Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kickin' it with Cate and Michael

Bah, I say. Because you see, as much as I enjoy being on official Dutch-culture-promoting business here on the other side of the pond, I really do wish the Dutch government had had the foresight to provide me with a computer specialist who could help me with any unforeseen technical difficulties. Because, as some of you may have noticed, this blog has not adjusted well to the trip across the pond. My beautiful blue background got grumpy and wandered off. My header, no doubt influenced by the prominent strain of conservatism that runs through so much of the political discourse in these here parts, has shifted decidedly to the right. I don't mind anyone's politics, but when my blog starts taking sides I get a little annoyed. Anyway, there seems to be little I can do to convince my blog to behave, so I'm hoping my faithful readers will be satisfied to ignore these minor modifications to the look of my blog and just focus on the genius of my words.

On the upside, if my blog's technical specifications are suffering from jet lag at least The Shoes have been having fun.

The Shoes on the way to the airport
I tried to tell The Shoes it was a bad idea to drink while flying transatlantic, but to no avail
The Shoes at the New York Stock Exchange.
The Shoes at Times Square.

The Shoes and The Husband's left arm at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. We had vegetarian noodle soup, but we ate it with a fork and spoon because The Shoes have not mastered chopsticks.

Me and The Shoes hanging out at Madison Square Park.

We even went to the theatre. Here's The Shoes at the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at the New York City Centre.

The Shoes had great seats.
The play was starring Cate Blanchett, but I couldn't help being distracted by the fact that there was some guy in the audience who I recognized from TV. During the interval I nudged my husband, nearly knocking his champagne (I know, look at us all la-ti-da with our champagne, but it's not every day you go to the theatre in New York) out of his hand, and tried my best to gesture with my eyes to avoid rudely pointing. "You see that guy?" I whispered, shifting my eyes madly to the left where the celebrity whose name I did not know but who I was sure I recognized was standing.

"What guy?" my husband said.

"The guy in the black jeans and black t-shirt," I said.

"Yes, and?" my husband said.

"I think he's famous," I said. "I mean, I know I had some false alarms earlier, but this time I'm fairly sure."

To explain, on two previous occasions during our NY trip I also thought I had seen a celebrity. The first time it was some guy whose face I recognized but I had no idea from where. The second time I was pretty sure we were standing next to Chris Noth, the actor who played "Mr. Big" on Sex and the City, but he was shorter than I had imagined he would be, and he was wearing sunglasses, so it was hard to tell. Eventually I decided it probably wasn't him, but not before a prolonged bout of staring.

But this time, in the theatre, I was sure. Still, my husband was not nearly as excited as I was to have run into a celebrity whose name I didn't know. In fact, judging by the way the other theatre-goers were behaving, I was the only one who was excited to be in the same room with this person. Everyone else just ignored him. So maybe it was not so remarkable to run into famous people at the theatre in New York and I was just a country bumpkin. At least I was a country bumpkin with champagne.

Later I remembered that the celebrity I spotted at the theatre had something to do with fashion. Just this morning I did a quick Google search and discovered that he was the designer Michael Kors. You may know him as one of the judges on the reality show Project Runway. Here he is:

Photo Credit: Stan Honda, courtesy of wereabigdeal.com

So if there is one thing that I've learned on this trip so far it's that I watch too much TV, because Project Runway? Really?

That was New York. On Friday we left the Big Apple behind and made our way to Nova Scotia. So far we haven't run into any celebrities, but that's okay. We like the pace of life here just fine, thanks.


The Shoes, relaxing in the Nova Scotia sunshine.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pre-ambassadorial-trip update: ONE MORE SLEEP, PEOPLE!

Tomorrow The Wooden Shoe Diaries is off to North America on very important governmental/ambassadorial-type business. Like that Leonard Cohen song says, first we take Manhattan, then we take Nova Scotia, Canada. Oh, those aren't the lyrics? Oh well, it's my blog.

We're all packed. I even won the "can The Shoes please come to New York with us please, please?" war with the husband.

The Shoes posing in a suitcase, with a bikini (optimistic), some tissues and a bag of Dutch licorice treats for the folks back home. As you can see, I could have been a professional photographer.

In fact, there really wasn't much resistance on my husband's part to the idea of bringing The Shoes. Either he has finally accepted that he married into some crazy or he hasn't yet realized that not only are The Shoes coming to New York, they will also be accompanying us to all the sights, where I will be publicly photographing them doing fun New York things. But let's save that conversation for on the plane, preferably after the free drinks.

In totally unrelated news, here's a picture of a van my uncle spotted in a parking lot in Alberta. My uncle says it's the company van of a bakery in Lethbridge (fun blogging fact: my spellchecker wants to change "Lethbridge" to "Lawrbreaker," with a capital "L," as if that is a place or someone's name), but I'm pretty sure it's the chauffeur Prime Minister Rutte has organized for me in Canada. It's probably on its way to the east coast now.

Official WSD chauffeur
So there it is folks. I expect to be offline while in NY, but Rutte has asked me to check in once we reach Canada, so look out for updates in about a week.

Until then, as they say in NL, tot gauw.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pre-ambassadorial-trip update: two more sleeps

Today while me and The Shoes were doing some chores around the house I got to thinking about the history of New York City.

Did you know that New York was founded by the Dutch? Yes indeedy. And guess what else? The reason the Dutch were so keen on New York is because they found out there were lots of beavers there. And guess what the national animal of Canada is?

No, not the Canadian horse. That's the other national animal of Canada. Canada couldn't be settled with just one national animal like all the other countries. We had to have two. I personally think the separatist movement can be traced back to this very mistake.

So you see? As a Canadian who currently lives in the Netherlands, I am clearly a perfect ambassador for Dutch culture in New York. Just in case any of you had any doubts, which I'm sure you didn't.

If I see any beavers in NYC I'll make sure to get a photo of them building a dam out of The Shoes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pre-ambassadorial-trip update: three more sleeps

Yesterday we went for dinner with some friends, who were very excited about our forthcoming official government-sponsored (but not really) trip to New York. The Shoes had a great time:

The Shoes enjoying a pre-departure meal

Our friends were too shy (i.e. embarrassed) to be in the shot. BIG mistake! Because one day when we're rich and famous you'll wish you had a photo of you and The Shoes to sell on Ebay.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pre-ambassadorial-trip update: four more sleeps

We thought we'd get a head-start on the laundry in advance of our forthcoming ambassadorial trip to the Big Apple (Hi Big Apple, meet Wooden Shoes. Bwahahahaha).

Here we are doing a load of dark.

The Shoes doing a load of dark plus one white

Yes, I have seen the single white item displayed prominently in the foreground of the machine. Sigh.

Later my husband and I have plans to go out for dinner with some friends of ours. I'm considering asking if The Shoes can come too, but I'm a bit worried if I do that my husband will say this blog is "getting out of hand." So I may just sneak them in my handbag and put them on the table after we've already ordered and it's too late for anyone to walk away and pretend they don't know me.

Okay, now I'm never leaving (part second)

I know me and The Shoes are supposed to be busy getting ready to go to New York but I had to take some time out to share with you a discovery made last evening.

Right now I am "reading" a Dutch novel. "Reading" is in quotes because it's less like reading and more like looking up every second word in my Dutch-English dictionary.

Anyway, in the book a half-blind woman who has just witnessed (sort of) a terrible crime goes back to her apartment where her sister/roommate tries to calm her down and assure her that the bad guys won't be trying to track her down and kill her.

And how, you ask, does the sister comfort her? She turns on the TV and asks:

"Shall we watch this? With chips and some wine?"

There it was on page 25. The chips-wine combination is a documented remedy against fear of retribution killings here in the Netherlands. So it can't be bad.

Tune in later for updates from The Shoes.

(I love my life).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

This just in: WSD agrees to be Ambassador to English-Speakin' Types


I just got off the phone with Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He and his cabinet are so happy with the work we’re doing over here at The Wooden Shoe Diaries to promote the Netherlands to you English-speakin’ types that he has offered to send me and my husband (who is probably only with me for the fame and the perks) on an all-expenses-paid ambassadorial trip to New York, with the aim of strengthening Dutch-English-Speakin'-Types relations by promoting Dutch culture to the non-Dutch masses[1].

The Wooden Shoe Diaries has never been to New York before, so we’re super excited. We’re already planning all the stuff we want to do:

The Shoes, reading Time Out New York

The Shoes are total lushes. I've tried speaking to them about it.

Rutte suggested that after New York we might like to pop up to Canada for a visit with the folks, since, now that I am Ambassador for Dutch-English-Speakin'-Types Relations I may be on the road a lot in the coming year, and might not have a chance to see them much. I said I thought that would be a good idea.

Here we are getting ready for that part of the trip:

Moosey and The Shoes.
 
While we're travelling I'll be without Internet at times, so I'll be posting here a bit less often than usual. But to make up for that I'm going to post exciting updates on our preparations EVERY DAY! I can hear you clapping with glee!

In addition, when I do have the opportunity to check in, I'll be treating you to some fantastic vacation (uh, I mean, official ambassadorial business) snaps. Can I have another round of glee-clapping, please? 


[1] Not really. I mean, you probably got that, but just in case. Because maybe libel also covers made up phone calls from the Prime Minister, or maybe there’s a law that says you can’t pretend to be a government ambassador. In any case, I'm just joking (but I would totally consider applying if the position was not one I made up).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Okay, now I'm never leaving

Being an expat can be tough. Far from the familiarity of your home country and the support of your loved ones, you must navigate the tricky path to integration in a new and often very different culture. Along this path there are many hurdles to, well, hurdle over. It's life as we know it, but with a more intense and more frequent desire to get blindingly drunk.

Because it can be tough being an expat there are days in every expat's life when s/he (we're very inclusive here at WSD. You're welcome, boys) just wants to say "This shit is for crazy people" and go running back home. Maybe your Last Straw Day (LSD for short. No coincidence. By the way this is a new term I just made up and which I am giving to the world free of charge as a little linguistic gift, because I'm nice and I think everyone deserves a new lexeme1 or two now and again) was the day you told the newspaper guy to bury your husband’s newspaper (Yes, really. See this post). Or maybe it was the day you drove your bike into a little old lady, sending her to hospital with a broken arm and a busted nose. No? That was just me then. But anyway, you get my point. We all have those moments when we just want to get the heck out of Dodge, and for this reason it’s crucially important that every once in a while your new-found home throws you a bone and gives you a reason to be glad you live where you do.

I found a new reason to be glad I live in the Netherlands yesterday when I saw a TV advertisement for Lay's potato chips which announced that Lay's now suggests wine pairings for some of their chips.

And look, they even have a handy printable .pdf file which you can take with you to the liquor store.

Photo from www.lays.nl
They also have a second .pdf file which is called "Combineren kun je leren" which I love, because it basically means "You too can learn to pair the right wine with your chips." I mean, whew! All those years I thought wine experts had some secret ability to detect hints of boysenberry where I just detected floaters of cork, but now Lay's has come to my rescue. Now I too can be a wine expert just like that guy with the ridiculous (i.e. clearly made up) Italian name from the Globe and Mail.

Photo from www.lays.nl
Those of you who know anything about the women in my family know that we can get through a bag of potato chips faster than a beaver through cord of wood. And we all agree that nothing beats wine with chips. So the news that a major potato chip manufacturer has finally figured out what women in my family have known for generations is a relief. Far from having to hang our heads in shame at the fact that we don’t really want to eat smoked salmon or grapes and cheese with our wine, we can now tear into a bag of chips happy in the knowledge that this practice is officially sanctioned by the Snack Gods (well, in the Netherlands at least. You people who live in other countries still have to pretend to enjoy your oysters whilst secretly sneaking chips from your purse).

It’s obvious that Lay's is trying to target a female audience, so it’s a shame that they assume we’re interested in the Lay's "The Oven" series with 70% less fat. Because everyone knows that wine goes best with saturated fat. And since the wine works as a blood thinner, it all balances out anyway. But I'm sure the fine people at Lay's are reading this and will get busy suggesting pairings for their normal full fat chips any day now.

So there you have it, folks. It may be raining so bad here in Holland this summer that you've actually started Googling "how to build an ark" but the snacking situation is definitely looking up. I, for one, am never leaving.


1 Different from a Lexus. Yeah, sorry, but I can’t afford to be handing out Lexuses (Lexi?) every time I turn around (because I turn around multiple times a day). So be happy with the lexeme.

***

Shop online at M&S Netherlands

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This blog can actually be quite educational

Sometimes it’s hard to be a blogger, because sometimes nothing happens worth writing about. Since I last blogged on Sunday here's an exhaustive account of all the exciting stuff I did: (1) I baked a pie (2) I bought a new handbag (2) I ate some pie. That’s it. Yes, it’s been one heck of a colossal snoozefest here in the Wooden Shoe household. And outside the walls of the Wooden Shoe shack it’s been equally boring. The streets of Middelburg are swarming with soggy Germans who (unaccountably) chose the Netherlands as their summer holiday destination.

As an aside, here is the weather forecast for the coming few days in NL:

From NOS Weer

Poor Germans.

Anyway, as it’s been nothing doing around here lately I decided I would today provide you with a blog entry that isn't the usual bunch of jokes at the expense of the Dutch but which will actually teach you something you can use in your everyday life. Because I've learned many things from living here in the Netherlands and it's only fair I share my wisdom with my readers. I'm a bit like Oprah that way. Only Oprah totally copped out and now all you've got is me, so you'd better pay attention.

I've decided to bestow my wisdom in the form of a top ten list, because everyone can count that high, even with mittens and shoes on.

Ladies and gentlemen, today's top ten list of stuff I learned from living in the Netherlands is "Top Ten Fun and Useful Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Cheese."

Whoo whoo! Here we go people:

Top Ten Fun and Useful Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Cheese
#10 – Stick a slab in your sewing basket to use as a pincushion
#9 – Plug unsightly gaps between teeth
#8 – Throw at weddings instead of confetti (note: use grated)
#7 – Make wax (but not really because actually cheese) seals for all your letter correspondence
#6 – Insoles! Lay each foot on a separate slice of cheese and trace outlines with a pencil. Now cut out the foot-shaped cheese pieces and place them inside your sneakers. Cheaper than Dr. Scholl's!
#5 – Use as caulking around your tub and shower
#4 – Give to charity door-knockers in lieu of monetary donations
#3 – Use a melon baller to cut out small balls. Unfold two ordinary paper clips to form hooks. Voilà! Instant earrings
#2 – Massage two small cubes of room temperature cheese in your hands until warm and pliable; roll each into a short (1.5 cm) sausage shape to create cheese earplugs you can eat afterwards

And the number #1 thing you didn’t know you could do with cheese is: make a cheese drum kit out of it. Which, may I point out, someone has actually done. There’s even an arty-farty You Tube video to prove it (because I couldn't make this stuff up):

Video tip: watch until at least 3.46 if you're interested in bearing witness to the disturbing because heartfelt improv vocalizations accompanied by, you guessed it, cheese percussion.


There you have it folks. Now run along to your cheese aisle.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Get your ticks out

The other evening my husband was stroking our dog's belly when he said to me "There's a weird bump here. Do you think it could be a tick?"

We had recently come back from a trip to Drenthe, which has areas containing more than four trees, which in the Netherlands qualify as forests. Our dog was thrilled at the myriad opportunities this woodland wilderness afforded her to smell the pee of new dogs and she spent many a happy hour frolicking in the deadly tick-infested low bushes of the Dutch outdoors. I knew that ticks were on the rise in NL, much like central heating and non-potato-based meals, but in Drenthe ticks were apparently an especially serious problem, having surpassed in notoriety even the ubiquitous Dutch mosquito.

Now, being Canadian, I'm all about the nature, but I prefer my nature to be critter-free so I'm more of the "coffee table book" kind of nature lover than the "swimming with dolphins" kind. But the Dutch like nothing more than a good refreshing (boring) encounter with four trees to get the blood pumping again, and now it seems, the ticks were fighting back. And who can blame them? I mean, if I had a bunch of Nordic walkers busting through my house like a (boring) tornado every weekend I'd be pretty ticked off myself. Bwahahahahahaha.

So when my husband said "Do you think it could be a tick?" I said "Let's have a look." I went over to where the dog was lying next to my husband's chair and looked at the place my husband indicated on our dog's belly. There was indeed some kind of small blackish bump there. But it was dark in the living room where my dog and my husband had been sitting reading (the dog was not reading because she doesn't have thumbs to hold books with) so I suggested that maybe we should have a better look in the other room where the light was better. So my husband and I went to the kitchen and called our dog who came and lay down next to us, thrilled that we seemed to want to continue the tandem belly rubbing. Problem is, now that we had moved positions, we couldn't remember where the bump was. This was a problem because our dog is quite furry. I mean, like, really furry. Here's a photo of her just to illustrate how furry she is (and also because it's hilarious):



No, we did not make her wear that outfit. She totally chose it herself.

Anyway, looking for a tick on a furry dog is a bit like looking for a needle in a furry dog. It's freaking hard work. And once my husband had taken his hand off the bump, we had a heck of a time finding it again. But eventually we did. I got my face as close as I could to it without scaring the hell out of the dog and concluded that it was most definitely a tick. Probably. I mean, I'd never actually seen a tick before in my life, but I was pretty sure that was the only explanation. That, or a nipple. It could also totally be a nipple. I mentioned this to my husband. 

"I never thought of that," he said. There was a moment of silence while we considered that we had quite possibly been on the brink of trying to pry off our dog's nipple with a pair of tweezers (can you see why it's good that we have a dog and not a child?).

Then my husband said "But if it's a nipple shouldn't she have more than one?"

"Good thinking," I said. "We can see if she has more bumps like that one and if she does we know it's probably just a nipple and there's no need to panic," I said.

So we had a feel around our (by now somewhat irritated) dog's belly, but we couldn't find any more ticks/nipples.

"We're going to have to take her to the vet," I said at last. "We can't just start trying to remove this without knowing what it is."

"We're going to take her to the vet with an affliction which might just be a serious case of nipple?" my husband asked. I admitted it had the potential to be more than a little bit embarrassing but what choice did we have?

My husband grudgingly agreed that he would take our dog to the vet the next morning. "But," my husband said then, "what if when I get there I can't find the tick/nipple again?"

"Hmm. Good point," I said. "We need a way to mark it." I felt super smart for coming up with this idea and decided not for the first time that I would make a good spy. I looked around the kitchen while my husband kept his finger on the dog's tick/nipple, but the only thing I could see that looked like it might work was a green highlighter pen that had been left on the counter sometime in 2009 and which was by now probably dry. "We can mark it with this if it still works," I said.

"Good idea" said my husband, who probably would also make a good spy if it wasn't for his appalling eyesight.

Much to our surprise, the green highlighter still had some juice in it, as we discovered after a few passes around the tick/nipple. Our dog, previously tan and white with black patches, was now tan, white and black with one neon green patch.

"There," I said smugly, snapping the cap back on. "Now the vet will know where to look."

As you can imagine we both felt very pleased with ourselves for being so clever and level-headed about the whole tick business, until, a few minutes later, while stroking my dog's underside, I felt a second bump. On the other side of her belly. I looked at. It looked exactly the same as the first bump. Why did it look the same, you ask? Well, because nipples usually do look the same. Now our dog would have to walk around with one of her nipples highlighted like an important passage in a book for no reason whatsoever.

On second thought, at least it did give us the opportunity to take this picture:



The other dogs in the park don't exactly shun her, but you can tell they think she's kind of trashy. She is drawing a lot of unnecessary attention to her boobs, after all.

Friday, July 6, 2012

License to Stay


The Dutch word for “residence permit” is verblijfsvergunning, which, if you translate it directly basically means "Stay License". 

Bond had a license to kill. I have a License to Stay. Bond travelled the world in service of the Queen. As we’ve established in a previous post, I’m serving two queens right where I am. Bond had to fight off scary Cold War Soviet-types. Underwater. Whilst wearing ridiculously tight swimwear. I have to fight off attempts to force me into eating raw herring smothered in onions. So there are a lot of similarities there.

As a foreign national living in NL I have to keep my License to Stay up-to-date, which means renewing it every five years. This summer it was time to go though the motions again. About a month ago I filled in the paperwork, sent it off to the Immigration Place, and hoped no one there was reading this blog.

Luckily it seems no one was. Just a few days ago I got a letter in the mail from the nice people at the Immigration Place informing me that my request for a new License to Stay had been processed and approved. The letter said I could pick up my new permit at the town hall in Goes, which is not pronounced like the third-person singular of "to go" but more like what you imagine hocking a loogie would sound like if you tried to pluralize it.

Goes is a twenty-minute drive from Middelburg, so my husband and I decided we would rent a car from Green Wheels (I don’t have time here to explain what this is, people. I can’t be explaining everything all the time. Explaining shit to other people is my day job most of the year, but now it's summer, so cut me some slack. Besides, that’s what Google is for) and combine our trip to Goes with our monthly big supermarket shop, since we would have the car anyway, and since we’re kill-as-many-freaking-birds-with-one-stone-as-you-can kind of people.

When we got to the town hall in Goes the first thing I noticed was that it had been hit with an architectural ugly stick. Here's a picture of the Goes town hall, which some guy still saw fit to share on the internet:

Photo by Jacco vB on Panoramio

The second thing I noticed, once we had entered the building, was that it seemed to be a more than usually busy day at the Goes town hall. There were so many people standing around in the waiting area, in fact, that my husband and I had difficulty even seeing past them to the reception desk where I had to go and present myself. And, on closer inspection it seemed that everyone here was clutching a letter like the one I got from the Immigration Place. Sakes alive, my husband and I exclaimed (well, no we didn’t really. No one exclaims. And no one says “Sakes alive” except in 1950s illustrated books for Boy Scouts). Anyway, we said (but not really) “Sakes alive! It’s Immigrant Hour!”

Yes, folks. It seems that 14.30-15.30 is Immigrant Hour at the Goes town hall, that time of the day when those of us not fortunate enough to have a Dutch passport come to a building reminiscent of a Tuscan-inspired high security prison to ask pretty please can we stay a bit longer in your country. 

At first I was indignant at the thought that Immigrant Hour had been designed for no other reason than to keep us pesky foreigners away from the general population, but then my husband commented that Immigrant Hour is probably just a designated time when some people from the Immigration Place Central Headquarters or whatever come to Goes with all the documents for applicants in the region. And since that made more sense than my suggestion I was super glad I hadn’t expressed mine out loud.

I picked up my License to Stay and we left Goes to do our shopping before heading back home. Later, like Bond, I treated myself to a drink. Bond drinks dry martinis. But we don't have a martini shaker. Or vodka. Or ice, for that matter. We do have a few bottles of alcohol-free rosé beer, though, which I figured was pretty appropriate for someone with a License to Stay. As I drank my non-beer beer I made a little toast to my fellow migrants (not really, but I did think it). It went like this: "Cheers, fellow migrants. Here's to your License to Stay. See you all again at Immigrant Hour 2017!"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I always miss all the fun

For those of you who were not convinced by my last post, in which I (and Anna 49) made a good effort to debunk the myth that the Netherlands is a boring country, I present to you today yet further evidence of the rip roarin' time the Dutch like to have when they think no one's looking.



Some context: during a round-trip car journey to my husbands' parents' house in Drenthe this past weekend I began to notice that an awful lot of people had elected to spend at least part of their weekend standing around on motorway overpasses watching the traffic below.

At first I thought maybe I was seeing a selection of desperate Dutch folks who had, coincidentally, all reached the end of their respective ropes during the same sunny weekend in June. But then I saw this couple above (circled in red in case you missed them with all the bug splatter on the windshield), and was convinced that The Overpass People (as I fondly like to think of them) were not would-be jumpers but perfectly well-balanced Dutch citizens enjoying a spot of weekend car watching. (The clincher was the guy in on the right, who, if you look closely you will notice is wearing canary yellow shorts. I figure no one chooses yellow shorts as their last fashion statement, if given a choice).

Anyway, once I was sure I wasn't about to be witness to anything that would lead to permanent PTSD I could relax a little and take a few pictures to show you, fine reader, what a helluva time I missed by being in the car instead of on the overpass watching the car go by. I always miss all the fun.