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At home and homesick

October 3, 2011

No photos for this post, but a quick update.

Our house is coming along nicely. This past week found Bram and I practically every week night painting something, taping something, or moving things around. This past week also found me in my first major feeling of homesickness. In some ways it was strange considering our house was finally becoming a home. In fact, I think my mind had been taxed beyond its limits and missed the feeling of family and friends around to vent to.

One this is for sure, no one can ever tell me I am afraid of change and I think the realization of all that has changed really hit home for me this week. Plus the living out of suitcases and not really feeling comfortable at home because of it added a bit of extra stress. Luckily, Bram was very understanding when I broke down. And then my mom was even more understanding when I called her on skype and immediately starting pouring tears. And then, everything was good again. I think I just needed someone that wasn’t Bram to cry to and get a hug (or virtual skype hug). I also really miss hugs. Americans are just hug-y people and I grew up with hugs galore. I find the three-cheek-kisses thing here endearing, but it in no way takes the place of a hug from a good friend or family member. So, that was that and this is a new week.

The good news is, this weekend we got a lot of work done. Ton, guy doing the major construction, finished laying the flooring in the guest room and also the kitchen! This meant that we moved our futon into the guest room and slept there, rather than in the living room. This small shift alone made me sleep better, as we weren’t surrounded by suitcases at our heads. Also, Bram’s parents came with a couch, chairs, and various other pieces of furniture they’ve had in storage. We now have this small brown cabinet from Bram’s great grandfather, a desk from his grandfather, and a beautiful mirror from his grandmother. So, now that we can move things around, on Sunday the apartment really started to feel cozy.

The timing was okay, as Bram yesterday left for a two-week long work training session with the rest of the trainees in his program from around the world. I’m planning on getting more of the house completed during this time, although, I’ll have to fit that in with my social plans 🙂

Tonight, I’m going to dinner at a friend’s house, Tuesday is Dutch class, Wednesday is a NL Sandox meetup, Thursday is dinner with another friend, Saturday morning a bike ride with the Cyclodamers, and Sunday I’m going to an India cooking workshop. So, I’ll be keeping myself busy! Also, I have to pick up the slack in my exercise routine (I’ve been a super slacker lately) since I’m running the Amsterdam half-marathon in two weeks from yesterday. Phew!

This week, I plan to share photos of our house, in its mostly finished form. I can’t wait!



Home Work: Part 2 – A hailstorm

September 22, 2011

I left off part 1, saying we rented a van, picked up some items and moved. We were feeling good, but slept at our old apartment since all of our clothes were there. Also and Saturday, we made our paint choices and went back to the paint store to get the bulk of our colors, brushes, drop cloths, etc.

Owner of the paint shop, getting ready to mix our paint

Sunday, we were going to start working on the place some more. Also, our contractor who is doing all of the construction on the place came by to take some measurements, so he knew what materials to get. We also had two guys come to take away the previous staircase. It was a beautiful staircase, but since it was custom made for the apartment, we weren’t sure if we’d find anyone who would want it, let alone come and take it. Using, we lucked out. A guy from outside of Amsterdam came along with his brother to take it away, as he’ll be using it to convert a shed into a rental apartment.

Taking apart the staircase

Now what do we do?

Being true Amsterdamers, these guys knew it would best and eventually easiest to take the stairs away but hook and pulley system out the window. I, being the newbie, thought they were all nuts. That thing was heavy! Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just carried it down the stairs? Of course not, Chloe.

Getting ready to hoist the staircase down off the balcony.

Everything was going well. I think the two guys thought I was crazy for snapping so many photos. And then…and then it started raining. And THEN….it started HAILING!

Do you see those pieces of hail?

See those white dots on that towel? Yes, that is hail. In the middle of a warm, sunny, fall day – BAM! hailstorm. Although I haven’t made it to the beach, that beach towel my mom gave me came in super handy!

So we all waited around for a bit, until the storm stopped. About 7 minutes later, blue skies.

Easy does it.Almost there!

Off they go!

So that was that challenge. We also went to the grocery store to do some shopping, which resulted in this:

…Our first quasi-homemade meal in our new home! We bought some quiche and pasta we could heat up in the oven, made a salad and ate on our make-shift table that is the pile of wood in the living room. We sat on our new chairs, too! Against the wall you can catch a glimpse of our dining room table.

Home Work: Part 1

September 22, 2011

Tada! The day before my three month anniversary in Amsterdam, I become a home owner. How on earth did that happen? It is sill pretty surreal, but Bram and I are super happy. Even the fact that we are living out of suitcases and everything is covered in dust doesn’t take away from the fact that we are making a home together. And boy, do we waste no time!

I’m going to start to recap of the past 6 days…

Friday morning, B and I went to our new place with the previous owners and the broker to confirm that the apartment was in fact in the condition we had all agreed upon. It was! Then, in super-typical-Dutch fashion, all five of us rode our bikes to the notary. I thought adorable to have these 5 grown adults, complete with the Broker in his suit chatting on his cell phone, riding along to make a pretty serious transaction.

I had an interpreter translate for me, and we signed away!

The keys!

We had lunch and a bit of champagne on the balcony and then got to work. First stop: the paint store, where we picked up the samples of colors we were going to try out. We already decided on the color for our bed room, but had to choose between three colors of red-berry for the kitchen, three colors of honey/yellow for the living room, and two colors of lavender for the guest bedroom. The paint store we go to is Duller & Co. I highly recommend them! They specialize in eco-friendly paints and had previously explained to us our different choices based on our needs. Most of the paint we are using is water-based with linseed (flax seed) oil as the binding/ adhesion agent.

And we painted the samples…

…in the living room.

…in the kitchen, Bram got a close sniff to see if the natural paint really didn’t smell. It hardly does!

…in the guest room (photo taken after we decided on a color and started painting).

As the samples dried, we got to sanding. There is wooden paneling in the soon-to-be-closet that is an ugly black, as the room has only been used for storage. This needed to be sanded and other walls in the apartment had to be degreased (also done before the samples went up).


On Saturday morning, we went to pick up the rental van. Bram drove (he is the one with a license). It was his first time driving in over a year and first time driving in Amsterdam…and this van is a stick shift (which, being American, is really weird!). We moved most of our boxes, except for clothes that weren’t packed yet, and also picked up a sleeping couch/futon and our dining room table. The sleeping couch is what we have been sleeping on for the past few days. It’s pretty comfy!

Saturday was spent mostly moving and prepping, so not a lot of painting got done. More later!

A big step!

September 15, 2011

This is a picture-free post, but I wanted to document it before the weekend. Tomorrow, Bram and I are heading to the notary to sign a mortgage and pick up the keys to our new house! It is a week delayed, as this was supposed to happen last Friday, and we are both super excited.

I remember, over a year ago, before Bram moved to Amsterdam and I was just getting used to the idea of moving to Amsterdam as well. He said, ‘maybe we could buy something’, and I laughed. The idea of owning a home in DC seemed so far away, something I’d have to wait years for. When we started doing the math, owning something in Amsterdam seemed at first feasible, then doable, and now it is being done!

I’ll be honest, I have been reading many, many DIY (do it yourself) websites and blogs over the past few weeks. I’m feeling more creative than ever! Luckily, Bram and I also have similar style/taste so it has been super fun to go to second-hand stores for ideas, look at paint chips, and scour marktplaats (Marketplace, the Dutch quasi-equivalent of craigslist) for items.

The schedule for the weekend:

10am Friday: go to our new house (btw, it is a ‘flat’ not an entire house, but I like saying’house’) with current owners and confirm all is how it should be
11:15am: go to notary, sign papers (I’ll have an interpreter (although everyone speaks english, it is faster and points are made easier operating in Dutch)), get keys =)
Early afternoon: Pick up the sander Bram’s dad lent us and go to the paint store. We have ordered some paint and have samples of three other colors waiting for us
Afternoon: start sanding the wooden panneling in two of the rooms, put the paint samples on the walls where we want them….wait 3-4 hours…make decisions about paint color
(The above activities are sure to move into the evening)

Drink champagne! (or some other sparkling alchoholic alternative)

9am: pick up moving van
10am: take boxes, etc. from current place to new place, unpack some of the boxes (all of our ‘things’ are packed, but our clothes are not, so we’ll need to empty some things in order to pack our clothes later this weekend)
11am: go to paint store and pick up paint colors we want ( we plan to call them on friday to let them know what we have decided)
12pm: pick up futon we found on maarktplaats (this futon will be our bed for the next few weeks until our real bed arrives..and then it will be our guest bedroom couch/bed
12:30: pick up dining room table we purchased
1:00: pick up this awesome, vintage bench we found on maarktplaats
between 3 and 5 pm: wait for dining room chairs to be delivered
continue painting, sanding throughout the day

Sunday…more painting, unpacking, and running around like children in our new home!


Random: Bikes in A’dam

September 11, 2011

While I was writing about a bike trip Bram and I went on yesterday, I realized I have a bunch of photos on his camera, and since it is 1am, I am feeling too lazy to retrieve them. Instead, here is a random post with some recent photos I have taken in Amsterdam that are bike-related!

They are doing a ton of construction around the corner from our current apartment. The right-lanes and side walks are completely torn up for 5 blocks or so. Last weekend, walking to the grocery store to get some eggs, I noticed this pink bike, hoisted up on a pole by a piece of wire. You can barely see it, but there is a beige bike lock that is locking the bike to the pole. I guess the owner didn’t move it in time before construction began and I am assuming the construction workers just lifted it up to get it out of their way. I laughed when I saw this. I love a) that the bike is pink and b) they didn’t cut off the lock throw the bike elsewhere. I haven’t seen the bike this week, so am assuming the owner took it town from its perch.

Last weekend, Bram and I along with Rutger, went on a picnic in Vondel Park. Bram and I had our bikes but Rutger was on foot. He hopped on the back of Bram’s bike, and when he started reading the newspaper as we biked along, I couldn’t help but snap a photo. I love it!

I didn’t take this photo, or write on it, but this is an image you see in Amsterdam all the time. Not only do you see buckets full of one, two, or three kids being pushed by their parents, sometimes you’ll see bikes outfit with seats to hold three kids. One in the front, one in the middle or, two in the back. Yesterday, I saw a woman on a motorbike (think Vespa) with two young girls in front of her and three behind her….all on one bike. I think its crazy but its really the norm.

Yesterday, Bram and I went on a bike ride to the north of Amsterdam (more on that later) and I snapped this photo as we rode by a wind turbine. Bram’s team recently was involved in financing part of one of the largest off-shore wind farms in the world, so as we rode by he was able to explain to me a lot about wind energy…and how it is possible to build ginormous wind turbines in the water.

No bikes in this picture, but yesterday was such a beautiful day!

…and speaking of wind turbines, check this out! 

Wood working

September 11, 2011

Hi! The last few weeks have been busy and I’ve been slacking on my updates, but after a great weekend, I need to get some things down on paper.

There were a few glitches this past week with our house. We were supposed to sign for the house and get the keys this past Friday. Unfortunately, the bank decided that it couldn’t go through as-is just yet….we found out on Monday about one thing, and on Wednesday again about another hurdle. So it was a very stressful and emotional week. We were really bummed about not being able to get the keys on Friday. We had paint ordered, the sander ready, and were looking forward to getting started! That didn’t happen. But, we still needed to bring the wood flooring from the previous owners into the apartment. (during the negotiations, we used the fact that not all the floors were wooden as a bargaining chip. The current owners offered us the new wood flooring from the new place they are moving into, since the color was so similar and they wanted a new look in their new place…so they offered it to us as part of teh deal…score!)

I consider Friday another excellent example of my inauguration into Amsterdam.

The first of the wooden planks in the living room

You’d think it wouldn’t be too big of a deal. But have you seen Amsterdam staircases? Super steep and super narrow = a big deal! Instead of carrying up the wood, we used the standard pulley system.

Martijn, the current owner, showed us how to hook the rope and the pulley to the iron beam that sticks out of the top of the building (and every building in Amsterdam)

The pulley

Using a net, the wood was hooked to the rope...

More than a few times, the net got caught on the balcony below us. Luckily, the downstairs neighbor was home and was able to set it free. And, in true Amsterdam style, it started raining about half way through this ordeal. Though, only a slight drizzle.

Bram and I had the relatively easy part of grabbing the planks, and bringing them into the apartment.

The pile started to grow.

Yolanda, the other half of the current owners, was helping us out as well.

Here, you can see the net stuck on the balcony below.

The pile grew.

...and grew! (This is a pile in another room)

And we were done! It took about 2 hours to get everything in the apartment and we definitely have more than we need. It was fun to experience moving ‘the Dutch way’, and I know there is no way we could have done it without the help of the current owners and their friend. (Their friend, Paul, by the way, travels to places like Borneo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, etc. to set up and assess mental health projects for an organization that is similar to Doctors Without Borders (but which focuses on longer-term engagements and less on short-term disaster relief). Pretty cool, huh?)

So, that’s the story! We all went to lunch afterwords at a local cafe and bid farewell until we get the keys next week. Can’t wait!

On Learning Dutch

August 10, 2011

Today would be a perfect day (weather-wise), if it were October. You know that feeling after a hot summer, when you step outside, take sniff and say, “yes, that is the smell of Autumn”. The air is brisk, you wear a scarf around your neck, and you are thankful you won’t have to think about humidity for another 9 months. Today was that day. But it isn’t October. There has been no hot and humid summer. It’s August and I want to sweat! Oh, how I miss the craving of an ice-cold anything. I will gladly trade a week, even two weeks of the US’s heat wave for the weather we are having here in Amsterdam. The good thing is that this weather isn’t normal for this type of year. So let’s blame it on climate change and hope the extreme changes in weather shift in the opposite direction next year. End rant.

On to better and happier and more exciting topics! Learning Dutch.

I’m about 3.5 weeks into my Dutch lessons and…I love learning Dutch. I don’t find Dutch to be the most beautiful language —  I find Russian to be immensely more melodic and lyrical — but I really enjoy learning the language. The small successes and experiences that come with learning a new language as an adult make it very rewarding.

Yes, practically everyone in (especially in) Amsterdam speaks English flawlessly, and it can be intimidating to attempt the language when you know how well the other person speaks your native tongue. It can also be frustrating to only be able to speak like a 3-year old (if that). But the smiles and patience that people show when they see you trying to speak really make it worthwhile.

I’m taking lessons at Dutch Courses Amsterdam, two nights per week, from 7pm-9pm. I like that they are twice a week, as it forces me to study, do homework, and reinforce what I am learning more often. The classes aren’t cheap, but a worthwhile investment. In the conversation part (there is also a grammar part) of the class, we just started reading Jip and Janneke, a famous children’s book in Holland. When I say reading, I mean looking up every 3rd word in the dictionary, but five months ago I would have been looking up every single word! It is a super cute book with adorable animation.

Another reason why I am happy learning Dutch is that I have made a few friends in class. Last Friday I was so pleased to receive text messages from people other than Bram (its really the small things in life!).

In general, the language shares a lot of vocabulary with English, so that is helpful. There are also some similarities to Russian, which I find interesting. I often find myself wanting to resort to Russian when my brain doesn’t know the vocab I am looking for.

Last night over dinner Bram and I had a very, very basic conversation primarily in Dutch. I don’t yet know how to speak in past tense, which makes general conversation about the day or past week a bit tricky, but I’m getting there.

That’s all for now!