Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Best Friend Comes To Holland!

Tomorrow my best friend comes to Holland! I am so so excited for her to be here. I haven’t had any of my friends from home visit me here yet (many weddings in the past 3 years) so I feel like a reunion is long overdue. Due to distance and timezones and paychecks we only get to see each other a couple times a year, but every time we do it's like nothing ever changes. Isn't that the great thing about true friendship?

Anyway, Angela arrives with her brother tomorrow night so I’ve taken Friday off to play tour guide. They are only here till Sunday so we are making the very most of it.

Highlights planned: 
  • She is a total foodie gal (read her yummy blog here) so dinner at our favorite Italian pizzeria of all time. It's within walking distance of our house and used to be a largely undiscovered spot, but now you can’t get in without a reservation. The great thing is we have been going there for two years, so they always squeeze us in. But more on Follia a different day. 
  • Touring around the Hague (where we actually live): International Peace Palace, Parliament Building, city centre and lunch at our new favorite sandwich shop. 
  • Depending on timing, we would love to also take them to Goudabirth place of Gouda cheese! Gouda is only a 15 minute train ride away from the Hague and its a fun little daytrip. 

But we will be taking the visit as it comes... all I can say is that there will be a lot of catching up, wine and Dutch cheese involved :) Happy weekend!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Easiest Way To Learn A Hard Language

For the 3+ years I've lived in the Netherlands I have told myself that I want to learn Dutch. Not only because my boyfriend is Dutch, but also because I've always had a fascination with languages. I work in an international environment and truly admire witnessing friends, colleagues, teammates switch flawlessly between English and their native tongue. Sometimes more languages than one even.  Super impressive. It is such a skill that I wish I pursued vehemently when I was younger - when you're not afraid of acting or sounding like a fool.

Anyway, due to a few somewhat embarrassing (and frustrating) circumstances, I finally got the big kick I needed to learn this very, very difficult language.

The intrinsic motivation was always there, I just needed something confrontational to make me realize that I can talk about wanting to learn but it wasn't going to happen till I got over my shyness. Which I'm usually not - so it was just another barrier to learning Dutch.

I had to make a change.

So now, Steven and I speak only in Dutch. (Thank you sweetheart, for your patience.) There are a few occasions where we switch to English - when one of us is tired, or if there is something we have to quickly say and it's just easier. But for 85-90% of the time we speak only in Dutch. It started off very slow and frustrating on my part, but it has been almost 2 months since this linguistic experiment and I can honestly say I've seen a huge improvement in my vocabulary and self-confidence. After having conversations in Dutch, I feel like I carry myself differently in restaurants or in shops. The doubt is gone, and since I don't doubt myself, the person I am speaking to in return just continues on in Dutch.

Some other things which have helped..

Translating the morning paper. This has become somewhat of a morning ritual for me. I try and read the paper and just look up the words I don't know. Eventually, I can string the story together. I am always scribbling on magazine covers, newspapers, random flyers now.

Watching foreign movies with Dutch subtitles. This has been difficult to find since the Dutch don't dub American movies. (One of the reasons why the Dutch speak such great English.) So we have watched French films (Intouchables) with Dutch subtitles. This is super challenging because its two foreign languages - but it works!

Ask people to help you. My poor Dutch colleagues have been commissioned to be my unofficial language partners. We speak in Dutch till noon and then switch to English in the afternoon - usually because the day is getting really intense and it's just easier and faster to speak in English. One of my colleagues though, only asks me questions and speaks to me in Dutch now which is such a big help to my language journey!

Now that I've started I am really into it. How fun would it be to take this back to the States someday? I'm pretty sure that no one would understand us and we could always talk openly yet privately when needed ;)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Back to Back.

Lately I have been working crazy hours. I love my job, (like, love) but lately it has left very little room for personal life. Time with friends, time with (Skyping with) my family, time with myself even.

Someone asked me the other day why I stopped blogging.

The honest answer is I work in a digital space that requires the utmost perfection. Every day you have to bring your "A Game" and anything less than that is just not okay. Because of that, the Internet has turned into a very public domain where I felt like I had to push out A+ content in my personal life too.  Not to mention, I spend so many hours behind a beaming Macbook that the last thing I wanted to do was sign back on for more screentime.

But then I was at dinner with Steven and we were reminiscing past Valentines.

Our 1st in Spain, where he taught me how to ski in the slopes of Andorra.

Our 2nd in Amsterdam, our first flat together, where we ate sushi in our living room. I loved that place.

Our 3rd in India, where we ate potato chips while watching old TV because our hotel was on a remote island and there was no way I was leaving. That was traumatizing.

Our 4th, we forgot. For the life of me, I couldn't remember and I am good at this stuff.

Remembering this blog and how it has documented so many amazing memories between moving to Barcelona, graduating business school, meeting Steven, moving to Holland together, starting a life here.. It made me realize that I have missed this outlet. It doesn't have to be perfect or punctuated or glossy or editorial.

Just enough to share in all of life's happenings. And maybe help a curious traveler out along the way... So let's try this again - back to being back!

PS: That 4th Valentine, as we found out, was roses and an Italian dinner in our neighborhood :)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm Back!

The last time that I blogged was early summer. Seriously? It has been an accumulation of many things: work, commuting (how I miss a car!) and just the general avoidance of hopping onto my computer once more after a long day at my desk. But in the past few months I’ve gotten such kind emails from people checking in, that I realized how much I missed a little piece of my day - just for me - to share this big expat adventure I’m on.

So, what has happened since May? 

Steven and I went to Greece for the first time! We did an eight day Mediterranean cruise starting in Athens, through Santorini, Mykonos, Kusadasi and ending in the birthplace of pizza – Naples, Italy. To sum it up, it was incredibly romantic. Definitely a few posts dedicated to my newfound love for Greece (and cruises too) coming soon.

My mom came to visit us and I took her to Milan and Lake Como to celebrate her one-year anniversary beating breast cancer. So proud of her. We stayed here which was just close enough to the amazing shopping scene but far away enough to feel relaxed.

Steven got a new job, which sent him to the UK for three long weeks for training. I visited him for a quick weekend in Manchester and found the best burger in Europe here.

I ran in the Amsterdam Half Marathon which was one of the longest, most painful miles this ex-running lover has ever experienced. My running shoes are definitely hung up for a while now.

It’s good to be back blogging – and looking forward to checking in more regularly from now on! 


Friday, May 31, 2013

Golden Birthday Recap!

Ever since I came back from the States earlier this month, it's been one thing after another. Last weekend however, was the big event of the month: Steven's Golden Birthday! (He was turning 27 on the 27th of May) I should preface this birthday recap with Steven and I have opposite approaches to birthdays: I love celebrating them (others, not my own) and he is a no-fuss, no-frills kind of celebrant. So this year, especially with a big trip planned this summer, he especially didn't want to do much. He agreed to one small birthday dinner on Sunday, since his birthday fell on a Monday, and I got a post-work celebration the day of.

If he gives me a small in, I'll take it! A couple of our close friends came over for dinner and ended up staying the night, since they had a wedding to attend the next day in The Hague and I instructed Steven to stay upstairs all afternoon while I prepped for the "party".

Italian-themed menu included:
Cocktail hour: warm snack (puff pastries stuffed with herbed brie cheese and sundried tomato)+ a cold snack (Canadian smoked salmon with creme fraiche and dille) made by my good friend Christine
1st course: Caprese salade with toasted pine-nuts and homemade basil pesto
2nd course: Spaghetti with two choices of sauce: bolognese (birthday boy favorite) or a The Best Spaghetti Sauce You'll Ever Have (this recipe
Dessert: Homemade tiramisu with candles, of course!

I also decorated the kitchen with some fun colors and made little placecards for everyone. (Sidenote: I made the greetings in Dutch - my writing is getting better everyday!) The meal came together great, much to my relief, I'm always nervous about multiple courses and keeping everything hot and everyone's wine glasses full!

The night ended in the wee hours in the morning, drinking the last of the prosecco and dancing in the kitchen to old music before finally heading to bed around 1:30am.

Not my typical bedtime for a Sunday night but I was so happy that Steven spent the first hours of his 27th birthday surrounded by people who love him, full of his favorite foods and great memories :)

Happy 27th Birthday, my love!

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Proud Sister: Graduation Day!

Today is a special day for my family. My younger brother Carlo is officially graduating from college! There are lots of things that I love about my brother, but the thing that I admire the most about him is how he's really grown into a man of his own. As kids, I must say that our sibling dynamic was very imbalanced; I was a princess, competitive and vocal while my brother has always been the quiet force in our family. To see him grow up and shine as a young adult is a proud moment as a big sis.

+ College was a turning point. He studied biology for nearly four semesters before deciding that science was not the right path for him. It took a lot of bravery (and time) for him to confess it to our parents, switch majors and start all over.

+ Instead, he'll graduate with a Communications degree, a leadership position in his fraternity, the college radio talk show co-host and internships with some of the top brands in the entertainment, music and art business. It boggles my mind how at the tender age of twenty-three, he's done so much for his career.

+ Most recently, he just returned from a semester in London! Aside from classes, he traveled to different European cities by bus, train, plane and learned lessons of independence while living in a foreign country.

+ At the core, he is artistic and passionate like our mom but has inherited our Dad's qualities of being one of the most patient and kind-hearted people I know.

Carlo, I know that you will continue to shine in all that you do and I am cheering for you every step of the way! I am so sad that I'm not with you in person today but am thinking of you!! Congrats on your graduation. Welcome to the real world :)

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Monday, May 20, 2013

I'll Make You Banana Pancakes

Two things that make my day: when my boyfriend calls me "Darling" (chivalry is not dead) and pancakes. It's the little things, right? Sunday morning the sun was shining gorgeously so I decided to whip up an easy but decadent breakfast of gluten-free pancakes topped with softened sweet bananas. I use this mix, which my Dad so kindly sends me from the US (can be found at Whole Foods or any health food store).

While the mix settles I heat two pans at the same time, by the time the pancake mix is poured and browned, the bananas soften to the perfect bite.

1 pan: Gluten Free Pancakes
Follow directions of your choice of gluten-free pancake mix
Optional additions:
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of ground flaxseed
few good shakes of cinnamon
chopped nuts (I would, but I'm allergic)

1 non-stick pan: Sweetened Soft Bananas
small pat of butter
thinly sliced ripe banana
drizzle of honey
Allow each side of banana brown before gently flipping to other side.

Healthy plus... There is absolutely no need for maple syrup with the banana topping. Enjoy with a cup of fresh coffee + someone you love and you have a great Sunday morning :)

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