28 February 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #5 - Easy Recylcing

One of the great things about living in the Netherlands is the ease with which we can recycle. In Chicago, we were fortunate enough to live in a ward that had "blue bins" that you filled with everything you could think to recycle (except styrofoam) and the city sent a truck around when they felt like it, though I think technically it was supposed to be once a week.

In Tilburg, we have a bin for paper and cardboard recycling that is picked up every 4 weeks at the curb. Every 4 weeks doesn't sound like much, but on average we don't produce nearly that much paper waste in a month (though we're still breaking down boxes from the move, we figure boxes out to the curb will end eventually). For the rest of the recyclables, every neighborhood has centrally located bins to deposit all plastic (inlcuding styrofoam!) and white/green/brown glass that the city picks up. It's easy, no thought about numbered plastic or other restrictions.

Little Man with a cart of recycling.

26 February 2013

In Sickness and Health

You might have noticed our recent e-silence (if not, it's okay, we're not offended). We've been dealing with one illness or another since the temperature started to drop in the fall, but the Little Man has been the recipient of most viral visitors and had battled bronchitis on and off for most of the winter. Mark and I had both gotten a cold that put us down for a few days earlier in the fall, but this past week I was totally down with a cold and Mark was dealing with a minor eye issue before prepping for his trip to Abu Dhabi. For once, the Little Germ Factory Man was completely healthy and was happy with Mama laying on the couch or the floor while "playing" or getting to watch extra TV shows while I grabbed a nap. We stayed quiet on the blog since I was lucid enough to know that I wasn't lucid enough to write, or think, or do much of anything else.

We learned a few fun facts in the past week:

1. Antihistamines are not sold over-the-counter in the Netherlands. A few minutes of Google research showed that antihistamines are a controlled substance in the Netherlands and only available with a prescription,which a doctor may or may not issue. There are over-the-counter remedies for Hay Fever and other general allergic reactions, but don't expect to find Benedryl or anything else that will let you sleep through your allergies.

2. Pseudoephedrine-related products are also not sold in stores. This doesn't really bother us since we're more "suffer through your cold" people, but we found out while looking for antihistamines.

3. You really can expect an appointment with your home doctor (primary care doctor) the same day without the assistant hemming and hawing about whether or not it's worth cramming you in for 15 minutes at the end of the day. Actually, we already knew this, but it was nice to see it still works. Having dealt with an over-sized medical group in Chicago who's appointment-making department had no connection to the medical offices, this is a very welcome change.

4. It's okay to have a stockpile of OJ in the pantry, it may just come in handy one week.

5. It's amazing how much housework will build up over the week when all you do is lay on the couch.

Now we hope to be back to normal this week, starting with all the housework, and regular postings again.

15 February 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Norden Klaptafel/Gateleg Table

Recently, we've figured out how to clear off the kitchen table, and I decided that now was as good a time as any to finally take a picture and review it. 

We chose the Norden Klaptafel/Gateleg Table for our kitchen. There were two things that attracted us to this table. Firstly, there are three drawers on either side of the center of the table. We know from experience living in Chicago and from watching way too many episodes of House Hunters International that cabinet and drawer storage space can be hard to come by. And we also know from experience that we acquire lots of crap and need places to put it; and six drawers of space that we can take with us is a good thing. Secondly, the gateleg option is handy for smaller kitchens. We're fortunate that we have plenty of kitchen space now, but there may be another house in our future that may not take well to a larger table, and it's easy to just fold down both sides f this table. 


The table is made of birch with an acrylic lacquer, and comes in a natural birch color or white. The directions recommend that the table is built by two people, mostly so that it can be lifted. Mark managed to put it together by himself. The table comes with the ever present allan wrenches, but it's much easier to do this with a power drill. The drawers were a bit dodgy to put together, mostly because they're held together with wooden pegs and require a bit of light hammering. At first, the drawers were always sticking and a pain to open and close. As everything has "settled" the drawers now open well enough but still stick on more humid days - which is still pretty often since we live in the Netherlands. IKEA recommends that you tighten the screwed after a few weeks' time, and that seems like good advice since the table top starts to wobble a little after a bit of use but a little tightening puts it right again. 

The table top, drawer fronts and legs are relatively easy to clean with just a damp cloth. Thankfully, we haven't needed to clean the inside of any of the drawers, so nothing to report on the drawer bottoms (which appear to be flexible pressboard or something similar). As far as I can tell, the lacquer hasn't chipped yet, and the Little Man has given the table top a run for its money. 

We give the Norden Klaptafel/Gateleg Table 4 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. One meatball is deducted for the sticky drawers.

Life in Dutch Rating of Norden Klaptafel/Gateleg Table:

12 February 2013


We're upon the last day of Carnaval, or Fat Tuesday as it's known to most American Roman Catholic and "the day before Ash Wednesday/Lent" for most American Protestants. For Americans, Carnaval is best equated with Mardi Gras as celebrated in New Orleans, but here in the south of the Netherlands it is much more than just the Tuesday before Lent.

First, only the southern part of the country, which is traditionally the Roman Catholic part of the country, celebrates Carnaval - the predominantly Protestant north did away with such "superstitious" activities after the Reformation, and many Dutch from the north still think of Carnaval as a "stupid" or "silly" quasi-holiday recognized by southerners. We're in Noord-Brabant province, bordering with Belgium, and we've been celebrating Carnaval since last Friday. Technically, it doesn't start until the Saturday before Lent, but most people start celebrating on Friday. If nothing else it gives the kids a chance to celebrate at school since the schools are all closed during the week of Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally, the usually reserved Dutch "let it all hang out" during Carnaval. People dress up in all manner of costumes - the dedication of which is amazing when some people refuse to wear coats over their costumes when the temperature is hovering around freezing (0 degrees C). On Friday, the Little Man had a costume party at school and the kids got to dance and play and get ready for Carnaval. At pick-up time, the parents were allowed in early to watch the kids run around to "oompah" music and play with confetti and streamers.

Little Man in his cowboy costume for Carnaval.
The grown-ups, in the meantime, are also dressed in elaborate costumes and are mostly drinking their way through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Sunday is the height of the celebrations with parades complete with everyone in costume, crazy looking floats, and more drinking. The traditions in each southern region differ slightly - some places everyone dresses up and rich and poor alike are on equal footing for the celebration, in other places it's an opportunity for the masses to mock and parody the rich and powerful. But for the most part, it's a chance to act goofy for a few days and no one will think any less of you for it. 

We attended the parade in Tilburg city-centre on Sunday, much to the delight of Little Man, who spent the majority of his time collecting streamers and making a huge pile of them at our feet. 

At least in Tilburg, green and orange are the official colors of Carnaval. It's not entirely clear why these are the two colors, but it seems to stem from some medieval understanding of the virtues and evils associated with the colors. 

One of the parade floats displaying the colors of Carnaval. The green and orange flags seen at the bottom of the picture say, "What shall we drink?"

This grouping of spectators is pretty "normal" looking - but you can get a taste of the "getups" from the clown at the left of the picture.

Poppa and Little Man

We saw some weird costumes and floats, heard lots of "oompah" music and enjoyed the frivolity. At least next year we'll be prepared for our own costumes and really get into the celebrations.

11 February 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #4

I think that the child corrals outside of the grocery stores are absolutely hilarious.

Normally, the child corral is packed full, but when you arrive as the store opens, you get to miss some of  the dramatic pleas.

Don't worry, it's nothing sinister. Albert Heijn, one of the Dutch grocery chains we frequent, periodically has gimmicky give-aways that especially attract children. Back in autumn, for every €5 spent in the store, Albert Heijn gave away collector's animal cards and had a whole bunch of related junk. That's when we first saw the corrals for children. Kids will line up outside the store and beg for extras of the give away item; and the more grey in your hair, the louder the children yell to you, the logic being that you don't have children of your own to bring the junk home to. To contain the children and limit the pestering of the customers, the store will lay some stocking carts on their sides to create an area to keep the kids within a reasonable distance of the doors.

Currently, for every €15 Albert Heijn is giving away keukenminis - tiny plastic kitchen utensils and foods, so the corral has reappeared. The sign in the picture above essentially says, "Beggers of keukenminis, get in the box." It's actually much more polite in Dutch, but basically means the same thing. This may not happen everywhere in the Netherlands, but it's down the street from us, and totally funny to me.

08 February 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Orgel Vreten Staand Lamp/Floor Lamp

Today, we shed a little light on the Orgel Vreten staand lamp/floor lamp. Sorry for the bad pun, but as the first lamp review, I couldn't resist.


The Orgel Vreten staand lamp/floor lamp is a nice addition to our living room. We don't have any installed lighting on the ceiling of the living room, and we found that the light from the kitchen wasn't enough to make it over to the living room. So on the second big trip to IKEA, we took care of the lighting situation. We found the Orgel Vreten for the more central location in the room.

Orgel Vreten Staand Lamp/Floor Lamp
The lamp is just shy of 5 feet tall, with a chrome base, 3 light sockets, and a handmade paper shade with crinkly paper lantern look. The shade gives a "glowing" quality to the light but also gives plenty of light to take care of the whole room. Putting it together was easy enough. The base screws into the stand and the shade unfolds to be hooked at the top. The lamp was ready to go within 10 minutes. We've been happy with the lamp and how it went together, but if you have small children or cats with front cars, you may want to consider putting it in a corner that is not easily accessed because the paper shade seems like it may be ripped easy by a curious toddler or angry cat.

We rate the Orgel Vreten Staand Lamp/floor Lamp 4.5 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. Half a meatball is deducted for the likely easy destruction at the hands/paws of a child/cat.

Life in Dutch Rating for Orgel Vreten Staand Lamp/Floor Lamp:

07 February 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #3 - Winter Sunrises

We're much farther north than we have ever been before. That means that in the summer time (particularly when we arrived), it didn't get dark until well after 10pm. The unfortunate flip side is that it gets dark early and stays dark later into the morning than we are used to. But at least that means we'll actually be up to see some pretty neat sunrises.

And there's good reason to look forward to summer sunlight, too.

Morning sunrise as seen from our top floor

01 February 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Skruvsta Draaifauteuil/Swivel Chair

We originally picked out the IKEA Skruvsta Draaifauteuil/Swivel chair in this funky black and white pattern as a smaller chair for the Little Man to use in the living room. It's a smaller, though it's comfortable for an adult to sit in. It's rounded back makes it easy to sit like a pretzel or lean back and stretch out your legs. From a brief search of the US IKEA website, it seems that this chair isn't available in this particular pattern in the States at this time. 

IKEA Skruvsta Draaifauteuil/Swivel chair
So far, we've been happy with it. The chair is comfortable to sit in and provides a surprisingly comfortable armrest on the sloped sides. It was easy to put together - all we had to do was screw in the base which took all of 30 seconds to complete. You can even adjust the height of the chair based on how much you screw the base in or out. We've been fortunate in that this chair hasn't yet fallen victim to a spill or snack stain - so I can't say how well it cleans. The fabric is 100% cotton, so that means that cleaning will either go really well or really terribly when the time comes. The fabric seems to be stretched over the polypropylene foam that makes up the base of the chair. It makes nice soft lines, but I'm afraid that over time the fabric will separate from the foam.

We give the Skruvsta Draaifauteuil/Swivel chair a rating of 4.5 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. Half a meatball is deducted for the potential difficulty of cleaning and the potential separation of the fabric and the foam. Is it cheating to knock off points for something that hasn't happened yet? I don't think so - I think it says something about the perceived durability. Plus, it's my review and I can rate it however I want. 

The cats, however, rate the chair a solid 11 on a 5 meatball scale.

Our katten heart IKEA.
Life in Dutch rating for the Skruvsta Draaifateuil/Swivel Chair:

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