Sunday, September 15, 2013

Questions and Answers?

Many thanks to everyone for the kind words of concern and encouragement since the last post, and I am writing to reply to many questions that we've been getting or things you may be wondering about. Never fear, you will get more exciting stories in the future, I promise!

How was Owen's birthday?

Owen's birthday was great. We baked cakes (both gluten-free and regular) to take to the department, and had an exciting time making my mom's chocolate cake—recipe here—without any measuring cups. Apparently cooking and baking is not as much of a cultural thing here than it is many other places, and when they do bake they measure with a scale. As a result, we made the cake recipe using a tablespoon as our only unit of measure. That's right. 2 cups of sugar is 32 tablespoons. Counted every one. For every ingredient. And it turned out pretty well! The baking soda was a little unusual, and a different texture than in the states, and the cakes sank after baking, but they were delicious, and Owen's colleagues were pleased. Celebrations also included a card which arrived on the day itself (including pictures drawn by my small relatives), a video message from dear friends singing to us (one of the friends is two years old), and a bike ride back from the department in the pouring freezing cold rain. We got home and got warm and dry and had a cozy evening as a colossal thunderstorm battered outside. It was a good day.

How is biking going?
Biking is going beautifully. I'm holding my own, have not crashed even once, and it has really felt good to be able to zip around town. Biking in the storm (and biking with stuff strapped to the bike) was a real confidence-boost, and I'm liking the experience more and more.

How is work going for Owen?
Work is good! It's pretty different for him from grad school in a bunch of ways. At Princeton, he mostly did his research alone, at home, but here, he's at the department from 9-5 everyday which leaves him tired, but excited by the work he's doing, and the people he's doing it with. He and a colleague are hoping to get a joint paper ready for publication quite soon, and it's been really nice for him to have peers asking questions he wants to puzzle over, and gets to answer in company.

Will you EVER post pictures?
YES. I will post pictures, I promise. We finally put up some of our own pictures and stuff in our apartment so it's feeling a lot more like our home now. You will get pictures as soon as:

  1. We finish the decoration/organization projects
  2. I tidy up the untidiness associated with decorating/organizing projects
  3. We have some nice weather for outdoor pictures AND
  4. I have errands to run which don't include biking or carrying heavy things. 
So not too long, I hope.

You're in Europe! Don't you ever do anything cool?
Well, we did MOVE to Europe, we're not just on a giant holiday, so we are kind of busy with and exhausted from moving-things, but yes. We do do some cool things. A week ago yesterday we bought ourselves each a "MuseumKaart" which is basically a super reasonably priced membership to all the museums in the country. So we went to the museum of Leiden's arts and crafts together, and I stopped by the Antiquities Museum on my way to a giant thrift store. They were both pretty excellent, and we're really stoked about being able to pop in at the museums any time we want, without having to "make it worth it" because we've already paid for the whole year. It also means that when we go to Amsterdam on Saturday we can go to the Van Gogh museum, and basically anywhere else we like without paying there either.

Still liking the church?
Yes. Church is super-excellent. Today the pastor pointed out that because this is one of the only churches in Leiden which speaks English, a lot of people worship together here than would worship together if we were back in the states. "Get used to it," he said with a smile. "Little taste of heaven. No separate denominations there." Which was nice to hear, nice to be reminded of, nice to think of a time and a place without separations over languages or backgrounds, or countries of birth.

Wait, Owen has like a million allergies! Have you guys been able to eat?
Yep. I have become an expert Dutch grocery-shopper, and we've found a fair amount of specialty health food stores to buy organic and gluten free things. Also, I make a mean shepherd's pie.

Bank account figured out?
We hope? On Friday, after many attempts and many emails, we finally got an appointment at the next town over to set up our account.

Did the Bank have cool decor? 
Okay, no one asked that question, but the bank's decor was amazing. It looked like something from Alice in Wonderland. Or Dr. Seuss. Or Roald Dahl. Or all of them mixed together. There were these enormous stylized lamps towering over the sleek narrow reception desk.  They reached pretty much to the ceiling, with crazy-wide lampshades, and when we waited we sat on this bright orange high wing-backed velour loveseat with matching cushions. The art on the walls was a pair of drawings with watercolor washes (very Quentin Blake-esque) one was of a shady-looking man wearing a trenchcoat smoking a cigarette under a lamp attracting flies. The other was of an elephant, but from the back, so all you could see was the elephant's rear end, with his tail squishing, and the ears poking out on either side. When we went into the conference room, two of the walls were glass, the table was modern and minimalist, but the instead of having an office filing cabinet there was an orange chest with curvy sides set off by the single wall of aqua-colored victorian patterned wallpaper. There was also a huge lamp in the room, on a giant tripod with a narrow pointy lampshade. None of this is a joke. Owen and I were unsure if we should be weirded out or delighted.

Are you going to like, post about other things sometime? Not that descriptions of Dutch Bank decor aren't fascinating....
Fair question, and yes. While we will keep you up to date with the news from Leiden, I may post about other things, following the history of this blog. Next week might be about recommended children's books, given the crazy number of people I know who are pregnant and/or have just given birth.

Mail? Can we mail you stuff? What about those postcards you promised?
We would love to get mail. Comment with a way to get in touch with you and I will send our address. Also we hope to find the post-office and send some long over-due mail this week.

What does the frozen spinach look like?
No one has actually asked this either, but the frozen spinach is actually kind of fantastic so I'll tell you anyways. It comes in a box, but not frozen in one giant mass that you need to smack on the counter to break off a piece of spinach to eat. The chopped spinach is frozen in beautiful little squares of chopped spinach, about the size and shape of dove chocolates. You can shake a few of the pieces into a soup or a sauce (or just one into a cheesy omelet-in-the-making) without any hassle, and no thawing/re-freezing/freezerburned mess. Friends? I give you another small example of Dutch intelligence and ingenuity.

If you have questions I have failed to answer, please post them in the comments, and I will be glad to do what I can to answer them.

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