31 May 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Drona Bak/Box (Complementary item for Expedit Series)

After running through all of the Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Units in our house, it only makes sense to run through the complementary items that we purchased to live on the shelves. With four different Expedits in our home, there were plenty of options that would allow us to use up our shelving surfaces, and we did a pretty good job of it.

For our 5x1 Expedit that doubles as our TV/AV media stand, we purchased the Drona Bak/Box. We don't have a ton of DVDs or Wii games, but we felt like we needed a place to hide them rather than display them. This is especially in the case of our DVDs - we threw away all of the cases and put all the discs in a travel case when we moved in order to cut down on the space/weight of our shipping - now we have all our North American region DVDs (except for 2 box sets) in the travel case and a few European region DVDs in their oringal cases. It would just look stupid to have these things were people could see them, as would the Wii accessories that just don't stack/stay put - so we decided on some sort of box, and luckily IKEA has pretty ones for purchase so you don't have to repurpose the cardboard packaging.

We purchased three Dronas - two in black and one in green. At the time we made our purchase, the boxes were available in black, white, green, and pink. The websites for the US and the Netherlands at the time of this post list the available colors as black, white, blue, and yellow. I'm willing to bet IKEA rotates the available colors to keep things interesting/convince you it's an easy way to help you redecorate your existing IKEA living room. Being made specifically for the Expedit series, the Drona takes up the whole shelving section for a "complete" look.

3 Drona bak/boxes - black and green


Assembly is easy, much like the Nasum Mand/Basket, you simply unfold the flat box and push down the bottom that will act as the support, and voila! Bak/box established! The box has a soft handle made of the same polyester microfiber as the rest of the box making it possible to pull it out when needed. We thankfully haven't had any incident where the Drona has been made disgusting, but if we did, I think we would just be out of luck - according to IKEA's website, you can't clean it. Maybe a spot clean would take care of it, but potentially you would just have to turn that side to face the wall. While they look good, the Drona feel pretty flimsy - there's just cardboard to help them keep their shape. When used occasionally, they serve their purpose well, but I can see them falling apart rather easily if used for children's things or in a high-traffic area.

Drona hinding our junk. When left ajar like this, it also serves as a cat-hidey hole.


We give the Drona box a rating of 4 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. One meatball is deducted for the box being "uncleanable" and a bit flimsy - but for our purposes they have held up well.

Life in Dutch Rating for Drona Bak/Box:



27 May 2013

Here Comes the Sun

Admit it, you started singing along with the Beatles in your head when looking at the post title.

After two weeks of cold, rain, and wind, a nice day is finally here. Spring and early summer are often a bit grey and wet, but even the Dutch have been saying that the extent of our gross, wet weather isn't typical. Last week we had a couple of days where it would rain for an hour or two, followed by a quick 10 minute hail storm, 15 to 20 minutes of sun, another 10 minutes of hail, an hour of heavy rain, and repeat. It was cold and annoying. Even on the few days it wasn't raining, it was cold enough to put the heat back on in the house.

But for today, the sun is back and we'll take advantage of being outside before the rain returns tomorrow. Little Man was playing in the garden this morning and was so happy to be able to dig around without his bulky coat that we had to change his clothes before his afternoon session at peuterspeelzaal. At the moment that I'm writing this, the cats are playing in the garden (without the terror of the child in the garden), letting the sun soak into their fur, and striking fear into the hearts of small flying insects.

Sebastian and Zappa taking in the spring fragrances.


Tomorrow we'll go back to carrying our umbrellas around, the cats will snub the idea of the "great outdoors,"   Little Man's mud supply will be replenished, and our neighbors and friends will tell us, "Dit weer is niet normaal (This weather is not normal)." But it's nice for a small break every now and again that remind you summer is coming soon.

24 May 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Unit (2x2)

I bet you thought I completely forgot about IKEA Vrijdagen, but fear not because it's back. I'll admit that Little Man's 2 week long May vacation threw me off and then I was focusing on my Dutch homework, so I chose to neglect the IKEA Vrijdag. But I return today with the next Expedit Series installment.

During our first trip to IKEA, we chose the Expedit 4x4 and the Expedit 5x1 for our living room. After our things arrived from the States we realized that Little Man's room could use some additional storage for the toys and books he's accumulated and we needed something for the room on the top floor that is partly used for office space and guest room. The cheap and easy solution was the Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Unit (2x2).


Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Unit (2x2)



We purchased two units in black-brown color. We initially planned on a white one for the Little Man's room, but of course, they were out of the white at the moment we were going through their warehouse, so we just picked up another black-brown to get us out of there faster. Because the black-brown is a popular color, you can easily pair this Expedit with the same color out of the Lack series or other Expedit items. We have our 2x2 Expedits on the floor, but this particular item is light enough that it can be mounted on a wall or turned into a rolling cart; however IKEA does not sell the wall mountings because, per the product information, "Different wall materials require different types of fasteners." Like the other Expedits, the 2x2 open kast/shelving unit is made of particle board, fiber board, paper (to give the faux-wood look), acrylic paint, and acrylic lacquer. Wiping with a damp cloth gets off the finger prints, paw prints, and other fun surprises easily enough; and despite the speed and velocity with which some of the Little Man's toys make it back onto the shelves, the shelves still look relatively new.

I put this product together by myself, and it was a straightforward process. Like many other IKEA products, I recommend tossing the allen wrench away and using a power drill. This is especially true when capping the unit off with the final piece. Just as we encountered with the 4x4, the sides of the unit stretch outward and you must push them back to the center while capping it off. I did this while I was drilling, and it was a huge pain. I can't imagine it's any easier if you are stuck using the wrench. And while putting this piece together, though it was several weeks after the first wave of IKEA delivery, while pushing some of the shelves together I experienced another "pop" in the sternum that caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

In general, the Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Unit (2x2) is functional and has served it's intended purpose, though I will admit that this isn't my favorite piece we purchased. For us, it's a filler piece bought to fill a quick need; but because it is one of the cheaper furniture items at IKEA, we're not worried about the abuse it may take as a toy-shelf, and that's probably it's best feature. We give the Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Unit (2x2) 3.5 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. Two meatballs are deducted for the construction difficulties that I didn't think would occur on a small unit.  

Life in Dutch Rating for the Expedit Open Kast/Shelving Unit (2x2):




23 May 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #11 - The Guide to Waste Disposal

Figuring out how to dispose of waste is easy. Like, really easy. I'm still in shock over how easy it is.

I mentioned in a previous post about our paper, plastic, and glass recycling and how easy it was to recycle things. I've since found out how to make proper waste disposal even easier, which is good since I always have a high awareness of my own eco-guilt that has only increased in our new setting.

Introducing the Afvalscheidingswijzer (Waste Guide)! It's a comprehensive guide to proper disposal of basically anything you can think of while in the Netherlands with a description of the waste item, an explanation of the disposal method and reasoning, and any additional information important for your average person. I've only recently discovered this website, and I am very glad I did; though I will say that, like all websites written in another language, it's easier to use Google Chrome as your browser because it will translate the page for you.

22 May 2013

When the Doctor is Still Closed: The Unexpected Sequel

The Little Man had a fall off his loopfiets over the weekend, and we had a bit of a learning experience finding out what to do about minor injuries when the doctor's office is closed. Yesterday, we had an unexpected extension of our adventure.

On Monday night, being a curious 3-year-old, Little Man pulled off the steri-strips helping the "human glue" hold his chin in place. As soon as the steri-strips came off, we were back where we started. We bandaged him up to keep his chin clean and waited until the morning to call the doctor.

As it turns out, the office for our huisarts (primary care doctor) is closed this week for training. It's not uncommon for a doctor's office to close for a week - the doctor's office arranges with another nearby office to take patients as needed.

You're encouraged to call first thing in the morning to make an appointment to see the doctor (typically between 8am and 10am - at least with our huisarts experiences) Perhaps because of the increased load (between another office's patients and the people coming in after a long weekend), the phone number was busy for longer than I've normally experienced, so we sent Little Man to peuterspeelzaal since we didn't know when we would be able to see the doctor. After a while, I did make it through and got an appointment for later in the morning.

The visit was uneventful. Little Man's cut got another cleaning and more steri-strips, and we were told it will probably take a little longer to heal and have a slightly bigger scar since the healing process was interrupted. Before we were sent on our way, the doctor told the Little Man he MUST leave the bandages alone. Hopefully that warning sticks, along with the steri-strips.

An even bigger band-aid for added armor. 

20 May 2013

When the Doctor's Office is Closed

Well, the Little Man had a minor accident and we had our first experience with urgent care in the Netherlands. Yesterday, we decided to take a leisurely walk to the train station, take the Sprinter train to Breda, and putter around the city center for the afternoon. Little Man wanted to take his loopfiets (balance bike), and it seemed like a good alternative to pushing around a stroller or carrying him. So off we set.

We were about 2/3 of the way to the train station when Little Man fell off the loopfiets - a combination of swerving handlebars and his foot hitting the back wheel knocked him off balance and then off the bike. And he fell face-first, cutting his chin. Normally a fall off of the loopfiets isn't a big deal, but because of the way he landed and since he caught the very edge of his chin, the cut was deep. So we picked him and the bike off the ground, and headed back to the house to take him home and plan our next move. At home, Mark cleaned up the cut and we decided it really did look like it needed stitches, but being a Sunday (and the Pinksteren (Pentecost) holiday on top of that) calling the huisarts (primary care doctor) wasn't an option as the office was closed. Thankfully, rather than taking a trip to an emergency room at a hospital, we made an appointment at the huisartsenpost. 

The huisartsenpost is similar to an urgent care clinic in America, but it's more like a group of several doctors from different practices will be scheduled to be on-call after regular office hours or on weekends or holidays to take patients with an illness that can't wait or minor injuries. The office does get busy, but it's nothing like some of the crazy-busy, soul-crushing waits that you get in a emergency room or clinic in the States. You always call before showing up to help with the flow of patients and avoid causing a longer wait for everyone involved - and it goes without saying that if you can't wait for medical attention, you should go directly to the hospital or call 1-1-2 (the Dutch equivalent to 9-1-1). So we called, gave our information, and waited for the call-back. Little Man had calmed down and was relaxing with his lovies while watching Scooby-Doo when we got the call-back about an hour and the nurse agreed that Little Man should see the doctor and made an appointment for a half hour later.

We rode our bikes over to the huisartsenpost (much faster than finding the bus schedules), and checked in. Since our huisarts is part of the same group of practitioners, all of Little Man's information was already in their system - they just needed name and date of birth and we were good to go. Little Man was a trooper - his good listening and calm through the whole process made everything go quickly. His cut was cleaned up and given some "human glue" and steri-strips, he got to choose a prize from the prize-box, and he was good to go. It seems like he thinks this was the best doctor's visit ever, the doctor made him laugh, told him she liked his Chuck Taylors, and gave him bubbles - so I can see where he's coming from.

Showing off the battle scars

Other than the funny mark on his chin you'd never know that he'd done anything spectacular yesterday and in just a few more days the mark should be less noticeable. Since we had to figure out urgent care on the fly, we're glad it was for something relatively minor and that we had cheat-sheet of phone numbers from the relocation company that helped us settle in Tilburg. And we're thankful that the Little Man is back to his old self - today he's been working on perfecting his Bugle-claws and reenacting the doctor's visit with his toys - so you know, just a normal day.

And life goes on...


EDIT: I wish I could say the story ended here... unfortunately, we had a minor sequel.

15 May 2013

Biking to Belgium

This is a little bit of a rewind... a couple weekends ago, inspired by Bumpa and Uncle E's own trek, we took our bicycles and rode to Belgium. We made it to Belgium and did a little more exploring in a town where the residents get to choose if they are Dutch or Belgian citizens, and more importantly, we found good Belgian beer and chocolate.

Google Maps puts the distance between our house and Poppel, Belgium at 19.8 km (12.3 mi) and the travel time at just over an hour. This looks like a lot but isn't actually all that bad - the land is flat and if we're not taking the train or bus, we're taking our bikes and our legs have grown accustomed to riding places. We do possess (somewhere) an official map of biking routes for our province, but we weren't able to find it any place, so we used the back up of Google Maps on our phones. For most of the ride, we used regular bike paths or streets and saw some of the country side - with Little Man's running commentary of animals ("Koeien! Paarden! Schaapen! Konijntjes! Pigeons!" ("Cows! Horses! Sheep! Bunnies! Pigeons!")) singing out from his bike seat. But then Google directed us to a wooded path.

Mark and our "Sees-All-Tells-All" commentator.


It wasn't too bad in the beginning, just a little bumpy from the tree roots, but then we hit some really thick, deep sand which was none too friendly to the street bikes we ride. We managed to push our bikes through and found some more paths... and this is where it started to get really ridiculous. Not only were we in sand, but now we found some tiny foot bridge that likely wasn't meant for bikes (I'm just guessing since the angled gate on a step up wasn't quite wide enough). This is also where I started taking photos and kept laughing at the route we kept following.



And then there were more dirt (deep sand) paths.



And some more.



After finagling the Google Maps route, we did finally reach the border.

Thank you, mobile map device.


Western Europe is well past the days of border patrols and everything else - all the EU treaties and whatnots make it easy to cross borders without presenting ID or even finding a flag indicating what country you walked into.

The only indication that something may have changed.


We did find a small marker, and sat on a bench to enjoy a little bit of lunch.



We continued on to Poppel, a village in Belgium. Along the way we found the glorious Tomaatautomaat - a vending machine for fresh tomatoes outside a tomato farm.

Could it be?

It is! Behold the glory of the tomaatautomaat!

We bought some - because why wouldn't you after finding something as amazing as this? - and they were delicious, and at only 1 euro they were cheaper than what you find at the store or the market.

Mmm, tasty.


We did a quick ride through Poppel's city center, stopping for some ijs (ice cream) at a little snack shop.

More tasty.


We knew that we were near Baarle-Hertzog/Nassau a village with borders as complicated as it's history. Officially, Baarle Hertzog/Nassau is an enclave - a territory only accessible by going through another territory - it is one of only four enclaves in Europe - but the border zig-zags all around town, even right through buildings in a few cases. The two governments (Belgian and Dutch) work together to make life in the village work, but, like I said, it's complicated.

In order to provide a little more simplicity to knowing if you're in Belgium or the Netherlands, the border is marked on the sidewalks and streets.



And each house has a special marker for the house number with either the Belgian flag...



Or the Dutch flag to indicate the country to which the house belongs.



But even with these markers, we still managed to leave the Little Man by himself in Belgium.

Whoops.


As the afternoon wore on, we figured we would make the most of being in Belgium by buying beer and chocolate before heading home. Really, it would have been stupid if we hadn't. As imports to the Netherlands, both items are more expensive as soon as you cross the border; but since both countries use the Euro, it's easy to find something delicious without making a currency exchange. (I can only imagine the currency-craziness that must have occurred before the adoption of the Euro... yeesh...)

We double-checked and modified our route home to avoid more sand traps, and had an uneventful return trip. And we thoroughly enjoyed both beer and chocolate.



04 May 2013

Belgium Souvenirs

Today we rode our bikes to Poppel (in Belgium) and Baarle-Nassau & Baarle-Hertzog (quasi-Netherlands & quasi-Belgium) . As you can see we bought some mementos of our trip.

I'm sure Ace will actually describe the trip at a later time.

02 May 2013

How to Use Your Oven in Dutch (Kind of...)

Or if there is someone looking to make a really boring graphic novel, I suggest Ace vs. the Convection Oven.

One of the things that surprises a lot of Americans about Europe is the smaller living space; you see the overly-incredulous reactions to the space/cost ration all the time on House Hunters International. But smaller spaces stem from old (ancient) buildings and cities and you make due with the space you do have, so many European kitchens are compact, keeping space-saving appliances and just few cabinets with clean lines. Think IKEA without the 6 burner stove and island counter top you see in the American catalog. We're fortunate that the home we live in is WAY bigger than our little apartment in Chicago. But even with this fairly large space, we have a small refrigerator, a glass top electric stove, and the appliance with which I have developed an unhealthy love/hate relationship: a small microwave/convection oven combo unit. But before delving into the nature of our analysis, a little cooking background information.

Our old apartment had a little galley stove with gas burners and oven which previously ranked as the bane of my existence. If you needed multiple burners you had to light them in a particular order otherwise some wouldn't light at all, which often meant playing "musical pans" as you shuffled your dishes around the stove top. I worked around this by eventually learning which was starter was the weakest and which burner would bully the others into staying off. None of the knobs for the burners or the oven were original to the stove, so the hand-painted numbers and symbols meant nothing as far as "accuracy" goes. I kept a thermometer in the oven and eventually learned to estimate the position on the dial for my approximate temperature needs. But just to keep things interesting, the oven would also occasionally throw in a surprise when the temperature would inexplicably rocket from 350F to 550F, char the bottom of whatever was inside, and set off the smoke alarm. All this would drive me up a wall in the 4 years that I would coax, cajole, and battle the stove... and yet now I miss it like an old friend.

Since moving to Tilburg, I'm now at home with the Little Man and I have a little more time to mess around with cooking (mess is often the most appropriate descriptive term, as it turns out - anyone who has witnessed my methods would be hard pressed to disagree) and we eat at home more often than we did in Chicago. As after every move in my adult life, my cooking habits have adjusted with the new appliances. Recently I've done pretty well accounting for the switch between the gas and electric cook tops. The oven, however, continues to provide a new challenge on a near-daily basis.

See that strange white box? That's my "oven."


If you ever go to Europe and find yourself having to cook with a similar strange heat-producing box like mine, here are some pointers for use:
  • The oven may have a "roasting" setting, but it's not a good idea to try and roast a whole chicken - especially if it's uncovered. Steam will pour out from around the door like dry ice set up by an overenthusiastic special effects intern on the set of a bad made-for-TV sci-fi movie. 
  • Using the "baking" setting on the whole chicken you have gone ahead and attempted to roast anyway will only char the outside of the chicken while keeping the interior raw - this is especially true if you tried to stuff the cavity with anything.
  • Whenever you are baking something, set it for 4/5 of the cooking time. When the oven turns off, turn the food by 90-180 degrees and bake for the remaining 1/5 of the recommended cooking time. This will ensure that your dish isn't left major burn marks on one side of your dish while the other half remains underdone. Instead, the food to look only "kind of burnt" on one side.
  • It's probably not worth your time to translate the manual because there are likely too many instances of Google Translate not being able to find the equivalent terms.
  • When you decide to clean the oven without chemicals, decide to follow a Pinterest suggestion to microwave a mix of half-cup water and half-cup vinegar, and forget that microwaving liquid for too long (a.k.a. the recommended amount of time) will lead to super-heated exploding liquid, don't be too surprised that the liquid explodes and the safety-fail turns off the appliance. Just find the fusebox in the utility cabinet, reset the house power, and let everything air-dry for the next day or so.
  • When you decide not to clean the oven at all, don't be surprised when something starts smoking.
  • If you happen to be below average height for an American and move to a country where the average height is taller, your counters and appliances will be placed higher and potentially above eye-level. Purchase a stool or keep a chair handy.
  • Some times it's okay to just throw out the attempt and pretend like it never happened. No one was going to eat it anyway.
  • Google is your friend when you can't remember how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius on your own. It's not recommended to just "assume" you know what you're doing when you 
  • Make sure to press the "baking" setting before adding the cooking time to the appliance when using metal pans. The default setting is the "microwave" setting, and the pretty blue lighting on your pan or tin foil is a bad thing.
  • It's never really a good idea to rely on the smoke alarm to tell you when something isn't cooking right, but it's a terrible idea when you haven't yet found the smoke alarm (the house may not actually have one).
  • Adding a wish and a prayer to your recipe will never hurt your chances. 



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