Same Story, Different Day: A Sermonette

This is taken from Rabbi Ruttenberg’s Twitter feed. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is a writer and thinker T follows on Twitter.

We’ve seen this story before.
We seen this story before, when Pharaoh looked at the Israelite people and saw that they were “too numerous,” that they posed a demographic problem for his power, and decided that the solution was to oppress them.

We’ve seen this story before.

And, when even oppression didn’t work and he realized that the real way to terrorize a population was to go after their children. Yocheved hid the baby Moses from Pharoah’s army just as Jewish parents hid their children from the Gestapo, just as parents right now are hiding their children from ICE.

We’ve seen this story before.

We’ve seen this story before in this week’s Torah portion, when the Moabite king Balak saw the Israelites running fleeing persecution, saw them in the midbar–the wilderness, the liminal place–between danger and safety and he said, “they will lick us clean.” When he used dehumanizing language–they are so numerous that they “hide the earth from view” in order to justify what he was going to do next.

We’ve seen this story before.

So Balak goes to the seer, the prophet Balaam and demand that he curse the people. Balak doesn’t care what happens to them, he just wants them cursed, gone, no mater how they suffer. But after a series of surprising events, Balaam doesn’t curse the people Israel–he blesses them. And there’s this moment in the middle of all this blessing when he turns to face the wilderness, this limbo, this howling void between danger and safety.

He sees them camped in their tents. He probably sees families together, children and parents, maybe children playing, maybe groups of friends, maybe couples in love. He sees a people, vulnerable and frightened, yearning to breathe free. He sees them. The seeing and the blessing are intertwined. When he opens his eyes & heart to behold the Israelites’ beautiful, holy selves, created in the image of God, he is able to bless them. When we open our eyes to see the full humanity of others, we are able to bless them. And when we bless–when we give over of ourselves to others, when we offer something holy and true to another–we also expand our capacity to see them. When we look to see, we can bless. When we bless, we can better see.

This fight is going to be long.

We’ve seen this story before.

And we know that the Bible–regardless of what Jeff Sessions says–stands on the side of liberation. We know that the Bible stands on the side of the oppressed. We know that the Bible stands for safety and hope for all. And we know that the Bible demands that we take risks in the pursuit of justice.

This fight will demand a lot of different tactics.

The midwives–Shifrah & Puah–in Egypt engaged in strategic civil disobedience in order to protect oppressed human beings.

Pharaoh’s daughter leveraged her privilege & access in order to protect oppressed human beings.
God used God’s power and might in order to get the Israelites out of Egypt, in order to protect oppressed human beings.

And Balaam looked.

Balaam turned to see. He opened his eyes and his heart, accessed empathy, caring, concern in order to protect oppressed human beings.

We need to do all of these things.
The hour is upon us.
We need to be brave in our resistance.
We need to use all of our privilege and access.
We need to use all of our power and might.
And we need to open our eyes and hearts.

As we fight to create a world that is equitable and just, we must also create a world of caring and connection, of empathy and love. We must never forget to look, and to see.

We’ve seen the story of oppression before, but we’ve also seen the story of liberation before.

We’ve seen this story before.

And we know that we can create a world based on justice, and caring, and empathy, and liberation, and love.

Overcome evil with good… don’t let it drown you. You’ve seen this story before, and every time, good wins.

Plums Galore!

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Plums. They are … determined? Obstinate? Persistent? Annoying?

Yes.

We have several quarts of unripe plum paste. We have several gallons of unripe plum pickles. We have several more gallons of ripe plum paste. We. Are. Tired. Of. Plums.

We will, however, be making some plum pickles, and some plum jam, and maybe some other things. Made of plums. Lots and lots of Santa Rosa plums. Which keep falling off of the tree, and demanding to be picked up so as not to have wasps, etc.

Plums.

Pineapple

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I like to take some awfully strange photos, but this one… is sort of a photo of a strange photo. What’s puzzling is the absolute prominence of the pineapple. Why should there be a pineapple there, in the bottom left, and were pineapples even grown in Brazil, etc.?

“As the Enlightenment period made the rich richer, the landed aristocracy began to engage in a frenzy of new hobbies, including gambling, boozing, and time-consuming, expensive pineapple cultivation. Pineries needed care around the clock, custom-built greenhouses, and mountains of coal to keep the temperatures high. The fruit took three to four years to bloom. The cost of rearing each one was equivalent to eight thousand dollars in today’s money.”

The Strange History of the “King-Pine” hints as to the answers to those questions… while bringing up innumerable more questions. Definitely worth reading the article for the strange history.

– D

Oh, WoW … or, Why We Pack Snacks

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The return journey from The Netherlands was a truly epic trip, and not by design. The initial flight from Amsterdam to Keflavic was delayed arriving, so we spent an extra 2 hours sitting around Schiphol Airport (which … is not a great airport, frankly, and the cheap flight terminal is positively horrible). That flight was then delayed further because they’d mis-loaded a bag and had to remove it before we could take off. All of that meant that the flight was around 3 hours delayed arriving into Keflavic and most people weren’t staying there but were traveling onwards. So, the airline bumped the two flights most people were trying to catch (to LAX and SFO). That meant that the connecting flight had to find a new slot into SFO, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Netherlands 2018 1239 This meant we ended up sitting around Keflavic for 8 hours instead of 1.5. Then, as we were ready to leave Keflavic, 6 people had given up and booked alternate flights, but left their luggage, so THAT luggage had to be dug out from where it had been loaded. Then, finally, we had the 8.5 hour flight from Keflavic to SFO. By this time our booked shuttle had canceled on us, so we caught a 40 minute Lyft ride home. All told, we left our rented flat in Amsterdam something like 27 hours before we arrived home, having planned for something like half that.

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We did end up purchasing food in Keflavic (which … is horribly expensive, and we’ll be putting in a claim for reimbursement, because spending nearly $100 on a couple sandwiches, some yogurt, and some drinks … is rather obscene). But, mostly, we ate our own sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and choices from an assortment of weird Dutch candy (mostly minty, some fruity, and included the random salty licorice). We also packed sliced apples (packed with sliced oranges, so the juice would keep them from going brown) and fresh cherries, knowing that wet and crunchy things are really what’s needed while in the air. Of course, we also packed our 1.5 liter water bottles & filled them at every opportunity.

Traveling like this (with our own food) may have begun as an effort to save money, traveling on budget airlines. Now, though, it’s just how we do things, and something we’ll keep on doing when we switch back to more mainstream air carriers. Which … we’ll be doing.

This is likely the last time we’ll fly with WoW, simply because it was so clumsily handled, and there were so many small problems along the way. WoW scores the worst in service, as well, which … yeah, we can see it. At times, sitting in Keflavic, we asked ourselves whether we were seeing the collapse of an airline, and whether we’d end up trapped in Iceland, having to book last minute tickets out on another carrier. That isn’t a feeling we’d like to repeat any time soon, and the extra $1,000 to fly with a reputable carrier would probably have saved us 15 hours of stressful sitting around.

We will leave you with this, from the Delft organ guy: yes, that is Despacito, played organ-grinder style.

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-D & T

Exit Signs

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You know you’ve been on vacation just that little bit too long when you’re contemplating rearranging the furniture in your rental. When you’ve been there long enough to be grumpy that there aren’t pans for baking, and you begin to start to examine real estate. Usually, one feels like vacations don’t last long enough, and that there’s not enough time to see friends and see the countryside, but this one was just long enough to see both, and wish to either stay forever, or go home.

We got to go out to Gemert to see friends one last time. T. has been challenged by a six year old to say her alphabet and count to an hundred in Dutch, so that’s her new life goal, so she can win a contest she had no idea she was entering (it is already uneven, since this child has Dutch in school, and has a more elastic brain. This is not going to go well). Mr. S. offered to introduce D. to his bosses, should he ever want a job here, and he will hold that lovely thought in stupid meetings where he’s annoyed with his current position. We will both hold the memory of the beautifully green countryside close, as we return home and summer bleaches the hills golden blonde.

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Our last full day was an Event, as the Market was in full swing again, and the organ grinder, of course, was back, playing TV theme songs and Beatles tunes. We ate at a bagel restaurant that had vegetarian options on the menu… as well as… bugs. No, really. For a bagel topping, you can get mealworms and crickets with your cream cheese instead of …jam? It was startling, to say the least… maybe next time. (Or, maybe never?)

After taking a gander at all of the things on offer, we visited an old-fashioned apothecary (for mosquito cures again) and met a New Zealander who has lived in Delft for twenty years – and her accent hasn’t budged a bit. We also met a woman from Edinburgh… who chased us down in the middle of the market because she was nosy enough to want to know why T was carrying a Macsween’s Haggis bag (which we got it in Scotland for groceries). We ran into a group of school kids on a huge scavenger hunt, and snagged our first cherries of the season! All in all, a good ending to a memorable trip.

And, then, of course, our exit flight was delayed, and our connecting hour and a half layover in Keflavik was delayed FIVE EIGHT HOURS. Apparently hurricane season, or something, has thrown storms along the path, and every single flight in this airport is delayed. The people trying to get to Texas have been here for EIGHT TWELVE HOURS, so we can’t complain. Much. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Here’s hoping they’ll announce our gate shortly.

… Happy Travels,

D&T

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Blocking Website Stupidity

If you’re someone who cleans up after your mess (i.e., you clear your browser cookies) then you’ll run into these irritating messages every time you visit a site and they’ve forgotten that they nagged you (because they don’t actually remember anything – they make your browser remember things for them, in cookies, and you can remove those memories any time you choose … like, when you shut down your browser). These messages would look like the huge waste of space banner, shown here taking up most of the page:

I hate these. They do not add anything, and they make you decide something you’d rather not decide. When I visit a page, I’m trying to read something, and I do not expect to be challenged to evaluate their privacy policy. Sites bank on this – they’re betting that you’ll just say OK and move on, without really considering what you’re agreeing to. Well, there’s a way around it (and it’s good to do anyway, honestly): install uBlock Origin and learn to use the wee eyedropper tool to select the garbage you never want to see again. I click the little shield in the top right of the window, then click the eyedropper, then click on the offensive piece of the page. I then work my way down the list of elements until I get the container that’s holding the garbage (in this case it’s a site-message container) and then simply tell it to go away.

It’s easy to do, takes fewer mental resources than looking at whatever idiotic policy they’re trying to get you to agree to, and it will persist even after you clear your cookies.

You do clear your cookies, right?

-D

“There Are More Important Concerns.”

“Travel makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world” – Gustave Flaubert

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Well, it was bound to happen. The first text message a week ago was just a little crack in the wall, as some eager beaver just had to tell D of exciting news from the office… and now today D has had to take a teleconference so that he can give his two cents on some whatever vendor tool for blah, blah, blah. The seal is broken, and the wall is crumbling. T is tallying the number of times D’s work mates have no boundaries and interrupt his well-earned and desperately needed vacation. She imagines kicking them smartly in the shins for each infraction.

(D worries when she gets on this topic, because he knows T, despite appearances to the contrary, is still somewhat feral and might actually tell them she’s imagined kicking them… while shifting her weight to one foot… But, we digress.)

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Now that the vultures are circling and we can see the end of our trip just a few days down the pike, T has put on her junior sociologist’s hat and continued to process some of the things we’ve observed throughout our travels in this intriguing country (and from living in Scotland).

Twenty days in a country doesn’t exactly give scope for a deep dive into its society, but because we’ve lived abroad before, it’s easier to have a basis for comparison. Now, we’re fond of our home state and the benefits it has given us – and we love air conditioning, garbage disposals, public libraries and window screens — all things Europe commonly does not have. — BUT sometimes, American attitudes and ways of looking at things leave something to be desired.

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The interesting differences in attitude we’ve observed between countries is this idea of being The Best. The Netherlands is an amazing, brilliant country… and they don’t go on about it. In Scandinavia, there are national social mores about humility and modesty. The “best” is something perhaps children strive for; while adults, in contrast, just seem content to get on with things. Maybe it’s just that lately the national conversation has become steeped in empty superlatives – “greatest” “most” “best” – maybe it just seems like this blabbing about how awesome we are is new, but it’s not, really. To a certain extent, there’s always been an attitude of competitive striving – that “pursuit of happiness” which came from an adolescent nation determined to prove to a parental kingdom that it wasn’t just some rebellious kid going off on their own. We never intended to come crawling back to Mama England, and that bullheaded stubbornness has informed a lot of the flavor of our country. Ironically, those with the most privilege in this nation still struggle to recognize it because there’s a sense of deserving more, which causes so many a deep unhappiness — even as indigenous, Black, and people of color still haven’t yet achieved equality — but that’s clearly a topic for another blog post.

Netherlands 2018 163“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things — air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

In contrast, in the Netherlands, there’s less an attitude of competition here than there is of normalcy. There is a phrase here about “just do the normal,” thus the word that crops up a lot in conversation is “typical Dutch x,” or “typical Dutch Y.” People believe that they are basically all about the same, and that “normal” is basically weird enough, and there’s no need to be seriously eccentric or try to stand out from the crowd… which flows right into another Netherlands phrase we’ve heard often on this trip, when the conversation has turned to deeper matters in terms of industry, religion, and politics: “There are more important concerns.”

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There are bigger stories; more important fish to fry. DB’s mother said it frequently, when speaking of religions reacting to gendering (churches are sluggish about inclusivity), or issues surrounding healthcare (she’s a physician). SC’s neighbor said it in passing when speaking of how the children in her daughter’s elementary school interacted. In almost every situation where our societal inclination would be to harp on a point or insist on clarification, explanation, or agreement, the reaction we’ve observed is for people to sit back and remark that there are more important things to worry about. Normal, after all, is weird enough.

This idea is kind of fascinating.

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We thought we understood about people kind of having a live-and-let-live attitude from living in the UK, but honestly, Scots are rather opinionated and are quite free with their opinions. (Just get into a cab once and have the driver tell you that you’re wasting his time and could have walked where you needed to go. THAT’s always fun when you’re lost.) We’re told that the Dutch are, too, but rather than air that opinion in an insistent way, apparently once they get to know you, they’ll simply put it out there and go on. If there’s disagreement, the opposing opinion is just put out there, and people go on. It’s not as if people don’t argue – but there has just seemed to be less of a competition for who has the last word. It’s interesting.

Maybe it’s that we’re still guests in all of the places we’ve been, and they’re just listening to us go on. Maybe they’re all secretly laughing at us. Who knows? Maybe there really are more important concerns, and they’re away getting on with them. And, so we will, too.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

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A Walk Through the Clouds (of Mosquitoes)

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When we arrived in the Netherlands, it was vilely, disgustingly hot — far hotter here than it was at home, much to our horror, with ninety percent humidity. Ughhhhhhhhhh. We hadn’t packed any shorts and had instead come prepared for the ubiquitous liquid sunshine of Holland – with flannel and wool, long sleeves and trousers. Hats. Umbrellas. We were, after all, in the land of endless rain. Netherlands 2018 887 Holland, tricky beast that it is, completely changed the game on us, and the resulting heat wave awakened The Swarm. We are as covered with mosquito bites as if we’d gone to summer camp, and it’s kind of ridiculous. There’s not much air conditioning outside of the bigger cities, and there’s not much call for it (most people we spoke with would prefer something useful like, oh, disposals. Don’t get expatriates talking about what they miss from the U.S. – somehow a garbage disposal is always at the top of the list. Anyway). Worse, because many of the buildings are older, the windows are unusual sizes and it’s hard – and expensive – to have them fitted for screens.

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So, no AC, and no screens, and a heat wave. If we lived here, we’d get some duct tape and a roll of mosquito netting or something! Fortunately, our rented apartment came with a big fan and a portable AC, and we did the best we could to keep the air moving. We had a few bites in Delft, but the further out into the woods and countryside we got, the worse it got. T walked, um, briskly through the woods, in hopes of keeping them off, but D loves his photography, and standing stock still to get just the perfect shot drew them to him, poor thing. He had eighteen bites in one afternoon, and then, to save his sanity, stopped counting. Still – he believes it was really worth it for some of the gorgeous pictures he got. Mostly. Maybe.


After we spent time with DB’s parents, they got a feel for who we were – or, really, who D is – and so DB’s Dad took us on a spur-of-the-moment walk to a place called Waterloopbos Marknesse in Flevoland.

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D often enjoys taking visitors to the SF Bay Area to Sausalito, to see the Army Corps of Engineers hydraulic model of the SF Bay. This model was used to predict what would happen to the Bay lands if some bright soul did X to this channel or Y to this River, and in the early 1950’s, it actually saved people a lot of money and loss of income (and possibly life) before they had computers do hydrology studies of this kind. Well, in the Netherlands, a place with a LOT of water and a lot of folks relying on engineers to keep them on dry land, Dutch water engineers were asked to do these same types of studies, not just for their own country, but for other nations. (You’ll have to click through to our Flickr page to see more.) Netherlands 2018 1132 Instead of enclosing their tidal model in a building, however, in the 1950’s Dutch engineers simply took almost three hundred acres (120 hectares) of polder forest – land reclaimed from the sea, but, in this case, too wet to use for agriculture – and built a wave machine and various locks to raise and lower the level of the water… to create artificial harbors. According to a rough translation of one of the signs: “…the ports of Vlissingen, Ijmuiden, Scheveningen (in the Netherlands), and abroad those of Lagos (Nigeria), Beirut (then Syria) and Marsa-el-Bregha (Libya) were recreated in the polder. Over the years, scale models have been built on 36 construction sites in the forest. In total, some 200 assignments from the Netherlands and abroad have been carried out.”

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It’s amazing, and a ‘rijksmonument’ – a national monument – now. The whole two-and-a-half mile area where the models are is half-swallowed by the forest. It really looks like ruins – and it is dead quiet in there, though that may have been because there were no guides out on the late Sunday we were there, so there were fewer families out and about. We walked the (3.42 km) two mile loop, examining the signs (which are in Dutch, of course) which told us which harbor was being recreated to study what the wave machine or locks were meant to do with the water. It was kind of mind-blowing that all of this was put together before computers… and then, in 1970, as the digital age overcame it, was simply abandoned, as faster ways to study the world came along. The multiple, detailed models prove why the Netherlands mastered living in a watery land.

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We were a little disappointed that most of the locks were padlocked so that we couldn’t turn on the wave machine or raise/lower the water levels, but we did manage to clamber around and affect a few things. Mostly we were glad we didn’t fall in (it’s not too terribly deep, maybe, but some of it is rather still, and packed with …squiggling things), as it really was a “spur of the moment” two mile hike we took… on the way to the train station. After that, we had to hurry through heavy traffic and change trains three times to get back to Delft before it got too dark. Still – mosquito bites and all – it was worth it.

Hunebedden & Goat Horns

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It’s funny how easy it is to slip into being “one of the kids” in a big family. After church and lunch with DB’s folks, we all crammed into her Dad’s big van and went on the traditional after-church hike. They drove us out to Megalithic era burial mounds called ‘dolmens,’ or, in Dutch, hunebedden (they’re literally translated as “giant beds,” as the old Dutch word for ‘giant’ is ‘huyne’). These artifacts at Hunebedcentrum are a lot like a shorter Stonehenge, and were dug up/placed between 3400-2850 BC, making them older than the pyramids in Egypt. Probably because no one went haring off to The Netherlands to dig up antiquities (and basically enslave the people), they’ve been largely left alone (there are something like fifty-four of them in the whole country), except by the Germans during WWII – they wanted an airfield, so they dug them up and moved them, displacing the sand and artifacts inside of them…

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Aaaand, shortly afterward, the Dutch moved them back.

Anyway. The sign said that archaeologists call the people who built them the Funnel Beaker culture, because they left funnel-shaped beakers and pitchers in the grave below, but obviously you don’t get to see all of that.

It was an interesting trek to the dolmen – through a rather dry type of woods and kind of dune-land outside of a farmland (there were roaming bands of sheep, dogs, and an actual shepherd). Netherlands 2018 980 We noticed that the ground underfoot was wet, because it had rained, but it wasn’t horribly sticky, because it was…sandy. And yet again we were reminded that The Netherlands has an awful lot of low-lying land that is near or below sea level. There was a lot of interesting wildlife to see on the trail – aside from the 900 varieties of birds and the gigantinormous mosquitoes and dragonflies, there were a lot of beetles that at first appeared black, but turned out to be a sort of iridescent blue. Netherlands 2018 975 There were numerous tangles of blackberry brambles along the trail, bushes full of what our hosts called “red berries” (red currants) and honeysuckle vines. The trees and bushes were totally different from the types of vegetation we’d gotten used to just a couple of hours away in Delft. And yes, this concludes the Pathfinder/Scout badge portion of this trip… if you end up hiking in another country, you’ll get excited about the flowers/trees/bugs too. (Have we mentioned that this country has storks? Giant, long-legged storks in huge nests up on poles in the middle of the towns… and really long-eared bunnies…? Okay, okay, fine. Enough with the wildlife.)


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It’s hard to know what to say about Giethoorn. It was settled by a bunch of peat farmers and fisherman. A 10th century flood revealed a great many goat horns (gietehorens) in the area, thus its goat-y name. It’s basically an old settlement in the middle of peat islands, and the only solid land is where the houses are… the rest is all floating reeds, bridges (about 170 of them in a tiny village with less than three thousand people) and …water. So much water.

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It’s beautiful and quaint, and still. That peat is protected land now and the reeds used to thatch the roofs is also grown in the area, and there’s a certain kind of boat called a Giethoorn punter that is made specifically for that area (punters are poled through the canals by a person standing up and in the back, someone has another pole going in circles as the rudder. Local kids are able to do the whole thing BY THEMSELVES; you can tell the tourists because it takes three people to make the boat move). It’s a cozy and gorgeous place… if you get there early enough. If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of tour boats with loudspeakers, hordes of visiting families who are quite sure they can drive an electric boat (only residents are allowed access to the speed provided by gas engines), badly paddled canoes, hordes of cyclists, people shoving cameras into every open doorway, and residents just trying to get on with their daily lives. Oh, and also, a lot of ducks.

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It’s a tiny place, but also huge, in a way. There are something like ninety kilometers – or about fifty-five miles – worth of roads in this small village, and they’re all water roads… so there’s plenty of place to take a boat… and run it into the shore, or up onto the reeds, or tip it over… yeah, you get the idea. It must be such a lovely place to live outside of tourist season… but much of time time, “tourist season” only stops for rain and snow. Fortunately, it rains a lot… we couldn’t imagine living with that level of scrutiny. It was like Disneyland, only the homes of the people were what everyone gawked at constantly. We were lucky, because DB has both worked for a boat tour company and her brother attended primary school in the village, so they know tons of people there, and could skillfully slide us through behind the scenes. Netherlands 2018 1022 We visited a mineral museum called De Oude Aarth (The Old Earth) and were surprised to find they had small crocodiles (!) and a ton of really great rocks – huge pieces of amethyst and petrified wood sourced from all over the world. There was a museum shop which had many pieces used as furniture – how’d you like a twenty-three thousand Euro table made of a gorgeous slab of petrified wood? Or an end table made up entirely of amethyst? (Someone wanted it; it was marked as sold.) For all the misery of having so many tourists dropping by, clogging up the waterway every weekend, at least businesses seem to be doing well!

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But the most fun thing for us was traveling back to DB’s house, up the quiet canal and pulling up to the back of her house again. Her little brother explained to us that kids in the Netherlands get boat licenses at the age of 12, and are expected to not exceed certain speeds until they’re eighteen and have a full license to move through the waterways. The level of freedom and responsibility is really different – we observed families with a high level of communication between old and young and a lot of respect and compromise on both sides. It was really interesting to compare and contrast it to American families.

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We have a lot of preconceptions about how things are “supposed” to go, how people are “supposed” to act. As Americans, it’s important to remember that we come from a judgmental Puritan past, and that it is where we get a lot of the ideas about society. We have a lot of “shoulds” we tend to put on other people, and it’s not good. This trip has been a reminder about not judging other culture and people, and instead observing and keeping our mouths closed. The quality of life in Europe is one of the most highly regarded in the world… and the people we’ve seen seem happy and content, even though they’re not the richest or the most successful in some ways. We’ve closely observed two host families and done a lot of thinking… and there’s something to be said sometimes for doing things NOT the American way. It’s something to think about.

-D & T