Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Obama flag?

image A bit of fun regarding the right-wing fringe in the United States, and the somewhat-American flag shown to the left.

According to BlatherWatch, Bob Grant, (host of a conservative radio show on WABC) has noted "[W]hat is that flag that Obama's been standing in front of that looks like an American flag, but instead having the field of 50 stars representing the 50 states, there's a circle?“

It was later picked up at other right-wing blogs:

At an Ohio campaign stop last week Obama gave a speech with a background of American flags which is quite common. However, if you look closely some of the flags are not American flags. The blue field has been changed to show an Obama seal. Yes, there are also stars but have no pattern and they do not add up to 50.

With Obama making his own seal and now this it looks like maybe he is putting some credence to the recent article by Stanley Kurtz in the National Review. Is he planning on creating an African county within the US.

I think the presence of these flags should be viewed with alarm. And I don't want to hear any looney left comments that they are only decoration. They ARE a modification of the American Flag.

As someone born in Cleveland, I can confidently say that the flag is not one for Obama, but the official flag of the great State of Ohio. Easy mistake, I guess…

These people can’t really get into the White House for another eight years, can they? I received my absentee ballot last week, so I’m off to fill it in (sorry, John; sorry Sarah).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wearily into the weekend

I got up this morning knowing that there were a dozen things marked ‘Urgently Burning’ on my To-Do list. How does life get into this state? I do think I’m doing a better job of selecting tasks to commit to, of prioritizing what needs to be done on any given day, and even of anticipating what might be done ahead of time. But I still think that deadlines come in waves, despite the best laid schedules, and I’m certainly in the deep-water crest this week.

The big accomplishment, though, is to have found a likely candidate for an apartment in Maastricht.

Yesterday, the whole day was dedicated to the search, driving down from Arnhem at 6 am and walking through about a dozen apartments with three realtors. I focused on the city core: a few in the Ceramique, a variety of flats in the Wijk and lofts in the Old City. The neighborhoods continue to be appealing, but the apartments too often looked like student flops.

Apartment 6 1 Apartment 3 05

There were a few good ones: a top-floor apartment at the edge of Ceramique (left) and a lovely living space in the Old City (right):

Apartment 4 02Apartment 5 6

A realtor’s window featured a few apartments with river views, and a quick visit suggested that there might be an unusual possibility located directly on the Maas: a bit traditional, but in a spectacular setting.

Apartment A 1 Apartment A 2

Okay, a very interesting collection of Oude Dutch, but clean and well kept by the landlady downstairs, who seems very nice. And the price was more than reasonable, with views directly onto the river that were one of a kind.

Apartment A 8 Maastricht 20

So, the bid went in today and I’ve got my finger’s crossed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Networks eliminate distances between people

AMI Group 2 A couple of e-mail exchanges this week reminded me how important it is to keep contact with friends.  Years ago, this was really a hard thing to do.  It could take weeks for correspondence to circulate to friends overseas and for a response to come back.  Now, thanks to our connected world, the cycle takes a day.

It means that geographic distance just isn’t excuse for cutting yourself off from people any more.  I try to make time each week to reach out to a few friends via e-mail or Skype, updating them on what I’m doing, soliciting stories about their work and family, trading photo sites or news about mutual friends and colleagues.  The extended and continuous contact keeps me in touch with my context and makes sure that I stay grounded in a larger reality, no matter how transient the expatriate experience seems to become. 

Earlier this week, I got a note from a former colleague, saying that they were “rotten this week, big time".  They had left design work to train for a new career in financial counseling, and had now gotten caught up in the unfolding banking crisis.  As a result, their dream job was becoming “more like emotional therapy than financial planning”, and they had quit. As a result, they were cast into a rotten job market, left sitting at home and feeling very alone, “erased by all of my friends - zap and gone”.

This morning I was also feeling discouraged, sorting through dreary apartment pictures and reflecting how time is passing ever closer to my April deadline for finding a new position.  And then I got a note from someone I had written to last weekend, someone I hadn’t talked to in over a year.

“It sounds like there is some positive hope for you to continue on in Europe. The position you describe would be ideal. It's really cool how you were able to drive a career change and end up with some wonderful life experiences in Europe. I, on the other hand, moved from the north building to the south building. Very exciting, I know, but I went to burning man again to get recalibrated and did some more camping in Moab, Utah...”

And, you know, it was just the perspective I needed and the news I enjoy getting from them.  I looked at their pictures and remembered the times we shared and the day became okay again.

So I sent a long reply to my discouraged friend.  I know how it feels to have a good job crumble, and how it feels like I become cut off from both past and future, people and prospects.  And I knew, as well, how it helped to get a warm reply from someone I knew well.

Having been gone from the US for three years, I rarely hear from folks spontaneously any more.  But I do keep in touch, reaching out as a friend or sharing a thought or a link.  I almost always get good notes back with news and stories.  Some folks don’t have much to say beyond an acknowledgement; others are also going through life changes and have stories and perspectives to share; still others are busy and enthusiastic and send long letters that give me an enduring lift.

Take time to stay social, stay connected, stay engaged.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Foods that I miss in the Netherlands

For some reason, the Dutch don’t put *both* meat and cheese onto a sandwich.  Lunches at work feature trays of sandwiches with either/or, and I’ve become known as a bit of an ‘ugly american’ for reconstructing ham and cheese out of bits of other sandwiches.  I have it on good authority that the British also don’t mix the two…maybe it’s just a US thing.

With Thanksgiving only a month away, thoughts naturally turn towards turkey (kalkoen), but I can’t remember seeing it an any form in the Albert Heijn.  Chicken in many forms, and the occasional capon, but no turkey (and no duck).  (as an aside, my Van Dale suggests that rood worden als een kalkoen is colloquial Dutch for go/turn purple in the face).


Snack Crackers.  I hate to confess it, but I often had a box of Cheez-Its or Oyster Crackers under the van seat for nibbling while I was driving kids hither and yon.  Crackers, from Saltines to Wheat Thins to Goldfish to Triscuits to Ritz to Club crackers…  I’m cured now to where I really only miss it with a slice of cheese in the evenings.  But how did the Dutch manage to miss out on the whole aisle of Nabisco goodies? 

Feeling a bit nostalgic, I suppose…

Oreos…did I mention the lack of Oreos…?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

First visit to Maastricht

Maastricht 51 I just returned from a couple of days in Maastricht, starting the transition process to a new job and the search for a new place to live.  It’s a little exciting, it’s a little discouraging, but it’s definitely a big step into the future beyond Arnhem.

IMG_5330 Maastricht is a different city in many ways.  It straddles the Maas river, where Arnhem lies entirely to one side of the Rijn, giving it a very different and more picturesque character.  The older, medieval sections are still intact and thriving, and there is a large student presence that gives the culture a fresher edge.  I really liked the winding pedestrian byways in the oldest part of the city, and the many galleries and historical sites to visit.  The close-packed and busy street life might make it an attractive place to look for an apartment.  Similarly, the Wyck district, east across the river (below left) has a lot of character and could be fun.

Maastricht 41 Maastricht 46

The rental agents tried to steer me into the Ceramique district, above right, just south of the Wyck.  It was once the site of a sprawling pottery factory, later closed and claimed for renewal by the city.  There are many new apartment and office blocks created by outstanding architects, and the interiors are fresh and modern.  But, at street level, it is quiet and sterile.  The interior courts seem shadowed and  the parks are sparse and ornamental.  I know that it’s supposed to be the place for professionals to settle, but it just doesn’t appeal to me.

Apartment 2 (14) Apartment 2 (3)

Back across the river, Villa-Park (below, left) is a bit reminiscent of my neighborhood near Sonsbeek, but lacks the parks and bustling families that make this such a great place to live.  To the south, both banks of the river have industrial areas all the way to the Belgian border.  There are attractive villages to the east, Meerssen and Valkenburg (below right) are each attractive communities connected by 10-minute train rides to the central Maastricht station.  However, there are few furnished apartments out there, and I’m mindful of all of the peculiar stories that other expatriates tell of village life among the rural Dutch.

Maastricht 2 2Valkenburg 05 

On balance, Maastricht seems like it will be a better place to live, but that it won’t have better places to live, if that makes sense.  Still, I’m keeping an open mind beyond these first impressions and will return for another round of apartment hunting next week.

Advice is welcome if you have any good, local information!