Valentine’s Day and the Naked Sauna

Valentine’s Day and the Naked Sauna

Sometimes February gets a bad rap. I remember my Seminary teacher telling us one gloomy February that more Seminary teachers commit suicide in February than any other month. I still wonder if actual studies have been done on suicide rates among Mormon Seminary teachers, although I realize now that she was probably just making a point about how much she was not enjoying getting up at 5:30 every weekday morning to teach grumpy, sleepy, inattentive teenagers.

Still, February isn’t the most advantageously positioned month. It’s cold, dark, and dreary. All the nice things about winter, like endless cups of tea or curling up by the fire or wearing cute hats and scarves, are getting old, and all the nasty things, like lack of sunshine, excessive precipitation of whatever sort, and being sick, are feeling interminable. In fact, since the beginning of the year almost everyone I know here, whether at work, home, my kids’ school, or just random acquaintances, has been sick at least once. I had a cold that lasted two weeks, and left me hoarse and coughing for another two.

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Househunters International – Amsterdam Edition

Househunters International – Amsterdam Edition

Our amazingly cool friends, Sarah and Aaron Zipp, were featured on Househunters International this week. We got to watch their episode from their couch in the very apartment they chose during the show. Our kids even got a cameo at the end as part of a scene where they demonstrate a caber toss during Highland Games in the park.

It was even more fun to watch the Zipps in their show, since we are presently engaged in our own version of Amsterdam househunting. Less than a month ago, our landlady told us she would be moving back from Germany and would require the use of her apartment, necessitating that we move out. It was a bit of a shock, especially since she neglected to give us proper notice. Fortunately, in the Netherlands, as in many European countries, renters, employees, and other underdogs are generally quite well protected by law. We were informed by our realtor that we had every right to stay another year. However, we had no desire to live in the house of a hostile landlady, or make her life unduly difficult, so we negotiated moving out six weeks after our original contract expires (so by May 15), and started looking for another house.

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Finding a School in Amsterdam

Finding a School in Amsterdam

Once we had decided to send our children to school in Amsterdam, we were faced with the rather overwhelming prospect of finding a school that would be a good fit. Fortunately, as usual, the internet came to the rescue. There’s a wonderful expat parenting group called Amsterdam Mamas that has the answers to any question you might have when moving to or living in Amsterdam.

Besides the website, there’s an extremely active Facebook group where you can ask questions on anything, including what to expect when giving birth, which local restaurants are most family-friendly, or even what to do when your upstairs neighbor won’t stop banging on the ceiling (ask me why I want to know). There are a number of offshoots to the main Facebook group, including Amsterdam Mamas Book & Film Club, Amsterdam Mamas Write, and Dutch Education. It was to this last that I went to with all my questions about–Dutch education. I spent a couple of weeks poring over past posts and absorbing everything I could.

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At the Dentist in Amsterdam

At the Dentist in Amsterdam

From the title, this should be one of my light-hearted, funny, perhaps even a bit aggravated comparative cross-culture posts. But it’s actually not. This is a post about fears and irrationalities and the sometimes bizarre workings of my psyche. It’s weirdly personal, and I don’t share this stuff with hardly anyone. But it has at times played an embarrassingly central role in my life.

I’m terrified of going to the dentist. I know it’s a fairly common phobia, and I can’t go inside other people’s heads to see how you feel about the dentist, or where on the scale of neurotic I fall, but suffice it to say that I think I have it worse than most people. I adored my dentist in Florida (as much as it is even possible for me to adore a dentist) for letting me bring my sugar gliders into his office so I would have something furry and warm to cuddle while I suffered through dentist visits.

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Bicycle Paradise

Bicycle Paradise

I realise that I haven’t used this blog to vent in quite a while. Believe it or not, I have experienced some moments of culture shock (like the other day when I had a very minor bicycle collision and got yelled at by a Dutch guy who was late for work and in a bad mood, and then I went home and cried and for the next hour and a half hated Dutch men). But mostly I am just so in love with living here that everything makes me happy. And possibly the thing that tops the list of happy things (even taking into account the above unfortunate encounter) is the fact that my main means of transportation these days is bicycle. How I absolutely adore traveling by bicycle! It’s good for the environment, good for one’s personal health, and a great way to reduce traffic congestion. No matter how packed the bicycle rack is, it’s always possible to squeeze your bicycle in somewhere. And yes, they are ALWAYS packed, although I suspect that 85% of the bicycles on any given rack haven’t been ridden in months; the city theoretically tags and removes these bicycles on a regular basis, but in practice I think it mostly happens in very high traffic areas like Central Station.

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My Favorite Job Ever

My Favorite Job Ever

I’ve been quite looking forward to this post. It’s time to tell you all about my new job! First, a note on how I found it, because it’s a fun story. My father-in-law worked as a civil engineer at Chevron for most of his career, sometimes in some very exotic places. So when Tony was a kid, he spent a couple of years living with his family in Indonesia. Those of you who have been expats know that fellow-expats you meet abroad often become good friends, and you end up keeping in touch long after life has moved both of you on to different places. Fast forward 20 years, and the mother of one of Tony’s friends from his time in Indonesia posted a job opening in The Hague on his Facebook wall (Thank you, Nita!). I read it and thought, wow; that job sounds like it was made for me.

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Sunflowers for Van Gogh

Sunflowers for Van Gogh

I’ve already showed you some lovely examples of the Dutch obsession with flowers. And it goes beyond just having pretty gardens. In fact, 80% of the world trade in bulbs comes from the Netherlands (which is also the world’s top producer of onions; for the statistically minded, visit this website for more facts about the horticultural dominance of this tiny country). They also love to incorporate flowers into other events. Many of the floats at the Canal Parade were covered in flowers, and there is an annual 42 km Bulbflower Parade that we missed in a fog of jet-lag this April, but I’d like to attend next year.

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Work-Life Balance in the Netherlands

Work-Life Balance in the Netherlands

I’ve tried several variations on work-life balance over the years, and found most of them to be fairly out of balance. When the children were small, Tony and I ran a business together, whilst juggling full-time care for a baby and a toddler. We thought a lot about hiring an au pair or a nanny, but moved around too much to ever really manage to do it. So my memories of those days are a bit of a haze of sleepless nights and management meetings, and never having quite enough time to do everything. Still, it was fun and exciting, and I do look back on those days fondly. And I learned some pretty mad organizational skills.

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Amsterdam SAIL

Amsterdam SAIL

Considering its geography and topography, it’s no surprise that the Netherlands is a country of mariners. During the 17th century, it had the largest navy in the world, as well as an economy built around the commerce of its major port cities. And although a series of Anglo-French alliances eventually put an end to Dutch military dominance of the sea, Rotterdam is still the biggest port in Europe. Today Amsterdam has a beautiful (and very much used) network of historic canals. There’s one that runs right near our house, in fact, and it’s a lovely place for picnics. And I never go out there without this charming quote from The Wind in the Willows running through my head:

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The Canal Parade

The Canal Parade

Ever since we moved to Amsterdam, people have been telling us about the famous canal parade that happens every August in celebration of Pride week. This place loves an excuse for a party, and as city renowned for its tolerance and open-mindedness, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam celebrates Gay Pride with panache and gusto. There are all-night street parties and other events for days before and after, but the main attraction is the canal parade on Saturday afternoon.

Accordingly, we arrived a good hour and a half or so before the parade was to begin. The crowds were already packed along the parade route, but we managed to find a spot on a bridge (we’d been informed that bridges offered the best view), almost in the front. We settled the kids with their legs dangling off the bridge under one of the giant hanging flower baskets. Yes, I did give more than a passing thought to the idea that they might fall in the canal, but no, it didn’t prevent me from allowing it.

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