I'm on the map. With paint!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Back in the USA

At the beginning of last month, I moved back to the US from the Netherlands, so this will likely be the final post of The Bossche Blog. Or at least the first installment of perhaps a series of wrap-up/recap/reflection posts. It's been 2.5 years since my girlfriend and I first packed our suitcases to the gills and made the jump to the Low Countries. But we decided the time was right to make a big change, again.

The transition has been exciting, stressful and a bit of a whirlwind.

I finished work at the magazine at the end of April, having just wrapped up the May issue. The day after my last day on the job, the gf and I flew to Tbilisi, Georgia. We spent the next week hopping around from city to city in Georgia and Armenia, with the help of Lonely Planet, marshrutka (the network of rickety 15-passenger vans that serves as an economical form of public transportation for the majority of the region) and our limited knowledge of the Russian language.

After arriving back in the Netherlands on a Sunday morning, I had until that Tuesday morning to wrap up various leaving-the-country paperwork, pack, etc. Not a ton of time, but it all worked out; I made the plane, didn't even have an overweight bag charge.

I didn't hardly have time to unpack before heading out to my youngest brother's undergrad graduation. Within a few days was my middle brother's grad school graduation. Immediately following: Family road trip to the Midwest. Lots and lots of close-quarters family time.

Back to the East Coast, a few days later, where I had a couple free days before starting my summer job as assistant head coach of a community swim team. The first practice was last Tuesday, so we're about 1.5 weeks in. It's going well, but even once the meets get going, it's only a part-time job at best. And the season only lasts until the first week of August, so the full-time journalistic-ish job search is on. I'm starting another blog to chronicle that whole experience, which I'll post a link to here once it's up and running (in the next 24 hours or so).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Back in Bier


You'd think that with the somewhat recently updated, seemingly more user-friendly blog post-creation format, that I'd have more regular updates on this blog. Well, there's plenty of proof already that that's not the case. Though I have been writing posts for friend's blog for the last six consecutive weeks. I guess when there's a deadline involved and I'm not my own editor, then I'm a pretty dependable writer. Doesn't bode well for a freelance career, necessarily, does it?

Much has happened since the last round of updates, not the least of which was my learning that there is a direct Dutch translation and usage mimicking of the saying 'the whole shebang': 'de hele mikmak'. I love it. Often with American-English expressions, there may be a direct translation in Dutch, but no useful meaning - it's just not the way the Dutch would say it. This one, however, I'm told, is good for both.

There's also been a bachelor party weekend in Prague, a pre-honeymoon 3rd-wheeling weekend in Paris and our rabbit Bob Ross continuing to gain weight, despite our feeding him significantly less on vet's orders. He prefers to be referred to as 'fluffy', but we try not to bring it up at all. Oh, and I guess there was a 'knowing each other anniversary' weekend with the girlfriend in Munich quite a few weeks back as well. That's me, Mr Jet-setter.

But enough chit-chat: let's get down to beer-ness. It's been even longer since I've featured a tasty brew. This one was more than deserving of my persevering through formatting obstacles and the like.

The Texels ("tessels"; a microbrewery on a namesake small island of the Netherlands so far north, it's practically Norway) Bock has been an award-winner in the Netherlands for the past two years and recently captured the overall championship at the 34th annual PINT Bokbier Festival in Amsterdam. I was at that festival, though sadly too late to sample the stuff. The kegs had run dry. Fortunately there were a few others to sample. And fortunately I happened upon a 75cl bottle on sale at one of the local Den Bosch liquor stores. It performed, well, like a champion.

It pours a dark, rich ruby-mahogany with a hearty tan head. At the festival I sampled several that fell on either side of this appearance - some more red, translucent and sweet, some more pitch black (don't get me started on the 'smoked' entry) and bitter - and for the style, there's not so much snobbery as to poo-poo a little creative exploration of appearance, texture, etc. But personally, I like the strong German-style lager about in the middle, and that's exactly where Texels sets their Bock.

Both smell and taste carry a strong amount of roasted and dark-chocolate/dull caramel flavor, striking a wonderful harmony of savory and sweet. A little unusual for a lager, I suppose, there's a tingly complexity to the 'mouth feel' that I more typically experience with a strong ale. The effect is taste buds do-si-doing with the flavors for a bit longer than they might otherwise. It also means it might be a little intense to drink vast quantities of, but we're living in an era of portion control anyway, right? Right?...

Though I haven't been around the US for the last two years to really be a part of the burgeoning microbrew consumer community, from what I have heard and seen, it seems creativity and diversity are the order of the day - from chocolate milk double stout IPAs to honey raspberry brown bourbon ales (ok maybe slight exaggeration) - rather than picking a handful of styles and just trying to do them really well. Texels has done the latter here. They didn't try to innovate, rather brew the best-possible continuation of a generations-old traditional style. Even Steve Jobs would appreciate this approach.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The fox trying to match the mouse's fleetness

I read tonight that Robin Pecknold is 11 months younger than I am. Man. Sometimes, I wonder if I shouldn't have just studied and gone to swim practice less in high school, and learned to play guitar and form a folk rock band instead.
Additional discovery of the night: the Grolsch 'Herfstbok' (autumn bock beer) is pretty much just as sweet and syrupy as last year. Still not a big fan. There's a bock beer festival going on in Amsterdam this weekend and I'm contemplating attending. So far, the best bock (not too dissimilar from a porter or stout, though a little lighter/sweeter) I've had in this little country is from semi-micro-brewer Hertog Jan.

It was sad to look at my last post prior to this one and read my optimism over a 2-0 Wildcat football team. Sad because that was the last time they've won this season, meaning they're sitting at a rather uncomfortable 2-5, losing to Army, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Penn State, in that order and in increasing strength of pain. This weekend they face a not entirely unthreatening 1-7 Indiana Hoosier team in Bloomington. (Their homecoming, I believe - people just love scheduling NU for their homecoming. Go figure.) Still, it's probably one of our last best chances of winning a game yet this season. A win will actually still enable the 'Cats to go forward and 'win out' to become bowl-eligible. With just 6 wins, it's not likely they'd be selected to go to a bowl, but, you know, it's nice to be available to be asked.

Monday night after work I was lucky enough to go to a concert by Throwing Muses at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. If you're not familiar, imagine Stevie Nicks fronting Nirvana. It was a little like that: short, sweet, angsty, angry, trancey, grunge-rock songs with very little speaking in between from lead guitarist/singer Kristen Hersh. She had these empty, yet intense, dark eyes floating in her cobra-esque constantly swinging head - you couldn't help but be drawn into her affected music-making.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

And then it was September

Mr Robert J Ross

It's so hard to believe we moved to the Netherlands 19 months ago. Maybe because there didn't seem to be a summer this year (see multiple previous posts referencing lack of season-appropriate weather), the past season and a half have gone especially fast.

Since coming back from Mongolia, things have been pretty exciting, I have to say. Well, at least there have been many occurrences of note.

I played in a weekend-long ultimate frisbee tournament just outside of Amsterdam, called Adam Hat. About 70 players from the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the US and assorted other countries were put into randomly assorted teams and played 7 games (not counting the final) over the course of the weekend. Each team was named after some kind of occult organization - I was called to be a member of the Free Masons. Everyone camped on-site and the weather was marvelous, unlike the rest of the month.

I met up with a friend from college and her younger brother in Amsterdam, as they were trekking around Europe together. One night we went to see the most excellent pop-folk-rock duo The Avett Brothers play in the Paradiso. They stopped the show in the middle of a song because a couple of guys in the crowd were fighting. Just stopped the song dead in its tracks and stared at the assholes, who were eventually escorted off the floor. The brothers picked the song back up where they left off and, incredibly, were at a point where the lyrics referenced learning to use words to settle differences rather than fighting. In addition, they had a cellist in the band who wore his instrument on a neck strap so that he could dance around the stage with it. At points, he held the thing completely horizontal and strummed it madly like a guitarist. It was Yo-Yo Ma meets Jimmy Page. Amazing.

Upstairs that night, we saw aging Dutch punk band The Ex perform in the venue's smaller hall. They were pretty good, helped out by a couple of younger brass players that helped add more of an exciting ska edge to the performance. My favorite number was when the group's female drummer came front and center, whipped out a cow bell and proceeded to sing and bang the thing in a rather surprisingly reserved manner. Still pretty badass, though.

The following Monday, my girlfriend (who had just returned from an adventurous jealousy-inducing two-week trip to Siberia, Moscow and St Petersburg) and a couple other friends went to see the Arcade Fire play at the Heineken Music Hall that's right across from the AJAX football stadium. Incredible show, so-so crowd. We ran out after the last number, partly because we had to catch a train or risk not making it back to Den Bosch and partly out of a light disdain for the modern encore. Not to mention the Dutch give a standing ovation to absolutely everything. Not that anyone was sitting for the show, but in general, there's something lost if bands just expect to deliver an encore every time.

Yesterday I went with the girlfriend's company on their annual retreat. This year it was to a nearby theme park called Efteling. Nothing really to write home about, but they've got a wooden coaster with dueling trains that's pretty fun. We also enjoyed just the experience of seeing co-workers out of the office and in the company of their significant other(s), especially those with children. You get a little sense of what their home lives are like, which I think any of us with office jobs (and I use that term loosely, admittedly) are generally curious about.

Bob Ross, or as we've occasionally taken to calling him: Bob-o Fresh, appears to be doing well and seems fully adjusted to having had his manhood removed a few months ago. He's still curious and energetic when given the chance to hop giddily about the apartment. If you don't know about Mr Ross, I apologize for the awkward confusion the previous sentences may have caused you. Bob Ross is a painfully cute lop-eared rabbit who has been leading a rather luxurious life in our apartment since early spring. He figures to be the sole subject of numerous subsequent posts: his behavior and personality are probably not uncommon for a rabbit, but they're still worth critically analyzing for undoubtedly comedic effect.

As of yesterday, my Northwestern Wildcats football team is 2-0 on the season, after handily defeating the Eastern Illinois Panthers. Interestingly, EIU, in Charleston, Illinois, is west of Northwestern. But who's counting? It was great to see our recovering starting QB Dan Persa dressed to play, even though he never took a snap. Last week against Boston College he did even put on pads, so I guess that's progress. I stayed up after the game to watch the first parts of the Nebraska-Fresno St and Michigan-ND games. Evidently I shouldn't have turned off UM-ND, though I saw enough to appreciate that ND is developing skill at shooting themselves in the foot and Denard Robinson is really good at having freakishly talented receivers make up for him only heaving the ball in their general direction. Scary for our lackluster secondary later this season.

Finally (and congratulations and thank you if you've paid attention to this whole long and rambling scribble) some co-workers and I have been training to run a 16k race taking place next Sunday, called the Dam tot Damloop. It's a massive run between Amsterdam and outlying village Zaandam. I figure it'll take about 2 hours to complete, which is the longest run I've ever done. I'm not expecting any kind of high-placing finish, but it should be a fun challenge to work through and our company is running for a charity that works with helping girls in Africa get a formal education. If any of you happen to be reading this and are interested in donating to sponsor organization through my organization (i.e. helping our team's fundraising effort), let me know and I can facilitate that.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Updates from a summer-less summer

My friend Jason modeling safe transportation for the East Coast

To all my friends and family in the furious path (or midst) of Irene, I hope you're all staying safe and haven't yet had to resort to flushing the toilet with stockpiled water from the tub.

The only thing we're in danger of on this side of the pond is some general depression brought on by the lack of anything resembling typical summer weather. As September is coming up this week, all of us over here can't help but lament at least a little about a severely modest June-August bloc that had more than its fair share of chilly rain and clouds. Wah-wah.

1 August officially marked 1 year of full-time employment at the magazine in Amsterdam. Fittingly, I wasn't at the magazine at the time; my girlfriend and I decided to participate in a two-week Habitat for Humanity build-project in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, that took place the first two weeks of August.

The trip was inspired, in part, by my girlfriend becoming eligible this summer for her company's incredible 1-month, travel + lodging paid, sabbatical program. She'd done some work for HFH before in the States and we liked the idea of taking up part of the month with some kind of charitable work. As it worked out, I wasn't able to go traveling the rest of the month with her - funny that other companies (especially monthly magazines) are less inclined to let employees take a month of vacation at once. But my half of the trip was still absolutely amazing and unforgettable.

Building houses for two weeks certainly wasn't a warm & fuzzy holiday. We worked most days from 8am to 3:30pm with short breaks for snacks, water and lunch. The sun spent a lot of time being high and hot, but in reality I doubt it reached 90F and there was some shade available, especially once we had walls and a ceiling up.

Our group of 13 was split into two groups after it was discovered the first build day that there just simply weren't enough tasks or ability by the Mongonlian only-speaking lead builder to divide the labor to keep everyone busy. So we worked on two separate houses the first week. The houses are pretty simple, I suppose: single-family homes with four walls, a ceiling and a two-sided roof; wood-frame walls with styrofoam and fiberglass insulation; red brick exterior; either cement or wood floors; two to three windows and a door; minimal electricity and no running water.

But all the families were upgrading their living conditions drastically, either from tiny shacks or gers, the traditional round mobile home used by herders and other Mongolians living in the countryside. These felt and wood tents are handy for a nomadic lifestyle, but are terribly inefficient and therefore expensive to maintain for more permanent, urban dwelling. The Habitat houses are a big improvement. We were also told the next generation of HFH house in Mongolia is expected to be much more Green and efficient than the current model. Pretty cool.

Also pretty cool was that the families we were building for were very much present the whole time. Sometimes, if they were able, they'd help with various tasks like moving bricks or mixing cement, and others they'd offer us traditional consumables like meat and potato soup or fermented mare's milk. We essentially finished the first two houses we worked on at the end of the first week, so we were lucky enough to attend a dedication ceremony/party at each house at the end of the second week.

These were pretty emotional and moving. Having the families welcome us into their wallpapered and furnished 'homes' that we had seen on the first day as nothing but cement foundation and dirt floor was truly fulfilling and heart-warming experience. I get it now, President Carter.

During the middle weekend, our group took a 1.5-hour bus ride out of downtown UB up into the foothills and moderate mountains of Terelj National Park. We spent two nights in a camp of gers, went for a horseback ride, an incredibly steep but beautiful hike and spent most of a day traversing a 13th-century museum complex in the countryside: gers set up and decorated as they would have been while Genghis Khan was in power.

But in the countryside with the museum, we saw a number of 'modern' gers and natives herding cattle, goats, etc. You could see the person's whole life: their family, their home, their livelihood, their recreation (more or less) - all in the space of 1oo square meters or so. Despite the expansive sky and landscape, the world seemed very small looking at these people.

I've posted my pictures in galleries on the facebook. You can look at them by clicking on the public links here and here. There's still much more of the Mongolia story to tell and gaps to fill in, but I'm not sure which direction to go at the moment. If you, reader(s), have anything specific you'd like to hear about, leave a comment and I'll write a follow-up post. Sooner than two months from now, I promise.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Edinburgh textural intersection

It's been a very not-summer-like June in the Netherlands. Dutch people I've talked to just respond 'for how many Junes have you lived here?' Apparently, 50-60F and rainy is pretty typical. Other than for roughly a week in late April (or was it May...), we haven't had much of a semblance of summer. Of course, once it does eventually get sweltering (we had about a week of unbearability last year), I'll just miss the cool dampness. But along with an actually hot summer come elements I'm currently missing: more outdoor meals, 'beat the heat' cool and fruity drinks, regular shorts & sandals-wearing, etc - all things that help you appreciate the passage of time: you must go through a 'proper' summer in order to properly appreciate the transition to fall and winter. If you don't experience the hallmarks of the stages of the overall cycle, then you just end up feeling out of sorts - disjointed - like you slept through something important and regretted it later.

And to 'get away' from this current non-summery climate, where did we venture? Scotland. Perfect. Good thing the trip wasn't actually intended as any kind of escape; rather, it was just, we've wanted to visit Scotland and this was good timing to do it. Three-day weekend, decent airfare, available b&b. We got pretty much what we expected: rain, mist, other degrees of mist and rain, but also delicious whiskey, cask ale, hard cider and hardy comfort food beyond our most stereotyped dreams.

No Rick Steves this time, either. Portugal was great with Mr. Steves close by our side, dictating many of our stays, eats and doings with his pithy and experiential advice. But for the better part of three days in a country that for the most part speaks English, we figured we'd be fine exploring on our own.

So explore we did, spending most of our time on foot, outside, trying to avoid getting sucked in to the super touristy attractions along the 'Royal Mile' of heavily trafficked street between Edinburgh Castle and the Queen of Scotland's residence.

As always, we did some pretty solid food tourism. Katie tried some prepare haggis (with a cracking Pimm's Cup, no less) for lunch one afternoon, while at the same meal I went for a lamb shank shepherd's pie (mated to a tasty pull of Brewdog's 'Alice Porter'). Consulting our handy whiskey bible, we sampled a couple scotches that we'd only ever read about and aren't likely to find (at least as cheaply) in the NL or US.

One of Katie's favorites was the lighter Dalwhinnie 15 year old, while I really enjoyed the heavier, spicier (but not too heavy or spicy) Glenlivet 18YO. A true find, though, was not a scotch, but a limited edition bottled beer: the Innis & Gunn (local Edinburgh crafter) Canada Day 2011 Scottish Bourbon Oak Cask-Aged Beer. In addition to being a pain-in-the-mouth to order at a bar (fortunately, we were seated and I could just point to the menu), it was incredibly tasty. Consistent with whiskey barrel beers I've had before, it was dark, rich and robust, imparting plenty of sweet, smoky bourbon flavor without being overpoweringly boozy. It struck a great balance of its parts, which I think spells success in any drink.

But back to the city: yes, we did more than just eat fried food and drink whiskey. We saw the street where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born, climbed lush hills, wandered through ancient parks, gardens and cemeteries, chatted with a precious gem excavator/jewelery designer-street vendor who lives in an actual tree house outside of Edinburgh, strode through a vintage Bentley car show, spoke of buying kilts and other tartan accessories but never followed through on the threats and reflected on how bagpipes sound much better from far away than up close (which must explain the popular iconic imagery of a solitary piper on a bleak highland bluff).

Since I don't have that much space on Flickr yet, I've posted pictures from the trip on good 'ol the facebook.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Less traveled?

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled Portugal programming. There are a few more days from the 'Week in Portugal' series yet to go and, believe me, they're on their way. If anyone reading needs instant Portugal trip recap gratification, here is a public link to one of my many photo albums on the Facebook. Should keep you busy for a while.

In the meantime, however, I just wanted to wax ever so slightly philosophical. This morning I went for a long run (1 hour is pretty long for me) into the large, grassy park just on the outskirts of Den Bosch called Het Bossche Broek. I've walked and run around parts of it several times, though my typical, shorter route just takes me around have of Den Bosch itself. But that's not important. Since I had decided it would be a longer run and I didn't have anything for which I needed to be back home at a certain time, I decided to follow some paths I hadn't been down before and explore a little more of the 'broek' (which actually means 'pants' in Dutch, but apparently has a different usage here).

Most of the paths crisscrossing the Broek are paved, though a few aren't - and seem like they may be less traveled by common recreationers because they more provide access to the grazing areas for cows and sheep than easy, flat, traversing. As I got to the back of the Broek (as it approached a major roadway on one side), I saw what definitely looked like just a service road of trampled grass leading straight into some trees. I kept on the paved path, even though I hadn't been on either before, and at the moment it reminded me of how basically every canned graduation speech I've ever heard has somehow referenced Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken'. More than almost any other time of the year, graduation time just gets me reflective.

What interests me, I guess, is what graduates are really supposed to get (and are actually applying) from that poem. Right, right, we all know the closing: 'I took the one less traveled by,/ And that has made all the difference.' What I remember from speeches is kids saying that this is a metaphor for not just taking the easy way out, that once we graduate from whatever institution we happen to be sitting in the large athletic arena of, the 'next stage' of life isn't going to be easy and so, rather than just sit on our laurels and coast through this 'next stage' like, presumably, every one else, we should go for the less common approach of digging in, grinding our noses and not slacking off ever, and ultimately we'll feel better about that course of action.

But it doesn't seem like just plain working hard to get ahead is so uncommon anymore. In fact, I can't say I know too many people in my generation I'd characterize as slack-offs or bums. Going somewhere is the norm. Don't get me wrong, I don't think people should stop going to grad school in droves or stop trying to rocket up their corporate ladders, continually striving to develop 'marketable skills'. I absolutely admire the sheer drive, motivation and execution I see in so many of my peers.

Maybe the message from Frost for grads of the moment is about taking risks. Entering a new phase of life is never without built-in risks. You can choose to venture after them or shy away and do something that seems more familiar. I certainly can't say that folks who go the law school route or the TFA route aren't taking risks. Those roads carry huge risks, not the least of which for the former are the risks of loss of sanity and financial independence, at least according to law school friends. But none of them has said law school wasn't worth it; quite the opposite.

I don't recall any outgoing seniors drawing this conclusion, but maybe Frost is saying that it's ok, actually commendable, to do something completely bat-shit crazy as you traverse, something people rarely do - really rock the boat or create something unique out of your action that's characterized by premeditated abandon ('I doubted if I should ever come back'). Because, like I said, forward progress to gainful employment and higher-higher education is much more the norm than it is 'less traveled' and certainly not 'not taken'. Not that there's anything wrong with that: I am DEFINITELY NOT taking a shot at anyone that may fit into one of the categories I've mentioned; NOR am I trying to indirectly boast that I think my decision to quit my job, move to Europe to follow my girlfriend and try my luck in a completely different career field is any better life choice to make or closer adherence to any of the interpretations of what we've so often made out to be an encouragement from Mr. Frost than anything my peers have done.

Maybe, Frost's poem just isn't cut out for a graduation speech. Maybe, there just aren't that many 'not taken' roads that lead to what most people set out to achieve when they graduate: financial, vocational, spiritual, domestic success - in a word, happiness.

I'm curious if anyone out there has any other thoughts about Frost's poem and how it relates to graduation, where folks go and what they do afterwards, and if Frost is actually trying to give advice, how should we follow it?