Follies & Nonsense

a quick succession of busy nothings

Broken Children

April4

I haven’t written in a long while. Partly because technology hasn’t been playing nice with me, but mostly because this has been a really challenging school year.

Some of it has been challenging in a good way.

I found some new ways of teaching that I thought would really impact my students. I love a good project, so I jumped in. But, a project X 36 weeks or X 180 days quickly swells to the proportion of a part-time job. No complaints. I willingly took this all on and the benefits I’m seeing are worth surrendering my out-of-classroom time for. I’ve just learned that I have to allow myself to crash on Saturdays and Sundays in order to function again by Monday. Hopefully as this year winds down I’ll be in a better position for next year.

The other reason this year has been difficult is the group of kiddos I’ve been dealt. I started the year with 20. And they are so hard!
A little background: I always seat my students in tables. Usually the last few weeks of the school year I’ll have to scoot them apart to curb their talking, but last year they were able to handle it all the way to the end. Three years ago (this group of kids) lasted in tables until February or March.

My kids this year…made it to the 2nd day of school. On the very first day of school I had 6 that I would have kept in from recess if they had had similar behaviors later in the year. By the end of the first week of school we were on our 4th seating arrangment.

Yeah.

19 kids. 10 behavior problems. The odds are NOT in my favor!

But the thing is, I like these kids. They’re (mostly) really lovable. No one is throwing a tantrum, bolting out the door, or vandalizing. They just have the attention spans of poorly trained seagulls. And they’re about as quiet.

It’s made me a better teacher. I’ve learned to let go of some things and hold tighter to others. I’ve learned how to get to the heart of the lesson in record time, how to use classroom structure to my advantage, how to better scaffold learners, and have researched several topics I wouldn’t have otherwise learned about. We meditate now. That’s new. And we learn how our brains work and how to make “mindful” choices.

But daily I am the eye of a category 5 hurricane.

With less than 2 months left of school, the problems are not better. The hard kids are still hard. Academically they’re almost all on target. But it’s not much of an accomplishment since most of them started the year on grade-level. My nights of worry come from the fact that these children are broken.

Our last parent-teacher conference was a couple weeks ago. I tried, yet again, to express to parents how serious my concerns are. Attention spans lasting 27 seconds (I timed), no clear sense of where they are in space and how to move when not anchored to an object, slowly falling behind in reading because comprehending a novel requires much more effort than a picture book, lack of number sense, the constant need for sensory input, treating interactions with other students as an incessant video game…

And from the parents I got comments like, “I was just like that when I was a kid. I turned out okay.” Sure, if by okay you mean homeless. “You just need to make lessons more fun.” Guess what, no lesson is going to be as fun as the (rated M) video game you let your kid play for hours at night. “She’s just a hard kid.” Great. That’s what I’ll tell the victims she’s bullying. I’m sure they’ll understand.

I was praying before school the other morning and I had the thought, “You can’t fix them.” It’s true. I can’t fix them.

More importantly, I can’t go to their homes and force the parents to make their children a priority. I can’t make them care enough to research and experiment with solutions. I can’t even make them realize that there are real problems.

I’ve taught plenty of kids that I couldn’t fix. I don’t know why this group has me so frustrated and sad. Maybe because I can see so easily what their parents should do and I’m so angry that they don’t. No parent is perfect, but why is it okay that they don’t even care to try? Unfortunately, except for the chronic lice problem, none of this neglect is even technically “neglect.”

I can’t fix them.
I can’t fix them.
I can’t fix them.

I’m trying not to assume that any of these people want to be bad parents, but frankly they’re not making much of a case for anything else. Indifference is toxic. Ignorance is unexcussable. Doing something because that’s how you were raised is laziness. Increased devotion to a failing system is weakness.

My faith tells me that while I can’t fix them, the Savior can. But I’m finding it so hard right now to say that that’s enough of a solution.

April 26-May 2

May2

Apr. 26–Day 15

Have I mentioned that I love the Dollar Store??? Especially when I have to teach a Primary lesson on Noah.

Apr 27–Day 16

Monica and her little Emma took me to Zupa’s for a birthday dinner.  Afterward Cassity met us for cupcake deliciousness.  MMMMMM!

Apr. 28–Day 17

I was doing a model writing lesson for my class on using “sense” words.  I told them about my visit to the chocolate shop in Brussels.  Talk about a 5 senses experience!  I apparently did too good a job in describing, however, because when I was done they were drooling all over their desks.  “You bought chocolate and all you brought us was licorice?”   The accusation hung thick in the air.

So today we had a “Chocolate Appreciation” lesson.  Like fine wine, good chocolate should touch all your senses.

Sight: it should be glossy and unblemished.  Cloudy or gray chocolate is old.

Touch: good chocolate is smooth.  It should break cleanly without crumbling.

Sound: when you break good chocolate, there should be a snap.  Thicker chocolate will snap louder.

Smell: if it doesn’t smell chocolatey, it probably won’t taste very good.  There may be hints of vanilla or other flavors in the chocolate, but those should be undertones to the chocolate scent.

Taste:  chocolate melts at body temperature, so it should start to melt immediately in your mouth.  It should be velvet smooth and free of graininess.  Good chocolate should linger on your tongue.  Pay attention to notes of citrus, nuts, or berry.

I wasn’t about to waste an entire piece of Belgian chocolate on each child, so I cut them in half before school started.

We went through each of the senses and discussed our observations.  Here’s everyone smelling their chocolate.  Notice no one is touching it because it will start to melt at body temperature.

How cute are they?  Too bad they’ve been absolutely rotten since the student teacher was here.  Grrr.

Apr 29.–Day 18

Who expected a blizzard on April 29th??

Good thing it didn’t last.  Betsy and I were headed up to SLC to see Young Frankenstein.  This Mel Brooks’ classic was a Halloween staple around our house, so I was excited to see the show.  We went to Bruges for dinner.

I’m not sure that frites and waffles count as a balanced dinner, but we weren’t complaining.  Sadly, the andalouse sauce wasn’t as good as what we had in the real Bruges.  We had plenty of time to get to the theater after dinner.

Susan didn’t join us for this show because someone had told her it was risque.  It was, but not worse than the movie.  But since she hadn’t seen the movie, she probably would have been shocked.  Sadly, it wasn’t as funny as the movie.  How could it possibly top Gene Wilder??  “Put the candle back!”   That’s comedy gold!

Apr. 30–Day 19

Doctor Who night at Betsy’s!

It was a great season opener and extra fun to see all the Utah scenes!

May 1–Day 20

Taught Primary today.  Yay.

I’ve really got to start picking crafts that don’t require hours of pre-assembly.

May 20–Day 21

We had Teacher Appreciation last week.  The PTA always has the kids draw pictures for us.  I think the idea is for them to say thank-you, but it seldom turns out that way.

This one got it:

How cute is she???  However, most of their notes went along these lines:

A plea for no homework:

And I really don’t know what to say about this one:

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Apr 19-25

April25

Apr 19–Day 8

No rest for the wicked.  Right back to school today.  The kiddos were excited to see me.  They loved their fake Delft “wooden” shoes and euro cents.  Apparently while I was on the other side of the world enjoying all the gorgeousness of European springtime, Utah was still in the clutches of winter.  Glad there were blossoms and green-ness to welcome us home!  We can pretend it’s still spring break.

Apr 20–Day 9

Don’t mess with a girl’s craft store.  Especially a girl whose jet-lag has just caught up with her.  How am I supposed to find anything in this place???

Apr 21–Day 10

I know I bought the chocolate to share, but man it’s hard to let go!!

These ones show the Grand Place.

Apr 22–Day 11

I was very excited to see Water for Elephants and stayed up wayyyyy too late to do so.  But I really liked it.  In a lot of ways I liked it better than the book.  There was more emphasis on the Jacob/Marlena relationship.  Plus there was more of the elephant.  I thought there was a lot of elephant story-line missing from a book called Water for Elephants.  Also, the movie was less gritty than the book.  And, unlike Twilight, I thought Robert Pattinson was perfectly cast.  Still not sure about Reese Witherspoon, though…

Tifani enjoyed the movie, too!

Also, check out the poster to the right.  Jane Eyre!!  Showing at the theater by my house!!  What luck!

Apr. 23–Day 12

Before our trip, I reserved some tickets to the Carl Bloch exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art.  I thought it would be an appropriate Easter-eve activity.

Adrienne and I rented iPads so we could get enjoy all the interactive features of the exhibit.  You could learn more about the individual paintings and hear gospel commentary was well.

Lots of other people had the same idea as I did.  The place was pretty packed.

Thankfully the crowds didn’t detract from the experience.  It was a really beautiful exhibit.  I’ve grown up around these paintings, but seeing them in person was something else.  As you walk in, the first thing you see is the painting of Doubting Thomas.  The prints don’t do the painting justice.  I was speechless.  The contrast between the light and dark was so powerful and the size of the canvas gave scope to the event.  The depiction of the angel’s comfort in Gethsemane was also very moving.

And after the museum, we walked out into a gorgeous spring evening.  I know not everyone appreciates misty, cloudy weather, but it is favorite.

Apr. 24–Day 13

Getting to church the past month or two has proved tricky.  Technically the road from my house to the church is closed, but since no one is working on Sunday, what’s a little off-roading when it comes to getting to Sacrament on time?  It seems like the construction crew tries a different type of barricade each weekend, but Mormons will find a way!

Just slide that barricade a little to the left…

My favorite was when the construction crew parked a back-hoe in the middle of the intersection.  Everyone (not me, of course!) just went between the tractor and the bucket  :) .

Apr. 25–Day 14

Card night tonight at Pizza Factory.  I was in the worst of the jet lag exhaustion, so I don’t remember too much of the night.  I also forgot to take a picture, so I stole this from Cass.

I actually had a card, though–yay me!  It was one I started a year ago and never finished, but now it’s done.  And it even turned out cute.  :)

 

 

 

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Day 7–Homeward

April18

Why does the journey home take so much longer than getting there?  I did a little happy dance when Utah finally popped up on the in-flight map.

Day 6–In Bruges

April17

Four Gals’ Excellent European Adventure Day 12

This is the last post about my vacation.  I’m sad the vacation ended.   But I’m thrilled this pain-in-the-neck blogging is nearly through.  It has taken almost 4 months (!) to finish.  I’m glad I trudged on.  I’d have hated to forget so many of our adventures.  The thought of trying to catch up on 4 months worth of photos, however…Ay yi yi!  But those worries will keep for another day.  Mentally I’m still in Europe.

If you were to custom design a last day of a vacation, it would resemble something like our day in Bruges (or Brugge as my Dutch-speaking father would prefer).

The spring weather was divine and the setting could only have been more delightful if pixies had tumbled from rooftops sprinkling dew dropped petals and chocolate bon-bons.

The town isn’t tiny, but it’s very walkable.  It was also very, very busy.  Maybe because it was a Sunday?  Or maybe it’s just always busy.  The nearest parking we could find was very un-near.  But the walk was enjoyable so we didn’t care.  Until someone had to run back and feed the meter… :(

But, let’s just enjoy the walk for now.

 

The town square was something else.  The center was hosting a carnival.  Beautiful old buildings lined two sides of the square.  A street full of cafes to tempt hungry visitors.  And the guild hall and clock tower to stand sentinel over the merriment.

We stopped for some lunch in a cheaper side-street.  We wanted something nice for our last European meal, but we didn’t want to pay $$$.  We ended up with very mediocre food and a waiter who needs photography practice.  At least the company was enjoyable!

Toasting with our Sprite!

Across the street from the restaurant is an unassuming little shop.  You might walk past it if you weren’t paying attention.  But if you did that, your soul would shrivel a little because this is the best chocolate shop.  Possibly the best in the world.

This is a tiny family run place.  I’ve tasted a lot of Belgian chocolate and this surpasses it all!

What may be harder to believe is that the prices are mind-blowingly reasonable.  I bought a small bag of seashells for something like 4 euro.  I also bought myself some Easter candy.  I wasn’t sure if the Easter bunny would be getting to Bruges before his visit the following week.

Oh, and what’s this?  Christmas cards from Rick Steves!  He’s Team Dumon, too!

After this we did a little bit of splitting up.  Betsy ran to feed the meter and then, using some sort of unholy gift, managed to unearth the flea market.

Angela left to do some shopping.  Adrienne and I had to stop at the insanely-difficult-to-figure-out ATM.  We tried to find Angela, but didn’t have any luck.  There were lots of shops, but most were closed for Sunday.  That was probably good for our finances and good for our time allotment.

We were tempted by some lace.  I settled on a small Christmas ornament of a poppy made from lace.

I’m not silly enough to imagine it was actually made in Belgium, but it’s still a good souvenir.

About 3:00 we met up at the church. 

It being Palm Sunday, the local relic was on display and Betsy was keen for the chance to venerate the holy blood.

After the church, we got in line for a canal cruise.

While we waited for our turn, Angela (our marathon runner-in-training) booked it back to feed the meter.  She made it back just in time to board the boat.  Our ridiculously charming guide filled us in on the history of Bruges.

Adrienne may or may not have developed a serious crush (on the guide not the city.)

Besides the guide, there were other sights to enjoy.

Look!  It’s my hair!  On a boat!  In Belgium!

My highlights are definitely a highlight.  (I sometimes wonder why I never pursued a career as a comedian…)

It was chilly down on the water, so after we docked we stepped into the conveniently located chocolate shop (seriously like 3 feet from the boat landing) and ordered some hot chocolate.  I was a little confused when they handed me a cup of steaming milk and a chocolate lollipop.  Then we figured it out!

Directions: stir until melted.  Drink until chocolatey goodness warms you all the way to your toes.

We walked over to another church hoping to see their Michelangelo.

Since it was after 5:00 it was, of course,  closed.

We started back to the main square.  The setting sun started painting everything golden.

Time for one last European treat.  Heaping servings of frites with Andalouse sauce.  Ian had recommended his favorite frites stand from his visit in the fall.

? the special frites forks!

Fully stuffed of fried potato goodness, we started the trek back to the car.  A marching band played us on our way.

They were followed by this very exuberant gentleman on a bike waving  and singing hosannas.

Then it was time for our road buddy Sir Snoop-Tommy-Tom to guide us home.

We may have had occasional differences, but we truthfully could not have done this trip without him (or the Passeys who were kind enough to loan him to us).

Our last road trip.

For the last time, the Cinquantenaire Arch meant we were almost home.

Then all that was left to do was pack.

 

 

Day 5–The Salient Point

April16

4 Gals’ Excellent European Adventure–Day 11

Saturday mornings in Brussels mean the Farmers’ Market.  Beth needed to pick up a few staples–including some “good cheese” for 17 year-old Benjamin who was upset that they were out of Brie. (We couldn’t stop teasing him about that!)  A visit here also gave Beth the chance to show us the best waffles in Belgium.

She did not oversell it.

My mouth is watering just typing this!  The secret of Belgian waffles (aka Gaufres) is that the batter is studded with lumps of sugar.  When poured into the waffle iron, the sugar caramelizes giving the waffle a sweet glaze.  Just wow!

After our “breakfast” we wandered through the market a bit.  We were very tempted by the fresh bread

exotic spices

and salty olives.

I was out of cash so couldn’t do anything but window shop, but I believe one or two pain au chocolat may have joined the others .

We left Beth and girls at the Market and the four of us hit the road for Ypres (Ieper).  This town was basically leveled by WWI and didn’t fair too well during WWII.  But they’re still here!

Inside the guild hall is now the In Flanders Field Museum.  I wasn’t expecting too much, but this was one of the best museums I’ve visited.  They do an incredible job personalizing the massiveness of a world war.

When you go in, you’re assigned an identity of someone who was part of WWI.

The displays progress chronologically.  So near the beginning you see the shovels.  So much digging.

In certain places in the museum, you scan your card to learn more about what your historical character was doing at that time.  There are also videos and artifacts.  They walls are lined with posters and letters from the time.

There’s a recounting of the Christmas Truce.

In April 1915, Germans used poison gas for the first time at Ypres.  The losses, as you can imagine, were staggering.   Following this first gas attack, British forces were scrambling to hold the Germans back.  My great-grandfather’s brigade was sent to Ypres in May 1915 as reinforcement.

The hall in this part of the museum is very dim.  In the center are six tubes each with a different gas mask.

A recording of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est plays.  As the actor recounts the “ecstasy of fumbling,” a slow sea of mist rises in the tubes.  It takes little imagination to recreate the fear and panic of that moment.

Further on in the museum is a battlefield simulation.  The walls of the room are lined with screens to give the sights and sounds of what “No Man’s Land” was like.  There are flashes and bursts and fog and screams…it’s horrific.

We left the museum emotionally stunned and walked right across the square to the ice cream shop.  Sometimes ice cream has therapeutic value.  I got a double scoop (desperate times…) of speculaas and cuberdon.  Gotta live it up, Belgian-style!

It’s good we paused for some sugar revitalization because our next stop was a cemetery.

This is where Canadian doctor John McCrae composed his famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

McCrae treated the wounded here at Essex Farm.  Later in the war, cement bunkers replaced the early wooden ones.  These served as Advanced Dressing Stations for the soliders rescued from the nearby front lines.

I can’t imagine that these cold, dark, cramped cubbyholes were too much better than the mud of the battlefield.  Many of the wounded died and were buried here.

I hadn’t understood before that all of this fighting took place in the middle of inhabited areas.  This cemetery had been someone’s farm.  There is a house right next to these bunkers.  And as we drove through the area, we spotted several fields where the soil was plowed around a section of white markers.

What you can’t see in this photo is the tractor parked next to the cemetery wall.

A few minutes drive took us to Yorkshire Trench.  This was used in 1915 and later in1917.  It had been forgotten until developers stumbled on it in 1992.  The site was excavated and a portion of it restored to show what a WWI trench was like.

From the display at the Flanders Field Museum, we knew that this A-frame walkway was an innovation that allowed the water to run away from the soldiers feet.  Before that, those boys spent years with sludge and filth up to their knees.

The trench is very narrow.

An old loophole for shooting through.

It was strange to be standing here and looking out onto commonplace shrubby trees and warehouses when, 96 years ago, this was hell on earth.

The remains of over 160 soldiers have been recovered in the no man’s land between the trenches.  Because the German and British front lines were so close together here (about 30 feet in some places), it was not always possible to bring the dead and wounded back behind the lines.

We didn’t have the cheeriest of afternoons, so it was nice to get back to the Passey’s house and decompress.  We bought dinner for everyone tonight–pitas for all!  Benjamin and Matthew stayed busy on their computers

while Betsy and Julia wrestled.

Then Matthew thought he’d show Betsy a thing or two, but she schooled him pretty hard.

We played some cards.

And ended the night by negotiating chocolate trades.

Matthew even got in on the act by bartering one of his chocolates for two of ours.  Perhaps he has a career in banking ahead of him.  But he’ll need to work on his powers of persuasion because we weren’t falling for it!

Day 4–Amster-Amster-shh-shh-shh!

April15

Four Gals’ Excellent European Adventure–Day 10

In her quest to Flea Market as many European capitals as possible, Betsy was up and at ‘em too early for me. She was actually at the market as they were still setting up.

A couple hours later, Angela, Adrienne, and I followed her into the city.  The nice thing about staying way in the boonies is that you don’t have to compete for seats on the tram.  That’s nice since it was almost an hour ride into the city center.  On the way we dropped Angela off for some shopping.

Then Adrienne and I had the fun of trying to navigate ourselves to meet up with Betsy–without the luxury of cell phones.  Oh how we missed our technology!!  Luckily this turned out to be a fairly simple task.  Of all the things in Amsterdam, we decided to see the Jewish Museum.

We had no particular reason to come here except it sounded interesting and different from what we’d seen before.  And it also fit with our Anne Frank tour the night before.

The museum is really well done and they use multi-media to great effect.  You can sit in the old synagogue and learn about Jewish culture.  Upstairs is the history of Jews in Amsterdam.  The first real influx came during the Spanish Inquisition.  Since the Netherlands were more or less religiously tolerant, it was an ideal place to settle.

The top floor is dedicated to the 20th century experience of Dutch Jews.  There are all sorts of artifacts and videos explaining the rise in prosperity and the horrors of the Holocaust.  One of the artifacts was a bolt of cloth.  Unlike what you’d find in a fabric store now, this was printed with the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear at all times.  Not even a bride on her wedding day was an exception to this.

For me, the most heart rending article was a toilette set.  The woman in the interview told how she alone of her family survived the camps and finally made her way back home.  Except now it was someone else’s home.  Also all the belongings that had been there were no longer hers.  She was saddest to lose a toilette set that her father had given her after returning home from a stay in the hospital.  She tried to convince the guy to give it back to her, but he basically told her tough luck.  Nor would anyone help her.  Eventually a friend found a photo with her and the set.  She was able to prove to the authorities that it had been hers and it was returned.

I’d never thought about what happened to the people who survived the Holocaust.  It seems like their battles should all have been over.  I guess nothing is simple after a war.

We spent a few hours at the museum and then went in search of lunch.  We ended up at a little cafe.  The weather was so gorgeous we ate outside.  I ate tomato soup and grilled cheese (Dutch cheese–yum!)

After lunch we had a little bit of time before we needed to meet Angela, but not enough time to visit someplace else.  We ended up back at the Flea Market.  Betsy showed us some of her favorite stalls.  Adrienne bought a purse.  Then we waited a while for a tram to take us to the central station.

The tram dropped us clear on the opposite side of the square from where we needed to meet Angela.  Also, it took longer than we had anticipated.  So we were late.  Not wanting Angela to panic, we rushed to the bridge where we hoped she’d be.  (Missing cell phones!!)  The place is a zoo!

As we’re pushing our way through the crowds, we go right past 2 missionaries.  We didn’t dare stop, so we offered a quick “Hi Elders!” and kept running.  They looked completely flabbergasted to be recognized!

Fortunately Angela was waiting on the bridge by the bikes.  Phew.

We’d purchased tickets for a canal tour from our hotel.  Then there was all sorts of pandemonium trying to find the right place to meet the boats.  We finally ended up right back where the tram had just dropped us off!

We filed onto a boat and headed into the city.

Amsterdam is full of photo ops.

Fortunately it was still early spring.  I don’t know how much you’d through leafy trees in summer.

We enjoyed looking at the variety of boats,

and bridges,

and rooflines.

Check out that little bitty guy on the right!

The houses are too narrow to maneuver furniture through, so each house is equipped with a pulley at the top.  That way all couches and beds and dressers can come in through the window!

An audio track narrated the sites for us.  At one point it said that an average of one car a week ended up in the canals.  At the point, the captain came on to say that the information was old.  Now it’s three cars a week!  From the looks of this, you can understand how it happens.  It’s a wonder more don’t roll in!

After the hour or so canal tour, we walked back to catch our tram to the hotel.  Of course, now it’s rush hour and even zoo-ier than before.  We finally find the right spot and end up waiting…and waiting…and waiting….We spent a long time staring at the nearby weather vane just for something to look at!

A few trams come, but they don’t take on any passengers.  One stops but says they’re not running the full line.  After an age, we’re joined by a local who assures we’re in the right place, but doesn’t know why no cars are stopping.  Finally (an hour plus after getting there) a tram stops.  We shove our way on and find places to sit.  Every time we stop, there’s a swarm of people waiting to board.  Good thing we got on at the beginning of the run!  Before we get to the hotel, however, we’re de-boarded.  There’d been an accident on the line.  Hence the slow down earlier.  And our tram couldn’t take us further.  We had to get off and switch to a different line.

Finally we made it back to the hotel, piled into the car, and headed south to Brussels.  Fortunately any rush hour traffic had long since dissipated so it was smooth sailing all the way home.  Except we were starving.  We weren’t sure how long the trip would take us, so we hadn’t eaten earlier.  We didn’t want to impose on the Passey’s so we drove around the area looking for someplace cheap to eat.  We finally spotted a divey little place and went in.

I ended up with a pita.  Can I just say: LOVE!  It’s shawarma style meat and vegetables wrapped in flat bread.  I think it’s called a doner kebab in some places.  But since this is Belgium, it’s also stuffed with fries.  The worker guy asked what sort of sauce we wanted.  “Ketchup?” Angela said.  I think he rolled his eyes.  He asked a few questions about what we liked/didn’t like and determined that we would enjoy Andalouse.  It was kind of like a spicy Thousand Island mixed with mayo.  Trust me it tastes better than it sounds!

Mmmm.  I could go for one of those right now!

Day 3–Windmills and Tulips and Pancakes, Oh My!

April14

Four Gals’ Excellent European Adventure–Day 9

We didn’t have long to recuperate in Brussels.  Thursday morning found us on the road north.  It was the grayest day of our trip, but fortunately dry and warm-ish.  As we got further into the Netherlands it was fun to watch the road signs become more and more indecipherable.   Unlike freckles, familiarity with a language must not be inherited.

Our first stop was Kinderdijk.  This is a stretch of canal dotted with 18 historic windmills.

And more than just a little bit cool!  We couldn’t seem to take enough pictures.

There’s one windmill you can pay to tour.  Which we did.  It’s set up like a 19th century family lives there.  Glad that’s not my bed!

Since the walls curve, the pictures all hang at a funny angle.

I was very excited to see an actual Dutch door!

These are the “stairs.”  I can’t imagine dealing with these on a daily basis.

Adrienne, Angela, and I were on an upper floor when we heard a tremendous crash.  We rushed to the stairs and saw this:

Betsy fell down the windmill!  Her ankle was sore and she developed some bruises but thankfully she was otherwise unharmed.  Angela’s version of helping is taking a picture.

We walked around the outside.

The caretaker had been mowing the lawn, but he stopped to check his text messages.

Adrienne was giddy over the wooden shoes.

Admission to the windmill also included a visit to the museum.  Apparently no one else takes advantage of this because we had the place to ourselves.  If you go, I’d recommend taking a few minutes stop in.  There are two advantages.

1) Because you’re across the canal you get to see the windmills at a cool angle.

2)  The place isn’t much as far as museums go, but the video presentation is well done.  The film is shown on 4 screens and you sit on stools so you can turn and look at whichever character is talking at the time.  They explain the history of windmills and Kinderdijk (and how no one knows why it’s called Kinderdijk).  Then they show how Dutch engineers have used their technology in other low-lying countries.

Back on the road for the hour or so drive to Keukenhof Gardens.  We reinterpreted our “Castle” game from Germany to fit the new roadside attractions.  Unlike Castles, I rocked at the windmill game (it helped that I was in the front seat.)  There was a dilemma, however, about whether or not to include modern windmills in the totals.  I said no.  Angela, who enjoyed getting 3 or 4 in one shot said yes.

In my parents’ bedroom, there used to be a poster from Keukenhof.  It was a souvenir of my dad’s mission days.  I have vivid memories of lying on their waterbed, looking at the pretty red and yellow tulips, and trying to figure out what the strange words meant.  And now I was there!

The whole countryside is perfumed by tulips.  Even at the gas station we were breathing it in!  I guess it’s to be expected when you’re surrounded by acres of blooms.

Keukenhof is only open a few weeks each year, so the timing of our visit was really lucky.  Tulips everywhere, as you can imagine.

Angela felt the need to tip-toe through them.  And sing about it (which she did in her best Tiny Tim impersonation.  I’m sorry you missed out on that!)

Lots of other early spring flowers as well.

 

Including daffodils–my faves!

There are beautiful flower displays all over the grounds.  Including this car/planter.  Which Betsy enjoyed “driving.”

There’s a windmill to climb.  Though it isn’t quite the same as Kinderdijk.

We got some ham and mustard sandwiches for lunch.  They were delish!!!

There were more than a few photo ops here.  This is my photo of Betsy taking photos.  She managed 174 in the 2 hours or so we were there.

We got a nice stranger to get one of the four of us.

Adrienne and I passed a herd of serious photographers as we were wandering up a path.  Huge bags and expensive cameras hung from their necks and shoulders like harnesses.  They were all huddled looking at their displays to see what they’d managed to capture.   I told Adrienne that my old point-and-shoot develops an inferiority complex in places like this.

As we walked, Adrienne spotted a clump of flowers reflected in the water.  She paused to take the picture.

Then from behind I hear, “There’s a great shot over here if you have a [some kind of] lense.”  Then, like ravenous lions on a wounded gazelle, the photography group pounced on the river bank and began attacking the view with their equipment.

There were clicks and snaps all around us and Adrienne and I were shunted to the side.

This was pretty funny.

So we crossed to the other bank and took pictures of the photographers taking their pictures.  While thus engaged, Betsy and Angela caught up.  Betsy, never one to miss out on the possibility of a photo-op, jumped right in.

I made Adrienne go back and pose with her.

(Dad: this would be the perfect job for you.  You can walk people around pretty places and teach them how to get nice pictures.)

Once we made it back to the car, we continued on toward Amsterdam.

Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city.  It was cheaper that way, but it also meant a 45-60 minute tram ride into the city.  The ride gave us a tiny tour of the city.

We rode all the way to the main station.  It’s a very beautiful city.

And it is full of bikes.

Anything that holds still long enough will eventually have a bicycle chained to it.  Really.

We walked around for a little bit.  Stopping in the touristy shops was an education.  They have some very, um, “interesting” souvenirs there.  I guess when you’re most famous for legalized prostitution and marijuana that’s to be expected.  It makes me sad that those two aspects are all anybody equates with Amsterdam.  The city was beautiful and charming and full of amazing history.  The people were friendly and helpful.  Once you’re away from the tourist traps, the seedier side of Amsterdam is really not apparent.  Although, that being said, I have to confess that there was a guy next to me rolling a joint on the tram.  But he waited till he got off to smoke it!

We had reserved tickets for the Anne Frank house.  We weren’t sure if we’d get lost trying to find it, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there.  The place was jam packed which made it hard to really soak in the experience.  I’m really glad we went, though.  For me, the most moving part was the video they showed of Anne Frank’s father talking about his daughter.

It was getting dark by the time we left.

We found a nearby pancake restaurant and ordered some dinner.  Yum!  Dutch pancakes are like thick crepes and are topped with all sorts of tasty goodness.  I got ham and apples.  I think everyone else got ham and cheese.

After dinner we went to catch the tram back to our hotel.  So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We stood across from these houses for a long time.

Finally, after more than 30 minutes our bus came.  Our hotel wasn’t in the nicest area, so walking back in the dark wasn’t my favorite activity, but we didn’t have any problems.  And we were all ready for lots of sleep!

Day 2–Sprout-free Brussels

April13

Four Gals’ Excellent European Adventure–Day 8

Today was the day to tour our temporary hometown of Brussels.

Even though Beth had just returned from her vacation in Utah, she took the day to show us around her adopted city.

Betsy and Beth have kindred Flea Market spirits and Betsy was dying to get to a European market.  So, she and Beth headed off early in the morning.  Then Beth came back for Adrienne, Angela, and me about 10:00.  When we met up with La Betsy she was still digging for treasures.  We gave her another hour to hunt and we wandered among the piles.

There wasn’t much there that appealed.  Betsy found some vases and a few other knick-knacks that she loved.  I bought a deck of French playing cards.  There was a really cool group of surplus science equipment.  You know, beakers and tubes and things.  They hadn’t been used and I thought it would have been awesome to get an assortment to use as cool dishes and glasses, but I didn’t think I could get it home safely.

From the flea market Beth took us to her favorite sandwich place for lunch.  Angela and I split some very yummy things and some very expensive bottled water.  But we didn’t forget dessert!

Mouth watering, I tell you!

We were in need of a good walk after lunch and Beth headed us to the city center.  Parking was a joke, but we managed to find a spot on like the 11th level of the garage.

We strolled through the Borthier Gallery and looked at some lace.  This was one of the first covered shopping areas in the world.

From there Beth led us through some walkways and alleyways.

Lots of places were busy with the lunch rush.  Mussels in Brussels!

We ended up outside a very popular nightclub (although it was pretty quiet at 1:00 in the afternoon).

In the wall across from Delerium Tremens is a little fountain.  Now, Brussels happens to be famous for a particular fountain.  This was not it.  This was more of a…um… “companion” to the original.  Behold the Jeanneke Pis.

Hmmmm…

My favorite was the plaque that explained that wishing on this fountain was a very old custom…from 1987.

From here we went to the Grand Place.  It was truly grand!  We came out of a dark, narrow alleyway into this:

It’s the town hall surrounded by all the old guildhalls.  If you look closely (it doesn’t show well in the pictures) you can tell which trade owned which hall by the decorations on the buildings.  This was outside a lace makers.  You can see all the little bobbins if you look closely.

(I almost typed “you can see her bobbins” but that sounded wrong…)

Beth was feeling tempted.

This building was also the former home of Victor Hugo.

We took a side-street out of the square to see that other Brussels statue.  This is the Manneken Pis.

This isn’t the original.  This one only dates from about 1618.  (!)  The original was from 1388 (!!!).  There are various legends about why the little guy is significant, but whatever the true reason, Belgians are sure proud of him!  In fact he’s dressed in costumes several times a week.  You can see them all in the town museum, but we didn’t make it there.

You can buy gummy or chocolate versions of this fountain.  Also statues, calendars, playing cards, and a very inventive cork screw (I’ll leave that to your imagination…).

From here we made our way back to the car.  We passed lots of waffle stands but were too full from lunch to indulge.  Plus Beth said these waffles couldn’t hold a candle to the ones she’d introduce us to at Saturday’s farmers’ market.

We’d passed chocolate shops all over the city, but Beth let us in on a little secret.  Each of the chocolate houses has an outlet store at their factories.  We said, “Lead the way!”

Beth’s favorite is Neuhaus.  We didn’t have a preference, so that’s where she took us.

We were there in the middle of an afternoon on a weekday and the place was packed.  Packed with locals, which seems like a good endorsement.  Since Easter was still a couple weeks away, the chocolate shops were displaying their biggest and best.

The walls and center of the room are lined with boxes of chocolate that are regular price.  However, they have samples of each kind opened so you can taste whatever.  That’s right folks, you can eat as much of the stuff as you want for free!!!

**drooling on the keyboard as I type**

I circled the whole room before sampling anything.  I knew I’d only be able to eat two or three pieces before feeling ill and I wanted to make the wisest decisions.

In back of the room, workers are busy packaging the boxes and bags.

They also have something called the “Lucky Corner” (labeled in English).

Here they have boxes of single flavors available for 10 euro.  Again, you can sample everything.

We spent a while tasting our options.  Then we each decided on three boxes.  That way we could swap flavors later and get a bigger assortment.  And since the gifts we were bringing back were all chocolate related, we thought buying in bulk was the best option.

So, I spent about $45 on chocolate.  It was really a deal considering what we got.  Once I got home, I checked out the Neuhaus website.  One of the flavors I bought was part of a special Mother’s Day set– 18 chocolates for $30.  I got about six times that many in one box for $13!

After making our purchases we headed back to the house.  Betsy and Beth went to the grocery store.  The rest of us napped.  Later we played some games with the kids and had a big family dinner (which included some Schweppes Lemon–yum!!).

After a week of running it was delicious to get an early bedtime!

Day 1–Rivers and Roads

April12

Four Gals’ Excellent European Adventure–Day 7

Happy birthday to me! 32 today. How did that happen?? I’ve learned that the best way to deal with a birthday is to flee the state.  So far it’s worked well for me!  Today I woke up in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  This year is off to a pretty good start.

For my birthday breakfast I wanted a Schneeball.  We’d seen them in the closed bakery windows the night before and thought this would be an important thing to try.

I’m not sure what this sign says.  It’s probably something about how it’s an amazingly decadent treat only available in this corner of Germany and it once upon a time saved the town from famine and now visitors who taste them will always have good luck and prosperity.

Actually, it probably doesn’t say anything like that, but I’ll never know.  You see, even though we were up and parked by 9:00 and ready to bask in the charm that is Rothenburg,  nothing was open.

Every other day of our trip had GORGEOUS weather, but this morning was drizzly and chilly.  So we wandered a bit and tried to stay dry.

Rothenburg was still cool.  Just the temperature and awesomeness were now on equal footing.

At 10:00, the Kathe Wolfahrt Weihnachtsdorf was finally open.  Kathe Wolfahrt is big news in this part of Germany.  She has 5 shops in Rothenberg alone, plus a lot of the other stores carry her stuff, too.  She specializes in traditional German Christmas decorations.  And her store is MASSIVE!

We didn’t even end up buying anything here, but Angela found a new boyfriend.

We ended up back at the one shop that had been open the night before.  I get a new Christmas ornament every year so I wanted to find one on my trip.  This store carried the perfect one and Adrienne bought it for me as a birthday present.  So now it’s kind of this multi-faceted commemorative souvenir for 2011.

  • It’s a nutcracker–souvenir of Germany
  • It’s a nightwatchman  nutcracker (say that 3 times fast)–souvenir of Rothenburg
  • It’s a Kathe Wolfahrt design–souvenir of Rothenburg
  • It was bought on my birthday in 2011
  • As a gift from a good friend!

By now it was about 11:00, when the bakery was finally supposed to be open.  So that’s where we headed.

Only…no one was there.  We sat in the church for a little bit and waited.  About 11:20 we gave up and started back to the car.

The regular crush of tourists on these tiny streets must make living here very difficult.    Apparently any sort of fun is forbidden.  (Except for the fun of laughing at Betsy’s face-pulling abilities, cause that’s a pretty classic look!)

I guess people adapt to their circumstances.  I think I’d just take a bike, but maybe a banana-mobile is more efficient.  Who knows?!

We were parked right outside the town walls, so the others took the opportunity to climb up in daylight.  I was still traumatized by my first experience up there, so I stayed safely on the ground, thankyouverymuch.

Apparently the views were lovely, though.

By now we were starving.  We had a LOT of ground to cover, so we didn’t have time to search for someplace nice to eat.  That’s how I ended up with a birthday lunch at Burger King.  Oh well.

We drove a couple hours to Wiesbaden to meet up with Adrienne’s friend Lindsey who’s husband is stationed there.  We’d wanted to see some castles on the Rhine, but none of the river cruises had schedules that worked with ours.  We had to content ourselves with a car tour.

It worked out nicely, though, since Lindsey could act as a guide.  Without her tips, we would have completely bypassed Rudesheim.   That would have been sad, because how cute is this town??

Lindsey’s kids had fallen asleep in the car, so the 4 of us wandered the narrow, cobbled Drosselgasse by ourselves.  It’s a tourism-focused area, but since it was still early in the season a lot of places were closed.  That was okay because we didn’t have time to shop anyway.

We’d seen a lot of German houses with Easter egg trees and garlands, but this was the most festive by far!

Easter is serious business.

Back in the car, we were ready for some castle spotting!  Adrienne rode with Lindsey and the three of us followed behind.

Since it was my birthday I got to stretch out in the back and just enjoy the return of the sunny weather and the beautiful views.  I also got to choose the music.  :)   This seemed like an appropriate theme song for our afternoon:

There are So. Many. castles along this stretch of road.  It’s ridiculous!!

Some are in ruins, some are private residences, some are hotels and hostels.  We didn’t get to visit any of them, but we had fun spotting them.

The game of “Castles” (cleverly titled) developed wherein if you were the first to see a castle and claimed it by saying, “Castle!” you got to keep the castle for your very own.  Being in the back seat, I didn’t do very well at this game.  (However –spoiler alert– a few days later in the Netherlands I OWNED the “Windmill” game.)

It’s rather difficult to take a good picture of a distant castle from a moving car.  Particularly when the rain returns.  However, we gave it a valiant effort.

Oh, and that would be THE Rhine river.  Crazy!

We stopped in a town (St. Goar maybe?) for some gelatto.

Then Lindsey had to say goodbye and we continued on to Koblenz and then a three hour drive to Brussels.  Part of the trip took us into the Netherlands where we stopped for a bathroom break and some yummy (sarcasm) gas station food.  We didn’t want to detour for anything nicer because we wanted to get to the Passey’s before it got too late.

We made really good time and got into Brussels a bit after 9:00.  Beth had returned home from Utah earlier in the day so it was nice to see her again.  And the kids were really sweet when they found out it was my birthday.  Matthew wanted to burn Season 5 of Doctor Who from his iTunes for me.  And Benjamin shared some pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.

And since Brussels is a city built on seven hills, that makes 4 birthdays in a row for me where I’ve visited 7 hilled cities.  Talk about a weird tradition!  Now the only question is: where to next?

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