Hawaiian holiday

This holiday, the Cooley fam flew out to Maui in memory of our late Oma. We rented a beachfront house and will never forget the sound of the lapping waves and birds to which we woke each morning. Here’s a few snapshots of the vacation…




Why did the rooster cross the green? To get a view of the sea, of course.


This was fun.


the real deal



lots of this. 

The Road to Hana

“Because of…improved highways, the wilderness was no longer an arduous passage for the traveler, but something to be looked at as grand or beautiful from the high vantages of the roadside.”

Wendell Barry

Of course, we drove the ‘road to hana’, a terrifying, dizzying drive along the northeastern coast of the island. This trip gave us some awesome views, headaches and a van full of mini cockroaches. It’s all part of the experience, honey!


Insta-187Along this part of the island one finds stunning colors of sand, rock and geological formations thanks to the volcanic activity, or Pele, the Hawaiian goddess fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes.


shades of blue

Here’s what seems like a pale capture of the amazing variant shades of ocean water visible from the shore and sky. Views that have launched a million hawaiian textile designs.


And finally…the phenomena that inspired the graphic design of the license plate: the rainbow. Double, triple rainbows. Super bright, yep, God is love and awesome.rainbow


even the trees have rainbows




Want more? See additional photos here.


Japan Notes: Getting from here to there

Getting around Japan was pretty easy as you’ve got so many options! Subway, train, bus, bike, walking, car and sometimes rickshaw guys. We weren’t all that worried about getting around, as we heard that the subway system was similar to the Netherlands where you pay per distance travelled. We were just super excited to be in a place again where you don’t have to constantly rely on the all powerful car. There’s something about bouncing around a train with everyone else that makes you feel like you are part of the place.

JAP_11_1050-stationDesign based on this lovely station

There were lots of signs around telling you how not to act, and as everything in Japan is turned into a cute cartoon, they were often amusing. I love the one of the train door freaking out about some headstrong kid making a break for him. ” Don’t do it, kid!” Or the one where people are just being jerks, throwing crap on the ground or swinging around with their backpack. Look how absolutely shocked the kid is about that guy throwing garbage on the ground! I also assume that old man is yelling “you’re all stupid!” Or the guy poking the kid in the face with a giant cigarette.

JAP_11_1050-signageSeems to be a visual language for friendly warning signage

Friendly reminders about train & platform etiquette

JAP_11_0703-smHow ingenious: design the instructions right into the textile! Does Graeme realize he is not any of these things? Seat stealer!


They love their baasubaru here. We were surprised to see Texas on a platform!

JAP_11_0129-trainsBeautiful things you see while waiting for the train.

Walking! And we did plenty of it…


JAP_11_0636-sidewalkSidewalks are sometimes painted green, sometimes nonexistent. But no worries, there’s no fear with kind Japanese drivers here.

JAP_11_0098-constructionThis was in on the corner of an intersection. No idea what it says, but I’m thinking something like “do not enter this flower charging zone”

JAP_11_0035-sidewalkNo walking while smoking and tossing your crap around!



Not quite Amsterdam in frequency or bike lanes, but still a pretty good way to get from point A to B.



And Lastly, the car…

Watch that video and tell me you wouldn’t want to park in Japan. Your car goes into a little car carrousel with all the other cars! They have them for bikes too, but we didn’t see any. But like I said, who needs a car when you have all these other awesome options.

[vimeo 81361750]

From the train…

As always, the train is the way to travel.


“Is it always this hot in May?”

thai stir fry pork

We’re finally getting into a food rhythm here at the Coo-Don house and it feels good. I recently acquired a bunch of new cooking books and tools (Thank you, friend!!) and have been expanding my idea of food prep, ingredients and how to build a pantry. We’ve made a very successful loaf of no-knead bread, banana lemon loaf and vermicelli pork stir-fry (above).

Our new patio table gets lots of use for dinners and throughout the day on weekends. Our chairs easily move in and out with our meals and reading needs.

I’ve cashed in a few “Christmas coupons” for fresh flowers as the ranunculus are regulars in the flower shop.


Our pool has played host to a rowdy bunch of sun-loving neighbors; we hope this trend slows as the ‘summer weather’ continues. Likely? Probably not…

We are hosting our lovely German Sheppard pup, Zoe who has been extrememly hard to leave in the mornings and very excited to see us in the evenings! Her need for regular walks fits very well into our current schedule. The question is: will we be just as thrilled about having the hairy bundle of joy after 4 weeks?? She’s already chewed up our DVD case, Graeme’s slippers, a candle!, a fancy bar of soap!! We bought her a new bone today.

Zoe Cooley


My Executive Assistant Letter of Interest or “What happens when I write too many job applications”

All too easy

Seems pretty easy to me

So I (Graeme) found an interesting job application today for an alternative energy company looking for an Executive Assistant to the President. Now, I’ve never done this sort of job. I imagine it is incredibly difficult and can only be done successfully by the pure of heart. I have been up to my eyeballs in application letters stating the same usual thing, so since I don’t really have a shot at getting this job (or even a shot at getting past the online job application screening questions. Dead in the water!) I decided to write something different for them. And I decided this because of the last line of the job application that read “prior experience herding cats a plus.”

Herding cats? I know of such things. I took up the challenge. This is my letter I submitted to CLEAResult’s office of the President:


In my experience, there are two schools of thought regarding the successful herding of cats. The first school can generally be described as a be-everywhere-at-all-times model requiring an almost super-human herder or a united front of like-minded herders. The limitations of this approach are obvious, and the literature surrounding this school of thought has recently devolved into discussions on high-tech surveillance, feline-centric “positive behaviour management” solutions or other more invasive herding techniques (ankle monitors) aimed at keeping the cats in line.

However, with cats being an equal mix of disdain-for-humans, independence, disregard for imposed systems, and evil, the herder ascribing to this antiquated school of thought will find him or herself blowing against the wind. Based on the old principle of “moderate power through strength, supreme power through levity” a new school of thought has emerged in recent years. The basics of this school are simple: have the cats think that the system they are ascribing to is one of their own making, or, ideally, that they do not know they are being herded at all. With overall kitty-order held up as the ultimate goal at all times, the successful herder must employ carefully honed social techniques in order to gather information, set timetables and give each cat the sense that all is right with the world. A cat that knows everything is in order, is a predictable and herdable cat. Predicting cat needs and having them filled before the cat realizes that they need it, is a surefire way to keep Mittens docile and on task, as opposed to up a tree shrieking or leaving a dead critter in your sock drawer.

A successful herder must know that his or her place is in the background of the day-to-day. One good self-evaluation test a herder could run is the “cologne” or “makeup” test. Just like with cologne or makeup, if the herder is obvious, highly visible or altogether making their presence known, you’re most likely doing it wrong.

Lastly, the successful herder is wise to remember that for cats, it is a cat world and everyone else is visiting. Being able to make peace with this concept and realize that you are not the proud cowboy atop a horse, but are more akin to the hockey penalty killer or that guy who has to bunt to advance the runner is paramount for the herder. Cat herding is not for the egotistical, but for the service oriented and organizational freaks which is why it is the traditional employment for cheerful people-people, library lovers and Canadians. If nothing else, the herder can take satisfaction in being that last small piece that makes the machine run smoothly. At least I know I do.

Should you wish to discuss my qualifications (if any) for this position further, do not hesitate in contacting me.


Graeme Donaldson


I have yet to hear back.

Typical Dutch – around town

Aren’t those missing something, you ask? You’re right! No powdered sugar as these are savory oliebollen filled with greyure cheese and ham. They were amazing! We decided we’d eat all the oliebollen we can because after the New Year’s celebration stuff goes on sale, oliebollen will be no more.

Everytime I talk to Oma on the phone she asks me if we’ve seen houseboats. My Opa bought one for the family when he and Oma were first married and served as the hospital where both my mom & aunt were born (1958-1961). She loves to tell the story of stepping out the front door to skate on the ice. Mom likes to add that one time while precariously washing the windows she fell into the canal!

Dutch roads are basically a bunch of bricks fit together like puzzle pieces to make it easier to access the dirt and whatever other plumbing, wires, etc. is laid beneath. This means they are in constant reconstruction because, well, there’s nothing really to hold them down or together.

The national favorite..kind of like a Target: food, homewares, stationery, cheap Christmas crap, kitchen items and of course the Cheese Slicer. Oh and the €0.40 per use toilets. Only had to do that once so far.

This is Project Pisa: try to keep the terribly crumbly building from sinking. Quite common, also.

See the row houses they drew on the “typical italian food” sign? That was to remind you which city you’re in. Because you may have forgotten, ads, shop signs and windows often depict the landscape.

Alas, a Dutch woman eating her Dutch Fries with MAYONNAISE. I can’t tell you how many tourists I hear waiting in line (oh yes, there is a line) discuss how weird it is to eat fries with mayonnaise but convince themselves that it’s a good idea to try (when in Rome…). Now, this is not a foreign concept to me; I eat mayo on everything, always have and wasn’t ever picky about mayo or miracle whip. But in the Netherlands, the mayo is on a whole different level. It’s delicious and more acidic or sweeter or creamier and definitely addicting!

Dutch Christmas Spectacular

So after church on Christmas Eve Amanda and I came home and ate a Belgian Waffle. We cracked on the TV (a rarity) and watched some of the Christmas shows–Dutch style!

One we watched looked really really familiar. We were looking at the set up and this big stage in the middle of a square and I said “you know, I think that’s Maastricht.” After a little bit we realized that yes, it was Maastricht, apparently filmed a few days before we arrived. After a few songs we realized that the singers weren’t just singing random songs, but that the different singers were playing characters. There was an angel, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men (played by three fat doo-wop motown ladies), some shepherds.

My favorite was King Herod. He must be some famous dutch dude or something, but he was pretty spectacular. In the clip below, the wise men (um..wise ladies?) just told Herod that Jesus was going to be king of the Jews. His overflowing emotion bursts into song.

Enjoy. I know I did.

Breath-taking stuff.

Actually, that’s a pretty good song choice when you think about it. Fits with the narrative. And he was so in to it. I know I will never listen to Abba the same way again.

If you want to watch more of the Christmas Special, you can here but that above clip is the top shelf stuff. Everything else pretty much pales in comparison to a giant Dutch man wearing a fur cape singing disco hits.

We like Holland better…Maastricht Part I

Since we are staying in Holland for Christmas, and since we have been super busy (and a wee bit stressed) looking for (and hopefully closing in on) jobs, we decided to take a mini-vacation to Maastricht.

It was my (Amanda’s) brilliant idea to coordinate our 2 month bike tune-up with our trip, which would have been more smooth had the trams not been screwed up and we almost miss the train we planned to take. So, it was a rocky start. But we made it! And we didn’t even have to run.

For our 2.5 hr train ride, I studied Dutch with my new Dutch-English dictionary phone app and Teach Yourself Dutch books while Graeme read news on his phone. At the 2hr mark, the Mr. train ticket-checker came to stamp our tickets and then started to express his worry for us. He starting trying to say something (didn’t know English very well) and seemed to indicate that Maastricht was “that way” (pointing to the front of the train). We didn’t really follow so he did a charade in Dutch about how the front  of the train would separate from the back and if we wanted to make it to Maastricht, we had better move ALL the way to the front at the next station stop. I can’t really remember what the “aha” moment was when we realized what he was talking about, but we are glad we did figure it out.

Arrival in Maastricht; it’s about 10* colder here! And the accent/dialect Dutch spoken here is really strange. A lot more German like.

25min walk from the station, over the bridge –Meuse River– through one of the Christmas Markets and on to our converted monastery (built c. 1430s) which was our hotel.

Our room was ready without much delay, which meant we could get settled in our room before we blasted off to Germany for the rest of the afternoon. One staff member took us up the glass elevator to the “1st” floor–still getting used to that!–and through a beech wood paneled corridor to our upgraded room with the stained glass. He explained how we had to keep a key in the slot which we were in the room in order to keep the electricity on. That brought back memories from our first European family vacation in 1998. Our room also featured a wall mural of Queen Juliana delivering a speech in Haarlam in 1948.

the stained glass window in our room

Ok, now on the exciting German Christmas Market in Aachen, a supposed 30min bus ride down the road. 1.5hr and what seemed like a million stops later, Graeme the hungry grump and I arrived and headed downhill (it’s been awhile since we’ve seen hills!) to the Market. Follow your frozen nose to the bratwurst, sauerkraut, onions and apple-strudel. I didn’t dare ask Graeme to stop (because he was on a food mission) so that I could a) take a photo or b) warm up in a cute homewares or fashion shop until we were almost at the food stalls but I wanted to warm up and look in this interior design store, so I used the ole “Let’s step inside so I can get my wallet out for the food” trick. (Graeme interjection: so cunning!)  It was about 10* colder here and now that the sun was moving on to America we could enjoy the beautiful lights of the city. We did our rounds at the stalls–chocolates, one of a kind wool gifts, woodworking trinkets, candied nuts, jewelry and other nicknacks. Then we continued on to the modern environs of the city including a beautiful evangelical/Catholic church (Martin Luther rolling in his grave), shoe stores (who knew the Germans were king of the comfort shoe?) and more fashion boutiques. We headed back to the bus station, struggled to read the German train signs and finally boarded our 1.5hr bus back to Maastricht. We were frozen by this point.

(Graeme interjection: Things I learned about Germans. 1. They are on average fatter than the Dutch. 2. They on average don’t have a deep warm love for expats like the Dutch do. 3. Smiling is a chore. 4. They do meat right.) [ Amanda interjection: Julie, this in no way represents your lovely German family. But, I think Mennonites are different. Something about Jesus having a positive effect on your life ]

Graeme with cross-eyed Santas

the most amazing dessert...sorry Dutch friends, the Germans have you beat here!

Back to Maastricht for our very delicate snack at the amazing restaurant in our hotel. We thought we had ordered 2 dishes to share until we realized the server thought we’d ordered 2 dishes each and then brought us bread & an extra pre-starter each. Amazing Waldorf salad and cheese plate! Many Euros later we headed up to our room to thaw. Good thing we got a “go eat a fancy dinner” gift from our Canadian family!

What we ate:

Rosbief van wildzwijn op waldorf salade en een mayonaise van knolselderij met een saucijzen broodje van wildgehakt op een panna cotta van aardappel en truffel met aceto balsamico

Krokante Munster met kummel Crème brulee van glühwein en Vacherin d’ mont dόr Torentje van kletzenbrood, vijgencompote en Saint maure de touraine

Go here to translate

the eating space

The next morning we had the most amazing cold European breakfast buffet EVER. The most amazing croissants, homemade jams, fresh juices (strawberry, orange, grapefruit, tomato), fruits, sausages and bacon so fresh off the pig. After this amazing breakfast and super fancy dinner/snack last night Graeme was feeling a bit full of rich food, so we scrapped our lunch-fit-for-royalty plan and will go to a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam.

the library filled with design books & magazines


Then it was off for a day of shopping, getting lost in the beautiful cobbled streets, a few museums, red stoned church bell tower, more Christmas Markets, and the most amazing bookstore, Selexyz Dominicanen.

Heading back to A’dam with an souvenir ornament, a magazine and a waffle for the train. Fortunately the train didn’t separate into two pieces this time, so we could stay in our seats (Graeme slept) and I read/translated my new Spanish magazine.

We collected our freshly tuned bikes from the shop and headed home to once again thaw and eat some greens to balance out all the sugar we’d consumed in the last 30 hours. Couldn’t have planned it better because the next day it poured rain all day and then the day after was a big snow storm. Safe and warm in our house, thinking about our next visit to Maastricht (and that breakfast!)