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February 2012

Photo Dinsdag: Our First Housewarming Gift!

Loek and I had friends over on Friday for the first time ever! I was really nervous about what to serve, because in The States, especially in The South, you FEED people. Apparently, the Dutch don't do this, so we served chips and beer. A great time was had by all, and Haas and Rianne were sweet enough to bring us this beautiful flower! Dank jou! It started blooming today, just in time for Photo Dinsdag! It smells divine! 

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Yoda's Advice for Learning a Language.

A very wise, little green alien once said to a pupal learning an important lesson, “Do or do not, there is no try”. A valuable lesson for all, but especially for those trying to learn a new language. You have to work at it, otherwise you will never really become fluent.

So often, I find myself telling people that I am trying to learn to speak Nederlands. What I really mean by this is that, I study when I want to. I study when it is convenient for me, but I don’t devote near enough time to it as I should. Needless to say, I haven’t learned an impressive amount in the almost 5 months I have been here. According to an interview by Suitcase Entrepreneur of Benny from Fluent in 3 Months, most people have trouble learning a language because they are lazy about it. I can definitely see his point. I have been lazy, and my progress has suffered.

So how do I, and other language learners remedy this situation? Here are some of my ideas to get on track with language learning.

  • Have a clear, realistic goal in mind. My current goal is to finish the Rosetta Stone by June 1st, which means I need to do a lesson a day. About 2 ½ hours.
  • Have an hour reserved each day to devote to hearing/ speaking nothing but Dutch to my fiancee.
  • Spend an hour each day on grammar workbooks.
  • Have a defined daily schedule, keeping in mind the times that I know I am most productive. For me that is from 10am to 12:30 and again at 4:30.
  • Watch more Dutch films, people quote movies all the time, I might as well be quoting Dutch ones.
  • Have an accountability partner, someone who you won’t lie to that can hold you accountable for learning.
  • Treat my language learning like a job. I was always much better about showing up to work than I was to class. Since I don’t work, I will now treat learning Nederlands as my current career.

In case anyone was wondering, I did Level One, Unit Two, Lesson Two this morning.

Any language learners out there want to share their suggestion or tips for learning a new language?

 

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Photo Dinsdag: Knit-bombed Leiden

Leiden is one of my favorite cities here in The Netherlands. It is full of history, and I will feature it in a City Guide soon. Since today is my first Photo Dinsdag, I decided that my first entry should be the lovely knit bombed Leiden. Knit bombing has been popping up in cities around the globe for a few years now, and this is how it is done, Dutch Style!

 

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Volunteering Abroad: Soepbus Utrecht

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." Mark Twain

One thing you can never prepare yourself for as an expat is how lonely it can be. With no job, your significant other at work, and all your friends being an ocean away, you can feel pretty helpless and lonely. Which is why finding something to do with your time can be invaluable. This is why I decided to get involved and spend some time volunteering for some local organizations in my new home.

With this in mind, I signed up for Utrecht Cares, it is an organization that matches volunteers with projects. Basically, you check their calendar and sign yourself up for what you want to do. I was a little nervous at first, as I speak very limited Dutch. But, I found a project I was interested in and one of the coordinators at Utrecht Cares was kind enough to ask the organizers if it would be okay if I came, although I can’t speak in Dutch. They said I was welcome to come. So, with that, I volunteered to work with Soepbus Utrecht.

Soepbus Utrecht is really a labor of love for Wan-Ho and his wife Yuen. They started this project completely on their own and have been feeding the homeless of my fair city since December. The Soepbus is actually their car and you can find them almost every week day, from 7pm to 9pm distributing soup, sandwiches, coffee, and tea to those who need it. While the project is still small, (it takes a long time to build trust in the homeless community) it is rapidly growing.

When I first arrived, I was greeted by Wan-Ho and Yuen and they then explained to me about the organization and what inspired them to get started. They saw a need and worked hard to make it happen. There are a lot of hoops they had to jump through, but they did and now the organization is running on about 50% donations. Which is huge for a start-up charity organization.

I was unsure in what I would find in the people who come to Soepbus for help. I was nervous that because of my lack of language skills,I would not be able to do any good. I was wrong in that everyone was able to speak English, even those who could not speak Dutch as good. Everyone was really nice and you could definitely feel the sense of Community the Soepbus Utrecht has created. People are often in need for a variety of different reasons, but it is hardly ever because they are lazy. The people who came: some of them have jobs and plans for the future, some of them aren’t quite there yet. You see, life happens to everyone and it deals us all different cards. With people like the Groenstein’s in the world, I am not so worried for humanity anymore.

I choose Soepbus Utrecht for a very specific reason. The last time I saw my biological father, I was 12 years old. He had always had some mental problems, and I guess one day it just got to much for him and he disappeared. I think he, was too ashamed to ask for help. I worry about him every single day and I can only hope that there are people where he is who are willing to help.

While at first I was nervous about my ability to help out, every time I volunteer, I know I am doing good and I hope that I can inspire some of my readers to go out and do good in their own communities. It will make you feel great, I promise.
What are some of the ways you are volunteering in your Community? I would love to hear about them!
Image from Soepbus Utrecht

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Curried Beef, Leek, and Potatoes

Leeks are one of the most underused vegetables in the United States. Which is a real shame, because it is one of my favorites, and one of the only veggies Loek and I can agree on. I think perhaps leeks are intimidating to most Americans because we never learn to cook them properly. In another post, I will have to show you how I clean and cut leeks, but for this recipe I cheated and used pre-cut leeks. This recipe has special meaning for me because it is the first meal my future mother-in-law made for me. Here is what you need:

Ingredients: Yields 4 servings.

  • 2 cups of chopped leeks. Conventional wisdom will say only the light green and white parts, but if you get a few leaves in there it is okay.

 

  • 500g or 1lb of lean ground beef

 

  • 1tbsp plus 1tsp curry powder

 

  • 1 beef bouillon cup. I use Maggi brand

 

  • 3 cups of peeled boiled potatoes. Pre-cooked is fine

Directions:

Place your ground beef is a large, deep skillet. Brown on medium high heat until almost all done and drain. Move all meat to one side of the pan and add in the leeks. Cook for 4 minutes, moving the leeks around on their side.

Mix the meat and leeks together. Add curry powder and mix. Cook for 2 mins.

 

Add in the bouillon cup, stir around to distribute the flavor. Add in 1 ½ cups of water and simmer for about 10 minutes.


 

 

Place on top of cooked potatoes. Then mash with a fork and voila!

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26 Things Before I'm 26 Revisted- Halfway There.

Sure, today is Valentine’s Day, but it is also my half-birthday so, I will let you judge which one is more important. In honor of this, I thought I would revisit one of my most popular blog posts, 26 Things Before I am 26, to see where I am halfway through the year.

1. Move to Utrecht. Done!
2. Be able to communicate in Dutch. This one I am still working on, but I am able to understand and converse with a lot more people then when I first moved here. But, I am still not as far along as I would like.
3. Get married, I'm engaged so this isn't a huge jump.We are actually waiting until May of 2013 to do this. There is no rush for us and since I don’t have job here yet, it is going to be awhile.
4. Take up ballet again. When I made this list, I was expecting to still have my old job because I was told it would be no problem. No extra spending money means no ballet lessons.
5. Find a core group of friends in my new country. I still need to work on this. I have hung out with one person who isn’t Loek since I have moved here, I need more friends.
6. Develop a sense of personal style and dress accordingly. Again, this is hard with no money. But I have been using Pinterest for when I do have cash again.
7. Learn to bake and cook in my Nederlands kitchen. Done and Done! Recipes coming soon to a blog near you.
8. Start my tour guide business. No progress has been made on this at all.
9. Learn to sew. I hemmed my curtains, it’s a start!
10. Go to Paris. (I went when I was 11, but the Louvre was on strike the whole time)Again with the no money!
11. Write letters to my friends back home. I sent them Christmas Cards, it made me feel good.
12. Get back to the weight that feels best on my frame. Two pants sizes lost. But still want to lose more.
13. Read 100 new books, including some classics. I am on track for this and with my Good Reads account, I can track the books I read this year with their reading challenge.
14. Start making metal jewelry again. I really need a job!
15. Book my honeymoon, we probably wont go right after the wedding. Since we aren’t getting married this year, this is a non-issue.
16. Learn how to share, I was practically an only child. I think I am doing better at this, although it is a work in progress.
17. Become an expert bike rider. Haha, yeah right! Riding my bike around expert Dutchies still scares the crap out of me. Maybe, I will do better when it is warmer.
18. Attend Amsterdam Fashion Week. Not yet, but I have high hopes.
19. Knit a sweater. Maybe I should master the scarf first?
20. Learn the art of light layers. Hey, I think I am finally getting this!
21. Eat better, I have a horrible diet. Not eating out has helped this a lot. But we do need to cut out the fried foods. Darn those Dutch and their snack bars.
22. Start bringing in money again. Have I mentioned I am available for hire?
23. Continue adding to the retirement fund. I did until the end of September, I will once I bring in money again.
24. Laugh more. Loek makes me laugh every single day!
25. Get over my fear of boats. I walked on a frozen canal, I think that is some headway!
26. Stick to my plans. I could do better with this as well.

In conclusion, I made this list when I thought I would still be able to continue my employment across the sea. When you find yourself suddenly find yourself without a fall back plan in a country where you don’t speak the language, applying for a job can be difficult. But I better get on it if I want to make my goals.

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ik ben een sneeuw prinses ( I am a Snow Princess)

There was a lot that I planned on writing about this week, I was going to post my first recipe and my first book review. Alas, both Loek and I have been sick this week. Nothing serious, but it involved a lot of laying on the couch and watching True Blood. Well, on my part anyway. Luckily, we were both feeling a little bit better, because it did some serious snowing here today. Nothing makes me so instantly happy as snowflakes. I know, I'm not right being from the South and all, but I love winter and snow! I think it is much preferable to the 70degree weather they are having in my home state.  Seriously, why is it in Folklore that evil is always equated with snow? Everything is more beautiful in fresh powder! Here are some shots I took around today. 

The View Out Our Window

Snow on the Ledge

Bike Tracks in the Snow

Frozen Canal Behind Our Apartment

Bikes in the Snow

My Favorite Statue in Utrecht, or "How I Feel When it Snows" as I Dubbed it Today.

Kids Skating and Sledding in the Canal. I am Kicking Myself I Don't Have Skates Here! 

 

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