Saturday, December 31, 2016

Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep

Sometimes weird things happen when you travel abroad...

For example: two of your poems might get published in the Denver Quarterly and you don't even notice!

It's the first time I've ever had poems published, and I'm so proud of both of them--especially "Girls Look More," which, to be honest, I can't even believe came out of my brain. Can't thank the Denver Quarterly enough for selecting them and putting them alongside so many other wonderful authors. You should probably buy a copy (51.1)--not just because my poems are in there, but because you'll be supporting a great journal. Better yet, get a subscription!

It's so nice to receive good news on the final day of 2016. I suppose "receive" is a strong word--I only realized because I saw the two contributor copies my mom had thrown into the magazine basket. At any rate, 2016 has been a difficult year in many ways--President-Elect Trump (still feels wrong to type that), numerous celebrity deaths (I miss you every day, Bowie), deaths in the family (my grandmother and great-aunt died this year, within a week of each other). But many good things have happened to me this year as well, and it's important to remember them, to remember just how lucky I've been.

Therefore, in the spirit of one of my favorite songs from the 1954 classic White Christmas, I shall now recount some of the highlights of my 2016:
And that's just the big stuff! There were countless other joys, mostly because I have such amazing friends and family, for whom I am forever grateful. Thank you for being so good to me.

Let's keep the positive energy going! I'd love to hear about the high points of your 2016. Here's hoping 2017 is even better.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Belated Goodbyes

Dear me. It seems that I managed to complete my trip to Amsterdam, travel back to the United States, and celebrate Christmas--all without blogging even once.

In my defense, I was extremely busy, and then extremely jet-lagged.

Let's go over some of the highlights, shall we?

I had no intention of getting a tattoo in Amsterdam. It was not something I'd planned. But then, sometimes spontaneous tattoos are the best tattoos.
During my two months in the city, I practically lived at Volkshotel, drinking tea and using the free wifi in their giant Werkplaats. So when I saw that they were bringing in local tattoo artists for their Winter Market, I knew I had to have one. I decided on a small tulip behind my left ear. It's a classic Dutch souvenir that I simply carried out in an unusual way. 

I nearly convinced Erin to get one with me. Instead she became my official head-holder. 

Things really got weird when we returned to the apartment. Rembert--who is not a tattoo guy--saw that the artist had given me a signed copy of his biography. 

"Wait. Henk Schiffmacher gave you a tattoo?"

"Um...I guess?"

Turns out Henk Schiffmacher is quite famous in the Netherlands. He even had his own reality TV show at one point. In the past, he has tattooed the likes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kurt Cobain, and Lady Gaga. So not only did I get a spontaneous tattoo--I got a spontaneous, famous-person tattoo. Such is my glamorous life. 

The next evening was the much-awaited celebration of pakjesavond, when Sinterklaas completes his whirlwind steamboat tour around the country and delivers presents to the Dutch children, complete with long, humorous poems about their lives.

Yes. Poems.

Rembert's brother and his wife hosted the party at their beautiful lakehouse, and much to my surprise, Sinterklaas brought me some presents, along with poems in both Dutch and English! I must have been very good this year.

And/or Rembert's family is far too kind.

On my last weekend in the city, one of Willem's friends invited him to a birthday party. Not wanting Henry to feel left out, Erin and I brought him and Matthijs to the Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis, a charming fire trap in which they sell delicious Dutch pancakes. Seriously--this place would not be allowed to exist in the United States.
The restaurant is on the second floor of a building that dates to 1539, and to access it, you have to climb what might be the steepest set of stairs I've ever seen. Once inside, you can dine at one of exactly four tables. Hundreds of teapots dangle from the ceiling.

The next evening we took a canal cruise to view the vivid sculptures of the Amsterdam Light Festival. With warm cups of glühwein in hand, we floated beneath arched bridges and past narrow canal houses, their windows glowing between brightly-colored shutters. I thought it was gorgeous, but the boys were not quite as entertained. They mostly just screamed and crawled beneath the table.

On my last day in Amsterdam, Erin and I had a nice lunch. I said goodbye to Rembert and the kiddos, who I miss very much. Especially Matthijs, who had essentially become my puppy over the course of the trip. Almost-two-year-olds and puppies are essentially the same.

Backpack stuffed with stroopwafel cookies (much to the amusement of airport security at Schiphol), I began my trip back to the United States. The first leg of my journey took me to Oslo. I arrived late at night and walked to the airport hotel, where I was met with a green glowing headboard. It looked like something out of a Kubrick film. Luckily I had the option of shutting it off and falling blissfully asleep.

I didn't have much time before my second flight the next day, but I did manage get my butt up early and squeeze in a trip to Oslo proper. I took the express train downtown. It was around 8 a.m., but the sun had still barely risen. I guess that's just life in the Arctic Circle. I had oatmeal and a tea at a little cafe, which cost 88 krone. I don't know whether Norway has high inflation or simply a strange way of doing things. The ATM wouldn't let me take out fewer than 500 krone, and the smallest denomination of coin that I noticed was 1--no fractions. Their coins have holes in the center.

I took a short walk, staying close to the train station. I stood at the edge of the sea, watched the gulls balance single-footed on the black ice. The opera house rose jagged and white at the water's edge like a giant glacier. Inside, women wearing white dresses and lights in their hair sang for St. Lucy's Day. My eyes matched the sky.

Had I known that my flight to Las Vegas would be delayed, I would have spent more time exploring the city. Unfortunately, I was unaware of that development. Instead I spent several hours in the Oslo airport, which looks like it was decorated exclusively with IKEA products. My flight took off almost three hours later than expected, and then I just sat back and tried to enjoy the next ten and a half hours in the air.

International travel is exhausting, but there's something fun about losing so many hours in the clouds, only to relive them once you reach your destination. It's a pleasant reminder that time as we know it is completely arbitrary.

Upon my arrival in the city where this blog began, I immediately ate an In-N-Out cheeseburger animal style, because America. Later I was able to reconnect with friends at good ol' Atomic Liquors--although I was so jet-lagged that I can't have been much fun. I'm not even sure I was making sense. I'm glad so many people came out and put up with me anyway. It was wonderful to see everyone. I'll have to make a much longer return trip next time.

I flew back to Chicago at 8:30 the next morning. When I arrived, the ground was snow-covered, brilliantly white. We do give the Arctic Circle a run for its money.

And now I need to figure out what comes next. New Zealand? Perhaps--but I don't have any nice cousins to put me up there, so if anyone has tips for inexpensive living in Middle Earth, please let me know. I need to go somewhere I can write. Babysitting three small children is fun, but not particularly conducive to finishing a novel, especially when you have to do other work on top of it. My goal is to have the novel ready to send to agents by next summer. Then I can look for another stable, boring-person job.

Or maybe not. You never know. This stage of my life is a bit unpredictable. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

8 Hours in Antwerp

Alas! My time in Amsterdam is swiftly coming to an end. I leave for the United States on the 12th, and my brain doesn't seem to be processing the deadline well--I spent most of today convinced that it was Wednesday instead of Thursday.

I was determined to squeeze in one more visit to another country before my departure, so I took the train to Antwerp last Saturday. There are few things that make me happier than a train ride in Europe--plenty of time to read and write, picturesque landscapes out the windows. Speaking of picturesque, Antwerpen Centraal is quite charming in and of itself.
Antwerpen Centraal Antwerp

I exited the station onto a large shopping street. Just your average stores--H&M, Zara, all that stuff. The buildings were lovely though--stately and dignified, like so much of Europe. (Of course, it's important to keep in mind that the "stately and dignified" appearance came from wealth plundered elsewhere. Colonialism is the worst.) I especially enjoyed this rooftop statue of a winged woman wielding thunderbolts, as though she were about to zap unsuspecting passersby.

My first stop was Theaterplein, where they hold the "Exotic Market" every Saturday. (Colonialism again.) There I found stall after stall after stall filled with delicacies from around the world--nuts and fruits, mussels, cheese and meats--as well as Belgian specialties. To stay the market was bustling would be an understatement; I had to push past all the people lining up to make their purchases. Several people had brought their dogs, and let me tell you: Belgium has some beautiful dogs! They were all large with glossy coats--it seemed like they were ready to compete for a blue ribbon. I pet as many as I could.

For lunch I grabbed a Moroccan wrap filled with feta and honey (sorry Tim--I skipped the olives), as well as some Vietnamese spring rolls, because food is delicious.

Chocolate is also delicious, and Belgium is famous for it. That's why I headed to The Chocolate Line next--one of the most popular chocolate shops in Antwerp, known for its bold flavor combinations. I watched the chefs at work in the kitchen, pouring the glorious gooey substance into intricate molds. I admired some chocolate robots. And of course, I bought a few treats for myself: The Marrakech (topped with mint), The Provence (filled with lavender), and an extra-dark chocolate piece.

After exercising impressive self-control and pulling myself away from the chocolate, I switched gears to more spiritual pursuits. Though I'm no longer religious, I love wandering through cathedrals--I can never quite believe that all that gothic architecture came together without modern technology. Plus, there's nothing like a good crypt. The single spire of The Cathedral of Our Lady looms above the buildings of Antwerp, and I was drawn to it immediately, an opulent beacon.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp

Amsterdam is great and everything, but the fact remains: nobody does over-the-top splendor better than Roman Catholics. (Mostly because they plundered the wealth of their poorest parishioners. I'm sensing a theme.) The features inside were wonderful--I especially enjoyed the elaborately carved wooden pulpit, adorned with peacocks and other non-European birds. Maybe it took inspiration from the Garden of Eden? The alcoves were painted with vivid colors--I'm always impressed by how little they fade throughout the centuries. I must say, however, that the crypt was only so-so. And I know my crypts.

Antwerp's Royal Museum of Fine Arts is currently being renovated, so they've moved several of the most famous works into The Cathedral of Our Lady. They're all Biblical scenes--which makes sense, based on where they've been relocated. But at least I was able to see some paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, who is The Artist You're Supposed To See While Visiting Antwerp. I can't say I loved his work, but he was clearly more talented than many of the other artists they displayed in the cathedral. I think his subjects look like puffy cloud people. Don't they look like puffy cloud people?

My views on art are so sophisticated, n'est-ce pas?

I'd heard about this famous medieval alley called Vlaeykensgang, tucked into the heart of the city, so that's what I tried to do next. Tried being the key word. I searched and I searched, but all I found were charming boutiques. I didn't realize this before I visited, but it turns out that Antwerp is a big fashion city. If you enjoy shopping, Antwerp's a good choice.

However, I do not particularly enjoy shopping--although I did pick up a nice notebook in a little store called Jules Unlimited, which only sells either vintage or handmade products. My notebook was handmade--with a Jesus Christ Superstar LP, no less.
Vlaeykensgang Antwerp

I did eventually find Vlaeykensgang. When they said "alley," they really meant it. It's not so much a small road as a nearly-enclosed path between a few buildings. To get there, I had to walk into what looked like a private residence--until I got through the door. Then it was just quiet and cobblestones, wobbly glass on the windows.

Jenever is a sort of proto-gin, a strong liquor made with juniper. I'd read that jenever tasting was a must for any visitor to Antwerp, and that De Vagant was the place to do it. When I sat down at the bar, the old gentleman behind the counter looked at me funny--I guess single women don't often pop in for a quick drink in the early afternoon. But he warmed up to me when I told him that I wanted to try the original kind of jenever, rather than its fruity cousin. I ended up with the jenever-of-the-week, from Brouwerij Verhofstede, which was made with hops. It was tasty, but fair warning: that stuff will knock you off your feet. Thank goodness they serve it in the tiniest of tiny glasses.
jenever Antwerp

From there I meandered down Kloosterstraat, famous for its exclusive fashion boutiques, its pop-up shops, and its antique stores. Antique stores in Europe are way better than antique stores in the United States. It's not uncommon to stumble across items from the 1700s--a history-lover's dream, even if they are in relatively poor condition. Obviously, I couldn't afford most of it--not that I could fit it in my suitcase anyway. My tipsy self was very nervous about breaking things, but all crises were happily averted. If I had to do it again, I'd do the jenever after the antique shopping.

I wound up in a trendy store called YOUR, which featured various international fashion brands. Again, I couldn't afford anything, but it was cold outside, and the clothes were pretty. At one point, I turned around to find a woman offering me a glass of champagne. I didn't really want champagne, but you know...carpe diem.

By the time I left, the sun was already low in the sky. I walked back up the waterfront--which was difficult to see, thanks to the harbor full of cars. That is, it was difficult to see until I found a walkway above the Scheldt River. I imagine that it's pleasant and crowded during the summer, but it was practically deserted this late in the year. I watched the sunset, and then I went to Het Steen, the medieval fortress that is also Antwerp's oldest building. Now it hosts children's art classes. How adorable is that?

sunset Antwerp
I wanted to eat dinner before I caught my train back to Amsterdam, so I decided to try De Groote Witte Arend. It seemed so quaint and authentic. I suppose it was quaint--but authentic? Not so much. Unless authentic beef stew means literally nothing but beef in a salty sauce. At least they gave me a hearty helping of fries--with mayonnaise, as is the Belgian way.

I'm glad I left a decent amount of time to get back to the train station--it was a longer walk than I remembered. And then it was just a two-hour ride with only The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories to keep me company. I'm sure there's more I could have seen, but overall I think eight hours was the perfect amount of time to spend in Antwerp. I'll have to come back to Belgium, though. There's still Brussels and Bruges and Ghent and...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

48 Hours in Berlin

There are some cities where you need only a few days to get a good sense of the place. Berlin is not one of them. I spent about 48 hours wandering Germany's capital city (fewer than that, if I factor in sleeping), and I maybe covered an eighth of it? I imagine it would take at least a week to properly experience Berlin--but I had a wonderful time taking in as much as I could.

Our plane touched down at Schönefeld midday on Sunday, and our immediate thought was this: where can we get sausage? The answer, according to the internet, was Gasthaus Krombach, a traditional German restaurant that--aside from the plastic menus--appears to be stuck in the 1800's. It was somewhat touristy, but by no means a tourist trap--the prices were reasonable and the food was delicious. Erin and I each had a cup of soup, we split the three-sausage platter, and we washed it all down with some local beer.

Despite our culinary good fortune--or perhaps because of it--I made a strategic error: I did not eat enough of the sauerkraut. My stomach was not the same for the rest of the trip. I bravely soldiered on, eating all the German specialties I could manage, because I'm committed to tourism. Nevertheless, I must implore you: eat your sauerkraut, lest indigestion get the better of you.

Berlin church
Before we left Amsterdam, Erin and I read a few of those "two days in Berlin" articles to figure out what we couldn't miss. Funnily enough, we did several of them by accident within our first few hours. While trying to find our hotel, we ended up cutting through Bikini Berlin, a concept shopping mall that features local designers. We passed one of many Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) at the base of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a gorgeous gothic structure that suffered significant structural damage during World War II; no longer in use, its still-jagged steeple is said to resemble a broken tooth.

Later we tried to see the city lights from the top of a building in Potsdamer Platz (where there was another Christmas market), only to discover we had misread the closing time. Instead, we meandered over to Niederkirchnerstraße to see the some remains of the Berlin Wall. Its concrete slabs, still covered in faded graffiti, loomed out of the darkness beneath the yellow street lights.
Berlin Wall

To its great credit, Berlin doesn't shy away from the ugly events of its past. Remnants of the wall are scattered throughout the city, and there are several different memorials to those who died during the Holocaust. Behind the part of the wall we saw was the Topographie des Terrors, a museum dedicated to exposing the horrors of the Nazi regime, built on the very piece of land that once supported the SS headquarters. We browsed the somber exhibits in silence for a while; we decided that we couldn't stomach the special exhibition on mass shootings.

Through the cold night, we made our way to the Brandenburg Gate, perhaps the most famous landmark in Berlin. Naturally, a cousin selfie was required.
Brandenburg Gate

We finished our evening by seeking out the Eschenbräu Brewery, which turned into quite an adventure. What we didn't realize was that the brewery is located in the basement of a nondescript apartment complex in the farther-flung neighborhood of Wedding. To find it, we had to walk down a dark side street, cut through a small garden, zig-zag through a courtyard, and go down a flight of stairs. We made it to the cozy space eventually, and we both enjoyed our gigantic, malty beers, as well as a flammkuchen, which is essentially a pizza.

A word of warning: it is apparently impossible to order a small beer in Germany. Regardless of price, it will be served to you in a huge glass. And yes, they will laugh at you if you can't finish it.
Eschenbrau Brewery

Erin had to meet with clients on Monday, so I was on my own. Fortunately, I received many tips about places to visit from my friends (thanks, friends!), and I tried to see as many of them as I could.

Berlin is not a beautiful city--at least not in the classical sense. All the wrought iron and carved stone medieval glamor of most major European cities was bombed away by the Allies during WWII, and it was replaced largely with concrete, Soviet-esque monoliths. That said, Berlin is not lacking in character. I loved exploring the different neighborhoods, buildings scrawled over in colorful street art, crosswalks dutifully monitored by the red-and-green flashing Ampelmännchen, oddly cheerful souvenirs of the once-divided city. Berlin's public transit system is also excellent; the stubby yellow carriages of the U-Bahn whisked me everywhere I needed to go.

I began my day at KaDeWe, a famous department store where the sixth floor reportedly holds "two football fields" of food. European football, I presume? It was indeed impressive--basically an upscale grocery store with food from all over the world. The USA section featured squeezable cheese and barbecue sauce. They know us too well.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Next I headed to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Completed in 2004, this grave reminder of the Holocaust consists of gray stone slabs that cover almost four acres of sloping land. When you stand on the edge, you can see above the blocks, but when you walk between the rows, they subsume you, diminishing the light.

On my way to the Reichstag building (or Bundestag, though it seems that Reichstag is still the more common name?), I passed the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, as well as the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism. Like I said earlier, reminders of the past are everywhere in Berlin.

Then, as I was taking a selfie with the giant German flag in front of the Bundestag, a woman tried to pickpocket me. She appeared from nowhere, kissed me on the cheek, and shoved a petition in my face. Shocked at the suddenness of it all, I clumsily refused and backed away. Later I saw the police flyers warning of that specific scam, and I thanked my lucky stars for zipper pockets. Ah, the perils of tourism.

I stopped for lunch at the ultra-hip Westberlin--white walls, white tables, white chairs, broken only by the art magazines on white shelves, the equipment behind the white bar, and the people sipping their coffee and tea. It's right by Checkpoint Charlie, a well-known crossing point between East and West Berlin when the wall was in place. The YOU ARE LEAVING THE AMERICAN/SOVIET SECTOR sign is still there--or maybe it's a replica.

One of the "two days in Berlin" articles had recommended Hard Wax Records, a staple of Berlin's electronic music scene. EDM's not my thing, and I didn't have room in my backpack to return with a record anyway, but as a music-lover I decided I should see it.

And so I encountered my second difficult-to-find location in Berlin. I wandered back and forth on the street where it was supposed to be for a few minutes, until I spotted a small plaque indicating that I needed to enter the courtyard of one of the apartment complexes. With some unease, I walked down an abandoned alley until I came to a doorway with a paper sign: HARD WAX RECORDS, THIRD FLOOR.

Hard Wax Records
There were no lights in the stairwell behind the door. The windows and walls were almost completely covered in stickers, and empty bottles were shattered on the floor. Oh good, I thought. I'm about to get murdered on my way to some random record store where I don't even plan on buying anything. Happily, there were no killers lurking in the shadows. I found the store--smaller than I expected, stark and industrial--and browsed records while loud bass bumped through the speakers above.

I hopped on the U-Bahn to Alexanderplatz, a large public square in what was once the heart of East Berlin. I watched the sun set over the Fernsehturm, and I had an obligatory glühwein (mulled wine) at yet another Christmas market. I must say, having visited several authentic ones, the Chicago Christkindlmarket is remarkably accurate.
Alexanderplatz

After that I went north to Prenzlauer Berg, which is apparently where all the hip people move when they want to settle down and have kids. This part of town escaped the war architecturally unscathed--the buildings are much more quaint. I looked at some chic clothes I couldn't afford, and then, with my feet aching, my phone nearly dead, and the night growing ever colder, I grabbed a table in a cafe called Kapitalist. I picked it thanks to the cheeky humor of its name, and my instincts served me well. I suspect I'd be a regular there if I lived in Berlin--it's cozy, quiet, and dark, with a Bohemian edge. But not forced Bohemian--more like Bohemian because they'd rather not spend the money to make it nicer.

Erin finally met me there after her day was done, and we selected a restaurant for dinner using Open Table. That's how we ended up at Fabisch in Rosenthaler Platz. The food wasn't exactly mind-blowing, but then, you can't go wrong with cheese-and-mushroom-slathered schnitzel.

We stopped at a nearby microbrewery, The Circus Hostel Brewing Company, for a nightcap. "Microbrewery" is an overstatement. They brew precisely one beer. However, that one beer was just dandy--albeit giant. We couldn't finish them.

Now that I think about it, that last drink was the perfect metaphor for our entire trip. Like the glasses of beer, Berlin is enormous and flavorful--but like the capacity of our stomachs, our time in the city was far too limited. It certainly warrants another visit.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Berlin

Tomorrow morning my cousin Erin and I are flying to Berlin for two days. She has to meet with some clients on Monday, and originally the purpose of my tagging along was to watch baby Matthijs, who was also joining us. But now Rembert's parents are coming to Amsterdam to take care of him, so we just get a fun mini-vacation instead.

I've never been to Berlin--I've never been to Germany at all, actually. For those of you who have been to Berlin, I'd love to hear suggestions about things to see and do there--keeping in mind that we only have 48 hours. What are the essentials?

So far our list includes: beer, sausage, pretzels, and people-watching.

We need some more ideas.

What have I been up to in Amsterdam, you ask? Erin spent most of last week at a conference in London, so I spent a lot of time babysitting the boys, especially Matthijs. I think he finally likes having me around; the other day when I tried to leave the house without him, he cried. I felt both terrible and accomplished.

Yesterday afternoon I walked to the Van Gogh Museum, which is open late on Fridays. For some reason, people always seem to assume that I'm really into visual art, that I'm some kind of expert on art history. This could not be more untrue. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists because he uses bright colors, and I love bright colors. There are probably other, less famous artists who also use bright colors. I don't know who those artists are.

I very much enjoyed the museum, especially seeing Van Gogh's work from the period immediately before his death. Those paintings are especially wild and vivid, the paint smeared on in thick dabs. It's a shame he had to lose his mind in order to produce them.

This morning Erin and Matthijs and I visited Noordermarkt, a popular street market in Amsterdam's historic Jordaan neighborhood. We pretended that we were there to shop, but in reality we just wanted to grab free food samples from the vendors and then stop at Winkel 43 for a piece of their famous apple pie. I mean, really. Look at this pie:

apple pie amsterdam
We waited in line for this pie. Totally worth it.

Afterwards, Erin took Matthijs back home for a nap while I popped into nearly every vintage store on Haarlemerstraat searching for the yellow cardigan I saw one day a few weeks ago and stupidly did not purchase. Alas, I did not find it. But that's okay--I don't have much room in my suitcase, anyway. 

I have no idea how I'm going to bring back Christmas presents. I'll have to ask the internet how to pack more efficiently. 

Tonight we're going to an expat Thanksgiving dinner hosted by some of E&R's friends. Turkey and mashed potatoes, here I come. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Bluster

verb
2.
(of a storm, wind, or rain) blow or beat fiercely and noisily.

Yesterday was a strangely windy day in Amsterdam. The weather here is often gray and gloomy, but twenty-four hours ago the wind was howling past the apartment windows, untethering vines from the brick walls and toppling people's bicycles.

Despite the unusual gale, I walked a few miles to the brand new MOCO Museum to meet my friend Wendy. On the path along the Amstel, the gusts picked up the yellow leaves and whirled them in dynamic crowns around my head. The houseboats bobbed gently in the water, which rarely stirs.

The MOCO Museum is brand new only in the sense that it opened this year; it sits on the edge of the Museumplein, just a few yards from the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, housed in a mansion built in 1905. The parquet floors, gilded fireplaces, and stained-glass windows make it an odd location to showcase pieces of contemporary art.

Their current (and very first) exhibit features both Banksy and Andy Warhol--Banksy on the first floor, Warhol in the basement. But whenever they have a Banksy piece that clearly pays tribute to a Warhol piece, they hang them together. Because the museum is so small, Wendy and I were able to walk right up to the paintings, examine their neon-bright colors from only a few inches away.

verb
1.
talk in a loud, aggressive, or indignant way with little effect.

I can hardly stand watching the news about President-Elect Trump--it's as though I'm reaching out to save someone from getting hit by a car, but someone else is holding me back. Not that I could do much even if I were home, but I do feel especially helpless across the ocean.

I can hardly stand the manner in which he talks--so childish and hypersensitive. If he can't handle it when SNL mocks him, how is he going to deal with criticism from other world leaders? The worst part is that he may be doing it on purpose; as many others have pointed out, Trump sent Mike Pence to see (and get booed at) Hamilton on the same day that he paid $25 million to settle the Trump University case. What was essentially the admission of his guilt in defrauding hundreds of people got drowned out by debate over whether or not actors should also be activists. (For the record, they should.)

I wish I could just put him on mute, remove any mention of Trump from my social media feeds. I think I'd be a lot happier that way. Unfortunately, our country has put itself in a position where every single one of that man's ridiculous, petty words matters.

I'm still floored that we elected him. I hope I never get used to it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Beer & Ice Cream

Beer and ice cream have become a slightly larger portion of my diet since last Tuesday's election. Not together, of course--although Erin assures me that a scoop of ice cream tastes great in a stout. I have to cope somehow. And there are surely worse ways to cope, right?

On election night, Erin and I went to Boom Chicago to see an improv comedy show, followed by a nightcap at Gollem, which is gezellig, as the Dutch say--cozy and friendly and warm. Oh, how happy we were, how blissfully ignorant. Little did we know how soon our fates would change. 

When we got back to the apartment, it was still early evening in the States, so they hadn't started reporting the returns. We decided to doze on the couch and livestream the results on YouTube. 

This was a mistake.

Erin and I slipped in and out of consciousness, the map on the TV screen growing progressively redder each time we woke up. It was like a fever dream, an irrational nightmare bleeding into our reality. And when the morning dawned gray over Amsterdam, when the kiddos jumped into the living room looking for their breakfast, we were forced to accept the truth: Donald Trump had, somehow, been elected President of the United States.

I must admit, it was helpful having cute little kids around. They're completely unaware of world affairs, so they spent the next day being utterly themselves, running around with boundless energy and smiling and screaming, either not caring or noticing that we met them with bleary eyes. They may have wondered why we were giving them so many hugs, or why we cried during Hillary's concession speech. 

I'm not necessarily surprised that he won--it was always a possibility. But I am disappointed. Many people who voted for Trump claim that it was all about the economy for them--they don't approve of his racism and sexism, but they felt they would fare better under a Republican administration. I don't think this is a good excuse. If you're willing to ignore racism and sexism (not to mention ableism), you're part of the problem. I'm sad that so many voters care only for themselves and their immediate needs, that they don't consider how others may suffer. 

I'm sad for them, too--they've been duped. Donald Trump doesn't care about working people. He cares only about himself. He wants to win, he wants people to cheer for him, he wants the title of President and all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with it. He'll leave the real work to his cabinet and other advisers--and that's the scary part. Mike Pence's political record shows very clearly that he will work against women and gay people. Steve Bannon is a white nationalist. It's Trump's administration that truly frightens me. 

Right now I'm in the process of determining how I can help guarantee that Trump's tenure will last no more than four years. I arrive back in the States on December 13th for the holidays; I'd like to stay at least through January so I can attend the Women's March on Washington

I'm torn--I love traveling, and I still want to head to New Zealand next, as there will probably be few other opportunities in my life to be equally mobile. Furthermore, if the Trump administration damages America's relations with foreign nations, traveling in general may become difficult. But I also don't want to abandon my country in its time of need. That seems cowardly. There may be ways I can be useful outside of the States, however. I'll have to think it over while I'm home. 

If you're looking to take action, Jezebel has compiled a list of places to donate and/or volunteer. If you're having a hard time and you need someone to talk to, feel free to get in touch with me. My body may be in Amsterdam, but especially at the moment, my heart and mind are in the United States. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day Thoughts. Also, Cows.

Dear America*,

Please vote today. I mailed in my ballot from Amsterdam several weeks ago. If I can vote from thousands of miles away, you can take the time to walk over to the closest polling place. Even if you're not thrilled with your choices for President (I'm not sure anyone is), there are still plenty of local races where your vote makes a difference. These candidates may not be as conspicuous as those in the presidential campaign, but local government has the largest direct impact on your life. States and counties determine what happens in your schools, on your roads, with your water. It's up to you to select the representatives that will have power over these issues--that's why your vote is crucial.

If you're not planning on voting because you're fed up with both Clinton and Trump, take a moment to consider the privilege that allows you to make that decision. You're essentially saying that regardless of who's elected, it won't affect your life--at least not in a significant way. But there are lots of people whose lives could change drastically under these candidates' policies--women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, the disabled. For all these people, what happens in this election is important. You should think about what kind of country you'd like everyone to live in. Voting (or not voting) does not have to be a selfish act.

Thanks for reading. And now, since we're all stressed out about the election, here are some cows:

video

E&R's friends Klaas & Wendy own Het Koeienhuis, a farm where they raise Wagyu cattle. Every year when it gets too cold in the pasture, they run the cows through the streets of tiny Benningbroek back to their barn, and then they host an open house for those who come to watch--an open house that includes grilling up some tasty Wagyu beef burgers. It was a rainy day, but lots of fun nonetheless. 

Twisty apple trees on the boerderij (farm).

Someone's thirsty.

Yum.

I'm glad I got to experience the rural part of the Netherlands as well, even though it was a little damp and chilly. We drove back to Amsterdam afterwards and had hot cocoa, so all was well. 

I suppose that's a good moral for the election, too. Whatever happens, even if things go bad, we can always make it better. 

Hopefully.

Erin and I are going to Boom Chicago, a Chicago-style improv comedy club, for an election party tonight. I hear they're good--we'll need them to keep us smiling as the results roll in. Happy voting!

Love,

Becky

*I cannot write "Dear America" without thinking of the prolific historical children's book series. My favorite was Standing in the Light, in which the young female narrator was captured by a Native American tribe and then was slowly integrated and accepted into their culture, before being cruelly re-captured by her white family. Wow. That was a book, alright. I bet I would have some opinions about that now. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Chicago Night in Amsterdam

I may travel all over the world, but the city of Chicago will always have my heart. It's the finest city on Earth--period. Chicago produces the best food, the best sports teams (GO CUBS!), and the best music. Also, the best people in general. But let's move back to music for a second.

One particular Chicago artist with whom I've been enamored lately is Noname, a female rapper I first encountered on Chance the Rapper's forever-brilliant mixtape Acid Rap. I've never quite heard a voice like hers before--it's honest. It has little swagger because she doesn't need swagger to make her point. And sometimes her points are gut-wrenching. She finally released her own mixtape, Telefone, earlier this year, and I've been listening to it virtually nonstop since. I recommend you check it out immediately, not only because her voice is important, but also because I'm pretty sure she's the Next Big Thing. And you don't want to be left behind, do you?

I've never been able to see her perform in Chicago, but in a funny twist of fate, she's playing Melkweg in Amsterdam tonight with Mick Jenkins. Guess who has a ticket? (It's me.)

It's a nice day for a walk yet again--it has been for most of the week. According to my cousins, the pleasant fall weather is unusual for Amsterdam. It seems I picked a good time to come. On Saturday night, I walked over to De Pijp, where I met my new friend Wendy for a few beers at Brouwerij Troost. Their Saison was delicious. At one point I was handed a giant bouquet of sunflowers by some drunk guys, who then demanded multiple hugs, which Wendy and I refused--a depressing reminder that it's not only American men who have little to no regard for women's personal space. But hey, free flowers.

Sunday evening, Erin and I walked to and from the Koninklijk Theater Carré to see David Brighton--supposedly the world's greatest David Bowie tribute artist. To be honest, I felt his Ziggy-era impression was forced, but when he changed into the oversized yellow suit of 1980's Bowie, the similarities were uncanny. The Carré is a gorgeous old venue, more appropriate for musicals than for rock acts. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time singing along to my favorite songs, and the walk home along the river was beautiful--all those lights reflected in the gently waving water, the soft sounds of bicycles occasionally zipping by.

Theater Carre Amsterdam
Appropriate glamorous for Bowie, if not appropriately spacious for dancing.

Yesterday I walked down to Haarlemerstraat and Haarlemerdijk, a trendy neighborhood full of vintage boutiques and cafés. Also, coffee shops--the smell of weed was so strong at 11:30 a.m. that I nearly gagged. I wasn't in the mood to try on clothes, but I did take plenty of pretty pictures. Observe:

Life on the canals.

Graffiti Alley Amsterdam
A colorful alley.

History Building Amsterdam
The first stone.

I'm looking forward to this evening's walk to Melkweg--I haven't walked that way before. So much more of Amsterdam to explore.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

No bike? No boat? Walk Amsterdam instead.

Now that the twins are back in school, I've had a bit more time to explore Amsterdam on my own. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dutch bicycles and I aren't getting along at the moment. But I prefer to walk--it's the best way to get to know a city. Meandering the souks of Marrakech and the ruins of Rome allowed me to spot small details I never would have noticed otherwise, allowed me to discover places that would never have been mentioned in a tourist's guidebook. The canals of Amsterdam are no exception.

Seen in Amsterdam
Creepy toy heads are hard to notice from a bike.

On Tuesday I walked to Albert Cuypmarkt, a famous street market that's surprisingly close to where my cousins live. (I always forget how small Amsterdam is--it's not even three miles from my cousin's apartment to the IJ.) While Albert Cuypmarkt is definitely a tourist's destination--tulip-bulb umbrellas, tacky marijuana tchotchkes, and 10-for-5€ postcards abound--locals also come here to shop for everything from fresh fish to bicycles to fabric. Also, Sensodyne toothpaste. For some reason, there were boxes upon boxes of Sensodyne toothpaste. Go figure. The day I visited it was overcast and chilly, but that simply meant the market was less crowded than usual--more space for me to browse as I pleased. 

Albert Cuypmarkt Amsterdam
Gray skies over Albert Cuypmarkt.

Today, much like on my recent trip to San Francisco, I focused on bookstore tourism. I researched literary life in Amsterdam, and all my sources pointed me to one place: Athenaeum Boekhandel--which just so happens to be celebrating its fiftieth year in business! The many rooms of this bookstore are connected by winding staircases and sharp corners that almost seem to be placed at random, but don't worry--the thorough signage prevents customers from getting lost. They have a large selection of books in several languages, including English. Upon my arrival at the Athenaeum, I was ashamed to realize that I couldn't name a single Dutch author. Painters, sure. But writers? Not one--not that I could read them in Dutch even if I could name them. Fortunately, I found a copy of The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories, which features mostly pieces that have never before been translated into English. I look forward to my Dutch literary education. 

Athenaeum Boekhandel Amsterdam
Many floors of Dutch literary goodness.

Where in Amsterdam will I walk next? That remains to be seen. But with the lovely fall weather we've been having, I'm sure I'll be doing plenty of it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dispatch from the Couch

First, a message to stay-at-home moms and dads and gender-nonconforming parents: while I respect your decision to make raising your kids your primary work, I cannot say that I understand your decision. Kids are adorable, sure. But I've just spent not-quite-a-week taking care of my little cousins while they're on their fall break, and I've never been so exhausted in my whole life--even though their father is home, too! Two of them are sick, and all three scream a lot, whether it's in glee or anger or sadness. I've basically been drinking tea nonstop because I'm almost constantly dozing off. I love them, and I'm glad to be spending time with them and watching them learn, but it's tough having a job that you can never stop doing, 24/7. At any rate, this week has reminded me that household chores and childrearing is real work, and stay-at-home parents should probably be paid for it. Can't we just fund the military less and institute a universal basic income instead?

Though they are across the ocean, I can see my conservative parents shaking their heads in disappointment.

Anyway, my brain is frazzled enough that I can't remember in what order things have happened lately. I'll try to share some anecdotes. 

I crashed my cousin's bike into a wall, wounding only my pride. There were tears in my eyes, but only from embarrassment. I suppose it could have been worse--there were merely two tall beautiful blonde Dutch people working on their picturesque boat in the picturesque canal (of course) to witness my shame. What's more, they were really nice, and rushed over to make sure I was okay. Heartless laughter would have been infinitely more bearable--then at least I could have laughed with them. I knew that breaking on fixie bike would be tough, but I didn't realize that steering would be this difficult. Hopefully I can muster the courage to try again...

On Saturday night I went to a storytelling show at the Volkshotel. I arrived ten minutes early, and the bar was completely dead. I figured I had either stumbled into a hugely unpopular event, or that Dutch culture doesn't stress promptness. Luckily, the latter seemed to be the case. As I watched the tables filling around me, I considered how to project an air of confidence while simultaneously projecting a desperate "please talk to me!" message. Then I remembered my travel tattoos. I can't get people to stop talking to me when I show off my tattoos. I removed my sweater, and within five minutes I was talking to a group at the table next to mine--who turned out to be a bunch of gay dudes from Andersonville in Chicago. Really breaking out of my comfort zone there. Later I started chatting with a Dutch woman named Wendy, and now we're friends! By which I mean Facebook friends. I owe her a drink, so I'll have to contact her soon. 

This year I finally volunteered for the VIDA count, and our work started this week. Essentially we go through the TOCs of major literary magazines and count how many women and gender-nonconforming people are represented as opposed to men. Later in the year they'll publish the statistics. So far the results that I've encountered are disheartening. And yet I'm not surprised. 

We've been doing lots of fun things with the kiddos. The other day we took them to a little carnival downtown in Dam Square. We were going to ride the ferris wheel, but then W+H both had their own special meltdowns. On the bright side, downtown Amsterdam is absolutely gorgeous. 

Sigh-worthy.

Today we took them to see a T. Rex skeleton at a museum in Leiden. I wish I'd had time to take pictures of the town. It was beautiful, full of old buildings, with a giant molen (windmill) in the middle. Then we met one of their friends, Lukas, and his parents at a pannenkoek (pancake) restaurant. Dutch pancakes are more like crepes--they come in both sweet and savory versions. And they're gigantic. Mine had mushrooms, onions, bacon, and cheese. Observe:

Pannenkoek is lekker.

And...yeah. There's probably more stuff. I don't know. I need to go to sleep. Dinner first, though. 

Oh, and good luck to all my my UNLV friends with the presidential debate tonight! Wish I were there to witness the chaos. Very jealous of all your Anderson Cooper sightings.

===

EDIT: I forgot that one of my flash fiction stories was published in Helen this week. That's another thing that happened. You should probably read it. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dispatch from Cafe Hesp

Greetings! I'm writing this (by hand--to be typed later) from Cafe Hesp, an over 100-year-old bar on the banks of the Amstel River. It's also down the street from Erin & Rembert's place. I read the menu online in English before I came, so now the waiters think my Dutch reading skills are A+, even though I can't speak for shit.

Lekker bier at Cafe Hesp.

It's my first night alone in the great city of Amsterdam. Erin's at a conference in Boston, and Rembert took himself and the turkeys (5-year-old twins Willem & Hendricus and 21-month-old Matthijs) to visit his parents in Hoorn, so I have the apartment to myself. The first thing I did was take a nap--it's difficult to rid oneself of jetlag when one's tiny cousins are jumping into one's bed at 7 a.m. every day. But I figured I ought to go out and do something. No sense in coming to Europe if I'm just going to hide inside. Depending on how I feel after this, I might head to another nearby bar--but I don't want to get too wild. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I flew from Milwaukee to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Orlando, Orlando to London, and London to Amsterdam. Honestly, it wasn't that bad. I'm a fan of airports--they're great for people-watching. And the only major disaster was that I spilled ketchup on my white sweater. There was one nerve-wracking moment when I was checking in for my flight to Amsterdam; the attendant told me that the UK requires non-residents to have a return ticket, but because I was immediately leaving for the Netherlands, it was okay. If I'd needed to spend the night in London, we may have had a problem. At any rate, it all turned out well.

I arrived in Amsterdam at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and I was greeted by the most adorable welcoming party I've ever seen.

Rumor has it Rembert made the signs while the twins slept, but it's the thought that counts.

Henry had a mild meltdown over a balloon he couldn't have, but we eventually made it back home. Erin and I picked up some Indonesian food, and we all sat down to a family meal of delicious foods we couldn't identify. 

I have to say, for two people who just moved back to Amsterdam with their three small children, E&R are doing an amazing job. Their poise is laudable. That said, some things are understandably chaotic--cardboard boxes full of clothes in the hallway, half-built IKEA cabinets. I'm hoping I can be the extra hand they need to get properly settled in; my first goal is to organize the pantry. Maybe I'll do that tonight, while there are no turkeys in the house to plow through the food I pull out. 

In other news, it turns out that E&R's neighborhood is hip now. On Thursday morning, after Erin had biked the twins to school, she and I went to work at the Volks Hotel, which has a trendy cafe and a giant (free!) workspace on the first floor. They also have yoga classes there 3 days a week (think they say "down dog" or "naar beneden hond"?), as well as an event space/bar in the basement. There's a storytelling event à la The Moth there tomorrow night, which I may attend. Hopefully it's at least partially in English? Their advertising is in English, and according to Erin, the Volks Hotel draws an international crowd, so maybe?

Today Erin left for Boston, and Rembert had to take some online tests for his current job applications, so I brought the twins to the park while Matthijs napped. It was a lovely walk along the Amstel, passing by all the houseboats. 

Woonboten. (Houseboats.)

W&H may be a tad rambunctious--as is the wont of 5-year-old boys--but overall they're remarkably well-behaved. When I ask them to hold my hands while crossing busy streets, they readily comply. Henry is adamant about my pronunciation when I ask him to teach me phrases in Dutch. 

At the park, W&H befriended two Italian bambinos, and they promptly began to throw dirt at one another--gleefully, of course. Italian dad and I tried to get them to stop, with poor results. I suppose a little dirt never hurt anyone. 

The boys are off school this week--Fall break--and Erin doesn't get back until Thursday morning, so I imagine I'll be on au pair duty a lot for the next few days. Erin left me her bike, but I'm not a particularly confident biker, especially on a fixie, which is just how they do things here. (Hand breaks get tangled together too easily.) I have so many questions. Are there bike left-hand turn lanes? Are hand signals a thing? Perhaps I'll take a ride around the block tomorrow. Baby steps. 

Actually, training wheels may be a more appropriate metaphor.

===

EDIT: I tried to go to Bar Bukowski for a nightcap, but it was so crowded I was afraid I wouldn't even be able to get in the door. Got intimidated by all the cool Dutch people and left. Pantry organizing it is. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

MKE-->PHL-->MCO-->LGW-->AMS

Tomorrow's the day. I'm boarding a plane...and then another plane...and then another plane...and then another plane...and sometime on Wednesday I'll end up in Amsterdam! Wish me luck--I need the travel gods on my side for this one. It's going to be a lot of connections. On the bright side, I should get plenty of writing done.

I have been to Amsterdam before--almost eight years ago exactly, as a matter of fact. Here is visual proof:

Twenty-year-old Becky on the back of Rembert's bike.

That brief vacation involved lots of touristy things--biking around Vondelpark, visiting the Anne Frank House, browsing the Albert Cuyp Market, and so on. Also, a trip to the delightful suburb of Hoorn for a karaoke party at the house of Rembert's childhood friend and breakfast with his parents. This was long before my cousin Erin had even married Rembert, and my cute baby cousins did not yet exist.

I suspect this visit will be very different, both in terms of the amount of cute babies and in terms of how well I get to know Amsterdam. I'm looking forward to it.

I would write more, but I must at least attempt to sleep, as I have a poor track record of dozing off on planes. I'll catch up with you in the Netherlands!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere...

Now that I think about it, I could probably use David Bowie lyrics for every single one of my blog titles.

But I won't.

You may have noticed that my blog has a new look! A new look means new adventures: I am officially going to Amsterdam. In a little less than two weeks, as a matter of fact. I may be taking a whopping four flights to get there, but consider this: my ticket wasn't even $400. Thanks, Kiwi.com.

Once I'm there, I'll be babysitting my ridiculously adorable cousins, freelancing, and--of course--working on my novel. That's the whole point of this adventure--well, aside from the fact that I'm obsessed with traveling in general. I managed to write nearly the entire first draft of the novel while I was in France, probably because I had few other obligations--no teaching, no classes--and because I hardly knew anyone, so my social life consisted mostly of me taking myself to various cultural landmarks. I'm hoping my trip to Amsterdam will provide me with the time and space to revise my novel until it's ready to be sent to agents.

I imagine my life in the Netherlands will be busier than my life in France--three boys under 6 tend to be time-consuming--but I still think I'll be able to get significantly more work done on the novel than if I stayed here and got a full-time job. And besides, if I don't have enough time in the Netherlands, I'll almost certainly have enough time when I head to New Zealand after that (fingers crossed!).

So that's the plan: live the jet setter life while revising my novel, and have it ready for agents by the end of next summer. I feel like I owe this to myself, the opportunity to take my writing career seriously. I can always do the boring, gainfully-employed adult thing later.

When I graduated from the MFA program, I experienced some angst over what to do with this blog. Normally I try to keep my blogs limited to certain time periods; when I studied abroad as an undergraduate, for instance, I had a separate travel blog that ended once I returned to the States. However, I feel like this particular journey isn't yet over, despite the fact that I have my degree. I'm still coming into my own as a writer, and while I completed a draft of my novel for my thesis, it's just a draft. My work is still very much in progress, and it seems too abrupt to stop the record here, or even to change blogs--it's not a separate story.

I hope Viva Las Becky continues to be a compelling story for you, and that you'll keep reading. I'll feel a lot better adventuring knowing that you're adventuring with me, albeit virtually. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Passion Planner: Pulling My Life Together with Pen and Paper

A few weeks ago, I visited my dear friend Meg while they were in the midst of cleaning their apartment. I noticed that as they completed each task, they crossed the item off a handwritten list in a large black book. "What's that?" I asked, as I oh-so-helpfully stood aside and distracted them from their chores. Meg raved that it was their Passion Planner, an organizational tool so life-changing that they had convinced half the people in their office to buy one as well. Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about. I ordered my Passion Planner the next day.

Passion Planner Limited Edition Blue
I'm into bright colors, so I went with this limited edition version rather than the traditional black.

I've tried planners before, with little success. I always start out strong, but my engagement peters off within a few weeks--or even days. For the past several years I've been using a combination of my iPhone's default calendar app and the ultra-snarky Carrot to-do list app to stay on top of things, but both of those keep me on my phone more than I would like. My work requires me to stare at screens most of the time, so I've been trying to find ways to stare at them less. And now that I'm moving into freelance writing, it's crucial that I organize my schedule well. This change, along with Meg's enthusiastic review, convinced me that I ought to give paper planners another chance.

The Passion Planner is designed with engagement in mind. It was created by Angelia Trinidad, an artist who, like most of us, felt a little lost after college. Instead of wallowing in despair and confusion, she created and Kickstarted a planner that would serve as a compass to help people find their way in life. All Passion Planners begin with a mapping exercise that allows you to determine your future goals. After you've named your objectives, the exercise forces you to break down the concrete steps it will take to achieve those objectives, which you then add into your calendar as tasks. It's somewhat overwhelming to see all those steps in map form, but once you write them down over many months, they seem more manageable. 

From there, the planner gets more traditional--but only slightly more traditional. There's a series of month overview pages, then a much heftier series of week overview pages, followed by extra blank paper and graph paper. But there are all sorts of unique features as well. Each month is followed by a set of review questions, which help you determine what habits you need to change to be more efficient next month. There are separate to-do lists for personal tasks and work tasks, along with a not-to-do list. There are boxes where you can write all the good things that happened to you each week. There's a "Space of Infinite Possibility," which is for whatever you damn well please. 

Passion Planner Weekly Schedule
My color-coding skills are on point.

If you're thinking that this sounds like a lot of work--it is! Especially when you're getting used to the Passion Planner's many quirks. It takes time to plan each day in such minute detail. And much of the fun of it is supposed to come in customization--their Instagram features Passion Planners that have been turned into gorgeous works of art. Mine will always be ugly in comparison. 

That said, I've already noticed some improvements to my life. For one thing, I'm following my schedules religiously. Seeing each task physically blocked out in my day is enormously helpful--I procrastinate less, which means I actually get to relax in the evenings because I'm not playing catch-up. And since I made the schedules in the first place, I don't feel too guilty if I have to switch something around. The other positive change is that I am definitely spending less time on my phone. Since I'm crossing off my daily tasks instead of swiping them on an app, I don't get distracted by Facebook and Twitter notifications. This is a big deal for me, as I consider myself a social media addict. 

I suspect the biggest challenge for me will be learning to trust my Passion Planner. As regular readers of my blog know all too well, I'm an extremely anxious individual, so I'm prone to constantly dwelling on--no, dwelling is too mild a term. I'm prone to constantly stressing about everything I have to get done, keeping an ever-growing list of chores in the front of my mind. But if I can learn to trust that I've already written the list down, that it exists in a safe place where I can refer to it whenever I need to, I can hopefully learn to clear that stressful list from my mind. What a wonderful thing that would be. 

I haven't been using my Passion Planner for long, but it's easily the most useful planner I've ever encountered. If you're looking to up your organization game, Passion Planner is a safe bet. Plus, for each planner they sell, they give one away to someone who can't otherwise afford it. Good karma! Can't go wrong with that.