Monday, May 14, 2007


the last time we went to amsterdam was just about a week ago, when i was responsible for giving the talk at my church. we left early this time so that we would have a chance to walk around the city before the service.

we ended up at de waag, the oldest building in amsterdam which was used at one point in history as a way to protect the city and also to weigh the merchants who were entering amsterdam. it's now a cool restaurant, and we both had croissants and tea. (sorry it's a bad picture of me. it was misty that morning and i was really squinting. i guess they can't all be fabulous though, huh?)

then we had to walk through the red light district in order to get to the dam square, where we had a picnic while looking at the royal palace. it was really weird to walk through the red light district on a sunday morning -- such irreverance! ouch! people wearing costumes, dressed up as monks or nuns, smoking pot and drinking beer first thing sunday morning -- and it wasn't even noon! and prostitutes in windows, almost naked, waving us in on our way to CHURCH! wow! what a strange, ironic experience!
right before we made it into the church, we walked a little ways down the canal just to see what was there. and we saw a plaque on the side of a house saying "here lived john adams, first american ambassador to the netherlands." isn't that amazing? and i was quoting john adams in my talk that day! how cool!

so, on this sunday, i was in charge of the "sermon" at the netherlands unitarian universalist fellowship. NUUF meets on the first sunday of every month at a beautiful old church on the kaisersgracht (king's canal) in amsterdam.

i have been attending a unitarian universalist church for the past several years -- first in boulder and now out here in holland. it is a small congregation of about 15 to 20 people on any given sunday and is about half dutch and half "other" (our president is canadian though i think most "others" are american). the services are in english.

NUUF has been an amazing community for me out here this past year. i first attended in november and felt immediately at home amongst a group of people i had never met. i have continued to attend for most of this year and try not to miss a service since we only meet once a month. so far my favorite service was one dallis presented on what we believe vs. what we say. we were able to break out into a really lovely, organic debate at the end of the talk, still as a part of the service, which was something that my church in boulder was never really (i felt) able to master because of our size as a congregation. i think it's much easier to have a debate and still keep it in the sacred space when the group is small like ours at NUUF -- at UUCB it tends to be still too preachy, one-sided, and uncomfortable for visitors, something that the whole "responses from the gathered people" was meant to avoid.

my talk was about faith. specifically, i've been struck with this idea of faith and uncertainty. it all happened around my 28th birthday, when i was afraid of my "saturn returns" and all the changes that was going to mean for my life. and my life was just fine thank you. i didn't want any changes, but i knew they were coming. and this uncertainty in my heart was really uncomfortable. that's when i either read something or heard something or saw something that stuck in my mind: wherever there is uncertainty, there is room for faith. and i thought to myself, why don't we as UUs talk about faith? why do we always talk about reason? is there room for both in our religion? if so, what would that look like? and that was my talk.
i think it was received well. mostly i say that because at the end, when we broke out into that beautiful organic discussion again, there were some people who were adamantly opposed to using the word "faith" in our identity as UUs (or at least, in their identity as a UU), whereas other people were all for it and felt that it was a nice way to reclaim something that they felt had been claimed by the religious right, of which they did not feel a part. i'm not sure i agree with either side, but it fostered some really good discussion, and some people really felt fired up at the end either for or against what it was i was arguing. and that's what a good UU service should be all about i think.

after the service most of us went to a bar on the rembrandtplein nearby the church and hung out for about an hour or so. the one positive of all this was that i got a chance to meet linda and her amazing children, who are all from seattle. she's a really lovely woman and i felt i could talk to her for hours if we had the time. but also i was sad because the whole point of the outing (for me) was that i wanted to grab a beer so that i could talk to my friend, valerie, who i only get to see on the sundays that i make it out to amsterdam. valerie is changing jobs and is soooo sad to leave her current employment, and i wanted to talk all about it, but as it was starting to rain outside we ended up all sitting inside and in the rush to grab a seat she and i ended up at different tables. sad. also, i ended up being disappointed because the conversation turned hurtful towards different groups of people: mormons, jehovah's witnesses, republicans, christians, and that made me sad too. but what upset me the most was that i did not have the courage to speak up and call people out on their hurtful language which was so obviously unUU. i'm really ashamed of myself, and i am going to consciously work harder at speaking truth and standing up, even if it means being unpopular or misunderstood. it was really inappropriate some of the things coming out of their mouths, but even more inappropriate of me not to say anything. staying silent in a hurtful conversation is bad, but what's worse is recognizing an injustice and not having the courage to break your silence.
but anyway, i think it was a good day all in all, and i'll be going back in june because i told wopke and saskia that i would sing a solo for the service. plus, it's a good excuse to get my butt to amsterdam. and i am grateful for my church and am excited about the friendships i have made out there, and i want to keep that going.

Friday, May 11, 2007

we're in the newspaper!

i forgot to mention this in our last post, but we were in the
  • brabant newspaper!

  • there was a journalist walking around on koninginnedag taking people's pictures and then giving them his business card so that they could find their photo on the paper's website. this was taken of us right before the queen showed up at the river.


    Thursday, May 10, 2007


    konininnedag, or queen's day, is on 30 april. it all started when queen wilhelmina (the current queen's grandmother) decided that since she was queen, it would be just fabulous to give everyone the day off so they could celebrate with her. originally konininnedag was on 31 august, since that was wilhelmina's birthday, but when queen juliana assumed the throne about 50 years ago, she moved it to 30 april. the current queen, beatrix, has her birthday sometime in january. and since january is such a gross month to have a birthday in, and since she's queen, she gets to celebrate her birthday also on 30 april. (who said there's anything wrong with having two birthdays?)

    on konininnedag, the royal family visits one city and one village in holland. this year the city was s' hertogenbosch, ("den bosch" to the locals), which means "the duke's forest" (hertog = duke, bosch = forest or woods). it's a gorgeous town about 30 minutes' drive from utrecht. the story about the city has something to do with the spaniards, who captured it several hundred years ago. they apparently built a series of waterways around the city turning it into an island of sorts. anyway the dutch took two years to claim it back, and they way they did it was to build all these dykes and then pump the water out of the moats and canals so that they could have access to the city. they held it for three months or so before the city finally had to surrender. anyway, it is a very catholic part of the country, in part thanks to the spanish who controlled this area for such a long time, so for many many years the queen did not visit this area on koninginnedag because she was protestant and "not welcome" here. times have changed, thank goodness, and now the people come out in hoards and droves to catch a glimpse of their queen b.

    we celebrated with hans and tiny's family, who were all AWESOME. totally, wonderfully cool. we met them at their house and sat out in their achtertuin in the warm sunshine, doing typically dutch things. we drank some sort of really sweet, really gross orange liqueur out of tiny glasses and said "op de koningin!" "to the queen!" then we ate tompouce, which is like a really fancy twinkie but much much better, with orange frosting on top. and then we watched clips of prince willem alexander and princess maxima's wedding on tv. and then, finally at noon, we ended up making it down to the river to see the queen.

    the queen arrived almost on schedule on a big, shiny, black bus. then she descended some stairs down to a boat on the river. hans and tiny's granddaughter, rosa, who is about 6 years old, got the special opportunity to sing songs for the queen with her school group, also on a boat near the queen. i mention this because jim, 2 years old, was WAY more excited to see his sister rosa than to see the queen. and who could blame him? he's never met the queen before! what does he care? the whole time we were down by the river, people were cheering and waving to the queen, while little jim kept shouting "rosa! rosa! waar is rosa? ik wil rosa!" how loving and adorable.

    after we saw the queen get on the boat, we walked through the streets of den bosch, down to the town hall where we would be able to see her again. along the way, we passed a lingerie shop that had a mannequin wearing a really cool crown on her head in celebration of queen's day. well, i had been looking for that particular crown all of queen's night and day since i had seen a couple of other people wearing hats like that, so i walked in and asked if i could just buy the crown from them. they looked at each other with confused faces, because the hat was clearly not for sale and the dutch do like to follow their rules. if the hat is not for sale, you can't just buy it. that's not the way we do it here, i guess. but i said, please, queen's day is over tomorrow and i really want that hat. i'll give you money for it. they said something to each other in dutch and then told me that i could just have it! yay! so i finally got my sweet sweet crown! mijn kroontje!

    we finally got to the town hall ("stadhuis") about 45 minutes before queen b did. it was packed already. and because the dutch are all so freaking tall (did you know that they are the tallest country in europe?), i could hardly see. but i ended up getting a couple good pics of the royal family. the queen is in the red hat on the left, and the tall guy is the next king, prince willem alexander. (incidentally, his birthday is 27 april, so queen's day won't be so far off, but they'll probably have to change the name.)

    after the festivities, which included really beautiful paper fireworks, we walked to a bar in the neighborhood and partied. and partied. and partied. the streets were just packed with people celebrating. i got my picture taken with some really famous dutch soap opera star that i had never heard of before and don't know his name. i said, "you're famous here i guess." and he said, "yeah, a little." i guess it was a day of being really excited about people i've never met before in my life. i'm so weird.

    i think one of the most fun parts of my day was playing with faye (4) and rosa. neither of them know english, though rosa knew enough english to count to ten. very cool. but rosa and i had a whole conversation about the tooth fairy for like half an hour. it was soooo wonderful for so many reasons: one, she doesn't know english, so i HAVE TO find the right dutch word and can't rely on her to help me out. two, she's learning dutch too so she doesn't have a lot of big words either. three, i don't feel self conscious talking to her because she's just a kid. and four, she's just a kid! that's so fun! anyway, our conversation went something like this:

    me: rosa, waar zijn jouw tanden? (where are your teeth?)
    rosa said something like "they fell out." but then showed me her adult teeth coming in.

    me: in amerika, waneer jouw tanden komt uit je mond, dan de "tooth fairy" komt en gibt je geld! hebben jullie een toothfairy in nederland? (we have a tooth fairy in the usa and she gives you money when your teeth fall out, do you have one here?)
    rosa: ja! en waneer mijn tanden komt uit, de tandenfee gibt me oorbellen en een zaklamp. (she got earrings and a flashlight from the toothfairy.)

    i didn't know what a zaklamp was (and i don't even know if that's the right word anymore but it's a good guess) so i asked her and she had to pantomime it out. and then i learned it. how cool.

    we caught the train despite the pleading from joyce and saskia to stay, stay, let's drink some more, the night is so early! we got home about 8:30 and just slept. the dutch say that if you want to truly celebrate queen's day, you ask for the day AFTER queen's day off, and now i know why!


    okay, sorry it's been a while. we've been crazybusy and are finally just getting around to blogging about koninginnenacht. (try saying that 5 times fast! ko-ning-in-ne-nacht. whew! it's just easier to say "queen's night."

    as i understand it, queen juliana (the previous queen of holland) had a birthday on 30 april. and, being that she was a queen, she decided to have the entire country throw her a fabulous birthday party and granted everyone the day off. which means that the night before her birthday, since everyone has the day off the next day, all of holland goes out and gets crazy. iedereen gaan gek! it's one of the biggest party nights of the year, and they go all.night.long. insane.

    adam's colleague, hans, has been trying to get us to come out to utrecht (where he lives) for quite some time. but since my job has very little flexibility (read: i can't "work from home") it's difficult to find the time. anyway, he invited us to come out and spend the night at his and his wife's place in downtown utrecht on koninginnenacht. it was a chance we couldn't pass up! but seeing as how i was supposed to work the next day, i didn't know if we'd be able to make it out. i ended up getting the day off by explaining to my supervisor that experiencing queen's night and queen's day would be a great way for me to learn more about dutch culture and history. (the dutch LOVE IT when you say things like that. it worked.)

    so, on sunday we took the train out to utrecht to meet hans and tiny (pronounced teenie) at their gorgeous home just minutes from the center of utrecht, one of the prettiest towns in holland.

    we went out to eat at a fun little indian place that was right on the canal. how cool! the canal used to be part of the rhine river and the romans used it as a major trading route. about 1000 years ago they just apparently moved the river. we don't quite know what that means, but the dutch are always moving rivers, and they just decided to move the rhine. so the canal was left over. it still drains into the rhine, but isn't considered part of the rhine anymore. whatever. that's so weird.

    after dinner we walked through the city to experience the vrijmarkt, which means literally "free market." it's the only time of year that anyone can sell anything on nearly any street. it's a veritable yard sale, with everyone in the country selling just about anything you can imagine. shoes, hats, furniture, handmade jewelry, broken old toys, glasses of wine, electronics, crap, junk, and miscellani. it was so weird/fun/cool. the streets were PACKED, as in sometimes you were walking down the street and then all of a sudden you'd just be stopped cuz the crowd couldn't move anymore and then there you were, just waiting for there to be some sort of surge again. exhausting, but for only a couple of hours it was kinda cool. i was really impressed with tiny, who would just barrel through the crowds as if she owned the place. she'd say, "okay! i'm crossing the street to see that church! follow me!" and we'd all think she was insane and about to get crushed by the crowd, and then you'd see the back of her head charging ahead, not being pushy, but not being pushed around either. and then she'd be on the other side, a big smile on her face, just waiting patiently for the rest of us paranoid people to join her. she's so cool.

    we made it back around 11 or midnight i think and crashed hard. we slept really comfortably in their ginormous library filled from floor to ceiling with philosophy books and pictures of grandbabies. the next day we took off to s' hertogenbosch to see the queen on koninginnedag.