Category Archives: Words

The Orkaan

I learned a new Dutch word this week. It’s orkaan, and it means hurricane. I was in Paris when I first heard blips about a storm moving up the East Coast of the United States. Knowing the media’s tendency to over-dramatize storms (dashing hopes of snow days for as long as I can remember), I wasn’t too concerned—until my in-laws e-mailed to say that they were changing their plans to visit us (plans beginning Tuesday, 30 October). They didn’t want to be away during Hurricane Sandy and have to wonder if their basement had flooded, or if other damage had been done. I e-mailed my own parents, asking: Is this thing really a big deal? 

Just a few of the split and fallen trees on my parents’ street

As we now know without doubt, the answer was yes. While my extended family and friends throughout the NJ and NY area lost power and hunkered down away from windows and bailed out their basements and took cold showers and heated soup over gas stoves, I had what they did not: unlimited access to all the images flooding the news and social media coming out of the storm. It was horrifying.

Flag outside my sister’s apartment building, shredded by wind that reached 80+MPH on Monday, 29 October

I don’t expect my international friends here to be apprised of the weather forecasts for my home state, but when I went to church last Sunday I was babbling to everyone about the storm that was then about-to-hit. When the winds and rain got bad the following day, I received a series of e-mails and texts all along the lines of: Power’s out! Conserving batteries now. …followed by silence.

In the intervening week there have been short updates followed by much longer ones as people’s power blinks back to life. Not everyone’s has: my sister is one of many now at the one-week mark without electricity. But those with it tell stories of downed trees and smashed cars and flooded streets, and they all stress that the loss of electricity is only an inconvenience compared to what many are going through.

Everything in my parents’ neighborhood is coated in what my brother accurately described as what would happen if you put “trees in a food processor.”

Hurricane, n. Etymology:  < Spanish huracan, Old Spanish *furacan, Portuguese furacão, from the Carib word given by Oviedo ashuracan, by Peter Martyr (as transl. by R. Eden) as furacan. Thence also Italian uracano (Diez), French ouragan, Dutch orkaan, German, Danish, Swedish orkan. The earlier English forms reflect all the varieties of the Spanish and Portuguese, with numerous popular perversions, hurricane being itself one, which became frequent after 1650, and was established from 1688. Earlier use favoured forms in final -ana-ano, perhaps deduced from the Spanish pluralhuracanes (but words from Spanish were frequently assumed to end in -o). (Thank you, OED.)

Now, in light of an orkaan this may not seem very important, but while I was in Paris I spent quite a bit of time on my essay for an expat writing contest giving advice on moving abroad. That essay is now live on the Expats Blog site for your reading (I hope!) pleasure. If you like Unquiet Time, would you leave my entry a comment or a “like”? It helps bring attention to my entry for the writing judges. Thanks!!


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Filed under Our Dutch Adventure, Words

Taptoe Delft

“Look!” I pointed for Tim. “Behind the pirate ship– sousaphones!” There they were: white round rims bouncing above deck.

It was Friday night and we were full of anticipation for Taptoe Delft—a biennial concert in the tradition of military tattoos.

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Delft Taptoe 2012

By way of a confessional, I used to be really into marching band. We’re talking about high school. My initial course of college study was music education, and my goal was to direct a band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dreams change, but… that would still be pretty awesome.

Now, why call a band festival a tattoo? I didn’t have a clue, though I knew that one of the most famous tattoos is the three-week festival each August in Edinburgh, Scotland. My first thought was that the Dutch taptoe must be an alteration of tattoo— but it’s actually the other way around. Taptoe arose from the tradition of a drum corps calling the soldiers back from the bars; it literally meant: turn off the taps! [Really, the dictionary notes on this one are fun. See the bottom of the post.] One of our friends here isn’t a fan of the tattoo, arguing that it glorifies a tradition of war. I suppose it does, but growing up my generation in America, marching bands meant parades on July 4 and football fields on brisk autumn nights.

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See, emphasis on the TAP? Oh my gosh, I just got a joke in Dutch. I think.

We were treated to a performance that lasted for over three hours and ranged from the musically spectacular… to the truly hokey and bizarre. Our evening began with an opening act: the fun, nontraditional marching band Feestkapel De Blaasbalgen, who played party tunes while their emcee ran around the stadium holding up signs for the crowd to first clap, then sway, and then on to motions including kissing, jumping, and a polonaise. As the sun set, the full corps of assembled bands filed onto the square to kick off the main event.

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The market lends itself to dramatic entrances, and several of the bands made theirs by marching out the wide-open doors of the Nieuwe Kerk (one, strikingly, playing “Fame”). While we enjoyed the whole show, there was a broad spectrum of ability and polish among the bands who performed.

Interspersed were moments of strange amateur theatre. I had higher hopes for the off-stage pirate ship than its actual role: to be dragged on to great effect while an overture from Pirates of the Caribbean was played over a loudspeaker… when there were at least seven live bands present… and then after a man in costume shouted something about being Jack Sparrow, and some extras in costume led the crowd in a few sea shanties, the whole thing was just dragged off again. (Leaving some of us asking: to what end?)

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The bands were all Dutch but one, and (in my opinion) the best of the home crews was easily the Chr. Drum en Showfanfare DVS, from Katwijk. But slightly after 10 PM, the doors of the church opened for this year’s guest band: the Royal Danish Navy Band, out of Copenhagen. They were small, only twenty people compared to groups with 100+.

They. were. stunning.

A single word kept popping into my mind: precise. Every member of this group was impeccably precise, in music, in movement, in demeanor (sometimes serious and sometimes very humorous). I had the utmost respect for them twelve minutes later.

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Royal Danish Navy Band

I would have much preferred ten more minutes of the Danes than the actual finale of the event, during which everyone marched neatly back for a stationary and awkward version of “You Raise Me Up,” complete with a lounge-style vocalist and knee-bobbing back-up girls. Every time the chorus came around, the vocalist sang: “I am down, when I am on your shoulders…” What? Well… at least there were fireworks.

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There are some notable disadvantages to having an apartment on the market, most of them associated with noise. But I suppose the noise must translate occasionally to a free concert.

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 Tickets ran €17,50 (ours) to €33,50, but there were plenty of free seats Saturday during the Taptoe Street Parade, which went all through Delft in the afternoon. It included the bands from the concert, as well as more local and student bands.

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A small but dedicated trumpet player

It was a hot afternoon and knowing how hot those uniforms get, I didn’t envy these guys. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

And now, the OED on tattoo:

Etymology:  In 17th cent. tap-too, < Dutch taptoe in same sense; < tap the tap (of a cask), + toe = doe toe ‘shut’. So Swedish tapto, Spanish (1706) tatu. Compare German zapfenstreich, Low German tappenslag, Danish tappenstreg, with the first element the same, and second element meaning ‘stroke, beat’.

1. A signal made, by beat of drum or bugle call, in the evening, for soldiers to repair to their quarters in garrison or tents in camp.

Example: 1644   Col. Hutchinson’s Orders in T. C. Hine Nottingham, etc. (1876) App. §8   If anyone shall bee found tiplinge or drinkinge in any Taverne, Inne, or Alehouse after the houre of nyne of the clock at night, when the Tap-too beates, hee shall pay 2s.

2. A military entertainment consisting of an elaboration of the tattoo by extra music and performance of exercises by troops, generally at night and by torch or other artificial light.

And lastly: eighteen seconds of the Danish marching band, accompanied by many bicycles.


Filed under Our Dutch Adventure, Words

German Hotel Room Needs a Copy Editor

Your guess is as good as mine. If you’re German, your guess might be better.

cant [kant] noun

1. insincere, especially conventional expressions of enthusiasm for high ideals, goodness, or piety.
2. the private language of the underworld.
3. the phraseology peculiar to a particular class, party, profession, etc.
4. whining or singsong speech, especially of beggars.
– from
Personally I’m hoping we’re in the ballpark of #2….


Filed under Everyone Needs a Copy Editor, Words

Conversation Group

Kostbaar. The Dutch word for expensive is (acc. Google translator) kostbaar. I had to look this up this morning because something I was not able to say last night was still driving me nuts.

In December I tore a little slip off a homemade (huisgemaakt—blast—I typed this 3 different ways wrong before I got it right….) sign in a shop advertising Dutch conversation lessons in an informal group setting, one evening a week, for €5 per person. Yes: it’s 2012 and we are making another charge at learning Dutch (Nederlands leren).

The new arrangement (two weeks in) is about the right level for us in terms of time and financial commitment. An expensive (that’s right: kostbaar), lengthy, course with homework was really just not going to happen, whatever our best intentions might be. So now on Thursday evenings we go to a local cafe and sit with one teacher and two or three other learners. The teacher asks us questions (in Dutch), such as: “Who is in your family?” and we all butcher our ways through answering.

Ik heb een zus en een broer en een moeder en een vader… 

Linguistic chaos strikes quickly. Everyone in our beginners’ group has a different level and vocabulary. (Tim and I are on the low end, but in our defense the other people in our group have lived here more than twice as long as we have. I have, we have discovered, an extensive written vocabulary, but my pronunciation is awful and I don’t always recognize words when I hear them.) Our original languages are different: English, Italian, Hungarian. We all drift into broken combinations of multiple languages when our vocabulary fails us. It’s kind of crazy, and when I leave my head is really swimming, and I have a sheet of paper with all kinds of words and phrases hastily scrawled on it.

Somehow, last night, we got to the question of “Do you prefer European or American fashion?” (I’m going to be frank: this topic is not one of my immediate conversational needs.) And what I wanted to say was: I like European clothes, but clothing here is expensive. I think what I actually did was stare at the ceiling for a while concentrating really, really hard, and then say “My sister works for Calvin Klein,”* because I knew all those words.

*Technically, she works for the company that owns Calvin Klein, but guess what: I don’t know how to say that.

Now, I love the Oxford English Dictionary. I am always learning stuff from it, and I don’t mean how to spell. The other day I wanted to clarify use of the phrase “under way.” I always hesitate on if it’s “under way” or “under weigh.” The OED firmly tells me that “under weigh,” though common, is “erroneous” because the actual phrase comes from the Dutch onderweg, literally “under way.”

Add it to the vocabulary list.

With honkball — baseball. And breien — knit. And wetenschapper — scientist.

Then next week when my teacher asks, “Wat lees je?” I can say: “Ik lees het woordenboek.”

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How We Travel

I’ve been sitting at my computer for two hours in my bathrobe. It’s midmorning and I’m thinking on the off chance someone rings the doorbell, I should be more presentable. There are about twenty windows open on my computer, and after long, hard research, I’ve just had a major epiphany:

It is going to cost a bunch of money to fly to the United States.

I am now ready to present my research findings to the board of directors, AKA, my husband.

While that may not sound revelatory, this is kind of how my trip-planning usually unfolds: a moment of clarity after muddy hours (days, usually) of Internet searching and trying to string things together in creative ways. (Epiphanies don’t have to be positive, you know.)

Before we moved abroad, we had a long-standing goal of one major trip once a year (2006: Greece; 2007: Hawaii; 2008: fiscal recovery from wedding; 2009: Portugal, Germany; 2010: Netherlands, then we moved here; France; weekend trips to Belgium and Austria). Lately I’ve been entrenched in research for trips later in 2011: a short trip to Barcelona and a longer trip to Italy and beyond, and (if feasible) a visit to the USA.

When I say entrenched, I mean it: I spend hours and hours and days approaching things from all angles, trying to figure out the cheapest way to do something or to find the one place I know we’re going to love. It takes a lot of time, but when it all comes together it can lead to great experiences. So I’ve started to accumulate some knowledge. And I’ve started to offer advice to family and friends who are planning trips. And I thought maybe I’d put some pointers up here for people who were interested.

Yes, we are at a relatively carefree phase of life: no kids, living in Europe, Tim gets a ridiculous amount of vacation and I make my own schedule. But let’s be clear: we don’t travel because we have lots of disposable income. Currently we are a postdoc and a freelance writer; in our last incarnation we were a graduate student and a church employee. Neither of us makes the big bucks. But we prioritize travel over other things (like saving for a house, like buying new clothes, like eating out more than occasionally).

The biggest pieces of advice I have for people who want to travel but don’t have a lot of extra cash are:

1. Be willing to spend time instead, looking for bargains.

2. Be really flexible. Have the goal of “an amazing vacation,” instead of “a vacation to Paris in May.”

Most of our trips do not begin with a destination. They usually begin with a time period: “I think we should do something in August.” Or, more commonly: “Let’s go somewhere in the spring or fall and maybe it will be cheaper than in the summer.” From there we make a huge long list of everywhere we’ve ever thought was interesting, and I run a few quick price checks on airfare (assuming airfare is what’s called for). Usually this is a good way to rule out a couple options. Because if you’re seeing lots of flights in the $1000 range, you might get lucky by searching harder and find flights for $800, but you’re probably not going to find them for $400. We also think about shoulder seasons—times of year when desirable destinations are less crowded and less expensive.

Starting with the biggest picture possible means the planning is really ungrounded at first, and the options are disparate. In February 2009, for example, we were either going to go to Portugal… or to Costa Rica. (Cost of airfare swung the vote.)

We commit to a place by buying the plane tickets when we find a reasonable deal. Then, because we’re officially going, we find a travel guide and start looking for hotels and other things. I usually wind up purchasing a travel guide, but I’m slowly going over to using the library’s. (Trouble is, I like to write in them. And I prefer Rick Steves, and our library doesn’t have him.) Sometimes we don’t book the hotels until much later along. (This can be beneficial if places need deposits, too; you don’t pay all your costs in one chunk.)

In terms of budgeting, I have to be realistic about what we’ll spend on the ground once we arrive. This is the category that always surprises me afterward. It’s why after a trip, we’ve learned to review. Look at your costs and what was spent where and if it was worth it. Over the years I’ve had to learn where I’m willing to compromise. Are you only comfortable in a certain level of hotel? Are you willing to do some cheaper meals (and maybe stay in a place with an efficiency kitchen) to offset the nice one out? Will you take a flight that departs at 6:00 AM? (I will not.) Do you need souvenirs? (Photos are our main souvenir.)

Souvenir from Santorini. Our travel skills have improved since then. I think our photography skills have improved since 2006, too.

When I find those pie-in-the-sky ideas—a dream hotel that’s way out of our budget, or a location that’s absolutely stunning—I don’t ditch them. I bookmark them, and then the next time I start this whole process over again, I look them up again. You never know what changes.

Here are a bunch of my favorite resources for trip-planning:

SkyScanner Why? Not only does it do flight comparison (lots of sites do that; I like, it has my dream feature: you can choose your starting airport and date (say, Amsterdam April 30) and then for the destination choose EVERYWHERE and it will show you literally everywhere you can fly direct or indirect from that airport on that day, with costs. I had wished for this feature in my head before I found it here, and I was so happy. Now, for the huge airports (like Amsterdam), this can be overwhelming, but here’s an example of where it’s useful. We’re planning a trip that winds up at a small airport in Italy (Bari). We need to go somewhere from there, but we don’t have our heart set on any specific place. It can’t be somewhere too expensive to reach, and maybe we want it to take us closer to home rather than farther. So I can look and see everywhere I could fly on our date from Bari. It’s amazing! It opens up whole new ideas (“Hey, we could fly to Venice for…”) and is prime for cost-effectiveness.

Similarly, Wikipedia for airports. This is great, too. If you search a specific airport on Wikipedia, you will find a page showing what airlines fly to an airport and where they wind up. (You can also read accident stats, transportation info, and other useful things.)

Rick Steves’ Travelers’ Helpline. Ask questions, get answers. I ask questions here fairly often: Have you been to ___ in August and is air-conditioning a must? Can anyone describe the bus experience from __ to __? Almost always, people answer. And to pay it forward, I also scan for questions on areas I know.

And of course: Trip Advisor. I mainly use this for hotel reviews, though I know it has a lot of other features. I also contribute hotel reviews faithfully after trips. As I’ve probably already said on this blog, I became a convert to Trip Advisor after a bad hotel stay in 2007 (website looked great, B&B was a disappointment). Someone said, “Have you heard of Trip Advisor?” and then I went on it and read all these reviews were people said exactly what we’d gone and experienced in person. Nice. Yes, it’s full of individual experiences and opinions, so if there’s 99 great reviews and 1 terrible, we probably throw out the terrible. We also scan the reviews for people who “sound like us” or (you can see their info) come from the US and are in our age demographic, figuring that makes it more likely we have similar standards. I also am a notoriously light sleeper, so I scour the reviews for anything people say about street noise, bad sleep, etc.

Sticky notes! Who can plan a trip without them? Not I.

Friends! (No website for friends.) If I know someone who’s been or even lived someplace I’m thinking about going, I talk to them. Plain and simple. You get much clearer advice than any website or guidebook can offer. A French friend, for example, became nearly apoplectic when we mentioned Marseille. So we didn’t go there. We seem to know a lot of people with experience in Barcelona, so for that trip (upcoming) we have pages of e-mail recommendations on restaurants and activities.

How do you plan for travel? Or, more creatively, where do you really hope to visit someday?


Filed under European Travel, Words

Restauration nonstop

I know, I know…. It was going so well and then I dropped of the face of the Internet for ten days. The good news is that for the first seven following the hairy chickens episode, I was in southern France, mostly in Provence.

It was a holiday characterized by delicious, heavy food (yesterday a French friend said to Tim, “How many meals a day did you eat in France?” and Tim said, “Three: breakfast, lunch, dinner,” and the friend moaned and said, “No, no, too many!” This explains a few things.), Roman ruins, medieval cities, and beautiful farm country where tomatoes and grape vines grow against pomegranate trees and figs. Let’s just say: I’ve heard that French people are very proud to be French. And after what I saw last week, I think I get it. I’d be proud of it too.

But the bad news is…

The day we flew home from Nice to Amsterdam (less-than-two-hour flight on budget airline Transavia), seven days of travel, new food, using public facilities, and touching things in all sorts of markets and shops finally did me in. I felt weird that morning, and by the time we landed in Amsterdam I had vicious chills and was so weak that picking up my purse was almost impossible. Thanks to a mechanical problem with the usually-stellar Dutch rail system, we didn’t get home to Delft for three hours after that (as opposed to one). When we got home I had a 102 fever (102 F, Europeans) and in summary, the day got worse from there.

Having spent two solid days emptying the entire contents of my person—brain included, I think—and then one day stable but exhausted, I have not been able to write a coherent post about our trip, so I will start with the following: my favorite sign we saw in France, which turns out to be strangely applicable.

This sign belonged to a beachside cafe in Nice, and I loved it immediately: Restauration non stop. I thought the good old French had noun-ified the act of restauranting (which I may have just gerund-ified) and turned it into some frantic round-the-clock pursuit. Turns out M-W OK’ed restauration with the definition below (from the French, surprise), causing me to realize that the basic root of restaurant, an eating establishment, is to restore us. So you might say that I had seven days’ restauration (nonstop, even) followed by two days’ sickness and now two more days of a different restauration. Interesting.

Also, though the nonstop is humorous, I eventually figured out there was a standard meaning for that word, appearing on some restaurant signs. It means they don’t close for the two-hour early afternoon respite that is typical in France.

Main Entry: 2res·tau·ra·tion

Pronunciation: resträsyn

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): -s

Etymology: French, literally, restoral, restoration, from Middle French — more at RESTORATION

: RESTAURANT; also : the purveying of food (as by a restaurant )

“restauration.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (19 Oct. 2010).


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Cooking sans oven

Though Santa might come early this year and bring me a new oven (yay), for now I am daily trying to come up with recipes that can be made on the stove top. I would welcome submissions of stove-top recipes, particularly desserts or entrees. We have a stove range, but no oven, no microwave, crock pot, or toaster/toaster oven.

I’ve noted as I flip through my recipe binders skimming and pulling ones I know can be done in a pan that our dinners have had a decidedly Asian flair of late. We do love that wok. This Saturday I made Pad Thai, following a New York Times recipe my mom sent me ages ago. The recipe is vegetarian, but I added chicken and shrimp and just cooked them beforehand. It came out a little peppery for our taste (we were hoping for more of the sweetness) so if I make it again, I might back off the cayenne. Is the NY Times an authentic source for Thai recipes? I don’t know. But overall this dish was pretty good.

Notable photo points:

1. You need a lot of ingredients to make Pad Thai! The prep (gathering all ingredients, slicing and chopping) took far longer than the actual cooking. 1a. The wine is not one of the ingredients for Pad Thai.

2. FInished product will feed two people at least twice.

3. The definition of sans is surprisingly emotive for such a little preposition.

Main Entry: 1sans

Pronunciation: sanz, saa()nz, sänz

Function: preposition

Etymology: Middle English saun, saunz, sans, from Middle French san, sanz, sans, from Old French sen, senz, sens, partly from Latin sine without, and partly modification (influenced by Latin sine) of Latin absentia in the absence of, abl. of absentia absence — more at SUNDER, ABSENCE

: deprived or destitute of : WITHOUT <her face seen in repose … sans the liveliness of her eyes revealed her age — Eugene Walter>

“sans.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (20 Sept. 2010).


Filed under Cooking, Words