Mama and kids trips- Feb and May 2019

We are very lucky to know families who make great travel partners and are up for weekend getaways. Mothers day was so wonderful, despite the fact that Mr. Marvelous was in Nepal and Fiercely on a road trip out west. While I held down the fort and kept going to work, etc, during the week before, I also had a trip to D.C. up my sleeve.

Love this family!! The Fabulous clan is headed back to Africa and we had to see them before they left. Without realizing it, we planned to meet in Washington D.C. on Mother’s Day weekend. We scored a sweet hotel near the airport with indoor pool and breakfast included.

We took the metro and spent Saturday in the city, which is irresistible with its free museums, ethnic restaurants, and general excellent urban scene. I had never been to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art before. It was a great choice. Most of the four-level building is underground, so while it doesn’t look like much from the outside, it is large and impressive. Here (2nd photo below) is the view down from the ground level floor into a wishing well on the lowest level. We learned after breaking the rules that the kids were not supposed to toss coins from the top floor but oh well.

We also went to the National Museum of American History, which was fine but I do not like the current U.S. President and there is a lot of presidential stuff. We spent time admiring Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown and the kids liked a display on music players from the first records to MP3 players. We walked to Chinatown and got penny candy to take back to the hotel for dessert.

It was really wonderful and we will miss them but maybe we’ll visit Malawi? Who knows. The weekend made for a lovely Mother’s day with happy kids, happy mamas, and great memories.

In February we went to the Jersey shore with 3 moms and 8 kids, taking advantage of the off-season rates. We had the gorgeous beaches to ourselves.

We had dinner out with just the moms and we made everyone get up to see the sunrise.

Sunrise out our window (above) and from the beach (below).

We looked at rental apartments but found a better price at an historic hotel that has a kitchen in each room. We made breakfast there and let the kids run around between the 2 rooms. There was also an indoor pool, a bit dated but a huge draw that cold weekend. The return trip was also fun because we stopped at a ridiculous Mr Bill’s restaurant with its 22 foot man out front. Here’s to great weekends with mamas!!

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The Netherlands part 4, January 2018

The next day was surprisingly sunny with blue skies and we were headed for Groningen. All four of us went with overnight bags to the train station and settled in for the 3-hour trip. We were leaving Holland for the night and heading north, almost as far north as one can go in the Netherlands. Views out the train windows below:

I loved looking out the window. Pyramid shaped barns, flat fields, horses, birds, empty land, a rainbow! More bike roads, a small freeway, some industrial buildings but mostly fields and canals and sky. The Netherlands sky is vast, above flat land it dominates the landscape and we understood why it is a strong subject in Dutch paintings.

Arriving in Groningen, we had plenty of time to walk around its charming, small town streets and canals. There were winding brick sidewalks with many bikes and pedestrians but no cars! The city bans cars from the downtown! We found Martinitoren, a gothic 1482 clock tower in a stone plaza. We paid the small admission and went up the 250 steps to look at the view. We saw the massive bells on the way.

At the top, we looked out from behind the clockfaces, all 4 of them, It was windy and a little scary for me up there! Very high up! Very windy! We could see the whole town in any direction and the bright blue sky with some clouds.

We walked back down then to the university Academie building, a beautiful structure where Fiercely was to meet a student for a tour. We had a tour and asked many questions, we also saw some professor types who were bedecked in academic regalia but didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously, in fact we recognized them as the friendly people behind the desk when we had first entered the building. By the way, outside the building, I have never seen so many bikes in one place!

After another excellent dinner, we went to our lodgings for the night- a barge on the canal! We were staying in one of the boats like we had seen in the Hague and in Amsterdam. The one we stayed was a historic barge, with an iron hull and a history that may include bringing food to starving citizens during WW2. It was a strange and lovely place to stay. We were in the canal next to a street with shops. We got there after dark and the lights were so pretty on the water.

Here’s a view inside the boat.

It was so cool to be in a barge in a canal. It was extremely comfortable and updated with a beautiful kitchen and two bathrooms. I slept well and in the morning we just hung out in the captain’s deck, or at least that’s what we called it. A went to get coffee and croissants while we lounged and enjoyed the scene.

Here we are on the deck, check out the neighboring houseboats!

So it was a new day and we eventually left the houseboat/barge and went to see more of Groningen and catch our train back to the Hague.

The Netherlands, part 3 Jan 2019

The next day our hosts returned. They were jet-lagged and settling in, while we were feeling more energetic and ready to explore. Fiercely had the lovely idea of biking to the sea, and so we went. The place we headed for us called Schenevingen and is so difficult to pronounce that it was used to identify foreign agents during the war. We found it to be a little underwhelming, mostly geared to visitors interested in shopping and gambling, but the North Sea and the bike journey were delightful. J and A had sturdy Dutch bikes- I’ll have to write about biking here in its own post, so much to say- and with those and the bike roads, we were in fine form in another grey, drizzling day.

We biked on the beach and went to another excellent, leisurely lunch, followed a few hours later by dinner with our hosts, who were well-rested now an ready to show us their favorite Thai restaurant. The biking was sublime. Hanging out with our longtime friends who are kind of locals- they have lived here over 3 years after all- was so wonderful because they could explain things like recycling (brought to a park location and placed in large bins, the bulk of which are underground), the marijuana situation (re: coffee shops, ‘koffee’ for coffee and ‘coffee’ for pot*, curious, but we didn’t partake!), and the train system.

The next day we went to Amsterdam- A, myself and Fiercely. The idea was to look at the university there. We found it, kind of, but did not get much information. It is stunning in relation to US colleges in terms of how little interest schools in the Netherlands display in recruitment. I find it refreshing that the Dutch schools are not commercially driven, do not have dorms, and do not seem to have sports teams. As for U. of Amsterdam, it is spread out over many blocks, interspersed with businesses and apartments and other city things, so it was difficult to tour. We had a connection but it fell through. The school was on break, and this did not help matters. Fiercely was more interested in the three other schools we were planning to visit, and at which we had meetings organized, so we checked out a library and a few other buildings and moved on.

Everyone in the Hague told us that Amsterdam was too loud and busy and that they preferred the Hague. I could see their point, but I still liked Amsterdam. There was more of a hectic pace, but there were also canals and historic buildings and plazas, trams, pedestrians, and the constant movement of countless bicycles. There were quiet cafes as well, with the same cozy vibe as the Hague.

Though the Van Gogh museum is a well- known attraction, locals we met disliked it and recommended the Rijks Museum instead, above. We went with that, knowing there are Van Goghs there along with works by other Dutch artists. We were not disappointed. It was a beautiful historic building with works going back to the 12th century. Vermeer, Rembrandt, early Christian artifacts, an elaborate collection of model ships, and my favorite, the ‘doll’ houses- late 17th century miniature houses that were commissioned by the house-proud and wealthy, not for children but for the adults to revel in their love of home.

So we spent the afternoon at the Rijks Museum then we’re lucky enough to have dinner in the lovely apartment of another ex-pat friend from Philly. We had dinner with a couple of her friends and discussed interesting particulars of life in the Netherlands- Kings Day, Black Pete, and the Netherlands second. At the evening’s end, after conversation and speculoos and admiring the views out her front window (a city block of historic brick buildings with ground floor businesses and apartments above) and rear balcony (the warm light from the rear of similar buildings), we headed back to the Hague. We went to the train station via a clean, bright, efficient subway, then on the train to the tram to J and A’s apartment and the sweet german shepherds.

  • I was double checking this and happened upon a sweet blog, 3sistersabroad.com and you bet I am now following them and wondering if the 4 sisters I am raising will ever travel together as older women, I love that thought!!! And you go, 3sisters!!

The Netherlands part 2, Jan 2019

We visited two excellent museums in the Hague on our first day. The Mauritzhuis is an impressive art collection housed in a mansion built by Prince John Maurice in the 1600’s. I enjoy walking without a map or directions, especially in such a beautiful place where I have never been before, so when I realized how close we were to the place we set out rather aimlessly by foot. It was a Sunday late in the morning and we stopped at a random cafe to eat before continuing our meander to the museum. The food was wonderful, it seemed we couldn’t go wrong choosing from the many tiny restaurant-cafes that lined the streets.

When we reached the museum, we noticed a line for one exhibit and soon learned that it was the last day of “Dutch Masters from British Manors” – a collection of paintings produced for wealthy Britons by Dutch artists at a time when they defined the genre in the 17th century. The paintings were displayed in large English estates that have since been placed in the care of a national preservation group. The exhibit displayed the paintings as well as information on the associated estates and families. It was a beautiful case of art works being displayed in the country where they and their creators originated. If these paintings could talk! They were crafted by masters, displayed in castles, and witnessed centuries of humanity. They were beautiful and I immediately began brewing plans to see some of these estates some day. The exhibit was wonderful and we were among the last few people to see it, since we were there just before closing time on the last day. It all felt even more special!

We toured the rest of the museum, and saw the warm tones of Rubens Old Woman and Boy with Candle, a saucy young Rembrandt self portrait, and another in which he was older and looked a little sad, Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch, and many I’d never heard of such as The Bull, approximately life-sized and the most popular attraction when the museum opened in 1822.

Jan Steen (Beware of Luxury, 1663, above) had been recommended to me and I loved his boisterous depictions of peasant life, often with naughty references that have to be explained to the modern viewer. I downloaded the Mauritshuis app, borrowed free headphones at the desk, and happily enjoyed the artworks and stories behind them.

When we realized the Escher museum would be closed the next day, we headed to its nearby location and took in the surreal, geometric, mesmerizing images created by a more modern Dutch artist, Mauritz Cornelius Escher. The museum is in a building that served as a home to Dutch Queen Emma and several other royals, so alongside the prints and other Escher works are some artifacts of the late 19th century queen and her family. The displays are nicely arranged and lit by unusual chandeliers- a seahorse, stars, a skull- shapes that were designed for the space by Dutch artist Hans van Bentem. Some early works and photos are included along with more well-known images, such as the impossible staircases, water flowing upwards, and fish morphing into birds. The third floor of the museum has interactive optical illusions, and also we saw a video installation that was pretty trippy. All around an amazing experience.

Afterwards, we went back to the Mauritshuis and the closing hour of the exhibit. As evening came, we again wandered in a gentle drizzle, admiring the warm light inside the many shops and cafes. We found an Italian restaurant that we weren’t sure was open, but it was. We were welcomed inside by a sweet couple who owned and ran the place, we chatted with them, hung up our coats, and settled down to homemade pasta near a window where we could look out into a mellow Sunday night in the Hague. Fiercely, who had turned 18 a couple of months prior, ordered her first-ever legal glass of wine. We video chatted with the rest of the family who were immersed 6 hours earlier in a Sunday afternoon, and showed them around the place. Here’s the tiramisu and ginger tea for dessert.

We often had tea there, ginger or peppermint, and it is simply hot water with the plant root or leaves. It comes in a glass jar accompanied by honey and the ever-present sweet baked treat on the side. It was a nice ending to our first full day in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands, January 2019

A bicycle enthusiast’s paradise, Amsterdam was always a distant, magical place I had heard of but never imagined I’d see. I knew it was a city in Europe somewhere, maybe in Finland or Holland. My ignorance did not prevent me from going; I was lucky enough to visit a few weeks ago with Fiercely, my firstborn. She had applied to several university programs there on the advice of neighbors of ours who have been living in The Hague for several years. They offered to host us and check out a few college towns with us, and you know before they finished that thought I was checking out flights. Fiercely grappled with the international applications and such while I researched a 20-hour Dublin layover on the return trip. It all came together after the holidays. Thank you, A and J!!! And to Mr. Fantastic for encouraging us to go.

A wooden windmill! We must be in Holland!

After two flights and a lovely train ride from Schipol airport to the Hague train station, we were jetlagged but happy. In our second act of public transportation, we immediately went the wrong way (and incidentally saw a lot of the city!) on the tram to their apartment. We extended our travel time by riding the tram for well over an hour when our destination was only 3 stops, maybe 10 minutes, away. Ah well.IMG_4171.jpg

Rembrandt! The Night Watch!

The six- hour time difference and roughly 14 hours traveling were not ideal, but we were there! I was buzzing from the lack of sleep and the excitement of being in a new place. Looking out the windows we had seen some amazing buildings, gentle rain, a flat landscape, lots of bicycles, windmills, gardens, canals, sheep, all kinds of things. Now we could drop off our bags and explore by foot while avoiding sleep until at least 8pm local time, aka 2am on the US east coast. Time for coffee!IMG_3888.jpg

Fiercely in a cozy coffee shop

Truth told, I do not like coffee. Show me a coffee shop, though, especially an independent one with baked goods made on site, and I will extravagantly profess my love and settle in for quite a while, longer if it’s raining. It is gezellig, that untranslatable Dutch word for coziness, well being, relaxing, comfortable surroundings. Every coffee shop we went to in The Netherlands was, or had gezellig; I’m not sure how to use the word properly, but I loved it. I ordered a latte that first day and it came pale with lots of milk, exactly how I like it, with fair trade sugar on the side and a small piece of a brownie. The Dutch coffee shops and restaurants cannot refrain from giving you some little pastry with your coffee, or tea for that matter. It was wonderful. Then Fiercely and I lounged for some time, drinking our coffees, looking out the window at the brick sidewalks and the many bicycles and pedestrians going by, feeling extremely content. We went to one of these places at least once a day during our time there. We always were given a little piece of cake or cookie with our coffee or tea, and we never got a bill until we asked for it, and they seemed surprised we were ready to leave. There was no pressure to vacate our table or order more from the menu. I could get used to this!20190106_191639

ginger tea made with fresh ginger and tiramisu for dessert! They made mint tea like this, too, fresh leaves in hot water.

Piet Heinstraat, the street where we stayed, has many little ground floor businesses, each with a bright window display, and above the shine of wet bricks there are lit arches that differ by neighborhood. Ours had a star at the center, another one had a crown. It was festive and bright in the early darkening, overcast sky. Just off this street were many residential blocks, with curved streets and large, famously drapeless windows, perfect for my nosy wanderings as the sun went down. I felt like I was in a fairy tale village, looking at these homes and shops, neat as a pin, lit up warmly inside and seemingly without clutter or disturbance of any kind. Such are the delusions of this traveler; I’m sure there is darkness and drama here like humanity everywhere but I was only there a week, appreciating the superficial aesthetics of it all. I walked all over the neighborhood in a mild drizzle, a pleasantly hazy state of mind, and enjoyed my new surroundings.

Our hosts were not to be there for a couple of days so we busied ourselves making beds, greeting their dogs we have known since their puppyhood, and chatting with their dog-sitter Michael. Then we slept late into the next morning and planned our first full day. We knew we wanted to go to the Mauritz House art museum, Mauritzhuis, and probably the Escher museum as well. But first, brunch in another coffee shop. The food was fresh, housemade and probably local, judging from the large greenhouses we had seen from the air and from the train. The Dutch produce an enormous amount of food despite being a tiny country with much farmland being under sea level.

IMG_3892.jpgAnd here I will say that the country is called The Netherlands, the people people and language are Dutch, and Holland is a state in The Netherlands- actually 2 states, North and South Holland. And I wasn’t at all clear on that before I left, partly because I never met anyone from there. After spending time there, I think I know why: the Dutch don’t leave The Netherlands because it is such a nice place! More to come.

Le Super Grand Continental, Philadelphia, Summer 2018

The moment came, and I lay down in a puddle on the wet ground. Rain was falling on my face and into my right ear, and as I snuck my hand around to protect my ear from the rain I could hear the music and imagine what was going on around me, though I couldn’t really see it. I curled up a little to protect my head and hands from the dancing children and I thought about how I had ended up here, on a cold and rainy Sunday in Philadelphia, in front of the Art Museum steps of Rocky fame, how unlikely it all seemed, and if any of my sequins were coming off.41503630_10217444455129969_8433004943794765824_o

My home for 20 years, the City of Brotherly Love, where It’s Always Sunny, known for Soul and the Eagles and violence and cheese steaks- there is also a lot of art here. We have a church that hosts punk rock shows, the 118-year-old Mummers, the longest running feminist choir, puppet based community parades, and many other unusual, accessible forms of artistic expression. Every fall there is a Fringe Festival for several weeks that spreads edgy art into unusual spaces all over the city. In the 1990’s, I was lucky enough to be in Edinburgh, Scotland and viewed several shows in their Fringe, the original and largest arts festival in the world. When I moved to Philadelphia in the late 1990’s, the Fringe here was immediately, happily recognizable to me.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Fringe opened with Le Grand Continental, a community dance performance by 200 locals, almost entirely amateurs, choreographed by Montreal artist Sylvain Emard. The 30-minute line dance had been performed in cities all over the world. In 2018 it was coming back as Le Super Grande Continental. As I fastened a number onto my chest at the audition, feeling very A Chorus Line, I had no idea of any of this, or what I was in for, having come on a whim to the very last audition at the suggestion of an acquaintance. I just tried to mimic the man with the French accent and “have fun!” as he and the other teachers instructed. It was a mixture of stress (they were filming us! They were judging us!), concentration, and undeniable fun. It was to define my summer.dsc_1003

above, the author, left of center in pink shirt

We rehearsed in a cement, nearly 100-year-old, dimly lit hockey rink, devoid of ice, in fact it was uncomfortably warm and humid, stifling even, like the long, hot summer outside the doors. The irony did not escape notice; as fans futilely pushed around the warm air, we were practicing on a surface covered by ice most of the year. Week after week, twice a week, for 2-3 hours each evening, there we were, sweat beaded on foreheads and blossoming through clothing, 1,2,3… we counted to eight over and over, with and without the music. Over 150 of us thinking and moving and trying to coordinate with each other and this dance. We were professors, nurses, students, laborers, cisgender, transgender, asian, black, white, kids under 10 to retirees over 70. Some people seemed to know each other, most did not, and more than a few recognized fellow dancers from the 2012 performance. Trains rumbled by outside, and a sliver of the setting sun would pass through the group each rehearsal, right into your eyes if you were in the right spot. It rained several times as we danced, thunder booming and lightning flashing into our space through the narrow windows above the tiered seats. The sense I had was of beauty in squalor, our colorful clothing against dreary cement, our synchronization against political chaos in the world, our coordination with strangers in a city known for urban woes.41728248_10215247341208377_2807757285470765056_o

After a few weeks, when I began to realize and accept the commitment this dance required, it dawned on me that I was in a charmed environment. In my years here, I have witnessed epithets against Philadelphia I consider unfair. With time and a few unhappy experiences of my own, I stopped defending the city and even agreed with many criticisms. I traveled partly to escape the displeasing things about this city. This stance, however, did not jibe with what was happening twice a week at rehearsal. Everyone was so positive, friendly, accepting of each other, happy to be sweating and even to be frustrated as they learned fairly complicated choreography. We were all vulnerable, looking awkward and unkempt in the pursuit of something beautiful. And the dance itself, to be performed in the street, outside- it reminded me I had wished for this as a 12-year-old in suburban Northeast Ohio as I watched the TV show Fame and especially as I watched this scene from the Blues Brothers movie. I wanted to live in a big city and dance in the street! This was magic; I was living the dream of my 12-year-old self.42195072_10157119808589271_5520459600286973952_n

The summer groaned on and there were shootings, political disgrace, relentless humidity. Yet we danced. We were many shapes, genders, backgrounds, and we were all twisting, kicking, snapping our heads to look to the right, making a wide arc with the left arm, sometimes we got it right. I would have teared up at the sight, but I was mired in my own learning. For we learned differently, too. I felt optimistic watching the teachers do a new move, it looked easy, then I became inadequate and close to hopeless sometimes as I tried, only to figure it out between mind and body over repetition and assistance from the pros and my fellow dancers, at yet more rehearsals on the weekends.

Finally, the calendar turned, the performance date was upon us. It had rained an unusual amount over the summer, and it looked as if our performance would involve rain as well. We showed up at dress rehearsal outside the art museum on a Friday night. The rain began, a serious rain that did not abate, relax, or tame itself. We were thrown together in a much smaller space than usual, unable to dance, waiting it out. It was enjoyable there, dry and full of friendly people, in the trailers I never knew existed behind the art museum. We waited hours but our dress rehearsal was cancelled; the lights and sound would not tolerate the water pelting us from above. The next day we had a previously unplanned dress rehearsal just a few hours before the show. Skies were grey but it did not rain. We performed as scheduled- it was magical! -then again after sunset in the lights that night, then for our final show on that Sunday in a fairly steady rain that created puddles and dampened my ear. It was an explosive, joyful, soggy, glittery mess that I think none of us will forget.41351732_10217424090331314_3939040697595723776_n