Nath Knits

and should probably be doing something else.


Enschede Part 1 – Days 4 – 7


(Full photo set for this post can be found here)

We’re in Enschede, the Netherlands.  We got here Friday afternoon and will be here until Thursday sometime.

First things first, and I didn’t know this before, Holland =/= The Netherlands.  Here’s why.  Now you know too!

We took an overnight ferry from England to the Netherlands.  But first, we had to get to the dock.  This was trickier than it may sound.  For some context, let’s take Toronto (which, until now, is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in until last week).  I’ve successfully, and without much difficulty, navigated Toronto’s two-line subway system home from work during rush hour.   Sure, it’s busy, but you can get on the subway you want without too much fuss.

The London Underground has 13 lines.  And a whole lot more people getting out of downtown at rush hour.  And people paid to carry paddles to be used as crowd control to prevent people from being crushed into the subway train when it arrives at the station.  It was insane!  We had taken the overland train from Charlton, like we’d done the day before, to London Bridge.  And then we got on our first subway.  That was busy, but manageable.  We got to the second subway, and one bunch of people got on, and there were more people that didn’t get on yet, and more people were piling up behind me, and I was carrying a giant backpack, and I was worried about the four of us getting on, so I decided unilaterally that we’d walk to the last station.  Which was far better, but heavy  (see giant backpack) and still pretty crowded.  Anyway, we just made our train to Harwich by about 2 minutes.  That train took us to Manningtree, and we changed to a train to Horwich.

Except for the subway, all of it was better than riding Via Rail.  All of it.

We boarded the Ferry, which turned out to be huge!  Turns out, there are something like 520 rooms on it.  If you’re into boats, and your Dutch isn’t too rusty, you can see it here.  The rooms were pretty comfy, though unsurprisingly tiny.  And I thought I’d be all claustrophobic in a tiny room on a giant rocking boat, but the boat was so big that you couldn’t feel it moving (only when it was backing up out of the dock).  The only trouble was that, while it let us board at 20:30, it left at 23:30 (which is actually 00:30, Holland time).  And the boat docks at 7:45 (Holland time).  They kindly provide you with a boat-wide wake up call at 6:30.  Makes for a short night.  In the morning, we woke up the kids (Vorlon was unimpressed) so that they could see us dock.

Waiting for Gopher


Zebula and I shared this room. She got the top bunk. It sucks being the grown-up.

Rotterdam, off in the distance. It’s really flat here.

Another train took us to Rotterdam.  Then another to Enschede.  Well, most of the way.  Part of the railway is under construction, so there’s a bus that picks up rail passengers and takes them to the Enschede station.

Again, all of it is better than Via Rail.

So far, Enschede’s been nice.  I can, and probably will, write an entire blog post about the bikes.  The centre, and older, part of the town is where many shops and restaurants are concentrated.  While many people do live there, there’s a whole, newer, bigger part of town that we haven’t had much of a chance to see.

The spire of the Grote Kerk (Big Church) in the middle of Enschede

It’s like this *everywhere*!

I realize the irony of the fact that the only entirely visible sign is in Italian.

The food is… ok.  Nothing stellar yet.   They like hamburgers here.  And mayonnaise.  And sweet things.  The kids have been digging the hagelslag.  They’re basically sprinkles for toast. Usually chocolate (though they come in licorice and vanilla, and fruit).  Apparently, it’s the breakfast of choice for kids around here (though I tried it too.  For science.  They make it in dark chocolate).  I’ve had licorice, which I love.  Even the salty stuff, just to make sure I still think it’s gross (it tastes stronly of ammonia.  And I only got the double-salt…).  I haven’t come across any Dutch chocolate yet.

We’ve been busy with the conference Dr. Thingo is here for.  He is attending talks, or hosting sessions, or doing stuff related to the affiliated journal, of which he’s the editor for the next few years (do you have an mathematical art or artistic mathematics paper you’d like to publish?  Talk to him!)  There was a Family Day which was a big success with Vorlon in particular, in which there were workshops and hands-on demos.  There was an informal music night, where people just go up on stage, or bring music and ask people to perform – I volunteered to help out with a short choral piece.  That was in a church, and the acoustics are wonderful.  There was a mime show that teaches mathematical concepts that was a great hit with the kids (the performers and their kids happen to be our neighbours at the B&B in which we’re staying).  There was the formal music night last night, which is experimental, new music.  I thought it was kind of neat, but Vorlon lost patience at the intermission, so I missed the second half and took him home while Dr. Thingo and Zebula stuck around.  Tonight, there’s a play, which gets cast and rehearsed at the beginning of the conference and in which I was asked to sing a song for the intro (gulp!).  It’s been fun, especially with the kids, and it’s really good to see Dr. Thingo in his element.  The kids and I went to his talk and, damn, he’s a good presenter.  I mean, I knew this, but it’s really great to see him in action.  And everybody is nerdy and artsy at the same time, and it’s mostly good.

Our B&B is a refurbished villa called Villa de Pilla just outside the centre of town.  It’s nice and bright.  We share a bathroom with the other guests.  The bathroom is large and has a large trough sink, two shower stalls with curtains for privacy, and a sub-room with a door that has the toilet.  It’s a little different from my usual hotel experience, since the bathroom is never really all yours, so you can’t just jump naked out of the shower.  Or, I guess you can, but you have to be ready to face your neighbour, who may be brushing his/her teeth right outside the curtain.

Villa de Pilla from outside

Our room

They serve a nice breakfast – I love Europe’s approach to carbs:  “More is better”!  A hard-boiled egg, a big warm roll, cheese, butter, jam, the aforementioned hagelslag, cereal, muesli, and granola with yogurt and milk.  I like it.  Oh, and strong, strong coffee.  Dutch breakfasts make up for the rest of the day.  And it’s been fun to hang out with the Chartiers (who were the mimes mentioned above) – they’re here with their kids, aged 10 and 7-ish, and they and Zebula and Vorlon have hit it off.

The breakfast room

I love the Dutch language – it’s both softer and harsher than German (which I also love, and studied in university (3 terms !), but have largely forgotten, except for singing Bach and Brahms…).  And I suck at it!  I feel terrible, but since everybody here speaks excellent English, I haven’t had to try very hard.  I did buy a dictionary because I was tired of guessing what the signs mean.  I’ve found that saying things out loud helps – there are many vowel sounds that are different from German (ij and ui in particular) that make the word look different when written but sound kind of the same when you say it.  Anyway, we’re in the Netherlands for another week, and I will make more of an effort.  But the minute people here hear me butcher their language, they assume I speak English and switch to it asap.

Translation: Smoking is deadly.

We’re here until Thursday – the only firm thing we have planned is a bicycle excursion to look at different important pieces of architecture in the region.  That’s Wednesday.  We’re going to check out the Rijksmuseum Twente this afternoon (Rijk means ‘reign’, I guess it would translate best as Royal Museum.  Twente is the region we’re in.  There’s also a Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, so I’m guessing there are some all over the country).

This vacation is nice, but I’m ready to move on.  We’ll be heading for Amsterdam sometime on Thursday afternoon and we’ll be there for three nights.  We’ll be staying in an apartment right on a canal.  I’m looking forward to cooking for myself, if only for a few days!


We’re here! Days 1-3

We’re in Enschede, the Netherlands!  We just got here today, for a conference that Dr. Thingo helped organize.  We were in London for just over 48 hours.  But the year looks promising!  You can see the full set of pictures in my Flickr account here.  I’ll be adding sets as time goes on.  The first few days are covered in this one.

This post is a little short, considering how much has happened, but I thought I’d let you all know that we’re alive and well, and the year is looking good.  I haven’t really taken any pictures of the house, as we won’t officially take possession of it until August 11th.  But I will, and I’ll offer more details about it and the neighbourhood we’re in when we’re settled for good.

It seems surreal that, less than a week ago, we finally packed everything up and cleaned the house and left.  The shuttle picked us up early (they’re always early.  I should have known…), so I didn’t have time to take a shot of the family in front of the house as planned.  I did, however, manage to take pictures of all the clean rooms before it was time to go, which I’m glad I did, because unless there’s photographic evidence, nobody’s who knows anything about my housekeeping habits is going to believe we pulled it off.  You can see the Clean House photo album here.

The flights, both legs, were uneventful.  The giant bags (there were 7!) were checked in without any problems.  Security was a breeze.  The flight left a little late but landed in Keplavik, Iceland on time.  Nothing much to report.  We got into Heathrow at something like noon, and made it through immigration easily as well, though there’s an error on my visa that I need to have corrected.  Despite the fact that the valid dates on it are July 23 2013 to July 23 2014, mine (and only mine) has a note on it that says Valid for a duration of 180 days.  I was hoping we could correct it at the crossing, but I need to contact the issuing office, which I have done.  I’m sure I’ll get it fixed.

Zebula does not appreciate the pressure changes upon descent

We made it to our house after what seemed like an endless cab ride from the airport where I tried to prevent people from falling asleep (my cure for jetlag heading east is to sleep during the flight, if possible, and stay awake until a reasonable bedtime at your destination.  It works for me.  But it means that except for maybe a couple hours’ worth of short naps, I’d been up for 30 hours by the time I went to bed.)  In the afternoon, I force marched everybody out of the house for the afternoon, mostly to keep them awake, but also because we needed to start on some administrative tasks and get groceries.  We were all in bed by 9:00, local time, and slept until at least 8:00.  That was a very good sleep!

This was our only full day in London before leaving for vacation, so we decided to venture off.  There was still administrative stuff to do – this time, get the final version of the rental agreement so we could proceed to the next step of opening a UK bank account (which we couldn’t do without an appointment on Wednesdays, of course, but Thursday is apparently walk-in day, so we’d have to come back tomorrow).  And then get a sim card for Dr. Thingo’s phone.  We did all this in Woolwich, which is the next neighbourhood east of ours.  We hung out in the public square, walked around a little, grabbed lunch at the cafe and headed for the city.


We’re actually in London! For real!

A 20-minute train ride took us to London Bridge.  We walked from there along the south shore of the Thames to the Tower Bridge, and then around the Tower of London, back up the north shore to the Millenium Bridge and back across the Thames.  We saw the Globe Theatre, and the Tate, and the Shard, and the Gherkin (ok, the Swiss Re building), and the Eye from a distance.  We didn’t have time to stop in anywhere.  We were just trying to get a look around.  It was amazing!  At first glance, London is a crazy mix of the very old (like the Tower of London, whose first building was built in 1280) to the very new.  The new architecture is great – not a lot of boring glass and concrete cubes.

Look over there! It’s a glass pineapple!

That’s 13th century on the left, Tudor-esque on the right, and 20th century in the middle.

The next day (yesterday), we finished some more bureaucratic stuff (bank account, council tax, and registration with the school board), and took the ferry to the Netherlands.

We’re on vacation for just over two weeks, and then back in London.  I’ll try to be diligent about keeping up.   But I have to say, even though I’ve only been here for 16 hours, I’m really liking the Netherlands a lot!  Busy day tomorrow, so I should go to bed.  But stay tuned, there will be lots more!



House makeover

Less than a week left until we go.  Pretty much done with packing.  Still cleaning.  Still trying to eat all the food.  Trying to keep cool.  Next sabbatical, we should leave in the winter.

I promised pictures.  And while it has been beautifully sunny out, it was a humid 32 degrees today, so I had the blinds tightly drawn to keep those evil photons outside.  My green sweater, which is excitingly close to being done looks like this in my dark living room.

I actually finished it since I took that picture and started this post.  But the thought of putting it on makes me feel faint, so it’ll have to wait until the weekend for finished pictures.  It turned out pretty well, I think.

But, despite this, I still have pictures for you!  I realized I never posted my house makeover pictures.  We had the house insulated late this spring, which meant taking off the existing aluminium siding and whatever was behind it, blowing expanding foam, covering that with plywood, covering that with a vapour barrier and covering that with foam boards, and then new siding.  It was a huge undertaking.  They fixed all kinds of things in the process (eccentric outdoor wiring, nest of carpenter ants, poorly anchored carport).  We’re hoping the house will be warmer in the winter.  And cooler in the summer, but there’s only so much it can do when the nighttime lows what one would normally consider a pleasant daytime high.







The foundation was also re-parged, and looks nice and even, instead of looking like it’s crumbling to dust.

On the whole, I like it.  It looks much cleaner, and less decrepit. But though I was never a fan of the shutters, I find the front looks a little plain now. What I’d like to do is put retractable awnings over the west (on the front of the house) and south windows to keep out the afternoon sun in the summer.  But not for a while.

At the same time as the guys were working on the house, I did some painting.  First, the laundry room (no Before picture.  I’m not that organised):

That picture was taken right after I was done and had returned everything to the room.  The pantry is now mostly empty, and its contents will be removed tomorrow morning.

Realising that, due to over-estimation, I had enough paint left over to do the kitchen, I painted it too.



It looks better than it did, but I’m not crazy about it.  The cream colour looks really good in the laundry room, which has CF lighting, but looks too pink in the kitchen, which has halogen lighting.  Still, it’s far better than it was.  And you can’t really tell from the picture, but I also stripped all the paint from the kitchen counter.  Underneath the blue latex paint (who does that?  On a counter that gets wiped several times a day?  It looked terrible), was a 50’s formica counter with gold sparkles in it.  Way better than the paint.  Though now the kitchen is very beige.  I’ll probably just paint it again when we’re back.

Then came Vorlon’s room.  That one was a disaster.  It used to have floral wallpaper.  Then, about 5 years ago, when a friend and her kids were over for a chat, I had all the kids go upstairs and rip the paper off, which they did with great enthusiasm.  Most of the paper came off.  Some of it stubbornly refused.  And the room stayed that way until a couple of months ago.  My mother was horrified.  My mother-in-law was horrified.  They were kind of right, but Vorlon never seemed to mind…


I took what I could of the paper off the walls. I sanded the edges of the pieces that were left. I sanded a patch of drywall that I put there around the same time as the wallpaper came down.  And then I painted.  This was the best payoff of all the rooms I painted.


Though as you can see, one of the casualties from the insulation project was that the drywall in that nook between the windows (drywall, I might add, which was held together with wallpaper.  Sheesh) got cracked when they were prying the old siding off.  I’ll fix it eventually – there’s insulation directly behind that, so it won’t let in any drafts, so I don’t feel *too* bad about leaving it, but it’s ugly.

And then Zebula’s room.  Before:


And now that those are all done, the hallways and doors and bathrooms look all dingy.  So I have my work cut out for me after we get back.

I discovered something about myself, though. I love painting!  And, having used both VOC-free and regular latex paint, according to availability when I was buying it, I have to say that no-VOC paint is a pain in the ass to deal with.  It goes on just like pudding, only it doesn’t smell as good.  Sure, the latex paint is a little smellier, but much easier to work with.

And since I opted to go to the very air-conditioned movie theatre instead of working on cleaning the house more, I have some work to do this evening. Stay cool, everyone!


Bulgur, corn syrup, and Ovaltine pilaf

No pictures today – it’s been too grey to take good pictures of anything.  But I want to get into the habit of posting every week – things should be more interesting in a couple of weeks

We leave in two weeks (should I call it a fortnight?  Do people in the UK still say that in casual conversation?)  Preparations are continuing apace.  It’s going quite well, actually.  The basement is basically finished.  The main floor is mostly finished.  The upper floor isn’t at all finished, but it should be the easiest one.  I’m actually enjoying this process.  Thoroughly going through every room, sorting, and getting rid of a substantial portion of 10 years’ worth of accumulated stuff feels very liberating.  And I love hanging out in the finished rooms – I find it very soothing.

It’s dumb, but the most daunting thing right now is the pantry.  I have been making an effort to plan meals around what’s in there, rather than my usual strategy of making what sounds good at that moment and getting whatever is needed to make it happen.  I’m not very motivated to bake (it’s hot and moist these days), and I get hung up on the fact that I only have small quantities of a lot of stuff.   I’m trying not to buy any more dry goods, and I’ve run out of a few essentials (vanilla and white sugar to name a couple.  I made some pretty bland cookies this morning…) I haven’t made anything too bizarre yet, but as time goes by, and the less exotic ingredients get used up, things could get interesting (see post title).  Actually, what’s most likely to happen is that I give up altogether and we live on frozen pizza until we take off.

But at least none of it will go to waste!  A friend, who is returning with her family from her own sabbatical next week said she’d take whatever I had left.  Still, I should make a concerted effort to use it up.  Nobody needs this much lasagna.

I just realized today that I’m strangely calm.  Maybe the panic will set in next week, but so far, I have been enjoying the pace of my days for the summer break.   I’m finding I’m getting a lot of Getting Stuff Done time and a reasonable amount of Taking It Easy time.  I feel like I should be working harder, but everything seems to be getting done.  The kids have daily swim lessons at 10:30 – early enough that it doesn’t totally interrupt the day, but not so early that I’m waking people up and rushing them through breakfast.  During their lessons, I swim laps on days when I haven’t already gone to some early morning exercise class, or sit on deck and knit and read in the sunshine (or downpour, depending on the day).  We come home, hang out, have lunch, and then spend the afternoon working on the house.  Nothing feels rushed.  The kids are easily distracted from the task at hand, but they’re on break, so I haven’t been pushing too hard.  Dr. Thingo has some things to wrap up at work, so he’s been gone for a good portion of the work day, but he’s been doing a lot of house stuff too.

Token knitting content:  Part of packing up the basement was going through the yarn stash and making sure every ball/skein was in a bin with a lid, to prevent moth damage.  I got rid of a fair amount of stuff, mostly acrylic from the 70’s that people kept giving me when some relative died (“You knit, right?  Here, take this.”).

I’ve been uncharacteristically monogamous with the knitting for the past week.  I’m still working on the green sweater I mentioned in my last post.  It’d probably be done by now, but since I’m making it up as I go, I’ve needed to rip it back a lot to make it work (armhole too short, waist darts too high, need bust darts, v-neck started too late, etc…).  The yarn is nice to work with, and it’s holding up fairly well, but I’m not sure how much more ripping out it’ll take before it just turns to dust.

I’m going to go look up recipes that require matzoh meal, red beans, and dried barberries.