Corona-Cation!

It’s crazy to think we are 4 months from Christmas and basically 2021! What a year!

I realised that in August, I celebrated one year of being a single homeowner. It’s amazing and yet truly scary. My house and I have a true love hate relationship, I love it but it hates me and likes to constantly challenge me. In the last year I’ve done a lot (new heating system, electrics, ceiling fans, oven, etc…) and still have more to go (painting and no doubt new surprises). Next week I shall install a new shower thermostat bar… I still refuse to use my office as an office, which is ironic given that Ive been working from home for over five months. It’s just not as close to the kettle as the kitchen table is.

I regularly getting emails from HR telling me it’s important to take a holiday. I’ve been thinking about a holiday for a while (since my original holiday to Egypt was cancelled in March) and looking at different options, I really wanted either Egypt (still considered a no go zone as it’s not in the EU), Cyprus (yeah, no real issues but flights aren’t that frequent) or Spain (I go roughly ever year to Mallorca). I didn’t want to stay in the Netherlands, I need sun, sea and all inclusive, whilst reading at least a book a day. In the end, Spain was the best and easiest choice…

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The Netherlands classes EU countries by colour and risk: Green (no special security risks), Yellow (caution, security risks), Orange (only necessary travel, serious security risks in this country or region can create dangerous situations for travellers and vacation trips are not “necessary”) and Red (do not travel, very serious safety risks can create a life-threatening situation for travellers). When I booked my trip, Spain was yellow and then a week before I travelled it was categorised as orange. My travel agent panicked and suggested I cancel… I said ‘thanks but no, Im going’ and opted to travel. I was then told that if anything went wrong on my holiday it would be at my ‘own risk’ and I’d be personally financially responsible for any costs/issues. The Netherlands is considered a orange country to our neighbours/other EU countries, so going from one orange country to another didn’t seem like a risk to me. I could also feel the change in my mood and realised that I really needed a break, to get away from work and my stresses.

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It’s interesting to think how much everything has changed since Corona, airports are functioning well under capacity, as are airlines. I was surprised when I had less than 30 people on my flights. I wasn’t expecting a popular tourist destination of Spain to have no tourist or people and to be a ghost town of itself. It creates a lot of questions around what the future holds for travel and aviation, tourism, social distancing and the ‘new normal.’ 

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Spain has a rule that you must wear face mask when in public or generally out of your home (something the Dutch refuse to do). They also enforced a new rule of no smoking in public areas (outside of your home) when I arrived, given my anti-smoking stance, this delighted me. I have to say it is odd wearing a mask constantly, not great for make up either but for me its most difficult not being able to see facial gestures. A world without facial gestures is so odd, I think my functioning autism doesn’t help this but so many queues are missed with masks. 

I spent a week in the sun, by the pool, on a sun lounger reading, it was amazing! I got through 11 books in 8 days, I was aiming for 10-14 books, reading target hit! I liked the fact that my books ranged from sci-fi fantasy to psychology to the civil war to the Holocaust. I even had a bit of a personal break through, which was funny, it was a pure  light bulb moment reading the psychology book and I wanted to dance with excitement but instead I just looked around at the other 2 people by the pool and thought, ‘best not interrupt their naps’. This was a break that I really needed. Normally I get bored on holiday and want to spend a day doing something and on this holiday, I wasn’t bored at all, which is amazing for me, given my small attention span. Or as I would say, I missed another opportunity to scuba dive, theres always the next holiday! 

The resort I stayed at had less than 50 guests, which was truly amazing. There were never more than 10 adults at the adult pool and never more than 20 people at the family pool. It was one of the nicest, quietest holidays Ive ever had, which was fantastic, I can’t say it enough but it was also surreal that it was so quiet. It was weird to see what should have been a tourist destination with no tourists and 9 out of 10 stores/bars/restaurants closed. It’s obvious that the majority of businesses are affected and will likely not make it past the year due to a lack income and missing what is the most profitable part of the year. Also with Corona numbers continuing to spike and governments putting in different restrictions, theres no guarantee that tourists will return this year. 

And with all good things, they come to and end. It was an amazing week, that I needed and Im now looking at sunny destinations to visit in October, as I feel like I need more sun and dont want the tan to fade, maybe this time Ill even go scuba diving… Now to self-isolate for 10 days and adapt to my 5am alarm clock again!

 

1 box ticked, 50% done for 2020

Can you believe it’s already half way through 2020? Blink again a few times and it will definitely be Christmas!

Over 3 months in quarantine and now coming out of it (maybe not for the first or last time), whilst it was quarantine for me, it did feel at times as though I was the only one taking it seriously in my neighbourhood/area. I’m certain I didn’t my house for the first 6 to 8 weeks. I have to say it has been interesting. I’ve completed all of my DIY tasks, my DIY skills have definitely improved and now sit somewhere between ok to really good, depending on the day and if I get it first time right. I have a proper she-shed now, I absolutely adore my shed. If I could just get all my tools covered in Hello Kitty, I’d never leave! I completed the cat wall and made bug screens for all of my windows from scratch. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that I’ve completed all of the tasks for the house, I’ve just completed the ones which require power tools (ie, the fun jobs).

window screens

I have to admit that having a garden and shed has provided me a bit of sanity during lockdown. Having the space for fresh air without having to ‘leave’ my house has been fantastic. I had moments where I just went to the garden to gather my thoughts and have a few deep breaths. I thought I was doing really well and was ‘not affected’ until I had two break outs of cold sores (fever blisters) within a month and one of the break outs was the worst Ive ever had. It forced me to realise that I was stressed and not coping as well as I wanted to pretend that I was. I even had a few days of pure exhaustion where I just slept 18 hours straight a few days in a row. Mental health has been incredibly important during the pandemic to staying healthy. I used the lock down time to try new things, reconsider some opinions and surprise friends with my new approach on a few topics, it worked!

Freezer cookies, Im obsessed! The concept is that you make an entire batch of cookie dough and then freeze it. You bake the cookie dough from frozen, so that you always have freshly baked cookies on the fly. It also means that as a single person, when I make a batch of cookies, I no longer need eat all 30 in one go or throw away the majority. As I mentioned, Im obsessed. One of my friends recently told me that her husband misses my baking (awww, sweet!), Ive also been splitting every batch of cookie dough I make and freeze it for them. However, this means that I now have an entire drawer in my freezer that is nothing but freezer cookies! It’s also shows despite doing a good bit of exercise Ive been doing in lock down, how I’m not coming out skinnier…. I’m blaming the cookies!

freezer

Corona has ruined a lot, it cancelled Eurovision (I’m still very upset at this), cancelled my sun holiday and delayed my sky dive. Delayed is the magic word. When I heard lockdown was easing, it was one of the first things I looked into booking. Whilst I had a few friends who initially were keen to join me, in the end, it was just me. Luckily, a friend and I turned it into a girls trip, withs lots of horrific car karaoke and laughing. She watched firmly from the ground as I was thrown 13,000 feet from a plane strapped to the front of a man. I had tried to go sky diving 12 years ago in England and she was there with me but unfortunately, do to bad weather, the jump cancelled, so it does feel as though we’ve come full circle now.  I opted for tandem sky diving, as I really don’t trust myself with my own life, it felt a much safer bet to put my life in someone elses hands! Corona rules did it make it slightly odd, as you have to wear a mask and then a piece of cloth over that, to ensure the mask stays on and then gloves, which are an absolute nightmare to try to keep on when you’re falling from the sky.

sky diving

Two things have been on my list this year to do, sky diving (tick, tick) and Wadlopen (I was able to see the area from my sky dive, which was amazing). I’m now 3/4 of the way to ticking all my boxes! I’m excited, as 5 friends have agreed to join me for Wadlopen and a weekend away in September. I thought it was an excellent idea to make it a group thing, make memories and have tons of fun…. Invites were sent out and then I realised that I never mix my friends (something I’ve very consciously never done), so panic set in that now I’m literally mixing all my friends and people are accepting the invites but dates dont work for them and now I need to host a preweekend evening for everyone to be introduced before the weekend away… What initially felt like a fun idea, has really turned into quite a lot of effort and work on my behalf. I laugh and cringe at the same time when I think about it but it will be fine. I managed to find hotels next to each other for all the rooms, transport is still a bit of an issue but yeah, I’m looking forward to it, almost as much as I’m looking forward to being done with it.

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Dating and Corona, two things which are completely incompatible and rightly so. I took the lockdown seriously but my experience is that many Dutch people didn’t. One of my friends offered to be my Corona buddy, which I still find funny. My attitude is if we’re not compatible in ‘normal’ times, I think its unlikely we’ll be compatible during a world pandemic locked in a house together. I gave video dating a go, which was unique. I think video dating works quite well for a first date, you know if you have a connection, if you have enough stuff to talk about and most importantly if you’re compatible. Ultimately if you dont have a connection, video chat or face to face, it makes no difference, theres no future.

Over 3 months in lockdown, Ive survived it, so far and am looking forward to coming out of it. Ive achieved a good bit, still have my sense of humour and ticked a few boxes along the way. Im looking forward to creating more memories and having more fun with whatever the rest of the year holds.

Moving house and adulting

This year,  has been crazy busy… thats my excuse for not blogging. I have had a few messages of disappointment at my distinct lack of blogging. I can always trust my friends to harass me and put me back on the right path!  Having said that, so much has happened in the last 5 months that my head is still spinning. I cant say it enough, I knew it was going to be a crazy year but it seems to be the year that just keeps giving.

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I was dating a nice Dutch guy but unfortunately neither of us was prepared to compromise on what we both considered a deal breaker and it truly turned out to be the deal breaker (it was, of course, more complicated than this, as these things are but thats the shortest version of the break up). However, I discovered the best way to get over a break up is to buy a house. It meant that I simply didn’t have time to wallow or self indulge and my priority really hasn’t been to date. As with most things in life, I think if something is meant to be, it will and never say never.

I found a house that I fell in love with in the suburbs Amsterdam (I’m an Amsterdamer now!), that ticked the boxes for my cats and everything fell into place and I’m now a home-owner. It felt bitter sweet, as I thought it would be a home I would create with my partner but that was just not meant to be. However, I still truly love the house (for the most part). However, I wont lie, it has been incredibly stressful and reiterated that the only way I’m leaving this house will be in a coffin. I really dont do moving well at all, Im too autistic, routine oriented and dont deal with chaos at all. The house has been series of unfortunate events and literally everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. I bought the house thinking that it needed nothing at all and planned to redecorate one room. Every room has now been painted from floor to ceiling, along a new fridge and a variety of other things. I’ve had a number of sense of humour failures with it and even suggested that burning it down and starting from scratch might be an easier. I’m still surrounded by boxes in every room (over a month in), have a list of things to do that is a long as I am but it’s slowly getting there. The best part for me is that I’m now actually closer to work. My previous commute to work at 35 minutes door to door and now if everything goes smoothly its like 15, it tends to be more like 20 but at least my alarm clock is no longer set for 04:50 each morning!

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I’m incredibly lucky in as much as I managed to get truly fantastically amazing neighbours. The sellers did tell me that I would be getting great neighbours but I wasn’t sure if this was sarcasm or honesty. Turned out it was true honesty.  They have two very large dogs, which my cats take great pleasure in antagonising and the neighbours were beyond kind enough to cat-proof both sides of the fence to stop my cats going into their garden, without me asking! My first meeting with them did make me laugh as it was like they had google searched me or something similiar. ‘We’ve heard about you, you’re a brit but not a brit, on your own with two maine coons, which we’ve already googled to understand what they are and you’ve lived in the NLs for 2 years, welcome to the street!’. It was quite sweet. My neighbour thinks its great that I do everything myself and occasionally ask to borrow his power tools, something about women normally preferring the men to do ‘such jobs’. I always just laugh and say if I dont do it, then no one will. They are also new members of my weekly cake club and we’ve swapped grape recipes.

Just a brief overview of several very crazy months. I do look forward to going back to the quiet boring life and having time and the energy to blog again!

 

2019, where have you gone?

I cannot believe it is seriously almost June already?!?! I recently received this message, which reminded me that I’ve been neglecting blogging. It made me laugh but it was a reality check that it has literally been months since I put my preverbal pen to paper and a month later I’m taking action on the message. Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 20.15.41

2019 and I have really haven’t gotten on. Last year, I knew coming into the year, that it was going to be a busy and challenging year, it has not disappointed in either area.  I literally am unable to tell you where the first half of the year has gone.

I’ve previously been told that expats find medical care in the Netherlands to a lower standard than they are previously use to. Unfortunately I started the year sick, I came back from Eastern Europe with what turned out to be a inner ear infection and strep throat. Frustratingly, this turned out to be a 13 week struggle to get antibiotics. For many years within Europe, antibiotics use lowest in the Netherlands and Dutch doctors prescribe the least antibiotics, which is a fantastic statistic that the country regularly likes to quote. However, when it comes to being sick, its incredibly frustrating not be able to get antibiotics when you know they serve a purpose and make you healthy again. My Dutch colleagues gave me the advice ‘to add another 2 weeks on to the length of time you’ve been ill, to ensure the doctor takes you seriously.’ I think any time its a national tip that you lie to your doctor to be taken seriously, there is a much bigger problem at the core of the system. The Dutch Doctors approach is to tell patients to take Paracetamol, for everything. Do you have pain? Take paracetamol. Do you feel bad? Take Paracetamol. Do you need an amputation? Take Paracetamol. This is a pain killer that I now loathe. At the peak of my sickness, I was taking dangerous amounts (without realising), however, I am still somewhere between laughing and being highly sarcastic, so clearly no damage was done at the time. However, what I did discover was that the paracetamol was actually covering/hiding my symptoms, meaning that the doctor didn’t feel it necessary to prescribe antibiotics at the time. The paracetamol worked in a way that I would feel bad for 3-5 days and then I’d feel better 2-4 days and so it carried on for weeks (12 before I could antibiotics). Essentially the first 3 months of the year were spent feeling like a death and wondering why in a first world country,  why sick people are made to suffer when an immediate health care solution is available. I summarised from this 3 months that Dutch doctors like to see people suffer – whilst this is an exaggeration and I’m sure not true for some Dutch doctors, it was a truly horrific experience for me that has put me off Dutch healthcare. I did get some antibiotics from my doctor at the 12 week mark, unfortunately they didn’t fully remedy my issues and I resorted to getting antibiotics from another source, which I think is utterly ridiculous. However, I was no longer prepared to suffer, continue to be ill or fight with my doctor for further medication.

Adulting, I’m doing a lot of it this year! After having turned 36 in February, Im officially on the wrong the side of 35 and the next stop is 40! For the last four years, I ran a very small charity working with vulnerable individuals in eastern Europe. At the beginning of this year, my fellow trustees and I am made the difficult decision to close the charity. This a hard decision but the right one. Its taken a few months to wind down the charity, complete all the paperwork and do the necessary things to close a registered charity. I’ve had an offer through my contacts to work with their organisation and I’m seriously considering it. I think I need a break first and to buy a house and be settled but I cant imagine not being involved in charity work, in one avenue or another.

I am currently in the process buying  property in the Netherlands. After 2 years of renting in Amstelveen, I’ve realised that I am a suburbanite through and through, I like of love suburbia. I equally love being close to the city but I adore the peace and quiet that you get from not being in the city. My cats need a garden and on nice days I want to sit in and ideally hear next to nothing, which doesn’t happen in the city. Its highly likely I will end up in Utrecht but I am looking at properties and areas within a short commute to Amsterdam. This has really been an interesting experience so far. Ive been stressed out, ready to pull my hair out and wondering why no customer service exists in this country. I completely understand why people say that purchasing a home is one of the most stressful events of your life.

 

2019 has so far has been crazy for me. I sadly dont see this changing for the next few months. Im hoping that the last quarter of the year is quiet or that 2020 will be ear marked for an utterly boring, quiet and uneventful year!

1 Year in the Netherlands

It’s officially been 365 days, an entire year, since I moved to the Netherlands. What a year, its had it’s up and downs and I can say unreservedly that its been an adventure.

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Brexit: This is the gift that just keeps giving, much like an STD. I literally have no idea what my future holds or what will happen with Brexit. I moved from England as I didn’t want to live in a country that isn’t a member of the EU, my opinion on this has not changed. I can see that the UK has changed as a result of Brexit and most certainly not for the better. I can only hope that I will continue to have EU freedom of movement and live in Netherlands or wherever the wind takes me.

Expat Life: I have now been a dirty foreigner living abroad for over 18 years, officially, Ive lived abroad longer than I lived in my birth country. I think it makes it easier to adapt but equally I will always feel like a foreigner no matter where I live. Being an expat means I tend to attract other expats, we have common ground. It’s great to be able to share experiences that natives/locals can’t relate to or haven’t experienced themselves. I’ve met some amazing expats living here in the Netherlands and I’m proud to be able to call them friends. I created a social group in Amstelveen, I’ve never hosted so many dinner parties, given baking lessons, or responded to so many Whatsapp/Facebook messages in my life. I’m not so proud to admit that I’m occasionally so busy that I have to book people in my diary weeks in advance, like a true Dutch person.

Art and Culture: There is more to the Netherlands than tulips and wood shoes. I love the fact that every weekend I have the opportunity to do things. At least two weekends in every four, I am taking advantage of my museum card and exploring. I’ve seen some amazing exhibits, museums, castles, things that left me in tears with laughter and I’ve equally seen things that were less than impressive. The Stedelijks in Amsterdam is by far my favourite modern art museum and if ever I have a spare hour in the city, this is where you’ll find me. Despite visiting a number of the large cities, Amsterdam is still my favourite. Forgetting the tourist, drugs and the Red Light District (I understand it can be hard to overlook these), it’s a city with history, heritage and so much to see and do.

Dating: This has truly been interesting for me. As with most things in my life, its been comically funny, not all good but most certainly funny. There are a number of blogs about dating in the Netherlands and how its a challenge for expats. Having personally experienced it, I agree. I’ve decided to do a separate blog dedicated to being single and my dating experiences rather than take up paragraphs here – watch this space.

Working with Dutchies: This has been an experience! I have to admit that I’m incredibly lucky to work with the people that I do, my wider team are fantastic. We all laugh, a lot, occasionally even being told off for laughing too loudly or worse, having too much fun in the office. They say I’ve corrupted them, I think this could be true.

There are three things that stick out to me the most about Dutch office life, the elevator, the coffee machine and sandwiches.

  • The Elevator – Being British means I’m reserved, no eye contact is generally made (ok, this could be my functioning autism coming out too) but you most certainly don’t talk to people in the elevator, oh sweet Jesus, no! Ideal British elevator interaction, THERE IS NONE, we all ignore each other listening to our headphones, happy days! I also like to think having my headphones in is a sign that I’m not approachable but NO, this does not deter the Dutch. Apparently stranger danger isn’t applicable in a Dutch elevator and strangers talk to each other, in EVERY elevator. I’ve now become the kind of person that if I see someone getting in the elevator, I walk that little bit slower to avoid having to get in the elevator with them and have any form of conversation. Honestly, its kind of nice that people talk to each other, on the other hand, it’s really weird (het is echt vreemd, hoor!) and goes against all my British instincts. What I also love, quite adore in fact, is watching the Dutchies completely checking themselves out in the elevator mirrors, you can see it in their face and then all of the personal adjustments that follow suit. I would honestly say my experience is like 8 out of 10 people will do it. I take the attitude that if I don’t know what I look like by the time I get in the office elevator, there’s no hope left for me or point in looking in the mirror, it’s just too late.
  • The Coffee Machine – this is the mecca for office chat, its like a beacon that draws people in. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Apparently chatting at your desks isn’t the done thing, no, you save it, you wait, you hold it all in until you go to the coffee machine. This makes me grateful that my first coffee of the day is hours before anyone gets in and then 10am caffeine fix is provided by Starbucks. I break all the rules and force people to talk to me at my desk or theirs and then completely ignore them if I’m walking by the coffee machine. Sometimes you have the be cruel to be kind. Yet somehow, despite this, people in my office seem to really like me and go out of their way to chat to me, away from the coffee machine.
  • Sandwiches – a serious dutch lunch. Never get between a Dutch person and their sandwich (or play hide and seek with them, lesson learnt for me!). Everyone arrives at the office with their homemade sandwiches in a plastic bag and consumes them throughout the day. Breakfast, snack, and lunch, all sandwiches. My colleagues don’t understand how I can eat a homemade chicken salad most days and look at me, look at my salad and then back to me and just shake their heads. The irony being I do the same at their sandwiches. I also eat a yogurt every morning for breakfast in the office, which also breaks the above sandwich rule.

 

Two wheels: I really enjoy cycling. Words, I would have never thought I’d ever say. Being knocked off my bike by a car was an experience I hope to never re-experience but sadly is a common occurrence in a country full of bikes and cars. I have an app that I create routes and explore the local area with. I enjoy being able to cycle the days frustrations out or attempt to anyway. I still think Dutch people who take a leisurely 40-60 ride are nuts ball crazy though, that’s not leisurely at all.

Even after a year, these things still do not seem normal to me.

  • I find this more funny than rude but its the way that men in the elevator will not make eye contact but rather you see their eyes going from my red lipstick to my chest and then back and forth at least two times. My colleague and I laugh about this most days, it’s a common occurrence and so obvious. Honestly, I do have to stop myself from bending down and staring at their crotch as a ‘return the look’.
  • Customer service – This country literally has none. I think I’m more surprised whenever I actually come across any.
  • Paracetamol does not solve the worlds illnesses, unless you’re in the Netherlands.
  • Rain! ZOMGs! So much rain! Having lived in England, I thought I knew rain but no, just no! I think on average it rains something like 30 minutes everyday, that’s a lot of rain.
  • Dog excrement. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not pro-dog but seriously, its disgusting that people just don’t clean up after their dogs, at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with a dog bag. It’s just a thousand levels of  laziness and grossness.
  • Sleeping badly – this seems to be a problem experienced by many expats living here. I can honestly say that I’ve had maybe 3 seriously decent nights of sleep since moving here. My nightly routine now includes taking melatonin before bed.
  • Brown shoes – brown shoes are everywhere, it’s almost like everyone is colour blind to any colour except brown. The silver lining of getting into a busy elevator is then looking at everyones shoes and 9 out of 10 will be brown.
  • Dutch fashion – this is a wide and varied topic and something that brings me amusement every day but the Dutch most certainly have their own sense of style and fashion. I hope that I never lose my sense of non-Dutch style and fashion.
  • ‘Ah-zo’! – this is a noise that Dutch people make. Generally it takes one person to say it and then the domino effect happens and then everyone is saying it. I guess I can only describe it as what they say when they are trying to fill a silence.  It’s just so weird to me and I don’t get it but it does make me laugh.
  • Compliments – Dutch people don’t give compliments. I give loads! If you look nice, smell nice, or anything nice, I’ll let you know. Turns out that my colleagues LOVE this about me. My cleaner and I were having a discussion about compliments and she says compliments just aren’t Dutch, she never gives any and finds it awkward if she feels she needs to or if people give them to her.

 

My version of the Dutch language has most certainly improved over the year. To be fair, it really couldn’t have gotten much worse. As standard with a second language, I understand more than I speak. I know that I speak Dutchlish (mixing Dutch and English) and that I speak it with such a thick English accent that people look either confused or laugh. I had an experience in Utrecht at a museum, where the lady asked if I wanted her to speak in Dutch or English and I did my usual, ‘it doesnt mater, either is fine’ in Dutch, so she proceeded in Dutch, awesome. I responded to her questions in Dutch, she then stopped me mid-sentence with a look of seeing either a pig that had grown wings and was flying or seeing a genuine unicorn riding over a magical rainbow and said , ‘Wow, you are a real British person aren’t you?’. This made me laugh, mostly because British people arent rare (entire country of them) and proved the point that my Dutch really is Dutchlish!

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This year I’ve experienced more snow than Ive seen in 25 years (the blizzard of 1993!), Ive become more social than Ive ever been and Ive laughed so much. I wont lie, it has also been tough, Ive come across challenges I didn’t expect and I still have no idea what or where my future lies. Its been a very interesting 365 days and it will be more interesting to see what the next 365 hold in store for me.

The burn – sunburn, whipped body butter for sunburns

I am what is called a sun worshipper, give me any excuse to lie in the sun and catch a tan, I’m all over it. Theres something about Casper the Ghost white that’s just not for me, understandable for the winter months but not in Spring/Summer. Yes, I know that skin cancer is a real thing and that what I do is dangerous, this is not lost on me and I would encourage everyone to use high SPF levels of sunscreen whilst out in the sun. Naturally, this means that Im a do as I say, not as a do kind of person.

The weather in the Netherlands has been AMAZING this week, which is rare, unusual and unprecedented, which means that I naturally had to take advantage of it (I can’t begin to express how happy that I am winter is over and hopefully all the grey with it). It started out with a farmers tan, sitting in the back garden with the cats whilst reading, if the cats are happy in the sun, then I’m happy in the sun.

I had a light bulb moment of realising that I’m not far from the coast or the beach, hooray! Given that the hottest day of the year to date was being predicted, I decided to take advantage of it and go to the beach, that’s probably where I should have realised it was a bad idea and I would have been better in the garden with the cats.

I am a pampered princess, I can’t deny it. I’m a creature of luxury and camping or roughing it in any form has never been for me. My mother taught me at a young age that ‘camping’ was staying in a 2 star hotel or a motel and this is something that has been ingrained me in since a young child, which probably explains a lot about me.

I opted for what is considered to be the most popular beach near Amsterdam, Zandvoort aan Zee. I have to say that I was disappointed because it just wasn’t as nice as I was expecting. I understand that after spending a lot of time in Spain, its clean beaches and nice pools have ruined me. I just wasnt expecting dog excrement amongst the debris on the beach, it just added an extra level of grossness for me, which then heightened my germ OCD. I spent a few hours at the beach, quite literally sizzling like bacon in the sun and long enough to be utterly covered in sand, despite never leaving my blanket. I havent been quite so happy to get home and take a shower in a long time.

On the way home I was feeling ‘warm’, my skin was starting to feel more tender than wagyu beef and a tenderloin put together. I hoped that it was my skin turning into a healthy brown glow… no, no it was not. By the time I got home, I realised that I needed to start applying moisturisers and lotions and basically anything that would make it less ouchy (technical term). I decided to have a look too, you know, in the mirror to see how bad it was…. So I did my own version of The Scream by Edvard Munch and realised why it hurt when I sat down, because my legs (and all other areas) were various shades of red. I can already tell that I’m going to peel, which does not give me something to look forward to.

 

Sometimes aloe vera isn’t enough and that Id decided to make a body butter specifically for sunburns. Heres my body butter for sunburn, whilst it did help, it sadly wasn’t the overnight remedy I was looking for. I’m currently on day 2 of rubbing various potions into my skin to make it better. Yes the red is less, which is good but it does still hurt to sleep/lay down/move or wear any form of form-fitting clothing. Best decision made on the day was not to opt for the nudist beach because quite frankly, no one needs burnt bits!

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DIY Whipped Body Butter For Sunburn

Makes: 240g(ish) Prep time: 5 mins Cooling time: 3+ hours Overall time: 4 hours minimum

  • 1/3 C (75g) Shea butter
  • 1/3 C (75g) Cocoa butter
  • 3 tablespoons (45g) Mango butter
  • 1/8 cup (25g) Coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) Sweet almond oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) Castor oil – I use camomile infused version that I’ve made myself
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) Advocado oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) Apricot Kernel Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (this takes out some of the greasy feel but not entirely)
  • 3 drops of each of the essential oils– Peppermint, Lavender, Tea tree, Frankincense, Eucalyptus and Lemon
  • Clean pots to put your product into or when all else fails, Tupperware!

How to make this burn healing body butter:

1. Over a double boiler combine the shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, mango butter, sweet almond oil, castor oil, avocado oil and apricot kernel oil. Once its all completely melted, combined and no lumps at all, remove from the heat.

2. Allow your mixture to cool for 15-20 minutes. Once it has cooled down, add in your essential oils, vitamin e oil and cornstarch (you may want to sieve this in to avoid any lumps or beat very vigorously until they have all been mixed). If you add the essential oil whilst your butters and oils are melting or still very hot, they will be damaged by temperatures in excess of 100F (38C). This can result in reducing their therapeutic value and may cause skin irritation.

3. Now the waiting game starts, you need to wait for the mixture to cool down to the point that it has solidified before you can start whipping it. For me, this literally took HOURS (and given that I was feeling the burn, it felt much longer!). You want the mixture to be more of a solid and have no liquid like texture, so when you put the beaters in your mixture, you can visibly see where the beaters touched. Once it is good to go, use your hand mixer and whip it good! I whipped mine for easily 5 minutes but probably closer to 10, you want medium peaks but not soft floppy peaks.

4. Now to take your whipped body butter and put it in a pot and label them. I made two pots of 60g and one pot of 120g. When putting it in the pot, you will need to tap the air out of the pot where you’re putting it in the pot. I lightly (or not so lightly) tap the pot against a counter top to release any air bubbles in the pot, yes, this does make the lotion slightly less airy but not enough to make a difference and it ensures you fill your pot entirely.

 

Why I used the essential oils that I did?

  • Peppermint: is a natural painkiller and helps soothe burnt areas by providing a cooling sensation.
  • Lavender: reduces the sting of burns and reduces redness. Due to its antimicrobial properties, it’ll speed up healing, allowing your body to recover faster.
  • Frankincense: helps to rejuvenate the skin by hydrating and providing the necessary moisture (and is generally awesome for skin).
  • Eucalyptus:  it numbs the pain, has antibacterial properties that protect the sensitive, sunburned skin from infection.
  • Lemon: speeds up healing
  • Tea tree: has anti-inflammatory properties which help to prevent infection and swelling following a sunburn.

Honestly there are tons of other essential oils that you could add, so you can play around with it and swap out different oils if you wanted or didn’t like the scent of a specific one.

*Notes: you do not have to whip this body butter, you can use it as is once it’s solidified, however, whipping it gives it a fluffier and lighter texture. This body butter does have a greasy texture

*When making body butters, potions, lotions, soaps or any body product, always make sure that the equipment, spoons, bowls etc you use will NEVER be used for edible purposes again and are only used to make body products with.

*When using any essential oils directly or indirectly on skin, ensure that you stay out of sunlight or UV rays for up to 12 hours after application. This might sound quirky but as per this article, the combination of sun and essential oils can cause the skin to severely burn and blister.

Remember to share with friends or just keep it all for yourself! 🙂

8 months in…

… and I’m still not entirely convinced. Every week my mother asks me vaguely the same four questions: Am I settled? Do I miss the UK? Do I consider the Netherlands home? and lastly, am I dating anyone? – for the purpose of this blog and much like every time she asks this question, I’ll avoid giving any response and change the subject.

Am I settled? I think so? I’ve most certainly created a life here, have met great people and created a incredibly varied social circle. I’ve had experiences here that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.  I was quite anti-social in the UK, as I already had the social circle, a routine and I never needed break outside of that. Where as here, its starting from scratch and being more social in the last 6 months than I had been in the last 10 years. I host local social gatherings, dinner parties, coffee and chat, give baking lessons, and everything in between that means I’m now very approachable (I’m not always sure about this) and social. It’s very different for me and some days I do feel like I spend half my day on Whatsapp but its fine and its nice to be needed. I purchased a museum card which gives me access to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and I’m enjoying it, seeing all the culture that the Netherlands has. I guess one of my quirks is that I have 4 boxes in my bedroom that I refuse to unpack, yes, over 8 months in and I still have boxes unpacked. I refuse to unpack them on the basis that once its done, theres no going back and its official that I’m here, making it a done deal. Theres just something monumental about these last four boxes and I refuse to cave in. It probably helps that I don’t need/use anything that’s in the boxes.

Do I miss the UK? No. There are elements of the life that I had in England that I miss but they could easily be replicated anywhere. Honestly I’m surprised that I don’t miss it more, having spent the last 16 years there, I was expecting more attachment to it. For me Brexit changed everything and I now see a country that I dont recognise. It has changed as a whole and not for the better and it’s not a country I want to live in. The irony is that Im in the Netherlands on a British passport and based on current discussions I would have to return to the UK, as my EU residential status would no longer exist. This is something that absolutely concerns me on many levels but worrying about it wont change it (quite the bold statement for me) and its something that totally outside of my control. Provisionally in my head, I’ve decided that if the worst happens and I go back, that I would relocate to Scotland. Plan B sorted.

Do I consider the Netherlands home? No. It’s absolutely where I live, work, socialise and have my life but it absolutely misses the ‘home’ feel factor for me. I will most likely always be a foreigner here, that’s not a problem. It’s a feeling that I’m familiar with and have no matter what country Im in, even the ones that I hold passports for. The Dutch are also not keen on their citizens holding multiple citizenships, if I wanted to eventually apply for Dutch citizenship, I would have to renounce of my other citizenships and thats not something Im ok with or agree to. So for me, the question is can a country be considered home that I could never be a citizen of? Im going to say no. Watch this space, lets see how I feel about this in another 6 to 18 months time.

Whilst I have many complaints in my daily Dutch life, I also know that I’m incredibly privileged within my life and I don’t have to worry about female rights, religion limiting  what individuals are allowed to do, or famine and war. I live in a country that is safe, considered to be incredibly weathly (I wont comment on my 54% tax rate) and where people are happy.

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When the sun is out, its a truly stunning country.

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Ageing disgracefully

Birthdays, I’ve always enjoyed celebrating other peoples but never my own. Theres something great about everyone else getting old around you, sadly the same sentiment doesn’t lie within adding another candle to my cake.

A few things about me:

  • I’ve lived a very privileged life (even though I don’t admit it often)
  • I have many many regrets but I believe its through these that I’ve learnt many life lessons
  • I’ve lived in 4 countries, have visited at least 17 countries and have 2 passports
  • I swear, a lot, I have the potty mouth that would make a seasoned sailor blush
  • I’ve had some truly amazing friendships and relationships that failed because of me
  • I’m a crazy cat lady, by choice (ish)
  • The older I get the better I am at apologising and admitting/taking fault
  • I often take life far to seriously and forget to just breathe and relax and there is a good possibility that I don’t smile enough – think Wednesday Adams

This is a big year for me, I’ve turned 35, and to me 35 isn’t just 35. 35 means 40, 40 means 50, 50 means 60 and so on. It’s a young unassuming birthday that has milestones for me.

A few years ago, I realised that if I was going to have children, I wanted to have them before I turned 35. Whilst I appreciate and understand other people have children at all ages, I knew it wasn’t something that I wanted for myself. Over the last two years, I’ve become more conscious of the fact that I won’t be a parent and that my cut off was coming. It hasn’t been difficult for me to accept because I knew it was coming and took the years to come to terms with it but it still feels like a very big moment. My mother, however, is not quite so understanding. We all put pressure on ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves and not to let our parents down. It’s difficult to manage the expectations of your parents, when they don’t match your reality.

35 birthday

My friend recently said to me, ‘darling when we get to this age, we have to accept that men come with baggage’. I grew up where the tradition was to marry at 18 to your high school sweetheart and then procreate. I never wanted that and I clearly managed to avoid it, somewhat. However, she has a point, once people are into their 30s/40s, they tend to have kids from previous relationships or emotional baggage from previous relationships. To be fair, I’m divorced, come with a cat and a very sassy attitude (but apparently I’m funny). I had a stage in my 20s where I needed to be single and to discover myself and not be in a relationship, it really did me the world of good. However, now I’ve been single for so long (more years than I care to admit) that having a relationship frightens me. Im quite stuck in my ways and routine now and having to change that, Christ… Which means that my standards are now super high, if I find a guy that makes me want to change my routine, hes got to be pretty bloody amazing, queue unrealistic expectations. I think my list of requirements gets less with age and is now about, ‘someone who makes me happy’, which sounds incredibly simplistic but is anything but.

Some days I just feel lost, I mean at 35, I really should have my shit together, right?

Life is battles and wars and you learn which ones are worth the fight. Its learning which battles are worth the fight and which ones are just utterly pointless. I’m so glad that I’m out of thinking everything is worth a fight, Im not sure if its laziness or lack of interest but Id rather walk away than fight, there are enough dicks in the world, without needing to be another one.

I don’t have a bucket list but I do know things that I’d really like to do, for me its deciding if I want to do them on my own or if I want to wait and find someone to make the memory with.

Honestly, I hated my 20s, the older I get the more I seem to be able to enjoy life, so I suppose it’s not all doom and gloom, saggyness and wrinkles. I seem to have fallen into a career that I can even occasionally sometimes sound like a true professional, which to me is scary and I even sometimes enjoy it.

I think I will always under value sell myself, I don’t see this as a bad thing. Set expectations low and then everything else is a pleasant surprise. I do know my strengths and I know that I have a lot of them but no one likes a cocky knowitall, even if it is about yourself.

I know I’m being dramatic and really its come and gone (I had a nice day with new friends), I have another 364 days in the year of being 35. I honestly have no idea what 35 will bring me, I’m not so secretly hoping its more mellow than 34. I guess I will continue to wander my path of pretending to be a confident adult until I actually become one. 🙂

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”                 -Harriet Tubman

Pumpkin pie from scratch

This is one of those instances where I happily go to back to my American roots. I scream, you scream…oh wait, no, no, wrong edible reference. Its autumn, the leaves are turning and there is a chill in the air, you see pumpkins in the stores, at the markets and on peoples porches. Yeah, they are a cute carved decoration but even better to eat! You start to think of ways to ensure that your pumpkins don’t go to waste.  The great thing about pumpkins is that they dont taste of much, so you can flavour them any way you like.

I love pumpkin pie, I mean I LOVE it, there is just nothing else quite like it, the taste, the texture and the feel of autumn and the holidays that it brings to you. I’ve said it once and I’ll said it again, I HATE recipes that are not really recipes. ‘Whats this non recipe – recipe?’ You ask… In this instance the ‘recipe’ would call for 1 unbaked pie crust and 1 can of ready-made pumpkin pie filling.  You see this all the time on Pinterest, like cake recipes that call for 1 box cake mix… Whilst these are recipes, just very bad ones, there are no elements of anything required, I mean even the FUN is left out of this. Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m jealous of places where such ingredients are available and you aren’t forced to bake from scratch. However, I am not in a country where such ready made ingredients exist and have to bake from scratch which lead me to making my own EVERYTHING from scratch this time round. I have no problem with cheating, in the UK I could get a short pastry and do everything else from scratch, fake baking I called it but no more fake baking for me! I can now say that I made my own short crust pastry and whilst it wasn’t perfect, it was an edible imperfection.  This recipe does take time, hours, and patience but it’s totally worth it. Oh and I successfully introduced 3 people (Hungarian, Vietnamese, and Dutch) to the amazingness that is Pumpkin Pie this week, which I think makes me a Pumpkin Pie Converter 🙂

Pumpkin Pie (with pumpkin filling and short crust pastry from scratch)

Makes: 1 large 10in pie Prep time: 1 hour  Cooking time: 50-55mins Overall time: 2 hours

For the Pumpkin pie mixture:

  • 2 cups (450g) pumpkin puree
  • 1 tin (14oz or 397g) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I’ll be honest and use at least 2 and then in some extra for good luck, I LOVE cinnamon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the short crust pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cups (192g) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) ice chilled water
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • extra flour for dusting

First we will work on the pumpkin element of the pie, as it need to cool while we are making the crust.

For the pumpkin puree:

I cheated and used pre prepared pumpkin (I know I made a big stink about cheating at the top but this is hardly cheating). If using a pumpkin in its original round form, cut it down, remove all the seeds and strings. Before you start cutting it into chunks, get your vegetable peeler out and peel the pumpkin. Be warned that the skin is tough! Once the skin is removed, cut into chunks.

Place your diced pumpkin into a steamer and steam until tender, which shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.

Once your pumpkin is tender, put in food processor to puree until smooth. Now get a strainer out and put over a bowl. Pour the pureed pumpkin into the strainer to allow the excess water to drain, allow to drain until no more water comes out, this will take a few minutes. This is vital to the recipe, as the excess water will RUIN this recipe, making it far to watery to set.

Once the pumpkin has drained, put it on a shallow dish for at least 20 minutes to cool. (If you use hot pumpkin to make the mixture, it will scramble and cook your eggs before it even goes in the oven, which is not nice.)20171029_120501

Now onto the pastry element

Place flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter in a food processor and process until it resembles course breadcrumbs. Add in egg yolk and water and process until dough starts to come together and form large clumps.

 

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Do not overwork your dough at this stage, as it will make it tougher and cause it to shrink when baking. Pat it into a disk and cover in clingfilm. Leave it to rest for 15-30 minutes but no more than 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Once your dough has rested, time to roll it out. On a very lightly floured surface with your 3 teaspoons of water, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is 3mm thick. I got my pan and checked it a few times to make sure it was big enough to go up the sides too. Any excess dough that goes over the edges of the pan, trim them off, fill in any gaps you might have with this dough.

Place a sheet of baking paper over the bottom of the pastry and fill with baking weights or rice (uncooked) before baking. Remove the weights halfway through the baking time. Bake the pastry in an oven preheated to 180 degrees celsius (350F) for approximately 15 minutes. You don’t want to completely cook the crust as it has another 40 minutes to go with the filling in, yes this does mean the base is undercooked but its FINE, I mean it’s not amazing or a unicorn flying over a rainbow but it works. Its kind of a pumpkin pie thing.

Now back to the pumpkin pie filling:

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Place your pumpkin puree in a bowl and mix in the sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices, vanilla and salt. Mix until smooth. Pour into the crust. (Yes my eggs were double yolked and I did NOT add in 4 eggs, I have an entire box of double yoked eggs!)

Bake for 15 minutes at the high temperature and then reduce down to 350F (180C) for another 40 minutes. You want a knife inserted into the centre of the pie to come out clean. Allow to cool completely. When the pie comes out of the oven the top looks a bit puffy but as you can see it will naturally drop as it cools, this is NORMAL. Keep in refrigerator in an air tight container. This can serve with whipped cream.

If you’ve never had pumpkin pie, this will convert you. Pumpkin pie isn’t overly sweet, as you can see from the recipe hardly any actual sugar is added to it. Pumpkin doesn’t have much of a flavour and takes on the spices, leaving you a fantastic cinnamony treat. It is a lot of effort, as you can see, but TOTALLY worth it!

Notes: Why do I steam pumpkin and not boil it or roast it? Effectively I think steaming it gives the best flavour profile (for baking, which is generally what I use it for), boiling I feel boils the flavour out and with roasting, you normally have to add oil to the tray for them not to stick/burn and I find the pumpkin can adsorb the oil, which isn’t great for baking.

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

 

My Dutch Italian Pear Cake

The garden has a pear tree in it, which I seem to curse more than anything else. Imagine walking along and having a rotting pear fall on your head or every time you open the door to go out, you having to shove many fallen pears out of the way, first world problems I know but still VERY annoying. As you can see, it is a large tree offering LOTS of fruit.20170907_082918

I started my search for recipes using pears, pears, pears and more pears and came across this Italian cake recipe, which sounded fantastic and I thought Id give it a go. Whilst it’s a Italian cake (because of the mascarpone), I’m calling it a Dutch Italian cake, as Im using Dutch pears.20170907_083117.jpg

Dutch Italian Cake

Makes: 1 large cake – serves 8-12   Prep time: 30 mins  Cook time: 45-60 mins  Total time: 1 hour 15-30 mins

Required Ingredients:

  •  (192g) cups flour
  • 1/4 cup + 11/2 tablespoons (40g) cornstarch/cornflour
  • ½ cup (60g) ground almonds
  • 1/4  teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup (250g) mascarpone cheese
  • 2½ tablespoons sunflower/vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pears
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • extra cinnamon a sugar to top your cake with

Now how to make this amazing cake:

Pre-heat oven to 340° (170° celsius). Lightly grease and flour a 9″ (23 centimeter) cake pan ( I used a spring-form pan), or use a liner like I did.

1. Peel and core the pears, chop one pear into medium-sized cubes and slice the other pear in thin slices length wise, set aside.20170907_083849.jpg

2. Beat the eggs and sugar together until light and creamy.  You can use a mixer at medium speed or your arm (I opted for this version to work on my bingo wings). I also whisked my eggs first before adding in the eggs, this doesn’t make a difference but give me peace of mind, not sure why…20170907_084150

3. Add mascarpone to the egg and sugar mixture and continue beating until smooth.20170907_084316.jpg

4. To the egg, sugar, cheese mixture, add in your dry ingredients. Stir in with a wooden spoon the flour, salt, corn starch, ground almonds, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda into the creamed mixture, stir gently to just combine. Do not over mix.20170907_085116.jpg

5. Add the oil to the batter and stir to just combine. 20170907_085308.jpg

6. At this point, I scape down all the sides, for the final mix through.  Fold in the medium-sized cubed pear pieces until just combined.20170907_085340

7. Spoon the cake batter into prepared cake pan.20170907_085855.jpg

8. Top your batter with the sliced pears (I had 3 left over), this can be done in any design but I decided to make mine ‘pretty’. 20170907_090039

I then sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon before putting in the oven.20170907_090111.jpg

9. Bake approximately 45 – 60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!20170907_095430

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I had a friend coming over on the day and I was nervous about this recipe because I’d never made it before and she had never had my baking, but this was hit! I even sent her off to work with all the spare cake to feed to her colleagues at the Theatre she works at, they also really enjoyed it and are looking forward to my next baking adventure!

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

Notes: I did actually add in almond extract, as I thought it would enhance the cake, please do NOT do this. It just make the cake taste of almond, which completely took away from the pears. Luckily Im in the Netherlands where almond is a beloved taste, so it wasn’t an issue as such but honestly, it did let down the cake.