29 August 2012

De Fietsen

Cycling is as common in the Netherlands as bread - and for the record, the Dutch love their bread.

Fietsen (bicycles) are essential in Holland. Just about everyone rides and will do most of their daily commute and errands on their fiets. Mothers will ride around with two children (one child seat mounted just behind the handle bar, another child seat mounted on the back), "saddle bags" (mounted under the rear child seat and falling on either side of the rear tire) full of groceries, and a front-mounted rack or basket with more stuff. A Google Image search for "moeder+fiets" shows all sorts of elaborate setups mothers use to get around. It's a little crazy to watch these women balance so much stuff on two wheels but it's not too surprising seeing as children ride around on "two-wheelers" as young as 4 years old. 

Our neighborhood in particular is difficult to access by car, but the cycling paths take you to every part of the Reeshof, and everywhere else. This weekend, we were able to purchase our own. The experience was especially exciting since neither Poppa or Mama has had a brand-spanking-out-of-the-box new bike since we were in grade school. The helpful staff at Giga Bikes walked us through their selection and we picked out two fietsen that are perfect for us.

And, of course, we got decked out. Poppa got saddle bags and a travel clipping bag (modified for our own purposes) for his fiets and Mama got saddle bags (no smirking, thank you) and a rack for the front - all coordinating, of course. Little Man has a Yepp Maxi seat that allows us to move him between us without much effort. We each have a mount on the seatpost and Little Man's seat moves between us. Yepp is a Dutch company, but we had the same system in Chicago well before Tilburg was a possibility. In Chicago, easy seat removal was important for storing the bikes and seat in an apartment. In Tilburg, it's especially nice to play "pass the dude" on weekend excursions.

We're happy with our purchases and glad to move around a little more like the locals. Now we just have to see what the craziest thing is that we can carry home on our new wheels (Little Man excluded).

Mama's Fiets & Little Man's Yepp Seat

Purple Montego with teal/sea foam green bags and a sea foam green rack. Little Man's blue seat (picked out by Himself)

Poppa's Fiets

Silver, blue and black Montego with blue bags

25 August 2012

How To Do Your Laundry in Dutch (Kind of...)

One of the biggest purchases made in my adult life (to date) has been the purchase of our very own washing machine - our new wasmachine. This was made more interesting by the fact that European washing machines are rather different from American machines, even when dealing with recognizable brand names. European machines generally have a slightly smaller load size; the wash cycles run longer due to heating water internally rather than pulling hot water from the heating tank; the centrifugal/spin cycles are more important since most Europeans do not own/use dryers; and the efficiency of the machine is arguably more important due to a higher cost of utilities. Throw in the fact that I can't read Dutch along with all these important considerations and "informed" shopping becomes a real adventure!

(19-06-2013 EDIT: For more Dutch laundry basics, see I'm Still Doing Laundry in Dutch (Kind of...))

After some brief comparison shopping in a store that I knew had delivery, the choice came down to 2 machines of which I only kind of knew what the long run differences would be. The cheaper machine had a larger load size but lower energy rating and centrifugal speed, the slightly more expensive machine had a smaller load size but better energy rating and centrifugal speed. Since I knew nothing about either brand, I asked my helpful sales assistant about quality - and of course he recommended the more expensive machine, noting that the store receives poor ratings in reviews about the cheaper one. So I spring for the slightly more expensive - which also happens to be out of stock for the next 2 weeks. But considering I need the machine now, my kind sales associate lets me know that for €8.00 more, he can give me a Samsung at a reduced rate and I can have it delivered the next day. And the machine has the 6kg load Size, the 1400 t/m centrifugal cycle, the A+ energy rating, and the best ratings of any machine in the Netherlands - the deal closes.

Now that the machine is arrived and installed (though not without its own misadventure) - it's time to use it! Below is the detailed steps for doing your laundry in Nederland.

1. Sort your laundry.
Everyone already does this, but sorting becomes more of an art with the smaller load size. For colors, I've decided to divide the "warm" colors for the "cool" colors. I have no idea if this will matter in the long run for care quality, but it'll do something.

2. Add your load.
Seems simple enough, right?

3. Determine your settings.
Take a look at your settings. Find that your options are available in Dutch and French. Realize that you can't read Dutch, your high-school French didn't prepare you for a washing machine, you still don't know how the Centigrade temperature scale works, and you don't find the symbols intuitive.

4. Find the manual.
Congratulate yourself again on choosing a machine with a good energy efficiency rating. Open the manual. Realize that while the other 2 machines you considered in the store included English instructions within the manual, this machine does not as the manufacturer expects to sell to Dutch, Belgian, and German consumers. Refer to step 3 for your comfort level of written Dutch and French. Consider your German I class your senior year of high school also useless for this particular household task.

5. Get the laptop and fire up Google Translate.
This means, you, the laptop, the manual, and the washing machine all together in the bathroom. Type entire paragraphs from the manual into Google Translate - watch out for typos in your Dutch as that can really confuse Google and you in turns. Patiently translate/blindly assume to pick out your settings on the machine.

6. Add your detergent and softener.
The Dutch mostly use detergent specifically for white, color, or black wash. In the States, you'll find general detergent for anything you might use in 1,000 scent/color/dye-free options, but the Dutch seem pretty big on using color-based detergent and liquid softener (again, no dryers) - though eco-friendly options for each load color type are available (I haven't yet done my research on these products, but plan to). Since we have a toddler, I decide to oxi-clean the wash. This also involves figuring out voorwas means prewash and requires an additional setting on the machine. Wasmiddel  is your regular detergent. Voorwas and wasmiddel each require a different compartment - refer back to the manual/Google Translate for which is which. I don't add softener since I haven't figured out if I feel the necessity of it or not...

7. Press the Start button.
And pray. At least the Start button is easy to find. And yes, this is indeed a 2 hour wash cycle. Without the voorwas cycle, this particular setting would be 91 minutes.

8. Examine your wash.
Decide you didn't mess it up any worse than any other time in your laundering history.

9. Hang dry.
Every Dutch household owns some sort of elaborate drying rack that may in fact be a Transformer (we hope no Decepticons). By going the extra step and buying clothes pins, everything will also dry faster and be more spread out.

10. Repeat as needed.
Which is always more often than anyone wishes. But I must say, having the machine in your own home is much better than every other set up I've had previously. Had you told me 10 years ago that owning my own washing machine would be really exciting, I would have thought you were crazy. But I guess that's part of growing up.


22 August 2012

The Last of the Furniture?

The little man's bed arrived today and it is already completely assembled. I believe this is the last big piece of furniture that we need to put together (with the exception of the things we shipped here). You can see him enjoying his "big boy" bed below. So far he has "gone to sleep" and "woke up" about 15 times in the 10 minutes it has been finished.

19 August 2012


We have never seen a screen on a window in the Netherlands, including the windows in our house. On most days this is not a problem because the climate is very temprate. However, today the high is 36 degrees C. For those of you keeping track at home, that is about 97 degrees F* and very easily the hottest it has been since we have arrived (but cooler than the entire week before we left Chicago).

When it is warm we need to open the windoes. Just as there are no screens in the Netherlands, there also isn't air conditioning. This, again, is fine 98% of the time.

When we have open windows the cats have a freedom they have never had before. Apparently, cats in the Netherlands typically are a combination of indoors and outdoors, whereas our cats are a combination of indoors and scared out of their minds.

The pictures below are from Sebastian's brief tentative escape this afternoon.

*The precise conversion from C to F is F = C*1.8 + 32 (for example: 36*1.8 + 32 = 64.8 + 32 = 96.8). Because no one likes to multiply anything by 1.8, a quick and easy "close enough" calculation is F = C*2 + 32 (36*2 + 32 = 72 + 32 = 104).

You'll notice that with this equation you overestimate the F temperature (though it is still clear that it is hot out!). To give yourself a rough sense of the degree you are overestimating the degrees just figure you are overestimating the F by 1 degree for every 5 degrees C. Because the high today is 36 C we know that we are overestimating F by about 7 degrees (36 / 5 = 7.2). The implication of this is that the "close enough" calculation is more accurate for lower temperatures.

And thus ends today's lesson.

A song about trains

Our primary modes of transportation are bikes and trains. This is a song about trains.

18 August 2012

To the zand!

Today we went to 'T Zand (zand = sand), a small lake and beach about a 15km bike ride from our house.

View Larger Map

The little one played in the water and dug in the sand with his truck. We ate some sandwiches, crackers, and carrots on the beach.

15 August 2012

Officially Legal

Yesterday, we picked up our residency cards. We are now completely "legal" as immigrants - and we can now leave the country without causing any kind of international incident or getting deported. We are still waiting on our BSN - the Dutch version of a Social Security number. We found out what are numbers are at the Expat Centre when we picked up our residency cards, but haven't received them in the post yet.

We have most of our furniture now. The Little Man's bed is expected next week (another episode in furniture building to come!). Our stuff shipped from the States is expected to come into port about the same time. There are several steps that we'll need to take to get it out of port/customs, but we're hoping it goes smoothly, especially because Little Man keeps asking to play with things and is disappointed that they're "on the boat." On the bright side, all of those toys he hasn't seen in 7 weeks will be like brand new toys when they arrive.

We still have some big purchases to make for home. At the top of the list is a washing machine. Initially, we had planned to purchase the home owner's machine, but for several reasons we didn't and the machine was removed yesterday. We're also making plans for buying our own bicycles (the owner's been allowing us to use the 2 that are being stored in the shed), a TV, an all-region DVD player (so we can actually play the DVDs we brought from the States), a stereo, a record player, a coffee maker, and some less glamorous items like a voltage converter for the printer and sewing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a towel rack, and hedge clippers. We plan to do as long as we can without buying a car since everything is within biking distance or easily reached by train/bus.

Soon enough we can feel like we've been "established" here.

12 August 2012

Pillow Fort

An important event happened today: The first pillow fort/tent of the new house.

11 August 2012


Putting together furniture in a foreign country is similar to putting together furniture in your own country: the directions don't make any sense, you spend too much time putting it together, and in the end it doesn't look quite like it did in the store.

On the plus side, we now have a wardrobe.

07 August 2012

Our Main Living Space: The Unfinished IKEA Photo Shoot

The Main Living Space:
Now that we've finished setting up our furniture on our main floor, attached is the photo album of our living room and kitchen. All of the furniture is from IKEA (someone actually made a comment to Mark the other day that if IKEA went out of business, Dutch homes would be empty) and it all looks new and shiny... but it looks like an unfinished ad  at the moment since our bookshelves are empty, we haven't bought a TV/radio/record player yet, and none of our pictures have arrived to put on the walls. BUT once everything arrives it will look like someone actually lives here - or a really awesome IKEA ad.
Living Room & Kitchen

The Garden:
Little Man loves the garden. It's big enough that he can burn off as much energy as he needs to but small enough that he can have the run of it without getting lost or hiding. And caring for it isn't too daunting for someone that once managed to kill a cactus.

05 August 2012

The Journey and New Home

We're finally up and running with the internet in our home and have tackled more e-mails than I care to think about in my inbox. Poppa was able to access the internet at the library and at the university and has posted a couple of things since (check out his new fancy office!). Some basic info our about our journey and home are below, more info about what we've been up to since we landed to come!

The Flights:
We flew out of Boston on Icelandair late at night on Wednesday, July 27th. Little Man was so impressed with the individual TV screens on each seat that he didn't actually sleep much on the 5 hour flight to Reykjavik - maybe a little over an hour total. Luckily, while we were flying towards the dawn our Circadian rhythms kicked in and Little Man was good for the layover at Reykjavik and the 3 hour flight to Amsterdam (again, fancy individual TV screens entertained with Bob the Builder and Pingu - things he doesn't normally watch in the States). We paid about 1100 kroners for a .5 liter Coke, a coffee and 2 milk boxes which was a little weird, but it turns out that it was only about $9 USD, which makes sense for an airport purchase.

In Amsterdam-Schiphol airport, we found all 6 pieces of our luggage (all hovering just below the 23kg/50lbs weight limit), our stroller, and both cats (glued to the very back of their carriers) in a very short period of time - and then we were waived through by customs - no passport check or check of the cats' travel papers - entirely easier than we could have hoped for.

The relocation company was right on the other side of customs to greet us and took us right to a cab for the hour and a half ride to Tilburg. Aside from Mama accidentally letting Zappa's carrier fall about 4 feet off of a luggage cart, all went smoothly.

The Home:
The relocation company had done some basic food shopping for us and had some temporary beds ready for us at our new home. We met the owner and signed the rental contract before Mama was shown around the neighborhood briefly to see the local market and small shopping centers. Little Man, Poppa and cats stayed at home to relax.

The home is bigger than our apartment in Chicago. We have 3 floors, a huge living room and kitchen open room, 2 large bedrooms on the second floor, and a bedroom on the third floor that we will use as an office. Right now the owner's furniture is in the bedroom on the 3rd floor but a temporary wall is to be built, creating a crawl-space type area (the ceiling is slanted, so the space isn't really usable anyways). Now that the living room and kitchen are furnished after a trip to Ikea, pictures will be posted soon.

Mama and Poppa's bed has arrived and been assembled, now we are just waiting on the wardrobe to be delivered. Little Man's bed is expected to arrive in about 2 weeks, and our "stuff" from the States is expected around the 20th. Slowly but surely we'll be settled in.

02 August 2012

The Office

This is my office. It is Dutch law that people who work in offices have a window. Yesterday there was a small rabbit playing outside the window; today it has been mostly clouds and a bit of rain. Regardless of the specifics, it is significantly better than my previous windowless office.

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