Sometime this last spring, my friend R. messaged me that she was going to be in Germany this summer. I know R. from Dortmund–she was one of our exchange lecturers one year, and we bonded over study sessions at Starbucks. After we both left Dortmund, we’ve stayed in touch, but I hadn’t seen her since July 2013. So we planned a reunion in Berlin, and I hopped on a train last Friday, only to get off seven hours later, ready to explore. On Tuesday I took the train back. These were our adventures:

The New Jewish Synagogue down the street from our hostel. (The hostel boasted a resident DJ, something we did not know about until the music wouldn’t stop on Friday night. Fun times.)

The famous TV tower near Alexanderplatz

Viewing the Brandenburger Tor from the back side, since barriers blocked the way from the other side. After this, we had a picnic lunch in the Tiergarten and people watched for a while. (Berlin has a lot of interesting people.)

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The blocks seem to invite a certain amount of jumping and running around, despite the purpose of the memorial, so a couple security guards walk around and tell people (mostly kids) not to.

We also saw the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in the Tiergarten. A third memorial (To the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime) also exists. They’re all maintained by one foundation. If you click on the link, you can see how big the Jewish memorial is–an aerial view really brings it home.


A double row of cobblestones runs through the city, marking the location of the wall.

A double row of cobblestones runs through the city, marking the location of the wall.

Checkpoint Charlie, where tourism overtakes history. For a fee, you could have your picture taken with the soldier-reenactors. In light of what Checkpoint Charlie represents, this really felt weird to me. But I suppose it goes along with the McDonald’s and souvenir shops that make up the rest of the area…

The Jewish Museum. I wrote my MA thesis on Jewish masculinity, R. is doing her dissertation on Holocaust narratives, so this was definitely on the list of things we wanted to do.

The Jewish Museum. I wrote my MA thesis on Jewish masculinity, R. is doing her dissertation on Holocaust narratives, so this was definitely on the list of things we wanted to do.

As the museum website says, ” The modern architectural elements of the Libeskind building comprise the zinc façade, the Garden of Exile, the three Axes of the German-Jewish experience, and the Voids. Together these pieces form a visual and spatial language rich with history and symbolism. They not only house the museum with its exhibits, but they also provide visitors with their own unique experience as they walk through the spaces.” This is the axis of the Holocaust, leading to the stark and empty Holocaust Tower. (There are objects on display on the opposite wall.)

The Garden of Exile. This was very nicely done: sheltered in the summer by the olive trees, the floor slopes weirdly, kind of representing the exile experience in that immigration and especially expulsion/exile are very disorienting experiences and tend to keep you off-balance: “The whole garden is on a 12° gradient and disorients visitors, giving them a sense of the total instability and lack of orientation experienced by those driven out of Germany. Russian willow oak grows on top of the pillars symbolizing hope.”

R. had reserved a tour of the Reichstag (parliament) for us, but when we got there, the college kid in charge kept telling us, “You’re not on the list,” in a very polite yet very German way. Turns out he was both right and wrong: we were on the list, but for an hour later. So we went and got something to drink, and then an hour later, we took our (audio)tour up to the dome and enjoyed the view.


The Topography of Terror. This was a very dense and information rich, but well-curated exhibit on the former grounds of the SS and Gestapo. We got there just in time: by the time we had worked our way through the exhibits, it became super busy. We then met a friend of R. for lunch (Japanese! Was delicious and cheap, two very good attributes) and wandered over to the Berlin Galerie. It was very modern, and I was a bit museum-ed out afterwards, but coffee and a seat out of the sun soon put that to rights.


One of the many sites that commemorate the Holocaust. This was at the Old Jewish Cemetery. Moses Mendelssohn had been buried there. The grounds were used as a holding place for Jews prior to deportation, the cemetery itself disturbed and destroyed (the grounds turned into air raid shelters and later mass graves for civilians and soldiers). We happened upon it by accident, and it really underscores the oddity of visiting Berlin, where mass graves and restaurants co-exist.

And of course, food: from the courtyard where we had dinner one night, to a vegan scone for breakfast, to a hummus restaurant (Hummus and Friends, with the tagline: make hummus, not walls), to schnitzel, and potato salad, and the aforementioned Japanese restaurant. We ate well.

Not pictured: the book store (where we spent an hour on Saturday morning and I really had to restrain myself), the German Historical Museum (really an excellent museum. It might have been my favorite), and a good amount of coffee!


in which I try to capture two weeks in eighteen pictures (DC highlights)

National Christmas Tree

National Christmas Tree

dad relaxing after we spent all morning opening presents at a very slow speed.

dad relaxing after we spent Christmas morning opening presents at a very slow speed.

sisterly love.

sisterly love.

the library of congress. I went twice.

the library of congress. I went twice.

hiking with mom, dad, and A.


the Lincoln Memorial.

the Lincoln Memorial.

Pleased to meet you.

Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lincoln.

mom, A. and I.

mom, A. and I.

meeting Brigham Young at the Capitol.

meeting Brigham Young at the Capitol.

mom, dad, and E. after the Capitol tour.

mom, dad, and E. after the Capitol tour.

the MLK memorial. Absolutely stunning.

the MLK memorial. Absolutely stunning.

Baked and Wired cupcakes and coffee for lunch.

Baked and Wired cupcakes and coffee for lunch.

another hike, now at Harper's Ferry, where we learned a lot about John Brown.

another hike, now at Harper’s Ferry, where we learned a lot about John Brown.

coffee in a refurbished church

coffee in a refurbished church

E. and F. practice tying knots together, in preparation for E.'s field work.

E. and F. practice tying knots together, in preparation for E.’s field work.

on the metro with mom.

on the metro with mom.

after the White House tour. (Yes, it was that cold.)

after the White House tour. (Yes, it was that cold.)

practicing my most presidential look.

practicing looking presidential.

what not to do when you visit the capitol

When mom was getting ready for her trip to Washington DC, we spent a lot of time coaching her on what to pack, and most importantly, what not to pack. Knitting needles? Fine, but put them in your suitcase. Laptop? Put that in your hand luggage and take it out at the security screening. Customs form? This is how you fill that out. Etc., etc. (As an aside, my dad used to email us every time we’d fly to California to visit him with these exact instructions, even though we did this every year or so and knew the drill by then. I always smiled when I got those emails as it’s pretty clear that taking unnecessary care of his daughters is my dad’s love language and it’s a lovely one at that.) Anyway, it was a little overboard, but hey, at least she got through security without any problems.


Ironically, we forgot to do this when we went to visit the Capitol over Christmas break. At least, I had read aloud the instructions on what not to bring, but that was the extent of my preparation. As a result, the next morning, my mom got stuck at the security screening, with five or ten items (including knitting needles, a tiny pair of scissors, and water) you absolutely weren’t allowed to bring into the Capitol. Oops.


You always bring a book, even to the Capitol. My mantra here paid off, as mom and I had a few minutes to ourselves while the rest of the family was off touring the House of Representatives and what better way to spend that than with a book?

Moral of the story? I resolved to next time not assume people were listening to me just because I was talking, and we all checked to make sure no one was bringing anything illegal to the White House tour later that week. I am happy to report that we got through that without any incident, although I felt a lot more comfortable when we had made it through the security checkpoints and were actually standing in the White House. After all, with our family, you never know what’s going to happen.

2013 in questions

2011 and 2012 are here. Also, following RA’s lead, I’m modifying the questions (which mostly means there’s only one music related one..)

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Lived in an US state that wasn’t California. Despite the fact that I go to the US twice a year or so, I’m generally there to visit my dad. I spent six weeks in Provo the summer before last, but this year in Utah is the first time I’ve lived outside of California for any significant length of time. Conclusion: Utahns are incredibly friendly (it took me weeks to realize the strangers offering greetings on the street were talking to me), Salt Lake City is incredibly not-diverse, and it confuses the missionaries when I can talk to them in Mormon-speak yet have no plans to convert.

Books, sun, and a bike. (November/Salt Lake City)

Books, sun, and a bike. (November/Salt Lake City)

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yes and no. Yes, because I resolved to go the distance, which meant for me basically to be present in whatever I was doing. That’s why I spent a lot of time on trains, to be involved in the lives of my family and friends back in the Netherlands, why I took that intensive German class, and why Skype is the best thing ever. But I also failed at this, since I spent most of that year in Germany hibernating and cultivating my inner introvert because it was just so much easier.

My resolutions for next year are, then, to relearn how to streamline the process of making friends, to follow through with the classes I signed up for at the gym (spinning and yoga), and to learn to snowshoe. (I also have a host of dissertation-related things I want to accomplish but my sister says they don’t count as resolutions, so I won’t bore you with them.)

E. and I with grandma

E. and I with grandma (June/Maastricht)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Did anyone close to you die?
No on the former, yes on the latter. My grandfather died on Friday, December 13 and I flew home for the cremation, then back to Salt Lake a week later.

4. Did you travel?
Yes. I crossed the German-Dutch border too often to name, but I also made it to the U.S. (first to California, then Utah, and two trips to the East Coast). Surprisingly little European travel this year.

Metro selfies with my sister, E.

Metro selfies with my sister, E. (November/Washington DC)

5. What would you like to have in 2014 that you didn’t have in 2013?
Honestly? A boyfriend. Dating sucks.

6. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
Landing two fellowships: the Tanner Center one (I really didn’t think I had more than a slight chance at it: you should have seen my face when I opened that email) and the Prins Bernhard one. These should get me through my PhD with relatively little money worries (knock on wood).

At the Prins Bernhard fellowship award ceremony.

At the Prins Bernhard fellowship award ceremony. (May/Amsterdam)

7. What was your biggest failure?
I did not succeed at all at building a life in Dortmund that extended beyond my apartment and the office.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Oh my yes. Thanks to that ill-fated hike, I’m still feeling a little concussed.

T. and I (November/Salt Lake City)

9. What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed?
The Salt Lake public library. During my first weeks here, I had enough fictional friends to keep me company that I wasn’t lonely at all.

10. What song will remind you of this year?
Jars of Clay’s “After the Fight.” I saw them twice in concert this year, once with a good friend, M., the other by myself. I’ve played this song a lot since I got the album.

M. and I (February/Dortmund)

M. and I (February/Dortmund)

11. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Is it too late to say dissertation writing?

12. What do you wish you’d done less of?
I could have done without all those fellowship applications. Anyone who has guaranteed funding for their PhD, I alternately felt jealous and hateful of this year.

13. Compared to this time last year, how are you different?
I’m happier, I think. In December last year, I was still really struggling to find my feet after B. and I split up in October. I’m certainly a lot more social, I’m doing better at work, and I’m also going to church a lot more. All good things.


At Mammoth Lake (August/California)

14. Compared to this time last year, how are you the same?
I’m still very much an introvert and happy with it. I also still spend a lot of time on Pinterest, although Netflix has become a fierce second contender.

15. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Very slightly, but it wasn’t mutual. No serious love for me this year.

16. What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year?
Book: Code Name Verity; TV: White Collar; movie: Gravity (for its pure epic-ness and also because it might have been the only movie I saw and certainly the only one I saw in the theater); music: “Inland” by Jars of Clay.

Saying hi to Brigham Young at the Capitol (December/Washington DC)

Saying hi to Brigham Young at the Capitol (December/Washington DC)

18. What did you get really excited about?The public library here. I got a card my second day in Utah and have spent many, many happy hours browsing the stacks since then. I also got really excited about the Natural History Museum, which is how I ended up volunteering there once a week.

19. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I had a low-key 26th birthday, just the way I like it, with family and friends. Highlight was my dad taking me to a concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which was new to me.

20. What’s a life lesson you learned this year?
Sometimes, it’s okay to give up. I hold myself to very high standards, so this took me a while to learn..

DSCN1194 copy

Christmas Day (December/College Park, MD)

AAR and Thanksgiving

I spent the end of November on the East Coast, first attending the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore and then spending some time with E. in her new environment in College Park, also in Maryland.

AAR was great, because it’s not that often that I get to spend time with people that work on religion and attend panels that are actually relevant to my dissertation. I attended some pretty good sessions, most in the realm of Mormon Studies, but managed to include one on the global impact of Pope Francis. An impassioned nun gave a speech on the need for feminism in the c/Church. She got a standing ovation and it was well deserved.

Obviously seeing E. again was great (no surprises there!). I hadn’t seen her since she left the Netherlands in July, so a visit was long overdue.


E. and I suck at taking selfies. It took us four tries to get this moderately-okay picture on the metro.

We made sure to make time for:

–trips into DC that include coffee houses and book stores (and the buying of books, even though we’d sworn we were too broke to do so)

–a visit to her lab and wonderfully cluttered office (and can I just say, the U is arguably a prettier campus than Dortmund, but Maryland has that old world academic charm going on. I’m jealous)

–baking pumpkin pie and sweet potato cake for Thanksgiving, both Smitten Kitchen recipes (of course). The sweet potato cake needed a blowtorch to caramelize the frosting. E. and I thought we were out of luck, but luckily her friends are awesome and E. managed to borrow a blowtorch from one of their labs. (How come we never have cool gadgets in the humanities?)


I very wisely elected to have E. actually blowtorch the cake, as it would have been an unfortuate end to Thanksgiving if I had burned the house down.

–having to walk on the shoulder of the road to get to the grocery store because why would you want to use a sidewalk? Don’t we know we’re supposed to be in a car?

–reuniting with Dino, who we temporarily lost but then luckily turned up again and now is seeing what Utah has to offer extinct and/pr stuffed dinosaurs. He’s very excited for the snow that is apparently coming our way.

–sadness when I had to leave, but tempered by the knowledge that I’ll be back in December. Our entire family is coming over to DC for Christmas (two whole weeks. That has to be the longest we’ve all been together since what, 2002?). Being away from my family actually has me looking forward to it. (I did, however, find a conference I “have” to attend the second week, just in case all the family togetherness kills me.)

–oh, and do you know how I know I’ve gotten used to Utah? I kept looking around College Park and DC and thinking, ‘where are all the Mormon churches?’

What I did on my summer vacation

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

santa cruzMy second day in the States, we drove down to Santa Cruz to see Shakespeare in the glen. It’s a great outdoor theater and they let you bring a picnic. This year, we saw The Taming of the Shrew, and it was great. (We sat right in front of the guy holding the “no pictures” sign, so I didn’t dare sneak a picture of the theater itself.)


I’ve visited my dad during my winter breaks, so I haven’t been to a Giants game in two or three years. Giants fedoras and oversized t-shirts aren’t really my look, but being in a baseball stadium again was glorious. Plus, we won.

mammothMammoth Lake, one of our stops on the way to Utah.

archesArches and Canyonland, Utah. (I’ll spare you the picture of me overheated and exhausted after the climb to the Delicate Arch, pictured left.)


ashley2Ashley National Forest. Above you see the Flaming Gorge reservoir, below the Green River and the view from our campsite.

DSCN1061The view from Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City.

Not pictured: Camelot at the San Francisco Playhouse, King John at Cedar City’s Shakespeare Festival, countless bookstores and coffee places, and a lot of small town America I’d never really seen before. (Seriously, I have never felt as much like a city girl until I saw all these tiny places we drove through.)

record of a trip so far

–a visit to the de Young Museum in San Francisco for their The Girl With the Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis exhibition. I’ve never actually been to the Mauritshuis in the Hague, I don’t think, so it was fun to catch them here, even if it was a little odd the Vermeer was treated like the Mona Lisa (hanging alone, under glass, specially lighted and with a guard to stand over it) while the Rembrandts were just around the corner, receiving no special treatment. But it was a great exhibition with a lot of etches and sketches as well.

The Wild Bride at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. It was very spectacular and very artistic (a little too much in the first half, I caught myself wondering if this was a performance for me) but the second half made up for it. It tells the story of a girl whose father accidentally sells her to the devil, and who then finds a prince but has to see him go off to war. Will she get a happy ever after and what will it look like?

–the Superbowl (the whole reason for this trip, remember?). We went to the house of family friends to watch it, and it was looking pretty dismal until the power went out halfway through. Then the 49ers managed to come back pretty well, but unfortunately not quite good enough, as they lost by two points. But it was a pretty exciting last half, all the same. (Dad made sure not to read any newspapers on Monday in order to not prolong his pain at them losing.) I have to say, this football thing is growing on me. Who knows, next year I might even be yelling at the tv like the rest of them.

–afternoons spent working at a coffee shop (I am being really productive this trip. It’s a nice change from my usual procrastinating slothiness, which is good since I have eight deadlines to meet in the coming months).

–the Motherf**cker With the Hat at the San Francisco Playhouse. It was a very tragic play, with a lot of expletives. We had to listen to something cheerful on the way home to buoy our spirits.

Princess Ida at the Livermore Bankhead Theater. I loved it.

–Sacrament meeting, Primary, and Relief Society at a Palo Alto ward with Becca, who was nice enough to be my host for the morning.

–and of course, a bookstore every other day or so. I picked up Lazarus Is Dead yesterday. It seemed like an appropriate after-church purchase.

You will have noticed I did not post any pictures. That’s because the last time we were here, we went out to dinner, I took a picture of my plate and promptly forgot the camera. We bought a new one yesterday but I’m staying away from it for the time being, just in case.