Monday, October 27, 2014

A Review of 'Please Ignore Vera Dietz' by A.S. King (Audio Book)

"Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn.  And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets.  Even after he betrayed her.  Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone-- the kids at school, his family, even the police.  But will she emerge to clear his name?  Does she even want to?

Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising."

It was a little stressful listening to this book.  Vera is under so much pressure.  First, she has her dad on her back about getting hours at work.  She practically works a full-time job while attending high school.  I know that I'd be in tears every night if that were my situation.  I could barely handle a regular part-time job in college.  It just affected my mood so much-- I was losing friends that I had just made because I could never spend an evening hanging out due to the fact that I was working.  My grades weren't what I'd hoped they'd be.  I'd wake up in the middle of the night all the time and often cry myself to sleep.  I can only imagine what it would be like to have a full-time work status, have six or so classes (doesn't matter how easy they might be), and be a senior in high school.  Holy crap.

On top of working, Vera holds an enormous secret.  I'd even say that it's too big of a secret for one person to carry, especially because it's the secret of how her best friend died and how a business burned down.  To not tell anyone of significance these humongous secrets... I'm surprised that she hasn't made herself sick.

This book took a little while for me to get into partly because Vera would be telling us about her life (well, work, any way) and we know that something happened to her best friend to cause his death, but we're not sure what and we're also not sure how these things are related.  You're hooked from the beginning, but for me at least, I had a hard time seeing where the story was going at first.  If you stick with it though, the ending is actually quite interesting and totally worth the wait.  For me, the story was a lot bigger than I thought it would ever be, despite knowing that a death occurs from the beginning of the book.  That was really exciting.

I give 'Please Ignore Vera Dietz':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: A Quick Trip to Haarlem

The day after I came home from Leeuwarden, I went to Haarlem.  It sounds like a lot of train time, but this trip was much shorter than the trip to Leeuwarden.  What's a forty minute round trip journey when you've just completed a six hour round-trip journey?

From the station, I walked to the Grote Markt and picked up a map of Haarlem before setting out on my merry way.  After that, I went to visit Sint-Bavoskerk, which can be seem looming in the background in the picture below:

It's a very astonishing building and the inside was even more beautiful:

Holy giant organ, batman.

How would you like to preach in this pulpit?
I found a very sad lion thing.  I had to laugh when I saw him-- it was not the face I expected to see on a lion thing.

After exploring the church all that I could, I walked across town to the Haarlem historical center.  This was actually one of the highlights of my trip to Haarlem.  Lots of incredibly interesting things to look at and (try to) read.

Artist: Kees Verwey.  His description said that he is a "true Haarlemmer" heart and soul.
The Grote Markt and Sint-Bavoskerk "back in the day."  I thought it was cool because I'd just walked there and now I'm seeing it as it was years and years ago.
The guy at the front desk of the history center told me that Haarlem used to be the biggest producer of vinyl in Europe-- vinyl for LPs and records which made me love this city so much more!
This made me feel old.  That's a walkman/discman/portable CD player and a first generation iPod.  These are in a museum now.  I only recently stopped using my walkman (I used it to listen to audio books that I borrowed from the library).  I'm 20 years old and something that I used all the time as a kid is in a museum.  I thought this day was far in the future.

Around this part of the museum, there were record players playing and headphones were plugged in so you could sit in the chair and listen.

What you need to make a record/LP
More headphones-- also I really liked this chair.  Look below.

The chair that I love and would really like to have one day (birthday/Christmas ideas?  Kidding...)

After the history center, I walked down the street a little farther and visited the Frans Hals museum, which is an art museum.  I really liked this place because for most of the museum, there was an overarching theme: emotions.  I like art museums, but usually I don't have a clue what I'm supposed to be focusing on.  I look at a painting and say, "Well that's looks nice," and move on to the next painting to repeat the process.  With the audio tour I had, my attention was drawn to different parts of the paintings I was interested in and my eye was always drawn to the facial expressions and body language of the subjects.  It was nice.

After the Frans Hals museum, I raced across town to go and see Het Dolhuys (there's a lot to see between Frans Hals and Het Dolhuys, but it was getting late (museums usually close around 5) and I didn't want to leave Haarlem without seeing it that day).  This place has quite an interesting history, I think.  The museum is situated outside what used to be the city walls.  This is because this house used to be where those with leprosy were kept (I hesitate to say that they lived there, because I'm not sure how they felt about their experience there).  Later, a mental ward was added and (I believe) thirty people with mental illnesses moved in.  After leprosy wasn't a problem any more, it officially became a mental hospital.  Now, it's the museum of psychiatry.  It's a study of mental illness and how it was handled throughout the ages.  It was also an examination of what "crazy" is and what "normal" is.  I could never be a psychology major, but I thoroughly enjoy learning and reading about the human psyche and mental illness.

Faces flashed on the screen and you're meant to look and think, "Who's normal?" and "Is there something wrong with this person?"  It set the stage for the whole museum.
This was a video playing in one of the old isolation chambers.  The more violent patients were restrained to their beds, like this man.
In this room, names were given and put with the work they did while they were suffering from what was considered to be a mental illness.  Painters, writers, musicians... a spectrum of activities were covered by people who were considered to have mental illness.  These statues/sculptures were rather haunting though.
Some psychologists/psychiatrists believed that you could really study a face and know that something was "wrong" with someone-- you would know if they were mentally unstable or not.  This is not true, however.
There was a special exhibit on prisoner brains as well.  I couldn't understand everything because recordings were in Dutch and there was no translation in my English-speaking visitor packet, since this is a temporary exhibit, but some things I could understand and decipher.  There were videos of prisoners/former prisoners and they all said that they felt different and their lives were different because they'd spent time in prison.  Two of the prisoners had been locked up for 25 years while the third prisoner was locked up for 4 years and had been in trouble all of her life.

You could take a test to see how crazy you really are.
A machine used for electro-shock "therapy."
After I went through the entire museum, I came outside and I met a cat friend.  I have a lot of cat friends in the Netherlands.  Most cats are really friendly here.  A lot of them live outside...

Then I went to sit in the nearby park before going to catch my train back to Leiden.  It was a perfect day to be outside.  I'm incredibly fortunate.

Thus ends my day trip to Haarlem!  I know that I'll have to go back.  There's still a lot to see here.  I picked Haarlem for my city report for European Context.  I'm really glad that I did.  It's a beautiful place and has a very different feel to it than Leiden does.  I don't really know how to explain it.  I really love this city though.

This is a scheduled post.  If you're reading this on the day it is posted, I'm either still in London, in the process of coming back to the Netherlands, or have just arrived at home in Leiden.  It's my first trip outside of the Netherlands and I'm really excited to share my pictures and experiences with you!  But that won't be until next weekend.  So you have that to look forward to, if you're interested in London!

Until next time, Tot Ziens!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: 24-Hours in Leeuwarden

I'm in a class called "The Netherlands and Its European Context" this semester and one of the things we have to do for this class is pick a city and present on it.  Two Thursdays ago, Marika chose the city of Leeuwarden to center her project/presentation on and needed to visit the city for research.  She was nice enough to invite me along!

After our classes on Thursday, we caught a train and made the three hour journey to Leeuwarden.  The train ride went surprisingly quick.  We got there around 5pm and after hunting down a map of the main city, we were both hungry.  So we got Pannekouken on a ship.  Because we can.

Apples and bananas :)

After dinner, it was getting kind of dark (it gets dark between 6 and 7 in the Netherlands.  I can't remember what it is at home) and we figured that we should probably start heading to our bed and breakfast.  This journey was more interesting than it should have been.  

Story Time: We spent some time walking around the bus station asking the various drivers if they took us near the street where we were staying.  No one had ever heard of this street and had no idea that there was a bed and breakfast out there if the street did exist.  Good feelings all around.  Finally one driver said that he thought his route would take us in the right direction at least.  So we hopped on the bus and got out when he told us too.  We ended up in the opposite side of town than we had wanted.  Grr... so we decided to walk, following our map on Marika's phone (because we only had a map of the main part of town.  Finally it got to the point where we couldn't find the next stop on our map, although we were making progress.  Then technology started working against us.  Marika's phone would shut down randomly even though her battery was at 50%.  How frustrating.  Luckily, we were in a residential area.  A car with a family in it pulled up to a house and we quickly caught them before they went inside (I remember from reading things about traveling in small groups of women that if I'm lost or confused that we should ask a local woman or approach a family for help).  We asked if they could help us figure out where our next landmark would be, so they whipped out their smart phones and looked up the walking directions for us.  We were about 1km away from our final destination and there were quite a few instructions to remember.  So the mother offered to just drive us there.  Normally I wouldn't get into the car of a stranger, but I've never felt unsafe in the Netherlands and this family seemed very nice.  We made sure that she really didn't mind, and she didn't, so we accepted her offer.  She saved us a lot of walking and a lot of frustration.  She was incredibly nice and I'll always remember her.  Her name was Edeke (sp?).

The moral of the story is to 1) look up directions from the correct train station (I searched for buses from the other train station in Leeuwarden, not the one where we actually got off), and 2) have a hard copy map.  I promise you, we've learned our lessons.

We arrived in one piece at the bed and breakfast, where we met the owner, Pieter.  Marika and I stayed in the small house in the garden.  It was quite cozy.

Story Time: There were robes that we could use for free and since it was a little chilly in the small cabin, of course we put them on!  When we put them on, we noticed all of these random sticky white patches all over both of our robes.  When I looked down, there was a giant spider crawling on me.  I hit it and it fell somewhere on the ground and then I threw my robe on the ground and Marika hit what she thought was the spider with her shoe.  Much screaming ensued.  We never saw the spider again.  And we realized that the white sticky patches were spider webs.  Gross.

Home Sweet Home.
The main house.
The next morning, we woke up, had breakfast in the main house, and Pieter offered to take us back into Leeuwarden since he works in the center of town any way.  We accepted.  We'd have to walk (not a big deal) and mess around with the buses (big deal) again.  That also meant that we'd have more time to spend actually in Leeuwarden.  Pieter dropped us off in front of the train station and we went on our merry way.

The first place we stopped was this leaning tower that used to be part of a church.  You can kind of see it in this picture.  Look at the edges of the picture and compare the edges of the building.  You can kind of see it.

In the morning when we went to see the tower, it was closed and really foggy, but we decided we would come back later that day when it was open to climb to the top.  So we went to a book store across the street.

The book store we went to was a Frisian bookstore.  Leeuwarden is situated in Friesland where people not only speak Dutch but a lot of people know Frisian and speak it either just with family or in every day life.  The lady in the book store was so excited that Marika had come to Friesland to see the place where her family might have lived at one point.  We asked her if she knew English when we came in, to which she responded something to the tune of "Ja, maar, jij spreek een beetje nederlands!" (Yes, but you speak a bit of Dutch!) and she insisted that we converse in Dutch.  It's rare that the people I encounter in Leiden will insist that we speak in Dutch when I try to speak Dutch.  If I say, "Wat zeg je?" (which is the polite way of saying "huh?") they'll assume I plain didn't understand a word they said and switch to English.  But people didn't do that so much in Leeuwarden.  I can't say that I'm unhappy about that.  I got to practice a bit (we kommen uit amerika en ik studeren engels en filosofie bij St. Catherine Universiteit-- We're from America/U.S. and I study English and Philsophy at St. Catherine University) and I realized that I understand more Dutch than I think I do.  Even though I can't form sentences like Marika can (though she's minoring in Dutch at her home school), I could listen and get a basic idea of what Marika and the book store lady were talking about.  This immersion method of learning a language is amazing!

After the book store, we went to the Leeuwarden history center so that Marika could get more information for her presentation.  What I found most interesting were the pictures comparing parts of Leeuwarden to how they once were to how they were now.  Some of the differences were shocking.  you might not know that you were looking at the same place:

After the history center came the Princesshoff where we visited an exhibit about tea and how people around the world have responded to it and gone crazy over it.  There's also an exhibit on ceramics, which was neat.

I found a princess cap and I put it on :)  (I hope that it was a princess hat.  Otherwise this picture is sour).
Tea drinking started in China...

...and traveled to Japan, where tea became an art form...
...and then came to Europe via trading.

After the Princesshoff, we walked to find lunch.  On the left in the picture below is the Dutch flag and on the right is the Frisian flag.

We went to the Fries museum to learn about Frisian culture some more.  I figured out that I can do this with my camera...

...while looking at pictures of the life of an average Frisian person.

Afterwards, we went back to the leaning tower and went to climb it!  What was weird is that you couldn't tell when you walked inside that the building had sunk into the ground.  Not really, any way.  But when you walked up the stairs, you couldn't help but notice that you were walking up some stairs and whipping around some corners faster than others-- you felt the lean rather than seeing it, which was interesting.

We got to the top and found this...

Scary panel where you could see the ground far below.
I'm having a lot of fun with this panorama option on my camera :)  This is Leeuwarden from above.
Just chilling on the window sill.
After coming down from the tower, we walked around Leeuwarden some more before getting dinner and heading for the train.

St. Bonifatius
It's too bad that Leeuwarden is a three-hour train ride from Leiden.  I'd like to come back here or explore other parts of Friesland.  Everyone is so friendly there and Leeuwarden was very beautiful.

Until next time, tot ziens!