This may be my favourite room in a house full of rooms I love. Having moved over twenty times since we were married in 2003 (I wish I were exaggerating), Tony and I have come to realise that although we have many things in common, our decorating tastes, although overlapping, are not identical. So when we moved into our new house, we decided that we would each get a room to decorate exactly how we pleased. The other party could serve in an advisory capacity, but the person to whom the room belonged had total autonomy when it came to layout and decor. This arrangement has worked out beautifully. So go ahead and step through that right hand door in the hallway to enter my room.
We have now lived in our darling Amsterdam flat for a whole year, so I guess it’s high time to invite you in for a tour.
In order to fully appreciate our house, it’s good to know some stats about it. For instance, it’s a grand total of 72 square metres (775 square feet). I think of it as both a small flat and a really big tiny house. When it comes to functionality, I’d say it definitely feels more like the latter. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in IKEA showrooms and cleverly designed little European apartments, marvelling over inventive storage solutions and multi-purpose furniture. Our organisational skills have been tested to their limits in this house, and I think we’ve come through victorious.
We are coming up on two years in Amsterdam, which means almost one year at our new house, in our new neighbourhood. Are we still happy with our choice to pick a little house in the city rather than a bigger one with a garden farther out? It’s still a resounding yes! The longer we live here, the more we love it.
Schinkelbuurt is a delightful little neighborhood of Amsterdam that is also somewhat unknown. Possibly because it’s so little. It’s just that red-highlighted triangle with a tail in the bottom left corner.
While I was chatting with Donna Bardsley at Amsterdam Mamas after she interviewed me last week about this whole process, she said something that I can’t stop thinking about. She had asked me during the interview what I thought about the Dutch education system, and in particular about the streaming system that separates kids out by ability at the age of eleven. I’d responded fairly positively (as I have on this blog), partially because I’ve always had an inherent hesitation about publicly saying something overtly negative about the culture in which I live at the time, and partially because I really do see some clear benefits to the system. But the thing that Donna said was that the parents who tend to have positive things to say about the system are those whose kids have ended up with a VWO advies.
Several months ago, I found myself quite overwhelmed with my to-do list. Or should I say to-do list. I had them on post-its at my desk at work. I had them on post-its in various places at home. I wrote them on little pieces of paper. I had a great many in the “reminders” app on my phone. Tony had invited me to Wunderlist to keep track of the shopping, so I had some there too. To say nothing of the shared Google calendar without which most events in our life and our children’s lives would simply not happen. Some stuff I even tried to just keep in my head, which resulted in insomnia, as I would lie in bed running through my internal to-do list, worried I had left something off.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.