Archive for December, 2010

Holiday – the long version

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

I am REALLY not going to want to go back to the Netherlands and work next Saturday. For one thing, getting here was such a nightmare that I’m worried about the return trip. And it’s been such a nice vacation, with a good mix of quiet time to ourselves, time getting stuff for the house, and time with Ted’s parents and grandfather.

Due to snow in the Netherlands, the drive to Amsterdam that should have taken two hours took six – luckily we’d decided to drive up the night before and stay at an airport hotel. That was frustrating because there never was all that much snow on the roads – traffic just got inexplicably jammed and then cleared as inexplicably, as Dutch traffic is wont to do. At one point it quite literally took us two hours to drive 5 km. It was a good thing we had anprepaid reservation, as the trains weren’t running and most flights were canceled Friday night. On Saturday it wasn’t snowing, and we walked to the airport three hours ahead of our flight, but KLM and Schiphol showed gross ineptitude in managing the inevitable lines – they kept sending us to what turned out to be the wrong places and the queues were so chaotic no one knew where to stand, though a simple tape barrier would have fixed things. Thanks to them, we got to a gate agent at 10:00, to be told that the gate had closed for our 10:20 flight to Portland and we couldn’t get on it – particularly frustrating since every other flight was departing hours late. (Well, that’s not completely true – all the flights within Europe were just canceled.)

Ted got on the phone with Delta (an international call) and managed to get us on a flight to Seattle, with a connecting shuttle flight to Eugene, then called Avis and got our car reservation moved. That would have been just fine, except that we were supposed to be meeting his grandfather at the Portland airport, so my poor inlaws had to drive an extra two hours up there to get him. Also, by the time they booked us on it, the 10:40 Seattle flight had been delayed to noon (or we couldn’t have made it, but it didn’t actually take off until 3. We were pretty sure we’d miss the Eugene connection, but once we got to the US our luck changed – it was slightly delayed so we had plenty of time.

Since all that sturm und drang ended, it’s been a lovely holiday. The family met us at the house, then headed home while we had a quiet few days here – this house is big, comfortable, and blessedly quiet. We finished up our holiday and US shopping, and I finished the Concept 2 Holiday Challenge. We drove a couple hours south on the 22nd to have Ted’s birthday on the 23rd with his family. I finished the sweater I’ve been knitting him (except for sewing the bottom hem) at 6PM on his birthday, just in time for him to wear it to dinner. We took over the cooking to give Ted’s mom a break, so between us we’ve made brisket, bow ties and kasha, steamed asparagus, almond flour crepes with pear filling, a few salads, roasted beet and fennel salad, applesauce and cranberry sauce from scratch, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, pan-roasted Brussels sprouts and chestnuts, baked plum pudding with hard sauce, and erwtensoep (traditional Dutch pea soup). It all seemed to be much appreciated, and the sweater was admired by all (even Ted, fortunately).

We came back to our house today – tomorrow we’ll meet with the architect who’s planning our dock for us (it’s a very simple dock – we need him because the permitting process is ridiculously complicated), then in a few days Ted’s family will join us here, weather permitting.

And Saturday we head back 🙁

Quick summary

Friday, December 24th, 2010

The trip here: horrible, awful, no-good, very bad travel. Yes, we got caught in the snows in Europe.

The house: beautiful and tremendously comfortable. Also, after our Dutch flat, it’s nice to walk down steps that aren’t trying to kill us. (Dutch stairs are notoriously lethal and ours is a particularly egregious example.). So much space and beautiful views, and so quiet – I won’t really want to go back.

The US in general: friendly people, real customer service, good pretzels, stores open late, restaurant servers that will catch your eye, space and mountains and roads that have snow cleared from them …..

The family: doing well and glad to see us.

The sweater: Done (well, enough to wear – I still need to hem the bottom) by 6PM on Ted’s birthday. I checked with his mom; he was born late at night, so technically I was in time.

General: I’ve been working relatively hard this trip (for a vacation) because we volunteered to take over planning and cooking dinners, and because I’ve been trying to finish Ted’s sweater in time for his birthday. Everyone has been most appreciative of the effort and very complimentary on the successes. Too bad life’s not always like that!

a visit from Sinterklaas

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Holy craftwork, Batman, we’re not in America any more! My local Stitch’n’Bitch group had our SInterklaas present swap last night and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. In the US, typically either you have a basic Pollyanna swap, in which you draw names and you prepare a gift for the person you drew, or else you have a white elephant swap, in which you prepare a present that could be for anyone. Then you draw lots for order; the first person picks a present and opens it, the second can take the first person’s gift or choose to open a new one, the third can choose either of the first two presents or open a new one and so on. Then you get your package, unwrap it, ooh and ah – maybe two minutes per person.

This was not like that. It took well over an hour for us to open the presents one by one – you have to read the poem out loud, and then opening the present can be a lot of work.

To prepare a Dutch Sinterklaas surprise, first, you have to write a poem. Then you do something creative with the wrapping – a plain box and paper is not going to cut it. Apparently it’s popular to make people reach through something that feels gross (like Jello) to get the present, though luckily no one did that last night because nobody really wants Jello on their yarn.

Having had it all explained and checking a couple of websites, I came up with a concept I was pretty happy with. I drew another American, which was lucky because I could write the poem in English. She’s from TX, so I knitted her a Texas washcloth (the shape of the state done in reverse stockinette), then attached it to a piece of cardboard (I used yarn, punched holes in the cardboard and whipstitched it on, like the projects we used to do in Girl Scouts). Then I made a conical tree out of layers of brown paper and then some foliage-printed wrapping paper, with some bath gel, lotion, soap and a pouf inside, and tied it to the base. To trim the tree, I looped gold ribbon around it, with some stitch markers and earrings I’d made tied to the ribbon. (The price limit was 10 euros; I was certainly not the only person pushing it, but on the other hand I only used a half a skein of the yarn and a bit of the tree paper, and all the beadwork was supplies I already had.)

Other people’s gifts included a Sinterklaas head (construction paper hat, head of a styrofoam sphere that opened up with the presents inside); a sheep (about 2′ long, wool made of cotton balls glued on, and a cylinder body with a lid that opened at the butt end to reveal the presents); a steamboat (which is what Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet come to Holland on); and a whole crocheted cactus. One person got a whole bunch of knitted tulips in a vase.

I was lucky enough to be drawn by the very talented Hanneke, so the gift I received was pretty incredible. I’m hoping that someone else’s photos were better than mine, since I forgot to bring a camera and had to use my iPhone. She made me a rowing machine out of cardboard! It was amazing – there was even a measuring tape embedded in the “flywheel” so that you could pull the handle out. Unfortunately I had to dismantle it to get to the presents. There was a project bag inside the seat, the useful kind with a large handle that slips over a small handle, so you can wear the small handle on your wrist while you knit. Inside the flywheel was a skein of yarn she’d dyed herself, in blue and purple.

I get the impression that this surprise-swap might be a bit above the average level even here, since by definition this is a group of creative people. Still – wow.