Monthly Archives: August 2013

Books in Waiting

For someone like myself who has not been a lifelong avid reader, this may seem like an odd title to post—a bit of explanation is in order.

Growing up, my mother was an incredibly voluminous reader.  She would come home from the public library with a satchel full of seven-day books.  She would have them read, returned, and a new satchel full back in the home before they were overdue.  How this love for reading didn’t rub off on me when I was young I will never know.  I can only speculate that playing outside or building models attracted my attention much more so than sitting and reading.

I can recall as a pre-teen reading very little beyond what was required for school.  When I got into high school, my mother began to suggest books that I might like to read and as a result got interested in reading Agatha Christie (one of my mother’s favorite authors) and Arthur Hailey.  For a while, these were the only two authors I read.  And since I was such a slow reader, and had a lot of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple novels to catch up on, I could always be in the middle of one these two authors and always have something to read.

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In college, I only had time to read what was required for my course work.  And being a chemistry major, my reading became even slower as I would have to read and often reread my chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus textbooks for comprehension.  I couldn’t afford to skip over words like some speed-readers do or I might miss the concept I was trying to learn.

With this limited exposure to books growing up, it seems a little surprising to me that I married a woman who could probably read my mother under the bookshelf.  I’ll never forget when we were still newlyweds and belonged to a book of the month club, we received Robert Ludlum’s new novel at the time, The Bourne Identity.  We probably got home about 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon and found the book in our mailbox—my wife had it read before bedtime.  In spite of this being quite a suspenseful page-turner, it still took me over a month to read it.

For most of my married life, I have always had a book I was reading but it might take a month or more for me to finish it.  I read mostly fiction and limited my selection to just a few authors: Patricia Cornwell, Tom Clancey, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Ken Follet, Robin Cook, and my favorite, Clive Cussler.  Since I read less than 12 books a year, I could usually count on having a book to read from one of these authors as they usually published at least one book a year.  I recall looking forward to the regular time of year when one of these authors would release their new book.  I remember Patricia Cornwell, another of my mother’s favorites typically releasing her new Kay Scarpetta novel in September and I would get one copy for myself and one as a gift for my mother whose birthday fell in September.

I must credit my wife with saving me from this self-imposed limited library and introducing me to a number of other excellent books from outstanding authors.

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Somewhere along the way of expanding my reading, I got interested in reading non-fiction, in particular history.  And some of the non-fiction I enjoyed the most were books that told the story about things being built (a story for another time).  I have never been able to read more than one book at a time because I would get characters from one book confused with those from another.  But once I started reading non-fiction, I found that I could have a fiction novel and a non-fiction novel going at the same time since it was easy to keep made up characters separate from real life ones.  For me, this was like switching to warp speed; reading two books at the same time.

Now that I have reached this milestone, my reading pace has accelerated and I can no longer keep up with all the books I want to read.  I maintain an active wish list on Amazon of books I plan to purchase and read—I call them my books in waiting.

Encouraged by my daughter and her blog post review of memorable books she read in 2012, I have been keeping a list of all the books I have read this year.  So far through the first six months of 2013, I have read 17 books—a personal record for me.  And I plan to read a lot more.  So as my books in waiting become my books in reading, I plan to continue to add to both lists.  I listen to NPR’s book podcast each week to learn about new releases and I have already added numerous interesting titles.

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So no longer am I limited to just a few authors; no longer am I limited to just fiction novels.  Now I am only limited by the amount of free time I can squeeze into my day to consume a small portion of the vast world of books out there.  For someone who reads a tremendous amount, this all might seem trite.  But trust me when I say, this is a wonderful awakening for me and I look forward to all of the exciting armchair travels I’ll being taking in the future.

Dad’s Chair

One vivid image I have as a child growing up is of my dad reclining in his chair in front of the TV.  After a day at the church—he was a minister—and a filling dinner, he would relax in his chair to watch some television.  As I got older, I recall this image would also include him falling asleep in his chair.  When asked, I seem to remember my mom saying he could watch TV with his eyes closed.

The chair in my mind’s eye that was “Dad’s chair” was a comfy recliner.  It looked like a bulky La-Z-Boy, but was probably from Sears, the store where we most frequently shopped.  I envision it being made of some sort of soft fabric, maybe crushed velvet with a wooden handle on the side that you pulled up to recline the back and to elevate the built in ottoman.  I’m sure as I was growing up, he probably had more than one version of this chair but my memory has faded to the point that I can only picture a vague image of its details whenever I see a recliner.

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After I grew up and got married, it seemed appropriate that I should also get my own “Dad’s chair.”  However, it was several years after our children were born before I actually got one but once I did, naturally, it was a recliner, a crushed blue velvet one—just like the one’s I pictured my dad “napping” in.

Years before I had the opportunity to get my own “Dad’s” chair though, I do remember being at my brother-in-law’s house and sitting in “his” chair, a blue buttoned, soft leather chair.  It was one he had had for quite some time and it was very comfortable.  I guess this opened my eyes to the fact that a Dad’s chair didn’t just have to be a recliner; it could be whatever comfortable chair you wanted it to be.

A number of years ago when we were redecorating the den in our 2nd home, I had my first opportunity to pick out a Dad’s chair that was not a recliner.  Naturally after sitting in my brother-in-law’s comfortable chair, I wanted leather upholstery.  I looked at the different design chairs they had available at the store where we were buying the couch and selected a chair that had a mid-century modern look.  When I sat in it, it had that distinctive leather squeak and wonderful new leather smell—satisfying my desire not only for comfort but also my sense of smell and sound.  The color scheme we were selecting was predominantly purple and it just so happened the chair came in an eggplant shade of purple.  We got it and it has been in our home for the last 15 years, even though newer Dad’s chairs have superseded it.   It is showing a bit of its age due to sunlight fading from being in front of a window, but is still just as comfortable.

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For my next Dad’s chair, I still wasn’t willing to get another recliner but I did want a matching ottoman to prop my feet up on.  This time, we were redecorating the bedroom in our 3rd home and selecting modern furniture.  My purple leather chair had found a comfortable spot else where in our house and with a fairly large bedroom; we would have room for a Dad’s chair.  Naturally I wanted another leather chair.  We found a modern style grey leather chair with matching ottoman that reclined like the seat on an airplane (although a lot more comfortable).  In fact, it came to be known as the airplane chair rather than Dad’s chair.  And just like I remembered my dad falling asleep in his chair, my wife has caught me on more than one occasion falling asleep in this one as well.

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It is likely that the airplane chair would still be my predominant chair to sit in were it not for a number of trips to a local mall and walking past the Pottery Barn store.  On more than one occasion, I would stop to admire their Manhattan Leather Club Chair with its large rolled arms, deep seat, and laid back reclining appearance.  It reminded of the comfortable dark leather chairs in the lobby of a hotel in Montreat, NC that my family visited every summer when I was growing up.  One sit was all it took and I was sold—I had to have one.

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Today, this is my favorite chair to sit in of all the choices we have in our house.

Last August, we bought a condo in midtown and have been renovating and redecorating it for almost a year.  I currently don’t have a chair there as we are just now adding furnishings.  And as past experience has taught me, if I lay on the bed to try to read at night, it isn’t long before sleep has overtaken me.

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Not that I don’t also fall asleep reading in a chair at night either but at least starting out in a chair forestalls the inevitable a little while.  I’m sure you can guess what type of upholstered covering I will want.  When I mentioned a leather chair for the condo to my wife, she stated that I had “leather chaired” her to death.  And sadly I had to admit she was right when she started counting them off—five different colored leather chairs in various rooms throughout the house plus black leather chairs at our kitchen table.

We are still in the exploration phase and need to finalize a few more furnishing decisions before we continue this discussion.  When we do return to the topic of a chair for our bedroom at the condo, I know we will make the right choice that works for both of us.  I have never owned two separate homes before in my life.  But since we often split our weekend nights between our home and our condo, the one thing I do know is that for it to be home to me, it must have a Dad’s chair.

Madurodam – Exploration

Almost 10 years passed before I was able to visit Madurodam again.   On this June business trip, due to the high price of the airline ticket, none of my family members accompanied me.  Knowing that I was going to be traveling alone, I planned an all day excursion to Madurodam on my one full day before I had to work.  In preparation, I bought myself a compact digital camera with removal lenses—a significant step up from a digital point and shoot camera with fixed lens and a much smaller and lighter version than my digital SLR.  My plan was to spend as long as I wanted at the park, even all day if I felt like it.

Early Sunday morning, I boarded the train in Amsterdam under overcast skies.  This gave me a quick reminder of my first rainy visit to Madurodam almost 20 years earlier.  Listening to my favorite jazz music, I watched the Dutch fields zoom by through the train window hoping the weather would improve.

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Having been to Madurodam several times before, I knew which exit to take from Central Station in The Haag and which tram to catch.  Only when I arrived, the station was under construction and the tram stops in front of the station had been rerouted.  After several minutes of exploring and figuring out where to catch the right tram, I found my correct stop and looked up to the sky.  Still overcast but no rain.  I had high hopes.  My tram arrived and soon whisked me off to my destination.

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My plan had been to arrive just as the park opened so I could explore it almost on my own.  On one of my previous visits, I found a long line just to get in the park and crowds around many of the models.  The construction at the train station delayed my arrival some but I was still there within 30 minutes of opening.   I walked in still listening to my jazz music and since I was alone, I decided to let my music be my companion.

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I stood on the familiar promenade and let my eyes explore the park.  I scanned from side to side noticing new models that had been added since my last visit.

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I saw a new pedestrian harp bridge, an offshore oil platform, and modern day wind turbines.  I then began to explore some of the familiar models, the three sisters windmills as they were being stalked by a larger than life bird.

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I came across a new building that blended modern with historical styles, the Unilever building in Rotterdam, that I had marveled at on one of my visits to that port city.

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As I strolled from model to model, I would often linger at a train crossing watching for the different trains to go by including their modern high-speed train, Thalys.

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I certainly wanted to stop by some of the familiar models I had seen before.

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The Basilica of Saint John, with its intricate detail and moving wedding procession.

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The Anne Frank House, with its usual crowd of visitors and photographers.

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The Heineken Brewhouse, another favorite destination of mine in Amsterdam.

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The Dam square and Royal Palace in Amsterdam, a scene I photographed with my wife standing behind almost 20 years earlier.

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And even fields of colorful tulips next to the FloraHolland, the largest flower market in the world in Aalsmeer.

As I visited some of my “old friends”, I noticed several new additions — kid-friendly interactive displays.  There was one where you operated a large crane and loaded containers onto a cargo ship.  Another, where you manually pumped water from a ship making big splashes.

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Another where you got to be the little boy trying to stop the water coming through the dike.

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But my favorite new interactive display was the one where for the price of a single euro, you could make a miniature pair of clogs.  Upon depositing your coin, sawing and hammering sounds would emanate from the factory.  Then the sound of a diesel truck cranking up would precede its departure from the factory to deliver your freshly minted shoes to your anxiously waiting hands.

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I realized that I would be returning home with a multitude of model photos this time but none of me.  One downside of traveling alone is you don’t have a companion to capture your photo in front of something worth remembering.  So trying my luck at setting my camera on a wall and setting it for a delayed exposure, I was able to at least get one photograph of myself with a number of model buildings.

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After several hours of listening to jazz music and enjoying seeing all of the models, I felt I could leave satisfied.  Before departing, I stopped by a new exhibit, a memorial to George Maduro and a model of his birthplace.

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As I stared at his profile, I wondered if George had been fond of models and had that been the inspiration for the park.  Having died of Typhus in Dachau at a young age, his parents directed that the proceeds from the park admissions be donated to charity to fight disease in young people.  But whatever the connection between George and miniature models, I know I had had one of the best experiences of my life, touring the models that day.  And if someone had accompanied me, I know they would have seen the little boy in me smiling the entire time.

Madurodam – Discovery

On my recent business trip to Amsterdam — actually my 25th to the land below sea level — I visited one place that I have been to several times before but one that I have never grown tired of.  For someone who loves miniature models, this is one of those “Heaven on Earth” spots.  Madurodam is a miniature park located in The Hague just a short train ride from Amsterdam where you will find 1:25 scale models of many historical Dutch buildings and scenes.  The park opened in 1952 with funding from the Maduro family in honor of their son George, a Jewish lawyer who died at Dachau after being imprisoned for his participation in the Dutch resistance.

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My first introduction to this miniature world was in 1994 as a part of a multi-stop tour of The Hague.  As my wife and I exited the tour bus on that rainy overcast day, the driver told us we had one hour to explore the park before the bus would leave for its next stop.  When we walked through the entrance and stood on the promenade to the park, my eyes were amazed at what they saw.  Everywhere I looked, I saw miniature models of buildings, bridges, windmills, trains, highways, and even a functioning Schipol airport with planes taxiing around the runway.  Right at my feet, was a large pool with an oil tanker floating in it.  All of a sudden, flames started coming out of the tanker, sirens began going off and a fireboat rapidly motored up next to the tanker and began spraying water to extinguish the fire.  So began my first magical discovery of Madurodam.  I could immediately tell one hour was never going to be enough for me and that future trips would be necessary.

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As we walked along the paths exploring the small-scale structures, my wife was actually a very good sport.  In spite of the chilly rain, she followed me around the park as I marveled at the detail of the models.  When the time arrived to depart on the bus, I had only whet my appetite.

On another business trip to Amsterdam five years later, we were able to take our two sons and daughter with us and obviously Madurodam was a place we had to go.  Fortunately this trip was in June and the weather was perfect with no chance of rain.  While my wife and daughter mostly amused themselves in the gift shop and coffee shop, we three boys ventured throughout the park together.

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We watched the planes at the airport circling the tarmac and driving down the runway before returning to the gate.

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We saw four lanes of cars and trucks driving along the highway next to the airport.

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We sat next to a train station as trains and trams passed through on their way around the park.

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And we captured a self-photo of ourselves in the reflection of a shiny skyscraper.

I don’t know how long we stayed on this visit but I know it was more than an hour.  But as we were leaving knowing my wife and daughter had probably had enough, I knew I hadn’t and would have to return again.

Six years later found me again traveling to Amsterdam for business.  On this trip, I was traveling alone so I knew I could spend as much as time as I wanted at Madurodam without having to be mindful of other family members wishes.  This trip was in the spring and my journey to The Hague took me past fields of colorful tulips, much like the ones you see on postcards from Holland.

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Upon arrival, I was greeted with the usual fireboat rescue as I began my tour of the park.  I had never been in the spring before and was happy to see small flowers incorporated into the scene of the Alkmaar Cheese market.

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And being alone, I felt it was safe to capture a shot of the infamous Amsterdam red light district.

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Visiting in the spring also gave me a new appreciation for the multitude of bonsai trees and dwarf shrubs integrated into the many scenes including those in front of the famous Rijks museum, which were just beginning to bud after the cold Dutch winter.

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In spite of being able to spend as long as I wanted to at the park, my visit was hampered by the large crowds clustered around many of the buildings.  At times I simply got tired of waiting for others to move so I could capture a clear photo and moved on to less crowded scenes.

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On my train ride back to Amsterdam, I scrolled through the photos on my digital camera, a new addition since my previous trips that I hoped would help me capture lasting images of the park.  I was disappointed to find I had fewer than 20 pictures.  In spite of being jet lagged from my flight over earlier that Saturday morning, I could still think straight enough to realize that I would have to come back another day, a less crowded day, and a day after I had had a good night’s sleep in a bed, not a cramped airline seat in coach.  Little did I know that it would be almost 10 years before I would be able to make a more memorable visit to Madurodam.