“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.

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!

Grow Your Writing Income: Learn How

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?

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!

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?

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success

How I met Chuck Palahniuk

Yup, it’s a book too.

Years ago, I saw the movie Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Normally that’s not my type of movie, but I really enjoyed it. I had no idea it was a book.

A few years later, a guy I was dating was deep into reading this book by an author I’d never heard of before. When I asked if it was any good, he said “Oh yeah! It was written by the guy who wrote Fight Club.” Well, I’ll be danged – you learn something new everyday!

I caught a glimpse of the author’s last name and, though I couldn’t even begin to guess how to pronounce it, the spelling of it seared itself in my brain.

Fast-forward 8 years and I’m at a Pub Quiz here in Utrecht. The question was “What book by Chuck Palahniuk was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton?” Of our 10-member team, I was the only one who knew the answer.

A few weeks after that, my husband and I were enjoying our weekend stroll through the city center of Utrecht when we passed the bookstore Selexyz. Selexyz often has author signings and I’ve made it a habit of checking the announcements to see if there are any I recognize. There never are.

This particular day, however, there was one name I did: Chuck Palahniuk. I pointed the notice out to my husband telling him it was the guy who wrote Fight Club. “I didn’t know that was a book,” my husband said. Nevertheless, we both agreed that we would do our best to make it to the book signing.

When we got home, I went to go write it on our calendar only to find out that we would be in the US that day for my 10-year high school reunion. Bummer.

As the time for our vacation drew nearer, we found ourselves with a buyer who wanted to move into our apartment by October 1st and no place to live once we’d moved out. We had our eye on a house and, when our bid was accepted, it was cutting it super close to departure day.

At the suggestion of friends and in-laws, we decided to have a technical inspection done on the house before signing a contract. Which meant that contract signing would have to be postponed until the technical report had been done and we’d gotten the results.

The technical report was scheduled at the earliest possible time: seven days before we were supposed to head State-side. Needless to say, we had to push our trip back by a week.

But this meant we could attend the birthday party of one of my husband’s dearest friends. This friend — Maarten — has a thing for books. Doesn’t matter what kind of book it is, he’ll buy it and read it. My kind of guy. So, the obvious place to shop for a birthday gift was a bookstore. And that’s exactly what we did.

We stepped over the threshold into Selexyz and stumbled right into a long line. People were waiting with books in hand for a nerdy guy in glasses standing at the other end of the store. A book signing of some sort. We walked right by and found the perfect book for Maarten: the book of Genesis in graphic novel form.

On our way to the checkout, I decided to be nosey and see who this writer was. Wouldn’t you know it, we’d ended up at Chuck Palahniuk’s book signing!

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and grab a Chuck Palahniuk book for Maarten as well as a copy of Fight Club for ourselves and stand in line.

And that’s how I met Chuck Palahniuk. Not only can I now pronounce his last name, but we finally have a copy of that book we never knew existed with Palahniuk’s chicken scratch on the title page saying:

“Enjoy your fights.”

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!

Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Keith Jenkins

Keith Jenkins, the blogger behind Velvet Escape, has been living in the Netherlands for almost two decades. Another “in the Netherlands for love” story, Keith has taken some time out of his busy travel schedule to answer a few questions for us. Thanks Keith, and welcome!

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here?
I’ve been living in the Netherlands for almost 20 years. What brought me here? LOVE!

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else?
I have no plans to move back to my country of origin, Malaysia, or anywhere else but who knows what the future will bring. For now, I’m perfectly happy living in Amsterdam.

What do you do during the day (job, stay-at-home-parent, entrepreneur, student, etc)?
I’m a full-time travel blogger and social media consultant. This has been my profession for the past two years. Before that, I was an investment banker for ten years.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands?
Errr… the weather! Malaysia is a tropical country.

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
Too many to mention but Amsterdam, Masstricht and Groningen are my favourite cities. In addition, I love the tranquility of the Wadden islands.

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe…
I travel a lot and each time I return to the Netherlands, it always strikes me how well everything is organised. I guess that’s one of the things I love about living here. On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of the Amsterdam metro and the growing number and length of the traffic jams.

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)?
When I first came here, I had trouble adjusting to the directness of the Dutch. I come from a culture where speaking your mind is considered rude and disrespectful. It was not until I started working at the bank that I was truly confronted with this stark difference. It demanded quite a bit of soul-searching. These days, I have no problems speaking my mind when the situation warrants it. I’m still known as Mr. Diplomatic though… and I see that as a good thing.

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)?
Oh, you mean the time I suffered a pinched nerve in my lower back after sitting at a four-hour business dinner and I couldn’t get up? The restaurant was packed and I said goodbye to my colleagues and clients as they left. The pain was excruciating and after sitting at the empty table for what seemed like an eternity, I mustered the courage to ask a waiter to help me get up and walk me to the door. It wasn’t a pretty scene.

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Learn the language! It’s easy enough to get by with English but you’ll only begin to understand the Dutch if you speak the language.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
I would recommend my Velvet Escape travel blog and my The Happy Explorer photo blog. For expat tips and news, I would recommend Expatica.

Images courtesy of Keith Jenkins

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.

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!

Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Stephanie Ward

I am pleased to welcome Stephanie Ward to the Tiptoe Through the Tulips Interview series! Stephanie is a Small Business marketing coach through her own company Firefly Coaching. With 12 years as an expat in the Netherlands under her belt, Stephanie has some excellent things to share here. Welcome Stephanie!

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here?
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 marked twelve years of living in the Netherlands with my love. He is the reason I moved here.

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else?
I don’t have any plans to move anywhere and I always say, “never say never.” I really feel at home here and love the life we’ve created together. If some fantastic opportunity emerged for us that involved moving to another country (my home country of the US or somewhere else), I’d consider it.

What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom, entrepreneur, student, etc)?
I’m an entrepreneur and started my business, Firefly Coaching, in 2002. I’m a Marketing Coach for Small Business owners. I help my clients attract more clients and grow their businesses. I offer a free special report, 7 Steps to Attract More Clients in Less Time at my website http://www.fireflycoaching.com/. There are also loads of free marketing articles, videos, and posts on my website.

Many of my clients are expats and I also work with small business owners who are locals in their various cities. Since I do all of my marketing coaching over the telephone and via e-mail, I can work with people all over the world.

It’s a thrill to help small business owners build a business that allows them to do what they love and earn a living.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands?
Many of the differences are quite subtle and took me years to discover. One that I noticed right away, and am used to now, is the directness of the Dutch. It’s great to be able to say what you think and have others do the same and no one takes it personally (for the most part).

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
I love to visit Amsterdam for a day of big city life. Maastricht is fabulous for a weekend getaway. And of course, I love Apeldoorn where I live. I’m so close to nature, I just hop on my bike and within five minutes I’m in the forest (the Veluwe).

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe…
I love the flat landscape that makes biking a breeze. I’m not so thrilled about the lack of patient queuing.

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)?
Customer service is a different experience in the Netherlands, much different from the US. It’s not that people here simply don’t care, part of it is a cultural difference related to the concept that all people are equal. People keep doing whatever they’re doing until they’re done with it and then they acknowledge you and offer service. I wish I could say, “I’m over it” but I’m still working on it.

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)?
Um yeah, I do. I suppose everyone does. When I first moved here I noticed that many of the buses (which state their destination on the front of the bus) were headed to Buitendienst. I thought it was strange that so many buses were going to that one place and wondered where in the world it was located. When I finally discovered that the word Buitendienst means “Not in Service” I had to laugh out loud as well as feel a bit foolish. But hey, I learned a new word.

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Pay attention to how things work and what people say. Don’t assume that things will go the way you’re used to them going in your home country. You can pick up a lot just by being aware and paying attention. And of course, as much of a struggle as it was for me, life is much sweeter when you learn the local language.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
For learning Dutch I highly recommend http://www.talencoach.nl/. For Dutch news in English check out http://www.dutchnews.nl/. And to find out what’s happening around the country have a look at http://www.iamexpat.nl/ and http://www.expatica.com/.

You can find Stephanie on Twitter and Facebook.

Images courtesy of Stephanie Ward

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.

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!

Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Susy

Susy is a new reader to Clogs and Tulips and – much to my delight – has decided to bring back the Tiptoe Through the Tulips interview series! Originally from Canada, Susy has really thrown herself into life in the Netherlands, even going so far as to become Dutch. Welcome Susy!

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here?
I’ve been here almost 10yrs. Came for a dutchie I met on line in ’99, got married in 2005 and divorced April 2010

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else?
Staying here. I’m dutch now, did my nursing degree here, have a good job and just bought my own house. I’m also once again in a relationship with a Dutchie.

What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom, entrepreneur, student, etc)?
I work full-time as a nurse in a GP’s practice.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands?
Weather. Here is more temperate, more even. Montreal is a city of extremes.

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
I like the wadden islands. I love small villages, country-side too. Not much for tourist attractions or big cities

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe…
I love the history. I loathe nothing really… sometimes it bugs me though that some Dutch people get stuck in doing things a certain way because they always have done it that way. No room for creativity/thinking outside the box.

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)?
Speaking a new language.

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)?
I was working in a nursing home where no English AT ALL was spoken just 6 mths after I arrived in this country. So I was laughed at/ridiculed constantly about my Dutch.

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Learn dutch!!! It will open eyes, doors and hearts!

Images courtesy of Susy

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.

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!

Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Jules

An American in Holland… this time it’s not me! Meet Jules who blogs over at Outside Looking In. When the burnout of her studies and the thought of staying at home became too much, this Philadelphian hopped a plane to come stay with her (you guessed it) Dutch boyfriend.

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here?
I’ve been living here for 3 years now. I burned out of my graduate program, and basically called my boyfriend up and asked, “Can I come and stay with you?” Two weeks later, my cats were microchipped and vetted, and I was on a plane.

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else?
We’ll be staying here (by which I mean the Netherlands) for the forseeable future. I’ve been taken in by all of my boyfriend’s friends and family, and have started laying down my own ties here. Plus we’ve adopted a third cat who does not travel well, to put it mildly. So, yeah—we’re staying here.

What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom, entrepreneur, student, etc)?
I work in a lab. For the sake of my job I won’t say more than that. But I’m also looking to start up a freelancing editing business on the side. I know nothing of freelancing, so right now it’s just doing a bit of prodding and poking and seeing if I get any bites.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands?
The bike lanes! I didn’t have a car when I lived in and around Philadelphia, so I biked just about everywhere, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve almost been killed there, by either errant drivers, stupid lane markings, and trolley tracks (especially when it rained). I think I lost a few years of my life to that. I’ve even been hit by a car—fortunately the car wasn’t going very fast and I was able to turn away from the hit at the last second, but even so, riding a bike in the US is like running with the bulls. And frankly, I think Pamplona is safer. I think the main reason I like living here so much is because bikes are much better-accepted than they are in the States. Plus the infrastructure is there for safer riding.

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
Not Amsterdam, hehe. I’m more of a nature-person, and the area around Nijmegen is a wonderful place to explore. The Ooijpolder, which is a wildlife preserve and uitwater (a floodplain, so that if the Waal floods the waters go there rather than over the dike and into farmers’ homes) is home for several gorgeous waterfowl in the winter. Millingerward is also a designated nature preserve—just make sure to wear your boots when you go. There are several good spots to see waders, and during the winter you can see hordes of people lining the Ooijse Bandijk (yes, I had to google this) to watch the geese. In the woods to the south (Heumenbos, I think it’s called) there are several different warblers and woodpeckers, and during the autumn the place is crawling with mushrooms—one of my favorite subjects for photography. I really want to go to the Veluwe someday.

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe…
I love (and love to poke fun at) what I call the “Dutch hive mind”. The Dutch hive mind is, I am convinced, is what keeps this country together. It’s a subconscious understanding of all of the complicated rules and regulations that govern life here—park your bike here, don’t ride your bike there, put your trash here and make sure it’s neat. It manifests in some pretty interesting ways; for example, when I was in Renesse with my former lab for a weekend, we stayed in a pension house where you could prepare your own meals. Nobody ever stood up and said, “OK, you do this and you do that.” It just happened. Same thing of the cleanup afterwards—suddenly everybody would stand up and clear their place and someone would load the dishwasher and someone else would wipe down the tables, and nobody ever told anyone to do anything. The funniest part about the national penchant for cleanliness and order is that for some reason, it simply does not apply to dog poop.

The one thing I loathe is making phone calls. I make a fair number of phone calls and I’m never sure which language to use when the secretary picks up. I mean, I can ask for people by name and explain myself in simple terms in Dutch, and even understand most of their replies. But then they ask me a very complicated question and then I have to answer in English, and then they get confused and then I realize what it is they asked (after I’ve already answered) and then the whole thing devolves from there.

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)?
Stores not being open on Sunday. You’d think that I’d be used to it by now, and I am better about getting groceries on Saturday. But if there is a koopzondag then I’ll get lazy and not get everything on Saturday. The problem with koopzondag is that not every store partakes in it, and sometimes the store I intended on visiting on Sunday is not, in fact opening that day. I had gotten better about it, but then I took an apartment closer to where I work to avoid a daily 5-hour commute. Keeping track of which koopzondag I can go shopping on just makes my life that much more complicated.

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)?
When I was commuting between Leiden and Nijmegen every day (2 hours each way), I eventually learned that the 6:24 train out of Nijmegen would get me to Utrecht just in time to catch the 7:26 to Leiden. The train would typically arrive in Utrecht at aound 7:23, or 7:24, and of course the platforms for the arriving and departing trains were at opposite ends of the station, so it would be a mad dash down the stairs, through the tunnel, and up the stairs and onto the train.

This one time, the arriving train pulled into Utrecht at 7:25. I’m thinking, Well, it’ll be a close one, but I think I might just make it. As soon as the door opens I’m out like a shot. Down the stairs. Past the people. The tunnel is clear. Up the stairs. Almost there. The whistle blows—

And then I trip and fall flat on my face.

When I look up again the train is moving away from the platform. And I decide that it’s a cookie kind of day.

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Talk less and listen more. A bit of advice that most people everywhere could use, especially if they’re in another country. I sometimes walk past Americans grumbling quite loudly about how confusing everything is. I fight the temptation to laugh at them, and then move on.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
I’m a fan (not in the Facebook sense) of Invading Holland, but I don’t know of an expat who isn’t. I love the website Birdpix—the photography there makes me green with jealousy every time I see it. The KNMI website is invaluable—there’s a lot of text on the site, but the pictograms are all you really need to know when it’s not going to rain. Marktplaats.nl is a key, key website for us—when we need something that we don’t want to (read: can’t afford) pay retail price for, that’s the first place we check to see if we can’t find it. Maastricht Minutiae is a pretty cool blog—Amanda and Dan go check out the places I never have time to. And a friend of ours, Bouke Vlierhuis, will be launching his own blog in the near future—he’s a writer and/or poet. For now, you can see his writing on fictionaut.com, under the name P. Jonas Bekker (all those vowels are a bit intimidating for Americans!).

Images courtesy of Jules

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.

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!