Friday, November 8, 2013

Misadventures of the Trailing Spouse: More Bike tales, Calculus, Dutch and Foul Smelling crockpots.

I am learning new some skills. This means that there's a lot of things that I'm doing all the time that I'm not good at yet.

Example #1. Biking.
Now, for everyone who read my first story about biking, I should say I have made a lot of progress. I am no longer frightened of biking, and enjoy the freedom of being able to zip around town, particularly now that we have suitable raingear and I don't get drenched if I bike in the rain. That said, however, I'm still not a fast or confident biker and this past week or so I've had three bike crashes. In the first one, a bus came up behind me and was honking (probably not at me) and I got scared so I started biking even closer to the curb, and when I looked back to see if Owen was still with me, I swerved into the curb and ended up catching myself beautifully on the concrete. Scraped knuckles, some small bruises, but all my stage combat work has taught me to fall well, and my instincts kicked in nicely. I was mostly just rattled (as busses are usually extremely courteous towards bikes) and once I got home and had a good, "I'm glad I'm alive" cry, everything was fine.

Bike crash number two was rattling because it was so soon after the first crash. There were a lot of slippery wet leaves in the bike path, and I must have just lost my grip or something because next thing I knew the leaves and I were becoming very well acquainted. Again. No injury worth speaking of, just had a good, "why is this happening to me?" cry and got back on my bike the next day.

The third time I crashed my bike was on the way home from church and was the scariest by far. Owen and I were biking home from church and we had just zipped through an intersection on a yellow light, and found ourselves going a good bit faster than the bike ambling along in front of us. All of the sudden he swerved and then slowed down even more, so instead of trying to pass on the left (like a sensible, sane, person) I instead caught a glimpse of the giant signpost, and knew I was done for. You know in Calvin and Hobbes, when Calvin tries to practice catching or batting a baseball? The ball grows fangs and chases him. I feel this way about posts. I see a post, (which to anyone else would just be a normal unremarkable post) and I see it grow teeth and snarl, "Ima get you." My brain has time to think, "Post, what are you talking about, I'm here in the bike lane you're over there, and oh no!" Something happens, and the post gets me. This happened to me when I was little too, and I think the best explanation is one I learned in a skiing lesson. "If you're looking at it, you'll go to it." So advice to all of you who don't bike much, or might possibly be less experienced than I am: don't look at the things you don't want to run into. If you think "I'm gonna run into that." Look at something else! Preferably something far away! This crash needless to say was messier. Owen looked back just in time to see and hear my head hit the road, I got a giant bruise on my arm, the bruises around my knees were a veritable bouquet, and one of my fingers and toes still hurts five days later. It was also very public, as the older man I nearly ran into stopped and made me sit on the sidewalk for five minutes, kissed the top of my head, and told us in Dutch if I wasn't okay we could call the ambulance, and it would be okay, we would not need to pay for it! A couple other people stopped and everyone was asking me if I was okay, and I was trying hard to stop crying so they would believe me. In the end, I sat for a bit and biked the rest of the way home, but it wasn't fun, and now I'm confronted with the whole, new task of finding a general practitioner, so that I can go to a doctor, whenever that becomes necessary. I'm also beginning to seriously doubt the wisdom of a whole country biking without helmets.

Example #2. Speaking/Reading/Understanding Dutch.
It will be a great joy to be able to speak Dutch, but it is pretty tough when you're starting out. The use of the English language is one of the things I have spent a huge amount of my life studying and practicing, and my ability to communicate is an ability I treasure, so floundering in Dutch class, not knowing what to say when asked a question, or just exasperation at not being able to express myself is a hard thing. It's sad to pass bookstores and feel like a diabetic kid in a candy shop. I'm learning, I'm working on it pretty much every day, but it's hard. I also have a lot of tasks to do like, calling about the customs paperwork for our shipment, and let's just say calling government offices is never fun, even in your mothertongue. It's wretched when you have to write down the "Speekt u Engels? Mijn Nederlands is neit goed..." so that you don't freak out and forget when you have a person speaking rapid Dutch on the other end of the phone.

Example #3. Calculus.
Owen's teaching calculus twice a week, and I get to sit in on his classes which is really exciting and interesting. Also humiliating. Somewhere I had got the idea that if I worked hard and paid attention, I would not just get the math, I would excel! I had not thought I would be decidedly below average in my speed in picking up concepts, or struggling over the notation. For the second class, I had not had time to review the notes from the previous class (something I thought of as being helpful perhaps, but not necessary,) and I was the only one in the class to fail the first quiz. Lesson learned, I studied hard for the next class, and got a perfect score on my first homework (without even getting help from the teacher!) but it was still humiliating. Since then I've learned that most of these students have already taken calculus (why they're taking Intro to Calculus, I'm not sure) and that has made me feel a lot better about everything. But still. Not something I have any of the skills to breeze by in. Just have to put in a lot of hard work.

Example #4. Slowcooker shenanigans
Owen brought home a slowcooker (very rare in the Netherlands) from an Asian grocery store. The lady running the cash register had to make sure he knew "this is not a rice cooker" "Oh, yes, I know. It's for cooking things at a low heat for a long period of time." "Good." I thought, "Hurray! Something I know how to use and do!" However I spent my whole morning looking for a new apartment (we have to be out of this one in about a month) and didn't get the food into the crock pot til after lunch. But I thought, "that's okay. 8 hours on low won't work at this point, but 4 hours on high will still have this food done in time." So I carefully washed the slowcooker, and put together the meal and turned it on high. And the house slowly began to fill with the scent of.... burning plastic. I was horrified and worried, "Is this normal? Do we have a defective machine?" but found reassurance on the internet that this is indeed normal, and should only happen the first time or two as the encasing around the wiring breaks down. The house smelled so bad that I opened the windows and still had a terrible headache, so I thought. "It's a crockpot. Full of liquid. The chicken in there is frozen. It will be fine if I give it a stir and then go to the library." So that is what I did. It made me feel a lot better to not be breathing in any more burning plastic fumes, and I got some work done, ready to come home and find that the crock pot had burned everything around the base, and that only two hours later, the chicken was totally shreddable. Ladies and gentlemen, beware the vigorous Asian crockpot. I was able to salvage the meal (which did not taste at all like plastic or even burnt stuff, and was actually pretty great) but I think it will take some work to identify the cooking patterns of this particular crockpot, and it may be awhile before I have the confidence to put it on the "auto" setting.

This has all sounded pretty sad. So let me end with this. My last year at Mary Baldwin I started weight training. Just a couple times a week, at first, and not for long at all. I had a class at the gym from 8-9:30, so it just made sense to stay for another half hour before heading back to the dorm and showering. When I started it was terrible. I hated it. I was in pain, and as one of my friends grimly told me "your muscles are actually ripping so they can grow back stronger." I had never felt so weak or pathetic, and the worst part was that when I started it didn't start going uphill. It went downhill first, for a good while before going uphill. But as I did it, I started to like it. Between Thursday and Tuesday I would miss the crazy happy exhileration, and I would find myself trying to figure out if I could go another day. By the time the spring semester rolled around I didn't have a class at the gym but I went anyways, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday the whole semester. Can I just say how fantastic it felt to lift or press or pull twice or three times as much as when I had started? By late spring I would see girls come in and I would have to try not to smile at their surprise when they used machines after me and found they needed to take off a lot of the weight before they could make a rep. So here's hoping that in six months, or eight months or by the time we leave this country, I will be happy with my past self for all the hard work when the work was hard.

Also! In all my free time when I'm not learning Dutch, calculus or battling asian slowcookers, I now write a weekly column for the Shakespeare Standard, you can see my articles here:


  1. I love you, Clara! And I admire your ability to turn difficulties into beautiful stories that are encouraging to read! Praying for you in all the hard work.

    1. Thanks, Emma. I really appreciate the love and prayers. :)

  2. Wow! These accidents are expected, and if you learn skiing in your 20's/30's, it is much worse : (( Hope you understand the excitement we had last year when we could bike to Princeton Meadow ifthe weather was good! In all seriousness, Chris and I had bike experiences last week too. Our bikes were stolen! Chris has been heroic dealing with the police and the insurance in French : )

  3. Clara, you have no idea how happy your blog is making me. You are a fantastic writer, and I'm so glad that you're sharing your experiences.


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