Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Little Moab" with Logan

We (Logan and I) dropped in to "Little Moab" on the West side of Utah Lake this evening. It was the first time either of us had been out there, and it was the first offroad adventure in the "new" (1990) red Wrangler Jeep. It was a great evening for it and though there was some snow on a few spots, we managed to keep the rubber side down and had some good fun. Logan even learned (a bit of) how to drive a stickshift.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What to do with the Specialist?

This is a Specialist:

I LOVE this bike. I love to ride it and I love the way it rides. I love the tires, I love the story of where we got it, I love the seatpost, everything. There is one tiny problem. It is really a bike that is designed with a razor-sharp focus on dual slalom racing. The problem with that is that when you don't feel like dual slalom racing or at least going down hill (which in my case is quite often) it is not really the right bike to be riding. Since the frame is so very small, the geometry for riding long distances over relatively flatter ground (which I often do) is not right. The result of that is sore knees.

Anyway, I have thought of selling it before, but never could bring myself to do it. I think now I have fogured out the solution. Here she is:
This way, the bike stays in the family and Winter gets a new bike to ride (and I''ll just buy myself a new one too). What do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Recap of RSM / Vacation in Austria

I’ve not been a big blogger lately.
Thus, I guess I have to run through one of those long recaps of what has been going on over the past 6 months.
Holland is great. We all love the weather. It has been such a great break from the heat of Texas. Spring this year in Holland was unusually warm and sunny and I was almost starting to fear that it was going to be too warm when Holland lived up to its reputation and shifted the weather for the next 3 months or so back to the expected overcast/drizzly. But really, the weather has been pretty much a non-issue for me. I hear my friends at school complaining about it, but it just hasn’t bothered me at all. I have a nice plastic rainsuit that I don when the weather looks bad and it keeps me dry during the 40 minute scooter-ride to school (and back). I still love to see all the Dutch scenery and last week we had our friends from TX come out to visit and we took them to some classic Dutch tourist locations which was great because we haven’t really done a lot of touristy type things since we came this time. It has been great to live so near Jessica’s family and we are really happy that our kids are both having the opportunity to learn their mother’s native tongue and to really get to know the Dutch side of their family. While my own Dutch language ability still lacks quite a bit, the level the kids have achieved in the last 6 months is really amazing. The kids still miss things (family, the farm, friends) from Texas, but they are having great experiences here that I know they will miss when we leave too. We really struggle with the fact that we wish we could roll up all the good things from all the places we have ever lived and bring them together in a single place. Unfortunately, we know that we will soon be leaving Holland and our friends and family here.
In calendar terms, I am just over half finished with school. In reality, I’m mostly done. We just finished the third term so I’ll be starting up the fourth term as soon as we get back from our Austrian vacation. The thing is that while the fourth term is spread out from August to November, the actual time spent in class during those months is nothing like it was for the previous 3 terms. There is a lot of dead time (days off, half days, etc.) built into the schedule and I wonder if the intention isn’t to provide us with more time to be able to attend job interviews and the like as we all prepare to reenter the workforce. Regardless of the intention, I am treating the time as exactly that – time to polish up my resume, apply to jobs and hopefully to land the perfect job. Some very interesting possibilities have already been opened up for us – it is a pretty exciting time for us since we have no idea what we will be doing next year (or where!) But I digress - about school – it has really been great. I don’t think I will ever really be able to put into words how great it has been and what a great learning experience it has been for me. I really do feel like I’ve made some great progress in my ability to work in a team with others and to be more empathetic to others and whatnot. Aside from all that “soft” stuff, the knowledge has been great and I’ve been “awakened” to some new interests (like strategy and consulting). The real challenge for the future will be to balance new learning with continual review of the material I have learned here. For example, when I was taking my Organizational Behavior (OB) class, I thought to myself that it would be great to review my OB notes or read a chapter from the OB book every day to keep fresh on the topic. (That is actually ironic because I remember feeling like my OB class at BYU was a waste of time – I think the lens of experience has changed the color of the subject).
One of the highlights of the program so far was our “Living Management Consultancy Project” where the group I was assigned to received a business case from Eneco (a European energy provider) and we were tasked with generating and presenting a solution to the Eneco executives. We worked (more than) full-time for a week in our group, experienced the whole range of emotions as we struggled to understand the problem, frame it and research it, come up with a innovative solution and figure out how to present it. There were times when we were totally lost as a team and it seemed like we were not going to be able to come up with anything, but we kept at it and eventually came up with a solution that we felt confident about. When we presented it, our hard work was validated and they were very enthusiastic about our solution. We received very positive feedback and it felt really good to have our hard work validated.
We’re right now in Austria on vacation. Wow! As we drove through Germany (stopping at several lovely little towns for the night along the way) things just kept on getting more and more scenic. We are now staying at a beautiful lodge that is perched on one side of a little valley amidst the mountains with views of all the other beautiful “Swiss chalet” style lodges, green meadows, thick forest and mountain peaks on the other side. Last night I sat out on the balcony of our little suite and just enjoyed the mountain air and the view in total relaxation – it has been a while since I have had the luxury of having nothing to do but enjoy the scenery. Today we walked up into the mountains and spent the better part of the day just picking mountain berries and looking for antlers (the kids saw some shed elk antlers at the entrance to the lodge and when they discovered that you could find them just laying around in the mountains, they were all about looking for them – the problem is that they think I am holding out on them and that if I would just tell them what area to look in, they would be able to find some – I imagine there are some out there, but I am not sure we are going to be able to find them this time of year). This is pretty much the first vacation I have had in a long time where I have had the luxury of no cell phone, no internet and no responsibilities. It feels strange (to be honest) but I am hoping that since we are just now at the beginning of the vacation, it will start to feel a bit more normal as we get further into it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The kids learn Dutch

This is a letter that we received from the kids school:

Dear parents of Sterling Winter and Ginger A.,
We would like to inform you of the results of the Dutch lessons. Over the past months we have done five modules with the children in which a large number of words were presented.
They have been working hard both at home and at school.
On Monday, May 9, the children took a vocabulary test. This test was about recognizing the pictures when a word was read out loud. The words came from the following modules:
  • School
  • Home
  • Body
  • Nature
  • Work and free time
  • Jobs
Sterling scored 96%
Winter scored 96%
Ginger scored 94%

This is a great result for all the children.
In the next course speaking the Dutch language will be emphasized. We will also be raising the tempo.
I hope you have been sufficiently informed.

Mrs. de Bruine

Quite a nice compliment and it goes to show that the kids are doing well (and maybe that they need to increase the pace a bit - which the teacher noted will be done)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Update

We moved Jessica's father Max a week or so ago. When I first came to Holland, I saw these trailers on the road and fell in love. Max rented one (which he pulled with his Volvo - a very normal thing around here) and it was cool to finally be able to use one.

The girls received a package from Grandma with new Easter dresses and swimsuits. Obviously, it was a big hit:

Ginger has also been insisting that she be allowed to sleep in her new swimsuit...

That night, the kids had a church play that they had been practicing for (Note Ginger in her new pink dress)
Ginger sang in the angels choir:

Winter had a speaking role as one of the main angels

That night Winter went over to her Aunt Marjolien's house for a sleepover. The next morning the remaining kids wanted to go swimming - I said "sure"...this is the canal that is right outside our front windows - within spitting distance of the house almost. Nice that kids have such low standards huh?

While they were swimming, I pulled the foam roof thing out of the car (the fabric had started falling off it). It was an incredible pain in the rear end. Reattaching the existing plastic fabric turned out to be completely not doable (due to shrinkage) but now that I am looking at this photo, I am wondering if there is some sort of rubberized texture I could just spray onto it as is (without trying to re-fabric-ize it) since the surface is so smooth. Might be something to think about...
Later we decided to run over to the local windmill in the neighboring town - it is called "the hare." If you use Google Chrome as your webrowser, you will be given the option to translate the page when you get to the website - this might be helpful to you if you care to learn a bit about the history of this particular mill...
I thought the pictures of Ginger riding down Benthuizen main street on a Holiday Saturday afternoon with virtually no traffic was fun for several reasons:
  1. No cars/traffic
  2. Ginger is an awesome bike rider
  3. Fun views of an "antique" city
Unfortunately, as we got closer to the mill, the pavestones give way to pavement...

We made it! It was a windy day, so this thing was literally humming along at a very fast pace. The sound was really cool/old school.

This is the field where the wind is grown - note the shadows of the "sails" of the mill...

Ginger ascends the "stairs" that are actually more like a ladder up to the top of the mill...they were covered in grain dust :)

Halfway up we stepped out side. The kids are just a few feet away from certain death from those sails. Like I said, they were REALLY moving fast. Ginger checks behind her to make sure she is safe...
We did eventually make it all the way up to the very top where the big wooden gears are that transfer the horizontal rotation of the sails into the vertical rotation that is used for turning the grinding wheels. I was a bit dissapointed to see that they had the gears disengaged and were just running the mill for show (rather than to actually grind anything). I guess it makes sense though since they just have a small gift shop in the bottom and they probably don't really sell that much milled grain - so it probably isn't necessary to run the mill once a week (like they do). Anyway, it was a bummer to see the gears disengaged, so I didn't take any pictures or anything. In retrospect I wish I had - however, it is close enough I can drop by again anytime.

On the way home from the mill, the kids saw this spot and wanted to go fishing/swimming here - so for the second time in a day....apparently the water is not quite "warm" (judging by the look on Sterling's face)

Tomorrow Winter comes home mid-day, Jessica comes home in the evening and then Tuesday, I go back to school (Monday is some sort of national holiday) and Jessica gets to hang with the kids (they have two weeks off from school).
In the meantime, I need to get all the bike parts and car parts out of the living room so that Jessica doesn't have a heart attack when she arrives...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dutch Hinges

Not sure why, but sometimes the Dutch like to have their hinges on the wrong side of the door (ie, the hinges to an entry door are mounted on the outside of the house - creating a situation where a thief could simply pop the pin out of the hinge and remove the door to gain entry). So, with elegant ingenuity, the dutch have created a simple mechanism to prevent such thievery:

Exhibit A

They've simply installed a pin/socket setup on the inside of the hinges. Now, when you pull the pins, you still can't get into the house.

Now here's the part I'm still not sold on...what happens when some prankster pulls the pins and you don't notice? Well, I'm guessing you wake up, open the door to get some fresh air, and are promptly quite surprised to find that the door falls off and smashes your Chihuahua. Not a great way to start the morning.

Rottemeren Fort

Since I had the week off, and since the kids have a 1/2 day each Wednesday, I took them out to build a fort in the forest between here and Rotterdam.

There were dead branches ALL over the place so it was no problem and with some teamwork, we had this nifty little fort built.

There was some old tarp laying around that we cut a few squares off to get us off the wet ground.
We built a little tiny comfort fire and had some snacks.
Not sure what this pose is all about...
Sterling had packed his marbles along, so we set up a circle and the kids had fun playing for the first time.
This is the lake that is basically the start of the river that Rotterdam was named after. Sterling and Winter were pretty proud of themselves for getting the courage up to cross this gaping chasm of death over a raging whitewater river...
And of course, when they saw this little dam, they had to show off on it too - this time Ginger got involved.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dutch Sunday

This is the view from the window of the chapel in the church here. Right now church is held in an office building -they say they are going to break ground for a new building right down the street from our house sometime this summer, but I guess construction moves pretty slowly over here (compared to the rate at which they do things in the US). It is a bit distracting when you can watch the ambulances and police go flying past with their lights blaring during a church meeting...

And here is how we get around - the red "fietzpad" and Ginger is usually on the back of someone's bike. Today, she really wanted to ride on Winter's bike.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New IPhone = Pictures

A new friend sold me a jailbroken Iphone for 60 Euro (jailbroken means I can just stick a regular prepaid SIM card in it without buying into a contract.) That means I now have a camera!

The cool tunnel I ride through every day (and yes, that is me on my uber-cool moped):

The view from my office on our 3rd floor bedroom overlooking a canal and some "park" type area in front of the next row of houses. There is a fietzpad (bike path) in front of the road and there are (on nice days) tons of bikers, walkers and dog walkers going by - quite scenic.

One more quick note about that photo from the tunnel - Jessica took it when we were riding back from Rotterdam where we attended a Chinese New Years party thrown by some of my school friends. It was raining, and Jessica rode the whole way home on the cargo rack on the back of the moped....CRAZY. Anyway, it was cool to have some company on the ride, but over 20kM with 2 people on a moped made for 1 was a bit on the long side.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back to School

It is something like week three of the MBA program and it actually amazes me what a whirlwind it has been. I've been going to class in the morning on my "bromfietz" (a Tomos brand 50cc moped that is supposed to be governed out at a max speed of 45 kph, but which I have actually had up close to 60 kph) which takes around 35-45 minutes each way. Classes are on what appears to be a random schedule, but there are tons of group projects and other things that cause me to come home late (sometimes really late) at night. I haven't been seeing much of my family lately, but we tell ourselves it is OK since it will only be for one year. Skype is nice since it allows me to at least see the kids a few times during the week before they go to bed.

Riding around on a moped in Holland is probably the biggest adventure for me. The first time I tried riding from our house in Zoetermeer to Rotterdam was a major disaster. It was very cold, and the route we had mapped out in Google Maps was not feasible since it covered several roads that were not bromfietz-approved - in other words, I couldn't ride on them. Plus, the roads are horribly marked (in my opinion - coming from TX where every road has a real nice big sign telling you what road it is.) So I was hopelessly lost and it is really a miracle I ever made it to my destination. After an hour and half I finally made it to school, but that night it took as much courage as I could muster to hop back on that horse and head back out into the big city to try to find my way home (which also resulted in an extended ride with severe time wasted in taking wrong turns all over the place.) The good news is that after that first day, I pretty much had my route down and it has been much better since. I feel truly dutch zipping around past cars in traffic jams, onto and off of the designated "fietzpads" (designated bike/bromfietz roads) and cruising around through all the awesome scenery. I think if I had a video camera, I would duct tape it to my helmet and record the whole journey - it is that cool of a ride. I pass swans, ducks, pheasants, rabbits, etc as well as tons of other bikers and motorists, cool houses, interesting businesses, all kinds of canals and lakes, forest, city, etc. It is a really cool ride and it is a nice way to calm the nerves each day since it is about the only time that I am not going 100% on school work.
Last week I ran out of gas coming home right as I hit the city limits of Zoetermeer. I had no cellphone, no idea where the closest gas station would be (or even if it would be open at that late hour) and worst of all, I had not yet discovered that the gas tank on the bromfietz has a reserve tank that is accessible with the simple flip of a switch (yes, I am ashamed I didn't even think to check for that) so I walked all the way home. By the time I arrived (I think it was around midnight) Jessica had just about worked herself into a frenzy and was starting to hit up all my new schoolmate friends on facebook.
In general, school has been absolutely fantastic and I am actually being blown away with the quality and applicability of the information. The class is extremely diverse which is also a big help for me as I can certainly use the practice slowing things down and simplifiying. I've already met some great friends from around the world and am still very excited about this whole thing. My big fear is that it will be over too soon (or that I will die from the huge homework load.)
A brief list of interesting things that have taken place so far:
  1. I am running for the VP, Alumni Relations position in the Student Association. The students are voting and the polls close this week. Keep your fingers crossed. My competitor is a two-person team with a good social network, so I have some stiff competition.
  2. I have already been rejected from several case competitions that I hastily entered. They were probably right not to select me since the field of the competitions was a much better fit for some of the other students and they had much better preparations, but I figured I would cast in my lot. I'd do it again if I had the chance, but I need to do some serious research if I want to be competitive - the question is when?
  3. They placed everyone into 5-6 person groups and we have numerous group assignments that we have to complete. It is rapidly becoming apparent that this will be one of the most challenging aspects of the course. It is much easier to write a paper on a subject when you are the only one writing it then it is to try to collaborate as a team and take in the cultural perspectives, opinions, etc. of a diverse team (Croatia, India, China, Indonesia and USA) and to incorporate it all into a single document.
I'm really looking forward to getting some sort of camera that I can use to document some of the things I see each day. It is tough for me to blog without's just me...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Farmer Goes Dutch

It is now something like 11:30am local time. I just woke up and my body has no idea what is going on. The last 24 hours (or so?) have been a real whirlwind and I really have very little concept of how much time has elapsed since we started out journey to transfer from the enclave of family & friends in Plano, TX to a new group of family (and hopefully soon to be friends too) in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands. We were greeted at the airport by Jessica’s family. Her dad had borrowed a big (by Dutch standards) van which really helped with getting our huge amount of luggage (that’s another story)transported to our new home.

Our new home – wow! What can I say? Jessica and her dad coordinated on getting the rental agreement completed while we were still in TX and then he proceeded to coordinate with the local clan to collect various cast-off bits of furniture and furnishings for it. I figured that we would get here to find flea bitten couches, lumpy mattresses and a TV-table in the kitchen. To the contrary, we walked into a fully furnished, clean and ready to live in apartment furnished with some very nice, gently used furniture. I was literally amazed at the generosity of our friends and family here.

We lugged all the luggage up a couple flights of stairs to dump it in our room for later, crashed for a few hours of sleep and then woke ourselves up to start the new year’s eve festivities. Wow! What a welcome to Holland! Jessica had always complained about how lame our New Year’s celebrations have been in the past, but I don’t think anything in the US compares to the way they do it over here. When we arrived (something like 10am local time,) there was what sounded like sporadic gunfire all around us. I thought they were shooting ducks or something, but it turns out, the explosions were premature revelers lighting off gigantic firecrackers. That was nothing compared to what was to come. Throughout the night (as we hung out at Jessica’s cousin’s house) the general roar (punctuated by alarmingly potent explosions – apparently illegal bombs from Denmark) grew and grew as the hour approached. At midnight, we toasted to a new year in Holland and to friends then stepped outside to light off a few fireworks and enjoy the spectacle. It was like nothing I had ever seen. All around us, revelers were doing the same, but with significantly larger fireworks. It was like being in the center of a hundred fourth of July celebrations. We videotaped the din for probably something like 20 or 30 minutes before my hands were frozen and there was no sign that the fireworks were going to stop. The entire town was literally engulfed with fireworks and we could turn 360 degrees and see them going off in every direction (aside from the ones being set off right next to us that probably were damaging our eardrums.)The walk home was like what I imagine it would be to walk home through a Baghdad firefight and we retired to the sound of fireworks and explosions. By the way, I just have to say something about those Danish fireworks…they had to be HUGE. There were explosions that I literally felt in my chest (even though they were lit at some distance away and out of my range of vision.) These bombs had to have been somewhat similar to real bombs and make the “pop” of the explosions of the biggest US fireworks seem like a needle drop. In fact, I hear that every year, kids end up getting body parts blown off by these things. Wow. Now that is a celebration - and what a welcome to Holland!