Monday, November 30, 2009

All I need now is a Lady Gaga fix

When we went home Friday night, we thought that random couch surfer speed dating would be the beginning of a great weekend...Though it wasn’t what we expected, I guess I have to admit it was still a pretty great weekend.
We woke up around 11:00 after a good eight hours of sleep. Since our host was so generous in letting three girls crash his bachelor pad, we decided to repay him by making breakfast…We made some bomb French toast, and then keeping in Dutch tradition, but mixing in a little IHOP, we put Nutella, bananas, and powdered sugar on top…It was so delicious. And since it was a special weekend, Lily and I decided to make it EXTRA fancy…Yes that is a bottle of Proseco…don’t judge. It was also great because neither our host nor the other girl staying there had ever had Mimosas or French toast. So we were able to share a great American breakfast…And now they understand why our nation has a weight problem.
Then it was time to hop on the metro (minus the homeless man and attacking doors this time) and head to Basecamp. We met up with a bunch of our other CS friends…This is where we met to go on a city walk tour of Rotterdam. We were pretty excited because we thought we’d learn a lot of cool things and get to be tourists for a day. Well too bad the group was so huge that we couldn’t all get close enough to hear our guide. So we’d stop at random times not knowing what we were looking at…wonder what kind of sculpture it was...and then when we wanted to take pictures of things, the group kept walking…However I did see a couple reminders of my two home towns areas San Francisco...And LA...We eventually got to the docks, which used to be the gateway to the New World when cruise ships were the way to travel…But at this point, we needed to leave the tour. We had forgotten some stuff at our host’s house and we didn’t want to be late for the dinner. But first, we stopped off at a department store to get a little snack and relax…Well we got to dinner, which was DELICIOUS!!! We had goat cheese salad, bread with herb butter, seafood, pasta, soup…a total feast. We also got to enjoy a nice relaxing dinner with our friends…Then it was ON TO THE PARTY! I was really excited, when I got there and was sporting my new Euro trash, Black Friday outfit. But unfortunately, the DJ was this 40 year old Cuban guy who had a repertoire of ten songs (including the theme song to Austin Powers five different salsa songs that all sounded the same, and Bob Marley) which he kept playing over and over. We had come to dance, and we were not happy. But then the Zwarte Piets came out and said it was time for Sinterklaas to arrive! And I actually got to meet him…Can you tell I was excited? We also did our present swap and I got a giant chocolate bar with a Dutch postcard. What made me happy was seeing the guy who got the apron I brought, wearing it during the party. But finally, we heard a familiar melody in the background…It was Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” which meant out came the moves, as well as the dancing face…Unfortunately that was the only song we were able to dance to that night. We were bummed and soon left with our host to settle down for a long winter’s nap. But we still had a great night with new friends…Upon waking the next morning, we decided to skip the brunch (after Lily lied through her teeth to get our money back…it was pretty amazing.) Instead we went to Den Haag to meet up with Lily’s flight attendant mommy, do a little exploring, drink a little wine, and have my first experience of oliebollenIt was pretty amazing. It’s like funnel cake but in a ball and with mix-ins. It’s a Dutch holiday food (and thank goodness it’s only holiday because I have a feeling I’d eat them all year.) Feeling full and fulfilled, I hopped on the train,  back to my humble home to be greeted by my family wanting to know about my trip. It was a good weekend but it was even better to be back home.

Word of the day: slapen - sleep

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Legend of Sinterklaas (as told by an American)

The legit (read wikipedia) version of Sinterklaas can be found here. The awesome and much more interesting version can be found…
Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus…He’s what keeps kids good 364 days a year. The story is based on the true Saint Nicolas…He was a real man who would put coins in shoes of poor children and secretly deliver gifts as well. He was born in Turkey but for some reason moved to Spain. It was probably the weather, but maybe the flamenco dancing. But he doesn’t really care about either of those countries because every year in the middle of November, he comes to The Netherlands on a boat. Sometimes when the waves are too rocky (like in Noordwijk) he has to leave his very large ship and get to land on a speedboat (cuz that’s how he rolls)…He then makes appearances all over the country arriving on ships through canals, rivers, dams, and of course the ocean. He then gets on a white horse and goes off to make mall appearances until the 5th of December. On this day, he leaves a bag of presents at the door for all the good little boys and girls. While they are sleeping, he also fills their shoes (wooden ones in keeping with Dutch stereotypes) with little toys (this also happens for about a week beforehand.) You can leave carrots in the shoes for his horse. But no cookies...Sinterklaas is watching his saturated fats. The 5th also the day of Christmas gift giving in the Netherlands. It is much more the commercialized holiday we know to be the holiday season in the U.S. The 25th is more a time to be with family and the 26th is Boxing Day – a time to pack up your old things, put on a pair of gloves, and get ready to rumble.
The Dutch government is very careful about Sinterklass’ appearances. He is never arriving (especially if it’s televised) in two places at once. Kind of like the Santa Claus at Disneyland (oops did I give something away?)
Of course, this Holiday figure is not as forgiving as our Santa, and kidnaps little boys and girls who are naughty and takes them back to Spain with him. Who knows what happens to them…perhaps they become part of his army of workers. Speaking of his army of workers, here they are…That’s right!! Good old-fashioned black-faced is used to create the Zwarte Piet or “Black Piet.” Zwarte Piets are Sinterklaas’ helpers, like the elves living up at the North Pole. They arrive with Sinterklaas or using other methods of transportation. I wonder if there was on argument on where they had to sit…Of course no black-faced character would be complete without a good ol’ timey minstrel dance…Cookies made in their likeness...And of course some imitations…Or perhaps even some sexual perverseness…Ok, ok, I jest (sort of.) Nowadays, with political correctness, they say that he is dirty from going up and down the chimney. But not many Dutch people actually buy into that crap. Even African-Dutch think that it’s stupid to try and change a tradition that’s been around for four hundred years. I guess none of them ever had a Dream.
Regardless, I enjoy the Sinterklaas Holiday. It reminds me of walking around Target singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” while ornament shopping. I even get into the commercialism with my version of a Santa hat…Or perhaps some festive bobble headbands…When Sinterklaas arrived in Noordwijk, we were all very excited. We bundled up and went out to the beach in the rain to wait. The whole family was there...This was the first year Fien could really understand the concept of him, and she had a blast…Of course she didn’t really want to get near him, and she only went up to the Zwarte Piet because he was giving out bags of kruidnoten. And without a kid, I couldn’t really get close enough to get a good picture…But I think you can imagine it. It’s a Holiday tradition, different but still with similarities to our own. I’m looking forward to the visit from Sinterklaas this year. I can’t wait to see what he brings me!

Here’s a little Holiday Activity for the young as well as the young at heart.

Word of the day: schip - ship

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sinterklaas, Subway, Stir Fry, and Speed Dating

Today began a weekend long event in the city of Rotterdam known as CS Sinterklaas Weekend. Hosted by couch surfing, the event includes dinners, a couple parties, and some daytime activities. The whole idea is to have a weekend long holiday party celebrating Sinterklaas – the Dutch Santa. (Don’t worry there will be an entry about him sometime next week – it’s an amazing tradition with a long and somewhat tainted history.)
But anyway, Lily and I were surfing in Rotterdam for the weekend with a guy named Ronald. When we arrived in Rotterdam, we needed to wait for Ronald to get off work, so we decided to continue the celebration of American Thanksgiving…so we went shopping! Of course there weren’t as great of sales as there are on Black Friday in America, but we still got some cute outfits for the Sinterklaas party tomorrow night. We also found this fun little number…Seeing as we had shopped till we dropped, we fell into a couple seats at McDonalds and had some coffee and apple pie (again…Thanksgiving.) Then it was time to travel to our host’s house.. We entered the subway, and were greeted by a crazy old guy who was trying to tell us how to buy a card, but once again I was trying to tell him that my American credit card does not have a pin number and can therefore not be used on the machine. So he was nice enough to give me an hour pass and we headed down in search for a map. After finding none and almost getting on the wrong train, we made it to our transfer. Lily was smart enough to yell at me when I decide to just walk without any clue where I’m going, so we made it to our platform in record time only to find that the previous metro had broken down and a HUGE crowd had formed. It didn’t help either that there was a guy who seriously reminded us of Apu from the Simpsons who was speaking crazy talk and mixing Dutch with Spanish with English. Needless to say, we moved away from that. By the time the metro had cleared and a new one came in its place, we began to crowd on only to be pushed out by the crowd. However the doors didn’t register that and they actually CLOSED ON US!! We pushed them open and scramble to get out. But we got on the next one and safely made it to our destination where we met Ronald in his wonderful apartment and headed off to dinner.
Dinner was held in a youth hostel where the cook “Mom” had made a delicious coconut milk rice and stir fry for us to enjoy. We began meeting people from all over and learned some interesting stories. One guy was unable to eat his vegetables because he had gotten dysentery in Pakistan and had not yet introduced the vegetable (the hardest thing to digest) back into his diet. But it’s ok, cuz we ate them for him. :-D
Then it was time for the “Speed Dating.” It wasn’t really speed dating since it was more just a meet and greet of fellow couch surfers with questions to help you along…which was good because we weren’t too keen on actual speed dating. Everyone got a sticker piece of paper that was then taped to our backs. Then everyone got a question, a pen, and most likely a beer and off we went. You went up to people, asked them your question, they asked you yours, and hopefully a conversation got started. Then you had to write something on their back about what you learned.
I met quite a lot of people. I had interesting conversations with two guys about linguistics who are also studying it, a girl from Oregon who shared with me San Francisco memories, and a tiny Philipino guy who was totally the stereotypical partier I remember from high school. But my favorite person I met was during one of the mini “competitions.” It was a dance competition and the guy next to me grabbed me and told me to start dancing. We were dancing and when it was over he told me he taught tango!! He then proceeded to teach me a couple actual steps, which was quite adorable.
Lily was busy sitting in one of the couch areas, which she called the VIP lounge. People kept coming up and wanting to join, and if they were cool, we let them in. :-D Lily also attempted to find every tall person in the room (which was only guys…lucky her) and form another secret club. I did not like this club however when I was called over to stand among them.
Well it was time to go. After a quick chorus of “Poker Face” which had finally come on, we left to find our way home without the metro. We shared a nice cup of tea joined by Celine our third couch surfer, and then settled down for a nice sleep, ready for a new morning!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day in Holland

Since Thanksgiving is an American Holiday, I was able to meet up with the previous aupair who worked for my family who was cooking a Traditional Thanksgiving dinner for her Dutch girlfriend’s family. It was my job to bring dessert and, as you know from yesterday, I could not make pumpkin pie, so I chose instead to do Paula Deen’s Peach Cobbler…mmm mmm good. I substituted the first cup of sugar for brown sugar, which makes for a wonderfully rich syrup-y goodness…Then I baked it and it came out looking even more delicious…So after letting it cool (I was smart enough to think of that ahead of time) I packed it up and walked to the bus stop. Once I arrived, I met Esther, her mom, her dad, her mom’s boyfriend, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. I sat on the couch sipping my wine while smiling and not knowing what ANYONE was saying. Every once and a while Esther would lean over and explain what was going on, but I’d get lost a minute later anyway. Mags however was busy running around like a chicken with its head cut off (or maybe it’s more appropriate to say turkey?)…The table was set, and Mags' Mom had even sent her festive napkins to make us feel more at home...We enjoyed a yummy cranberry/cheese mixture on top of crackers for an appetizer and then it was time for the feast. Mags had made carrots, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing balls (regular stuffing, but formed into balls and broiled…so delicious!!!) sweet potatoes (but since there are no tiny marshmallows here, she used pinapple…I highly recommend it) and a turkey. It all looked amazing…Of course Mags had to special order a large turkey and when she went to go pick it up this morning, they said “Here’s two little ones.” Turkey, especially whole ones, are not common in Holland. But it ended up being just enough food. By the time we were good and stuffed, I put in my cobbler to reheat. I wasn’t sure how it was going to travel or reheat, but let me tell you, it was just as delicious! We had it with vanilla ice cream, and the tiny bit that was left over was taken by the boyfriend (who was a cop) so he could enjoy it while gloating to his fellow officers also stuck working the night shift. All in all, it was a success!
After dinner we sat around drinking coffee, while they marveled in the custom that is a combination of a food coma and tryptophane while discussing other American traditions. I commented on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the new floats for this year, Mags commented on Football, and surprisingly, Esther’s father told us the history of Thanksgiving according to the Wikipedia page. He had looked it up especially for tonight so as to be more aware. It was very sweet (and surprisingly fairly accurate.)
So with our bellies stuffed, and our hearts full of thanks, we parted ways and I came home happy to go on Skype and talk to my cousins who I don’t get to see today (at least in person)…For all you reading out there, Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for everyone in my life who has affected me in some way. I’m especially thankful for the people who convinced me that coming here was the correct idea. I miss and love you all.

And on a lighter note…Word of the Day: Dankjewel - Thank You

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Day Before an American Holiday

Well it’s the day before Thanksgiving. Of course Thanksgiving is the celebration by Americans for things they are thankful for – family...friends...and the ability to trick Native Americans into feeding them before taking their land and going to war against them...Well as far as I know, there was no ocean to cross to arrive here and therefore no cold hard winter to get through without helpful indigenous people. So by that logic, family and friends are not enough of a reason to have a holiday.
Ok ok all kidding and political reprimand aside, it is still Wednesday – the most traveled day of the year in America, as well as the biggest (grocery) shopping day. So I decided to take part. Since I will actually be going to a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I needed to get ingredients to make Paula Dean’s Pumpkin Pie. In order to do this, I had to go to the big supermarket since the one by my house does not have many of the ingredients I need. So after about an hour of attempting to find the right keys to my bike, figuring out how to unlock it, finding a wrench to lower the seat, and scraping the rust off of the seat bar so that it could be lowered, I was on my way. Of course the bike was still a little too big, and the gears don’t connect right away so I kind of ran into things when I was first starting up, but I think I’m getting the hang of it now. I was all set in my directions as it was pretty straight forward…until I came to a detour in the road and I got pretty severely lost. After being yelled at in Dutch by another woman, and making several U-turns, I found my way back to the street I was supposed to be on. Only one U-turn later (when I veered into a no-bike housing complex instead of the bike path across the street,) I found the Albert Heijn supermarket!
Once inside I set upon finding the ingredients I needed while cursing myself for not translating them from English before I came. Unfortunately I also didn’t even think about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to find canned (or fresh) pumpkin anywhere. So I called Lily who was able to send me the ingredients to make Peach Cobbler instead, which is not as traditional, but just as delicious. It ended up being better anyway because here, cream cheese and graham crackers are both imported and therefore, cost way more than they should, whereas canned peaches are still cheap and easy.
So I got home making a mental note to figure out how the basket goes onto the bike, unloaded my groceries and had a bowl of delicious homemade soup. I don’t need to make the cobbler until tomorrow so I’ve decided to spend the rest of the day straightening up the two houses, and reorganizing mine. I’ve also made the discovery that youtube has ALL the episodes of Cheers and since I recently fell in love with Frasier, which is it’s spin off, I figured I’d try watching that first. Plus it’s an American TV Institution. Plus sometimes you wanna go where every body knows your name.
So for all you surviving the grapevine, standing in line at Safeway, or elbow deep in a hollow turkey, Happy Day-Before-Thanksgiving…I miss it all.

Word of the Day: pompoentaart - pumpkin pie

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another List of Things I did today

List of things I did that were equally if not more productive than yesterday:
-Get out of bed ten minutes after waking up
-Sort laundry-
-Do four loads of laundry
-Fold laundry
-Hang up/put away clothes
-Finally put away suitcases
-Change out of my pajamas into real clothes
-Go grocery shopping
-Go clothes shopping but frugally don’t buy anything
-Go to T-Mobile store and get minutes added onto phone
-Take a shower
-Defrost the freezer
-Fix freezer door
-Make sandwich for lunch
-Make pesto pasta with chicken for dinner
-Clean out fridge in my house
-Clean out fridge in main house
-Do dishes in my house
-Do dishes in main house
-Put up towel hooks

List of things I did that were not more productive than yesterday:
-Wake up late
-Catch up on “Community”
-Catch up on “Modern Family” - be amazed at the three different references to the Netherlands in one episode as well as the guest appearance by Edward Norton
-Finish “Arrested Development”, plan to watch again and get excited for the movie
-Make plans to watch the full series of “Frasier”
-Write a list blog instead of actually writing anything

Word of the day: brood met kaas – cheese sandwich (literally bread with cheese)

I apologize for the blog...I promise tomorrow there will be a better one

Also on a different and self mourning note...A year ago today I had to put down my cat Bif. I had him for a little over a year and I loved him so incredibly much. He was quite the's one of my favorite pictures of him. RIP

Monday, November 23, 2009

List of Things I did today

Today’s List of Things I Did:
-Wake up late
-Get out of Bed thirty minutes later
-Drink two cups of coffee
-Catch up on "How I Met Your Mother"
-Catch up on "Accidentally on Purpose"
-Catch up on "The Office"
-Curse TV Shack for not allowing me to catch up on "30 Rock"
-Make delicious and healthy Chicken Soup
-Eat soup for lunch
-Eat soup for snack
-Reheat soup and eat for dinner
-Do some Kakuro puzzles
-Eat some pepernoten with Nutella
-Clean kitchen
-Change out of my pajamas into pajamas
-Talk to Lily to attempt to figure out how to add money on my dutch-speaking prepaid phone - fail
-Listen to the wind and rain outside my window
-Obsessively check my email
-Upload pictures from my camera
-Get some Christmas shopping done on the UK Amazon
-Watch and increase my new found love for "Frasier"
-Make plans to be more productive tomorrow

Word of the day: televisiekijken - watch television

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Weekend in Amsterdam

Well my family left for an exciting week in Spain leaving me alone in the house to wander around Holland to my hearts desire. I kicked off my week off with a fabulous weekend trip to Amsterdam. I stayed with Lily, my fellow aupair, in her East of the Amstel house. Similar to houses in San Francisco, these houses were build up, not out leaving no room for windows on the side, just the front…So I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal (after completely making an idiot of myself by suddenly thinking I was not at the right station) and met up with Lily. We stopped by the IDFA box office to buy tickets for the documentary “Tightrope” and then wandered back to her house and up three flights of stairs to her top level room. After dropping off my bag, we went back to our movie…

Unfortunately though I only give it a 2 out of 5 star rating. There was no point, and to be honest it was rather depressing. On our way back home it began pouring and we got SOAKED! We decided all we wanted to do was get some junk food and sit on the couch and watch Arrested Development, but first we had to stop at the store and get supplies…brie, melba toasts (which Lily made fun of me for), stroopwaflen (cookies with caramel), imitation Nutella (unfortunately not as good either), chocolate, paprika chips, and of course…It was a great night.
The next day we decided to play tourist and go to a museum. On our way, we ran into the epitome of tourism – giant “Amsterdam” letters, complete with children crawling all over them. Because it was so crowded, we could only get part of the sign…The sign was right next to the Van Gogh Museum so we took some time to admire the outside of the building…I then bought my Netherlands Museumkaart, which entitles me to entrance at all public museums in Amsterdam, which is quite a few (25 in Amsterdam alone). However once inside, we didn’t take into consideration that it was a Saturday and the VanGogh was a popular tourist attraction. It was almost overwhelming the amount of people trying to look at all these fabulous works of art, so armed with our Museumkaarts, we took time to appreciate the temporary exhibit, an amazing collection by the artist Alfred Stevens, and vowed to come back and enjoy Van Gogh himself on a less crowded weekday.
Then it was time for some quick nourishment so we grabbed some bagels and coffee in an adorable chain café called Bagels and Beans…By that time, Lily had to be back home to babysit for the night, but I decided to go join my fellow couchsurfers at the weekly Saturday Meet-Up at the Café d’Oude. Lily told me I could borrow her bike, which meant attempting to ride a mountain bike made for someone at least eight inches taller than me, figuring out where I was going, and not getting run over by cars, trams, people, or other bikes. It was definitely an adventure.
Once I got to the bar, I wandered for a couple minutes unsure of what to do. But then I heard English! So I zoomed over and introduced myself and met a girl and guy from Canada. After that it was easy to make friends. We all talked about our travels and plans for the upcoming year, enjoyed some bitterballen, drank some Heineken, and even saw a couple (failed) attempts at magic tricks. I kid you not…they were bad. I went home happy with my new friends, and eager to meet more people in the months to come.
The next day when we finally decided to get up, we popped in another episode of Arrested Development while enjoying some tea and leftover stroopwaflen. Then we headed out the front door intent on wandering around the city, and eventually finding our way back to the house. On our journeys we passed some cute canals…Cute boats…And cute stoops...We also found some rather fun window displays…And some candy that made me think of Pat…We eventually found ourselves in the Center of Amsterdam and finally knowing where we were, took the time to enjoy some ice cream even though it was freezing…We sat in a cute square enjoying our ice cream, and watching the sun beginning to set at 3:00 in the afternoon…But all that sitting and staring, made me feel like the square in front of us was missing a statue so I graciously stepped in…Well, by that time it was time to head home. Back at the house I collected my backpack, bid Lily farewell, and headed off to find my way back to a cold and empty house where macaroni and cheese leftovers and a skype call home awaited me.

Word of the day: Paprika – Pepper
Note of the day: All photos from the last three blogs have been graciously donated by Lily!


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