Onze eerste jaar (Our first year!) in Amsterdam

What a year it has been! After a bumpy ride preparing for our move abroad, we finally landed in Amsterdam one year ago, on a sunny but bitingly cold February morning. At the time, Tom and I were both scared and excited — and we still are. We wondered: What would the next few years hold for us? What would our new home be like? How would we adjust?

Moving can be difficult (physically and emotionally) whether the destination is just across town, across the country, or across an ocean. Our first year living in Amsterdam has been incredibly challenging, and our day-to-day life has been draining and lonely.

BUT. The past year has also been full of so many adventures and so much love. We’re so fortunate to have this experience together. We’ve traveled much more than we have in the past to see more of Europe; we’ve booked most weekends full with plans to explore our city and country; and, we got married over the summer and also met our new baby niece last month. It truly has been quite the year.

Here are some of the highlights of our first year abroad, if you’d like to see.

We set up a new home.

We explored the city of Amsterdam.

We tasted new favorite foods.

We discovered beautiful areas in the Netherlands.

We celebrated love.

And, we traveled to many cities and countries in Europe.

Barcelona in February:

Vienna, Austria, for a quick work trip for me in March:

Dinant, a tiny town in Belgium, for Easter weekend:

Stockholm, Sweden, in May:

Sicily in August:

Stuttgart, Germany, in September for the Canstatter Volksfest:

Paris in October:

Tom visited Portugal in November for work:

England, in November:

And finally, three cities for three Christmas markets: Metz, France; Luxembourg City; Trier, Germany:

Wow, what a year it has been!

On to the next!

Hallo uit Amsterdam!

We’re finally here! Though we’re far from settled yet, it’s so exciting to finally be off on an adventure that had been in the works for more than a year.

One way flights with ALL the bags

I’m hoping to chronicle some of our life here, including the highs and lows. Moving abroad may sound glamorous — and maybe it will be later on, but it’s also difficult.

The last two weeks have been draining, including apartment searching in a super competitive market and losing out on two favorite places; living out of suitcases and hauling them up and down Dutch staircases to various Airbnbs; missing our little pupface; and not sleeping well. For Tom, there is adjusting to a very long commute, a new office, and working across multiple time zones. For me, there is the challenge of being completely alone for the majority of the weekdays.

But, it is beautiful here, and we’ve been lucky to have mostly sunny days over the past two weeks.

Daffodils blooming everywhere in early February

The one touristy place we’ve walked through

We’ve checked off a few crucial items:

  • Opening a Dutch bank account and getting new debit cards.
  • Acquiring our “burgerservicenummers” or BSNs, which are our residence numbers and ID cards. That means we’re official residents here.
  • Drinking Heineken (which we realized is actually much better on tap than in a bottle) in a neighborhood brown bar and in Vondelpark on a sunny day.
  • Visiting two breweries.
  • Getting take-out Indonesian food, which is a big thing in Amsterdam, and it was delicious.
  • Drinking way more lattes than ever before. (Regular coffee is SO strong.)
  • Walking miles and miles exploring the city’s neighborhoods and parks.

Exploring parks

We’ve yet to rent or buy bikes, so I guess you could say we’re not quite official Amsterdammers.

We’ve had a few mishaps, too.

  • Breaking a washing machine at an Airbnb. (Thank goodness for Tom finding YouTube instructions that allowed him to open the door, take out our clothes, and also order a new plastic door handle. The tiny, tiny piece of plastic that broke just happened to be crucial to latching the door!)
  • Making hot chocolate with “karnemilk”… instead of buying what I thought was whole milk, I got buttermilk. Whoops. That didn’t turn out right and went straight down the drain.

Furry roommates at one Airbnb

Uh oh. It won’t open. (At least the controls on this one were in English, unlike many others.)

I’ll try to write more here in the coming weeks and months about what it’s actually like to move abroad and get settled… including more about: apartment hunting; all the bikes everywhere; and what may be one of my biggest challenges, what it’ll be like to cook with a teeny tiny oven/microwave combo and a dorm size fridge!

For now, “goed nacht”!

We’ve hauled these bags to three different Airbnb’s so far…

How to Pack Jewelry For Moving (or Traveling)


On vacations, my packed earrings and necklaces always seemed to get twisted and knotted so many times that I’d have to pull out tweezers to work them loose.

What would happen, I wondered, during a cross-country move, when all these chains, beads and hooks were bunched together? I didn’t want to find out. Fortunately I found a great tip online for necklaces–and discovered another solution for earrings while cleaning.

Continue reading “How to Pack Jewelry For Moving (or Traveling)”

Grandpa Dale’s 1930s train adventure West

The journalist in me wants to cut this video down to 1:30, add some B-roll and voiceovers where the story isn’t the strongest. But the granddaughter in me wants to watch my Grandpa Dale share a tale I’d never heard before, about his visit to his buckskin-wearing Uncle Bert, who left home at the age of 12 and stayed a bachelor who grew flower bulbs and garlic in Oregon City. My grandpa’s father gave him a train pass when he was 14 and told him to go visit his uncle, and somehow, in 1933, he survived.

Grandpa and I talked for a good hour on Veteran’s Day, when I was in Roanoke for the day (for a bizarre eye appointment where outer eyelashes that relentlessly tickled my eyeballs were burned off–certainly an interesting experience). I’m hoping to film my grandpa–my mom’s 94-year-old father–telling stories of his life over the next few months, and share them both as shorter clips on YouTube for relatives and save them for my own kids one day, so they can learn about what life was like in the 1930s and ’40s. (I’m fairly certain I won’t be giving them a train pass as a teenager and letting them explore the West alone, with just $30 in a pocket.) I learned a little about my grandparents’ lives at my Grandma Betty’s passing: They met at the University of Illinois, but moved to Washington when the war broke out. Dale broke codes for the Army, and then for the National Security Agency. And if you ask, he’s got some strong opinions about the NSA’s role today.

A bonus in this video: An appearance by Winkie the cat and some nifty animated iMovie maps. Soon, I’ll share his story about growing up in the tiny, flat town of Dana, Illinois, the two-room schoolhouse and how he could deliver 50 newspapers without once touching the handlebars on his bike.

‘Cupcake Wars’ lures me back to competition shows with local competitor

Update: Sweet Reasons placed second on the Miss-America themed episode of ‘Cupcake Wars.’

I’ll say it: Food Network’s competition shows aren’t my favorite. They’ve been good for revenue, of course, but I’d prefer to actually learn about cooking. Like from Sara Moulton, who used to host a live show where viewers could cook along (after buying the posted ingredients beforehand) and call in with questions. My family frequently watched “Cooking Live” and once even made dinner with Moulton as our guide. Weekend mornings are now the “prime time” to learn about cooking, unless you’re able to get the network’s sister channel. Most of the rest of the day, judges are just as important as cooks.

But I’ll make an exception this Saturday night to watch one of our local cupcake shops compete on “Cupcake Wars.” Sweet Reasons will face three other shops in the Miss America-themed episode, airing at 8 p.m. Saturday. When I wrote about the announcement for this week’s Food section, I knew the owners would be able to say very little about the actual experience. It’ll be quite interesting to see what snippets of conversation will be used for the 60-minute show from what they described as a marathon baking-filming day back in June; I’ll certainly follow up afterwards to see how realistically the competition was portrayed. You can find my article here: Sweet Reasons to compete on Saturday episode of ‘Cupcake Wars’ Continue reading “‘Cupcake Wars’ lures me back to competition shows with local competitor”

Taste of DC: Tasty bites and brews

Food festivals: an answer to a weekend devoid of plans, a drain on a wallet, but also a way to experience some of the best-tasting morsels around.

On Saturday, I met up with Emma and Chris at Taste of DC, a five-block food festival along Pennsylvania Avenue featuring dozens and dozens of restaurants, wineries and craft breweries. What fun we had together, despite constantly changing weather conditions and long lines.


Restaurants sold bites priced from $1 to $5, while craft breweries offered samples for $2 or full pours for $7; we had several of both sizes. Lines deterred us from samples of wines and other fairly popular restaurant booths.

Here’s a taste of what we shared:

A roasted winter squash taco with chili, queso and mint, from Chaya, a farmers market stand that sells tacos that are “seasonally inspired, mostly plants.” If I lived in DC, this would surely become a favorite option. Continue reading “Taste of DC: Tasty bites and brews”

Ferragosto: Italian summer holiday comes to San Diego

Ferragosto, a charity gala for Little Italy’s schools and a church, was the big event for my long weekend in San Diego, the reason to fly west that particular weekend in mid-August.

Sequins and pearls, vests and hats–we donned our ’20s best before hitting the red carpet with Tom’s coworkers on Saturday night. Admiring everyone’s themed outfits may have been my favorite part of the night, as boas, fringe, pearls and headbands filled the designated city blocks. Though, we certainly got some stares on the trolley as we made our way downtown.


Continue reading “Ferragosto: Italian summer holiday comes to San Diego”

L.A. day trip includes Pizzeria Mozza, La Brea Tar Pits and Hollywood

One of my beach books this summer was Bill Buford’s “Heat,” part memoir, and part biography of Mario Batali, the New York chef made famous by Food Network. A girlfriend loaned it to me, along with some light chick lit, but a bright yellow cover drew this particular book to the top of the stack. I’d seen the old episodes of “Molto Mario” a few times, but knew little about the red-haired pony-tailed chef.

This isn’t going to be a story about Mario’s journey as a chef, because you should just read the book or use Google for that.

What I do want to share is that on my latest West Coast trip, I had the chance to eat at Batali’s newest restaurant venture, a partnership with baker Nancy Silverton, in Los Angeles, Calif.

A two-and-a-half hour drive up I-5 from San Diego, L.A. itself is overwhelming, meaning that Tom and I would have to pick and choose just a few things to do. Visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, a walk along Hollywood Boulevard, and a drive through Beverly Hills seemed like good starting points. But with more than 20,000 restaurants, I wondered how we’d choose, and how we’d avoid getting caught in a tourist trap, though we seemed to anyway for a quick dinner at Venice Beach. Continue reading “L.A. day trip includes Pizzeria Mozza, La Brea Tar Pits and Hollywood”