Life in full bloom

Every once in a while, life blossoms before your eyes. For me, this is happening now, and I am making it a goal to embrace every minute of it. That said, some things in my life have been pushed to the side, such as keeping Shmamsterdam as updated as I would like. So please bear with me as I do my best to live this life to the fullest ... and have faith that taking small breaks to do so will inevitably provide me with more writing material in the future.

I've always been an autumn girl. I love the feel of it - the crisp, cold air blowing against my face while the rest of my body is wrapped in a cozy sweater. I love the look of it - the fiery leaves floating against a backdrop of blue sky and down to the ground, collecting on street corners. I love the sound of it - the whispering wind blowing through the trees and the fallen leaves crunching underfoot. Autumn is, hands down, the season I look forward to most every year. This year, however, spring is taking me by surprise.

The sunshine that brightens Amsterdam fills me with light and excitement. The cool, fresh air invigorates and inspires me. The sound of birds chirping provides a joyous soundtrack to my day. There is new life springing up all around me, and the best part is that I can feel it deep within me. Just as the flowers are blossoming in the parks, my life is taking on a new, colorful form.

It's quite incredible how quickly things can change. One day you're sitting on the couch, in the same spot you've sat in day after day for the last seven months, endlessly searching for ways to pass the time, and then ... BAM! Things start to happen. The cold, dark days of winter are over, and the longer, brighter days of spring appear.

All of a sudden you have a job. You have a student to tutor. You have editing jobs flying at you faster than you can imagine. You actually start to be grateful for the days that you don't get called into work because if you did, well, you wouldn't be able to accomplish all the other things that you need to do. With what seems like the blink of an eye, you remember what it's like to be busy. You even start to forget what it was like, not so long ago, when you were waiting for things to happen.

Most exciting, you remember how truly wonderful it is to have a life. Your own life. A life created by your choicesdictated by your plans, and full of your own obligations. After feeling quite directionless for more than half a year, this was the feeling I was waiting for, and I can't begin to express how ecstatic I am that it's finally here. As this winter gives way to spring, I feel my roots growing, I see the colorful buds poking their way through the earth, and I can't wait for it all to bloom. In the meantime, I'm hard at work cultivating all the new growth in my life by searching for balance ... and by taking in as much fresh air and sunshine as I can.


Did we just skip winter?

This post is in no way intended to make my North American readers (especially those so affected by the polar vortex) feel jealous. But it probably will. So for that, I'm sorry.

Amsterdam is all green grass, blue skies and cherry blossoms this winter.

There were a handful of things that made me feel worried about moving to the Netherlands, and two in particular plagued my mind the most. The first was the fact that I was going to be living so far away from my friends and family with no real date set for when I would live near them again. The second was the weather.

The months I had spent in Amsterdam prior to my move evoked the second worry. My visits were either warmer than I preferred, wet and rainy, or colder than I preferred, wet and rainy. I vividly remember that excited feeling I had while packing for my first summer in Amsterdam, carefully folding all my sundresses, skirts and tank tops, throwing in a few cardigans for the colder days, and tucking my sandals along the side of the suitcase. I was so enthusiastic about spending the summer with my man, cruising around on my bike wearing a flowery dress, lounging in the park wearing a flowery dress, drinking coffee or beer at a café in the sunshine wearing a flowery dress ... you get the idea. That said, I also vividly remember that disappointed feeling I had while buying a completely new wardrobe once I arrived, a wardrobe that consisted of jeans, sweaters, scarves and closed-toed shoes. You see, I like my summers to be in the high 70s if we're talking Fahrenheit, in the mid 20s if we're talking Celsius, and full of sunshine no matter what. Anticipating that my summer temperatures would now be in the high 60s if we're talking Fahrenheit, right around 20 degrees if we're talking Celsius, and often accompanied by a chance of showers didn't exactly thrill me.

And the winters? Well, while the two Januarys (Januaries? I don't think I've ever written the plural of a month ending in y before) I spent in Amsterdam were warmer than pretty much any January in Minnesota, the warmer weather usually just meant that it rained more. Plus, it was still cold. Not necessarily freezing, but still cold. Now, it does snow in Amsterdam, and every few years the canals freeze over lending themselves to a fantastic skating experience I've yet to behold, but my short rendezvous with Amsterdam winters had mostly left me feeling like a shivering, drowned rat (pictured in this post).

So just imagine my surprise! My excitement! My elation! When I discovered that my worries about the weather were all for naught. This summer in Amsterdam was absolutely beautiful, and I took full advantage of this by basking in the sun on my balcony, picnicking in the park, and drinking coffee and beer at cafés in the sunshine. My only regret was that I neglected to pack my full collection of sundresses when I moved, thinking that they would spend most of their time hanging in my closet, taunting me every time I reached for a long-sleeved shirt instead.

And this winter? Well, I think we actually may have skipped it. As of now, we've only had a handful of days during which the lowest temperature dipped below freezing, and the maybe two not-even-worth-talking-about snowfalls lasted about five seconds with all flakes melting before they hit the ground. At first, I wasn't so happy about the lack of snow (I like my winters white ... and am beginning to realize that I have quite a long list of preferences regarding the weather), but now that we approach March and I find myself biking to work without gloves, I'm starting to change my mind.

If we did, indeed, skip winter, you won't hear me complaining. If this phenomenal Dutch weather continues, I may write off that initial worry altogether. And if you're looking for a reason behind this great weather, well, I like to think I brought it with me.


Step-by-Step Crêpes

One of my favorite things in the world is when the husband makes crêpes for brunch. What's not my favorite, however, is when he pronounces it creeps to bug me ... but that's beside the point. I'm not sure what it is that I love so much about crêpes. Maybe it's that the first time I had them was in Paris and they bring back fond memories of my 21-year-old self walking down the Champs-Elysées. Or maybe it's that there is just so much you can do with them that it's completely possible to eat them two days in a row without getting bored (which we usually do since this recipe feeds 4-6 people). I prefer to make mine sweet, adding chocolate, jam, caramelized bananas or some lemon and powdered sugar, but you can just as easily make them savory by adding meat, cheese or veggies. Basically, you can do just about anything with them and they turn out delicious. It also turns out that they're not so difficult to make! So, if you're looking for a good brunch recipe, look no further ... you've found it right here.

250 g (2 cups) flour
½ liter (a little more than 2 cups) milk
3 eggs
pinch of salt
sunflower or vegetable oil (enough to coat pan)

Put flour into a big mixing bowl, making a little bowl in the flour (see picture below).
Add the eggs and salt to the flour.
Whisk together gradually, taking the flour from the edges.
Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and without lumps.

Optional step: If you want to make sweet crepes, you can add 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar, or 1 of tablespoon of vanilla, rum or Grand Marnier and stir until mixed thoroughly. Personally, I think adding a sweet topping to the normal recipe after cooking is enough.

Pour some oil on a paper towel and use it to lightly coat large frying pan.
Heat the pan over medium heat.
Add a full soup ladle of batter to the pan, moving the pan to distribute the batter evenly.

Cook until the batter becomes firm and golden, then flip the crepe.
Cook the second side (this goes quite fast).
Remove from the pan and serve with your desired toppings.

Some notes:
This recipe will feed 4-6 people.
You only need to oil the pan once, before making the first crêpe.
The first crêpe is usually the worst. I’m not exactly sure why, (maybe it has to do with the direct exposure to the oil?) but it almost always turns out a little off. Don’t be discouraged! The next will surely be better.
Batter can be prepared a day in advance, just cover with plastic wrap and and keep in the refrigerator until use, stirring just before cooking.

To make a savory crêpe, like the one my man made this morning, you can fry a bit of meat and/or a veggie of choice, and then pour the batter on top. The rest of the cooking is the same. You could also cook the savory sides in a skillet on their own, and add them to the finished crêpe, rolling them inside.

My absolute favorite thing to put on crêpes is a caramelized banana topping. It's pretty much the easiest thing to make; you just need to follow the rule of two. Melt butter 2 tablespoons (28 grams) of butter in a small saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 sliced bananas. Cook until golden and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Bon appétit!


Valentine's Day Wishes

Happy Valentine's Day to the woman who gave me life, nurtured me, and protected me. On this day, and every day, know that I love you for always being there, staying home to raise me, getting me ready for school every day, and greeting me when I returned home. I love you for all the hours you spent coming up with crafts and activities to expand my creativity, and for the patience you showed when teaching me new skills. I love you for comforting me when I came home from second grade in tears because a friend hurt my feelings, for filling my belly with delicious meals, and for filling my soul with compassion and kindness. I love you for always being available to talk, and for making me feel like I'm the most important person in the world when we do. Thank you for being a strong, dedicated mother during my childhood, and for being my friend now. I am grateful for all you have done for me and love you more than I can say.

Happy Valentine's Day to the man who has always supported me, believed in me, and encouraged me to do my best. On this day, and every day, know that I love you for the countless hours you worked to provide for our family, and for being so present during the time you were at home. I love you for the Saturday mornings you spent introducing me to your music collection as I lay on the floor in your den, for taking the time to point out and replay the best guitar, drum or vocal solos, and for making delicious pancake breakfasts when the rest of the family woke up. I love you for setting such a strong example of what a father and husband should be, for always treating people with respect, and for searching for ways to better the lives of others. I love you for consistently opening my eyes to new opportunities, for instilling in me the confidence needed to jump at them, and for believing that I'm capable of anything I set my mind to. Thank you for being my silly twin, my joe-to-joe, my daboon, and the list goes on. I can't imagine going through life without you and am beyond grateful for all you do.

Happy Valentine's Day to the girl who filled my childhood with laughter, silliness and (mostly) fond memories. On this day, and every day, know that I love you not only for being my sister, but for the dear friend that you have become. I love you for that time we laughed so hard before we fell asleep at Pine Beach that our stomachs were sore the whole next day, for all the times we watched Sillyville together, and all the times we've acted like sillywhims. I love you for all the cards and notes you send me that remind me how special our relationship is, for our fun-filled sister days, and for the travel adventures we've had together. I love you for your constant support that remains strong whether we live close together or far away, and even when a haircut makes me look like your brother. I love that you have found a man that treats you like a princess and makes you happier than you've ever been, and that you have added this wonderful man to our family. Thank you for your dedication, not only to me, but to all of your family and friends, your education, and your career. I am incredibly proud of the strong, smart, beautiful woman you have become and will cherish you always.

Happy Valentine's Day to the incredible ladies who inspire me, motivate me, and accept me. On this day, and every day, know that I love you because (to botch some words from the Avett Brothers) you love me for the woman I've become and the girl that I was. I love you for the countless hours we've spent together, whether it be floating on the lake, talking on the phone, going out to dinner, exploring new cities, or just doing nothing but still having a great time. I love you for being there whenever I need you, for supporting me through good times and bad, and for making it feel like no time has been lost between our conversations or visits. Thank you for your adventurous spirits, your kindness, and for making me want to be a better person. I love each of you for the unique qualities that make you who you are and I wouldn't trade you for the world.

Happy Valentine's Day to the man I couldn't stop thinking about after the day we met, and who makes me smile every time I think about him now. On this day, and every day, know that I love you for your persistent optimism, the kindness you show to everyone you meet, and your handsome face. I love you for always validating and supporting my feelings, comforting me in sadness, and sharing in my happiness. I love you for kissing me in Thailand, traveling with me in Bali, and helping me write the most perfect love story I could imagine. I love you for your commitment to our relationship once we returned back to our normal lives, and for always looking forward, believing that we could make it work. Thank you for creating a life with me full of good food, passion, laughter, and memories that have only begun. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have you by my side, and I can't wait to spend the rest of my days loving you.

"Excuse me. I need some space."

I came across this quote, so nicely put by a two-year-old, while reading my friend's blog, Wifeytini. It has stuck with me since then because, well, first of all I think it's pretty adorable and hilarious that a toddler needs some space, and secondly, because I've finally reached the point where I need mine as well.

As you probably know by now, the husband and I don't have your average dating story. Our long distance romance didn't consist of going on physical dates, it consisted of scheduling Skype dates that took into account a seven-hour time difference. Instead of meeting once a week at a restaurant nearby and then saying goodbye for the evening, we were flying across an ocean and meeting for two weeks, one month, or even three at a time ... and then saying goodbye for the next few. That said, we never went through that phase of spending a few hours together here and there. No, we were spending some pretty good chunks of time together. And when we were together, we were together. I'm talking joined-at-the-hip, not-letting-you-out-of-my-sight together. I mean, wouldn't you be that way too if you only got to see the love of your life every three months or so?

This trend continued when I moved to Amsterdam. We were so happy to finally live together that we spent every available minute in the same room. If he was in the kitchen cooking dinner, then I was in the kitchen helping him cook, chatting about my day, or doing who-knows-what ... but I was in that kitchen with him. If I was sitting on the couch, then he was sitting on the couch next to me, likely with the side of his body pressed right up against mine. I think the word inseparable just about sums up what the husband and I have been, whenever possible, for as long as we've known each other. But, as Bob Dylan so aptly put it, "the times, they are a-changin'."

Just about one month ago, I decided to retire to bed before the husband and read my book. Now I realize that this sounds like a completely normal activity, but for me it wasn't. For me, it was the first time I had actively decided to do something that didn't involve my man even though I could have chosen to be with him. A few days later, I attended a ladies-only social event, leaving the husband home on his own for a few hours. And now, well, taking the time to do things on my own is becoming a more frequent occurrence.

The thing is, I'm not so sure how I feel about reaching this new point in our relationship. On one hand, I realize that it is healthy to have a life outside of your couple, and believe me, I am happy to create one of my own. Taking the initiative to do things for myself is increasing my overall happiness, not to mention that it's also boosting my confidence, leading me to make more friends, and forcing me to be more active in finding my place in Amsterdam. On the other hand, it makes me a bit sad that the pressing urge I had to soak up every minute with my man is fading. Maybe it just means that we're settling into married life, but it's taking some adjustment to realize that spending time together is now the norm, not a novelty.

But this is what I was waiting for, right? I mean, I was anxious for this "common life" (as the husband likes to call it) to start for so long, and now it is here. I am fortunate to wake up to the love of my life every morning, and kiss him goodnight every evening. And what's more, I'm fortunate enough to have such an abundance of time with him that it's perfectly fine to need some space. I think I just need some more time to get used to this concept.


London Revisited

Eight years and one month ago, I arrived in London to start my first European adventure. This past weekend I returned with my husband, excited to show him around the city I once called home. It is rare that I get to play tour guide in a European city, but I was more than ready to assume the role. 


One of the first things we did (after drinking a pint in a pub of course) was to go for a ride on the London Eye, taking in magnificent views of the city and getting a lay of the land.

Then I made my man take a picture in a red telephone booth. He wasn't so excited about this part, but I managed to get a pretty good shot regardless.

We visited North Row, the street where my dorm was located, and peeked inside the Marlborough Head pub, the place where I enjoyed fish and chips with a pint on my first night all those years ago.

I glanced at the place where my former dorm once stood, where a Zara stands now, and gave thanks that the Zara wasn't there before, or I likely would have spent much more during that semester abroad than I did.

We walked through St. James Park, from the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, enjoying the nature and intermittent sunshine.

And gazed in awe at St. Paul's Cathedral.

We watched two plays in the West End, including Agatha Christie's Mousetrap, the longest-running show in history, and Once, the stage adaptation of one of my favorite films.

We strolled through the the colorful streets of Notting Hill,

admired the sometimes delicious, always amusing offerings of the Portobello Road Market,

and spent time in Holland Park where this peacock put on a display.

We even stopped for a little kiss outside the park's walls.

All in all, we had a splendid trip. Though I must say some of the fun of this trip was returning home. No, not the part where they charged me and extra £45 to check my luggage, the part when we arrived in Amsterdam and, for the first time, I really did feel like I was home.


January Grateful

Well boys and girls, it would appear that we are now in the month of February ... and that I'm talking like a teacher. This means two things. First, I've completed the first month of documenting my daily gratitude. Second, after months of searching, I have finally found employment as a substitute teacher. I must say, as I reflect on all these photographs and my first week back in the classroom, I definitely have a lot to be grateful for.

This may sound dramatic, but I honestly feel that after only one month this grateful project is changing my life for the better. As you may remember from this post, I was feeling very discouraged toward the end of last year. It seemed like every bit of news I received presented me with an obstacle and I wasn't sure how I was going to fix my situation. As I entered January, however, it was clear that I needed to break out of the negative cycle I was falling into.

Now here I am, one month later, actively searching the world for things I am grateful for on a daily basis. Sometimes it's easy; I wake up and immediately find myself filled with gratitude. Some days it's a bit more difficult and I have to search a little harder. But everyday there is something. There is always something to give thanks for, and taking the time to do it makes all the difference. Seriously. It makes a huge difference.

As soon as I fell into the groove of expressing my gratitude, and before I even knew what was happening, I felt like the universe was throwing great things at me faster than I could react. I found the motivation and inspiration to keep this blog more up-to-date, I started some freelance editing projects and found a new student to tutor. Most exciting, I found a school that was willing and able to hire me based on my Minnesota teaching credentials and master's degree, and despite the fact that my degree is not yet validated by the Dutch Office of Education. In fact, my life has been so full lately that I've even fallen asleep a few nights before posting my grateful photo to the blog. But don't you worry, I won't be making a habit of it, and you can trust that I've taken a photo every day, regardless of the date it was posted.

So with that, I close the first month of grateful and open the second. I can't wait to see what happens next.