Meet Alice.

Hi! Did you miss me? I missed you too. I arrived home from Europe safe and sound last night and proceeded to sleep for 12 delicious, pharmaceutical-enhanced hours.

But I have to admit, I'm a little sad. A month in Amsterdam had me feeling like I was living there again, only to see it end suddenly, like waking up from a dream you swear is real. The night before I left, though, I got the perfect little reminder of some of the love and goodness waiting for me at home. I hopped onto Facebook for a quick check, and saw these:

 Oh, have I not told you about her? Are you simply and completely falling all over yourself right now wondering what ever is this glorious spectacle of beauty and cuteness? That’s my niece. Two months old. Easy on the eyes, ain’t she? I know. Even those of you who wouldn’t exactly qualify as baby enthusiasts, even those who are black inside, you have to admit that this child is a truly incredible piece of human engineering. And don’t tell me I only think that because she’s family. Even if I knew full well that she were actually the spawn of the devil incarnate, I would have trouble not bringing my face to her perfect tiny mouth hoping to be so lucky as to catch one small whiff of her sweet breath as it floats from her new, new lungs. Lungs that have yet to fill themselves with any of the toxins and gloom that hang in the world she has barely begun to discover, not yet breathing air heavy with time and sadness.
So I'm getting in my car tomorrow morning and driving down to LA to go give her a squeeze. I haven't seen her in 6 weeks and I mean, at this age, that's over half her life. I have some catching up to do.

*Photos by Erin Senge (baby mama)


Brief update from the road

Hello dear readers! I am checking in ever so quickly just so you know I haven't drowned in a canal. I have said farewell to Amsterdam and am now in Copenhagen, where I am spending a couple of days with my beloved Danish friend Anne ((who can be seen dancing like it's goin' outta style in a previous post)). We depart tomorrow for the lovely island of Bornholm, fondly referred to by the Danish as the Sunshine Island. I'll be there for 5 days or so in Anne's family's summer home. We'll hike, swim in the Baltic Sea, cook delicious dinners, and enjoy the local small-town bars. Best thing about it, no internet! It should help to somewhat curb my email-checking addiction.

Upon my return to California, you can expect a surge of posts! Until then, everyone, enjoy the sunshine. I know I will.


De Kleur van Gekte

Well, the finals have come and gone, Holland now runners up a third time. Life here seems to have gone back to normal. The orange garb has been hung up and stuffed into drawers, to wait there patiently until Queen's Day in April. Even the weather has cooled, returned to the gray skies and wind that is more characteristic of this place. It's as though the very atmosphere heated up as the explosive fervor of the population swelled with each victory.

At Museumplein, where about 180,000 people turned out to watch the game, the spirit and energy was overpowering, hypnotic even. The hours leading up to the start of the match were filled with cheering, dancing, drinking, and the anticipation grew hot. It was like a pressure cooker.
This is only a portion of the back third of the crowd. There are two more sections of equal or larger size with screens of their own. 
See that orange stuff? There were helicopters flying around dropping orange gerber daisies and confetti on the crowd. 
Yes, it's true. 

And we caught one!

During the game, it was mostly quiet. Some cheers of HOL-LAND clap clap clap HOL-LAND clap clap clap erupted every now and then, but mostly people were spellbound, frozen. 180,000 people were quiet. I won't lie, it was painful to watch and wait, then wait longer. When Spain scored, no one made a sound. During the previous games when the opposing team scored, there were screams and boos and throat-ripping yells. But here, nothing. It was too much, too big, for sound. And when the clock ran out? People looked down, and walked out.

But then, two days later, the team came home. The team came home to a happy city, a city celebrating, and things ended on a high note after all. What I keep hearing is, "Well! In four years it'll happen." And damn, that's really cool. Because what I've seen here this month is an entire city, an entire country, millions of people, who all wanted the same thing. Everyone. The stoners and the Queen and everyone in between not only wanted, but felt the same thing. It is a kind of unity unlike any I've ever experienced.

The team's homecoming canal parade as seen from my spot on the Herengracht. Robben is the first on the right standing with captain Van Bronckhorst, and Sneijder is on the back facing the other way and pumping his fists.

I can't believe my luck that I just happened to be here for all this. I keep thinking, what if I had listened to my doubt and reservations and not spent the money on my plane ticket? I'd have been sitting at home, twiddling my thumbs and hating myself while I watched the elated masses on TV.

But I was here in my second home, and while part of me wishes that one day I could tell people, with a smirk and that obnoxious tone of one who considers herself well-traveled, "Yeah, I was in Amsterdam in 2010 when Holland won the World Cup," I am actually happy to have been here among a people as they rose higher and higher, and then fell. And fell together.

p.s. I know some of this maybe looks silly now that Holland did not, in fact, win the final game, but I still love it (and them). Yes, I'm a fan, and a real sucker for those men--superheroes, you might say-- running around in their shorts. Had to be said.

Wij houden van Oranje!

OK, now I promise this will be the last post full of pictures of crowds in Orange. Extra promise.


But how will we ever get to the bioscoop?

Over the last three weeks, Amsterdam has wooed me all over again. I thought the city had released its hold on me, but being here has sort of been like seeing an old beau long after you’ve parted ways—you don’t realize how strong your feelings still are until you’re face to face. Turns out, it wasn’t such a clean break-up after all.

I have to remember that I’m on holiday, that I moved away from this city for a reason and a one-month visit is pretty damn great (especially during summer and, oh yeah, the World Cup). I ought to be content with that. But that’s the trouble with good things; we never want them to end.

Yesterday I took Alex, the 4 ½-year-old of the family I lived with, to see Toy Story 3. We made a day of it and took the train to the theater. Doesn’t that sound quaint? It was really just because the theaters in the city center weren’t showing the movie in English at a time that worked for us, and it was actually the metro, not the train. But it was a bit of a journey because the metro station nearest our house was closed, so we had to take a bus to another station (two buses, actually, because I got off the first one too soon), then the metro. Alex loved it, as he doesn't have the opportunity to ride in a bus or train very often, and he kept saying, "But how will we ever get to the bioscoop? (bee - oh - scope)." He's got a flair for the dramatic.

And now for your viewing pleasure, a photographic chronicle of our journey:

After breakfast, dress up like a knight. Or in Dutch, a ridder.

Then, no longer in knight uniform, ride the bus. Make sure to repeatedly touch the hardened smear of old gum on the bar in front of you.

Take a ride on the metro. Ask Shannon at least 3 times at each stop why the train stopped.

Fake smile in a picture with Shannon, and get stared at by people who think she's an idiot for taking pictures on the metro. All together now, "You've got a friend in me, you've got a friend in me... " Anyone? No?

Obtain movie ticket, apple juice and special Toy Story bucket full of popcorn that you won't eat. Wait on the light-up steps to go into the theater.

3D glasses WHAAAT!?
Anyway, this is relevant because the movie really got me thinking about the idea of moving on. I won't say how, but it very poignantly deals with the inevitability of good things coming to an end (so poignantly, in fact, that I cried. Wept, if we're being honest).

This, of course, is something we must all deal with. Things that become a part of our past instead of our present but leave their mark on us nonetheless--a mark which, fade as it may, remains a part of our identity no matter what we move on to. The hardest thing, though, is often not the inevitable change, but the change we choose, the change we impose upon our own world and with it usher in a flood of self-doubt. 

And what, harder still, if we have to choose between one good thing and another? Which to give up? Which to put off until later knowing you may very well never come back to it? Which are you clinging to for the wrong reasons, and which will give your life new meaning and promise?

Reaching the answers to these kinds of questions can be a lifelong journey, so in true Alex fashion, I ask, "But how will we ever get there?"

Here's wishing all of you a clear choice, a positive change, and a happy ending.


Nederland O Nederland

The match didn't end quite as we'd hoped, but hope? Hope is a beautiful thing.



In a few short hours, Holland will play Spain in the World Cup finals in South Africa. Here in Amsterdam, the anticipation is electric, buzzing behind everyone's eyes, underneath everyone's skin. I, for one (like most Americans), have never known nor cared anything about football, but this has been wholly impossible to resist. The excitement is palpable and alive and, believe it or not, I really like watching the games. The constant motion is mesmerizing, and the flashes of power and speed, addictive.

They've predicted 1 million extra people coming into Amsterdam from outside the city today. To give you some perspective, the population of Amsterdam is around 750,000; so we're looking at more than double the population staring rapt at screens all over the city, screaming and jumping if Holland scores or is scored upon, and then roaming the streets in either jubilation or despair, probably drunk in any scenario. I was out on my bike earlier, scoping out the scene at Museumplein, where five enormous TVs are being set up over the grass and some 80,000 people are expected to watch.

Oh, and? It's probably going to storm. Last night we were trapped in a restaurant as the sky opened up, cracked and spit at us. We finished our meal and cycled through thunder and lightening and rain coming thick and fast, and in three minutes arrived soaking wet at Door74, a swanky, reservations-only cocktail bar so exclusive the website features only a phone number. We sat in an intimate leather booth sipping very high quality 15euro drinks and were asked to put our shoes back on. I hoped that perhaps last night's storm was the extent of it, but it now seems as though the clouds are just waiting for another opportune moment.

Judging on the enthusiasm the city has been floating on for the last couple of weeks, however, a little rain won't keep anyone inside. Here's how and where I watched and celebrated the last two wins.
The crowd celebrating an unlikely Oranje victory on an oppresively hot day at the Vondeltuin, an outdoor bar where we watched Holland beat Brazil.
Fans heading off to celebrate after the Holland/Brazil match.

The crowd craning their necks to see the big screen at the Westergasfabriek, one of the many big parties all over the city the night of the Holland/Uruguay match. 
Heineken in hand, ready for action.
A quick video I managed of celebratory national songs, showers of beer, dancing, hugs, and overall euphoria. Holland goes to the finals. 
And, we dance.

It has been amazing to be here so far as Holland made their way to the finals for the first time since the 70s, and here's hoping for a win (and an all-night party) tonight. Now off I go to once again join the cycling orange-clad masses. Hup Holland Hup!


Foam-ing at the mouth: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

One of the things I love about Amsterdam is the Museum Card, the purchase of which makes most of the city's museums accessible and affordable for a whole year for the culture-hungry gal on a budget. Since I'm only here for a month, I borrowed a friend's card and yesterday decided to pop into Foam, the Fotographiemuseum Amsterdam. I've always loved the space, and the exhibits are reliably bold and provocative. Currently, they're showing "Pretty Much Everything" -- a collection ranging from 1985-2010 by the famous duo Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin.

They've done a lot of fashion photography, celebrity portraits, digital image alterations, collage work, and many beautiful nudes. They were the first to shoot the models and the backgrounds seperately and then subsequently superimpose the images digitally. Which, of course, was resisted at first but is now how so many things are done today.

In this show, they try to represent their lives as artists, their brains, their work that explores identity and desire on every level. Some of the images are rich in their simplicity, illuminating the natural beauty of the subjects, while some are distorted and manipulated, jarring to the point where you hate to look at it but you can't tear your eyes away. I loved it. Below are some of the many memorable images I feasted on yesterday afternoon.
If you're in Amsterdam before September 15th, be sure to stop by the museum, and definitely keep an eye out for the work of these two. 


And it's time to stand and say...

Whoops! Didn't even realize it was the 4th of July. That's what happens when you're on holiday and any awareness of date or time simply lifts. I hope you're all celebrating extra hard for me in the good ol' U S of A. I'm about to head to bed, and as I drift off to sleep I'll imagine my fellow patriots back home with corn on the cob in hand, meat on the BBQ, and fireworks overhead. And, because when thinking about the 4th of July it's impossible to avoid, I'll be humming "Proud to be an American"- a lullaby of sorts as I think of my homeland from far away.

Staying still

Well, I've come to a cafe to blog and what do I do? Send 100 emails instead. First. Not instead, because now I'm here. But what is it about needing to do something that makes us first do so many other little things?

I still procrastinate, and I guess some things never change. When it comes to bad habits, this is an unfortunate human truth; but when it comes to the quirks and wonders of a beautiful place like Amsterdam, I celebrate the unchanging.

For example, riding my bike. My tall, bright green Dutch bike. Stepping myself up onto the seat, stretching my legs as long as they'll go to reach the pedals, and allowing the bike to become just an extension of my body. The movements so natural, so simple and free. Riding that bike, up over the canals and under the trees; it still feels like breathing, like seeing, like drinking cold water. Fast moving air in my lungs and there is nothing else.

Hm ... also? There's the same skeletal old man with the same blank, almost haunting expression. He still walks every day in his suit past the upscale boutiques and fresh fish stands on Utrechtsestraat, carrying his newspaper.

Heineken still rolls through town every week with their big old horse-drawn beer wagon. If I close my eyes and listen to the clopping of their hooves on cobblestone, I can still imagine I’m in Amsterdam 100 years ago.

I still love - no, I still melt - when the kids put their small, warm hands soft and flat on my back with the kind of pure love and purpose that makes your heart stand up and breathe in deep.

The beers they serve in bars and cafés are still only half-pints, and I still don’t really know why. 

Dutch cool guys still take their boats out on the canals and play annoyingly loud house music, dancing around like d-bags with collars popped and long hair slicked back like Uncle Jesse.
The adrenaline from the belief that everyone is looking at them on their boat and in their white pants pumps through their veins with the Heineken they chug, and they remind themselves that they are cool, that they are on a boat, and you’re not. Let's revisit this short, for emphasis.

The canals are full of dinghies, not yachts, but I still think Andy Samberg must have gotten some inspiration in Amsterdam.

Tourists still look at me with a mixture of amazement and affection as I pedal the gigantic yellow bakfiets up hills, two little boys bouncing and jostling about as we then coast down the other side.

I still love the distinct, strangely clean smell of the canals at dusk—like sitting water, stone, and just a tiny bit like fish.

I still drink tea and sit in cafés with my laptop writing (or procrastinating) until I have to pee so bad I start squirming noticeably and have to leave before I embarrass myself. But I guess I do that everywhere.

Until next time, dear readers, think about those things in your life that don't change, and be happy for it.


Love story

I write to you now from Amsterdam, where at this moment the air is blowing a stifling 88 degrees, which here somehow feels hotter than it sounds. The sun seems to be slowly bringing the canals to a boil, and people are nearly naked in the parks. But oh, summer in Amsterdam is bliss. Pure, simple bliss eating ice cream with your legs dangling over the side of a canal and riding your bike as slowly as you can without tipping over. To leave a club at 4:00am on a Monday morning, drenched in sweat from hours of dancing, and ride through the streets with bare limbs letting the warm night air dry your skin; this is Amsterdam weather at its best. This is what makes everyone fall in love with the city all over again each year, what makes them forget the miserable winter.

And I am here. Here where I lived for one crazy year as an au pair for a family that I fell deeply in love with. It's been 10 months since I moved back to the States, and I am now merely a visitor to this place called Holland, but it feels as though I never left. Sure, the kids are older, the family is living in a different house, and I am no longer tied up in a romance with a Dutch boy, holding hands as we cycle through town, but things are mostly the same. My connection to this place and the people in it feels just as vibrant, true, and whole as it did last year. Perhaps even more so now that I've truly seen it stand the test of time.

Plus, I mean, look at that face, those cheeks as he fills them with three whole yogurts on a summer afternoon. This alone, to me, is worth the cost of the flight.
Now I'm off to don my orange and watch the Netherlands/Brazil game in a bar somewhere. Hup Holland Hup!