I never took that egg class in high school.

Boaz is still out of town so it’s just me here, taking care of his 43 houseplants.

Only 43? I can almost hear Boaz saying as I type this. There should be 46, which ones do you think you’re missing? Did you get the fern on the left side of the dresser? Not the dresser with the potted moss on it — the dresser that has the four succulents.

There are probably a few dozen more plants hidden under the bed, or in the cupboard behind the granola, or some other last place I’d expect. I’m only watering the ones I can find, and there are 43 of those.

We have so many plants. Or Boaz does. A week ago I called them our plants. A week ago I talked about the home garden with the smugness of a man who says “We’re pregnant” when his wife is. “We love plants.” I’d say, oblivious to the unspeakable burden that is actually caring for 43 different plants on a daily basis.

forest

Well not every day.

The outside plants, yes, every day. Of course. But inside, the tropical plants get watered 2-3 times a week depending on the size of their pot. And the succulents, those only need to be watered every 7-10 days, depending on soil wetness, root density, proximity to a window, and whether or not Mercury is in retrograde. I look up photos of the rainforest and the desert and study them on my phone as I walk around our apartment jungle trying to figure out what’s what. I’ve solved all of them except one. “Tell me what you are” I whisper angrily to that one in the corner that really could be either a fern or a succulent. I really want these plants to live.

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When he’s here, Boaz waters the outside plants in the morning. So for the first few days I did that too. Watering plants in the morning is nice, it feels like something Oprah probably does. You can pick tomatoes and eat tomatoes for breakfast.

But then one day I forgot about them until I was brushing my teeth that night, so I watered the plants at 1am. Oprah, it’s so much better.

Now I only water the plants at night. Now my favorite part of the day is going out on our balcony and quietly watering four tomato plants and three strawberry plants and a zucchini in almost pitch darkness.

While I’m watering them (Boaz says you have to water tomatoes slowly, is he messing with me?) I watch tv in our neighbours’ windows. No one has curtains in our neighborhood.

It’s so quiet that you can hear the plants drinking the water like someone sucking the last bit of milk through a straw.

Since everything fun has some sort of side effect, I’m sure this is bad somehow. Maybe it gives the plants stomachaches, maybe it keeps them up all night. Maybe it puts our Boaz’s produce on some sort of lunar cycle, maybe they’ll all start menstruating and we’ll have tomatoes filled with blood. When you’re out there in the moonlight with the watering can it sort of feels possible.

At night all the strawberries have shiny leaves, almost reflective, and they look sweaty in the best way. And all the spiders are asleep, or that’s what I tell myself.

I’m excited for Boaz to get back, and it’s not just because last week I had to cut into a carton of ice cream with a paring knife because I couldn’t open it myself. And it’s not just because all the Shabbat songs sound weird when you sing them alone. And it’s not just because he can get all our plants back to a regular sleep schedule.

I’m excited for Boaz to get back so he can tell me once and for all WHAT THAT ONE PLANT IS. Is it a fern. Is it a cactus. Are there tropical plants that grow in the desert? I need answers.

I can not, all but nothing teach.

I don’t remember why I looked up reviews of our thermostat and then used Google Translate to read them, but I’m so glad I did because they turned into beautiful robot poems about broken thermostats. Here I’m pasting my three favorites.

 

Unreliable

Regret, regret, regret. We have now a year in use and, indeed, a huge decline compared with our old thermostat.

At that time “forgets” the boiler.

Well, he further plans nothing. I hung him back today.

 

Everything, except comfort

I have now a few weeks of use. At least half of the time I can not connect what is excellent:

Weekly schedule includes regular way, and must be reset.

Manuals do not go, then, if nothing happens, everything stops.

Try again weeks to connect, in one way or another, Nothing Works.

Indeed.

In short, do not know what to do.

 

Never buy !!!

The worst part is that you can Never get your story. Worthless

every week, sometimes the connection lost.

If you do not Watch and gateway not again (power off of ten second setback) time starts, deviates from weekly program.

I can not, all but nothing teach. Could at least be.

Brooke vs Mouse II

My real goal is for this just to become a blog about mouse updates so here’s another one.

It seemed like the mouse living in our apartment was pretty much gone. We hadn’t seen or heard any signs of her in weeks, and we’re really good about cleaning up food.

But if you believe for a second that the mouse was gone, you’re really not reading into the sense of foreboding I’m trying to convey right now. It seemed like the mouse was gone. We had all but forgotten she had ever even been there. Do you see what I mean?

If you have a mouse, night is mouse time. That’s when they have free reign of your living space. I woke up during mouse time last night because I remembered I left something on the porch, and I walked through the kitchen. I know you’re not supposed to look at your phone when you wake up at night but that’s what I did next, standing at the kitchen counter.

If this were a movie now we’d cut to the mouse who has been interrupted and is standing frozen just a few feet behind me. She’s trying to hide behind a chair leg. Keeping her breath shallow.

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We cut back to me. In this movie I’m pretty  much a pile of flesh as tall as a mountain and I move in big clumsy steps, so loud that everyone in the theater covers their ears. It seems like I’m going to go upstairs now, and we can almost relax. Wait. Nevermind now I’m looking at Twitter.

The camera cuts back to the mouse, her tail in plain sight if I turn around. Tiny  beads of sweat are rolling down her face. It’s now or never.

The mouse gathers all the courage she can and runs straight through the middle of the room, to her little mouse hole I told you about. Everyone watching in the theater holds their hands up over their eyes, peeking at the screen through their fingers. She’s going as fast as she can, which is frankly not that fast.

I turn slowly, squinting at what at first just looks like a small brown ball. The mouse they’ve cast in this action movie about a mouse who lives with two American expats is grayish-brown, medium sized, and less shiny than I expected. It’s always weird to see celebrities in person. I blink a few times.

Then she’s off to hair and makeup to get ready for whatever our next interaction is. I’m going to start wearing socks inside, just in case we have a scene where we touch more.

Ghost apartment

Our new apartment is great, I’m not complaining about it. It’s so great that it has a fancy thermostat, the kind you control not only by adjusting the display on the wall, but also via an app you can download.

The apartment’s former tenants used the app to set the thermostat on some sort of schedule, but we don’t have the app yet. It’s only available in the Dutch iTunes store, which we need a Dutch credit card to access, and the bank won’t give us credit cards until we’ve been receiving paychecks for 90 days. So for the next 40 days our thermostat adjusts itself as it pleases. It’s like living in a great apartment with some very finicky ghosts.

Our invisible roommates will get very warm, maybe they’re doing ghost workout videos or baking ghost bread, and they’ll turn the thermostat down to 16 degrees.

We put on sweaters and go to sleep but the ghosts wake up in the night, peckish and FREEZING, and they the thermostat up to 22 degrees to make themselves comfortable.

For those of you who haven’t been thinking about Celsius thermostats as much as I have lately, which is hopefully everyone, 22 degrees is very warm. I’ve been thinking about thermostats a lot. The goal of a fancy thermostat might be to think about the thermostat less, but ours makes me think about it almost constantly. I don’t mind. I like our ghost roommates, they’re helping me get the hang of Celsius way faster than I anticipated.

Our apartment has floorboards that used to match up, but right now there are quarter-inch gaps in between some of them because the apartment is a little bigger this year than usual. The apartment’s size fluctuates a bit, because of wind or because the entire city is built on sand.

Sometimes we’ll be sitting at the table and everything will adjust slightly, and sometimes I’ll wake up in the night because the ghosts have turned up the heat, and I’ll hear all kinds of shifting sounds.

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Hoe spel je dat

Forget periods, bar mitzvahs, or the legal voting age, I think I became an adult when I started dreading getting mail.

There is nothing worse than a bunch of sealed envelopes filled with notes form people I might have to pay or may have already paid, mixed in with sealed envelopes filled with advertisements and sealed envelopes filled with scams, mixed in with the occasional sealed envelope with a letter from my grandmother in it. I have a vague memory of mail being all about getting birthday cards full of money, but now I mostly get birthday cards from former dentists and they never have money in them, just notes about how a birthday is a good time to schedule an annual cleaning.

In Portland I would wait so long to check the mail that the mailman (he was a man, I met him) would sort through it and throw away my junk mail, to make more space in the mailbox. I thought this was a service USPS provided that everyone made use of, but a few people have told me I was wrong about that.

I also thought moving would be a way to escape mail, but apparently I was wrong about that too. There is just as much mail. The only difference is now all of it is in a language we can’t read.

When a piece of mail arrives here I can tell it’s going to be about one of the following things:

Just kidding I don’t have a clue what it’s about!

It could be a bill, it could be an insurance form, a ransom note, a contest entry, a poem, a bank statement, or an invitation to a birthday party.

I don’t even know which part of the letter is the salutation: I just realized this week that the word I thought was the name of our insurance company is actually just the word for “city.” Or it can also mean township or village, or just an area people live in.

This week I needed to mail a form to a museum and I didn’t really understand any of the form, but it seemed to say I could put it in an envelope, write the address on the envelope, and then put the envelope in a mailbox with no stamp. That seemed ridiculous, so I wrote the address and then went to buy a stamp. As I was about to put the stamp on, the woman I’d bought the stamp from glanced over at my envelope and said that address didn’t need a stamp.

Weird, I told her, that’s the same thing the form inside this envelope said.

“This word is how you know” she said, pointing to a ten-syllable word that looked like all the other words on the envelope.

So there you go. Now I have a stamp in my pocket that I’m saving for later.

I’m not sure how to end this except to say that if someone gives you three wishes today and you have one to spare, and you use one to wish that we get less mail, I will be forever indebted to you. I will not miss those birthday cards from any of my former dentists, I will not miss the sealed envelopes full of advertisements, and I will not miss the mail we’re getting now, whatever it is.

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Sometimes it’s nice out lately, here’s a photo.

A pet with a job

 

The world tells you that there are only two types of people: cat people and dog people. My family has a dog, so cats aren’t my thing.

mcgee
This is McGee

Bu that changed a few weeks ago when my colleague Teresa told me about her cat – she and her roommate got him because they had mice in their apartment. Cats in Amsterdam are like children a hundred years ago. People have them not because they’re cute and they love them, but because there is work to be done.

And I don’t know why it was that idea that got me into cats, but it was. I want a cat. A pet with a job.

Teresa says her cat doesn’t even need to kill mice, its presence alone scares the mice away.

I wanted nothing more than an apartment with mice so that we could get a cat who could scare the mice away using only its natural musk or a well-timed look or hiss. But we moved into an apartment four floors up from the street, and it seemed unlikely.

Then I came downstairs one morning and found a miracle on the counter – a mouse poop.

Maybe. It seemed too good to be true so we investigated it from all angles with the flashlight function on my phone. Was it actually a chocolate sprinkle? Part of a cookie? A sliver of a chocolate bar? A rolled up little ball of Nutella? If you’d lived with me you would know all of those are more likely than mouse poop. Chocolate crumbs line the pockets of every jacket and backpack I have, and every time I get a new jacket or backpack I say this time it’s going to be different, this is going to be the one that doesn’t get lined with chocolate, but a few weeks later it’s too late. Most of my favorite foods are the color of mouse poop. So we sort of assumed it was chocolate, cleaned the counter, and forgot about it until a few hours later.

That’s when I found the mouse door, because there’s no other word for it. Behind the trash can in the kitchen (don’t ask why I was looking there because I can’t remember) is a tiny mouse door, straight out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and all around the door were more  tiny brown things that at this point couldn’t be sprinkles.

We have a mouse! Why don’t other wishes come true this quickly?

We haven’t started looking for a pet with a job yet – because the real reason I’m a dog person is I’m incredibly allergic to cats, and so is Boaz. We won’t be getting a cat until after scientists invent some kind of surgery we can get.

But I don’t regret wishing for a mouse. So far she’s an unobtrusive roommate, and Boaz pointed out that a mouse is worlds better than cockroaches. In high school I slept in a room with slugs, and our last apartment had so many ants that we could feel them in our scalp and they crawled all over us in the shower, filled the insides of our clean socks, and swam in our milk. A mouse is also better than bedbugs, and snakes, and hand-sized spiders. A mouse is better than a lot of things.

And what if she’s scaring away the cockroaches? Maybe we have a pet with a job after all.

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Image: het muizen huis

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This is McGee on his birthday. I’ll add a photo of the mouse on her birthday as soon as we figure out when that is.

Downstairs penthouse

One morning a few weeks ago Boaz and I had two appointments to look at apartments.

The first place was just a couple blocks from work and a confident man with ear-length black hair showed it to us. He was wearing a gray v-neck t-shirt, jeans, and the green Stan Smiths everyone on earth is required to wear this year.

It wasn’t a great apartment, and the bathroom smelled like something bad had happened in there that the entire building would need years to recover from. Boaz thanked him and we walked to the next place, which was a 30 minute walk south.

We checked the address, rang the bell, and I swear the same realtor opened the door. He told us he had a different name, and he gave us a different business card, but how did he get there before us? Did he take the tram? It was the same guy.

This apartment was on the ground floor. In Amsterdam lots of apartments are on the ground floor. And unlike a ground floor apartment in Portland or any other American city I’ve lived, there is no yard giving you a few feet of space between your living room and passers by. My nose is inches away from a Dutch family sitting down to dinner, a boy petting a cat, a guy laughing at something on his laptop, a couple making out on a sofa.

A ground floor apartment is essentially drawing a chalk line on the sidewalk and saying the general public needs to be on this side of the line, but we’re all going to be sort of sharing the space together.

The upside of ground floor apartments is you can set up things in your windows for people to look at, or even touch. I mean really people are right there, I don’t know how to explain that I am not exaggerating a little bit about this.

When we tried to tell the realtor that we weren’t interested, he didn’t let us leave as easily as he’d let us leave the other apartment. Everyone in Amsterdam would kill for a ground floor apartment, he told us. In America sure, you want the penthouse. But here no one wants to go up and down with the bags and the bikes. You walk in, you’re home.

You’re lucky to find this ground floor, he said. And I’m sure he was lying.

But was he?

Now every time I’m walking somewhere and I accidentally make eye contact with someone sitting just inches away from me in a ground floor apartment I think of those realtors who are identical twins and I want to ask the people inside what the real story is. I wish I had a little sign I could hold up in ground-floor windows. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR APARTMENT? IS THIS A HIGHLY-COVETED FLOOR TO BE ON? THUMBS UP FOR YES.

I might wait until I know a little more Dutch.

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I haven’t taken any photos into people’s ground-floor apartments (you’re welcome) so here’s a photo of a light bulb store sign that I like.