09 November 2015

Al Weer Jarig in Nederland - Another Birthday Aboard

It's hard to believe, but Little Man turned 6 over the weekend. All of these birthdays are a big deal at this age, but he really feels like a "big kid" this year - even more so when I realize that he's now celebrated 2 more birthdays abroad than he had in his home country.

Most of Little Man's birthdays, we've celebrated at home with just the three of us or with some good friends - but this year we were luck enough to have his Mormor and Bumpa with us to celebrate. Normally living in the Netherlands means we're too far away for a big family celebration for Little Man's birthday. We even lived too far away in the States (with a birthday so close to Thanksgiving) for him to celebrate with any other family on his actual birthday, so the visit made this year's birthday extra special.



When I think about all 6 of these birthdays, I can't help but reflect on the massive amount of development Little Man's experienced in his time living in the Netherlands. When we came over, he was just a toddler that hadn't yet been exposed to Dutch or a whole lot outside of our little family unit. That started to change about a week after his 3rd birthday when he started at the peuterspeelzaal. Now he's a seasoned veteran of travelling and attending school and is learning to read and write in 2 languages.

I'd like to take some credit for it, but I'm very aware that it's due to his own personality (and probably a good amount of luck) that he's adjusted as well as he has to the crazy learning situations we've arranged for him. I hope that it's made him more flexible and ready for whatever the future will throw at him.

20 October 2015

Losing Track of Time

It turns out that it's rather easy to lose track of the time. I realized that it's been almost two months since I've gotten anything written and put up!

So what's been holding me back for two months? In truth, just life stuff. We got back from vacation in Canada, school started up again, we started running, Little Man started swimming lessons... and there you have it. Normal, boring life got in the way.

For me, it takes a couple weeks to get back in the normal groove once you've had a vacation, or longer yet, a school summer vacation. Once school started Mark and I started running a few times each week - and let me tell you, that walloped us for another few weeks.

At least the kicks are cool.


When you are not used to running and you start going every other day, your body tells you pretty quick that what you are doing is a terrible idea. Parts of you that you didn't know existed start to ache and you're exhausted before dinner every night. And when you are in the process of running, your body hates you as much as you hate it. Have you ever seen a runner look really happy? The answer is definitively "no." Surprisingly, things have improved and we can now run 5km with just short breaks. The ultimate goal is to run the Tilburg Ten Mile race next September, and already it looks much more possible than it did even just a month ago.

Until then, we've got plenty else to look forward to. Little Man's birthday is coming. Sinterklaas things are already filling up in the stores and the toy catalogs seem to be self-reproducing. And I'm looking forward to Christmas markets popping up in December.

And that pretty much brings us up to date. I've got a bunch of things I want to write about, so now I just have to do it. Bug me on Facebook to remind me not to be lazy.

24 August 2015

The Great Earwig Massacre of 2015: A Cottage by Lake Erie

We spent our summer vacation in Ontario, Canada this year. We decided to split our time at a cottage by Lake Erie and at a flat in Toronto to give ourselves a nice combination of country and cosmopolitan.

The first week kept us by Lake Erie. We spent some great time with family, and since the cottage had a private beach right on the lake, the kids had a lot of fun playing in the water or running around the yard. There were huge trees all around, we took the canoe out on the lake and explored around a few bends of the shoreline, we could see turkey vultures gliding on the breeze, we could listen to the gentle sound of waves on the shore in the evening, and the mosquitoes didn't actually seem too attracted to us.

Sounds idyllic, no?


A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on


And for 98% of our time on the lake, I would say yes.

But as it turns out, this damp, cool region is heaven... for earwigs.

Our first run in with the pincer-butt demons of nightmares occurred the morning after having left Little Man's swim trucks on the back of a lawn chair to dry overnight. Mark handed the trunks over and an earwig fell out. Figuring that was the end of it, Mark told Little Man to pop them on. He refused, white faced and saying there were still bugs in there. A quick shake of the trunks knocked 5 more out, and we started to realize how conniving these bugs are.

From that point on, we only came across a single earwig here and there.

Until we left the canoe on the grass.

As it turns out, the metal lip around the top of a Plexiglas canoe is an IDEAL hiding spot for earwigs. Those little buggers had jammed themselves up and into that metal lip, so that when the canoe was tipped right-side up to carry it down to the lake, earwigs started spilling down the sides of the canoe and into the bottom of the canoe, where Little Man would be sitting and our bare feet would be resting.

Now, if you've ever had the misfortune to Google "earwig" you would probably have the same reaction that we did. (Note: If you want to sleep tonight - or this week - DO NOT GOOGLE EARWIGS) For about half an hour, the neighboring cottages could hear the non-rhythmic slapping of flipflops and sneakers on canoe as we tried to kill the flood of earwigs. That in itself was bad enough, but slapping the canoe with shoes caused more earwigs to fall loose.

All told, we killed over 60 earwigs in the canoe. A few others were allowed to escape so they would warn the others to stay away.

And THAT was how we spent our summer vacation.

At least in part.

Do you have a crazy summer vacation story? 

14 August 2015

Geslaagd!

Well, it's been a little while since I've been able to post. Between prepping for the Staatsexamen, recovering from the Staatsexamen, and prepping for and going on vacation in Canada, I've been neglecting my little blog here. But now that I'm back and only suffering from the crazy induced by school summer vacation, I can give the blog the TLC it deserves.

And with that, I can also share a little good news *coughcoughbraggingcoughcouch* ... ahem.

My exam results came in while we were on vacation, and I passed all four sections of the exam!



I have no idea what the numbers mean other than "passing" - which is good enough to snag a nifty looking diploma and update my CV with an official "Look, I'm officially not completely helpless in Dutch" status.

While I can be continue to be self deprecating here (it is a favorite hobby of mine, after all), I do have to admit that I am rather proud of myself. It's taken 2 years of hard work to get to this point, and while my Dutch is far from perfect I've come quite a long way. And I give a lot of thanks to Mark (and by extension, the Little Man) for supporting me and making my formal lessons possible, and my friends and colleagues at Bogaers Taleninstituut for teaching and supporting me through the last 2 years.

And thanks to the rest of you who've come along with my so far. I'm not done yet, so let's see how far I can take this thing.

07 July 2015

What to Expect When Taking the Dutch Staatsexamen NT2 (Programma I)

I'm now 2 weeks past having taken the Staatsexamen NT2, and my brain has mostly re-solidified (no thanks to the European heatwave). So now that I'm feeling coherent again, I'm sharing some advice about what to expect about taking the Staatsexamen NT2 Programma I.



Firstly: some disclaimers/background information.

  • I wasn't required to take the Staatsexamen for any reason, though depending on your situation, you may find that it is some sort of requirement for you due to work, eventual inburgering, etc.
  • I have been taking private Dutch lessons for over 2 years now and decided to take the exam because a) my fantastic instructor felt pretty confident in my ability to pass and b) I figured I might as well put this knowledge into practice and see about getting a nifty certificate to prove it.
  • I took the exam at the Eindhoven location, so my information is based on my experience there.
  • This information relates to Programma I. I have not taken Programma II, nor do I know anyone that has. So if you want to take Programma II, you're on your own, but please let me know what it's like.
  • I've written this post entirely based on my own experiences and was not asked to share this information by any organization.


When you've registered for the Staatsexamen, you receive via post a confirmation of payment within a few days. However, you won't receive the address and official test-taker information until about 2 weeks before your exam dates. If you decide to go for all 4 test sections (reading, listening, speaking, and writing) try not to be totally shocked when you see that the test spans two days.

When the day comes to actually take the exam:

  • make sure you arrive AT LEAST 30 minutes prior to the test. This gives you time to check in with the office, put all your things in one of the provided lockers, and have a last nervous-pee in the restroom before getting called into the testing room. 
  • You'll need an official photo ID and your official test confirmation from the Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap.
  • The test proctors call everyone in somewhere between 10 and -2 minutes before the official exam start time. If you are not in the test room at the official start time, you forfeit your test time and the exam cost.


When you walk into the testing room:

  • You'll have to find a piece of paper with your name and official test number at an assigned seat. You can't switch spots with someone as your test number has been programmed into the computer at your seat. 
  • Test takers may not take any type of electronic device (phones, cameras, electronic dictionaries, etc) into the testing area. 
  • Watches, even analog, are also not allowed in the test room. 
  • Up to three dictionaries are allowed for the reading and writing tests - but these will be checked by the proctors for any loose pages and probably also hollowed out areas holding illegal items. 
  • You may not bring your own pens or paper - you will be provided with pens and scrap paper that will be collected at the end of the exam.
  • Bring your official test confirmation paper and photo ID into the exam room.
  • You're allowed to bring a drink with you to the testing room. They encourage you to have a water bottle with a cover on it. 
  • The proctors will check that you match your photo ID, and will check your ears for any earbud/headphones and your wrists for watches. 


While taking the tests:

  • Both the reading and writing sections have you doing work out of a workbook and on the computer.
  • The headphones for the speaking section are not noise-cancelling headphones, and you will be able to hear the other people in the room. Some are more annoying than others.
  • The proctors will give a 15 minute warning and a 5 minute warning towards the end of the exam time. Analog clocks are also hung around the room to help you track your time.
  • Don't even bother trying to track your time during the listening and speaking sections. It all moves too fast and it'll increase your anxiety even more trying to do the math in your head.


After the tests:

  • You won't receive your exam results for 5-6 weeks after the test.
  • You will feel like your brain has been through a blender. 
  • Go home and have a drink. 

Have you taken the Staatsexamen? Do you have any other insights?

12 June 2015

Marktplaats and the Rommelmarkt: Junk, Crazies, & the Occasional Treasure



My dad has a joke that every year during the summer, all of the crap in the US exchanges hands through the garage sales that dot suburbia. All your old junk goes out in the driveway, someone else will probably buy it and use it for a little while before it goes back out in another garage sale in the future. It's like the Circle of Life for tchotchkes and incomplete toy sets.

But at the same time, there's a little treasure hunter in all of us that wonders if we'll finally find the Holy Grail hiding within someone's box of old, beat up LP's. Since huge garages and yards aren't a thing in the Netherlands, the options for spreading the junk around are limited, so you need to take advantage when the opportunities present themselves. A few times a year, you can visit a rommelmarkt. The people "in the know" can find these things pretty easily (much like the garage sale hawks in the States), and as far as I can tell, they find them though a mixture of experience, pure cunning, and maybe some sort of animal sacrifice to the rommelmarkt gods - often the information on the internet is incomplete or nonexistant. But despite their elusiveness (to the foreigner) the sheer volume of resellable junk at a rommelmarkt is staggering and requires a bit of patience if you're hoping to find The One True And Complete Board Game or something really unique.



Fortunately, for those of us unable to divine when and where a market will present itself there is Marktplaats. Marktplaats is the Dutch Craig's List. It's open 24/7 and free to use - you just need to be able to read/write a bit of Dutch or use an online translator. The benefit of course, it that you can search for exactly the treasure you want or post an advertisement (providing you can figure out the right search terms) without having to fumble through your Dutch in front of a live person. But again, the amount of junk is staggering, but you can find some treasure, especially if you don't mind killing some time shuffling through the pages.

One thing to be aware of while searching through your local rommelmarkt or Marktplaats is that koopjes (good deals) bring out the crazies. IN DROVES. I've now bought and sold things at rommelmarkten and on Marktplaats, so I can indeed confirm that this is true. Through Marktplaats I had someone ask to pick something up at 5 o'clock in the morning (erm?) but luckily it's easy to brush someone off by email (especially when the address is hidden through the system). In person it gets a little dodgier, like when Little Man and I got stuck next to a crazy while selling at a rommelmarkt on Koningsdag. At first it was just annoying that she kept trying to get Little Man to buy the crappy toys she was selling. It got weird when she figured out we were American and wanted to rehash the events of 9/11. But I lost the ability to speak when I watched her buy up a bunch of tennis balls from another guy, then demand to return them with her money back when she realized he had more and would be "competition." Cue cuckoo clock sound.



But, if you can wade through the junk and keep your wits about you, these places can really give you treasure. At Tilburg's Meimarkt (a massive overnight rommelmarkt) Little Man found a sheep's jaw bone and Mark found some great LP's. And on Marktplaats, I found Little Man's bike and my amazing Pfaff 30 sewing machine with the hand crank.


Here she is! This is my amazing Marktplaats find. She runs like a dream and I think we're going to be very happy...


These things might feel a little few and far between, but I promise that you can find good stuff. If you feel around the crap and dodge a few nutters, you'll have a bit of luck.

Have you been to the rommelmarkt or used Marktplaats? Was it worth it?



08 June 2015

The Lone Rider

There are certain milestones that just sort of happen. 

Yesterday, one of Little Man's milestones came while he was practicing riding his two-wheeler... and all of a sudden...



He was riding on his own!

Now that he's got going, he's just got to figure out how to stop. But even before he does, he's well on his way to bigger and better things. He's already ridden his bike to and from school today, and he's quite proud of himself. 



Congrats, Little Man!
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