30 June 2010

I cycle in a skirt

me with my bicycle

One thing Amsterdam is famous for is bicycles everywhere. And it's with good reason. The bicycles are comfortable, the bike paths are plentiful, it's safe and quick, and it's ever so flat. I'm sure I've been spoiled for cycling anywhere else for one thing.

The Dutch-style city bicycle is soooo comfortable. I don't think I've raved about them on my blog as much as I have elsewhere, but I can't resist. The basic shape hasn't changed since the 1920s, and the result is a bicycle that allows proper posture. You're not bent over with arms stretched out, like on a mountain bike. The handlebars come back to meet your hands, just shoulder-width apart and the frame is quite tall. This means, amongst other things, that it's easier to gracefully wear skirts while cycling. Even with my foot on the pedal at its highest point, the height of the frame and my seat still means that my leg slants downward.


My philosophy for biking in a skirt or dress is largely to just not worry about it; certainly no one else seems to here. I basically get dressed to my own whim, and then just get on my bicycle regardless of what I'm wearing. Two tips to those new to cycling in a skirt: 1) angle your knees inwards, and 2) (this is the biggie) just relax and don't worry about the slight chance that someone might fleetingly see a bit more thigh if the wind is particularly naughty. There seems to be lot of palaver on the internet of people advising wearing shorts underneath or complicated systems of pinning or tying dresses. Now, I can understand some of the discussion of tucking or pinning if you have a full skirt and your bike doesn't have a coat guard, but my impression was mostly that people seem overly worried about someone catching a glimpse of their underwear. To quote Dress A Day, "C'mon, people, are we all six years old? ... Most people wear underwear that is, at minimum, the same coverage as a relatively modest bathing suit."

It's a generalization, but it seemed to be mainly American sites that treated biking in a skirt as a big deal. Maybe it's partly cultural, and maybe it's also that biking as a normal, daily thing just to get somewhere (as opposed to a sporty activity) is not so common in North America. I do wish I could find it again, but there was a site where someone commented that biking in a skirt was maybe not the day to wear your cupcake panties. And my thought was, that's backwards! It's EXACTLY the day to wear your cupcake panties (even though the chances of someone seeing them due to you cycling is actually miniscule). The European attitude largely seems to be confused by the question "how do you bike in a skirt?". Uhhh, you put on a skirt, then you get on a bicycle. And this is the attitude I first adopted when Bixi was launched in Montreal last year. Afterall, if you might just randomly jump on a bike anywhere, you can't really plan what you're wearing.

For reference, I've worn at least 7 different skirts and dresses on my bicycle, of varying lengths and fullness, none with any particular problem. The knee-length, fuller skirted ones are probably the easiest in terms of freedom of movement. But if you're dithering about what to wear on a bicycle, just don't worry. Put on a cute outfit, hop on your bike, and go see the world.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

29 June 2010

Salutations from a purple-suited alien


This week's IF theme is "satellite", so perhaps it's no surprise that the purple-suited aliens have made another appearance. The story for this one: "The scientists assumed the strange satellite pictures were some kind of elaborate prank."

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

28 June 2010

Bicycling to the Beach

path through the grasses

Yesterday we went on an adventure. A 60 km long adventure. We biked from Amsterdam to Bloemendaal aan Zee for the day. We left at 10 in the morning, arrived at the beach around noon, enjoyed the sun, sand, and sea until 5, then biked home, arriving at around 7:30. We spent pretty much exactly the same amount of time cycling as at the beach. Overall, it was a really lovely outing, though the ride back was ... painful. My legs were soooo sore by the time we got home that I just lay on the sofa the rest of the evening. I thought for sure they'd still hurt today, but it turns out not really. I have a funny squiggly sunburn on one arm where I missed applying sunscreen properly, but we otherwise slathered ourselves sufficiently and kept our sunhats on.

the beach!

I have never been particularly sporty, so a 30km cycling trip each way was definitely ambitious. But I wanted to visit the ocean and the weather was forecast to be absolutely glorious, so with a bike route mapped on Damian's android phone, we ventured forth. We marvelled at the lovely bike paths which are kept well away from the roads. Once we were out of the city, it felt like we were just biking through the countryside, with wildflowers, trees, birdsong, and pretty views. While scenic, the route is not uselessly twiddly; it largely followed along the route of the N200. There are also lots of little signposts along the bike route, at each intersection, making it relatively easy to follow (and clear that there are many other routes to follow for future adventures).

pony by the bike path

We packed ourselves 2 bottles of water and some frozen apple juice boxes and a picnic. The fruit salad (strawberries, mango, and cucumber) was perfect to eat when we first arrived at the beach, tired and thirsty! We had some other classic picnic food like peanut-butter-honey-cinnamon sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, and bananas.

me biking under the trees

The beach was very busy and quite different from the kind of beach I grew up with. I am used to beaches with more rocks and driftwood, and little crabs and things. This was sand, with bits of shells of course, as far as you could see. The North Sea was chilly, though pleasant to paddle our feet in and let the waves splash our legs. We took advantage of the tractor-pulled food carts on the beach and tried a shrimp sandwich, some deep-fried calamari, and some ice cream bars.

little bridge

When we arrived a noon, there were already lots of people on towels and loungers, but by mid-afternoon, there was a whole new row of towels in front of ours and tons of people playing on the sand. A paddle ball kind of game seemed extremely popular, as was kicking a soccerball, though surprisingly we only saw a couple frisbees. By 5:00, the tide was coming in, and we were ready to head home. I'm not sure if I'd go to this particular beach again as I prefer more rocky bits for exploring and fewer people, but it was a fun adventure, and we only got a little lost on the way back to Amsterdam. (We actually think it made one stretch of the route shorter, though less scenic).

D biking by farmland

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

25 June 2010

Desperate measures


I've started accompanying some of these paintings with little one sentence stories. This one allowed me to be exceptionally silly. So silly that I needed an extra sentence.
The nefarious baker had to resort to desperate measures to prevent the heroes from stealing his cake and eating it too. The Nefarious Baker was an Evil Ovenlord who ruled with a heart of Ice (Cream)!

For some reason, my pen wanted to run rather more than usual on this painting. I suspect it's just not that waterproof, so I may have to find a new pen for using with paints. Too bad since I really like the feel of drawing with this one. One gets very picky about art supplies. I noticed this when I was trying to replace my small sketchbook (it's full) and didn't like any of the options. I love that's it's square, since it feels less cramped than a rectangle, but it's still small. Also, while I like the look of bound sketchbooks, I prefer coils so that I can open it fully flat with no fuss.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

23 June 2010

On one planet, it rained paisley.


I wasn't too enamoured of this week's IF topic of "paisley" at first. I prefer the very abstract themes. But after doing a little mind map brain-storming, it turned out that you just can't predict inspiration. I'm really rather loving my little alien, who seems to be turning up all over the universe. I have a sneaking suspicion that my subconscious produced this little purple-suited alien because I have some fellow-feeling for a being in strange new surroundings.

I think there must be several of them on that pink flying saucer and they're on rather a long holiday, adventuring round the universe. They stopped by Earth for some ice cream, and blew some bubbles as they left. Here, one of them is rather surprised by the form precipitation takes on an otherwise ordinary blue-green planet.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

20 June 2010

Some days are better than others

The owl and the pussycat

I struggled with this painting. It just didn't want to come out how I was picturing it. My sweetie was very helpful with some constructive criticism. At first my cat totally looked like a mouse. I did some fixing and now it sort of looks like a cross between a cat and a bunny. Oh well. In addition to the mouse-y cat, it was originally very flat-looking, so I added a defined horizon line and a bunch of shading to the boat. Later, I twiddled with the water, adding some more shading and a bit of green and pink around the boat. And I spontaneously added a fish to balance the composition. I decided that I was satisfied enough with it that I'd better quit before I futzed with it anymore. While I'm working on something is when I tend to feel most critical of it, since I'm focused on all the bits that aren't turning out how I wanted. Usually it grows on me later. And in any case, it's all good practice with my new paints.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

19 June 2010

How to De-Clutter and minimize your "Stuff"

glowy dining room lighting

In the spirit of our pre-move decluttering, I've been trying to be good about tossing things out and thinking carefully about what new things to add. One thing I'm doing is not buying things in anticipation of needing them. For example, I haven't bought a toaster yet because we don't usually eat much toast in the summer. When winter rolls around, we'll probably buy one, but for now we just use the broiler in the oven. I do have to fight against my it-might-be-useful-someday tendency in terms of hanging on to things. But it always helps to remember the amount of such stuff that wasn't ever useful that I had to get rid of before we moved. Stuff does have a tendency to multiply in the back of dark cupboards. I want to write down what was actually involved in our pre-move purge before I forget and hopefully it will be helpful to others.

cabinet of curiosities

De-cluttering is not a quick job. It takes a lot of mental energy and many iterations. If you try to do it in one pass, you're more likely to make bad choices. If you're rushing it, you'll cling to things you don't need just because you're sick of getting rid of stuff and you'll toss stuff you'll miss just because you're tired of making decisions. Motivation is a huge part of the job. Moving overseas was an excellent inspiration to be more thorough than we had ever been before. If you don't have to minimize your stuff, it will be a lot harder to let go of things. So state your goal clearly to yourself and keep it in mind when evaluating each thing.

My steps for decluttering:
  1. Quickly ditch all the things from the house that you already meant to get rid of (for us this was an old stereo and a box of clothes set aside for the Salvation Army). This should be fast because you've already made the decision, and getting it out of sight will feel like good progress.
  2. Go through the sets of things that you know you can trim down (clothes/shoes, books/movies/music, kitchen housewares, etc) and get rid of anything you don't like or don't use enough to make it worth keeping. The more honest you are about what you don't like or use, the better the results.
  3. Repeat step 2 several times, over the space of several weeks. You need the time so that each time you look at your stuff, you come back to it with fresh eyes. You'll be surprised at the end by things that you kept on the first pass. There are obviously some things that are not frequently used, but are still worth keeping, but it's important to remember that you can borrow things, rent things, and even buy things again if necessary.
  4. Now that you've got the obvious excess trimmed down, go through absolutely everything, starting with one cupboard or drawer at a time. Look at EVERYTHING (including the things you've already gone through several times). If you don't look at it, there's no chance you'll get rid of it. This step is really tedious, but it's also the most likely to turn up things you didn't even realise you HAD! You should have reduced a lot by this point and you might be pretty mentally exhausted. To de-clutter to the fullest extent, there's one more thing to keep in mind: Can I live without it? The key is to acknowledge that you can like and use something and still decide that you'd rather have more space and less stuff than owning that thing. 
  5. The last step is maintenance.  To make all that hard work worth it, you need to keep returning to your evaluating mindset.  Think carefully when acquiring new things, and review the stuff you've kept as your life and activities change.

Throughout the process, be truly honest with yourself about why you're keeping things. I, for example, had a number of pairs of shoes that I liked the look of, but hardly wore because they hurt my feet. I was resistant to getting rid of them, though, because of what they cost. I thought that if I kept them, I might eventually wear them, thus getting some value. In reality all I was getting was hits of guilt for not wearing them every time I saw them. It took me quite a number of decluttering passes to realise this. I was eventually able to "throw them on the fire" as we took to calling the act of tossing things in the box to be donated. It turned out to feel amazing to throw away the guilt that was associated with those shoes.

lisianthus in the living room

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

18 June 2010

5 months into the Expat Adventure


It's about 5 months into our Grand Adventure and we're definitely feeling more at home. The busy-confused-paperwork stage is mostly over (at least Round 1, let's not be too optimistic) and we've settled into our apartment and a routine. We humans are quite adaptable. While I miss my friends and family (skype is so fantastic!), I love so many things about Amsterdam, that I don't miss Montreal quite as much as I expected.

A few lessons learned that might be helpful to other expats-to-be. Don't expect things you ship to show up in a timely manner. Even though our boxes were only 12 days in transit, all the paperwork and permits and delays meant that it was nearly 4 months before we saw our stuff again. If you want something right away, take it in your luggage. One thing I'm glad was in our luggage (and not our boxes) was our good pillows and the quilt I made. One thing I wish we'd put in our luggage instead of in our boxes was our good kitchen knives. That said, be very careful what you choose to bring since you'll almost certainly make assumptions that you won't even realise you're making.

We shipped some fridge magnets, but don't actually have a magnetic fridge door. At least that was a small mistake. We considered shipping our half-sheet pan and silpat. It's a good thing we didn't since our oven here is teeny... about the size of a microwave. And many of the apartments here apparently don't have ovens at all. Strangely (to us), they all have full-size dishwashers. In Canada, a full-size oven is basically a given, but dishwashers are usually reserved for only the most posh apartments. Another surprise was that furnished apartments are actually the norm for the expat market in Amsterdam and they're cheaper than unfurnished. I'm actually really happy having our own things, but it was a surprise. The up-front cost of renting is also much steeper than in Quebec, where there are no fees or deposits. Here, it's normal to pay an agent fee equivalent to one month's rent, plus 2 months rent as a damage deposit. At least you can expect to get the damage deposit back at the end, but it's still the equivalent of 4 months rent to start!

Overall, despite the stress and paperwork of the beginning, it's a fantastic experience to live somewhere completely new. As my Mom told me throughout our struggles to get everyday life set up, these things are why travel is broadening. And as my husband Damian said, if it was easy, everyone would do it. For everyone who gets the chance, I think you should do it. We've had lots of fun so far and learned a lot. We're both trying to learn Dutch even though almost everyone speaks English and we've definitely taken to the biking culture here. Reflecting on this move has made me ramble on, and I've already edited out 2 other blog posts worth of stuff (which I'll post later). Suffice it to say that moving overseas has given me a lot of experiences to think about.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

17 June 2010

Update on the Ripple Project

My Brown Pelican illustration is up on the Ripple project. It's number 436! I think it's wonderful that so many illustrators have come together and it's so fascinating to see all the different ways people have responded. This one of a little girl rescuing a fish in a bucket is so cute! And here's one by another artist in the Netherlands who painted the Brown Pelican. Or there this one of a mermaid with a dark, creepy edge to it.

16 June 2010

A ripple in the ocean


This week's IF topic was "ripple". I did a cheerful interpretation first, but then I learned about the Ripple sketches project, which is raising money for helping the creatures affected by the Deep Water Horizon Gulf Oil Spill.

The idea is that artists create a small artwork on the subject and the works are available through the Ripple project for a mere $10 donation to The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies or The International Bird Rescue Research Center.

My art tends to come from a happy place, so I did not find a sad and depressing issue like the oil spill inherently inspirational. I wanted to contribute to the project, though, so I've done a watercolour and coloured pencil illustration of a brown pelican. The brown pelican is one of the creatures affected by the spill. If you want to help and get a piece of art in the mail, go see all the available works here.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

11 June 2010

A good source of drawing prompts


I've been using the Illustration Friday topic archive for drawing prompts. It's working well for me to have these little "assignments" since it gives me some direction, while still being open to interpretation and inspiration.

Update: I created a set to collect together all my Illustrated Words.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

08 June 2010

An outing to the Amstelpark


Last Saturday we biked out to the Amstelpark. It was a glorious summer day, sunny and warm, but not too warm. For keeping score on the cheesy-tourist-sights list, we were pleasantly surprised to see an old-fashioned windmill right next to the park. But the real reason we went was that I had read about the park having a showy "Rhododendron valley" and I wanted to see it before the Rhododendrons were done for the year. They were perhaps a bit past their prime, but lots of lovely flowers still to be seen.

The Rhododendron valley is only one small part of the Amstelpark. There are lots of little paths and different types of gardens. Some areas are more cultivated and others seem to be untended woodland.

water garden

After some wandering and a visit to the ice cream stall (I had lemon and strawberry), I settled on a bench to draw and read, while D studied Dutch. I did some scribbles of the ducks, but they were mostly moving around too much, so instead I did a drawing assignment based on the word "regal".


The park is closed to bicycles and it was much, much less busy than the Vondelpark. These two factors made it a tranquil getaway within the city. We took a circuitous route home and biked up along the Amsteldijk. I'd love to follow the waterway down the other way, since to judge by google maps, we'd quickly be out in farmland. Here are the rest of my photos from our Amstelpark outing.

red poppy

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

04 June 2010

A new watercolour paint set

New paints!

Today I went for a little ride on my bicycle and bought myself a set of watercolour paints. This is my first "real" set ever! I didn't even have a "student" set before; I was still using my childhood watercolour set. I decided to go with a limited palette to start out. Hopefully this will help me learn a lot about mixing and not just drive me crazy. Rather than buy a pre-packaged set, I picked out 8 colours, which I will probably expand once I see where I'd like more range or convenience to avoid mixing. My box can fit up to 24 pans. I went with pans since I think they're easier to manage than tubes. The colours I have are: Chinese white, benzimidazolone yellow, pyrrole orange, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, pthalo blue (GS), pthalo green (BS), and ivory black. I found the information on this excellent website very helpful in picking out a basic palette.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.

03 June 2010

drawing assignment: slither


I decided to try following the illustration friday flickr group for some random drawing assignments. This week's theme was "slither". Snails and snakes are the only two things that really come to my mind for the word "slither", and snails are much cuter. That's about all that went into my decision to draw a snail.

Update: If you're looking for a list of topics to use as assignments, here's the archive, which I am working through.

Photographs by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.