Jul 31, 2012


Today is my mom's birthday, and to celebrate that I thought it fitting to give an update on the wasp family on our back deck (see the earlier post: Little household tasks). Well, Mother Wasp - or is it Queen Wasp? -  seems to be gone, all eggs have hatched, and the last offspring is huddling together to brace for a cooler evening breeze. They are drying their orange wings, trying them a bit awkwardly.

I'm sure they will soon spread them to venture out into the big beautiful world, just like my mom's offspring. This may have been the longest birthday for her, as she received a text from one granddaughter early in the morning out of Australia, and best wishes out of the Americas much later, from me and one of my brothers who is vacationing in Colombia.

And just before the day closes here: GABROEN wishes you a very happy birthday and a great year traveling the big beautiful world, mom!

Jul 30, 2012


We have the luxury of living in the same town that's home to the Chicago Botanic Garden. They do a very nice job in the garden in all seasons, although it of course is more colorful and flowerful in spring and summertime. Fall brings a more melancholic vibe, with falling leaves and many shades of yellow and brown replacing the bountiful colors of summer.

And winter....... is just winter. The garden is open year round, but we actually never visited in wintertime. So who knows, perhaps it is wonderful in winter as well. But winter is very, very far away with the continuing warm and sunny weather in our area. We headed out for another visit to the Garden, actually deciding against riding our bikes this time because it was once more too hot to arrive in presentable condition if not inside an air-conditioned car.

As an additional crowd pleaser they have a temporary butterfly exhibit inside a big netted dome, with a hatching station where you could see the newborns crawling out of their cocoons and unfolding their wings - very cool. The tent was loaded with many of these beautiful creatures, and one was fancying Gabri's dress from the moment she walked in until the very end, where each visitor needed to do a mirror check for any residents piggyback riding to their freedom.

Although a very artificial surroundings, it was kind of magical to see so many farfalle flittering close by. In case you didn't know, 'farfalle' is Italian for butterfly (so the names the Italians came up with for different shapes of pasta are usually not too crazy eccentric), and I just learned that the Dutch word for butterfly - 'vlinder' - actually is related to the English 'flitter'. In contrast, even though the 'fly' part is pretty self-explanatory, no one knows where the 'butter' in the English 'butterfly' comes from. Either way, definitely worth a visit.

Jul 25, 2012

The heat continues on

Once you move to another climate, you realize how deeply engrained the weather type of your childhood is. You almost instinctively know what to expect from looking at the sky, as you have seen that sky many times before, and your language is loaded with ancient proverbs and grandma's wisdoms. Take GABROEN's motherland for example. It will rain "if you hear a cuckoo", if "there's a reddish sunrise", if "the rooster doesn't cry before a reddish sunset". You get the picture, it rains quite a lot in Holland. Holland has a sea climate that is tempered by the closeness of the North Sea and the warm gulf stream of the Northwest Atlantic. This creates the typical clouds and skies made famous by the Dutch Masters, and a specific light I have not seen elsewhere. A brisk light that you start noticing when taking photos, and it almost radiates of pictures. And Dutch summers are temperate, with official criteria for a heatwave when there are 5 consecutive days over 77 degrees F (yes, 77 !), of which at least 2 over 86 degrees F.

So for someone being used to Dutch definitions of a heatwave, the current summer in the Midwest is a little unnerving. The last two months have been pretty much in the 80s or 90s, with an occasional 100 degree F record temperature. Today we topped again at 98 (or 37 degrees C) and it's still 85 (or 30 degrees C) at midnight. However, the heat doesn't bother us, but it's mainly the hot wind that feels unnatural to those born and raised at the North Sea. You get the sense that someone has turned a giant hair-blower at you, and the only way to escape is to retreat inside in the relative comfort of your air-conditioning. I love the heat, but long for the refreshing North Sea breeze that makes curly hair dance and the sky brisk blue.

Jul 18, 2012

The end of times, or at least of the heatwave

The signs were clear over the last day or two. After a three week heatwave that smothered the Midwest, withered corn crops and dehydrated seniors in its scorching path, we had the bugs come out yesterday. Not sure what they were, but they came in flocks of unnerving, almost biblical proportions, swirling around street lamps and crowding our windows. They reminded us of what we call "thunderstorm flies" in Dutch, flocks of little flies that forecast summer thunderstorms in Holland. Yesterday's bugs were larger, but hey, this is America, where everyone thinks big and everything is big, so why not these critters.

And they did predict a severe storm coming over us tonight from the Dakotas via Minnesota and Wisconsin, which gave some desperately needed rainfall and relief from the heat. Even the weather thinks bigger here than in Holland. The 2012 Spring and Summer is pretty wet and miserable in that part of the world, causing headaches for the hosts of the Olympics, but the Dutch rain showers are much milder and seem to be much more drawn out than the spectacular high energy bursts GABROEN is seeing tonight.

A spectacle it is. It looks like the lightning energy is directly fueling our street lamps; it's about time someone figures out how to channel all those kilowatts into our electricity grid. Till that time, we'll take the relief from the heat and enjoy the spectacle.

Jul 16, 2012

The sweet South

GABROEN just returned from a 4-day trip to the sweet South. Hilton Head Island, a barrier island along the southernmost tip of South Carolinian coastline. The reason for the trip: a workshop, as well as some quality beach time at the Atlantic ocean. In other words: working, networking, working on a tan, working on easing your mind. And the location turned out to be pretty well suited to catalyze all of these. The workshop location was beachfront, with flocks of pelicans cruising back and forth leisurely on the warm breeze all day long, not needing to work their wings at all, and apparently just because they liked it.

In stark contrast, tanned baywatch hunks and babes were very impressive, racing each other like madmen/women when taking down the lounge chairs and umbrellas from the beach at 5PM sharp.

The sand was smooth as marble and the ocean water warm as a bath. Strangely warm actually, too warm to be refreshing during the day, but deliciously soothing during a late evening walk. Subject to large fines, any lights facing the beach need to be off by 10PM so that the local loggerhead turtles (either the nesting moms or the hatched little ones) are not disoriented in their quest to return to the ocean. That makes for nice stargazing, but also for a beach lit up by many flashlights, as the local pastime is to catch tiny fish, shrimp and crabs barehanded in the receding evening tide.

Flying into Savannah, Georgia was somewhat of a homecoming for us after living in the Big Peach for 4.5 years. The Southern hospitality, friendliness, and more leisurely pace, combined with the subtropical humidity and summer thunderstorms, embraces you from the very moment you arrive.

The South is sweet indeed, and soothes the mind. That's why it's a sweet thing to have Georgia on our mind.........

Gahbrome (that's GABROEN in a Southern drawl)

Jul 5, 2012

Local warming

Large parts of the US are pummeled by a serious heatwave, producing freakish weather and record high temperatures from the Southeast all the way to the Great Plains. Northern Illinois is no exception - since they started taking weather records in the 1850s, temperatures in Chicago have reached the magic 100F (37.5C) about 60 times, of which one was last Thursday (103F/39C, the hottest June day ever), one yesterday (104F/39.5C, the hottest Independence Day ever), one today (another 103F) and one forecast for tomorrow. Three days in a row of triple digit temperatures has only occurred once before in 1911.

The high humidity does not help, adding another couple of degrees to the heat index. It certainly feels smothering out there, but we're actually enjoying the heck out of it. Of course that's easily said for us; we are much more fortunate than the hundreds of thousands who are now one week without power in the Washington DC area, or the people in south Chicago who cannot afford air conditioning. Our power supply also stuttered twice today, once for just a couple of minutes, but the second time for 1.5 hours after a heavy thunder shook the neighborhood.

The freakish weather started last week with the first 100F day. A summer storm came through, with bizarre clouds that either skated steeply down or broccolied (I know that's not a word, but if you see something that bizarre you need to be a little creative - see for yourself what the pictures are like) towards you. Pretty marvelous, very impressive and a little unnerving, like a scene from an apocalyptic science fiction movie. Like "Independence Day".............

So is it global warming? Or extraterrestrial visitors excessively putting the brakes their spaceship to make a quiet entrance? Or the transit of Venus a month ago impacting the solar winds in ways we have not yet get our heads around? Or the heavens using their form of iCloud to get a mass message across to mankind, or at least to Northern Illinois? Whatever the cause, we definitely are experiencing some local warming here. And some freakishly beautiful sights.