It finally happened! This is the first time this year I was outside without a jacket on. Temperatures are around 27C (mid to high 70s) with 100% sun. It is positively lovely to feel the sun on your skin. Unfortunately I was not able to take any photos for the blog as I was on a quick trip to the grocery store between meetings. You will have to trust me that it was sunny with blue skies all around.
Speaking of the weather, here is a care package I received from my work last week or the week before, with lots of sugary goodness:
You can tell the note is old because it reads “Spring has been a bit shy this year and not quite as warm as could be expected. We are also aware that it is a busy time for most of us. This is why we decided to invite you to take a well deserved warm break. We hope you’ll enjoy this little treat.”
There’s two pieces of chocolate from Tony’s chocolonely (milk and dark), a packet of instant coffee, a packet of hot chocolate, two tiny stroopwafels, a piece of fudge and a bit of nougat.
Tasty! Oddly enough most of it still remains uneaten. Although we did use the hot chocolate mix to make chocolate waffels on Sunday (yum yum).
Earlier this week I received a small box in the mail. In Dutch it’s called brievenbuspakje. Brievenbus = mail box, pakje = little package. (A normal package is called pakket and the Dutch have the habit of adding -je to the end of the word to make it cute and tiny. If you’re interested in the reasons why, feel free to read Make it small: the Dutch love affair with diminutives at iamexpat.nl.)
But I do love brievenbuspakjes or brievenbuscadeautjes (mail box gifts). For whatever reason I am not a fan of having a company deliver something to our door, probably because the doorbell for downstairs is so heart attack inducing when you press it too long. Or something like that. I will go out of my way to order something at bol.com (effectively Dutch Amazon) if and only if it has the option to deliver to the local Albert Heijn grocery store.
But brievenbuspakjes are even better because they are guaranteed to fit in your mail box, meaning you don’t have to be at home and the deliver doesn’t have to spend time ringing your doorbell. Just put it in the mailbox and move on to the next delivery.
But back to that small box I received in the mail. I was thrilled to see the tiny gift in our mailbox earlier this week, though had no idea who it was from. The spoon is in the back of the picture to give a bit of reference to how small this box is.
It was from work to say happy birthday! It was a brownie from a local Dutch site, www.mmoodwineandfood.nl. At first when I read the flavors on the card (caramel, white chocolate and m&m topping) I thought it was one really, really extragent brownie. But no, luckily it was separate flavors:
It was so rich Marco and I split the one on the left, the m&m toppings. (Also, I’d not call that m&ms. They were more smarties size, aka the UK chocolates (English Wikipedia). Which apparently pre-dates m&ms by a few years.) The other two brownies were saved for another day.
But: yummmm. Even though we weren’t able to get to them for a few days it was still moist and delicious.
I recently celebrated an odd anniversary. It has been a year since I started working from home full time. My last day in the office was March 13, 2020. See also my blog post from that weekend. (It is crazy to read that at first they were limiting groups to 100 people. Since December we can only have one guest visiting.)
To go into the office I need to have a good reason and have permission from both my department’s manager and the building manager. In the last year I have been there twice – once to pick up my new laptop (August?) and once to return my old laptop (October? It was slightly delayed because corona cases started going up around then). The office is outfitted with directional arrows and there are designated elevators for going up and for going down. I couldn’t quickly find the one that was designated “down” so I ended up taking the stairs.
On the plus side, my employer was fully ready to work from home from day one. We had recently switched over to Teams and we use Sharepoint (group network share) and OneDrive (generally personal network share, but can also be shared with groups). The “funny” thing was that the office was planning on working from home on the afternoon of Monday, March 16 to test the VPN. However the situation changed so fast that our VPN “test” was everyone logging in on Monday and getting to work. Luckily not everyone needs the VPN, however with my line of work my first action when I boot up my computer is to log into the VPN and my last action before turning off my computer is to log off the VPN. So yeah, I need it.
Marco and I live in a tiny apartment that doesn’t quite support two home workers, but we make it work. I think I held out until August or so last year before I finally caved and said we should get at least one proper work desk and chair. We only had to wait a week or two and I splurged on a desk which allows you to change the height electronically. I also splurged on an extra setup fee to have the company do it for us. I’d rather pay €50 than spend hours staring at instructions, thank you very much.
These days the only pain point is when we both have meetings. In that case one of us moves to the bedroom. Luckily I have less meetings than Marco so it doesn’t happen that often. Which is probably good, since the bedroom wifi is less than ideal.
Generally we don’t have any issues with the current working from home solution, but it is still crazy to think we have been at home for over a year now. My company let me know all the way back in December that we would be working from home at least through August 2021. Crazy.
At least we have the upcoming spring and sun to look forward to. Today it just drizzled, raining on and off. Boo!
One of Marco’s coworkers is leaving, so Marco’s company has scheduled a virtual goodbye party later this week. But, it isn’t just any goodbye party – each participant received a package in the mail today to give the person a “good send off” during the virtual party:
That’s right, a nachos and beer package! The nacho chips, potato chips and salsa are all Spanish products (or are labeled as such) while you have two Dutch beers from Jopen, a brewery in Haarlem. Apparently there is also an aioli dip, but I didn’t find that until after taking this photo. All the straw underneath reminds me of the leg lamp unboxing from A Christmas Story (link to YouTube).
Last week my company’s Human Resources department mailed us a surprise gift:
The note says: “The month of November has started with its beautiful autumnal colors but also rain and storm. HR has prepared an enclosed gift which already looks ahead to springtime. We hope you will enjoy this small token!” Cute.
I heard from some colleagues that their gift didn’t even survive an hour in their kid-infested house…
On Sunday I realized that I was now at the six month mark for working at home (13 March to 13 September). I’ve got about another four months to go, unless the return to office is delayed again. I will be going into the office however later this month – to get a new work computer. That came as a surprise to me! On the one hand I’m glad as I hope it will be faster. On the other hand I am worried because it means I need to hope all of my existing software reinstalls properly. But I did pick a day that will hopefully be less busy, so I will just cross my fingers.
Of course there are a lot of rules, which is a good thing in my opinion. Only two people can share the same time slot to pick up their computer, you need to wait in reception to get picked up, you can’t wander around (with the exception of getting coffee, since hey, they aren’t evil), you need advance permission to visit your desk, etc. etc. etc.
Let’s go for some public transportation related news today:
Erasmusbrug closed after overhead tram cabling collapses from dutchnews.nl. This happened yesterday morning. It sounds really bad, but luckily there were no injuries. The bridge was re-closing (after having opened for ship traffic) when the cabling fell down. The bridge was able to re-open for pedestrians and cyclists on Monday evening.
A campaign by the Dutch public transportation branch, called “OV OK”. Two things to know if you’re not from the Netherlands: OV means public transportation in Dutch and it is pronounced oh vay so that you get the rhyme oh vay oh kay. See also this article from ov-nl.nl: Het licht staat op groen voor het openbaar vervoer (Public transportation gets the green light). I can see where they are coming from, to a degree. While we are told to work from home as much as possible, we are currently allowed to use public transportation. The rules are that you need to wear a face mask and that you should avoid rush hour wherever possible. But for now I view it as something to use if absolutely necessary (even though it pains me to say that, as I love riding in trams!)
Today’s photo is of the tree in the Centraal Park (at least, that’s the name Google Maps gives it). This park is not far from Centraal Station and the Malieveld.
But it’s one little tree, all on its own:
But it does provide some nice shade, that’s for sure.
My coworkers and I found out today that we will be working from home until at least January 2021. That is a very long time, but it was to be expected considering the circumstances. Mostly I think: ooh, January. Hopefully cooler temperatures! (The Netherlands is still in the middle of a heatwave at the moment.)
In other news: Ad falls flat: Coca-Cola to remove ‘inappropriate’ Amsterdam tourism banner (dutchnews.nl). The rather large ad says Ik zeg nooit meer ‘er zijn te veel toeristen in mijn stad’. Or, in English: I will never again say ‘there are too many tourists in my city’. The problem is that since the tourists came back, the issues with drug and alcohol use has skyrocketed in parts of Amsterdam. Because of that some local residents aren’t that happy with tourists at the moment.
News articles had begun to appear in the last few days saying that the government would be shifting to a new phase of “what can you do” versus “what can’t you do” during these corona times. By yesterday it became apparent that the government would holding a press conference tonight, again with the prime minister and healthcare minister. As expected, a lot of the information leaked yesterday evening and today, so there weren’t too many surprises.
The usual rules stay in place (for example, keep 1.5 meters distance, sneeze and cough into your elbow, stay home if you’re feeling sick, wash your hands often, work as much as you can from home, etc.) The one big rule change in this new phase is “avoid busy areas as much as you can” as a replacement for “stay at home as much as you can”. Which I think is a huge shift already.
As already reported during the last press conference: elementary schools can open, daycares can open, children can exercise and partake in sporting activities outside (teenagers can as well, if they follow social distancing rules)
Adults are now allowed to partake in non-contact sporting activities outside as long as they follow social distancing rules and shower at home, with no games allowed
Most “contact” jobs are now allowed, including hairdressers, beauticians, driving instructors, acupuncturists, etc. Where possible social distancing rules are followed and appointments are always required, with clients and staff needing to confirm that neither are sick.
A bit of a shock: face masks are not required, but can be used if desired provided they are not medical face masks
Libraries are allowed to open, provided they follow social distancing rules and limit the rate of visitors accordingly
Only use public transportation if you must, and avoid rush hour. It is advised that you wear a non-medical face mask (with this becoming a requirement on 1 June due to the government expecting an increased amount of users by then).
Sometime in June
The government expects to be able to test anyone who asks for a test (they hope to allow this from 1 June, but cannot give a precise date yet)
From 1 June
Non-medical face masks are now a requirement in public transportation, and public transportation operators are required to have a full schedule by this date
Public transportation workers can request testing to make sure they don’t have the coronavirus
Medical face masks are not allowed as there is still a shortage of those in The Netherlands for healthcare workers
Outside terraces by restaurants can open again
Movie theaters, restaurants, cafes, museums and other cultural institutions can open, with reservations required and agreement between the client and staff that neither are sick; with a maximum of 30 visitors and staff combined at any one time
From 15 June
High schools can take exams
From 1 July
Public restrooms and showers can again open at camping areas and vacation parks
The maximum of 30 visitors for movie theaters, restaurants and similar is increased to 100 visitors
Church services, weddings and funerals of up to 100 visitors and staff are also allowed
From 1 September
Fitness clubs, saunas, wellness centers, coffee shops (drug shops) and casinos can open again
Contact sports and inside sporting is allowed, for everyone
Sporting events can again take place, but without public. This includes paid football games.
Around this time a decision will be made about events with lots of visitors, including festivals and concerts.
The prime minister was quick to caution that the above steps are only possible if the coronavirus is kept under control.
Another measure that people are quite interested in is the re-opening of schools. Scholen open of langer dicht? ‘Zelfs leerlingen beginnen school nu te missen’ (nos.nl, article in Dutch). The headline reads: Schools open, or closed for longer? Even students are beginning to miss school now. Yikes! Meivakantie (“May vacation”) begins next week, from 25 April to 3 May. After that… working parents everyone are looking for a break. If we see any change here, it might be the elementary schools opening first.
The other big one is whether or not restaurants will be fully open, rather than just open for takeout and delivery. This one I don’t expect to change any time soon. June at the earliest. However, that doesn’t mean restaurants can’t plan in the meantime. For instance, some restaurant owners on the Scheveningen beach have presented how they see life in the ‘1.5m society’: Strandtenten klaar voor serveren op anderhalve meter: ‘Zee aan ruimte’. (nos.nl, article in Dutch).
Work is another interesting dilemma, especially in the office – that one I can’t predict. I don’t think they are ready to lift the ‘work from home if you can’ advice, so I expect we will be working from home a bit longer. But perhaps they will remind businesses that now is the time to start thinking about how it will look in the future.
I am one of the lucky folks who should be celebrating a birthday during these corona times. Officially I’ve said I’ll celebrate it later in the summer (I mean come on: when will I ever have a chance to celebrate my birthday in the summer again? Who could pass up that opportunity?).
On Friday I received an email from my workplace’s HR department, wishing me a happy birthday and telling me they would be delivering cupcakes on Saturday (yesterday).
The delivery itself was anti-climatic but still tinged by the coronavirus: Someone rang the doorbell. I open the door. The box of cupcakes have been carefully left on the doormat, with the deliveree standing at the edge of the stairs at a safe distance. She points to the box, we exchange the standard pleasantries, and then she is gone again.