Let the Road Rise up to Meet You

In a few days my wife and I will be packing up my Jeep and heading for the open road. We will pack on our bikes and golf clubs along with some clothes for all seasons and head south on Interstate 39. This trip is going to be different than our usual style. For my wife’s comfort, we would normally have it all planned out right down to the means of transportation and accommodations as well as site tours. On this trip we will leave almost all of that to chance and whim. I have no doubt we will survive and I have no doubt there will be hick-ups. But I also suspect that we will stumble onto several whimsical surprises. It is these whimsical surprises that I look forward to most of all.

I love my wife and have always tolerated and at times greatly appreciated her need to have plans laid out and surprises avoided, but truth be told, that is not my style. My daughters refer to any trip with dad as an adventure. I am a restless, impatient, let me see where this road leads me sort of guy. I will admit that the road didn’t always lead me where it was supposed to but I also made it to my destination somehow. The fact that my wife is tolerating this upcoming trip is either a testament to her willingness to humor me or at the least an acknowledgment that time has broken her will. I am excited for the trip to begin for only then will the adventure reveal itself.

Life is like this. We can go through it planning every step along the way seeking to avoid the surprises or we can take a more adventurous approach. Before we get carried away, remember that the lion share of my career was spent as a planner. I will be the first to acknowledge the benefit of goals and plans to meet them. It’s just that there is also a need for spontaneity. It’s a balance of the two that allows one to truly live. The goals are met in the planning and they in turn afford us the freedom to find the surprises that await us in the spontaneity. We can choose the direction we will point our vehicles or even the course we will travel, but to truly enjoy the journey, we must let the road rise up to meet us. The reward will be worth the risk. The surprises perhaps whimsical. The road can take us places we may never had considered and reveal to us experiences we would never have realized.

This Thursday we will get up, hop in our car and begin the trip, my expectations and imagination already miles ahead. I can’t wait for the road to rise up and take us where it would have us go. No need to wish us luck, we packed it in our bags.

Follow our journey at http://www.kenismsblog.com

One Man’s Treasure

I had just parked my car this morning after a masterfully executed parallel parking job in traffic, when as I exited the vehicle, I found a quarter staring up at me from the pavement. Now there are several ways to react to this found treasure. Most would likely dismiss it and possible have never risked traffic to even pick it up. After all, what does a quarter buy today…a gumball or maybe an after dinner mint? Some would pick it up just simply because it was something. Still others, like myself, would see it as an omen and maybe even a message. I viewed it as a message. A message from my Uncle Len.

Leonard Wundrow was my father’s younger brother and the source of most of the Wundrow joke reservoir. Any time that Uncle Len would stop by the farm, and that was often, we would be regaled with a litany of his jokes and stories, many I am sure, the kind my mother would have censored had she had the chance. There was never a dull moment when Len was involved.

But the story I want to share concerns Uncle Len’s past time. He would go for walks, head down, searching for the lost treasures of those who had passed before. Those little pieces of change that fell out of the pocket each time you reached in for your keys or a pocket knife or some other small tool. A penny here, a nickel there and if you were lucky the occasional quarter or even half dollar could be found if you knew where to look and you kept your eyes to the ground. Uncle Len was a pro and by the time he retired and found hours of additional time to search, a veritable force to be reckoned with. His house held jars full of coins waiting for their trip to the bank. Each day we would get the report, the tally for the day of treasures found.

Uncle Len’s secret, knowing where and when to look. Near the parking meter, outside the bar any early morning or in the park the morning after the fair. Locate the beer tent remains and the treasure could be impressive. He would sometimes take us with him and we would be shown the tricks of the trade but sworn to secrecy on his high production sites. One morning, the day after the VFW Fair had pulled up stakes and rolled out of town, Uncle Len hit the mother load. After a productive area pass of pocket dropped coins, Len found, tightly rolled up, a C note. Yes, My Uncle Len had found a one hundred dollar bill! His glee was contagious, his question possibly a bit naive. He was musing as to why any one would roll up a hundred dollar bill into such a small tube. They could of used it for a straw! He even considered using it as such to which we immediately said “DON’T!” I will leave it with you there, just as we did way back then.

We loved our Uncle Len. He was a character that kept his family and ours always on your toes. When he passed, he left the missing person syndrome in every family gathering that followed but he also left his legacy. To this day, and to a person in the Wundrow families, we can not pass a dropped coin without hearing his voice saying “you gonna pick that up?” So you see, this morning, with traffic whizzing by, I never thought twice, I bent down, stopped traffic, and retrieved the coin. Stepping back onto the sidewalk, my wife asked what I was doing. When I showed her the coin, we looked at each other and said, “Uncle Len’s watching us today.”

Legacies are the essence of who we were that we leave behind when we go. I can only hope that long after I am gone, I will have left some legacy, even if it just a quirky habit like viewing the little things as a treasure.

It would not be fair to end this story without reporting on what we did with the quarter. We left it in the tip jar at the cafe where we enjoyed breakfast and shared a memory or two of Uncle Len. Anything else would have seemed sacrilegious. Who knows how many hands that quarter will touch or what it might help accomplish. Thanks Uncle Len. One man’s treasure.

I Spy

Just the other day my wife and I were looking for a quick breakfast before finishing the last of our Christmas shopping.  Cracker Barrel happened to be right on the way.  I had not been back to a Cracker Barrel in many years and in fact this was the one that my youngest daughter and I used to frequent for our father daughter breakfast “adventures”.  The moment I stepped through the door the memories came flooding back.  When she was a young girl, Saturday mornings would often find us seated at our favorite booth ready to enjoy a country breakfast and begin our game of “I Spy”.

For our early trips, “I Spy” would be played with pretty straight forward clues like “I spy a pair of old skis” or “I spy a red sled”.  As she grew, the clues became less obvious and more deductive such as “I spy something I would need to ride a horse.”  There was no end to the variations and the game stretched breakfast into a most of the morning activity.  When we had finished our breakfast, she would beg me to play a game of checkers in the big white rockers they sold to their patrons and also made available for a quick game of checkers.  We would seat ourselves by the fireplace and begin our game.  The fact that she usually won might have had something to do with my graciousness to let her win but as time went by and thanks to her improving powers of observation, she would begin to win those games on her own merit.

As I said, all of these memories washed back over me and in a moment it was as if I was back there with my daughter soaking in the visual array the walls and ceiling had to offer.   As my wife and I enjoyed our breakfast it dawned on me that the game my daughter and I had played was really an alliteration of the importance of observation.  All those years, so long ago, our game of “I Spy” was preparing my daughter to be observant.  Observant of the people around her, of the environment she would live, play and work in, of the opportunities the world would afford her.  This simple game of observation would help her develop into the successful woman she has become.

Observation is something successful people practice every day of their life.  Through observation we witness our differences and how those differences can impact our lives in very positive ways.  Our individual differences allow us to specialize and to benefit from the specialties of others.  In short we both depend on and benefit from each other’s differences.  Observation also allows us to see things as they are and then to visualize how they might be made better or to work more efficiently.  Observation allows us to recognize the opportunities as they present themselves.

I spy might be a kid’s game but its applications are a life skill.  Take time to play the game with your child or grandchild but don’t stop there.  Take the time to play the game with yourself.   Be amazed with the simple observations you make and then enjoy the feeling as your horizons expand.

“I spy a world of possibilities, can you see them?”

A Broken Record

We are a culture that spends huge amounts of time keeping statistics.  We track statistics in every aspect of work, sports, entertainment and life and then record them as records.  The longest, the shortest, the highest, the lowest, the most, the least, the fastest and the slowest.  If we can measure it, we can record it.  We even dedicate an entire book to keeping these records and update it annually.  So what is it about these records that make them so sacred?

They are important, or seemingly so, because they motivate us.  They often go so far as to inspire us to reach for goals we believe might be beyond our reach.  But one thing is true, records are meant to be broken.  And, given time, they often are.

A week or so ago, one of my records was broken.  It had stood for a number of years and in the back of my mind, I know I entertained the idea that it would somehow stand forever.  It had been a record I had set at work and I was quite proud of it.  In truth, it wasn’t the record, but rather the effort that it had taken to set that record that made it so important to me.  And there in lies the point of keeping records.  It is not the loftiness of the record but rather the effort, skill, tenacity and often the risk that was involved in establishing it.  Records don’t come easily.  If they did, well, they shouldn’t be records and certainly not worth tracking.

I am happy to say that my record was broken by someone very deserving.  She put forth the effort required to have the chance.  She sacrificed the personal time and dedicated herself to the work in a manner that allowed her to reach and exceed the goal.  And in the end my record fell.  Sure, there was a moment of sadness when my record fell but it was quickly replaced with a sense of pride knowing that I had inspired an individual to do what it took to break it.

That is the purpose of records and the reason they are worth recording.  They inspire people to reach higher than they otherwise would.  To accomplish things we think are beyond our ability.  To set goals worth working for.  The record setter needs to realize this fact and take pride in the effort they expended in setting it.  The record may fall, but the sense of worth and the challenge they set for others can never be taken away.

Ironically, this week we have the chance to set a new record as voters go to the polls in what might be record numbers.  What an inspiring thought that we as a nation might so fully respect the right to vote that uncountable numbers of people before us fought to secure and protect.  Like any other record, it is meant to be broken and all it takes is the will to break it.  Go be part of the record.  Have your vote counted, and then just maybe go on to choose or set a record of your own.  But remember, your record is just the bench mark for someone else to reach for.  Set the bar high.

The Way Back Seat

Quite awhile back I attempted to write a piece about the way back seat but couldn’t get it to work until now.  For those readers who are somehow too young to know what I mean, let me enlighten you.  The way back seat is not the one we think of in the SUV’s of today that have the third row seating and for that matter not even that rear seat of the mini van era.  Rather it was the rear facing seat in the old station wagons some of our parents drove.  Ours was in a yellow 1964 Ford Galaxy station wagon.  Now a days, the line is “shotgun” as riders fight for the ride in the front passenger seat.  Back then we would fight for that marvelous seat in the rear of the car we lovingly referred to as the “way back seat.”

We got two advantages when securing that seat.  One, we were well out of the reach of the long arm of the law, dad’s arm.  Two, we got to watch the countryside retreat into the distance from our vantage point there in the back seat. This usually, as we hurtled down the road on our way to some aunt or uncle’s house.

Now this is not a safety message or a “how did we ever survive our childhood” story, though the thought has crossed my mind many times since.  Truthfully, we had ample opportunities to face our mortality without the aid of the way back seat, at least I did for all of my antics growing up.  No, this is actually about the view.

As I have aged, I have come to realize that trying to fix our past doesn’t accomplish much more than regret.  Don’t misunderstand me, I adhere to the statement “those who don’t learn history, are doomed to repeat it.”  We must recognize the mistakes we have made and make every effort to learn from them and then to not repeat them.  But we can’t change the past.

So where does that leave me.  The view from that back seat was entertaining but it was where we had been and not where we were going.  That view was from the front seat.  The point I am going to make, is that we can’t relive the past but we can change the future.

On November 6th, we will ALL have the chance to vote.  Regardless of race or gender, if we are of voting age, we will have the constitutional right to vote.  Sadly, too many of us will be in the rear seat being nostalgic and will in fact, not vote.  We will make excuses like, “it is too hard to choose” or “I haven’t got time” or maybe “it just doesn’t matter.”  We will leave the decision to those riding shotgun to figure out where we are going.  The truth of the matter is that they will take us where THEY are going.

This November 6th, I am asking you to vote, to make a decision in your future through those that you would have define it.  You see, your vote does matter and it is your duty to see that it is counted.  Sitting in the way back seat, waxing nostalgic, is not the best option.  We cannot change the past but we can affect the future.  Not just for us but for all who are counting on us, counting on your vote.

Go to the polls, cast your vote.  I am willing to take the risk that you might not vote the same way I do.  I feel that strongly about the process of electing our officials.  But, who knows, if I am lucky, you just might vote the same way I do and together our votes and the votes of others will be counted and our future might just be a little more in our control.

So on election day, I invite you to ride shotgun and help us all figure out where we, as a free nation, just might be going.

To the Moon and Back

Just recently Katherine Johnson celebrated her 100th birthday.  If you are unaware, as too many are, who Katherine Johnson is, Google her and take the time to meet the woman behind the math that allowed American astronauts to reach space and eventually the moon.  Her’s is a story of perseverance in the face of both gender and race discrimination that eventually and fortunately brought her to a position of importance and respect.  She served as “the human calculator” for NASA in its early days of space travel and also served as an inspiration for black and female mathematicians of that era.

As a math teacher, I preached, to anyone who would listen, about the strengths and merits of young girls ability to grasp and apply math concepts.  Back then, I had been instrumental in developing a math curriculum for both enriching and accelerating the placement of 6th and 7th grade students.  It was immediately apparent that there was a large disparity between girls and boys in the placement.  Boys easily outnumbered the girls in having success in mathematics recognized by their teachers.  It was my opinion then and still is that if anything, we should be having a higher number of girls succeeding at math.  Math is the study of concepts that become apparent when numeric relationships are recognized.

Sorry guys, but women are far more relational in their reasoning than we are.  They also tend to be more visual and this is a valuable trait when a math student is trying to see the relationships behind the concepts that govern math.  That said, there should have been more girls being recommended and placed in those accelerated classes.  It became my quest to find them and to determine why they were not showing up in the first place.

Here comes my disclaimer.  I am not a formal researcher but rather an observer.  When I do need to research an issue, thank god for Google.  Still, even though I had no formal research to back me up, I firmly believed I could point at several reasons why girls were being overlooked.

I will tackle the easy one first as it is the most obvious and the easiest to fix.  Boys by nature are more aggressive than girls and will volunteer to answer a question even when they don’t have the answer.  They also tend to be the one with too much energy and to avoid that energy going south, teachers will tend to draw them into the conversation to help control their behavior.  Score two for the boys in the categories of recognition and involvement.  We need to bring girls into the class conversation evenly.

Next up is teaching style.  This area is much improved but also too often maligned by those on the outside.  Math and arithmetic are two different animals.  Math is a study while arithmetic is a skill.  For way too long, math in the first six to eight grades was approached as arithmetic and devoid of concept development.  It was taught from a left brain approach of rules and memorization.  I will not go into systematic details and differences, but concepts are more complex and require more variety in teaching style.  Not least of these variances is realizing that many children are more inclined to be right brain thinkers than left brain.  The left brain is more rote memorization and rule oriented while the right brain is more visual and concept oriented.  Early on I had observed that the students being recommended for accelerated placement in math were almost always involved in music classes.  No surprise that music and creativity reside in the right brain.  The girls that were being recommended for acceleration were also in those music classes.  Epiphany, if girls were by nature more visual than males, was it possible that left brain teaching techniques were leaving them a step behind to start the race.  Good news, as I stated earlier, this difference in teaching style is now widely understood and implemented by educators everywhere.  Score one for the girls getting an equal chance.

Finally the difficult one, culture.  We still don’t fully recognize the importance of the role mothers play in their daughter’s math success.  Though more documented in today’s culture, back when I was teaching if I asked a parent who helped with math homework, the answer was all too often dad.  The  mother’s response was often, “I tell them to ask their dad because I was never good at this.”  So there it was, that daughter who looked at her mother as a successful role model was left with the take away that math was seemingly not important to success but likely too hard anyway.

I will always point to and thank strong women who prove time and time again that they can “do the math” and stand as role models for every young women looking to be just as successful as every young man out there.  Mothers, please don’t send your daughter to dad every time she has a math question.  Own your role and possibly your daughter’s future success.

Happy birthday Katherine Johnson and thank you for never doubting yourself and always fighting for your place in the world.  Thanks to you, our world stretches at least to the moon and back.

 

Friends come and go….

I know I haven’t written for a while and I must tell you it’s become a bit of a thing.  The act of writing is a release for me and to have a bout of writer’s block is a real stress inducer.  I also need to warn my readers that I have had three cups of coffee this morning and as my wife can attest to, that is dangerous.  One cup leaves me witty while two cups brings out my sarcastic side.  Three cups is basically uncharted territory.

Friends mean everything to me and all too often I end up obsessing about one or two that I have lost contact with.  I always blame myself for that when in reality it is a two way street.  We all become busy with the things of life.  Careers, family, hobbies and past times all conspire to get in our way and suddenly that list of people you lost touch with starts to grow.

If you are now expecting some words of wisdom from me remember that I already warned you about the caffeine intake.  You can remain hopeful but I promise nothing.  It is just that for two days in a row, I have managed to reconnect with three groups of friends in a guilt driven effort of reunion frenzy.  It started yesterday with a lunch date with two of my previous co-workers and then continued last evening with a surprise birthday party for a friend that conveniently brought together several friends from an old couples group.

This morning, after an excruciating patience demanding drive across town in rush hour traffic, (I just needed that off my chest so thank you for that moment of venting) I arrived at a breakfast reunion with fellow retired teachers from my now distant past.  The group meets at the same restaurant every first Friday of the month for breakfast.  I had known about it but just couldn’t seem to find the time to attend.  Or was it the fear that I wouldn’t be able to go back to those old times with any success.  The moment I walked into the room, two things happened.  The first was instant acknowledgement by the assembled group.  They both acknowledged me and even though twenty plus years had passed us by, I still recognized them.  There is always that fear that as Thomas Hardy said “you can never go back”.  My apologies to Mr. Hardy but that was my take away or at least all I gathered a million years ago in some english lit class that I had been required to take.  Maybe one day I should actually read the book, but for now my contorted interpretation of his statement will suffice.  The point is we can go back, if we are willing, and might just be surprised that as much as life can change us there is still the chance for reconnections to take place.

The second thing that happened was that within a matter of minutes, the conversations took me back to the memories of the careers we had shared and the years between melted away.  The beauty of these reunions is that they take us back to times that were part of our life’s journey and were quite often the defining moments of who we had become.  It is important to realize that in those reunion conversations we focus on the happy memories.  Those memories of the times, that even though they may have had struggles and rough spots, we found ways to have fun.  That is what made us friends, that drew us together, that represented the commonalities we shared.

Breakfast lasted two hours, thus three cups of caffiene, and thanks to the memories, I was able to catch up.  We shared stories from the past and pictures from the present.  We marveled at how our thirteen and fourteen year old students of the past were now in there forties and yes, fifties, even as we were denying that we had aged at all.  The beauty of telling stories from the past is that our own age somehow retreats as the memories return us to those days.  Maybe even “the good old days.”

So if there is a point to this story it is that we should stop feeling guilty about the friends we lost touch with and just take the opportunity when it arises to reconnect.  Friends don’t really come and go, we just get separated by time.  Take the chance to go back in time every once and a while and surprise those friends that time has separated us from.  Odds are you might just surprise yourself at how quickly the years that separate you disappear.

Prost!

 

We were just strangers when we met

The sign read “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met.”  This turned out to be pretty prophetic.  By the end of one month of travel, we had met many strangers who by the time we had to part ways, were new friends.

August found my wife and I on a trip up the Rhine in Europe.  It started with us meeting two couples from Nebraska, Mureen and her husband Murray and Gayle and her husband Larry.  We shared stories and drinks and continued those conversations all week long.  Now we also met another couple the very first day and bravely introduced ourselves.  Through the next ten days, we shared walks and talks, dinners and stories of our lives.  But eventually we were saying goodbye to our new friends, Polly and Stu, but knowing we would make a mutual effort to meet again.  Strangers had turned out to be friends we just hadn’t met.

And then there was Lucerne.  We had boarded a paddlewheeler for a trip around Lake Lucerne.  Knowing no local dialects and completely on our own, we took a seat across from an elderly women.  As the boat moved away from the pier, she leaned over and asked if we were from the U.S.  Over the next hour we carried on a fascinating conversation learning things about our new friend, Lucerne and Switzerland.  When she had to disembark at her stop, the women next to her, not knowing any of us, leaned in and said “I’ll take care of them from here.”  And she did.  No language barrier was going to thwart the effort of strangers becoming friends.

My wife and I just returned from a short trip to the North Woods.  On day two of our stay, I headed out to an area golf course.  I was going to squeeze in a quick nine holes somehow hoping I could just play alone and practice my game undisturbed by any semblance of competition.  But this was not to be.  Instead, I was paired up with two gentleman, Gene and his son-in-law, Ryan.  As they had never played the course, I turned out to be their guide.  The three of us shared a very beautiful fall morning and what turned out to be one of my best scores of the season.  As I finished on the ninth hole, we all wished each other well and where we had been strangers just two hours earlier, parted as friends.

The next day, Deb and I took a long bike ride on a trail near our cottage.  When we returned back to our car, which we had left parked at a local pub, we decided we needed some lunch and the pub looked inviting.  It was while we were there that I discovered the sign I quoted at the beginning of this piece.  It was placed prominently above the bar and in the patrons soon proved how true it was.  In no time at all we were in conversation with two local construction workers, the bartender / owner of the pub and two other couples who were traveling like us and had decided to drop in, because that’s what you do at a North Woods pub.  The sign was true, there really were no strangers there.

The next day found us again at the end of another bike ride exploring yet another local pub.  Before you start worrying about my drinking habits, remember that we are on vacation, wait even better, we are retired.  Earlier, as we were locking our bikes and walking downtown, a woman crossing the street had overheard us pondering about this new place, well new to us, and told us it was a great place and that we ought to stop back later when the place opened.  Well it was later and we heeded her advice and entered the establishment.  To our surprise, the women, it turns out her name was Margaret, was not only working there but was in fact the co-owner.  We ordered our drinks and retired to the warmth and coziness of their backyard patio.  There Margaret waited on and conversed with us, sharing her story and getting ours in return.  Within the span of half an hour, we felt like friends.  Hopefully Margaret is reading this blog and is approving my story.  There is no doubt that The Vine in Minocqua will be a new favorite stop on our stays up North and we will look forward to more conversations with the owners, Margaret and Scott.

Our trip was coming to a close when we got one last chance to make a stranger a friend.  It was Saturday and we had just finished golfing.  Not wanting to miss the Badger’s football game, we stopped in the Sayner Pub, yes, I know this is starting to sound like a North Woods pub review but it’s just a coincidence.  We seated ourselves at the bar, best viewing position, I swear, and began watching the game.  We were soon surrounded by strangers who through the comraderie of a sporting event would become our new friends of the day.  Bob on our left, recently retired and living up North and Ryan on our right who turned out to be from Madison.  The Badgers won, we all celebrated and after sharing our stories, parted with the memories and emotions of another well spent day.

This piece would be pointless without a message, okay moral.  One never knows what interesting story resides in the stranger sitting next to you or maybe waiting in the same line.  That is unless you take the step to find out.  To maybe even introduce yourself.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They might just turn out to be the friend you haven’t met.

The things I know and you don’t

Travel is an incredible thing.  You can learn things you never knew but you have to be in the right place at the right time.  I have always resisted my wife’s desire to be part of a tour.  My idea of travel has been to explore while hers was leave the driving to someone else.  I held to the premise that exploring will uncover those hidden nuggets, accidently while presenting them as pleasant, most of the time, surprises.  The problem is, the odds are you might just as likely discover that you were lost and only thought you knew where you were.  The only surprise turns out to be all the things you missed and without my wife’s method, never even knew you had.  I believe the term is “blissful ignorance.”

Lest you think I am defending my approach, you are wrong.  I have, after several, no, many successful times using with my wife’s methodology, succumbed to the idea that at the very least I need to compromise.  The beauty of my wife’s reliance on tours and tour guides is that I have learned things about an area or region or country that I never would have if I had just been stumbling around in the “explore” method.  And I might add, in such a shorter period that I still had the time to indulge my desire to explore.

This trip across the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland has provided so many “aha” moments each and every day.  The tours have truly exposed us to the culture and history of the cities and countries we have traversed.  The tour guides have entertained, skipped the lines and cued us in to the history, humor and ethnicity of the tours provided for us.  Each and every time they have left us with personal space to spend exploring with just enough direction to leave us satisfied that we had seen the things that mattered.  Call it the “cliff notes” of Europe’s greatest cities.

As an example, just today we learned the connection of Professor Bunson, Mr Heinz, Jacob Astor and the Preslin family line to the city we toured.  I found out the origin of Mannheim Steam Roller, the real reason for the success of the Benz Company and the significance of the monkey statue just this side of the Heidelberg Bridge.  And let’s not forget that there were John Deere’s there but they call them Bull Dogs.  And now you are waiting for me to explain these statements………Seriously?  That was the point of this segment.  Unless you travel, unless you take my wife’s advice, you will be stuck with Google.  But I know because I got the chance to be there, to hear the stories and even better, to experience them.

My wish for everyone is that if you haven’t yet, you will one day get the chance to travel to at least a few of the places on your bucket list.  And that if and when you do, you’ll realize that there’s no shame and you are no less the explorer when you take the occasional tour or when you rely on the knowledge and wisdom of the guide.

A little history, a little beer

Today has been a lot about understanding the history and the culture of Amsterdam.  The history was part of a walking tour but also included a visit to the Anne Frank House.

We read of the atrocities visited on the Jews by the Nazis in World War Two, but we can’t begin to fathom the unbelievable inhumane nature of it until you face the reality physically.  The story unfolds before you as you walk through the secret passageway of the hidden annex.  It is striking in the sacred aura of its cramped areas and the desparate mood of forebodding that still saturates the visitor’s senses.  As you listen to her story, read to you from the pages of her diary, you cannot help but feel both pity and anger.  I left with a heighten sense of anger towards any that would still today support the Nazi beliefs or simply try to deny that this period in time and the crimes committed ever existed.

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Monument to the Resistence

Going back to the history walk, I found it interesting when the guide mentioned that  ironically, while the Dutch suffered so severely by the Nazi occupation and slaughter of the Jews, her own country was guilty of atrocities against Indonesians as part of their world colonization.  She went on to remind us of their involvement in the slave trade.  As I listened to this confession, I thought of our own history of slavery and our inhumane treatment of an entire race of human beings.  Every country seems to have its period in history that we can chose to bury or remember so as to never repeat it.

Lest you are thinking this was a dark day, it really wasn’t.  We saw marvelous architecture and art, visited the public market and learned fascinating pieces of Dutch history.  Fun fact, we forget that it was the Dutch who gave us New Amsterdam.  Ceding it to the British changed its name to the one we recognize, New York.

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A Taste of the Public Market

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Deb always said she wanted a house on the water?

I promised you a little bit of beer as well.  The Dutch will tell you that they do not really have a unique cuisine, unless you count their frites, but rather offer flavors from all over the world.  This is part of their heritage as the market traders of the world, see Dutch History 101.  To that end, I decided I would be sure to explore their selection of beers.  Last night was Heineken and today it was Amstel.  I still have Stella Artois to go, likely tonight, and then I will have savored the known Dutch offerings.  Well not so fast.  Remember, I said I would try to be on the other side of the camera lens.  After a discussion or two or three with locals, it became clear that all three beers are really just tourist choices.  In one of those conversations, I was given a list of craft beers, mostly unpronouncable, that one MUST try.  There is a lesson here for the traveler.  When you stay close to the city centers, you will be offered the tourist fare.  It is only when you venture farther out that you will begin to savor the true tastes and flavors of the culture.  Strike up a conversation, learn a few words and terms, seek out the tucked away spots and you will begin to feel less the tourist and more the visitor.  Try hard enough and you may even begin to feel like a citizen.

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Debi Does Amstel

But now the night beckons and we must go explore.