parade

In honor of World Elephant Day today(who knew, right?)...

The elephant Parade is the world's largest open-air exhibition in public space with 1.5m wide, ornate elephant statues. Amsterdam, London, Singapore, Milan and Copenhagen have already hosted this event.  About 95 colorful elephants will spend 3 months in the squares and city streets of Trier (Germany) and Luxembourg City (Luxembourg).  Each elephant is unique, designed by local and international artists and celebrities.  Many other celebrities such as Katy Perry, Goldie Hawn and Tommy Hilfiger were involved in the Elephant Parade.  After the exhibition the elephants will be auctioned off and proceeds go to the Asian Elephant Foundation.  -Courtesy of www.trier-today.de

I happened to be in both Trier and Luxembourg this past weekend.  I didn't see all 95 elephants, I'm sure.  But I saw many. I didn't get pictures of every elephant I saw.  Sometimes there were too many people around any my silent screams of "GET OUT OF MY WAY" did not have the intended effect :)   Here are some of the ones I did see. As you can imagine, the elephants were very popular with kids and sometimes that made the picture even better. It was fun spotting one out of the corner of your eye or walking past a square 4 times before noticing the elephant there. 

Couldn't resist getting a shot of the dogs with an elephant.

Do you have a favorite elephant?