By Gabrielle. Family photos on bikes by Lily Wanderlust. All others taken by Sara.
Sara Fritsch lives in Amsterdam with her husband Oliver, their six year old son named Winter, and a daughter who is five called Penelope. After two years, Sara freely admits the city has her heart, but there’s still a possibility for a return to Portland, Oregon, which has the family’s heart as well. Expat life is tricky like that.
And there are a lot of details during her day that will make you want to dream a little harder about living somewhere far away. Or just dream of owning a bike that can hold five of your favorite little ones! That would be wonderful, too.
Come see what a day in Amsterdam looks like, will you? Welcome, Sara!
Q: Good morning! How does your family wake up?
A: Goedemorgen! My favorite way to start any day is with a really early run. Ideally I finish my run and shower before anyone else in my family is awake. I love knowing that I accomplished a little something for me without impacting any of them.
I have two girlfriends, also working moms, who I run with. We meet up around 6:00 am, sometimes earlier, and crank out several miles as the sun comes up, laughing all the way.
My kids and hubby usually wake just after seven. The hour we have to get ready for school always feels a bit rushed, in a hectic yet fun way. We try to sit together for breakfast at the table. It is usually Oliver and the kids at the table as I buzz around like a spazzy hummingbird making lunches, packing up backpacks, finding shoes, remembering library books, begging Penelope to let me put her hair up, and generally tweaking out that we are going to be late and forget everything.
Q: Can you share a typical breakfast?
A: We try to make healthy choices in terms of food. We lean towards fresh and organic products when we have the choice, but we don’t freak out when we don’t have the choice. We keep meals very simple and try to ensure they are well balanced.
I ate toast and a banana today, which is my morning meal every day. I was never a toast girl before moving to Amsterdam, but the access to daily fresh bread has me hooked. The kids ate Cheerios, an extremely special treat because you cannot buy Cheerios in Amsterdam. Oliver smuggled some home in his snowboard bag after a recent trip to Tahoe.
We eat most meals at home and I do most of the cooking. I don’t actually love to cook, but having kids has pushed me to embrace cooking because I recognize that it is important to know what we are eating and to eat food made with love and good intentions. Oliver and I also try to be good food role models; this is easy for him to do, but for me it requires that I wait until my kids are asleep to gorge on ice cream. Just truth telling! You want this to be honest, right?
Q: What’s next? How do your kids get to school?
A: Oliver is French, and our kids go to the French School in Amsterdam. We get there by bike. I have one of those cool Dutch cargo bikes, called a bakfiets, that can carry several children at once. Wow, do I love this bike. I can carry up to five kids at one time on my bike, which comes in handy for carpooling and playdates.
We toured a few schools when we moved to Amsterdam, and we fell hard for the French School’s sweet simplicity as well as the chance to immerse our kids in their French heritage in an authentic way. And bonus! The location is amazing! It’s in a really funky, cool neighborhood.
Q: Tell us how you spend an average day at work. What are the challenges to working from Amsterdam?
A: I work for a boutique Business Consulting firm called ACME Business Consulting, which is based in Portland, Oregon. I have been with ACME nearly nine years. The first seven were spent in Portland doing traditional business consulting work, leaning on my education in Mechanical Engineering and my experience. When we moved here for my husband’s job, I was able to adjust my role at ACME to accommodate the move. ACME’s willingness to work with me through a global relocation is reflective of the firm’s innovative approach to solving problems and the value they place on their employees’ needs.
Currently I run our marketing team, an opportunity I love as it lets me pursue my creative potential from such an inspiring city, without straying too far from my technology and business roots.
I work at least two hours every day, but it’s often more like six. I find it very, very hard to turn off!
Speaking of creative, making this gig work from afar requires some funky scheduling! There is a nine hour time difference between Amsterdam and our ACME offices in San Diego, Portland and Seattle. I can do a lot of work independently while my kids are at school. However, this nine hour time gap requires a lot of late nights on my end as well as flexibility from my teammates. This recent thought leadership piece, which I authored, focuses on the sweet spot where my home life and work life align.
Q: Do you have lunch plans? Do you talk to anyone that really makes your day better?
A: I love a good lunch date and, lucky for me, I have made some ridiculously fabulous, interesting, diverse, multicultural, and funny friends here in Amsterdam. I adore friends and colleagues who can make me laugh, and I surround myself with people who can deliver.
Today I had lunch with three girlfriends, and we talked about the very likely possibility of upcoming moves for all of us. Expat life is extremely transient, and we all have to get comfortable with uncertainty and goodbyes.
Q: How do you errand?
A: Food shopping happens every day, by bike. No car means that rain or shine or sleet or snow or hail (we see it all here!), I am on my bike. I absolutely love it. Between school and home is the Albert Cuyp Market, which has pretty much everything anyone could need: bread, meat, fish, produce, flowers, household items, etc.
I food shop every day for a few reasons. Food here is sold fresh and ready to eat, so it doesn’t last several days. Since my bike is my only vehicle, its size is a limiting factor on how much I can buy at one time. In our home, we don’t have American appliances and amenities like a large refrigerator, extra freezer, or even a pantry. And truly, I am not organized enough to meal plan in advance! I tend to buy what looks fresh and delicious and prep/serve it the same day!
Q: Do you carve out any personal time during your day? Do anything to recharge a little?
A: The daily early-morning run is definitely my jam. In addition, I do a painting class every other Wednesday morning and I am in an articlub (like a book club, but we focus on articles) that meets once a month.
At the end of each monthly discussion, we pick the curator and topic for the following month. Last month, I was curator and the topic was clutter: all types of clutter, including digital, physical, mental, etc. I hosted the discussion at a minimalist Ramen noodle bar because it felt on theme. Coincidentally, the bar was in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, which inspired our topic for April: Prostitution!
Q: When do you meet back up with the rest of your family?
A: School ends at 3:00, and I do pickup by bike. They usually have football or swimming or judo or a play date or a park session, so we pile into the bike, often with some extra kids, and roll to the action.
We get home and eat about six, usually around the table with Oliver. We also try to squeeze in some homework if we have the time. Although, at ages five and six, I have a hard time making homework a huge priority; it usually ranks fourth after fun, rest, and family meals.
I am decent at French, but my kids are better than I am. Every day it gets harder and harder to help them with their homework. Today, luckily, it was math homework. My engineering degree pays off in the weirdest ways. My qualifications to help with French homework may be questionable, but I am extremely confident in my ability to do math with a six year old.
Q: Describe your evening rituals for us. What makes the end of your day special?
A: At dinner we always play high-low, which is a chance for each person to share their high and low from the day. Winter’s high is the same every day, always related to when he played football. Today his high was when he played football in the shower. We have goals and balls all over the house – even in the shower, which I realize is very dangerous.
Post dinner it is bath, books, and bed for the kids. This is usually coordinated by Oli.
Once the kids are down for the night, I break out a pint of ice cream and we both work for a few hours, connecting with our Portland colleagues.
We get out pretty often, too. We have a solid network of babysitters and we love exploring the city at night. Our favorite date spots in Amsterdam are Foodhallen, De Kas, Rijks, and Tempoe Doloe. I’m eager to try Taiko and Fou Fow!
Q: Please finish the sentence: The last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is…
A: Yikes, you really want to know what goes through my head when it hits the pillow? There is a lot of gratitude, especially as I dream about where our next vacation will take us. The world is so accessible when Amsterdam is your base. Cortina, Italy to ski the dolomites is our next adventure. Pinch me.
But there are insecurities, too. Are we doing this right, this parenting thing? Are we juggling too much? Are we exposing them to enough? Are we exposing them to too much? Should we live near family? Will it rock their world when we move again? Will it rock ours? Will we move again? I don’t want to move. Yes I do. No I don’t. Am I ambitious enough professionally? Is it selfish to be ambitious? Am I too ambitious? Are my kids spoiled? Are they grateful? Are they kind? Am I grateful and kind? Will the kids struggle with English when we return to the USA? Am I spending enough time doing things I love, and can I scale back the time spent doing things I don’t love? How do I do that?
Are we smiling and laughing enough throughout the day? I think we are. La vie est belle. Zzzzzzzzzzz.
Ahh, the insecurities! Yes, they do seem to roll in just before we fall asleep, don’t they? Thank you, Sara, for your honesty! And thank you, too, for the insider dining recommendations. Is anyone headed to Amsterdam soon? I hope you can pop in to one of these restaurants; they all look pretty great.
Also, I’m pretty motivated by Sara’s articlub. It sounds so much less daunting and time-consuming to me than a book club, and somehow even more inspiring. I’m adding that to my list. Tell me if you’ve ever been to one – I’d love to hear how you enjoyed it!