Working & Volunteering

Decorated Christmas cookies (Or: Bring on the holidays)

Check out the Christmas cookies that my colleague decorated on Friday. They were decorated during a themed ‘Ugly Christmas sweater’ event:

And they are just as tasty as they look! I had part of the one in the upper right – peanut butter and all spice, if I remember correctly.

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Photos from a work Christmas party (Or: Oh – THOSE are crackers?)

A few weeks back Marco and I attended a Christmas party for my work.


A look at the table we were sitting at


The red and white tubes are actually Christmas “crackers”, although all of these are broken open already. It’s basically a tube which two people pull apart to make a noise like a firecracker (“cracker”), apparently with a witty saying inside. Mine was something like “The things you dream about can’t keep you awake at night” or similar.

Ever since I moved to the Netherlands I thought these items were actually crackers – that is, food. Imagine my surprise when a coworker said we should take turns pulling them apart. Haha!

Continue reading

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A different kind of workshop (Or: Making a gin and tonic)

Last Thursday some coworkers and I were invited to a cocktail making workshop. The cocktail in question – gin and tonics! Not something I drink very often. Upon entering, we were given a choice of red or white wine:


After we were told that we would be making gin and tonics, we were shown three mystery gins. There was obviously a difference in taste – some herbal, some floral. Not something I would have expected.


Sampling each of the three gins – a small shotglass of each

And here’s a look at the three gins used:


Hendrick’s, Bombay Sapphire and Gordon’s (my favorite was Gordon’s).

After that we sampled three tonics, still mystery style like the gins. One was Mediterranean, another Indian, and I don’t remember the third. The Indian tonic was my favorite as it had a bit of carbonation behind the flavor.

After we had chosen our gin and our tonic, we could add either wet or dry ingredients.


the table with wet and dry ingredients (not everything was shown here)

I kept my drink rather simple, opting for only the slightest hint of basilic basil syrup in an attempt to give it a bit of color and red peppercorns for a bit of spicy after taste. Also a lime wedge, but that was just garnish.


A coworker and I’s inventions – mostly the same, except that she chose the Mediterranean tonic and a lemon wedge. Unfortunately the color from the syrup didn’t really come through, but I was trying not to make it too sweet.

I never drink gin and tonics, but I might have to give it a try after this workshop!

Oh, and a bit of final trivia: the prevailing theory is that gin originally came from the lowlands (Netherlands and Belgium). All gins use juniper to some degree. The Dutch word for juniper is jenever, which became genever in old English, which was later shortened to gin.

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Amaze Escape in The Hague (Or: Time to get locked up)

On Monday and I had a team building event with work colleagues. We decided to go to Amaze Escape, an Escape room. You can read more about them at Wikipedia (English | Dutch). In short, you and the rest of your group (coworkers, friends, etc.) are locked up in a room for an hour or an hour and a half and you have to solve puzzles to get out. Each room has a different theme.

Amaze Escape Lounge The Hague

In our case we had 9 people so we went with the two competition rooms (Black and White). Whichever team gets out first wins! You are both solving the same puzzles. The best part was that halfway through you realized you could hear (and see, a little bit) the other team so it got pretty tense. My team ended up winning, but only with about two minutes to spare.

Amaze Escape 1st place trophy The Hague

It is a great team building exercise – everyone brings something to the table. I’m proud of the fact that I figured out the last clue to unlock the trophy (and others, of course) – there wasn’t much time left and we were starting to panic. All in all a lot of fun and I would definitely recommend trying an escape room near you!

A few sights on the walk back – a windmill:

Windmill in The Hague

And a sign for a restaurant on the side of a building:Restaurant De Kikker The Hague

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It’s almost Friday! (Or: Time for an apple)

This is actually a photo from last week, but I didn’t get around to posting it then so I decided to post it today.

First, the photo:

Happy almost Friday apple

And now the context:

One of my coworkers usually eats an apple or two a day. Last month during lunch I noticed she peeled her apple, so I asked her if she was going to eat the apple skin. She said no, so I ate it. Perhaps a bit weird (?) but green apples tend to be more on the sour side, and I do love sour food. (Ever had cucumber slices in vinegar with a bit of lemon juice thrown in the mix? It’s awesomely sour.) But anyway, it’s like eating apple chips – there’s always a bit of apple mixed with the skin.

So these days if she eats an apple she always puts the skins on a separate plate and brings it to my desk. She told me on Wednesday that she wouldn’t be in on Thursday, so we joked about my missing the apple skins.

Lo and behold, when I came in on Thursday there was a whole apple on my desk with the note “Happy almost Friday! :)” I liked the note so much I actually placed it under the receiver on my work phone, so when I make calls I see the note.

(P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!!)

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Party time (Or: Christmas trivia

Today was a holiday party for work. It was held at Restaurant Pavlov in The Hague. That place is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside! The food included things such as cinnamon rolls (that one was new for me, but it was tasty), salmon wraps, wraps with goat’s cheese, pears soaked in cinnamon sauce, pumpkin soup and more.

We also held a round of trivia, including such questions as:

How many desserts are there during a traditional French Christmas dinner? 13 (it represents Jesus and the 12 apostles, according to Wikipedia).

Which country gives London the Trafalgar Square Christmas treeNorway.

In which country is the Poinsettia plant commonly found? Mexico.

In America there is a Christmas event called “Running of the Santas”. What type of event is this? A bar crawl (visiting many bars to drink).

How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Dutch? Prettige feestdagen (and other ways).

How many points/sides are in a snowflake? 6. (Read the scientific explanation.)

Whose story was used for A Nightmare before Christmas? Tim Burton’s.

Who wrote the score for The NutcrackerTchaikovsky.

All in all, a fun event.

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Back in the work grind (Or: 9-5 or thereabouts)

As of last week I am no longer unemployed! This is my first paid job since moving to the Netherlands in late 2012. I wanted to wait a bit on finding a job and instead spend my time learning Dutch, but the last few months I was feeling the itch to get back into the working game. Thankfully it was not a wasted goal – my Dutch is pretty good.

I won’t speak too much about the details of the job and where it is, or what happens on a day to day basis, as I like to keep work separate mostly. But I will say it’s an English-speaking job in The Hague with a short commute by tram. I guess you could call me a “content manager”, as one of my main responsibilities is going through old content that is shifting to a new portal and verifying that everything is working as it should be. Hint: it’s not. 😉 But thankfully my background in library sciences is perfectly suited for this bug-hunting task. It’s a temporary contract (through Unique Multilingual, a temp agency) but is shaping out to be a great experience. Also a great company to have on my CV! Here are random insights after the first week:

1. Holy crap, I’m tired. I mostly get there before 8:30am and leave around 5pm, but Tuesdays and Thursdays I also have a 3 hour Dutch class from 6:45-10:00pm. I was walking towards the tram to go home on Thursday afternoon and I realized I never would have been able to get my Dutch to the level it is now if I also held a full time job the first year.

2. I do miss the random things that I did during the day to help learn Dutch. Whether it was hanging out with folks to practice my Dutch or watching the TV (first Dutch cartoons and now the Comedy Central Network with Dutch sitcoms) I did find it helpful. Now I work with an organization whose working language is English but also has documents in French and Spanish. Almost every document has three language versions. Unfortunately my Spanish has eroded enough that I cannot read it that well anymore. Luckily I have found the ‘Dutch table’ at lunch, though it’s still a mix of speaking Dutch and English. (What else is new in this country?)

3. It’s really jarring to go outside after work and hear people speak Dutch again. I’m amused.

4. Trams are crowded. So very, very crowded. Excepts Fridays, where I can probably find a seat. Probably. But the other weekdays? Good luck. I’m back to using my purse again (it’s a good container for bringing along my lunch and backup glasses) but there’s nothing else important there. Beware zakkenrollers, or pickpockets.

5. It’s weird to actually have to plan the grocery shopping lists with Marco. I can’t just run off to Albert Heijn on a daily basis anymore… though he at least has an Albert Heijn and Hoogvliet by his work. Where I work seems to mostly be offices.

6. I like the kitchen at work. Free tea (Pickwick brand) and free soup (Cup-a-soup brand) along with the more normal free coffee. I have the tea on a daily basis but I haven’t tried the soup or coffee yet. It’s also a big office, so we have three half refridgerators, two dishwashers, etc. They also put a lot of effort into the atmosphere – pretty hard wood floors, colorful chairs, a bright dining area – you get the idea.

I think that’s enough for now… I hope you enjoyed my random comments about being back in the work force again. 🙂

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AVI niveaus (Or: Reading levels for kids)

I finally sat down and tried to figure out how a certain set of books we own in our neighborhood library works. I knew that they correspond to reading levels for the kids, but I didn’t quite know how. To the untrained eye the system would definitely look out of order – for instance the books in our library are in order by M3, E3, M4, E4, M5, and E5. (It’s quite possible that they could have been out of order, as I ended up putting all of the comic books in order when I arrived.) But no, it’s quite intended.

I looked up the reading system (AVI niveau) on the internet. The number refers to the groep (grade) that the student is in, with groep 1 being 4 or 5 years old. The ‘M’ refers to them being in the  middel/middle of their reading level and the ‘E’ refers to einde/end of the reading level. Thus on average a groep 4 student might be reading E3, M4, or E4 books.

avi conversietabel

AVI conversion table from the old (oud) system to the new (nieuw) system, with the leerjaar/groep number on the side.

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Window paintings (Or: Dutch children’s library)

I decided to take a few photos of the windows at the library where I work. It’s a small library staffed by volunteers, after the much larger neighborhood library had to close due to budgetary reasons. But at least this way the children have somewhere close by to check out books.

window decorations in a Dutch library

window art in a Dutch library

window paintings in a Dutch library

It is a bit hard to see from this angle, but in the right window you have a large green ‘B’ (since the word for library in Dutch is bibliotheek). The B is made up of lots of smaller Bs – look at the top to see it best.

A few random Dutch words I learned today:

coloring page = kleurplaat

glitter = glitter (spelled the same, but with the hardcore ‘g’ guttural sound)

I must also admit that the window above does not convey the prettiness of the yards (tuinen) outside the window. Very green!

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New things (Or: Volunteer work)

Last week I decided to volunteer at a small library within The Hague. I was a bit apprehensive about the idea, but I have already spent one day there and think I will fit in well. My Dutch has been getting better and better as the weeks go on and I really need more practice with that. This also gets me out of the house more. Currently I will work a few hours a day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The library itself is pretty small and primarily serves kids – newborns to age 12 – as well as their parents. There’s a lot of fiction books, from board books to books for young adults, and a small non-fiction section as well. They even have about 20-25 books in Turkish (as that is a need in the neighborhood) and a few shelves worth of NT2 books. Those books are used to help you learn and perfect your Dutch.

I spent the afternoon there this past Wednesday, meeting some of my coworkers. Generally you work with one or two other people during your shift. As its a pretty small library (only one main room), there is a fair bit of time when you have no patrons hanging around. Luckily, we received a shipment of 9 boxes of books, so we could spend an hour or two putting the books away on the shelf. My coworkers had a laugh when I said my first Dutch book was Dikkie Dik (just a random picture book with the star being an orange tabby cat). I still have it as I brought it with when we moved…

It’s pretty interesting to do this, as it’s 100% in Dutch. I understand my coworkers pretty well, but so far they have done a good job of simplifying their language a bit! I’m not sure that I want to stay within the library field forever (there is not that many opportunities for jobs in this sector) but for now it’s pretty fun to volunteer.

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