All posts by happywaffle

I Already Made a “Midsommar” Joke

I smartly moved to Northern Europe at the worst possible time. If you’re going to transplant yourself to a different climate, dive into it head-first, I say. You’re already bewildered by your new surroundings, and the suboptimal weather can be part of the bewilderment. Then you put on a brave face, and many many layers, and wait for the temperature outside to sloooooooooowly increase. 

And the daylight! I’m still not used to the daylight. These days the sun rises to the northeast around 5:30 AM, pinwheels *around* the sky, and sets to the northwest about 10 PM. And even then, it never gets much darker than twilight before brightening again. The situation has its downsides—the morning sun shining directly into the apartment does a number on my sleep pattern—but, for a sun-loving Texan, it’s generally fantastic. Besides the occasional shower, highs are in the 70s (Fahrenheit) and humidity is low. Perfecto. 

And yet, my inner Ned Stark is gripping his sword and looking stonily into the middle distance. We’re past the summer solstice, and from here on out, the days are getting shorter and shorter. Six months from now—right around my one-year Amsterversary—the sun will be as fleeting as the stars are now, with temperatures to match. I’ll be enjoying the summer as hard as I possibly can, storing up as many gallons1 of vitamin D as my body can muster.

In other news, after 1,028 days without interruption2, I finished the entire Dutch Duolingo course. It’s good timing that our COVID restrictions have finally ended, giving me the chance to interact with a lot more Dutch people mask-free. Just like everyone learning a new language, my comprehension is moving a lot faster than my speaking ability. HOW ARE THERE SO MANY RANDOM TURNS OF PHRASE I GOTTA LEARN?

Next in the Dutch reading list: the tall stack of Donald Duck comic books that our niece Sophie keeps giving me. Like a Dutch Billy Madison, I’m hoping to rapidly progress through higher and higher reading levels. My friend Ash recommends Dan Brown novels for Dutch reading, because—to put it gently—he doesn’t use big words.

Robert Langdon’s got a case on his hands.

I got my second COVID shot on Friday (Kiki’s is coming soon) and like everybody, we’ve begun tallying up “firsts since the pandemic”: first staged improv show (Kiki’s medical drama: fantastic), first indoor dining (George Marina: overpriced), first movie in a theater (A Quiet Place Part II: really good). Kiki and I were also featured in Het Parool, Amsterdam’s largest daily newspaper3, as part of their food critic’s regular “food you miss from home” feature. Honestly the bomb-ass breakfast tacos were as good as or better than anything I’ve had in Texas. Having a professional photographer documenting the experience was a nice bonus.

Honderd procent authentiek.

And it’s just about time for my first birthday as a full-time Amsterdammer. My cruise director Kiki has a dozen different surprises planned, so I’d better post this entry quick before I need to add them to it. 

Please Don’t Make Me Say “Mambuvian”

Money, I’m glad to see you again. Funemployment, I miss you already.

This week I joined the Dutch workforce as an instructional designer for Mambu. Mambu sells cloud-based banking software, which admittedly doesn’t quite have the sexy cachet of “I work at Apple.” But after 17 years at the World’s Biggest Corporation, they’re just the sort of employer I’d been hoping for: a smallish company that’s growing fast and gives me the opportunity to contribute in a foundational way. 

On Monday morning I biked, trammed, and walked my way through the spitting rain to the super-slick office building on the river where Mambu (normally) occupies the 14th floor. As you’d expect for pandemic times, I was ushered across an empty floor into a conference room with three other new hires, where an IT guy handed us MacBooks and helped us complete our onboarding process. It wasn’t the grand entrance one would hope for with a new career, but there *were* free snacks and a welcome box with Mambu-branded trinkets. 

By Monday afternoon I was back home and seated at my new home office—that being the corner of our bedroom with a space just big enough for the smallest desk Ikea sells. I’m facing the window, so it’s not the worst WFH situation, but I’ll be more than ready to at least occasionally visit the HQ.

I neither expected nor got a riveting first week—it’s been a lot of app downloads, password setups, and hi-how-are-ya’s with my new coworkers1. I’ve also completed a bunch of required new-hire training courses, which is rather meta, since my team wrote the courses; I’m meant to understand the content but also to own it moving forward.

I’m excited about the job. It’s a warm fuzzy feeling to feel qualified for the work I’m doing, to have smart ideas about how I can help make the training better. I’ve got good first impressions about the company too, which has strong diversity and anti-harassment policies and just hired a Director of Sustainability (she was one of my three fellow new hires!). 

Meanwhile, my residency in Nederland is past the five-month mark. I’m less than a week from reaching a 1,000-day streak in Duolingo, and coincidentally am almost done with the *entire* Dutch Duolingo course. Final verdict: while Duolingo will IN NO WAY make you conversational in a new language on its own—and is often frustratingly obtuse about how Dutch people *actually* speak2—it’s still a great way to soak up common words and phrases to the point that you can almost-but-not-quite interpret the latest De Speld headline.

Which reminds me: we are officially OVER the weather. I knew what I was in for, moving to northern Europe in the wintertime, but I’d at least hoped for a lovely spring as a reward. Instead—with a few gloriously sunny days excepted—Amsterdam had its coldest April in 35 years, and May isn’t doing much better. But it’s spring just the same: tulips and peonies are in abundance, and the days have reached an alarming length, with light lingering in the sky well past 10pm and starting up again around 5am. I’ve got to wear my eyemask to have any hope of sleeping until the alarm goes off. By midsummer it’ll almost never be completely dark outside.

Wish me luck.

A Typical Tuesday

(This might have been a bad idea. It works better on a laptop.)

I woke up at about 8am1 and got some work done2 before biking3 to the fysio4. On the way back home I bought some nuts5 per Kiki’s request. Back at the computer6, I read through some of my Safari tabs7 and shot some zombies8 before Nardje showed up9 in the afternoon. 

On the advice of the fysio I took an hour-long walk10 around Amsterdam, getting feta cheese11 for dinner on the way home. Kiki made a delicious shakshouka12 while I built an Ikea cabinet for the bathoom13. We were in bed before 1114.

Baby Did a Bad Bad Badkamer

The (finally) finished product. No, that’s not a bidet in the background.

From the beginning of the Big Move planning process, I intended to spend a significant chunk of money on improvements to the Hoendiepstraat apartment. It started with a large Ikea closet to hold my clothes. In short order after my arrival came an “American-sized” TV1; a new dining table; and the most non-negotiable item, a clothes dryer.2 

And then, in the middle of discussions about what should take priority next, the toilet started to leak.

Feel free to make the obvious joke about my American poops overwhelming European bathrooms. Given that the toilet was now being flushed more than twice as often as before, you wouldn’t be far off-track. But the toilet was old and in poor condition anyway, so it was time for a new one. And—all you homeowners will nod in agreement here—if we’re swapping the toilet, why not do the sink as well?

This would be the fateful twist in the story. As James Breakwell recently wrote, “The key to any small, reasonable renovation is to keep adding to it until both of those adjectives are a lie.” In this case, all it took was a sink.

Now, unlike those free-wheelin’ Americans, home-improvement stores are currently closed in Nederland, so your only option is to order online. is no, but we were eventually able to pick a toilet, sink, and faucet from their online shop. I successfully booked a plumber (no small feat) who had a delightfully thick British accent for the following Tuesday.

Then on Thursday, the sink arrived. It sounded like this.

Now let’s not kid ourselves: that is hilarious. But it meant that I had to cancel the plumber, letting him know I’d let him know when I had an intact sink. It also meant that, when the toilet arrived the following day, it had nowhere to go besides our living room.

We found ourselves at a standstill as Praxis customer service remained consistently unhelpful and unresponsive about getting the sink replaced. (One customer service rep hung up the moment I asked if we could speak English. Another told me via email to call their shop in Heerhugowaard, 45 minutes north of Amsterdam; when I did, the shop was as confused as I was.) Days stretched to weeks, with the toilet and shattered sink going from comedic conversation pieces to unwanted freeloading roommates. 

In desperation we ordered a second sink from Praxis, which arrived in one piece and allowed us to schedule the plumber once again. Finally on Wednesday, March 10th, five weeks after we’d started the process, a very nice, ridiculously good-looking plumber3 arrived. In four short hours, the toilet and sink were installed; by the end of the night, so were the cabinets. (Small bit of bragging: thanks to my double- and triple-measurements, the cabinets fit in with the new sink down to the centimeter.) Our new bathroom looks fantastic. So happy the ordeal is over.

I’m still trying to return that broken sink, though.

Seven Things about Amsterdam: Feb/March edition

1 Okay, y’all. I had a WHOLE BLOGPOST written about what it’s been like adjusting to the cold Dutch climate—from standing on my first frozen pond to learning the joys of dry cracking skin—only for all of Texas to become a goddamn ice planet on the very day that it all melted here. I never thought I’d be wishing happy warm thoughts from NL to TX, but these are strange times, my friends.

So that long whiney post got deleted. The short version is: we got a solid layer of snow on February 7th, and—as a native Texan, this was new to me—it stayed snowy. The canals and river were mostly frozen, ducks and pigeons and occasionally humans sliding around on top. I saw kids being pulled on sleds for function rather than fun. We mostly stayed indoors.

Pretty though.

2 When I arrived here in mid-December, the sun set at 4:30 in the afternoon and I was confused why delivery drivers kept showing up after dark. The tides are turning, though! Our days are now about 11 hours long, and in the summer we’ll have blissful 17-hour days and the sky will *never* be fully dark. Latitudes are crazy.

Screen Shot 2021-02-15 at 1.31.20 PM.png
The weird time jumps are daylight savings time. Yeah, we got that here, too.

3 Dutch update: I’m still at the level of knowing just enough to get myself in trouble. Like, I’ll absolutely nail the first line of a conversation—“Goedemiddag, ik heb een afspraak om half tien”—and then the person will respond in Dutch and… I’ll have no idea what they said. 

But I can eavesdrop on Dutch conversations (usually Kiki’s) and more often than not grasp the topic—sometimes even entire sentences at a time. Progress!

Fun Dutch vocab of the month: the Dutch word for latte is “koffie verkeerd,” literally “wrong coffee.” The Dutch word for Easter is “Paas,” which explains the weird name of those ubiquitous egg-coloring kits when we were kids.

4 On the 24th we rented a Mini Cooper and road-tripped two hours south to Maastricht, a historic town in Nederland’s weird little appendix at the border with Germany and Belgium. This city is a thousand years old if it’s a day, with charming buildings by the dozens and literally more churches than they know what to do with. There was a full-sized church sanctuary behind our hotel with no apparent means of entry. Elsewhere in the center are a bookstore and a grocery store, both inside churches.

It was a charming couple of days in a truly charming city, and also a good example of the COVID-tourism paradox: though the city center was blissfully free of tourists1, all the shops and museums were closed, which explained the emptiness but also made things a bit boring. Then again, “boring” gave us ample time to explore virtually every street of the old city with time left over to relax on the hotel balcony. Also I discovered the magic of vlaai.

On our way back north to Amsterdam we zig-zagged through a variety of small towns, any of which might be the setting for the Dutch edition of “Hot Fuzz,” with their own 500-year-old churches and unironic thatched roofs and war memorials2. The weather was glorious, peaking around 20C/68F. We’ve got to do it all over again when things are open; I’m sure we’ll grumble about how many tourists there are.

6 I’ve thought a lot about how the pandemic has made me miss my casual friends—the ones I never texted with or even think much about (or even know the name of!) until they weren’t around. The improv acquaintances and regulars at the bar. This article is a good read about that very subject. Some of them I’d probably never see again even if I’d stayed in place; moving to a new country might ensure I’ll never see many or most of them again. It’s an odd angle on homesickness I hadn’t considered. Whenever I can finally-finally start haunting local places here and making new friend-quaintances, it’ll be a relief.

7 After two-and-a-half months in the Netherlands, I finally finally have a working Dutch phone number and bank card. It wasn’t the highest priority since we never go anywhere, but it’s nice to be able to pay for groceries myself at last. Ik ben een grote jongen!

Eight Things About Amsterdam: January Edition

1 I had a simple revelation when I was younger that I still think about now and then. Seeing a herd of cows standing in the freezing cold, I felt pity for how chilly they must be. Then it occurred to me: those cows have no concept of not being chilly. They don’t know HVAC systems even exist. They’re cold, and that’s just the fact of the matter, and they probably don’t think too much about it.

On a totally unrelated note, I think I’m getting used to the weather here.

The sun is like, “That’s as high as I’m gonna get, sucker!”

2 This weekend we took a semi-staycation to Utrecht, a city 20 minutes south of Amsterdam with historic architecture and one charming market street after another. It is of course a ghost town right now.

The main thing I want to tell you about in Utrecht is the big cathedral, which was one of the tallest buildings in the world when it was finished in 1382 and then in 1674 got fucking bulls-eyed by a tornado. The citizens of Utrecht wisely decided against rebuilding, so it’s now a weird half-cathedral and a standalone tower with a public square in the middle. Check the before-and-after:

3 This is my neighborhood! It’s called Rivierenbuurt, and it’s a short tram ride south of the city center at the bend of the Amstel river. It was built from scratch in the early 1930s and is almost entirely comprised of four-story apartment blocks with shops at the corners and gardens1 in the centers. Everything was designed in the Amsterdam School architectural style, a know-it-if-you-see-it melange of modernism and geometric flourishes straight out of Middle Earth.

4 On a related topic: of course I’ve had to shift many of my expectations moving from a standalone house to a densely-occupied apartment block. Some of this could be expected no matter where I’d moved: adjusting to the smaller space, cursing the loud music playing from god-knows-where late at night. But some of it feels distinctly European. I’m always walking past ground-floor apartments, and a surprising number of them give zero craps about keeping their shutters open and their home life plainly visible to passers-by. On a recent walk down the block, there were more windows uncovered than not. From my couch I can see what the neighbors across the street are watching on *their* TV. I’ve had to train myself not to look.

But you get to meet some of the locals.

5 One of my house-husband duties during funemployment is to make Kiki her tea every morning. Yeah, I’m doing it out of love, but I’m also doing it because I get to pour in the milk.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, she really does want this much milk.

6 Dutch update! I gave myself some practice by translating the Dutch article about Rivierenbuurt into English. Check it out (but fair warning, the World War II bits are unpleasant reading):

My favorite way to learn Dutch one headline at a time is De Speld, Nederland’s version of The Onion. Translate a headline and you get a joke!

Your delightfully-literal Dutch word of the month: liquid is “vloeistof,” meaning (and sorta pronounced) “flowy stuff.”

7 The Netherlands isn’t a safe haven from COVID. You’re thinking of New Zealand.2 It’s a relative improvement over the US in that each household is allowed one visitor per day, so we’ve experienced the novelty of “having friends over for dinner” for the first time in a year. Still, sad to say we’re fifth in the world in COVID cases per capita (though deaths are thankfully low). The recent spike in cases has resulted in a 9pm curfew, which naturally—that’s the point—limits my social opportunities even further. On the one hand, yeah, that sucks. On the other hand, it’s nice to be in a country that’s actually responsive to a public emergency. It’ll get back to normal soon enough, and hey, sitting on the couch all day isn’t the worst way to spend unemployment.

8 I included a pretty Netherlands video last time, so let’s keep the party going. One of my very favorite sights in the world (after milk in tea) is starling murmurations. Now I live in a place where I might actually see one!

Black Cat, White House

On Inauguration Day, I want to share with you one of the weirdest things I’ve ever created: it’s a children’s book that I literally came up with in a *freaking dream* a few months back. Usually when you have a brilliant idea in your sleep, you realize upon waking that it’s incredibly stupid. But this idea actually turned into a proper story that I’m rather proud of!

I didn’t get any nibbles from publishers, and (despite my unemployment) didn’t have the bandwidth or skill to illustrate it myself, so I’m setting it free. Hope you enjoy it.

Black Cat, White House

Hans was a black cat who lived in the bushes next to a big white house. Every day, many people would come and go from the house on their human business, and every night Hans would hunt for food on the grounds.

Sometimes Hans would get a scratch from a passing tourist, or a bit of tuna sandwich from a friendly guard. Once, a very friendly lady1 picked Hans up and told him he was a good cat. He liked that a lot.

Then one day, things at the white house changed. The friendly humans got in their large black cars and drove away; a new set of cars brought a new group of people.

They weren’t so friendly.

Hans heard the humans yelling at each other all the time. They interrupted his naps. The leader of the pack was a man who never laughed; Hans didn’t think he seemed like much of a leader at all.

As time went on, the humans in the house grew more unpleasant. When Hans tried to meow for a bit of food or a scratch, they yelled at him or even threw stones! Hans could tell that the people outside the house weren’t happy, either. Every day, large groups of them would gather and yell angry human words. An enormous wall was built to protect the white house from the outside world. But Hans didn’t feel very safe.

“Humans are awful,” thought Hans disgustedly one afternoon, after the guards sent people running with clouds of unpleasant gas. Hans hardly even remembered that people could be kind.

And then one day, a fleet of large black cars arrived again. Hans watched with interest as a new group of humans moved into the house. He recognized the new leader as someone who had once given him a bit of cheese. One night Hans saw the man passing by, and poked his face out of the bushes.

“I remember you!,” said the man with surprise, immediately reaching down to give Hans a scratch. Hans purred in relief. Maybe the white house could be a happy place again.

Eight Things about my Time in Amsterdam So Far

The view five minutes from home

1 It doesn’t get easier to witness what’s happening back home just cause I “escaped” to Europe. Heck, it might even be a little harder. My thoughts are with the people who are vulnerable and suffering.

2 You know how anywhere you travel, you’ll find some yokel who says “If ya don’t like the weather here, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change” and then gives a hearty laugh? Yeah that is NOT the case around here. It’s been mostly cloudy in the mid-30s since I arrived, literally any time, day or night.

Speaking of which, here’s my handy-dandy conversion kit to understand temperatures in Celsius. It’s not that hard!

-10:  Miserable
0: Cold
10: Cool
20: Pleasant
30: Hot
40: Texas in August

3 My Dutch is sloooowly progressing. I can speak a sentence with a few seconds’ thought, whereas my comprehension has progressed from “recognizing two words” to “recognizing five words and maybe grasping the topic of conversation.”

Dutch word order is a bag of monkeys, by the way. Today’s example: “She did not hear me say that” translates to “Zij heeft mij dat niet horen zeggen,” or “She has me that not heard said.”

As before, though, learning a new language teaches you a lot about your own. Have you ever thought about how “mint” can mean either a flavorful herb or the place where they make money? It’s the same word!!

4 I’ve shared this before, but this is how the Dutch do trash collection, and it’s awesome.

5 Just a random fact, because I looooove random facts: in 1973, Duracell debuted a battery-powered pink plush bunny mascot with a European commercial, but they never trademarked the bunny in the United States. Fifteen years later, Energizer stole the concept and introduced the Energizer Bunny with a US commercial. So that means when you’re in the US, you see the Energizer bunny; and when you’re anywhere else, you see the Duracell bunny.

6 Being a World War II nut makes a move to Europe all the more interesting. It was well less than a century ago that Nazi Kübelwagens were rolling down my street; the D-Day beaches are a day’s drive away. The most famous local story was Anne Frank, of course, and only after moving here did I realize I had a fundamental misunderstanding of the story: the “secret house” in the city center that Anne’s family hid in for two years was not their house. I realized this because the house where they did live before going into hiding is a ten-minute walk from mine. The streets Anne walked on, the park where she played, even the bookstore where she bought her diary (still in business!) are all right across the neighborhood. History here feels as close as a curtain against a window.

7 Okay, that was a bit heavy. Here’s a palate cleanser: a ten-minute time-lapse of a boat’s commute across the Dutch countryside from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. (If you’re the impatient sort you can skip to eight minutes, when day turns to night and they arrive in Amsterdam.)


8 I know long-distance relationships are all the rage, but have you tried a SHORT-distance relationship? It is soooo much better.