Archive for the ‘Whassup’ Category.

Der Partybike Incident

Juices, Java, & Jazz CafeWednesday I visited the café across the street from our apartment (pictured here from our balcony) for the first time. Our landlord, Frank, invited me to join him and his two friends Jennifer and Sel for a drink. Jennifer is an art dealer from Toronto, and Sel (pronounced sort of like “sill” but more complicated than I’m prepared to explain here) is a local. Both live in Antwerp not far from us. We sat at the bistro tables on the sidewalk and enjoyed our drinks, watching people (which seems to be a well-favored international sport, here in Europe), and chatting. Sel and I each had a Masala Chai, which the server had assured us did not include sugar. Served in a tall glass, the tea was exotically spicy and as promised was not at all sugary, had a lovely layer of foam on top sprinkled with spices, and was absolutely delicious.

As we sat visiting at tables outside on the sidewalk, the noise of an approaching rowdy party began to build. Soon it was enough of a commotion to bring conversation at the café to a halt, with all heads turning to see what on earth was coming up the street. Around the corner came a vehicle that I have to say was completely unique to my experience, although I understand now that it is not an uncommon sight here. I was sorry I did not have my camera with me. I’ll attempt to paint a mental picture for you.

The contraption was about the size of a large van. It was constructed with a surprisingly open framework, so you could see through its gears to the other side. High in the center of the vehicle was a lengthwise bar, with a bartender standing in the middle serving beer to the other passengers, a small counter surrounding him completely, and taps at hand for serving his “customers.” I could see the metal beer kegs mounted at the, er, stern of the vehicle. The passengers alternately crawled all over thing, walked along side, or sat on the built-in bar stools. The stools faced inward, as if one were sitting at any non-mobile bar. Seated at the bar with your elbows resting on the counter whilst nursing your beverage, you’d be facing sideways to the direction of travel. A photo of a similar contraption is shown here, though this is not exactly like the one I saw.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see that each stool (I think there were six to a side on the one I saw also), is equipped with pedals. No engine whatsoever. The whole monstrous thing was pedal powered. Beer powered, one might say, as the group of partying young men looked to be well lubricated and feeling it. Glasses of beer sat on the bar’s counter in receptacles designed to keep them from tipping over as the rig went ambling down the bumpy streets on it’s car-like wheels and tires. An arched canvas canopy shaded the whole affair and added a generally festive look. Imagine a ridiculous vehicle straying from Terry Gilliam’s imagination into your neighborhood, and you’ve pretty much got it.

I stared in amazement at this spectacle while Frank shook his head with a bemused look on his face. Suddenly, just as the party came abreast of our sidewalk tables, one of the young revelers who had dismounted the Pedal Monster staggered into oncoming traffic. A car struck and flipped him in a cartwheel motion, and up and over he went like a rag doll. He landed on the pavement and lay there for a moment, while people screamed and rushed about. He had bent in ways humans should not bend. I stayed put in my seat, figuring I would only offer first aid assistance if no one else could. Amazingly, Rag Doll Man’s mates had him up on his feet, if rather unsteadily, in less than a minute.

The driver of the car had slammed on his brakes immediately but his options were few in that narrow street.  He was hemmed in on one side by parked cars and on the other by the Pedal Monster itself.  Short of vertical take off, I don’t know what else he could have done. To him, it must have looked like Rag Doll Man appeared out of nowhere.  He sure seemed to do his best to stop, tires screeching. I felt bad for him. He seemed shaken, and looked relieved to see the guy get up and walk around under his own steam.

The police were on the scene within five minutes.  They spoke to the driver briefly and let him go, I was glad to see. The revelers milled about for a bit longer, being interviewed in turn by the officers. Somebody gave Rag Doll Man a cloth to clean the cuts on his face. He continued to walk around a bit, smiling while looking dazed and rather gimpy. Eventually the police got the whole gang back aboard, instructing them to follow one of the police vehicles. At least, that’s what I inferred based on how the now subdued Pedal Monster subsequently followed the police van closely around the corner and out of sight like a meek pony on a lead. I’m only inferring, since I did not understand a single word of the speaking and shouting that went on during the entire incident.

We at the tables surmised that Rag Doll Man’s state of inebriation was probably a blessing for the moment, keeping him loose and not too keenly aware that he’d narrowly missed sharing his next beer with the Grim Reaper. He was probably in shock, as well. I said I’d be willing to bet he’d be feeling very, very badly the next day. Frank mentioned that the party bikes, as they’re called, will likely be banned from Belgian streets because of the dangers of drunk people ambling about in traffic.  I thought to myself, you’ve got to be kidding.  There’s more than one of these contraptions? Hosting a beer bash on an open vehicle moving through city rush hour does seem sort of risky to me. No wonder I have never seen or even dreamed of such a thing in the States—I can’t imagine any self-respecting government official allowing citizens to have so much fun endangering themselves and others on American roadways.

After the uproar from the incident died down and peace returned to the neighborhood, I spent a couple more hours visiting with my new friends and enjoying the mild sunshine. Time flies when you are sitting in the sun drinking yummy tea and enjoying some excellent people watching with new friends. And all across the street from your house, no less. Heh.

Sel and Jennifer are both interested in future museum visits and shopping with me, and I’m looking forward to getting together with them again soon.

Next time, hopefully, without pedestrian casualties.

Our European Romance - It’s for Reals

Antwerp city square & Cathedral of Our LadyIt’s official! After months of preparation (and a bit of nail-biting), Conal and I have our tickets to fly to Belgium next Thursday and stay for the summer. I have refrained from posting here about our trip, because… umm, well, honestly, out of superstition. I was afraid I’d jinx it!

But, no worries, things are at last falling into place and we’re actually going. For reals.

In case there is anyone whose ears I have not already worn off talking about this, Conal will be doing some consulting work with a tech start up based in Antwerp. The folks with the company have been gracious and delightful, to say the least, in assisting us with all the requirements and details. From the moment we first met Rudy, the CEO, and Peter, the head software architect, in San Francisco to discuss working together, we got along like old friends. Rudy’s wife, Natascha, is the COO of the organization, and has also been lovely and helpful. I’m looking forward to getting to know these wonderful people and their families and friends.

Antwerp apartment gardenWe will be living in a spacious apartment above an antique shop in a pleasant neighborhood. It is walking distance to the office, and is located in the old, central part of Antwerp, so there are lots of fun things to do and look at nearby. The owner of the apartment also owns the antique store below, and is even now completing its remodel and furnishing the place with all sorts of awesome wacky antiques. The building has a garden courtyard, where the tenants gather for dinners and parties. The photo at right, showing the view into the courtyard, was taken last week by Elina, another lovely company member. Elina, who is friends with the owner, passed along the idea that we might like to be invited to some of the courtyard shindigs. Sh’yeah!!

If the place is half as cool as the photos, it’ll be heaven. Our most excellent landlord is even installing a new king sized bed to accommodate Conal’s long legs, so we’ll be able to rest well. I cannot wait to meet these awesome people.

Belgium is centrally located in Europe and we’ll be spending our weekends and days off exploring whatever fairy tale places catch our fancy. The major cities of the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, etc., are just a train ride away. London, Paris, Amsterdam… Sigh. Antwerp itself is a major maritime city, being one of the world’s largest ports, and I’m excited for the added bonus of getting to hang around boats and big water again.

Stay tuned for photos and and stories from our European Romance!

Triple Digits

It’s happened a bit early this year. Today’s high temperature at our house: 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Did I mention that it is the middle of May? Good gracious.

Thank you Jesus for central air, ceiling fans, and automatic ice makers. Today I have partaken of all these special blessings, and I am sooooooo grateful.

My handy dandy Google weather icon indicates a forecast with more of the same for the coming week. Our temperatures at Murray Creek tend to run anywhere from five to ten degrees hotter than Google predicts for San Andreas, so we’re in for some more scorchers.

The Seattle area, on the other hand, appears to be enjoying perfect Pacific Northwest weather.

California Earthquake Map

Today on the phone my dad asked if I had heard about a recent earthquake in Northern California. I hadn’t. In searching for information online, I found this USGS site that maps recent earthquake activity with a combination of shapes and colors to indicate strength and time. I liked getting a visual picture of the shakin’ going on in our state. Clicking on any event brings up a page with detailed information on a specific quake. Known hazardous fault lines are included, and all the activity centers on these lines. None of which, thankfully, are near us.

You can also view an animation of quake activity for the last seven days.

I was happy to note that what I’d heard about our area might really be true: that we are (in spite of our town sharing the name of the notorious fault line) in an area of relatively low quake risk. Quake activity surrounds us, but isn’t local.

As long as the whole Central Valley doesn’t dislodge and sink into the magma, we’re golden. Yay.

Awesome Dream

I rarely remember my dreams. Mostly I remember feelings or a mood, or maybe just snippets. Conal remembers his dreams really well, and they are often weirdly coherent in a wacky dream-logic kind of way. I’m jealous. Mine are usually so weird they only make sense while I’m asleep.

Once in a great while a good one comes along, and I treasure it.

Sir Sean ConneryLast night, I dreamed was in a hospital-like place. I don’t know what its being a hospital had to do with anything. I had a sense of belonging, as if I worked there or something. I also sort of lived there, as if it was the whole world, hallways and lights and doors and shiny floors.

I was aware that I had a choice to make. There were two men who wanted to marry me, and I had not yet said yes to either one. It wasn’t a stressful thing, but rather pleasant.

One of my suitors was a young, kind of dorky guy. I don’t remember much about him other than a kind of sweet, inept dweebishness. Thick, rumpled brown hair, glasses and an earnest expression, now that I think of it. He had a puppyish youthful energy going for him.

While I was walking down a long hallway, the other gentleman came striding up behind me. My perspective was through the curtain of my long bangs hanging in my eyes. They were kind of annoying me. The other guy was… wait for it… Sean Connery. I kid you not. He looked dashingly craggy with salt-and-pepper hair, mature yet virile, still completely magnetic. Say, Medicine Man era. He didn’t have a ponytail, though.

SEAN CONNERY, 1962 - ADVERTISING SHOOT FOR SMIRNOFF VODKAI turned to speak to him as he came up alongside me. He saw my face and said, “Now, don’t Sandra Dee me!” I think he was referring to the hair curtain, but I don’t exactly know what he meant, and was puzzled even in the dream. I woke up not even remembering who Sandra Dee was. Googling the name as I write this, I wonder if he was referring to the actress, or the character/song in Grease that I read was inspired by her? And either way, dubya tee eff?

But the accent, oh my. The eyes!

Sir Sean (did you know he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2000?) then set about making his case as the better candidate for marriage (still not kidding). He apparently knew I was worried about his age, and we had a very gracious and lively exchange as he described his excellent qualities as a lover and husband. “I can turn your body in ways…” he said (including the ellipsis), implying some kind of wonderful lovemaking technique, apparently. But it wasn’t icky, truly, he was just very elegantly and passionately lobbying for me to choose him over Dweeboy. He really thought he had a lot to offer me.

Phew. Is it getting warm in here? (Kidding now)

I stumbled on this black and white photo searching for the one above. He didn’t look like that in the dream, but it’s such a cool shot I had to share it anyway.

I woke up before I got to choose between Sir Sean and Dweeb Puppy, but I wasn’t sad at all. Who do you think I ought to have picked?

Spring Tickles

click to view larger versionThe sun-warmed branches of the tree outside my window are festooned with pink buds. I’ve watched them day by day, swelling from tiny bumps on the bare gray branches to adolescent pods bursting with pink petals. The dominant local hummingbird has a favorite branch where he stands guard over the nearby feeder, swaying his head rhythmically in complete absorption with his riotous songs. He’s a thumb-sized tough guy unconcerned with the frilliness of his chosen perch or the over-the-top gaudiness of his iridescent feathers—the Eddie Izzard of hummingbirds.

click to view larger versionSpring’s exuberant pull seems to tug at me too, with a vague, tickly restlessness for I don’t know what. The steep meadows above the house are thickly coated with orange California poppies, lightly peppered with other wildflowers in blue and white. Furry little bees are bumbling gently about in the sky-colored rosemary blossoms, and white lilac thickens the air with a sweet, heady perfume. Life, life, life, expressing jubilantly and calling my name!

click to view larger versionThe intense warmth of the sun, the soft scented breezes, the swiftly lengthening days, the bright blossoms nosing up through tender green grass, it’s all such a shock to the senses coming on so swiftly after the long, scorched fall and the cold dampness of winter. Perhaps I’m hardened to the teasing springtime habits of the Northwest weather gods, where heady warm days in March inspire unwary humans to don lightweight clothing and plan outdoor activities, only to be doused with freezing rain or coated with heavy frosts. Or even sprinkled with snow.

Is there someplace I’m supposed to go? Some appointment I’m late for? Or am I simply a mammal among hordes of other mammals and assorted critters nudged by Nature into doing their spring cleaning, traveling, and flirting like clockwork each year? After our hibernation through the dark of winter, spring trails its glorious, petaled raiment across our senses and tickles us to life and love and new beginnings. Who am I to resist?

Economic Gobbledygook ~ To Grok or Not to Grok

Thank goodness, and David Leonhardt of The New York Times, for this article on the credit crisis.

When the distress in the credit industry began to percolate last summer, I started reading a great deal more financial news than is normally my habit. I’m interested in the issue of consumer credit, having long had some vague unease about the level of consumer indebtedness that the average American carries. Opportunities to go deeply into debt abound, as anyone with an address for credit card offers to flood into can attest. The escalating problems in the credit industry got my attention in an “Oh no! I knew this house-of-borrowed-cards was going to implode sooner or later!” kind of way.

I figured that if I read enough and studied the matter I would be able to follow events and understand them, if only in a broader sense, to help me contribute to prudent decisions regarding our own household spending. Should we purchase a truck with borrowed money or cash, or not at all? Should we continue our usual spending patterns or cut back? At first, I followed along confidently in my reading of the unfolding events. But then I noticed aspects of the deepening crisis I was reading about starting to sound like some kind of made-up language.

Continue reading ‘Economic Gobbledygook ~ To Grok or Not to Grok’ »

My Friendly Bank

When Conal and I moved to San Andreas from Seattle, we wanted to choose a new bank. Our previous bank’s nearest location was an hour’s drive away. We don’t need to physically go to the bank all that often, but often enough to make that long of a drive unappetizing.

Our not-too-terribly scientific manner of choosing from the several banks with San Andreas locations involved walking in to each one, asking for a rundown of services and fees and a brochure, and seeing if we liked the atmosphere of the place. We did actually look at the brochures. A bit. Mostly, we wanted to enjoy our new bank as much as we had enjoyed the Lake Forest Park branch of Washington Mutual, which to us meant evaluating which outfit had the friendliest personalities and atmosphere.

Central State Credit Union won us over with their smiles and warm welcome. At a glance it appeared our accounting needs would be met with their services. We opened our accounts and began the process of moving our primary banking to CSCU.

I do nearly all our banking business online. Bone-headedly, I did not ask to see each bank’s online interface to find out if I would like it before we made our choice. Unfortunately, I did not like CSCU’s account interface very much. But by then, we had already set up our accounts. I figured I’d eventually get used to it.

Well, a few more technical issues popped up, and I considered changing banks again several times. Each time, however, I decided that the amazingly friendly and efficient service I got whenever I had a problem or a question was something that I enjoyed and valued very much.

Then things got really wacky.

Continue reading ‘My Friendly Bank’ »

Home Sweet Wilderness

When I lived in Seattle, I belonged to an outdoor club called The Mountaineers. I got a lot out of my membership, taking courses in mountaineering-oriented first aid, alpine scrambling (off-trail, non-technical climbing), and orienteering, and going to occasional social dances and on lots of group hikes, snowshoes, x-country ski trips, and the like.

The maximum number of people allowed on any given hike was twelve. The hikes I chose usually set out from the trail head with full attendance. I had fun, got to do some things I might not have tried otherwise, and met lots of interesting people. I also discovered that I preferred to spend my precious wilderness time with just one friend or, even better, alone.

A hike with twelve people can’t help but have a social flavor. People chat with each other, meeting for the first time that morning or getting reacquainted with other regulars or old friends. I found that I could enjoy it as a social gathering, but it eventually became clear to me that social connection was not what I went to the mountains for. What I wanted was to melt into the wilderness, to tiptoe through the landscape and keep my eyes peeled for what was going on with the forest and its inhabitants.

Continue reading ‘Home Sweet Wilderness’ »

Cookies Make It All Better

What is it about cookies? Cookies, cookies, cookies. We love them so.

I’ve been massaging a new cookie recipe for a few months, attempting to create a really yummy vegetarian chocolate chip cookie. As usual, none of the recipes I found in my books or online were quite what I was looking for. I wanted to eliminate butter and eggs and refined sugar, as well as white flour.

Wait, what? There is nothing left, you say?! Oh ho! I say not so fast, Cookie Monster (c’mon, you know you are). Observe:

Holly’s Vegetarian Chocolate Chippers


Egg replacer:

  • 3 Tbsp finely ground flax seeds
  • 4 Tbsp water


  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • ¼ c. vital wheat gluten
  • 1 c. finely grated coconut
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt


  • ½ c. corn oil
  • ½ c. honey
  • ¼ c. pure maple syrup
  • ¼ c. dark molasses
  • ¼ c. Florida Crystals natural sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract


  • 1 package Sunspire grain-sweetened chocolate chips
  • ½ c. chopped nuts of your choice (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil two large cookie sheets.

2. Place flax seeds and water in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

3. In a medium sized bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, stir together wet ingredients and the flax seed mixture.

5. Add half the dry ingredients at a time to the wet mixture and blend till just combined.

6. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts or other goodies (if using).

7. Scoop 2 Tbsp portions onto a cookie sheet. The cookies will spread some. Try to keep the chips in toward the center of the dough so the chocolate doesn’t scorch.

8. Bake 15-18 minutes, till desired doneness. Longer baking time will result in crispier edges, but be careful not to over bake. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.

9. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes: 24 cookies


These babies are chewy and yummerific enough to totally satisfy the cookie monster in anyone, so give this recipe a try. Heck, you may want to try it over and over over. Because perfecting a recipe is an excellent excuse to bake a lot of cookies. You know, in the name of science.

Bonus: Eating this dough raw is perfectly safe, since there are no raw eggs to worry about. Just don’t eat *too* much, or you might get a tummy ache anyway!