Dutch Kitchen: Pannenkoeken Recipe

Crepe and Pancake sitting in a tree… first comes love, then comes marriage, then come Pannenkoek in a baby carriage.

When we lived in Amersfoort, one of our favorite haunts was the nearby Kabouterhut.

Less than a mile from our house and in close proximity to the Amersfoort zoo, it couldn’t have been more convenient. A ball pit, coin operated rides, high chairs, large bathrooms, and colorable kid menus with markers, it was ideal for family meals out.

Not to mention great pannenkoeken – a Dutch staple!

It goes without saying that there are no pannenkoeken restaurants in Georgia, where we’ve been living for almost a year now.

The lack of Dutch food here has required my doing a bit of a turnaround. Instead of gathering imitation recipes of some of my favorite American foods, I’m now gathering imitation recipes of some of my family’s favorite Dutch foods.

A little more than 8 years after posting my first recipe to the blog, it is my pleasure to present you with my very own recipe for Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken).

For those of you unfamiliar with pannenkoeken, imagine a French crepe and an American pancake having a love child. In other words, you’re in for a treat.

Bonus: they’re super quick and easy to make.

Pannenkoeken
Serves 6
A thin, crepe-like pancake popular in the Netherlands
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup flour
  2. 2 cups milk
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 1 tbsp sugar
  5. 1 tbsp butter, melted
  6. oil
Instructions
  1. Combine flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and melted butter until smooth.
  2. Coat a large pan with oil (I love Chosen Foods avocado oil spray).
  3. Spoon batter into the pan until a thin layer coats the bottom and cook over medium-low heat. Cook for about 1 minute.
  4. Flip when the color of the batter darkens and bubbles form. Cook for about 1 more minute.
  5. Remove from pan.
  6. Repeat until you run out of batter.
  7. Serve immediately
Notes
  1. You can add cheese slices, mushrooms, bacon slices, etc during cooking for a more savory pancake
  2. Best with schenkstroop (though maple syrup will do)
  3. Optional: dust with powdered sugar
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Eet smakelijk!

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“Write What You Know” Is Actually Brilliant Advice

Who’d have thought when I started this blog that it would launch my freelance writing career?

Since starting my journey as a budding freelance writer, I’ve poured over writing blog after writing blog in order to gain new knowledge. Almost without fail, each one has at least once recommended that you write what you know.

I’d always thought that it appeared to be sound advice, and as most of my writing is about being an expat (which I am) and living in the Netherlands (which I do), I figured I already followed that advice and could move on.

But recently, I’ve been working on a submission for Cynic Online Magazine’s 7th annual Not-So-Cynical Christmas writing contest. I wanted to enter again this year as I won an honorable mention in 2009 and figured my chances would be far greater after a year’s worth of writing experience, right? Well, we shall see later this month.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand…

The contest calls for gushy, sentimental, what-Christmas-really-means pieces and last year, I wrote about what I knew: a first Christmas away from family in a new country. But what was I going to write about this year? I love Christmas, but there were no other real-life stories I could think of.

So I began thinking of the submissions that won last year’s contest and what they were about. I tried to delve deep into my imagination and come up with a story that would be a sure-fire winner. And the harder I thought, the fewer ideas came to mind. The ones that did sounded hollow and contrived. They were!

Just when I needed it the most, that piece of advice resurfaced… write what you know.

Again, I dug deep into my imagination, but this time it wasn’t to concoct a Christmas fable. It was to recall my own childhood and Christmases past.

Before I knew it, I found myself rushing to my laptop, tearing open a new Word document and pounding away at the keys. Suddenly, I had 1,000 words. Then 2,000. And then just shy of 3,000. In what seemed like no time at all.

Who knows how it will do in this year’s contest, but I feel wonderful about my work on this story and regardless of whether it wins first prize or comes home empty-handed, I am more proud of this story than I’ve been of anything I’ve written in months!

So if you hold onto only one piece of writing advice, let it be this: write what you know.

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Grow Your Writing Income: Learn How

Pitching: To Follow Up or Not to Follow Up?

Research pitch. Write pitch. Send pitch. Crickets…

You sent a pitch to your dream magazine or a letter of introduction (LOI) to your favorite company. You worked hard on it. You were proud of it. And, even though you sent it weeks ago, you still haven’t gotten any response from it.

Should you follow up or let it go?

Every writer will have their own opinion on this, but my advice is to follow up.

Emails get lost, they get filed as Spam, they disappear in the recipient’s inbox under an avalanche of other emails, they’re deleted accidentally, or moved to the wrong folder.

Editors and marketing heads of companies are busy. On top of their regular work, they can get hundreds of emails a day. Chances of any of the above scenarios playing out are doubled under these circumstances. It’s not at all far-fetched to think that your email didn’t garner a response because it was never received.

When I send out a pitch or an LOI, I generally wait two weeks before following up (like I said, these people are beyond busy, so it may take them some time to get to my email). Once the two weeks are up, I’ll send a short, polite reminder. Something like this:

[box] Hi [Editor Name],

About two weeks ago, I sent you a pitch about [subject of pitch]. I just wanted to follow up to see if this is something you’d be interested in for [Name of Magazine].[/box]

If it’s an LOI, edit accordingly.

Then, I make sure to do two things:

1. Give an ultimatum. I like to do this by giving them a specific time frame in which to reply, usually an additional two weeks.

Then I add that if I don’t hear from them within that time, I will take the pitch elsewhere. This lets them know that I’m serious about getting this idea published and, while they are my first choice, I do have other alternatives lined up.

Sending a second email increases the chances of the email getting to the right place so they can see it, open it, and respond accordingly.

But sometimes that silence is the equivalent of a resounding “No, but I don’t have time to write out a response telling you so.” The ultimatum gives them an easy out. If I don’t hear back from them in two weeks, I know to take that as a definite No.

That part of the email looks a little something like this:

[box] If I don’t hear back from you in 2 weeks, I’ll assume you’re not interested and move on.[/box]

 

2. Copy-Paste the original email. This is just a common courtesy. By tacking the original message to the bottom, I save them having to scroll down to find it. This also allows me to fix any typos and generally clean the pitch up further so they’ll be reading the prettiest version.

[box]I’ve copy-pasted the pitch below. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from you.[/box]

 

I’ve secured a number of gigs simply by following up.

Like the time I pitched a story to a regional parenting magazine. I sent the email and heard zilch. Two weeks later, I sent a follow up. Six hours after that (I sent the follow up at 1 am), I had a response from the editor. Not only did she want the idea, she said it was perfect timing as she was just setting the editorial calendar for 2016. She assigned the article on the spot and my deadline is mid-November.

Or when, on whim, I sent a pitch to a big newsstand magazine. I actually sent two follow up emails for that one. The first just reminded the editor that I’d sent her a pitch and copy-pasted the original. After two more weeks of silence, I sent a second follow up that included a two week ‘deadline’ to nab the piece. A few days later, I had a reply, going so far as to apologize for taking so long to get back to me. They were interested and just needed to get the particulars squared away before getting back to me with an official assignment. It’s been a few months and I’m still waiting, but even if it never comes through, pitching that magazine and that editor will be much easier in the future.

Then there was the time I pitched a national parenting magazine. I sent it to their editors@ email address and didn’t hear anything back… for over a month! Found an email address for one of the editors and sent the pitch to her explaining that I’d sent it to the general address, never heard back, and just wanted to follow up to see if they wanted it before pitching the idea elsewhere. She apologized (I had used the correct email address, no idea why no one responded), said they were interested, and forwarded it to the right editor. I had an official assignment within 24 hours.

Another time, I pitched a dance magazine and got a reply from the editor. She thought it would be a better fit for one of their sister publications and would pass it along to the editor there. Weeks went by without hearing anything from the sister pub. So I decided to follow up with that editor. I told her I’d originally sent the pitch to the editor at the first magazine who had mentioned it being a possibility for the sister pub, and copy-pasted the original. By the end of the week, I had an acceptance from the sister pub’s editor. The article will be appearing in the November/December issue.

No idea what happened to the original emails, but I can pretty much guarantee none of those things would have come about if I hadn’t followed up.

It could also be that the person you originally contacted no longer works for the publication or company. This is especially true with magazines, where editors change jobs almost as frequently as most of us change underwear. Which means it’s also worth checking to see if that person is still actually employed there before pitching again.

I pitched one publication at the end of July and just recently discovered that the editor I pitched moved to another magazine at the beginning of August. You can bet I’ll be doing some online ‘snooping’ to figure out who replaced her and sending a follow up along to them.

Another, perhaps less noble way to determine whether or not to follow up is by tracking emails. Tracking emails helps you to know if, when, and by whom your emails are opened.

There are tons of apps that help you do this. They typically operate by attaching a tinier than tiny, 1×1 pixel image (also called a bug) to the outgoing email. When that email is opened, it triggers the bug, which then enables you to get all kinds of information from the recipient’s server.

Depending on which service you use and what kind of account you have, you’ll be made privy to things like when the recipient opened the email, what server or device they used, where they were when the email was opened (city, state), whether or not any links were clicked or attachments opened.

The free version of a lot of these apps limit the number of emails you can track and the amount of information you can access. I use the free versions, both because I’m cheap and because I’m only interested in a small fraction of the information these apps provide.

I mainly want to know if my email was opened. This lets me know that the email went through and was viewed. If it wasn’t, I definitely want to follow up. Maybe even do some research to see if this person is still with the publication or company and if the email address is correct or still valid.

It’s also nice to know how many times the email was viewed. That helps me gauge how interested the editor or contact was in the contents. And how receptive they’ll be to a follow up.

Also useful, though less important to me, is which links within the email are clicked. My email signature contains a link to my writer website and I’ll often pop a link to my online portfolio in the body of my emails. Some editors/companies request writing samples, which I always provide as URLs.

If none of those links are clicked, that’s not exactly promising. If there’s a lot of click love, that tells me I’ve probably struck a chord. They’re most likely interested in my work, so following up and/or pitching again with other ideas would be a pretty smart idea.

And no, it’s not lost on me that there are people out there who know exactly which emails I’ve opened, where and when I opened them, and what links I clicked. If this creeps you out, The New York Times has a great article on how to avoid being tracked.

Like I said, the free versions only let you track a limited number of emails, so I cheat and use three different apps.

Bananatag is a Gmail plugin where I can check or uncheck the tracking box on each individual email. When the recipient opens the email, I get an email notification with a link I can click to get additional stats. It’s kind of obnoxious to get all those open notifications to my inbox, but that’s the only way Bananatag alerts you to email opens and link clicks. It lets me tag five emails a day.

By default, Bananatag only alerts you to the initial open. So you won’t know if there were subsequent opens unless you go into your settings and request that an email notification be sent to you with each open. Which means more email clutter in your inbox… Or you could just check in on the Bananatag website every day to see if there’s been any additional activity.

The folks at Bananatag told me that the nice thing about their program compared to similar ones is that they only alert you when the recipient opens your email. Other programs alert you every single time the email is opened. Even if you’re the one opening it. And make no distinction between the two.

That said, I just got an email notification that one of my emails was viewed (the only viewing in the 3 months since I sent it). The notification came right after I’d opened that very email myself to copy a section of it for a new pitch. So unless the recipient and I just happened to open the email at the same exact time (mind you, the email has still had only one viewing), I think someone at Bananatag was telling me a tall tale.

Needless to say, this is my least favorite of the tracking apps I use. But, free is free and it does what I need it to do.

 

Sidekick (affiliate link) is an email tracking app brought to you by the folks at Hubspot.

The super nice thing about this one is that it’s compatible with Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail, and there’s a mobile app. So I’m not bound to Gmail if I want to track an email.

Again, there’s a box at the bottom (Gmail) or top (Mail) of each email that you can check or uncheck, depending on whether you want that particular email tracked. You can also compose emails right inside the mobile app, which are automatically tracked.

Install it in Chrome and new opens and link clicks will appear in the upper right-hand corner of your browser. Notifications also pop up on your screen. Click the Sidekick icon or login on the member page to see who’s opened and clicked what, when, where, and how.

The free version is good for 200 notifications per month. Careful: that’s “notifications,” not “emails.” Each email open and each link click count as one of your 200. Even if you’re the one doing the opening and clicking. So if you open or click any links within Sidekick-tracked emails that you sent a total 50 times and just one of your recipients opens or clicks the links within the Sidekick-tracked emails you sent them 150 total times, you’re done for the month. And they’re not just counting the opens and link clicks of emails you tracked that month. If someone, out of the blue, opens or clicks a link in a Sidekick-tracked email you sent 3 years ago, that counts as one of your 200.

Pony up and pay the membership fee ($10 per user per month) and you get unlimited emails. For my purposes, I’m fine with the free version.

 

Yesware is my favorite of the three. It has Outlook and Gmail extensions where I can select which emails I want to track. There’s also a mobile app that, like Sidekick, let’s me compose emails right in the app. The notifications pop up on my screen as well as in a designated bar within Gmail.

With the free version, you get 100 “Events” per month. That’s opens and clicks combined. And just like Sidekick, that includes when you open/click them yourself, and fresh opens/clicks of old emails also count.

I’m not one who likes a lot of things open at once, so I appreciate the fact that everything happens within Gmail.

Pro plans range from $12-$40 per user per month. So far, I haven’t found the need to upgrade.

 

Other options are Boomerang, SendGrid, MailTrack, Streak, MailTracker, and toutapp. Haven’t tried them, don’t know anything about them. But there they are.

The reason I use three programs at once? I found that Yesware wasn’t enough on its own to last me a month. And Sidekick alone didn’t get me through the month either. But by tracking some emails with Yesware, some with Sidekick, and others with Bananatag, I get up to 300 Events/Notifications and 140-155 emails each month. And that’s more than enough to get me through even high-activity months.

So, the moral of this story is: Following up on your pitches and LOIs is rarely a bad idea. Oh! And, if you can get past the creep factor, email trackers can be pretty handy too.

This site contains affiliate links. When you buy something using those links, a portion of your purchase goes to helping update and maintain Clogs and Hotdogs. Thank you for your support!

 

Sidekick by Hubspot Email Tracking

9 Things That Drive Writers Bonkers When Interviewing Sources

Conducting interviews from the carpool line. Now that’s multitasking!

Since my daughter will be starting school in September (for the first time – cue the tears!) and I’ll actually have time to work, I’ve been taking on more assignments. And more assignments means more interviews.

This past week, for instance, I’ve done 7, which is the most I’ve ever done in that short a stretch of time. And since it’s been 6 months since I last interviewed someone for an article, this experience has made me realize exactly how much interviewing is… not my favorite thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy talking to these people – there’s so much to learn from them, they’re so passionate about what they do (and that passion really does rub off), they’re loads of fun to talk to, and I’ve kept in touch with all of them.

But you know how there are things about people, even the ones you love the most, that drive you crazy? Sources are no different.

Interestingly, my jumping into the deep end of the interview pool coincided with a game Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer recently ran on Twitter. Using the hashtag #sourcefromhellin5words, players could share their biggest pet peeves when it comes to interviewing sources.

I’m not sure how many (if any) of the responses are still on Twitter as I heard that the platform doesn’t hang on to hashtagged tweets for long, but Linda pulled out some doozies, as did ProfNet, if you care to take a look.

To make a long story even longer, I was subjected to some of them this past week. As well as ones that didn’t make the list.

Here are a few of the things that drive me nuts when dealing with sources.

 

“Can you send me the article so I can approve it before it’s published?”

Are you my editor?

No?

Then, no, you may not approve the article before it goes to print. There are both legal and logistical reasons for that.

You can ask to review any quotes of yours that made it into the article to ensure that it says what you wanted to say, but that’s about it. I record the interview (once I’ve obtained your permission to do so, that is) and take notes as we talk, so the likelihood of my popping in inaccurate quotes is as close to zero as I can get.

Is the article I’m working on an advertorial that you’re paying the publication to print?

Negatory?

Then, no, you may not approve the article before it goes to print.

An advertorial is what happens when an ad and an article have a baby. You pay the publication to print this article that is essentially a long-winded advertisement for you. In which case, you want to present yourself in the best light possible, so, yes, you do get to check everything over and give it the OK before it gets published. That’s what you paid for, after all.

But if you’re not paying to have this article placed in the magazine/newspaper or on the website/blog, then you do not get approval privileges.

 

“By the way, this is off the record.”

If you say something’s off the record, I won’t publish it. That’s just how I operate. But telling me something and then saying (or prefacing it with) “this is off the record” is a huge waste of time for the both of us.

The sole reason I’m speaking to you is to collect information from you to use in the piece. Yet you’ve just taken the time to tell me about something I can’t include in the article.

It’s usually the best part of the interview that’s “off the record” too. That bit I really, really want to use. But can’t. Because you told me not to and I’m the kind of person who’s going to honor your request.

So now I’m just disappointed because you used that time I could have been eating lunch or taking a shower or playing with my daughter or walking my dog or working on another project to tell me something that would make an incredible quote, but I can’t include it because it’s “off the record.”

If you don’t want it to be included in the article, just don’t mention it.

 

“You can just find it on my website.”

I ask you a question and in lieu of an answer, you tell me to look it up on your website. A couple things wrong with this.

  1. If I can just look everything up on your website, then what the hell am I talking to you for? I want stuff that’s not on your website, and that’s why we’re here together.
  2. I can’t just quote your website. That’s not how journalism works. I need to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. And, in this case, you’re the horse.
  3. I’m not looking for a canned response from your website. I need to convey your passion and personality plus the information readers are looking for in this article. And I need to include stuff that’s not already out there for the world to see so that people have an incentive to, you know, read the piece. Otherwise the article might as well just read “See [your name]’s website. The end.”
  4. I’m a reporter. I know what I can find on your site because I already found it. I also checked out all your social media profiles and Googled the shit out of you. But I still contacted you to chat because I want more.

Telling me to read your book is just as bad – probably even worse. Ain’t nobody got time for that. And, frankly, I’m not getting paid enough to justify my taking the time to read your book just to write the article.

Sorry, you’ll just have to talk to me.

 

“Let’s do 10 o’clock.”

This is an actual response I got from a source when I asked what time would work for him. He sent this at 5pm.

So I called his landline at 10 pm. And again at 10:05. And his cell phone at 10:15. And again the cell phone at 10:20. Voicemail every time.

Then I sent him an email to let him know I tried to get in touch with him and asked if we were still on for the interview. At 10:45, I tried both numbers again. When the clock struck 11 and there’d been no email or call back, I decided to call it a night.

The next morning at 8, I had a new email. The source meant 10 am (as in two hours from the time I received that very email, and not five hours after I received the “Let’s do 10” email).

Would it have killed him to have added “tomorrow morning” or even just “am” to the end of his original email?

And please, for the love of all that’s holy, please let me know what time zone you’re in. “10 pm” to me means 10 o’clock at night, Eastern Standard Time. Depending on where you’re located, that could be anywhere from 1 to 17 or more hours’ difference from 10 pm your time.

Just the other day, I told a source I was only available from 1:30-3:30 EST. She told me 3 would be perfect. Turns out, she was on Central Standard Time and wouldn’t be available for another hour. Which was exactly the time I needed to pick my daughter up from camp. We ended up having to reschedule.

Also in this category: “I completely forgot about our interview” and not being available when I call at the appointed time.

 

“Just don’t use my name.”

I found this source for an article I was working on. She was great. Exactly who I was looking for, gave me a ton of great quotes, lots of fun to talk to.

I finished transcribing our interview and was just about to start writing the piece when I get an email from her. On second thought, she didn’t want her name to be used in the piece.

Now, sometimes publications are okay with this. Usually when the source is an “off the street” or “real life” person. And even then, it’s pretty much just when protecting the identity of a minor or a “real life” source who doesn’t want the world knowing that they’re involved with the touchy or controversial subject of the article in question.

Not for experts though. Because as an expert, you’re providing that in-the-trenches, in-the-know voice that readers turn to these articles for. If you’re not willing to attach your name (first and last) to your quotes, that doesn’t inspire much trust or confidence.

Not willing to have your name used? Let the writer know up front – preferably before the interview.

In this case, my editors were not okay with not using her name. Her quotes and contributions had to be scrapped and I had to bust my proverbial balls to find another expert to interview in her place.

 

“Can we reschedule?”

I have a three-year-old kid and a 10 year-old dog. I’ve got family on the other side of the ocean. I’m one of those human being creatures. I know things happen. I know sometimes they happen outside of your control. And I know that sometimes you have to move some things around to make stuff work.

That said, you picked the day and time of our interview. Not me.

In fact, I probably dropped a bunch of stuff in order to talk to you at this precise day and time because that’s when you told me you were free. And, to be honest, I need you to make this article work. If I can’t get this interview with you because of my own inflexibility, I’m back to square one.

So when you tell me you want to talk on Blahdeeday at x o’clock, and I shuffle my schedule around to accommodate you, and then you call or email (which usually happens just a few hours before we’re due to talk) to cancel… let’s just say it’s a wee bit frustrating.

Like I said, I know shit happens, but if it’s at all humanly possible, stick to the date and time you requested and we agreed upon.

 

“This is below me.”

Okay, so no one’s actually said that in so many words, but there has been many a time when it was alluded to. Either in the evident disappointment in their voice when they find out it’s not one of the newsstand rags I’m interviewing them for, or the way they make over the fact that they’re just “so busy” or their “schedule is packed,” or acting like making time to talk to me is as fun as making time to pop a pimple.

Anyone who knows anything about PR or marketing, in fact, anyone who has ever tried to sell anything, knows how beneficial getting your name in a newspaper or magazine article can be. You get more eyes on you, more people knowing about who you are and what you do. Saying you’ve been quoted in A, B, and C magazines is kind of a big deal. Even if it’s just one of the free weeklies in your small town.

Think of all the businesses who list the media outlets where they’ve been mentioned. Think of all the links to such articles on company website press pages. Think of how saying you’ve been quoted in the media will look on your resume, LinkedIn profile, professional bio, brochure, and all that.

Yes, you’re doing me a favor by taking the time to talk to me and share your expertise. But I’m also doing you a favor by spreading the word about you and the work you do (for free).

Publicity is a good thing, even if the publication can’t be purchased in a Barnes & Noble.

 

“I hope I’m not rambling.”

This is a tough one, because some of the people who say it actually aren’t. They’re perfect. Or could even “ramble” some more, as far as I’m concerned.

But there are some who are hell bent on telling me their life story during the interview.

Sadly, I cannot publish your entire history in a 500-1000 word article that’s supposed to be about something else. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Because it’s of little interest to the reader. What they want is to read what you have to say and put it to use. Preferably with immediate results.

Give me the severely abridged version. If it helps you to be concise, keep in mind that I have to transcribe the interview later. So, if nothing else, keep it brief for the sake of my fingers! If I need to know more, I’ll ask. I promise.

 

“You’ll probably want to know about…”

I’ll ask a question and, after answering, the source will say “Well, you probably want to know about [insert topic here].”

Sometimes, I do. In which case, it’s already on my list of questions I was going to ask you. Thanks for saving me some time.

More often than not, though, it’s not.

I once did an article (a few of them, actually) on traveling with children. One of my sources was giving me some great info when she said “Well, you probably want to know about traveling with teens,” and immediately launched into that spiel. I didn’t have the heart to stop her, so I sat while she went on for another 10 minutes about something I had no need of in my article.

That last part was my own stupid fault and is a lesson I have since learned. Perhaps I’ll write about it in a 9 Things I Hate About Myself as a Freelance Writer post.

Again, if I want to know, I’ll ask.

And if I don’t, I always end each interview by asking if there was something the source thought I would ask that I didn’t or if there’s anything else they wanted to add. I stole this from Linda Formichelli who’s recommended the interview tactic in countless blog posts and online courses, so I know I’m not the only writer who does this.

That’s the place to get that in there.

But by that time, she would have (hopefully) realized that I wasn’t interested in teens and brought up something more relevant to the article instead.

Not a nice, round 10, but, what can I say? I have awesome sources!

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Four Fried Chickens and a Diet Coke

So *that’s* what all these cup holders are for!

America has a serious obesity problem.

There, I said it.

Not that it’s news. Americans have a world-wide reputation for being fat.

One of Hubs’s greatest fears is packing on pounds now that we’re State-side. We seemed to do it every time we visited. Both of us would return to the Netherlands with an extra 3-5 pounds. Despite eating just two meals a day.

Being back in the US, it is painfully clear that Americans are overweight. Morbidly so. It’s sad. It’s angering. It’s troubling.

It’s also no wonder.

I won’t beat a dead horse here. There are books and articles, television shows and experts that will tell you exactly why this is and why this happens. The obvious ones are the unbelievable portion sizes and the ubiquitousness of fast food restaurants.

In the month that I’ve been here, it’s been a struggle, I readily admit. The good eating habits I’ve developed over the last two years have gone almost completely out the window.

I’ve been dieting, so I have lost weight since I got here. But it hasn’t been easy.

We’ve been running around like crazy, buying a car, looking at furniture, collecting appliances, packing, finding a house, going back and forth with the realtor, visiting friends and family, grasping at those precious few remaining seconds to be individuals, a couple, a family.

Kleine Munchkin has eaten so many burger-n-fries meals that I’m on a constant self-induced guilt trip. Hubs has been drinking more calories than he’s been eating, and I’ve had more diet coke in the last month than I had during all of last year.

The crap food is cheap, it’s fast, it’s easy, and it tastes good.

But here’s the thing. And it’s a thing people don’t see or get or realize when they associate America with obesity.

We’re also an incredibly healthy nation.

Organic grocery stores and markets are everywhere. Farmers markets and road-side fruit and veggie stands abound. More and more restaurants are serving fresh, organic, raw, vegan, and vegetarian food. Co-ops and farm shares and locally grown produce are exceedingly popular. Every grocery store boasts an organic section.

You see runners everywhere you go. Five- and 10Ks, half- and full marathons are all the rage. There are almost as many gyms and sports centers as there are Starbucks. Adult and children’s sports and activities are numerous. I see a constant stream of people outside cycling, skating, power walking, out with the dog… I’ve seen some of the healthiest people here. Brands are becoming a lot quicker to forego the harmful chemicals in their products, go easy on the pesticides, ditch the GMOs, and go easy on the sugar.

People are demanding healthier options. People are becoming concerned with the state of things in America and are ready to act. And it’s starting to spread.

Several months ago, I was talking to an American friend in Amsterdam. She told me that she’d never go back to the US. She had her reasons – the majority of them valid and many of them things I worry about now that we’re living here.

One of those reasons was that America was so unhealthy and, unlike the Netherlands, there were no options for those who wanted to lead a healthier lifestyle.

After a little probing, I found out that she had no idea that the organic shopping markets, local produce packages, health food stores, and vegan/vegetarian/raw/organic food establishments movement started in the US. Nor did she realize that those things are only just making their way into the Netherlands with a vengeance.

She had no idea that the US had options like co-ops and farm shares (something that hasn’t yet caught on in the Netherlands).

She was shocked to hear that there were far more options in the US.

“Why have I never heard about this?” she asked.

Turns out, when they visit the US, they stay with her parents or her sister – family that doesn’t share the same attitudes toward food that she does. They eat a lot of processed foods. They don’t spend the extra money to buy organic. They eat predominantly meat. They’re not actively trying to avoid sugar and GMOs and high fructose corn syrup.

And when you’re someone’s guest, you eat what they have on hand. You dine where they take you. The food they serve is the food you eat.

I know all too well because my parents eat in much the same way as my friend’s family. And when we stay with them, we eat it too.

One thing I will say about the US is that if you want to eat clean and have the money to do it, it’s super easy. We are a country of convenience, after all.

And once Hubs, Kleine Munchkin, Turner, and I have found our feet in our new home, things are going to change.

Smart phones tell where the nearest this-mom-approved restaurants are. A quick Google search shows where the organic markets are. Friends and acquaintances can share where the farmers markets and co-ops are. Fliers are posted detailing where to pick your own fruits and veggies.

It can be done. And I would argue that it’s easier in America than it is in most places (though it could absolutely be easier). Unfortunately, there’s still a high number of Americans who can’t, don’t, or won’t jump on board.

But that’s another topic for another day, isn’t it?

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Yeah

It’s been, what, two weeks since we’ve been back in the United States?

Surreal…

And to be honest – it feels like I never left.

Of course I miss people in the Netherlands and it’s weird as all get out not having Hubs around. But other than that, it’s almost as though nothing’s changed.

I mean, it’s still early days and I guess you could say we’re still in vacation mode, but the only thing weird about it is the feeling that the last five and a half years have been nothing more than a blip, a trip across the rainbow to the land of oz.

Except no one’s questioning whether or not I was actually gone. They all know I was gone and are quick to remind me for how long.

It’s amazing how quickly I’ve eased back into things. 

Though there have certainly been some ‘culture shock’ moments, if you want to call them that.

Like, why have I never noticed before that the word “yes” has completely disappeared from American vocabulary. 

If you’re American, stop and think about it for a second. When was the last time you said “yes”?

To be honest, I really didn’t notice it until I asked Offspring a question and she replied “yeah.” The little girl with the nice, crisp, polite “yes” had turned the the nasal, flat “yeah” down pat.

I’ve been giving her constant reminders that “yeah” is not polite and the proper response is “yes,” but I haven’t been having much luck.

My first instinct was to blame my parents (after all, Offspring’s intonation when she says the word is identical to my mother’s). But while I was sitting in at the bank trying to open an account, I realized this yeah thing was bigger than me. 

Perhaps I’d just not been aware of it before, but I was amazed at how many time the teller replied with a yeah during our conversation.

And it’s on TV too – even on this-Mom-approved shows like Dora and Sesame Street.

So I’m now faced with the question, do I try to beat them or should I just give in and join them?

Yeah, I’ll have to give that one some more thought.

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We have a winner!!

Tell ’em what they’ve won!

Congratulations to Julie McAninch, the winner of the very first Clogs and Hotdogs giveaway! 

What did she win? As promised, Julie will get two free tickets to the Amsterdam Dungeon!

If your name is Julie McAninch, please send me an email with your mailing address to clogsandtulipsblog@gmail.com to claim your prize 🙂

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Bringing up bilingual baby: when one language is stronger than the other

A little bit of Dunglish is part and parcel of being bilingual

Kleine Munchkin passed the one-year marker last month (it’s amazing how the time flies!), and she’s hitting all those milestones that come with it. She started walking in November, she recognizes people and objects, she’s more independent than ever, and, yes, she’s started talking.

So far – in addition to baby babbling – we’ve got Mommom, Papa, MoMo (aka Elmo), and caaaaaaa. To clarify, that last one is ‘cat,’ spoken with that nasal, flat, piercing ‘a’ we Americans are so (in)famous for.

She sees the four-legged, whiskered animal outside and we hear “caaaaaaaa!” She spies one on TV and we hear “caaaaaaa!” She points to pictures of them in her books and gleefully shouts “caaaaaaa!” Ask her where the kat is, however, and she looks at you like you have three heads.

Houston, we have a problem.

The goal is to raise her to be bilingual: Dutch and English. We’re using the one parent, one language module in which one parent speaks one language with the child while the other speaks the second language with the child. In my dream world, she’ll be native in both.

But now she’s indicating that she understands English but is still extremely fuzzy on the Dutch.

If you leave the room and close the door behind you, she’ll bang on the door until you come back. To make sure I don’t slam the door open in her face, I started asking “may I come in?” before very slowly and very carefully opening the door. After a few times, “may I come in” became her cue that whoever had gone out was coming back, and she’d scoot out of the way.

The first time my husband saw it, he thought it such a novelty. “Hey, it really works,” he said with amusement. So he gave it a try.

“Mag ik binnenkomen?” he asked.

No response

“Kleine Munchkin, mag ik binnenkomen?” he tried again.

Nothing.

He sighed. “May I come in?”

And Kleine Muchkin squealed in delighted anticipation and scooted away from the door.

It makes sense. I work from home, so I’m home with her all the time. I’m constantly talking to her, asking her things, reading to her, singing to her. My husband does all these things too. But he works 40+ hours a week, sometimes coming home late because of office events and networking activities. And then there’s the occasional overnight business trip. Because of his work schedule, he’s rarely able to join us when we head to the US for a week or two.

We have the exact opposite issue that so many Dutch/expat couples I know do. Usually, because of daycare, time with the Dutch-speaking parent, frequent visits from the Dutch grandparents, and more exposure to Dutch in general, the children speak Dutch flawlessly, but struggle a bit with English.

But because she doesn’t see her Dutch grandparents as often, because she spends most of her time with native English speakers, and because her Papa can’t be home with her as much, English is definitely her stronger language.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to give her the Dutch language exposure she needs. Here’s what’s been working as well as some ideas I got recently from the InCultureParent article 29 Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids.

Making the most out of my husband’s time with her – When he comes home, he becomes the main parent. He feeds her, bathes her, gets her in her pajamas, reads to her, helps her brush her “teeth,” gives her her last bottle, and puts her to bed. He also takes her one day during the weekend and they do things just the two of them. Not only does this help with her Dutch, it also gives them some great Papa/dochterje bonding time.

Watching Dutch television – I’m not a fan of the TV, but there are some fabulous educational programs out there for kids. To discourage endless, mindless TV watching, I buy those shows on DVD and we watch one episode each day. But I make sure it’s a Dutch language show. My favorite: Dora the Explorer. It’s interactive, making it great for kids. As a former teacher, I find lots of educational value in it that I see lacking in so many other television shows broadcast here in the Netherlands. Plus, in the Netherlands, Dora speaks Dutch and English, so she gets input from both languages, with an emphasis on Dutch.

Encouraging more Oma and Opa time – My husband’s parents are older and live about 40 minutes away (which is really far by Dutch standards), so they don’t see her much. By comparison, we Skype with my parents a few times a week and see them almost every month. This help strengthen her English as well as her relationship to my parents. So I’m trying to take her to Oma and Opa’s more often and encourage them to come visit her more frequently. I’ve also introduced them to Skype, which they’re starting to get the hang of. This helps with her Dutch but also strengthens her relationship with her Dutch grandparents.

Listening to music – Think about how you learned your native language. You learned all the kid songs and nursery rhymes. Music makes things catchier and easier to memorize. It sticks better and you’re likely to find yourself singing the songs without even realizing it. That’s why teaching those songs at home and at school is so important. I was singing the ABCs by the time I was 18 months old. Music also helped me learn Dutch. I don’t feel that it’s right for me to be singing those songs to her because I’m her English source and may teach her the wrong pronunciations, but I can play the music for her. Whether it’s Jan Smit, Trijntje Oosterhuis, or a kinderleidjes CD, I always have Dutch language music playing in the background for her.

Taking classes – Every Monday, Kleine Munchkin and I go to swimming class at the local pool and on Saturdays my husband takes her to classes at the Little Gym. Not only are those kinds of things great for motor skill development and social interaction, but she also gets further Dutch exposure. So, even though I take her to swimming, she hears instructions from the juf in Dutch. Bonus: we both learn something new each week.

Hiring Dutch childcare – Yes, I work from home, but anyone with children knows that you don’t get anything done with kids around. To ensure that I’m able to complete my work and meet my deadlines, I’ve hired Dutch-speaking babysitters. One comes for three hours on Mondays and Thursdays, and the other one’s here for four hours on Tuesdays. The girls only speak Dutch with Kleine Munchkin and it’s great for her to be exposed to other people.

Broadcasting the Papa Show – This one I haven’t tried yet, but Hubby and I are going to work on it tonight once Kleine Munchkin’s in bed. What you do is video the minority language parent reading, telling stories, singing and talking. Then, when that parent’s not around, you show the video. Kleine Munchin will see and hear her Papa in what is now her minority language. This is particularly great during business trips or for when Hubby will be getting home after Kleine Munchin’s already gone to bed, so that she’ll still be able to see and “spend time with” her Papa.

Breakin’ out the electronic toys  – We have oh so many of these. Toys that sing and talk and play music. We have them in Dutch, and we have them in English. But recently I noticed that all her Dutch language toys are up in her bedroom and her English language toys are downstairs in the living room, where she spends most of her time. There’s a reason for this. As new toys come in, my husband moves the old ones up to her bedroom. Whereas the gifts she gets from friends and family in the US are mostly electronic, the ones from Dutch friends and family are mostly wooden. So in the living room right now, we have all American electronic toys and Dutch wooden toys, with very few exceptions. Recently, I took most of her English speaking toys up to her room and replaced them with the Dutch speaking ones. Now at least when she presses those tempting, noise-inducing buttons, she hears more Dutch.

Getting out and about – Another simple way to expose her to Dutch is taking her out. To the playground, to the drugstore, on a grocery run, out for a coffee/apple juice. I may not be speaking Dutch, but the other people around us will be.

I realize she’ll probably never be equally strong in both languages, but there is a real need in our situation to level the playing field at this juncture. Luckily, being the English-language parent doesn’t mean I can’t do little things to expose her to the other language we want her to learn.

What are some other things parents can do or that you do yourself to show some more love to that minority language?

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Learn Dutch with DutchPod101.com

Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Fabio Tiriticco

Originally from Rome, it was a university exchange program in France in 2004 that led Fabio to write about his travel experiences. Now, Fabio’s living it up in Amsterdam! He shares his experiences on his blog Famsterdam Life. Find out a bit about him below before clicking over to check out his blog. Thanks, Fabio, for helping me resurrect the Tiptoe Through the Tulips interview series!

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here? 
I moved to the Netherlands from Italy in January 2007, but the story begins a few years before that. Down in Italy, the reputation of Holland (and especially Amsterdam) is all about drugs, prostitution and such. None of this ever really attracted me, therefore I grew up barely know where Holland was! Things changed when I spent some time in France for my studies. I met quite a few Dutch friends there and traveled with them to the flat land, finally discovering it through their own eyes and seeing what lies behind the prejudice. I fell in love with this place, so after graduation I immediately looked for jobs over here.

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else? 
I’m not sure I could live in Amsterdam forever, but to be honest I can’t see myself leaving it for good either! I like to see Amsterdam as a perfect headquarter to leave from and come back to. Every year or two I like to spend some time away from here. The current mid-term plan is a multi-month trip with my touring bike.

What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom/dad, entrepreneur, student, etc)? 
I work as a Software Engineer for a Dutch company, but only four days a week. This is a great opportunity in this country-it definitely offers more choices when it comes down to balance work and personal time.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands? 
The flatness! 😀 There is an entirely different set of values and costumes. One thing that stands out is the way to enjoy time with friends. Most of the ‘people time’ in the Netherlands is ruled b alchool, which is totally not the case in Italy. The ubiquitous biertje is what makes people loose and glues them together at the same time. Rather than being a nice side thing while gathered with friends, its role here is being the central propellent of any fun night worthy of the name.

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
One really cool spot is Muiden, a little town outside of Amsterdam. I often ride my bike there, and it’s great from the very entrance – you reach a little fort just next to the little harbor filled with boats. The town vibe is similar to other old Dutch villages, but this one has a fantastic sluice and overlooks the Muiderslot, a magnificent castle. I definitely recommend going there for a day trip.

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe.
Love, there can only be one answer: its bike culture and infrastructure. I lately had my city bike fully ‘pimped’ by an artist! The bike has become an essential part of my lifestyle and I will do everything I can to keep it like this. One thing I loathe would be the Dutch accent when they pronounce the English word ‘that’! I’ve been sitting here for a bit but I can’t actually name any. Ain’t that good?

What’s one thing you’ve had to adjust to since coming to the Netherlands and how did you adjust (or are you still working on it)?
This has to be the lack of light in winter! I know it’s not specifically Dutch, but I’ve always been used to lower latitudes and the late light / early dark has a big impact on myself. On the other hand, the extra long days worked out beautifully. It gives me a previously unknown energy and it really brings you to make the most out of any day!

Do you have an embarrassing moment since you’ve moved that you would like to share with us (an unfortunate language blunder, or a funny getting-back-on-the-bike story)? 
One I can for sure remember is when a friend of mine and I enrolled at a local gym and went to one of the group lessons to try. We were confident enough about our Dutch and, in any case, “we’ll just copy what the guy does”. At some point he stopped moving and started giving verbal instructions only! Thanks to the music, we completely lost it, triggering that Dutch mixture between laughter and disapproval in all the other participants, until when the teacher came next to us to show us the moves!

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Be ready for a challenging environment, but be also assured that it can be very rewarding.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
The people at MixtUp (http://www.mixtup.nl/) are the best in both organizing little precious concerts (even in the vault of an old bank!) and keeping you up to date with what there’s to do around. They are good people who really put their heart into it.

Images courtesy of Famsterdam Life

Interested in doing an interview of your own? Send me an email at clogsandtulipsblog@gmail.com with ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

The opinions and content within this post are solely those of the guest poster and in no way reflect the views of  the Clogs and Hotdogs blog or its blogger.

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Small Blog Big Income - Learn More about the eBook

The Writer Trap Known as Content Mills

Quick! Get out of that content mill trap – FAST!

I don’t condemn content mills or the writers who write for them. In fact, as I’ve stated before on this blog, I think there is some merit to them.

They offer writers a way to make quick cash and polish their writing. They teach writers valuable skills like sticking to a word count, writing to a deadline, following guidelines, using SEO and keywords in their writing, and working with an editor.

It’s also a nice way to pick up some clips and credibility when you are just starting out.

At the same time, writers need to be extremely careful when it comes to writing for content mills as there are also a lot of negatives involved.

The revenue system is sketchy. There’s a lot of fine print that the content mills make almost impossible to find, only to pull out to stab the writer in the back with later on down the road.

Much of the writing produced by content mills is extremely unprofessional and many editors, publishers, and agents won’t take you seriously if they find out you write for content mills.

There are also a lot of “as long ases” involved.

Content mills are great for making money “as long as” they don’t sell the site to another company that will change the payment policy, guidelines, or decide to cut back on writers.

Your articles will continue to make you money “as long as” the content mill doesn’t decide to take your article(s) off the site or change its revenue or payment policies.

Money will continue to roll in “as long as” the content mill doesn’t go under or the owners don’t decide to abandon it for another project.

The other thing is that the payout is often only a small fraction of minimum wage. When you consider the hours that go into researching, writing, and editing the article and then the time that goes into promotion, you’ve done far more work than you’re actually getting paid for.

But writers get sucked into the content mills, making mere pennies per article and think that this is as high as they can reach. The big paying glossies and trade magazines, the small business clients and high paying blogging gigs are for the big-time writers.

Truth is, many content mill writers are actually just as good as, if not better than the top earning freelancers. The difference is that the top earners didn’t let themselves get sucked into the content mills.

Rather than writing $15 articles on watching paint dry, they sent out pitches and queries to national and trade magazines. They proposed columns and article ideas to the local newspaper. They entered writing contests and sent their manuscripts out to agents, and cold-called companies about hiring them as a writer. They searched the job boards for ghost writing, blogging, editing, and freelancing gigs.

And they got results.

When I was “accepted” to write for Demand Studios and Examiner.com, I was elated. I was going to be paid for my writing which meant that I had made the “big time.”

I took my initial assignments for both sites very seriously and spent quite a lot of time researching, interviewing, writing, editing and proofreading. Then I tweeted the articles, shared them on Facebook and LinkedIn, emailed the links to friends and family and blogged about it.

While I was guaranteed $15 per Demand Studios article, Examiner.com proved to be much less “profitable.”

I joined the site as the Netherlands Travel Examiner two years ago. In that time, I’ve written and promoted 26 articles. And earned $36.

Now, I say earned, because although I’ve earned the money, I have yet to have seen a penny of it. Which brings us back to the danger of “as long as.”

The way Examiner.com works is that you earn $0.01 for every “hit” your article gets. Your earnings can increase depending on how long visitors stay on each page, any comments left, advertisements clicked on, and how many times the article is shared via social networking sites.

What’s interesting is that, if you refer to your stats (which keep track of how many hits your pages have gotten and how much money you’ve earned), you’ll find that the earnings are quite a bit less than $0.01 per hit.

When I first signed up for Examiner.com, the policy was that writers would get paid on the 20th of the month, but only after they had accumulated $20 on their articles. It took me a year-and-a-half and 22 articles to earn $20.

At the same time I hit the $20 marker, Examiner.com changed it’s payment policy. Now, writers would only be paid if they accumulated $25 in one month. So, in order to get my $20, I would have to make an additional $25 on my articles in a month’s time. My articles were only making a little over $1 per month. In order to get that many hits, I would have to write over 500 articles.

My assumption is (and you know what they say happens when you assume…) that complaints arose from the Examiner.com community after this change was made. Because less than a month later, the policy was changed again.

This time, writers would have to earn $10 per month in order to see a payout. On top of that, you also have to produce at least one new article each month in order to get paid. And, should you go more than 60 days without posting, you lose all the money you earned prior to those 60 days.

For instance, in 2010, I earned $14.95. My last article for 2010 was written in September and I didn’t pick up writing for Examiner.com again until June 2010. Because more than 60 days passed, I am no longer eligible to receive the $14.95 I earned in 2010.

To earn $10 a month, I would have to have over 200 articles in my Examiner.com stable. As it was, with my 22 articles (assuming it took me one hour to research, write, proof and promote each one), I had made an average of $0.90 per hour.

Then it hit me. There was no reason I should be making less than $1 per hour when other freelancers were making $100 or more per hour.

If I had sold those same articles to travel magazines at a low price of $50 per article, I would have made $1,100. And I wouldn’t have had to promote them. In fact, I probably would have gotten a free copy of the publication they appeared in. I’d also have made connections with the editors at those publications, which could have brought me even more work in the future.

And that’s just at $50 per article. Imagine if I sold each one of those 22 articles for $100? Or $200? Even if I’d written the articles for Demand Studios at $15 apiece, my earnings would have been $330. Not as attractive a total, but still a far cry from $20.

The sad thing is, I’m not the only one who fell into the Examiner.com trap. Examiner.com “employs” hundreds of writers who punch out 22 articles in the span of a week or a month. Some Examiners have contributed hundreds and hundreds of articles to the site.

Yes, some of these writers make hundreds of dollars each month on articles they wrote long ago, but they still have to produce one new article each month and ensure they get enough hits in order to see that money. They can’t go longer than 60 days without posting or else they forfeit any earnings accumulated prior to their 60-day haitus.

And they have to hope that Examiner.com doesn’t decide to delete their content, or go out of business, or sell the site to another company, or change the payment policy again, or change the guidelines so that their previous articles are no longer up to standard, or decide to downsize.

I for one, am eager to leave Examiner.com behind. To delete all my content and rework it to be sold to other, better paying venues. To warn other writers about content mills who take advantage of their writers.

It’s just a shame that companies like Examiner.com feel that their writers and the content they produce are worth so little. And that writers continue to gravitate toward writing opportunities like this, not realizing that there is so much more and so much better out there.

Please tell all your writer friends and acquaintances not to make the same mistake I did and leave the content mills behind for venues that appreciate their work and pay well for it. Or at least to be sure to do their research and read all the fine print before signing up.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success