Monthly Archives: January 2012

I wish I could sing.

I really wish I could sing. I love to sing. I remember belting out Whitney Houston , Tony Braxton, and Mariah Carey ballads in my room for hours when I was a kid. I’d hold a hair brush in my hand, stand on my bed and let it rip. One year I even got a karaoke machine for my birthday, things really got fun after that. Whatever happened to that thing by the way?

When I was about 10 I asked my mom if I could take voice lessons. They only lasted a few months, but while my mom would practically bribe me to practice the cello and trumpet or whatever other instrument I picked up, she never really pressured me to practice singing… Why was that?

As I got older and I would ask my mom how something sounded she would simple nod and say “you know what Kia? You are a fantastic dancer, why don’t you show me something you learned in ballet class today.” Confused I would just shrug my shoulders pirouette around the room and start singing again.

I didn’t think I was so bad…

This weekend I went to watch some bands perform in Amsterdam at the Music Matrix. It’s basically this really cool open mic night where students, and really anyone, can get up on stage and sing, play an instrument or just “jam out” as the kids say (wait, do they still say that?)

I loved it. They were just so cool. They were the equivalent of the Brooklyn hipster before they were known as Brooklyn hipsters. They guys had long curly hair, tight jeans, fresh kicks (ok, I’ll stop) and the girls had that relaxed “I just rolled out of bed and look fabulous” look nailed down, but still somehow they didn’t look like they were trying too hard. They were just cool.

Unfortunately, I’m not exactly blessed with vocal talent (and I’m definitely not cool enough to pull off the whole grungy hipster look), although I have mastered this guttural Christina Aguilera inspired move (I’ll call it a move, it really involves the whole body) and I think my friends are starting to really like it.

But as luck would have it, my best friend is an amazing singer. She has one of those voices that you never grow tired of. She has this soft and soulful sound that so few people can organically capture and a belt that you have to see in person to believe  it can possibly come out of such a tiny person. I could listen to her sing all day.

So now that my dreams of becoming the next American Idol have been sufficiently squashed, I now save my singing for the shower and in the presence of a very lucky few. Whenever I get the urge bust out a few lines of the latest Lady Gaga anthem almost on cue Sebastiaan and my mom say “Why don’t we just listen to Sarah sing?”

(I would include a link of her singing but I think she may kill me…)

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Missing home.

My first year in Amsterdam was not exactly the romantic fantasy that I imagined. I have to be honest the idea of running off to Europe to be with a man that I barely knew was pretty exciting. I imagined weekend trips to the south of France, afternoons spent drinking Prosecco at a café along a canal, bike rides through the countryside, ski trips to Austria, sailing through the Greek Islands, what else could a girl want?

That looks about right!

Once the prospect of moving to Amsterdam became a reality I was forced to inject a heavy dose of practicality into my European fantasy. It was going to be hard. Really hard. I didn’t know anyone in Amsterdam other than Sebastiaan, I didn’t speak Dutch and given my financial situation at the time let’s just say I wouldn’t be jetting off to a château in the French Alps anytime soon. Unless of course Sebastiaan was a Duke or something…Was it possible he was a Duke? Do they even have Dukes in Holland? (OK, so I needed a bit of a reality check…) So given the unlikelihood that Sebastiaan was Dutch royalty and that anyone else I knew would be crazy enough to join me on this adventure I needed to realign my expectations.

I was going to be homesick. Probably really homesick. I’ve lived away from home before, even abroad, and after a few weeks I usually adjust quite well. I would be fine. I’m an out-going fairly likeable gal right? Right.

So I did it. I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family and flew off to start my life in Amsterdam. The first month was tough. Really tough. Sebastiaan was working all the time, I only had class twice a week and I spent most of my time alone. I tried to find things to occupy my time. Take a yoga class, try new restaurants, explore the city but the thing is I didn’t want to do it alone. I was lonely. It was great being with Sebastiaan and when we did have time to spend together it was fantastic but what kind of life was this? I’m not exactly the kind of girl who sits at home all day waiting for her boyfriend…

After a much-needed summer at home in the states doing internships, we moved back to Amsterdam, got an apartment in the center of the city and decided to start fresh. I got a job, reconnected with friends and was determined to enjoy living in one of the most exciting cities in Europe. It worked.

Although I’ve come leaps and bounds from where I was this time last year, sometimes I miss the comforts of home so badly that I’d give anything for just a taste of my mom’s cooking and a day of shopping with my best friend.

The thing is as busy as I try to keep myself there are bound to be times where I’m stuck at home with no one to call and little to do. These are the moments where all I can think of is home. I miss having a group of friends to call and go out with or simply curl up on the couch with popcorn and watch a movie. I miss going to brunch with the girls. I miss getting manicures and pedicures with my mom. I miss dance parties and girls nights. I miss sleepovers.

I miss my friends. I miss my family.

I have been lucky enough to make some great friends here and I definitely don’t know what I would do without the love and support I immediately felt from Sebastiaan’s family. But most of all I don’t know what I would do without Sebastiaan. He has truly been my rock, my shoulder to cry on and partner in crime through this difficult transition abroad. I know it wasn’t always easy for him to see me wiping tears from my eyes after calls from home, but he always tried to understand and cheer me up in any way that he could. He made a lot of sacrifices during that first year to help me feel as comfortable as possible in his country. His extraordinary love, compassion, understanding and patience are qualities I can only hope will one day rub off on me. Sebastiaan probably didn’t, and may never truly understand what those first few months were really like for me, but the thing is, he doesn’t have to. All he needed to know was that I was unhappy and struggling to adjust to our new life. So for him, finding a way to make me happy was all that mattered. Although I still miss home and probably always will. I can finally say that I’m happy here. Things aren’t perfect and they probably never will be. Life’s challenges will continue to follow me wherever I live, but for me, having Sebastiaan by my side is worth it all.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” ~ Emily Bronte

Why I love ballet.

I’ve loved ballet for as long as I can remember. I mean come on, what little girl didn’t love prancing around in a pink tutu with a tiara on her head? I know I did. But it was more than that. I remember thinking even as a little girl how beautiful and elegant the “older girls” at my ballet studio always looked. As I got older it wasn’t just their beauty and gorgeous costumes that had me enthralled it was their confidence, discipline and passion for a world that so few people really understand or even appreciate. Ballet dancers aren’t out there saving lives or making millions of dollars (in fact most ballerinas are lucky if they can pay their rent), but to me ballet has always been an essential part of life. Ballet is one of those lovely, and unfortunately rare, things that reminds us that against all odds there still is some beauty in the world. It’s a way to express ourselves, using the instrument of our bodies, to tell a story however simple or complex, however relevant to the times or romantic.

Although I no longer dance I do have to attribute much of who I am today to my life as a dancer. I started dancing at age 3 and continued seriously until around age 21. I danced many of the classic ballets, participated in competitions, spent most of my summers training in different intensive programs around the country and spent every day after school in the dance studio. I would leave school early everyday, hop in the car and practice in the studio from 3:30pm until 9:30pm almost everyday. While many of my friends spent their afternoons and weekends at the mall, at pep rallies and basketball games, I spent my at the barre (not bar, I was 15 for christ sakes). Sounds pretty intense huh?

The truth is I loved it. I was exhausted, always sore and constantly trying to balance my dance schedule with demanding school work and a social life, but it was what I loved to do and that was all that mattered. The girls I danced with became my family, in fact, at times we spent more time together than with our own families, so we really formed a special bond that even holds today. I have to say, I think my studio was pretty unique in some ways. Instead of putting glass in each other’s pointe shoes, attempting to steal each other’s parts or any other ballet studio horror stories you may have heard, we celebrated each other’s accomplishments and cheered one another on. It really felt like we were part of a team. Of course we all had our moments, we were teenage girls remember, but even still, it was one of the best times of my life.

After I graduated high school I moved to NYC to pursue a BFA in dance from Fordham University/ Alvin Ailey. It was during college where my relationship with dance began to change. Dance classes were no longer fun, they became an obligation. We weren’t encouraged to focus on our strengths and our individuality, instead it felt like we were striped of who we were and treated as identical machines that needed strict and regimented tuning. I started to dread going to class and never felt worse about myself. I’m not saying that this program wasn’t absolutely wonderful for some people, but for me it was awful. The summer before my junior year I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. There were other things I wanted to try, other classes I wanted to take, places I wanted to travel. It felt like dance was now holding me back instead of propelling me in the right direction. I switched my major to Spanish Studies, jammed 4 years of university classes into two, studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain and as a result changed the course of my life.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had stuck it out or if I had gone to a different dance program but then I remind myself that there’s no point in wondering and if I hadn’t made that decision I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Ballet taught me about discipline, hard work, self-expression, friendship and more importantly how to recognize beauty in the world. These are elements that will always be a part of me no matter what industry I choose. It’s been difficult to find a career choice that incites the kind of passion I used to feel from dance but I think that will just take time.

Before the holidays I went to see Swan Lake with some friends here in Amsterdam. I couldn’t help but move my feet as the swans, dressed in white tutus, glided across the stage arms effortlessly imitating wings. My eyes filled with tears. I could still remember the steps, the music and the way the feathers felt on my skin. It had been so long, but I remembered why I loved ballet.

Sometimes all you need in life is a beautiful love struck swan twirling around the stage. 🙂

My November Resolutions

Because I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions I made mine in November. That makes sense right? Right.

In November I went on a leadership retreat as a part of my MBA program. It was a weekend filled with soul-searching, strength finding and self-exploration. Aside from an identity crisis I was also left with a lengthy “to do” list which at first did little but exponentially increase my anxiety.

This my friends is why I hate New Year’s resolutions. They just leave you disappointed. You feel obligated to make these lofty promises to yourself that you have no real intention  or ability even to uphold. So when you inevitably fail to stick with your plans to transform life as you know it, you’re left feeling worse than before. You find yourself reaching to that pint of ice-cream hidden in the back of the freezer, rip open a bag of potato chips, pop a bottle of red wine, curl up on the couch and watch “The Notebook” for the 100th time (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience…). That’s a healthy alternative right? I think not.

So why do we do it? Good question. I think it’s not only healthy but essential that we regularly set goals for ourselves and do our best to keep them. The key is having goals that are attainable and truly value adding. So while it would be amazing to say that I will wake up at 5:30 am  5 times a week and go for a nice morning run, there’s no way in hell that would last more than a week and during that week I would probably lose my job and my boyfriend due to sleep deprivation and inevitable hostility.

Upon my return from the leadership retreat, I reevaluated and altered my “to do” list a bit and found upon further consideration that maybe it wasn’t so bad. I decided I was going to give it a try under one condition. I was not to beat myself up if I failed to complete all or any of the tasks as well or as often as I anticipated.

My to do list:

1. Take more yoga classes

2. Eat healthier/ cook more often

3. Write more, about anything, as often as I can

4. Take more pictures

5. Get a new job

Turns out I’ve been pretty successful. Well maybe not successful, but I haven’t failed. I’ve taken a few yoga classes, I’ve been cooking a lot of nutritious and delicious (?) meals for Sebastiaan and myself, I took a small hiatus from writing around the holidays but have picked it up again and it feels great. I’ve taken a lot more pictures but would still like to do even more of that. But # 5… Well… That needs some serious attention but let’s not focus on that one, ok?

The reason why I was able to accomplish most of my “November resolutions” is because they included things that make me happy but I haven’t given myself time to enjoy. There’s a reason I didn’t choose “go on a diet” or “stop eating cookies.” It’s because I hate diets and I love cookies so what kind of start to the New Year (well or December) would that make? A pretty miserable one if you ask me.

The bottom line is. I’ve decided to focus on things that make my life happier, healthier and all together more enjoyable. Turns out these are the type of resolutions I should have made all along.

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” – Max Ehrmann, an excerpt from Desiderata

The Many Faces of Beijing

One of my favorite things about traveling to new places is sitting back and watching the people around me. Watching how they respond to the same sights and sounds that I am experiencing for the first time. I am by no means a professional photographer, in fact, I only got into photography a few months ago after getting a new camera for my birthday but I’m having so much fun with it anyway! 🙂

I just love how one simple photo and one glance can say so much. Enjoy!

Impressions from Beijing

After our somewhat traumatic arrival, we finally got some sleep, a much-needed shower and had a chance to explore the city, take in the sights, many unique smells and sounds of Beijing. Initially, I really felt like I could have been in almost any other major city on earth. The skyline is filled with skyscrapers, there is a Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC on almost every corner, the traffic is horrible 24 hours a day and you can almost feel the pollution.

But once we journeyed outside the bustling city center to enjoy some of the sights I finally began to feel like I was in China. The incredible history, vibrant colors cascading the walls and ceiling of temples and palaces and the unbelievable views from The Great Wall were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Even in the dead of winter the sights of Beijing took my breath away.

Below are some of my favorite photos from our trip. Much more to come, Enjoy!

Planes,Trains and Automobiles; Our Journey to Beijing

After celebrating the New Year with friends and family back home in Washington D.C Sebastiaan and I packed our bags and heading off to Beijing for a little over a week. I was participating in a study trip with my MBA program and Sebastiaan came along for the ride. After the longest flight of my life (no really, it was over 13 hours), we collected our luggage, finally made it through customs and decided now would be just about the right time to figure out where our hotel was and how in the world we were going to get there. We hadn’t had a chance to exchange any money so that was our first stop. The teenagers working at the currency office spoke decent English, wrote down the name of our hotel in Chinese characters and told us that a taxi from the airport to our hotel would cost approximately 120 RMB (around $15). This seemed impossible as the ride was expected to take 45 minutes. We decided it was best to search for a second opinion. We went to an information desk where we received the same estimate and decided to try and go find a taxi. Sebastiaan was still sceptical and because he is the cheapest man on earth was insistent on finding the cheapest means of transportation available. If it was up to him we would have taken a rickshaw or a camel or a mule no doubt. Now at this point we had walked the length of the terminal 5 times, dragging far too many suit cases, so you could say my mood was less than cheery… Right before we reached the taxi terminal a man came up to us and asked if we needed a taxi and said it would be 400 RMB. While we both knew this was obviously the Chinese equivalent of a NYC gypsy cab there was no turning back for Sebastiaan. We were taking the bus. We walked downstairs to the shuttle bus counter and through a combination of sign language and pointing to the name of our hotel in Chinese (well, we hoped it was the name of our hotel) we were instructed to wait outside and take the bus to the last stop. The bus cost about $1.50 so regardless of the fact that we had no idea where we were going and about 5 suitcases to haul between the two of us Sebastiaan was a happy camper. Off we were. After about 45 minutes we pulled into a bus station and were told to get off the bus and collect our luggage. By this time it was dark, about -10 degrees outside and Sebastiaan was avoiding eye contact with me for fear of losing an extremity, or worse… 20 minutes, a few runs across a 6 lane highway and a minor meltdown later we finally found someone who was able to tell the cab driver where to take us. Along the way Sebastiaan and the cab driver were having a very interesting conversation in Chinese (the driver) and Dutch and English (Sebastiaan). They laughed, I cried a good time was had by all. We made it to the hotel, Sebastiaan said goodbye to his new friend and I stormed inside… A bit of a rough start.