Searching for Holiday Spirit

The Oudegracht and the Stadhuisbrug shortly after Sinterklaas sailed through.

I’ve been trying to get into the holiday spirit, but even with the couple of days of snow we had this week, I just haven’t felt it. Thinking that if I didn’t get the tree up this weekend, I might not end up putting it up at all, I set to work cleaning the house and getting the tree and decorations down from storage. Much sneezing later, I set to work, with a glass of homemade eggnog and some GenX Christmas songs to try to help set the mood.

The tree is up and it’s nice to revisit the memories behind each ornament and have the glow of the lights add such much needed light as the daylight fades so early now. I’m still not sure I’m in the holiday mood, but I’ve got a Christmas and Advent philharmonic orchestra concert to look forward to next weekend, and probably a visit to the kerstmarkt in town, either at Janskerkhof or Twijnstraat, since they’ll be set up in both locations in the coming weeks. Hopefully, all of that will help get me in the holiday mood. If not, there’s always gluhwein and oliebollen!

Notary’s House Revisited

I took a lot of photos of the gardens at the Notary’s House that we visited as part of the Open Monuments Day, and I thought I’d go ahead and parcel them out so you don’t get sick of them all at once. You can get sick of them over a long, drawn-out period, instead.

The first photo is the only one I took of the interior of the house, and technically, I took it from outside. I think you could get in to see some of the rooms, but the one open door was crowded with a large group of people when we looked in and so we decided just to stick with the gardens. Still, I liked the slightly faded elegance of this room, as well, matching the gardens. The oranges (tangerines, clementines, or whatever they were) were just that little bit overripe and wrinkly, but they sat there so nicely amid the sea shells. There really was a glorious madness to the whole place that really appealed to me. Southern gothic meets Miss Havisham.

The rest of the photos for today are of the patio just outside the room above (I took my photo from the window/door on the right), and the small pool/fountain just beneath the patio. The pool is in front of the seating nook with the mirror and klompen that I posted last time. I’ll save the Japanese pond for another day.



I Have the Prettiest Screens

One of those small differences between the Netherlands and the US — or at least the parts of the US I lived in — is the lack of window screens. Maybe it’s a result of growing up in the South, where there are some seriously scary bugs and other creatures, but I like screens. I want some sort of protection against flies, spiders and other creepy crawlies. However, I also want to be able to open my windows and get some fresh air into the house.

Downstairs, we only have two transom windows in the kitchen, but when I open them, we inevitably get flies who drive me mental with their buzzing. We probably could have purchased some screen material and tacked it up, but since we rarely head out to the big-box hardware stores, we’ve never investigated our options.

I like to come up with easy, MacGyverish solutions, though, so today, while walking through the lapjesmarkt (fabric market), I spotted a stall with a pretty mesh-like fabric in a colour that goes quite well with our kitchen. Best of all, the fabric was only €1 per meter, so I quickly bought a meter of the fabric, sequined flowers and all! Who said window screens have to be boring old wire mesh?

A year or so ago, I had made use of a similar scrap of material for one of the windows, but I didn’t have enough for both windows. Now I’ve got enough fabric for both windows, and it’s even the right colour. How many typical window screens have sequined flowers on them? I’m pretty sure I have the prettiest screens in the city. Even if they are held up by thumbtacks.
Prettiest Screens

Of course, I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun with the leftover fabric. After veiling myself with it, I could resist torturinghaving a quick bit of fun with Pippo and Lola. Luna wisely kept out of sight.
Taking the Veil

Lola Wrapped Up

Pretty Things on Biltstraat

AYA Living
Every time I walk down Biltstraat — which is pretty often — I always admire the window displays at AYA Living. Yet, for whatever reason, I’d never gone in to admire the rest of the shop, despite following them on Twitter and Pinterest. But today, I finally went in and fell in love with so many things. I think that might have been the reason I’d held off in the past. There are so many beautiful pieces that I want!

The shelves are full of lovely pottery with a mix of traditional and contemporary designs. There are plate and bowl sets that would be beautiful holding everything from tasty nibbles to your favourite jewelry. Then there are the small jugs perfectly made for holding a bunch of flowers. They have a thoughtfully chosen selection of furniture, such as chairs and benches, and beautiful pillows to complement them. There’s also a wonderful selection of artwork, although almost everything in the store seems like a piece of art. Best of all, the selection includes something in every price point so that even if you can’t splurge on something big, you can find a charming necklace or decorative notepad to brighten up your day.

I wanted just about everything, although I particularly fell in love with the little pink table that looks an awful lot like a flamingo!
Flamingo Tafel

I worked up the nerve at the end to say hi to one of the owners and she was lovely to talk to and we discussed our shared addiction to Pinterest. If you’re ever near Biltstraat — or just in town in general — I highly recommend a visit to AYA Living if you like pretty things.
I want it all

Fantastic Lamp

AYA Living

String Girl

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Intruder! Intruder!
Look closely. See the non-black cat on the other side of the window? Cute scene, right? My two black cats checking out the neighbor cat who has decided to perch on the window sill and be the typical curious cat. There’s no doubting it’s a cute cat, and one who has perched there many times in the past.


That’s not the only neighborhood cat that’s come for a visit. This ginger has stopped by a few times as well. Unfortunately, my two cats don’t like these trespassers. Lola, in particular, takes issue with them merely walking by and howls her head off and goes all puffy when they sit on her windowsill — or even think about it.

Cat Fight

Luna makes a bit of noise, but she generally leaves the real smack-talking to Lola. Here’s Luna tagging out, while Lola puffs up in preparation for an epic battle.
Tag Team
The next thing I knew, there went my curtains, as Lola launched herself at the other cat (who you can just spy behind Lola and the curtains).
There go my curtains
At the end of the battle, my curtains had various puncture marks and a few small tears in them. Not ideal, but things could have been worse.

In fact, they could be much worse. This is what happened this week when the ginger cat came back. Completely torn!
This is why we can't have nice things

I think I have enough of the fabric left over to remake the curtain panel, but I’ve been hesitant to try for fear that we’ll have another throw-down. As I said, this is why we can’t have nice things.


Kerstmas Decorations

Kerst Kleuren
When we moved here, we left behind the bulk of our possessions (which my parents helped us get rid of. Thank you again!). I left behind most of my Christmas decorations, as well, including the skirt I had made for the tree the year before. I did, however, bring almost all of my Christmas tree decorations, specifically the ones that had personal meaning or that we’ve had since I was a young child. My mother has given me ornaments most years that have something to do with what is going on in my life that year, or that have some sort of meaning behind them. As a result, every time I decorate our Christmas tree, I’ve got a wealth of memories to go with each decoration.

For the past two years that we’ve been here, our tree has been about the only Christmas decoration we’ve had. It’s a small house, so I don’t really miss having a lot of decorations, otherwise it just starts looking cluttered and is bound to tempt the cats into some sort of destruction. Yet I found myself wanting a few more decorations this year. Fortunately, some of the craft/design blogs I follow provided me with some inspiration for my own decorations.

The wonderful How About Orange … inspired me to make these multipoint star decorations. Rather than buy special paper or even use up perfectly good printer paper, I went through the 2010 IKEA catalog and found colorful pages to use. I was going to toss (recycle) the catalog anyway, so it seems appropriate that a decorating catalog should be used for decorations! I’ve made two so far and may well make more. I might do a bigger one to hang in the front window.
Handmade Star Ornament

Another design blog mentioned Scandinavian Christmas decorations, which somehow inspired me to make a garland of sorts out of Sculpy/Femo clay. The original was simple stars, if I remember correctly, but I couldn’t find a star-shaped cookie cutter that I liked, so I went for a mix of snow flakes, trees and shooting stars. With the help of some duct tape and twine, I ended up with a simple little garland to hang on the wall for a small but cute bit of decoration.
Christmas in New York

I’m feeling a bit more holiday cheer this year as I get used to the little differences and find new ways to enjoy the holiday spirit. It didn’t really feel like Christmas to me the first couple of years, because I realized that there were so many social/societal triggers that I responded to, which were primarily American, and thus missing here. It can be as simple as tv movies and specials, or the sound of the Salvation Army bells ringing in the shopping centers. It’s not that the Dutch don’t have their own holiday traditions. They certainly do! They’re just not the ones I grew up with, so they don’t create the same feelings in me. I’m having to learn a new set of stimuli to get myself into the spirit of things. With this my third Christmas here, it’s starting to work. Making these little decorations — and finding the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade online — have helped me feel a bit less bah humbug.
A Personal Favorite
(This was my favorite little spot to decorate in our last house. It was particularly nice at night with the lights glowing softly.)

Op De Tafel

One of my favorite color combinations is blue and green, particularly light blues with apple greens. In decorating the house, I’ve been using those basic color combinations quite a bit, as well. Our bedroom is decorating in shades of blue and green, as is our bathroom, and I’ve brought it into the dining room, as well.

I’ve been looking for just the right fabric in those colors to either recover or embellish our currently white dining room chairs. No luck yet, but I found a way to bring a bit more of that color combination into our dining room by making a table runner with some fabrics I’ve had on hand for a while. I bought the floral print a few years ago in North Carolina, simply because I liked it, without any real plan for what to do with it. The blue is a cotton canvas I bought at the lapjesmarkt here in Utrecht. The bottom of all the circles is a light purple fleece-type fabric that I bought ages ago in New York City to make cat toys. Quite the cosmopolitan table runner, I guess!


Far Traveled
Despite quiz night and dinner with friends, it’s been a fairly low-key week, so not a lot to say. I’ll just cover the highlights here.

  • Tuesday was another Murphy’s Quiz Night at the Potdeksel. Our goal is simply not to come in last, and once again, for the third month in a row, we’ve achieved that goal. This time we tied with another team for second-to-last place. One round had us putting names to the faces of child actors. I believe René said we came top in that round. We could have done even better if I hadn’t changed my guess of Natalie Wood to Judy Garland. G came through for us with Jodie Foster. Nice one!
  • Friday we had Willianne and Edmar over for dinner. It’s always a pleasure to see them and we always have fun. I’m looking forward to doing it all again sometime soon.
  • After dinner and dessert on Friday, we all headed over to the Potdeksel to finish off the evening. I met a woman who was very pro-Obama and sort of cheered me on for the US finally having a good president. I met a guy who was pro-America, and a third person who hates America and says that Americans are liars. I figure two out of three is good odds. It’s certainly nice to at least not have people hate me because of a president I didn’t vote for.
  • I put up our (fake) tree on Friday, with only the lights. Last year I wanted to get all blue lights, but only found one short string of blue lights, along with a longer string of multi-colored lights. Today, we headed out to Gamma (hardware store) to try to find some more blue lights, while also picking up some paint supplies. Unfortunately, their lights selection seemed to be limited mainly to outdoor Christmas lights, or fancy indoor lights only in white. I’ll keep looking, but for now, our tree is multicolored again this year, because I wanted to go ahead and get it decorated. It does look quite pretty, though. Maybe it will help get me in the holiday mood. So far, I’m just not feeling it this year.
  • Finally, the picture at the top is of a set of teddy bear ornaments that I’ve had for years. Andrea, my best friend at the time, gave them to me some time in the very early 1980s. I’ve held onto them, though, and they’ve moved with us from Florida, to North Carolina and now to the Netherlands. It’s nice having a fond memory of something that can be pulled out and pondered every year.

Huis Vrouw

I’ve been thinking for a while about painting the laundry room and the stairwell leading up to the top floor. It’s all a light yellow right now, and while I like the color, it could use with a fresh coat of paint. Today I started painting. For now, I’m doing a simple white base coat, but I would like to do some fun color(s) in there, as well. I’d also like to get the room organized as well as possible to make up for the limited space and angled walls.

I saw a nice room in one of the design magazines here, but have to figure out how to work some of the color combinations in without making the small room seem more oppressive. I might also just have some fun and paint some designs directly onto some of the walls, along the lines of what I did in our bedroom with the bird on a branch.

For now, though, I’ll settle for a nice, even coat of white. Next up, a trip to Gamma or Hema to pick up some more white paint and a retractable-arm paint roller to reach those hard to reach spots in the stairwell.

Xtreme Laundry

I need to remember to finish doing the laundry before it gets dark. I forgot today and had to climb up the Stairs-of-Death (TM) this afternoon in the dark. Our laundry room is on the top floor, up these very steep and narrow stairs. There’s no light to illuminate them, unless I turn on the bathroom light or the office light for a bit of indirect light. I decided to not bother with the lights today, and instead turned to my spidey senses.

It’s a bit nerve-wracking to climb up these — or any — stairs in the dark. I pull myself up with the handrail and feel very carefully for the step underneath my foot. Thank goodness there’s carpeting at the top of both sets of stairs, so it’s easier to tell when you’ve reached solid ground.

There is some sort of wiring for a light up those stairs, although it’s only somewhat useful if you’re going up, not if you’re going down, although going down, you could always use the light from the rooms upstairs. I think I might look into getting a simple light for that area, just to make it more appealing for any visitors, and safer for me when I’ve left laundry until later in the day.

Ed. Note — I’m trying to take part in the National Blog Posting Month, where you try to blog every day for a month. Prepare yourself for more inane posts such as this.