Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Scheveningen: The Coney Island of The Netherlands

Next on my list of top ten things to see and do in The Netherlands is the seaside town of Scheveningen. The town was first established during the Middle Ages, around 1280 when it was nothing more than a small fishing village. Through the years, it has witnessed many events - one of the most famous being the Battle of Scheveningen which saw fighting between the Dutch and English fleets on August 10, 1653.

In 1818, a man named Jan Pronk built a facility in the dunes where from which people could go sea bathing and it was then that Scheveningen began to build its reputation as a seaside resort. It first attracted many German tourists who desperately wanted to visit the seaside and the Dutch sea port was actually closer than the German beaches in the North. To this day, it remains a popular tourist destination with Germans in search of sand, sea and waves.

In 1886, the famous Kurhaus resort, hotel and restaurant was built to accomodate a richer class of tourists and remains as the famoud landmark that Scheveningen is known for today. The resort still attracts rich, famous, and royal tourists any time of the year -- the summer being the most popular. The high tea offered by the Kurhaus is highly recommended and if you are ever in town, make sure you take time to enjoy tea by the sea.

One of the most curious things about Scheveningen is the numerous strand tentjes or beach hut-style restaurants that are constructed for the warmer summer months and torn down by mid-October. These restaurants and clubs are of a temporary nature, so it's not a good idea to get attached to these places knowing they won't be around during the colder winter months. Of course, there are still plenty of delicious restaurants, casinos, bowling alleys, and night clubs that remain open to keep this seaside town attractive throughout the year.

More information can be found at: http://scheveningen.com/en/

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Historical Fiction from the Dutch Golden Age: The Bulb of Greet Prys

Okay, in her infinite wisdom, my good blogger buddy Sarah Ahiers (aka Falen) tagged me to share a little about my next WIP which just so happens to be THE BULB OF GREET PRYS. Sarah knew that it was time I updated my blog, so I am grateful to her for lighting a fire under my you-know-what to get it done. You can read a little about her own fabulous WIP on her blog Sarah Ahiers Writes.

I am still trying to decide if my latest WIP would fit better into the Historical Fiction or Women's Fiction genre, so if you have an opinion on the subject, I'd love to hear about it! And now, on to the questions!

What is the working title of your book?

Just stated it above AND it's in the title of this post, but to plug it JUST one more time, it's THE BULB OF GREET PRYS.

Where did the idea come for the book?

Since I have been living in the Netherlands for twenty years now, it has been a longtime desire to write a novel based on life in the 17th century in Holland during the Golden Age. Back in college, I majored in Art History and my favorite works of art were most definitely the Dutch masters Rembrant, Vermeer, van Ruysdael, Claesz, among others. I guess what goes around comes around, because I am finally combining my love of art with my love of writing to create a story I am very passionate about.

What genre does your book fall under?

That is where I need a little help. I am leaning towards Historical Fiction, but because the story skips back and forth between a modern-day woman and a woman from the 17th century, I could also see it being Women's Fiction. The jury is still out on this one.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I will take a stab at this by choosing the actors that I can see playing the characters, but keep in mind that I'm not a professional casting agent:


Greet Prys - Dakota Fanning

Johan Stryker - Asher Book


Jonkheer Wilhelm Op Den Graeff - Alex Pettyfer

Lord Simon Jongbloed - Geoffrey Rush

 Carolyn Kleinsma - Amanda Seyfried

Mark Whitman - Henry Cavill

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Uh, right. Can't do it in one sentence. But here is the blurb that would go on the back of the book:

Beauty is fleeting.

When a lost Rembrandt surfaces at auction, Carolyn Kleinsma is the young art dealer determined to obtain it for a client to save her stalling career. But when the secret memoirs of the painting’s beautiful subject suddenly come to light, Carolyn gets more than she bargained for and discovers that the Dutch Golden Age has a dark, tarnished past.

Living in The Netherlands in 1631, Greet Prys’ life is anything but golden. With no dowry, her dreams of marrying the son of the wealthiest merchant in Leyden seem unreachable, but when she finds a tulip bulb in the street, her luck suddenly changes. Mapping out plans to cultivate the flower in order to secure her future at the height of tulip mania, Greet is blind to the disaster looming on the horizon just before the nation’s bulb market is about to crash…

Captivated by the spirit of a woman immortalized by the greatest master painter of all time, Carolyn is doomed to suffer a similar fate if she can’t learn from Greet’s mistakes before it is too late.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Off the top of my head, it would have to be Girl With A Pearl Earring, but with a lot more spunk and a better storyline. No offense to its author, Tracy Chevalier, but unlike her, I have actually lived in the Netherlands for many years and also speak the language. Hopefully this will help in creating a more natural "flavor" authenticity in the book.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this point, who knows?! I think I happen to have a pretty good premise that at least a few agents would be interested in, but I'm not sure if I need or want one. I will be publishing two books in 2013 without an agent, so I guess I'll wait and see. To be continued...

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I already answered this question above. Next...

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If the book blurb above doesn't do it, then I don't know what will!

Now is the fun part. I get to tag the following peeps:

John Krissilas
David List
Terri Rowe

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Exciting Announcement!

So, now that it's finally official, I can spill the beans!

I have signed a deal with WestBow Press (an imprint of Thomas Nelson Publishing) and my debut novel, THE CARNELIAN LEGACY will be coming out in hardcover, softcover, and e-book version in February of 2013! I am very excited about this even though I will be busier than ever!!

I will be knee-deep in revisions, designing my shiny new author web site, press releases, plus making cover design decisions and putting a book trailer together -- whew -- my head is spinning already! I am very excited about the possibilities and to finally be able to see my baby in print!

Thanks to you all who have supported me every step of the way and I look forward to the day when my dream has finally become a tangible reality! I will need your help in the coming months to get the word out and I would appreciate it if you could "Like" my author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheryl-Koevoet-Author/146681932118371?ref=hl

There will be several more exciting announcements in the coming months, so please stay tuned!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

ForeverAfter Pitch Contest and Reader Appreciation!

This has been a whirlwind month for me since I entered five writing contests in two weeks (yeah, my nerves are officially shot!) A couple of the contests have run their course and although I didn't win or advance to the next round in two of them, I did manage to make some writing buddy friends that have already made an impact on my writing, my query, and even my outlook on the whole publishing process.

Mere Joyce - Librarian by day, CatGirl by Night
I did actually win one contest this past week--The ForeverAfter Pitch Contest sponsored by the Pineapple Lightning bloggers Utsav and Brighton! I was honored to have been chosen as the top winning entry and you can check out my winning pitch at: http://pineapplelightning.blogspot.nl/2012/09/foreverafter-pitch-contest-winners.html?showComment=1347811560438

One award I totally did not see coming was the Reader Appreciation Award given to me by the wonderful Mere Joyce!

I met her through Query Tracker and although she joined the forum after I came in, she quickly surpassed me in status due to her super-awesome comments, encouragement and support to other writers. I never met a Canadian I didn't like, and Mere is no exception. She is super-awesome and a real encouragement to anyone lucky enough to know her. Thanks, Mere Joyce! She's a librarian by day and CatGirl by night. Nuff said!

So, in order to participate in this award, there are a few rules that must be followed. 

If you’re tagged, follow the rules! If you don't, I might just send some of the Bigfoot monsters from my next WIP after you! They are as follows:

- Identify and show appreciation to the blogger who nominated you
- You must add the reward logo to your blog.
- Tell your readers 7 things about yourself.
- You must nominate 5-10 of your favorite bloggers for this award.
- Inform your nominees that you nominated them.

2 things done, three more to go! Check out my random things below!

7 things about me:
  1. I am actually a car fanatic. My dad owned his own company in the Street Rodding business so my childhood summer vacations were spent traveling across the country to wherever the Street Rod Nationals were being held. Columbus, Ohio; St. Paul, Minnesota; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma -- I know all these cities well. I saw the U.S.A in a 1940 Ford with flames across the hood! My father used to blast 50's music from our booth and to this day, I still know all the words to every Elvis song recorded between 1957-1964! In case you were wondering, the car I aspire to own these days is an Audi R8!!
  2. I met my husband on a cruise ship. Yep. He was an officer on board and I was a passenger. The Love Boat took on a whole new meaning in my life when I turned 20!
  3. I can speak three languages: English (native); Dutch (bilingual/native); and French (intermediate). I have a goal to learn German and Italian within the next five years.
  4. I have an amazing day job. Nuff said.
  5. Somedays I am frustrated that there aren't enough hours in the day around my work and family schedule for writing. I know this is a common issue with writers, but you gotta pay the bills somehow!
  6. I have the uncanny knack of walking into a store and picking out the most expensive thing in there without even seeing the price tag. Furniture, jewelry, kitchenware, you name it. I don't know why that is, but with the expensive prices in Europe it's a cruel talent to possess.
  7. I didn't drink coffee or finish my first novel until after I hit forty. I think I started doing both at the same time. Although I loved to write, I always thought you had to be "annointed" to be able to call yourself a writer. I kept telling myself I could never tell stories as good as those books I'd read. I'm so glad now I didn't listen to myself!!
 And finally, for my nominees (in no particular order!):

Brenda Drake
I only "met" this incredible woman online a few months ago when I subscribed to her blog, but let me tell you, she has made an amazing impression in a short amount of time!  All that she has done to help newbie writers break into the world of publishing is truly staggering! Most recently she hosted the Pitch Madness Contest with so many great judges and others and gave several unagented writers a shot at getting an agent. Thanks, Brenda!!

Deana Barnhart
Does this unbelievable woman even need an introduction? She is hosting this month's GUTGAA Contest (Gearing Up To Get An Agent) and has been working nonstop to ensure she is doing everything she can to help unagented writers get their shot at finding one. This woman is the epitome of grace, kindness, and encouragement and I've only "known" her for a few weeks! Deana - you are a real sweetheart and I'm so glad our paths crossed!

John Krissilas
Again, I only "met" John a few weeks ago when we both entered the same contests, but he gives amazing critique on queries and is superhelpful and engaging! His awesome stories involve SciFy and I totally dig that. John, you are awesome I look forward to picking up your thrilling novel when you get it published!

Sarah Ahiers
This is one of the blog greats over at the Query Tracker forums which is where I met her. Always offering encouragement, support, and advice to as many writers as she can, I appreciate her sound advice and in the short time I've "known" her, I have already learned so much for her. Thanks, Sarah, and I can't wait to read your success story!!!

Jodie Andrefski
I met Jodie through GUTGAA and knew I had a great critique partner right away! She is also a great encourager and I love her sense of humor. I have met some awesome writers over the past few weeks, and sometimes it just "clicks" instantly. Thanks for all your encouragement, Jodie, and I look forward to reading the rest of your awesome YA stories!

Thanks to all of you for the many ways you have helped me develop as a writer -- I appreciate each and every one of you. You are all my ROCK STARS in my book!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

GUTGAA Blogfest Meet 'n' Greet

About Me

As part of this week's GUTGAA BlogHop sponsored by Deana Barnhart, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring and get to know my fellow writers. I'm fairly new to this bunch, but not new to writing. I wrote my first novel when I was eight (yeah, I think I got maybe 2,000 words written in total!)

You can read more about me on my blog, but I have been living in The Netherlands for more than twenty years now and love adding my American twist to things I experience in the Old Country. I have four children (all teenagers) plus a full-time job to boot (can't talk about it--it's classified) Anyhow, I keep busy with life in general and treasure the small moments I have to weave stories buried in the depths of my brain.

So - on to the questions!

Where do you write?

At my kitchen table located in the living room which is also doubles as our family's dining room, recreation room, man cave, and general crash chamber. Confused yet? Welcome to my world.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

A pile of (clean) laundry that has been sitting there for two days waiting to be folded, two kids watching SpongeBob Squarepants, hubby's sandals, an empty can of Diet Pepsi and a blood pressure monitor (can you guess who it's for?) And yes, I see all those things and much more in just one glance!

-Favorite time to write?

Evening/late night. After kids are in bed and I've had the chance to digest the latest episode of Pawn Stars!
-Drink of choice while writing?

Already covered this above, but it is Diet Pepsi (Diet Coke tastes HORRIBLE in Europe!) If that's not available, MARGARITAVILLE!
Fun Fact: Diet Pepsi is known as Pepsi Light and Diet Coke is Coca-Cola Light in Europe

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

I usually need complete silence or as close to it as I can get, but with four kids, two cats, one dog and a hubby who watches tv two decibels louder than he probably should, silence is golden (and rare!) My iPod and ear buds are my friends.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

My YA Sci-Fi thriller is based on a tourist trap attraction back home in Oregon. The Oregon Vortex (google it!) is an area where strange magnetic phenomenon occur and it's always been a running joke in our family. I thought it would be cool to take the urban legend and make it a gateway to another dimension. I was corn-fed on Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica so I can't really say I'm surprised!

-What's your most valuable writing tip?

Make yourself your MC - dive in and let 'er rip! What do you see, think, feel, hear, smell? Also - never stop believing in your writing and DON'T GIVE UP!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dutch Art Showcase: Het Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

One of my very first outings in The Netherlands more than twenty years ago was visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Considered the 'grandaddy' museum of the country, I can honestly say that I enjoy visiting it more than the Louvre in Paris. But I guess I'm a little biased.

Painful admission: before I even realized The Netherlands and Holland were the same country, I minored in art history in college. The Dutch Masters were my favorite painters even more than the masters of the Italian Renaissance.

I still believe that with the exception of Michaelangelo, there has never been a greater artist in the world than Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn. Again, I may be a teensy bit biased here since my husband is a descendant of (or at least a distant relative of) the world-famous Golden Age master. My family happens to live near Rembrandt's birthplace of Leiden. The local folks, while proud of their amazing painter who skyrocketed into worldwide fame before the age of Twitter, still to this day seem to take it all in stride.

The building that houses the museum is more than 200 years old (ancient to us Americans!) The museum structure has become such a beloved fixture of the old city of Amsterdam that if it were ever to be removed, the city would never be the same. Somewhere in 2000, it was decided that it was necessary for the building to undergo a massive reconstruction where it has remained for more than a decade.

In spite of the remodeling and reconstruction, the museum has remained opened to its nearly 1,200,000 visitors a year. The grand re-opening is slated to take place somewhere in 2013 with (hopefully) yours truly somewhere near the front of the line.

Along with Rembrandt's famous masterpiece The Nightwatch, visitors can view some of the most magnificent pieces created by Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and many, many others all combined to create a staggering collection of 900,000 (!) pieces of art.

If you are planning a trip to the Netherlands in 2013, make sure you make time to visit this amazing piece of Dutch history. If you are only passing through The Netherlands, you can see an abbreviated version of the museum at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

Official web site of the Rijksmuseum: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/?lang=en

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

10 Good Things About Writing a Query Letter

First of all, I have to get one thing off my chest -- I hate writing query letters. There's nothing more frustrating than after weeks, months, or sometimes years of writing and perfecting your novel than to have to distill it all down into three or four eye-popping paragraphs. It's almost impossible!

Non-fiction writers have their own set of unique challenges when coming up with a stellar book proposal, but when a fiction writer is faced with producing a query letter that will hook an agent or editor, it's enough to make them want to run up the white flag and emigrate to Samoa.

Though most of us writers understand the practical necessity of a query letter, its a bit like asking the guy who invented Godiva Chocolate Truffles to write a letter to the general public to convince people his chocolate is amazing.

Maybe it's just me, but I would think that giving out small samples of chocolate would hook more people than sending them a letter about it or paying for expensive advertising ever would. I mean, if he makes chocolate and that is what he does best, isn't that more of a realistic representation of the product itself than the letter praising it?

It is possible (and highly likely) that a novelist can write a great book but may not be great at selling it. It makes one wonder how many possible NY Times Bestsellers out there were/are turned down and never published due to the fact that the author was guilty only of concocting a lukewarm query letter. In spite of the fact that deep within most of us our subconscious ID rebels against the very idea of formulating a query letter, believe it or not, there are actually some good benefits that can come from creating one:
  • It could land you that super-fabulous literary agent.

Let's face it -- this is the entire end all, be all for creating a query letter so of course this one's gotta be listed at number one.
  • It can help you establish the book's genre.

This sounds silly, but it's true. Sometimes you start writing a story, not knowing where it's going and you're not even sure of the genre. One very important factor in a query letter is stating the book's genre so an agent can see right away if it's a book they can pitch or not.
  • It helps you decide which agents to query.

In case you didn't already know, not every literary agent represents every genre and most specialize. Don't waste time by querying an agent with a genre they don't represent. There are many web sites out there that can help decide which ones fit the particular genre you are writing. (See web links at the end of this article.)
  • It helps you decide who are the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s) in your story.

Don't laugh, not every writer is sure about this one. Especially in a story with multiple characters who all may have equal face time, it can be difficult to decide who the main character is. A query letter helps narrow down who the main character is and what he/she/it wants. (BTW - if you don't know who or what the antagonist is in your story, you're in trouble!)
  • It helps you to see whether your novel is "done" or not.

If you have a great protagonist but you can't tell what his/her main goal is in the story, you probably don't have a complete story yet. Or if the character has a goal but there is nothing in the way stopping him/her from reaching that goal, you probably don't have a complete story either.
  • It forces you to step back and look at your novel in an objective manner.

Yes, this is difficult for all of us to do which is why we need beta readers. If you come up with a query letter that does a pretty good job describing the nuts and bolts of the story but sounds pretty dull to you, consider the fact that it just might be.
  • It improves your grammar skills.

Yes, it does. With the hours we spend agonizing over whether or not we can use a semi-colon or a hyphen in the dreaded query letter without scaring off an agent, it teaches us to be critical readers and question the rules we can break, can't break, and ones we can sometimes bend. Query letters are notorious for containing run-on sentences, so if you want to stay out of the slush pile, just keep that in mind. If you can't get the sentence out in one breath, it's too LONG!
  • It helps you develop the all-important elevator pitch.

If you don't have this already, it's something you need to do before your book is published. The elevator pitch. How would you explain to an editor, agent or publisher what your book is about if you shared a quick elevator ride with them? Need something less intimidating? How would you explain to your best friend, colleague, or relative what your book is about? It's gotta punch them in the gut -- make them want to read it.
  • It can help you make new friends.

If you frequent a writer's critique group or an online chat forum for writer's, it is amazing the wonderful people you meet with the same writing interests.  They may not write the same genres you do, but shared knowledge can be a powerful tool and never fail to take advantage of this free resource. Offer your query lettter online for others to read and critique and you will soon have a lean, mean, query machine! Writers generally tend to stick together and although there is a small amount of healthy competition for the limited spots offered by literary agents, most of us just want to help each other do better and achieve success with our novels.
  • It helps you build character.

Rejections are difficult no matter how they come, but by accepting an agent's rejection of your query letter, you are toughening yourself up for those devastatingly tough book reviews when your novel goes on the NY Times Bestseller list!
Agent Query web site for Literary Agent Information: http://www.agentquery.com
Query Tracker web site for recording your queries to agents: http://www.querytracker.net
How to Write a Query Letter: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2011/08/how-to-write-a-query-letter/
How to Write a Query Letter: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/08/how-to-write-query-letter.html

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Keukenhof: Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Okay, I'm the first to admit that my timing on writing blog subjects isn't always the best. But in continuation of my list of recommended places to visit in The Netherlands, the now closed-for-the-season world-famous Keukenhof Gardens is in this week's spotlight. It boasts several awards for being the most valued attraction in Europe and the most-photographed place in the world. But mind you, this place is not just for flower power people.

The park is only open for a few short months during the spring and it's a safe bet that anyone you know who's been to Holland between the months of March and May has probably visited it.

If the words "horticulture exposition" don't make your motor run, don't worry--you're not alone. This is literally a place to have to see in person to believe, and is exactly what comes to mind when imagining the land of cheese, tulips and windmills.

Personally, I'm a bit prejudiced towards tulips -- they just happen to be my favorite flower (I carried white tulips down the aisle in my wedding bouquet). But I can almost guarantee you haven't seen tulips like the ones growing at the Keukenhof. The park has more than just tulips, there are several varieties of other spring bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, and other lesser-known flowers. When you visit this place, prepare to be astonished and amazed. If you can imagine almost any color of the rainbow, there is a genetically-manipulated tulip to match it. Purple tulips? Check. Green tulips? Check, check. Black tulips? Yep, they got 'em.

The creative swags of color wind their way through the park in one nonstop work of art. I have a sneaking hunch that each year the park board secretly hires a team of wannabe Disney Imagineers to come up with new ways of designing beautiful patches of color lifting the level of flower eye candy to new heights. The most amazing thing is that each year 4.5 million bulbs are planted in more than a hundred varieties.

That's a lot of dirt under the fingernails.

For more information about the park, please visit the Keukenhof's official web site: http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing a Novel: As Easy As Pie?

I am often asked if I create an outline for each book I write or if I just sit down and start typing whatever comes to me. The answer is yes! Just kidding.

While I do believe there is no single path to writing a great novel (how boring would that be?) I also believe that each writer falls into one of three categories when it comes to mapping out a story. To my non-writer friends, I use the analogy that writing a book is a lot like baking a pie.

Well -- sort of.

The first group approaches writing with a tried and true recipe in front of them, following it religiously and never deviating from it. Measuring out each of the ingredients called for in the cookbook with exact precision, they trust the pie will be perfect in the end as long as they stick to the formula. They meticulously create a well-thought, near-perfect outline before ever typing a single sentence.

The second group has clear direction in their mind and knows exactly what they need to do to make a pie. They grab all the necessary ingredients and go at it, approximating how much of each to use. With confidence they employ the method I like to call "Using The Force" which relies more on feelings, senses, or even experience. Some have done it so often they just trust and do it, confident all will turn out in the end.

Sometimes just to shake things up, these writers add a little more nutmeg or use brown sugar instead of the usual white sugar. Speaking from experience, this makes a VERY tasty pie, BTW.

The third group uses a little bit of both. Although there is a general recipe to follow, most of the dialogue, prose, and imagery is improvised during the writing process. I must admit that I belong to this third group of writers who needs something down on paper to base my story on but still likes to mostly shoot from the hip.

For my last novel, I discovered that creating a "fake" family tree at ancestry.com with all my characters' names, birthdates, marriages and death dates was a necessity just so I could keep them all straight. While not the same as having a story outline, it made it much easier to steer the plot and keep the storyline believeable -- no small thing when one is writing a three-book family saga.

Does having an outline for your story make it easier to write or make you feel constrained? That is something you need to discover for yourself. The bottom line is to find the method that works best to help you produce the story you want to convey. Continuing with the pie analogy, creating and baking a dessert of quality is very time-consuming and takes a lot of effort. Others may consume it quickly without fully appreciating it, but the end result is usually delicious and you can take pride in the fact that you created it yourself.

Bon App├ętit!

Which kind of writer are you? Do you follow an outline or write whatever comes to you? I'd love to get your feedback!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amsterdam: The Venice of the North

One experience you absolutely must not miss while in The Netherlands is a canal boat tour in Amsterdam. What the red double-decker buses are to London, are the long, flat canal boats to Amsterdam. Once only accessible as entertainment for royalty and visiting VIPs, today the canal boat tour is the number one tourist attraction in the country, welcoming more than three million visitors per year.

If you've never done any kind of tour even similar, you will be amazed by how the boats' able captains skillfully navigate around sharp corners, narrow tunnels, and even manage to miss the many small canoes, boats, and houseboats along the way. It really is the only way to see the tall, skinny canal houses of Holland's most famous city.

Most of the tours last anywhere from 2 - 3 hours and you'll see most of the famous Amsterdam canal houses from the water side including the Anne Frank house. Or, opt for the hop-on-hop-off Canal Bus which stops near some of Amsterdam's most popular museums and attractions.

If you are looking for a romantic dinner with that special someone, forget Paris. You heard me. Nothing beats a romantic dinner on an antique riverboat and is the perfect way to end any vacation in The Netherlands. More information and bookings are available through Amsterdam Jewel Cruises: http://www.amsterdamjewelcruises.com/

Several canal boat tour operators are available for the ultimate Dutch experience:

Amsterdam Boats
Private canal cruises through the Amsterdam canals. Search and find the perfect boat matching your specific needs. Boat company with 6 vessels and agent for another 30 boats in Amsterdam.

Canal Bike
Discover the city and the idyllic canals at your own pace, completely undisturbed by the traffic.

Canal Bus
The Hop on, Hop off cruise is an ideal way of getting around the canals.

Dinner Cruise
Take a cruise along the illuminated canals while indulging in a delicious four-course dinner.

100 highlights cruise
A one-hour cruise takes you through the UNESCO World Heritage canals with all their highlights.

Canal Cruise Amsterdam
With several very beautiful classic canal boats. Offering a large variety of appetizer, lunch, dinner and other entertainment packages.

Cruise with us
Their brand new electrically powered saloon boat 'Soeverein' is the only one in the fleet with a piano on board.

Rederij Lieve (Salonboat.nl)
Amsterdam´s most beautiful saloon boat is available 7 days per week for private tours with gourmet food and wines.

Private Boat Tours
Rental of beautiful intimate saloonboats 'Paradis' and 'Ivresse' for 2 to 12 passengers and the elegant 'Belle Epoque' for up to 28 passengers. Also for lunches and dinners.

Jasmijn Rondvaart
The cosiest canal-cruises in Amsterdam. Jasmijn organises birthday parties, bingo cruises singalong cruises and a lot more.

Sloep Amsterdam (web site in Dutch only)
This company specializes in the rental of open boats, ranging from small self operating boats to the largest open boat in Amsterdam with a kitchen and toilet on board.

Amsterdam Canal Cruise
Captain Jan's famous “Champagne and Roses Cruise”' and “Pre Champagne Dinner Cruise" and are legendary and have been the scene of many a marriage proposal.

Rederij Welvaren
Exclusive cruises with a classic saloonboat, from pubcruise to a deluxe dinner.

Rederij Vlaun
The beautiful antique saloonboat "Old Queen" is the flagship of this company.

Rederij Aemstelland
With two boats, designed for optimal enjoyment of what Amsterdam has to offer.

Boat Amsterdam
Exclusive trips, delicious catering, fun packages in classic canal boats. Both small and large groups. From simple to luxurious dinners and drinks.

Saloon boat Hilda
Silent and environmentally clean luxury cruise on first commercial sight-seeing boat in Amsterdam. From drinks to extravagant dinner cruise.

Blue Boat Company
Apart from the standard one hour cruises, Blueboat hosts an impressive range of waterborne entertainment, like Percussion Cruises and Comedy Theatre.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Junk Mail is Universal

Tuesdays in The Netherlands are Junk Mail day. You know what I mean. It's the day when you come home from a long day at work hoping and praying you can just get the front door open. Mail boxes are few and far between and most people receive their mail through a slot in their front door. Unfortunately, today was no different (see picture of what my front entry looked like this evening - and that is only from one day!)

In The Netherlands, you can opt out of receiving the weekly kilos of advertisements by placing a simple sticker on your front door.  The "NEE - NEE" version means you are saying no to all unaddressed advertising as well as addressed advertising. (Some companies hope to sneakily circumvent this and reach people by addressing their paper spam to "The Resident Of This House."

The other variant of the sticker is "NEE - JA" which means you don't want all the circulars, flyers, and ads but do want the advertising directly addressed to you. After twenty years of residing in Holland I still don't understand the difference!

As a tree-loving Oregonian, what surprises me about all of this is that there is still so much tolerance for printed paper advertisements in a country which claims to be so environmentally-friendly. (There must be at least a small Christmas tree from the Black Forest lying on my doormat this evening). I am convinced that this is all part of a massive conspiracy to keep the printing presses alive after the death of so many newspapers here recently in The Netherlands.

I guess I should really get one of those NEE - NEE stickers to stave off the constant barrage of attacks from the Dutch tree killers, but if I did that, I might just miss out on my favorite spring garden tools sale! If only the NEE - NEE sticker existed virtually to ward off email spam in my inbox *sigh*

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Muiderslot Castle - The Netherlands

Number nine on my top ten list of things to see and do in The Netherlands is Muiderslot Castle, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Located about 15 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam, the castle is one of the most popular middle-age castles in the country, and several movies and television shows have been filmed on its grounds.

With an honest-to-goodness moat surrounding it, several rooms in the castle have been restored and outfitted to look just as they would have been during the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age. If you ever wanted to step back into history to catch a glimpse -- this is the place to do it.

The castle's foundations date back to 1285 -- staggeringly old to an American such as myself -- and has had quite an amazing past. First built by Count Floris V (nicknamed "God of the Peasants") he was considered one of the most important figures of the native Dutch dynasty which lasted from 833-1299. He allied himself closely with King Edward I of England and even encouraged his son to court an English princess. However, when he later transferred his allegiance to Phillip IV of France, noblemen under the influence of Edward took him prisoner and when the common people of Muiden would not allow Floris to be taken away to England, he was executed in his own castle in June of 1296. Many songs, stories and plays were written about his death.

Later in 1609 the castle's most famous occupant came into residence -- P.C. Hooft. Living in the fortress for 38 years, the famous author known as "the Dutch Shakespeare" wrote poems, novels, sonnets, and letters during his time in the castle that remain an important past of Dutch heritage even to this day. As an aspiring author, I can appreciate the source of inspiration the views from the castle windows must have provided towards some of his better works.
Frequently the castle is the site of plays, concerts, and a popular place for weddings. On June 16th, there will be a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night but due to overwhelming demand, all tickets have been sold out.
If you ever find yourself in Holland and would like to see a real slice of life from centuries in the past, make a trip out to Muiderslot -- you'll be glad you did!

More information about Muiderslot Castle including opening times can be found at: http://www.muiderslot.nl/english

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alkmaar Cheese Market

This week's subject is number ten among the top ten things to see or do in The Netherlands. From the first Friday of April until the first Friday of September, the city of Alkmaar holds its weekly cheese market every Friday from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM. The market is run by a traditional "Cheese Carrier's Guild."  Back in the middle ages, almost every trade had a guild and in Holland there is one for cheese carriers.  Established in 1593, there are thirty men and a Cheese Father who make up the Cheese Carrier's Guild.

The market opens at 10:00 AM sharp with the ringing of a bell by either a famous personality or special guest of the guild. Next, the cheese is inspected and sampled with a grade so the buyers have a good idea of the quality of the cheese they are purchasing. The cheese is bought by way of bargaining with clapping of the hands. It is sold by kilo and the last clap seals the sale.

After the cheese has been sold, it is weighed by the "weigh master" who supervises for correctness. Honesty is strictly adhered to in the weighing of the cheese according to the old Dutch saying "Een valse Waghe is de Heere een gruwel" or "a false balance is an abhorrence in the eyes of the Lord."  Once the cheese has been sold and weighed, the cheese carriers bring the cheese on an old-fashioned "cheese barrow" (or stretcher) to the trucks of the buyers. Since a full load of cheese can weigh up to 130 kilos (or 286 pounds) the two cheese carriers must be strong and not have bad backs.

If you happen to visit the Alkmaar cheese market, don't miss the cheese museum: http://www.kaasmuseum.nl

More information about the Alkmaar Cheese Market at: http://www.kaasmarkt.nl

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boy Sticks Finger in Dike: Saves Town

When I travel back to the U.S. and meet people from all walks of life, the number one question I am inevitably asked as soon as they hear I live in The Netherlands is: "What's the story of the little boy who stuck his finger in the dike?" It strikes me as sadly ironic that a country producing such well-known brilliance as Erasmus, Rembrandt, Huygens, van Gogh, Vermeer, Rubens, Steen, van Ruysdael, Escher, Mondriaan, van Leeuwenhoek, Corrie Ten Boom, Anne Frank, Andre Rieu and Anouk should be remembered for the poor little boy with his finger in the dyke.

The story of the Dutch boy is actually a story within a story.  It can be found in the Mary Mapes Dodge classic Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, written in 1875.  As the story goes, the little boy notices a leak in the dyke and he immediately plugs the hole with his finger, knowing that the one little leak can soon turn into a bigger hole whereby the entire dyke can be breached.  If that were to happen, the water would spill into the low-lying countryside, flooding houses and killing people and livestock.

The little boy remains there with his finger plugging the hole all night in spite of the horrible wind, rain and cold until finally some of the townspeople happen to spot him and come to his rescue.  They patch up the dyke and the little boy is hailed as the town hero for saving everyone in the county.  Although the little boy in the story remains nameless, he is said to represent the will of each and every Dutchman/woman who would sacrifice himself/herself to save others by plugging his finger in the dyke.  The author wanted to convey the amazing resolve and honor of the Dutch people in a single metaphor, and it is one that lives on more than a hundred years after her death.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Floriade 2012: Dutch Flower Expo

Queen Beatrix officially opens Floriade 2012
This past week heralded the opening of a once-in-a-decade event in the Netherlands -- The Floriade World Horticulture Expo.  The event runs from April 5th until October 7th, 2012 near the Dutch city of Venlo and is expected to draw in a whopping 2 million visitors in its 66 hectare park. There are five distinct themed areas: Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education & Innovation, Environment, and World Show Stage, separated from one another by woods. There is even an area especially for kids.

The exposition aims to teach and educate how plants, flowers, trees and vegetables impact and affect our modern way of life. Guests can also visit Villa Flora: Europe's largest indoor flower show. If you decide to go, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes to visit the more than 100 gardens and pavilions filled with plants and flowers from all over the world.

Billed as one of the "World's Top Destinations for 2012" by CNN news corporation, this event that only takes place once every ten years is a must see for anyone planning to visit The Netherlands from April until October.  More information including pricing and tickets is available at: http://www.floriade.com/

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Art of Packing

After twenty plus years of traveling to many destinations around the globe, I can claim with confidence to be an expert packer.  Most people throw some things into a suitcase and when they can get the zipper shut are satisfied with their accomplishment.  However, in this day and age where the airlines become bolder every day with charging baggage fees and the carry-on limits are steadily increasing, it is in the traveler's interest to be a vigilant packer.  The best way to do this is to "plan your pack."  What I mean by this is that you need to start thinking about what you want to take not a day or week ahead of your trip, but actually several weeks.

One of my pre-international travel packing rituals is to place a cardboard box in a non-traffic corner of my living room and every time I come across something I need to take, I toss it into the box. What about those Dutch stroopwafels and dark European chocolate my friends and relatives in the U.S. have been begging me for?  Throw them in the box.  My squishy earplugs for the loooong transatlantic flight?  Throw them in the box. Passports? Check. By the time my travel date nears, I am ready to begin my stress-free pack confident that I'm not forgetting anything important.

Obviously, you need to consider the weather and clothing requirements at your destination and pack accordingly.  Most tourists overpack because they want to be prepared for every weather scenario, but this is unnecessary and usually leads to frustration when said tourist buys that irresistible Mexican sombrero but has no room left in the suitcase for the return trip.  Because I live in Europe, clothing is ridiculously expensive so I usually wait until I am back in the U.S. again to shop for clothes.  I have learned from experience to only take a maximum of one or two changes of clothes because this is all I need until I can buy that fantastic new spring wardrobe.  Here are some more packing and baggage tips:

  • Don't fold, but ROLL your clothes.  By rolling your clothes up into cylindrical shapes and placing them in the suitcase, you can fit much more in; however, be aware that it will make your suitcase heavier because you are now able to fit more in
  • If you are planning to purchase a lot on vacation, take a large suitcase with a slightly smaller one and on the outbound journey, place the smaller suitcase inside the bigger one.  This will save you the extra baggage fees on your outbound journey. Or, it might be more economical to simply purchase a new suitcase at your destination.  With baggage fees ranging from $50-$100 per bag, that money might be better spent for a new suitcase to replace your old one
  • See if you can save money on your baggage fees by checking-in online.  Most airlines offer lower baggage fees if you reserve them in advance by checking in online.
  • Wherever possible, place heavy items into your carry-on and not in your fully-loaded suitcase.  This will make a big difference in your suitcase weight and save you from unwanted extra fees due to overweight baggage.  It may also keep TSA from opening and inspecting your baggage for unidentifiable items. (Make sure, however, it isn't something like a liquid which is prohibited from carry-on items)

In addition, there are several websites out there that will help you pack sensibly.  A good site for packing tips is: OneBag.com

Do you have additional ideas for more efficient packing?  Please post them below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

86% of Dutch Folk Not Impressed With Valentine's Day

There was an article this morning in the local Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that states "Currently only 15% of the Dutch population participates in St. Valentine's Day."  Why am I not surprised?  In the U.S. and England the day of love has been celebrated for several hundred years, while in Holland it only made its entrance in the 1950's.  Eighty-five percent of people from the Lowlands say they show enough love to their partners throughout the year and need no special day to remind them.  Yeah, right, okay.

I predict that the percentage of Dutch people actually doing something for their sweetheart on Valentine's Day will never go above 25% even 150 years from now when the influx cycle of influence from the US has reached its max.  Why?  The Dutch are the first ones to call themselves koude kikkers or "cold frogs," claiming they don't need to be romantic like the French or the Italians.  Although most Dutch have a hard candy coating with a soft chocolate center, getting to that center can be pretty tricky as most don't wear their heart on their sleeve (part of this knowledge comes from personal experience having been married to a Dutchie for twenty years now.)

Of the very small percentage of people who actually "celebrate" Valentine's Day in The Netherlands, here is the breakdown of the sort of gifts they give:

38% take their loved one to the movies or out to dinner
24% give a bouquet of flowers (SUPER cheap in Holland keeping in line with the Dutch frugality)
18% give chocolate
6% give a bottle of perfume

Another interesting statistic: more than 58% of the Dutch public is turned off (scared off?) by a secret admirer while 17% wouldn't mind having one.  This too, matches up with the Dutch level of love sobriety in society.  One of the most quoted phrases in The Netherlands is doe je normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg which means "if one just acts normal then they are already being crazy enough." Therefore, why does one need to do something special on a particular "love day" to prove something their partner already knows?

Quite rational, quite down-to-earth, VERY Dutch!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Happening: The Eleven Cities Tour

I get the same question from my fellow Americans all the time: "Do you ever skate on the canals in Holland?"  Me personally?  No, I don't.  I'm not crazy about falling and breaking something I vitally need on the hard, unforgiving ice.  However, many of my friends and in-laws do skate whenever the opportunity arises and I say more power to them.  The Dutch call it ijskoorts or "ice fever."  Funny enough, there always seems to be a direct correlation between the number of employees calling in sick and the thickness of the ice. Hmm....

Whenever we experience extended periods of chilling weather in The Netherlands with the temperature remaining below 28 degrees fahrenheit, the Dutch begin to long for the Elfstedentocht or the "Eleven Cities Tour."  This is a world-famous ice skating tour organized by a club whose sole purpose is to organize the race. Problem is, it really has to freeze for several days in order for the ice to be thick enough to permit the vast numbers of skaters gliding over its surface.  The last race that was organized happened back in 1997, so you can probably imagine just how exciting it is to be a member of that club.

In recent weeks, weather conditions have been cooperating and Holland began to experience a real "ice fever" once again.  The tour takes place in the Dutch province of Friesland which is so over-full with provincial pride they even have their own flag and language. ("I'm not Dutch, I'm Fries!")  This is something akin to the same pride I've experienced while being amongst my Texan buddies, but I digress.

The eleven cities that are part of the tour look on hungrily with euro signs in their eyes as the race approaches. For example, the Fries company that distills the alcoholic Beerenburg drink which is synonomous with the tour experienced a tremendous boost in sales as the people ran out to buy a bottle.  The result?  Hours later, there wasn't a bottle of the Dutch gin in the country to be had and we didn't even know yet if the race would take place.

To the disappointment of many, the tour club held a press conference this week to announce that there would not be a race held this year due to the inadequate thickness of ice.  People publicly twittered their despair in record numbers and the sales of Nordic skates dropped dramatically.  The country began to descend from its ice "high" and people got on with their lives.  The good news is that there is now plenty of Beerenburg again for those still wanting to warm themselves from the cold!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

GS Cookie Time!

It's that time of year again.  You know what I'm talking about--that crucial, three-week benchmark after you've set your New Year's Resolution to lose that extra weight. That just so happens to be about the time when those cute little girls in their adorable brown and green costumes show up to persuade you to buy a box (or sometimes a case) of those delictable treats to help them earn their badge.  You can't help but help them out, right?

If you are living in the U.S., Girl Scout Cookies can be found everywhere -- at the grocery store, school, workplace, and just about every other public gathering place you can imagine. If you live in Europe, however, it's a VERY different situation.  I call it "Girl Scout Cookie Fever." People will step over their own grandmother (so to speak) to get their hands on a piece of Americana that takes them back to their youth.  Boxes of Thin Mints trade on the Dutch black market. I kid you not.

There is a Girl Scout Neighborhood here in the The Hague, and when they set out to sell cookies, they don't even break a sweat because they're gone in no time.  Like, no matter how many boxes the Girl Scouts have shipped in, they can always sell them.  It doesn't even matter how much they charge per box for these golden nuggets as the American expat community of The Hague will buy them all.

Luckily, I happen to work in one of the places where the girls always sell their cookies so I manage to get first crack at their inventory.  I was pleased to find my favorite Samoas still available and had no problem with paying three Euros a box.  If you have ever lived overseas, I promise you, you will never look at a GS cookie in the same way again!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Upcoming pitch contest with Tricia Lawrence of EMLA

Here's your chance to submit your story to a literary agent:


I am very excited to announce that Tricia, a shiny new agent, is willing to read any/all entries in a query/250-word submission window from Feb. 13-17. Erin Murphy Literary Agency does not accepted unsolicited queries so this is your in, folks.

Go here to read a recent interview she did with another client.

Go here to find out about her literary taste.

And stop by NEXT Monday to read an interview I'll post for even more info. Tricia has been in publishing for quite a while and, while Erin Murphy Literary Agency is well established in YA/MG, there's not a lot of online stuff about her yet because she's such a new agent.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our 20th Anniversary

This past weekend my husband and I packed up the kids and drove the half hour from our house down to Rotterdam, the largest port city in The Netherlands.  Why you ask?  Well, this week we are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary and since we met each other for the very first time on board the SS Rotterdam, we thought it would be fun to show the kids the recently renovated ship converted to a hotel and conference center.  The ship returned a few years ago to its home port of Rotterdam from traveling the world.

In March of 1989 I stepped on board the SS Rotterdam in Port Everglades, Florida with my family for a 10-day Carribbean Cruise.  Little did I know that my future spouse had also just stepped on board ten days before.  On the third day into the cruise, we met each other in the Smoking Room on the Holland America Line's flagship, had our first date on Barbados, and the rest is history.

Anyhow, back to this weekend.  We were welcomed on board, got our keys, dumped our bags in our rooms, and set out to show the kids the ship where Mom & Dad got to know each other.  In spite of the fact we had paid for two rooms for one night, we soon discovered that we could not venture anywhere in the ship without paying for a tour ticket.  Say what??  The ship where we lived on board for months on end had become a tourist attraction that must be visited on a paid tour.  We could not even show our kids the Smoking Room where we first met because there were four people standing guard to check people's tickets.  Fine, we moved on to dinner.

The Lido Restaurant, where my husband and I ate all of our meals with the rest of the crew during the months we spent on board had been completely gutted and looked nothing like the beautiful restaurant we once knew.  Where we had once enjoyed Mexican-themed dinners, Midnight Buffets, and Dessert Extravaganzas for free, we now spent mucho $$$ in an overpriced bistro shelling out thirty-five dollars a person for a hamburger, french fries and a coke.  This left (pardon the pun) somewhat of a bad taste in our mouths.

All in all, it was an interesting experience and we were glad we could show our kids a little of our past.  Unfortunately, walking down memory lane is never the same as the first time you took that stroll. At least we we able to sneak into the Smoking Room to take a few pictures on the morning we checked out -- I guess this counts as our one freebie.

Jan and Cheryl on board the SS Rotterdam -- back in 1992 and now in 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Yesterday it snowed here and I just had to laugh.  In a country famous for Hans Brinker, its world champion skaters and winter sport Olympians, The Netherlands just can't cope as soon as a few flakes fall covering the nation's roads.  Being the smart cookie I am, I left work early yesterday since I knew the normally crazy Friday evening commute would reach the level of total insanity by 3pm.  Confident I could beat the system, I left at 1pm and what should have been a 25 minute drive took nearly two hours. By the time I got home (at my regular time) I was ready to strangle the first kid who walked in the door and had a killer migraine to boot!

Since I drive one of those little funky European hybrid cars, the costs of a new set of snow tires is enough to feed a family of four for six months.  Yeah, that's what I thought, which is why I didn't get them this year. On the bright side, my kids are finally able to skate on the canals -- something they look forward to all year.  Me? I'm content to sit inside next to the fire with a glass of Lambrusco and peck away at this keyboard creating my NY Times bestseller! Cheers!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands       AP Photo/Margriet Faber

Oregon Girl Abroad

I said I'd never do it, but now I am.  Writing a blog, that is.  If you have never traveled or lived abroad, you're in the right place.  I am ready and rarin' to educate anybody who has an ear to hear. 

Here we go.....