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expat woes

I Am Most Worried About Not Being Able to Learn Dutch!

Few people know this, but when I was little I had a serious speech impediment. I had to go to speech therapy all though elementary school, every year in the middle of math. (which explains a lot). They could never discover the source of why I didn't say things correctly and finally I was able to convince my mom that I shouldn't go anymore. I think the reason I couldn't talk properly is that I don't hear sounds properly. I then try to mimic what I think I heard, causing mispronunciations. As I have gotten older, I have been able to fake my way through and disguise my problem, but with a new language comes new sounds and that makes learning a new language 10x, harder than it already would be.

I also have no phoentical skills, I have never been able to look at a word and automatically pronounce it correctly if I have never seen it before. ( I can normally say it somewhat right in my head, but when someone says something has a long a, I have no clue what that means) I couldn't say Hermione right until after the first movie came out. Which meant that in school reading out loud was my worst nightmare. After years of practice, I again can fool people in English, but probably not in Dutch or Nederlands as they call it. I am confessing my deep dark secret so that you, my readers, can understand. My biggest fear about moving all the way to The Netherlands is that, I will not be able to integrate into society because I won't be able to learn Dutch.

I have not been actively pursuing trying to learn Dutch in the States because, I am convinced that I will learn it wrong! I need someone to tell me over and over how something is pronounced.  If anyone out there has some foreign language learning tips out there, or recommendations for Nederlands classes near Utrecht that are good, I would love to hear them. I am just thankful that I am still able to telecommute for a bit to my current job, so I dont have to feel even more pressure than I already do. But rest assured, The Verlo will make sure I practice everyday until I speak Nederlands as well as he speaks English.

 

Kindle, An Expat's Best Friend?

I really love to read, and I really love to own books. I think they are great conversations starters and I like for people to automatically know I am smarter and more obscure in my references that they are.( Please read sarcasm in that last statement) Which is why it surprised people when this bibliophile purchased an Amazon Kindle. I am in love with it now and I think they are great for expats to have. I chose the Kindle specifically for a few reasons. 

So, why did I buy an ereader? Well, I am moving to a foreign country where English is not the most widely spoke language, and I don't read in Dutch. Most books in English are imports so they are uber expensive. My Kindle with 3G allows me to download books globally. So, I could spend on average around 10.00 for a kindle book or a lot more for an import. Kindle also have a ton of free books, including 15,000 titles copy written before 1923. That means, I can read all those great Russian Novels, that I never got around to, for Free! They also have a ton of free new eBooks and other specials.

I bought the Kindle instead of another ereader for a variety of reasons. I have always been an Amazon person, so I went with what I knew. They are easy to use around the world, and I like that you can use it outside, with limited glare. Not too big of a deal in The Netherlands, but nice none the less. I really hate reading on the computer, but for some reason I have no problem with the Kindle. You can adjust the size and spacing of your text, and look up words if you are unsure. Plus, I found the accessories to be the best. I bought a euro plug so I am good to go.

There are of course, a few things I would change; instead of a list of the books you purchased, I wish you could see the image. And, I just really think  that organizing your titles could be a little better. You also have to get a special case with a light to be able to read at night. Which is fine, my light is powered by my Kindle.

All and all, I am extremely happy with my Kindle purchase and know that it will allow me to read more and cheaper than if I had to buy English books in The Netherlands. 

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On Cooking

I love food! It is one of the great passions I have in my life. I love reading about food, talking about food, cooking and baking, experimenting with new flavors, grossing my friends out with my fearless pursuits of interesting exotic flavors, and of course consuming it. (Just don't let me near a red bell pepper, there is nothing more disgusting on this planet than a bell pepper, and the red ones are their own breed of disgusting). Some of my favorite memories come from food, I was fortunate enough to be able to bake my two best friends wedding cakes.

It should come at no surprise then, that over the years, I have acquired a pantheon of cooking supplies. Cookbooks, dishes, measuring cups, decorating tips, whisks, flower nails, and my prized Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer. Naturally, with limited space and bringing just 4 suitcases under 50lbs a piece, certain sacrifices must be made. Instead of transporting about 20 cookbooks to The Netherlands with me, I have been painstakingly writing out the recipes that I like from each of them. Yes, it is time consuming, but I have managed to put all the recipes I want into a two inch binder! I do the same thing with the uncounted multitudes of cooking magazines I had in my possession. All those recipes can be found on the magazines' websites- I've wasted a lot of money over the years. I made Loek check to make sure we have access to each site in Holland and then I write down the title of the recipe I want to try later, along with the issue that it came from. Of course, there are some cookbooks that just contain to many fantastic recipes so I brought those with me and left them with Loek when I was in Holland in April: The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. 

As for the rest, it is simply not coming with me. As much as it pains me, I simply do not have the room. Instead of taking the assorted measuring spoons and cups I had, crammed into several drawers,I purchased on set a piece of truly fantastic peices. I bought a beautiful flower shaped set of measuring spoons and a set of stackable measuring cups in the shape of Matroyshkas dolls. This way, I can measure my American recipes in cups and tablespoons. Everything else, can be bought there gradually, which will be better since my oven is going to be the size of a microwave, and my kitchen in a much more condensed space. My beloved mixer is going to my mom. I hope to eventually get another one for my Dutch apartment, but Loek is in shock of the price and space is limited. 

Thanks to a few new expat friends, I do know to bring baking powder, soda and karo syrup with me, as these things are hard to find in most Dutch grocers. I am sure that cooking using the metric system is going to be its own special challenge and I pledge to keep you posted about it here on my blog. 

*And, why yes, I did make that cake! 

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How To Decorate Your Apartment From Across The Ocean.

I might have mentioned the fact that when I move to The Netherlands, it will be into a brand new apartment. This is  both really exciting and nerve racking. It will be the first time, for both Loek and I, that we will live in a brand new place and the first time we will live together. Renting an apartment in The Netherlands is not like renting one in Georgia. Here, when I want to move I have a few choices: I can drive around, go to a standard apartment complex either in or out of the city with beige walls and appliances included. Or, I can go to an old house turned into an apartment and maybe get to paint the walls.

In The Netherlands, if you are renting in the public sector, you put yourself on lists. When an apartment becomes available, you basically get a shell of an apartment. It is not uncommon to have to put in new floors and light fixtures in your rented apartment. As well as, bring all the appliances you might need with you. When Loek picks up the keys to our new place, hopefully in a few weeks, we(he) will have to put in new flooring, put up wall paper, install light fixtures, paint, move all his stuff and appliances. Keep in mind, we don't have a car. I'm kind of glad I might get to miss all the fun!

I am a huge fan of decor, so naturally, I have been trying to be involved every step of picking out materials for our new home. What I have learned through this process is- 1. It is difficult to combine households anyway, when doing so via webcam is almost impossible. Things that I love, Loek seems to hate. So there is a lot of compromising 2. Colors look totally different if you don't have the sample in your hands.

So far, what we have agreed upon is a grayish laminate wood floor, and damask white wallpaper for the living room. Our apartment is mainly two rooms, a small bedroom and a catch all room that will have to be, our living room, dining room, kitchen and home office. When you translate it from meters, it comes to about 650 sq feet. The smallest apartment I will have lived in and perhaps the largest Loek will have lived in.

If anyone else is in the same boat, whether you are in the same country as your new live-in fiancee or across the ocean-I would recommend a ton of patience and compromise. For those of you trying to plan abroad- If you need to pick out materials, have your spouse go and pick up the ones they like and mail them to you. Look at lots of design blogs to identify both of your styles. 

I chose the white damask to make the room appear larger, while the pattern will add some texture. We still haven't agreed on what to do about the bedroom. In addition to all the materials we have to buy for our home, Loek and I are planning on purchasing a new closet from Ikea, right away. Eventually, I would love to get a new bed. But for the time being, we will share a futon. Aww, to be young and in love.

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The High Exchange Rate for Peace of Mind

I think I have mentioned a few times that I am a worrier. I am almost always in a panic about something. I don't want to be this way, I just am. So you can imagine what my blood pressure was like in the weeks leading up to the Debt Ceiling Deadline. That's right, full on panic tizzies about what Congress was going to do and how that would effect the exchange rate when I was ready to move. 

Being an always plan for the worse case scenario kind of gal, I began looking for solutions to change my money into Euros, before August 2nd. It also didn't help that the price for a Visa in The Netherlands went up more than 400 Euros in July. At first, I looked into getting a passport card from Travelex. A kind of pin card that you can pre-load with Euro's before you go. Apparently, I wanted to do too big of a transaction for the day, so my bank blocked my getting one. When I called to get it unlocked, the customer service rep recommended my calling my local branch and seeing what exchange rate they could offer me for buying Euros. I did, and it was a few pennies better in my favor. But, when you are talking a few thousands of dollars, those pennies add up. 

So, I emptied what was in my savings account and purchased Euros from my bank. It was pretty easy, except for that they didn't know to type in The European Union as opposed to The Netherlands in order for me to get Euros, not Guilders. Luckily, I caught the mistake. The Euros were then mailed to the bank and I could pick them up 2 days later. The fee was like $10.00, it was really so easy.

Was this a better exchange rate than if I had used the ATM in The Netherlands? Who's to say? But I feel at ease knowing that I have enough Euros available to pay for my Visa.

In this case, peace of mind trumps cost. I needed one less thing to worry about.

Flickr Image above by donaldtownsend

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I'll Be Missing You! Paycheck Edition

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1671

I feel like I have not been present this week on my blog nor twitter. This is mostly because, after two years of work for the company I work for, (being the 3rd person hired and growing it from infancy,) this has been the most challenging week ever. I don't know if it is the debt ceiling or what, but clients have been even pickier than normal. As trying as this week has been, I keep on reminding myself how little time I actually have left to bring in a steady paycheck.

When I leave my job in September, there are potentially a few freelance gigs here and there, but basically, that is it for the money to come in. For first time since the age of 16, that I will have nothing that I have to go to. during the week.How do you cure an American of her workaholic tendencies? I get a lot of self satisfaction in my work ethic.The unknown scares me a little, (okay a lot.) From all I can tell, finding a job as an expat can be a challenge, especially after some new E.U sanctions. 

It is time to really investigate what it is that I want to do with my life. Why is it that when you have plenty of time to do fun things, you have no money to do them? The future hubs and I will be fine financially, as long as we stick to a budget. i.e. no retail therapy. I think the bigger adjustment for me ,more so then moving to a whole new country, is going to be not bringing in the bacon and not have something to fill up my time. Very thankful for a Museumkaart!

I don't want you to worry though, because I have a grand plan. It will just take awhile to execute. 

Image: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Where the Heck is Holland? Is that In Asia? And Other Tales of Geography Woe.

You constantly hear that the United States Education System is lacking. I never really put much thought into this because I feel like I got a pretty decent, broad education. Sure, I am not yet bilingual, but I took a class where I got to wield a blow torch. Perspective people, honestly. It wasn't until I started telling friends and co-workers about my upcoming move to The Netherlands, that I realized- American's have no clue about Geography. 

Of course, it is understandable that people get Holland and The Netherlands confused. Holland is actually two provinces in The Netherlands. North and South Holland. Utrecht is actually in the province of Utrecht. So technically, I am not moving to Holland, even though it has been used synonymously with The Netherlands for so long, I don't think anyone will freak out on you for using either.

I did an experiment today with some of my work friends, I printed out a blank map of Europe and asked people to identify where The Netherlands are. ( I know, it is a marvel that I have friends). The results were, well.... I know it is a small country, but dang. The most common answer was either Sweden or Denmark, kind of close, but no. The Netherlands is actually that tiny country located next to Belgium and Germany. It is not however, in Asia, which I have been asked from time to time. 

People tend to also not know what language they speak in The Netherlands. For the record, its Dutch or Nederlands. Someone also told me that they always wanted to go to Holland because they are a really big skier. For those of you who have been to The Netherlands, I will let you process that for a moment... For those of you who haven't been, The Netherlands is almost entirely flat and the reason for all the canals and dikes is all about Dutch ingenuity and reclaiming landmass from the sea. 

I am very much looking forward to the day that my friends come visit me in my new home. Assuming of course that they can find it! 

What are the weirdest things you have heard about the place you call home? Can you find The Netherlands?

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