Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Mad Tea Party

After our exam, my Art History professor invited the class over to her place for some tea. We ate apple tart and she told us about the time she jumped into a lake to try to impress a male student. She also told us about her "horny" cat (quote from her, which included sound effects), who had two kittens each from a different father. She knew they were from two fathers because one of the kittens turned out to be a Persian. To which the witty Australian in the group replied, "but she's a cat. How can she birth a Persian?"

The endings are beginning. I'm gonna miss this place.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

20 New Things: Eat only gluten-free foods for one day

I actually refrained from gluten for a whole weekend! This month is Gluten-Free Month and, in honor of the celebration, the Gluten Intolerance Group along with Pamela's Products ran the Gluten-Free Challenge. For one weekend, May 22-23, people pledged to eat only gluten-free foods.

Gluten doesn't just mean bread and pasta. It pops up in all manner of processed foods that you wouldn't expect because it's used in several food additives. Fortunately, the Dutch are much better at putting allergy information on food products than the US is.

Lots of websites and blogs were posting delicious gluten-free recipes for people to try this weekend. Unfortunately, almost all of them required an oven or other various kitchen appliances I currently lack.

Being also dairy intolerant and reluctant to eat meat, my gluten-free weekend consisted mostly of fruits and vegetables.

Participating in this challenge was important to me because, for almost a year now, I have been fairly positive that I am gluten intolerant. I hope to finally get tested this summer upon my return to the States. Right now you guys are probably thinking, "girl! what's the matter with you? why are you still eating gluten when you know it hurts you?!"

Here's the thing, cutting gluten out of your diet pre-diagnosis is not recommended. If you stop eating gluten, your symptoms (eventually) stop and it may be more difficult to recognize in the tests. As bread is my favorite food group, I have had no problem whatsoever following the advice to keep eating gluten (my stomach kind of hates me, but whatevs, we've never been bffs). However, I do love experimenting with gluten and dairy free recipes and experiencing the utter joy of being full and not simultaneously having a stomach cramp.

As I mentioned before, my only major kitchen appliance here is a stovetop (i.e. no microwave or oven) and I don't eat meat or dairy products. In addition to those challenges, I have to go grocery shopping in Dutch. Given the language barrier and my rather small food budget (selfishly, I'm glad the Euro has decreased in value so much recently -- down twenty cents to the dollar since I arrived!), I wasn't able to visit an organic food store and purchase fancy gluten-free crackers or bread like I would back home.

Keeping all of those challenges in mind, I'd say that the weekend went by fairly easily. My meals and snacks were VERY basic, but I think they are a good indication that poor, kitchen-challenged college students have the ability to eat gluten-free if they want or need to.

Here's a breakdown of my meals:

Applesauce with cinnamon
Banana with peanut butter
(I've been waking up pretty late recently. So breakfast is pretty much a small snack before eating a full lunch an hour later.)

Mixed green salad with broccoli and oranges

Grilled vegetables and tofu in tomato sauce
     including green beans, broccoli, corn, onions, carrots and zucchini

It was definitely a challenge mentally, but not so much logistically, which is good to know if my future does include a 24/7 gluten-free diet. For now, however, all I'm thinking about is those shortbread cookies and pretzel sticks in my pantry that I get to eat tomorrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mrs. Baird's Fruit Pies

The alternate title of today's blog entry is "Me Not Working on my European Minority Languages Presentation."

So, I want to write about something that I was adamant would never happen to me and, if it did, I was never going to tell anyone that it had.

People tell me that when you're away from something, you're supposed to appreciate it more and see it in a way you never have before. I definitely experienced this my first year at college. Every time my friends and I got back together on holidays, it was like this incredible high. It didn't matter if our activities were lackluster in comparison to our high school adventures because we were ecstatic to simply see each other IRL.

Before coming to Amsterdam, everyone told me I would finally learn to appreciate Texas and America. The truth is, no matter what people may think, I do appreciate both Texas and America. I always have. I just don't particularly like everything about them and most things that I don't like about them tend to be things that I find to be very important in my life. So, I've never really liked Texas, especially.

While being in Amsterdam, I started missing a lot of things about Texas. However, most of the things I missed (Chick-fil-A, Dr Pepper*, my car) are things that I don't really view as positive. Public transportation is better for the earth and junk food should really become a thing of the past. So, I shook the feelings off as needing to adjust to a less inflated, less consumer society.

Yet, when I get away from the concept of "missing things" and think more about the feel of Texas, the undefinable aroma of a home place, I have to thrust off years of antagonism and confess that I like Texas.

The culture of cosmopolitan North Texas suburbia, so different from the stereotypically small-minded rural towns, is a large part of who I am. This Texas is not beefy homophobic men in cowboy hats, the textbook debate or Rick Perry's christening of Glenn Beck as an official Texan.

It's sunny afternoons, driving down freeways for less than five minutes to get a Route 44 Cherry Coke at Sonic. Eating barbecue sandwiches and baby back ribs. Beige living rooms and bright blue swimming pools. Buildings growing wide instead of tall. Musty bookstores. Musty everything. Live music in Mexican restaurants. White T-shirts. Faded jeans. Sweaty faces. Thunderstorms and tornadoes on days so hot the cement begins to steam. Sunsets backdropping the airport. Star gazing by the creek. Being born with larger than life dreams and an enigmatic drive for independence. That's my Texas and I've finally learned to love it.

Here is what I will be listening to for the next 14 days until my return flight. Ignore the Ohio/hopeless girlfriend plot line and this is my favorite anthem to North Texas:

*I just learned that Dr Pepper doesn't actually have a period after the "Dr."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

20 New Things: Spend time at a café in Montmartre, France

This blog should be titled, "Me Not Writing My Intro to Sexual Studies Report." The report is only one page on the topic of basically anything I want. procrastination has reached a disgusting level and rendered me incapable of working.

Speaking of procrastination, I meant to post this about a month ago when it actually happened.


I was attracted to the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris for the same reason that every cliché trying to be cultured teenager is --- lots of cool artists once lived there and it was the setting of La Vie En Rose, Amelié and Moulin Rouge.

 The hostel I was staying at happened to be only a few blocks away from Montmartre. So, my traveling buddy and I strolled over there as soon as we checked in. On the way, we saw Moulin Rouge.

Moulin Rouge is at the base of a hill, which basically marks the beginning of Montmartre. I honestly didn't spend enough time in Paris to be able to remark on how different Montmartre is from the rest of Paris, but I do remember thoroughly enjoying my few hours spent there. Like most of Paris, the buildings are either painted in very light colors or made of light brick. This is a stark contrast to Amsterdam, where all of the buildings are dark. The Dutch like things to be dark and cozy. They call it gezellig.

After walking around the main streets three times to peruse the various cafés, I finally chose a café that I deemed Montmartre-ish enough to use for my 20 New Things list. What did I think was Montmartre-ish? I have no idea.

My traveling buddy and I drank our espressos alfresco, watching the locals pass by with tiny dogs, bouquets of flowers and sleeping toddlers. The weather was a perfect mix of warm and cold that my Texas upbringing has almost never known.

Ahh, just thinking about it makes me want to go back. I can even remember the smell (cleaner and more flower-y than the dank air here, especially in light of the waste collector's strike). A return to Paris (for a much longer stay) is requisite in my near future.

UPDATE: I have now finished my report.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

20 New Things: Buy and Learn to Use a Dip Pen

I said that some of the things on my list I've already done and some of them just won't happen. This is a combination of both factors.

I bought a set of dip pens while I was in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I went into one of the hundreds of Shakespeare gift shops in Stratford while waiting for the matinee of Romeo and Juliet to begin. I can't tell you how embarrassing it was to look around the shop and realize that I already owned about 80% of the store's contents. The stuffed Shakespeares, the action figures, the Much Ado About Nothing Post-It Notes, the Shakespearean Insult Gum, it was all there.

So I bought the one thing I did not yet own: Shakespeare themed dip pens.

The only problem is that I cannot find a bottle of ink anywhere in Amsterdam. The only art supply store in the whole city is like effing Diagon Alley. I cannot find it not matter how carefully I follow my map and directions.

So the whole "learning to write with a dip pen" part of this goal is going to be rolled over to next year's list as ink is a fairly crucial component to writing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coolest toothpaste EVER!

So I bought Shrek toothpaste at Albert Heijn because it was way cheaper than adult toothpaste.

It turns out that there are STARS IN THE TOOTHPASTE! WTF? SO AWESOME!


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The 20 New Things Mistake

This was supposed to be posted on my birthday, but the whole Dam Square thing was heavily on my mind that night. So, it's taken me until now to get this posted.

As of five days ago, I am officially twenty years-old. By now, I should have completed all twenty things on the list.

While this project is usually a year long, I started it in January, intending it to correspond with the semester I would be abroad. Therefore, I decided to make most of the new things deal with goals I had for my time abroad.

The mistake?

I'm actually in Amsterdam for another month and four days (from the date of my birthday). During that month and four days, most of my classes end and my homework stops. I have way more free time in May than I have at any other point during the semester.

Having made that realization a few weeks ago, I stopped attempting to complete my 20 New Things list before my birthday and decided that for this, the first time, given the nature of the situation, I will extend my 20 New Things until I leave Amsterdam on June 8th. Then, I'll start my 21 New Things after I move in to Santa Fe.

Oh, have I mentioned that here yet? I'm moving to Santa Fe. Or, rather, my mom is and I'm going to live there with her when I'm not at school (what school that will be, I still don't know).

There are a handful of things that I have known for sometime just cannot happen, but there are also a handful of things I completed months ago and just haven't written about. So, in my remaining month, I'll be posting those things I never wrote about and completing the other (doable) things.

Yeah, it was a kind of a fail, but the whole experiment still did what it was meant to do. There were several times I wanted to be my usual lazy self and not take the opportunity to do something unique, but having the list (and the accountability of friends who knew about the list) pushed me to not spend another night cooped up in my apartment or to take the extra effort to travel even though I had essays and projects to do. I look forward to getting older when my lists will get longer and I'll have even more things to get out there and try.

As I finish the list (and my time in Amsterdam), I'm already working on my list for next year and, as always, welcome suggestions. Some ideas I have so far is to learn guitar basics and cook a three course meal for my friends all by myself.

Here's to an exciting month and even more exciting year!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Panic In Dam Square: Or, How I Thought For A Moment That This Birthday Might Be My Last

Today is Bevrijdingsdag, or Remembrance Day, in The Netherlands. It is a day to commemorate all who were lost in World War II. Tomorrow will be Liberation Day in which the Dutch celebrate their freedom from the Germans. 

The Queen came to speak in Dam Square in honor of the event, which is a pretty big deal since she lives in The Hague and it seems like she'd rather visit any city except Amsterdam on holidays. 

I went to Dam Square about fifteen minutes before the ceremony was supposed to begin. There were WAY more people there than I expected. Dam Square isn't all that huge so I thought there'd be a few hundred tops. From stats I heard later, there were tens of thousands of people. 

I couldn't even make it all the way to Dam Square. I made it a few meters from the corner of the buildings that open into the square before the mass of people became too dense to let me through any further. I was pretty upset about this because I couldn't even see the huge tv screens projecting the speakers, let alone the actual podium, because the Dutch are so freaking tall. 

As I waited for the ceremony to begin, as at every high profile large event I attend, I started thinking about terrorist attacks. I know, I'm weird. I guess when you never even know what a terrorist is until 9/11 you just grow up paranoid. 

I thought that if someone were to attack this event, it wouldn't be anything too major because, I mean c'mon, it's just Amsterdam. I had heard something about an assassination attempt on Queen Beatrix at Queen's Day last year... my morbid thoughts kept spiraling as they are prone to do and I was soon contemplating an attack during the moment of silence that I had been told would occur at eight o'clock sharp. I quickly shook that thought out of my head. Even terrorists wouldn't be so cruel as to disrupt a moment of silence, even if they are cruel enough to kill hundreds of people. The only person I could think of who would be so disgustingly disrespectful was Hitler, the man whose cruelty we owed this very ceremony to. 

The ceremony began with some music playing and (as far as I could tell from the tiny corner of tv screen I could see) soldiers laying flowers around the national monument. A few people I didn't recognize said a few words that I didn't understand because it was all in Dutch. Then, one of the churches in the town began ringing for eight o'clock.

I remember counting in my head with each bell. Practicing my Dutch numbers. Een. Twee. Drie. Vier. Vijf. Zes. Zeven. Acht. I used the moment to think of all of the people in my own life that I've lost and then thought of the greater losses of the world. I remember staring at the backpocket of the man in front of me as I thought. 

My thoughts were broken by a scream from far away, immediately followed by another higher pitched one. At first, I thought it was kids playing a few streets away, unaware of the time or the ceremony. I barely had time to think that, however, as more screams joined in. Just as I registered that all of the actual square that was beyond my view was screaming, the entire crowd to my right (on the Dam Square side) began running. 

It was more like pushing and shoving. You couldn't run with how tightly everyone had been standing. It was like falling out of a canoe into fierce, uncontrollable rapids. I saw the men around me ducking down with their hands over their heads as they pushed their way against the wall of buildings a few meters behind us. Seeing their actions, I assumed they must have been able to see what I could not because I was too short to see above the heads of the Amazonian-like Dutch. I followed their actions, fearing bullets, debris from an explosion or an approaching army of enemies. I saw the wide-eyed, slack jawed looks of terror on the faces of people sparing half a second to glance behind us. Whatever it was, it was coming our way. And fast. 

Soon, people had abandoned the ducking and were just running. I began running too. I fell down. I tried to get up, but the density of the crowd made every action take ten times more effort than it would have otherwise. As I summoned the strength to push myself back up amongst the kicking limbs, I thought I am NOT going to die here. I am not going to die being trampled. I will survive this. 

I pulled myself up and began to push my way through the crowd. I immediately encountered a woman who had fallen on her back. Legs bent, pale face distorted in utmost horror. There were a few people around her trying to barricade the crowd to save her from being trampled. I briefly considered staying to help, but as the crowd continued to pass me at a quickening rate, I made the selfish decision to keep going. 

I noticed the open doors of a building and dashed inside, quickly calculating the risks in my head. If "it" was some sort of debris from an explosion or a toxic gas filling the air, I would be dead if I stayed in this building with its open doors. But if it was bullets outside, I would be safer in here. 

I didn't need to think much longer on my decision, however, because as soon as I was in, it seemed like things were slowing down outside. People were saying it was okay. I furtively hovered in the entryway of the building for a few moments. I saw journalists standing on top of their trucks, snapping photos and recording footage, and I wondered if they had been there the whole time. I would never have the guts to do that.

I finally stepped outside the building, back into the dissipating crowd. It was apparently safe to be outside and in Dam Square, but what exactly had happened, no one knew.

 Dam Square post-panic

As I made my way out of the building, I over heard various people say it was an old woman who screamed at some horses, a huge piece of glass that had been dropped and a few people still insisting there had been a small explosion.

I leaned against a sign post and tried to digest everything that had just happened. I was far enough away from the main crowd now that I could actually see the tv screens. I resolved to stick around to hear what had actually happened. It wasn't until a few minutes later that I noticed a sting in my right knee. Looking down, I saw I was bleeding steadily through the hole in my jeans. 

When the tv screens finally turned back on, I was too far away to hear anything. So, if they told us what happened, I had no idea. I stayed for a bit longer, but, without being able to hear, it wasn't too intriguing.

I rode back home in a bit of a haze. I couldn't believe the reaction to nothing. For the first time in my life, I had genuinely thought I might die. Yet, nothing even happened. News broke in the hours after I returned home. The current information says one man was on a cell phone during the moment of silence and, when people tried to shush him, another man dropped a suitcase into the crowd while the first man started shouting. While the situation no doubt looked a little suspicious, I don't know that it merited such a response. 

Regardless of the legitmacy of the reaction, it was a terrifying situation to be in. The crowd was so huge and so dense that no one could have known what was happening. It was the people, it turned out, everyone was running from. There may have been no other danger and many people may have been aware of that the whole time, but when a stampede is coming, you don't just stand there. 


On a lighter note, I returned home to find that my roommate had decorated my side of the room as a surprise for my birthday!

A birthday banner Dwight Schrute would be proud of (inside joke for devoted Office fans)

Lots of balloons! (and my very messy desk/bed area)

She even took a Lorax photo of the Lorax in the birthday display!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Queen's Day

Koninginnedag, or Queen's Day, is a Dutch national holiday in celebration of, well, the queen. Only, it's not actually on the incumbent Queen Beatrix's birthday. The holiday started in the nineteenth century in honor of Princess Wilhelmina. Back then it was in August. Then, Juliana became queen and the holiday was moved to her birthday, April 30th. When Beatrix became queen, she knew no one would want to celebrate her January birthday because January is too damn cold. So, she kept the April 30th date in honor of her mother, Juliana.

Phew. Ok. Get it?

So, what happens on Queen's Day is that the entire country turns into a freemarket. Streets are closed down and everyone who wants to sell their junk, food or talents is allowed to. It's like a nationwide garage sale. In some cases, it's actually quite adorable. My friends and I walked through Oosterpark and Sarphatipark, which were filled with children singing, dancing, playing instruments, painting nails, selling lemonade and doing any other ingenious activity they could think of in hopes of earning a few euros. 

Here's a few clips of some of the sites my friends and I passed by throughout the day.

Of course, it's not all cute kids selling stuff. In a complete reflection of Gen X and Y behavior, the most recent generations have decided they don't want to spend the national holiday peddling their parent's cast-off belongings for a few guilders and instead would rather get pissed drunk and listen to DJs. So, for the past decade or so Queen's Day has come to be associated with oranjegekte (or, orange craze) and huge parties in the streets. Now, instead of just the freemarkets, Amsterdam celebrants dress in as much orange as they can and drink as much as they can while attending free, open air concerts or cruising the canals in party boats. 

Those same revelers also started Koninginnenacht, or Queen's Night, which is kind of like Mischief Night before Halloween. It's basically just an extra night of partying before the holiday begins.

All of us international students have known about Queen's Day since our arrival in January and had been warned to have something orange to wear. It was implied we'd be glared at or punched in the face if we didn't wear orange. While there were plenty of people in full orange costume and most had at least some sort of orange accessory, I have to admit that I wasn't too impressed. I've walked the streets of Austin, Texas on enough game days to be engulfed in some serious seas of orange. In terms of wearing orange, sorry Amsterdam, but UT does it better.