Saturday, November 21, 2015

What Thanksgiving meant to Donna.

 I have never known another person that puts Thanksgiving on such equal billing as Christmas... Donna was that person.

There was only one way to cook a proper turkey according to Donna. Unfortunately, I never asked or watch how she did it... nor being much of a cook myself watch closely. I do know that a heavily buttered paper bag from the grocery store seems to be the key. Not once, in 39 years, did I ever see anything other than a "perfect" bird from this woman...that's a tough record to beat.

I've mentioned in the past that Donna "loved" to sleep in, not really much of a morning person. The exception is Thanksgiving. Donna would happily get up at the crack of dawn to get the turkey in the oven...just so she could go back to sleep for a few hours more.

When the bird came out of the oven, for how long and hot is was supposed to be, I never saw a frown when it was uncovered.

It wasn't just the turkey that she was the "whole" dinner that would put her in another world...I never understood it, but I loved how happy it made her.

I'll bet RiRi has a better understanding on how to do a Thanksgiving dinner than I do.

She loved being with friends on Thanksgiving. (Yes, I know it's not Thanksgiving here...just friends) Friends had been so special for her!

Donna decorated as much on Thanksgiving, as Christmas. She found these RiRi and Ashley scarecrows somewhere. special!

Our family was her special.

Her own, so very special!

Even on the road after we retired, do you think someone could  possibly cook turkey in a convection oven, with all the fixings? Think not...Donna surprised me with a wonderful dinner that I had not thought possible, in the Motorhome.

Ok...maybe it wasn't a full bird type of Thanksgiving dinner, but I swear to god, you could not tell the was the love she put in it that made all the difference.

This last dinner, just a month or two from being diagnosed with leukemia was the only crack in the 39 years of Thanksgivings and its significations eluded me at the time. The turkey was perfect as usual, but Donna forgot to boil potatoes for the dinner, which are normally a no brainer, and I was of little help. She was so upset and demanded that she be allowed to do the mashed potatoes, regardless of the fact that all else was hot and on the table. This was the only time in our 39 years that I had to take her by the shoulders while she was crying and tell her NO!...we will eat and do potatoes later, which we did. I've never seen her this upset before...ever. Of course in hindsight, leukemia floods the body with white blood cells, which crowd out oxygen rich red blood cells our brains so desperately need, so early effects should have been noticed by me at this time had I been more observant...but I wasn't!

Cheers to my sweetie, who for so many years not only put a smile on my Thanksgiving day, but many others also! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Donna's 50th Birthday Trip

I happened to be talking to one of my best friends tonight and teasing her to get up at 7:07 to see the sunrise... she is not a morning person. Judy said it would be cloudy and rain, so why bother? I then remembered Donna's 50th birthday request and told Judy about it. She thought I should put on the blog for the, here it is.

Who's ever birthday it was, usually got to pick where to vacation. Now, Mexico was our vacation of choice for many of unbroken years, warm water, snorkeling, Mexican food...what's not to like?
Well, it was Donna's 50th and she had read about a mountain (if you can call it that) on the Maine coast that caught the first light of the day in the United States.

Cadillac Mountain, at just over 1500 feet high, is the tallest peak on the Northeastern Seaboard and catches the first sunlight from October to March in the United Donna, that was close enough to her birthday to warrant a trip to Maine. Maine? Really...ok, it's your birthday babe. You have to realize that up to this point we had never been past Colorado, let alone the east coast.

The two nights before we stayed on Bailey Island, ME at a wonderful B&B called the Log Cabin.

If you are Donna...the night before your birthday you order the largest lobster available. 

Donna is one happy camper...until I became aware of our mistake.
Not being from the east coast, I didn't realize that from our B&B to Cadillac Mountain, to see the sunrise, was 171 miles away. Donna, being the stubborn girl she is, says, "Well, we will get up at 2 am to make sunrise"! Ok by me, I'm not the morning person.

Cadillac Peak...not exactly what we are used to on the west coast.

Being the trooper that she was, by that I mean she slept the whole way while I drove, Donna was a bundle of joy this morning.

Donna was so jazzed about being the first person in the United States to see the sunlight of September 26th, 2003 that it did not matter one bit, that it was overcast and cloudy. My point exactly to Judy earlier tonight...sometimes it's what you perceive, not what is actually there!

It's hard to see (yes, I'm cheap) but I had bought her a sapphire necklace and earrings and gave it to her on the peak.

As much as I like Mexico, I would not of traded this trip for the world. Donna was so ecstatic to be here, on Cadillac Mountain, with me, on her 50th birthday...even I was excited.
Sometimes the memories are so vivid, you are able to relive them.




            A Japanese drink made from fermented tea.
I was first introduced to this unusual drink by my friend
Roxanne, who makes her own. After buying a few from Safeway for $2.99 per small bottle I thought I might try and make my own.

I mentioned to Roxanne, the last time I saw her, that I'd like to give it a shot at brewing the tea. Roxanne sent me instructions and a starter kit (I'll explain that later) today. 
If Donna is seeing this, I am sure she is laughing her ass off right about now. I've never been real good at following directions and these are pretty specific. Most of the time while assembling a Christmas gifts to Jason, I'd just say to Donna..."just tell me what to do, ok"! One false move and I'll be growing mold instead of tea...that would be bad

I start by heating a gallon of water with about 10 green tea bags. You can use black tea or green, although the black causes more carbonation than green tea, so the choice is yours. I'm not high on carbonation, which would account for my drinking maybe 5 or 10 sodas a year. I start by heating the water, boiling is not necessary.

One cup of cane sugar added to the brew.

This is the starter kit I got in the mail from Roxanne today. It is a SCOBY in vinegar. SCOBY is "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast", not a mushroom as some may call it. Just a brown, slippery mass of yeast and bacteria that floats on the surface and blocks oxygen from seeping in.

After cooling the tea, it is put into my jar where I will grow the brew. From this brew, I can take small samples to grow more bottles and change flavors as I see fit.

Here the starter SCOBY is mated with the tea I brewed.

Bacteria and yeast replicate themselves by binary division. Two become four, four become on and so on. When you introduce a small amount of previously fermented Kombucha tea containing living cells, before a day has gone by there will be billions of colonized bacteria and yeast.
Some benefits of the tea, although the FDA says it won't approve them are.
As a probiotic for your body's healthy bacteria.
Liver detoxification
Improved digestion
Energy boost
And many more claims that really can't be, but it has to be better than downing 4 or 5 sodas a day!
Many thanks to my friend for getting me involved. 

Monday, November 9, 2015


The whole reason, initially for the European trip, was to see where my father was born. Although it was expanded to include several other countries, this was still the main point of going.

The Haarlem train station is a pretty good place to start. Dad was born not far from here in the town of Haarlem. I was told that this station was used in the film, Oceans Eleven, because it was much nicer than Amsterdam's.

This was a Sunday morning at the train station, with hundreds of bikes nearby. We drove into Haarlem on Friday and past the station, which then held thousands of bikes that from a distance looked like total chaos the way they're all locked up. Amsterdam is just a short train ride away for many of Haarlem's residents who work there. I was told that outside of China, there are more bikes per capita in Holland than anywhere else in the world, I believe it.

Every train that we saw while traveling throughout Europe was electric. 

Dad was born upstairs in this house during the summer of 1919. The First World War (then just called a world war) had ended just a year prior to dad being born. Even though the war was over, I'd have to think Europe was a big mess of destruction, still. 

I can imagine dad and his brothers or sisters playing here back in the 1920's in front of their house. The house was also a grocery store downstairs, so I assume Opoe would keep a sharp eye out from the front window on her young brood. One reason Europe leans towards small cars is because of streets like this, very normal here.

Cathedral Saint Bavo is the church my grandfather and grandmother hauled the Zwart clan to every Sunday. (and possible a couple times during the week) The Cathedral was built from 1895 to 1930, the year the family left for the states. My grandfather was a master carpenter and I would imagine he did some of the woodwork in the church.

While dad never talked a lot about his childhood, he did mention, more than once, about ice skating on the canals in the winter. This is the closest canal to dads family home, (maybe a couple blocks at the most) so maybe he skated here?

While I'm on the subject of canals, here are how important they are to the Dutch people. It's so common to see lots of folks sitting along the canals for lunch.

Kids trying their luck at fishing.

Throw a couple of beach chair onto the sidewalk and get a little sun.

My quest to find a barber, that also shaved, was not as easy to fulfill as one might think. It took four barbers before I was steered to Debbies shop, who did the shaving. Why did I want a shave? Just a hair up my butt to do something different while in Holland, plus I know it will grow back so no real loss. Debbie, cute little thing, first asks me if I'd like a drink, probably because she can see I was nervous.

With a straight razor in hand, I was hoping that Debbie didn't already partake in the scotch before I got there.

The first thing my sister Teri says is, "OMG, you look just like dad"! I'd consider that a compliment any day. 

The canal system is very important to Haarlem. Here is Jack standing on one of the drawbridges.

It's easy on the weekend to find someone parking their barge along the canal wall and having a party. This one, after asking about it, was a birthday party for a young man.

It is used as transportation.

Social gatherings. This boat must of called ahead to a restaurant near the canal and ordered some salmon and pickled herring. The waiter delivers and the boat continues motoring down the waterway. I was determined to eat and drink like a local this whole trip. While in a grocery store I noticed some pickled herring on sale, but then the sales clerk looked at me and said in a stern voice..."it's an acquired taste" Ok, I chickened out.

Tourist canal tours.

While this may not of been a live aboard, we did see many canal barges turned into houseboats.

Beautiful morning.

Nothing quite like having breakfast alongside the canal. The restaurant is across the street and some of their tables are outside. Just sit down and soon a waiter will cross the street to take your order. Scrambled eggs and toast means just that... They scramble the eggs and toss them on top of the bread, but who cares when you can eat in such a serene atmosphere.

We spent one afternoon on a canal cruise. There weren't many tourists like Jack, Joe and myself on the boat, seemed plenty of Dutch like taking their own tours.

A slightly different perspective from the water.

The whole time in Haarlem I never saw two of the same kinds of drawbridges. 

The Dutch and much of Europe (as we later found out) go to great pain and expense to keep their architectural history intact. As my brother Joe pointed out about the cobblestone streets. When they need to access underground pipe or wiring, all they have to do is pry the stones up. When the job is completed, cobblestones are easily set back in with no waste, as in concrete or asphalt.

This is the architecture they are trying very hard to maintain.

Speaking of Joe, we tried a few outdoor cafes and some good Dutch beer.

I can't imagine a successful restaurant in Haarlem unless it had outdoor seating.

Add a little sun and you don't even need tables.

Day or night, sun or made no difference to the Dutch.

In the 4 days we were in Holland, we only left Haarlem for one afternoon to meet some relatives from our past. Jack had arranged for us to meet Ineke, a second cousin at Elizabeths home outside of Amsterdam.

Elizabeth told us many stories of how my grandfather and grandmother during the 40' and 50's sent gift baskets of clothes to our Holland families who had a rough time, in and after the war. She showed us some sweaters that my Opoe sent in the late 40's.

After we left Elizabeth and Ineke we stopped a short way from their house to visit a memorial to one of my relatives murdered in the last days of the war.

In the closing days of the war, these five Dutch men were arrested as resistance fighters. They were only arrested, until other resistance fighters killed a bad policeman in Zaandam. The five were marched to this site near the Bernhard Bridge... and executed by the Germans. This explains why after 70 years, till her death, my aunt Marie never liked the Germans.

Before heading back to Haarlem we wanted to at least see the North Sea off of Netherlands. This spot in the town of Katwijk was a favorite for the beach crowd.

Zomers was a great place for dinner on the beach. The cabana's in the background were in the was explained that in order to have one, it must be rented for the whole summer season.

Joe and Jack are very comfortable behind the glass that keeps the north winds at bay.

This was the weather that morning at Zomers and the reason behind having a little protection from the storms while you eat. We beat the storm by 12 hours or so.

I can't leave Holland without a working windmill in the field.

I am trying to figure out how I might be able to rent a studio in Haarlem next summer. While there I felt sad that the family left in 1930. Yeah, there were wars and hardships, but today this is the coolest, most relaxing, beautiful and awesome place I have ever been to and I'd love to spend the summer, with just a bicycle for personal transportation.

Sorry this is so long...I seem to be unable to separate this into two or three different blogs.