30 September 2013

Monday Coffee Morning, Putting the Plans in Motion, and Getting Better

It's Monday, so I'm linking up with Molly at The Move to America for her Monday Coffee Morning social. It's a great way to plan for your week, so please pop over to Molly's blog and check it out!

The Move to America

I didn't accomplish everything I intended to last week since we have a cold running through the house - and for that reason, this will be a relatively short post. Little Man is in the clear so far, and hopefully will stay healthy. The zelf-pluk apple trip I had hoped to do with him over the weekend will be postponed for another day, after everyone is clear headed again. We did get some more photos taken for Little Man's color book, and we can easily order the prints online while we're getting better.

We did receive a call from Little Man's school to schedule his "practice" days and his official start day for the kleuterschool. He'll have one half-day and four full days of "practice" before his birthday, mostly getting used to the routines and the new teachers and students, before starting the week after his birthday. Now it's a matter of continuing to talk about it at home and getting everyone physically and mentally prepared for the transition. It's just one more step as Little Man becomes a little bigger.

The goal for this week is to get everyone operating at 100% health again. Our week is full of vitamins, tea, juice, and fruit!

Here's to your week - stay healthy!

27 September 2013

An Export?

IKEA Vrijdag: Vilmar Stoel/Chair Update

I recently received an e-mail from a reader with a question about an IKEA Vrijdag review I did last December for the Vilmar Stoel/Chair. Of course I'm happy to give more information, and then I realized that it would be a great way to give an update about this piece of furniture.

Vilmar Stoel/Chair 

 So without further ado, here is the question I received from Sherry K. about the Vilmar:

I was reading your December 2012 post about the Ikea Vilmar chairs and I am wondering how your chairs have held up since then? I purchased four of them on the weekend and am a bit worried at how the legs seem to splay when someone sits in them. I am worried this will only get worse with time and am wondering if I should return them.
A Google search for "Vilmar chair reviews" led me to your blog. I appreciate any help you can give.
Thank you,
Sherry K.

This is something I also noticed when putting the chairs together: After putting the chairs together, as soon as an adult sat down the legs splayed out, just as they are doing for Sherry now. But by the time I wrote the review in December, the problem had already diminished to the point of being hardly noticeable, which is why I think I forgot to include that information in my initial review. I actually had to go and sit and watch what happened to see if this was still occurring. It seems like after regular use the chairs "settle" so that the legs are no longer under as much stress as when you first sit on them after putting them together. I am comfortable continuing to use them, and I don't worry about the immediate durability of the legs. 

I would gauge the lifespan of these chairs to be about 5 years - this is purely a guess on my part based on the materials and the "feel" I get from using the chairs over the last year. Like many of the less expensive items at IKEA, I think these chairs are meant to be used as a "starter" kitchen, or one that may be moved around frequently, and are of lesser quality than some of the store's other costlier options.

As with any heavily-used piece of furniture (especially on wood, laminate, or tile flooring), I would recommend using some sort of floor protector pad like the Fixa - though please note from my Fixa review that that the pads are slightly too big for the Vilmar's feet (use a pair of scissors or look for a smaller pad).

The Life in Dutch rating for the Vilmar Stoel/Chair remains at 3 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. I feel that the initial rating has held up and is still an accurate depiction of the construction process and quality. Many thanks to Sherry K. for her question and agreeing to let me use her e-mail for this update - I hope this update is helpful for others as well.

Do you have a specific question about one of the reviewed IKEA products and how it's held up since the review? Please let me know in the comments or via e-mail at lifeindutch AT gmail DOT com.

Life in Dutch Updated Rating for Vilmar Stoel/Chair:

26 September 2013

Refusing the Folks at the Door

It's common in the Netherlands for different businesses or charities to go door to door to try and sell their product or do some fundraising. After living in the back of an apartment building in Chicago where no one could get into the front part without a key or wanted to venture to the back, this still confuses me. In general, in the States, the door-to-door stuff just isn't done anymore either because it's not very efficient, or some neighborhoods aren't safe enough, or because some neighborhoods prohibit "solicitation." So having someone at the door asking for money is something that really throws me.

Image courtesy of papaija2008 - FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If I'm not expecting someone, the door bell always surprises me; and we probably have someone at our door at least once a week. Like sales calls in the US, they often come around dinner time when I must look like a crazy person emerging from whatever kitchen-disaster is in progress. I try to listen, but I'm usually worried about burning something on the stove or whatever Evel Knievel-type trick Little Man is performing in the background. They never seem to call "at a good time."

I've done a good job sending away the folks selling products pretty quickly - usually telling them that we don't own the home is enough because they're trying to sell new trashcans or want to run new cable lines into the house. But saying no charities is harder. If it's a kid, I'll usually give them 50 cents or so, but the adults are more difficult to politely turn away. Many want some sort of monthly pledge on the spot, which I won't do without researching the charity with Mark first - we like to know where the money is going and what it's supposed to be doing - and while the information from the person at the door can be helpful, it's only one source. I'd like to think I'm making a fully informed decision before donating.

Several charities also want your bank account number in order to start the transfers for the donations. Giving out your bank account number in the Netherlands is how you get any subscription paid for (no one uses personal checks here), and it's safe process (your bank will back you up on any claims of false charges and money trails are easily traced), but I don't like doing it. The fundraisers often look confused or offended when I say I don't like giving it out, and I don't really blame them, because it's normal here. But I'm used to protecting my bank account number like I protect my Social Security Number - you only give it out when you have to, and then only to a trusted source. It's an American habit that I just can't get over.

So, nice people at my door, I'm sorry. It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that I don't trust the process. I'm frazzled by your presence and the frequency of which I find you at the door. Donating at my door is one point of assimilation that I'm not sure is going to happen for me.

Do you get the door to door requests? How do you handle them? Or are there other "normal" activities that you have a hard time trusting in your new home?

25 September 2013

Still Legal

I haven't talked about it on the blog here, but I was waiting for approval on the extension of my verblijfsdocument (residency permit). While I knew it would likely come out fine, I felt so nervous every time I thought about it, it was better just to try and forget while I was waiting.

When we moved to the Netherlands, Mark and Little Man's residency permits were both good for 5 years - the length of Mark's contract. My permit was only good for one year. My understanding is that approval for spouses/partners is done this way to make sure that no one is scamming their way into the country. The government doesn't want to extend residency to someone that may turn around and leech off the "system" because at application time they stated, "Oh yeah, we're together. *wink, wink*" and then "separate" shortly after getting in.

Thanks to Mark's status as a "highly skilled worker" (like the footballers), my reapplication process was relatively simple. My forms basically said, "Yup, still married. And his files are still valid for a few years." And then it was just a matter of paying the fee and waiting for someone to look at his file. The later which takes several months.

Not letting go...

But now the new permit is in my hands and good for another 4 years. I'm still legal, and now I can fully relax again.

Have you ever dealt with the visa/immigration/naturalization process? How easy or difficult did you find it?

24 September 2013

Doing Pre-Wash in Dutch (Kind of...)

I spend more time doing laundry these days than I care to admit to myself.

Part of the reason is that the process is longer and more involved than the process I used in the States. No longer can I run the Saturday morning laundry marathon. I used to hog both washing machines and both dryers in the apartment building's communal laundry room (my apologies, former neighbors), hang some items, and blast others through the dryers. The wash cycle length and the lack of hanging space prevents me from doing that here, but that's all fine.

The other reason I'm doing more laundry is that Little Man often operates like a one-man wrecking ball. Whether at school, in the house, or on a play ground, by the end of the day he is covered in dirt, food, and stains whose origins I prefer not to investigate. What can I say? He's a little kid, therefore he attracts dirt.

Seriously, where does it all come from?

The number of stains drive me a bit nuts (I am the one cleaning it after all), but since dressing him all in black all the time doesn't quite seem like a realistic option, I spend a lot of time doing pre-wash. I've mostly determined what products and methods I need to get the job done, so I'm sharing with you in case you ever find yourself doing laundry in Dutch... or for a child.

1. Know your stain remover.
I keep going back to the Oxy-Clean type products as my go-to stain remover, and generic store brands seem to work fine. And, as advertised, the doseerlepel (scoop) is included!

Supposedly, there is a difference between the
kleur (color) option and the wit (white) option.
I just use the kleur version.

2. Use your stain remover.
It won't do anything if you don't try it. Some people, myself among them, are afraid to use new cleaning products in case you find the rogue product that decides the best was to take that stain off is to burn it right off. But when you're unfamiliar with brands and products, you just have to take a chance. I will fully admit: I have never bothered to try and translate/read the product's instructions so there is a good chance I'm doing this completely wrong, but humor me and keep pretending that I'm an expert.

3. Get your product and water in some sort of bucket.
In the true American fashion of excess, I generally use way too much.

Our water isn't actually yellow, the lighting was bad.

4. Apply product directly to the stain and scrub.
Again, I generally use way too much, because I'm paranoid that it won't work this time. I do a fantastic rendition of Lady Macbeth during this stage.

You would, too, if you saw this kid's jeans.

5. Soak.
Depending on how organized you are, you can do this in well in advance - like after the stain appears. Or you can use my method and soak for 30 minutes before the load and hope for the best. Just don't leave it there for days on end, otherwise you'll be repeating the whole process for the coating of yick that forms.

This is the easiest part of the process.

6. Rinse.
It's just better to rinse off any of the stain-water to include it in the machine with the rest of the load. Or it might not have any effect, but at least it will make you feel better.

7. Hope for the best.
Due to my level of domestic prowess, this is how I get through most household tasks.

8. Repeat.
As often as necessary. Which, if there is a kid in the house, is probably daily.


23 September 2013

Monday Coffee Morning, Colors, and the Fall Bake-o-Rama

It's Monday, and I'm joining back up with the Monday Coffee Morning with Molly at The Move to America for her weekly link-up. It's a good way to evaluate the last week and look forward to the new week, stop on by her blog and see what she and the other bloggers are up to this week!

The Move to America

Last week, we took Little Man to the doctor to get his consistent cough and wheeze checked out. It went well, and he's on a temporary steroid inhaler through the rest of this week to see what that does for his cough. We've already scheduled a follow up appointment for two weeks from now, so then we'll find out if that's it for now or if we take the next step and go to a pediatrician for an asthma test. But for now, it seems like it's working, so I'll take it.

I've also finally completed Little Man's school forms for personality and physical/cognitive development, which is a relief. As long as they can look past my terrible Dutch spelling and grammar in the "comments sections," I think we'll be fine.

This week, I'd like to do a few projects with the Little Man before he starts school. We've been working on a "color" scrap book - it's a good combination of learning about colors and making a keepsake together. We have the name of each color in English and Dutch, pictures of Little Man wearing a shirt of each color, pictures of his toys that are that color, a description from him about each color. We're about a third of the way through (we've covered red, orange, and yellow), but I need to get some more photos printed up so that we can finish it. I want to finish it before he starts kleuterschool, so I'm getting down to crunch time.

We're also going to start baking. I bought the "value" bag of apples a week and a half ago, and before they start going squishy, we're going to make some apple cinnamon bread. I also need to clear out the apples before we do zelf-pluk (self-pick), which may happen this coming weekend providing all my schemes work out.

And for my own project, I need to get the legs on my first "official" dino and start the second. Little Man has been playing with the "practice" dino, and it's holding up well to little-boy-play-time, which is exactly what I need these guys to do. So far, I'm pretty pleased with myself, and I'm excited to get started on the second one.

Here's to the week and any projects you have!

22 September 2013

Forms Made Me Fall Off the Grid

Occasionally, I fall off the grid. It's usually because I'm not organized enough to write posts in advance and/or then there are a bunch of things happen at the same time that keep me from sitting down long enough to write. Well, I suppose I could just sit down and write, but it wouldn't necessarily be a full sentence or anything generally coherent. But last week, I stayed away from the computer while I was at a few meetings and saw some friends, and because I had forms to fill out. 

Some forms arrived from Little Man's new school to complete in advance and give the teachers more of an idea of his personality and different physical and cognitive developments. This doesn't really sound like a good reason to ignore most everything else around you - and it probably isn't. I've always experienced a bit of "form" anxiety, over thinking the meanings of my choices and what the "best" answer really is. As you can imagine, this tendency has made ever standardized test or job application I've ever completed a real stressful experience. 

The process has always taken longer than it probably should, but forms have become harder to fill out because they're a) in a different language and b) about my kid. You want to make sure you're giving the most helpful answers to ensure you don't put something wrong, inconsistent, or confusing when it comes to your child's education... and I've already had the fun experience of going to the school to finish off half-completed forms because I didn't think to turn the page over before putting them back in the mail. So now I'm reading very slowly, (over)thinking about each answer, and checking both sides of the page compulsively. Add in the the fact that I'm translating every. single. word. and it's become a really involved process.

But I suppose I got to learn a whole new group of adjectives...

So I fell off the grid a bit as I tried to decipher exactly what I'm doing (unfortunately, after 3 days, it's not done yet). And that takes more time than I care to think about right now. But once that form goes back into the mailbox, I can forget about it, and everything else will continue as normal. 

At least until they ask me to complete another form.

17 September 2013

Capturing the Color

Over the weekend, Sara at Chasing the Donkey very kindly nominated me to participate in Capture the Colour, a contest in which your travel photo selections highlight specific colors and are shared via your blog. I'm very happy to have the opportunity to participate and show off some of my favorite pictures. I hope you enjoy them, too.

I'll get this right out of the way: I know I promised pictures of the Netherlands, but I couldn't help but use this picture from the old Glendalough graveyard and 6th century monastic settlement in Country Wicklow, Ireland. When I was thinking about green as I was going through all my pictures, my mind kept returning to this one. It was March, and the only thing with color was the grass, which only increased the starkness of the tombstones and the made ruins feel older.

The Dutch city of Delft is known for it's Royal Delft china with the classic blue on white designs. I found this scene, complete with a pre-staged bicycle, while walking through an alley as a shortcut. You may recognize it from one of my Wordless Wednesday posts. I like this picture so much that I had to share it again.

This was taken inside the tower of the Nieuwekerk in Delft. Little Man made the climb up the 376 steps of the 85 meter tall tower without help. I like the red hoodie and the red of the brick surrounded by shadows. I think it's a good example of his curiosity and his excitement for exploration, as he looks out the window partway up the tower, overlooking the church.

One of the most visually stimulating places in Rotterdam are the Kubuswoningen (Cube Houses). Rotterdam is well known for it's interesting architecture, and the Kubuswoningen do not disappoint. All are painted a bright yellow which give a better perspective on the shape and depth of the homes.

Okay, I confess: This picture was also taken outside of the Netherlands. This quaint, white windmill is set along a bike path between Brugges and Damme, Belgium. Again, it was so picturesque, I couldn't help but use this photo. Look at that beautiful landscape! And the big, puffy clouds! Complete with the sheep dotting the field and the crow on the fence post, this photo was begging to be included here.

And now it's time to nominate some other nice folks and ask them to share their photos. Please check out their blogs, they have some wonderful posts, and they include great pictures!

Once you've been tagged, you can share your photos based on the rules of the Capture the Colour Contest and then nominate 5 other bloggers to do the same. Don't forget to tweet #CTC13 to @travelsupermkt with your blog's URL to complete your entry.

From Casinos to Castles:
Deanna is an American expat from Las Vegas who relocated to Germany with her German husband. She writes about her experiences in an honest way that is so endearing and heartwarming, you can't help but like it.

The Move to America:
Molly is a Brit currently in the process of moving to America to join her husband. She's shared her tips for the whole moving process, including navigating the US visa system and finding a good way to ship your things when you're not moving a whole house. And she hosts the great Monday Coffee Morning link up to reflect on the past week and make plans for the week to come.

Expat Tales from Stockholm:
Jamie is an American expat that recently relocated to Sweden with her husband. She shares information about the expat experience with a sense of humor; and posts wonderful detail about her explorations of Sweden and beyond.

Beginnings in Bayern
Shannon is a newlywed American expat in Germany, but she's had lots of experience living and traveling abroad. Her blog has great stories about traveling and things to do in Germany; as well as some very insightful posts about what it feels like to be an expat.

A Flamingo in Utrecht:
Alison is an American expat living the Netherlands and keeps a blog sharing events, history, architecture, and beautiful finds from around the city of Utrecht. She shares some wonderful stories about the places around the city that many English speakers wouldn't necessarily know or find on their own.

I'd also like to include a little information about Sara at Chasing the Donkey, so you can know a bit about the person that provided me with the opportunity to participate in Capture the Colour. Sara and her husband are Australian expats in Croatia. They're currently perfecting an old home they inherited in the gorgeous Dalmatian landscape while she learns Croatian and they embrace the way of life in their new home. She has lots of helpful information for other expats in Croatia and has a sense of humor through everything. Her blog is a great read, I really recommend checking it out!

16 September 2013

Monday Coffee and Moving Right Along

I'm linking up with Molly at The Move to America again for the Monday Coffee Morning! It's a fantastic way to reflect on the last week and organize your thoughts for the coming week. Why not join us?

The Move to America

We've done a great job staying organized so far, so now I'm working on keeping that momentum going. My continuing goal is to keep my English teaching materials and my materials as a Dutch student organized and completed. Mostly, that involves putting aside time every day to do a bit of each. That gets harder during busier weeks, but so far I've been keeping up.

I managed to get a "practice dino" finished last week, and I've started on the parts for the "official dinos" that I'm making. I should have pictures to come soon!

This week, we start with a visit to the doctor. Little Man has had a cough that just won't go away, so it's time to make the trek up to the huisarts to see what they recommend. Going to the doctor is always an interesting experience because there are just enough differences in cultural norms between America and the Netherlands. Sometimes I'm surprised because the visit goes just as I expect and other times I'm surprised that our "issue" is a big deal to me, but not necessarily considered worth the visit by the doctor. We'll see.

For tomorrow, I'm working on a fun post called Capturing the Colors for the Capturing the Colors Contest. I was tagged by Sara at Chasing the Donkey to participate in a photo display of colors that capture the views of the country in which you live. So stay tuned. In the mean time, I recommend checking out Sara's gorgeous photos of Croatia and imagine planning a trip there - the scenery is fantastic! Hopefully I can do the Netherlands justice!

13 September 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Lack Salontafel/Coffee Table

I bet you though I forgot about IKEA Vrijdag.

I didn't forget, I've just been uninspired. Because today's piece, the Lack Salontafel/Coffee Table has become increasingly uninspiring in the time we have owned it. It's one of the last "big" pieces in the house that I planned to write about and I kept putting it off because the table has been annoying me, and I've been petty and unable to let it go. But today I pulled on my big girl boots and I'm ready to review, so here we go!

Lack Salontafel/Coffee Table in white.
Notice that I put a coffee cup on top to prove that it is, indeed, a coffee table.

Our Lack Salontafel/Coffee table is the larger version. Don't be fooled - there are two Lack Salontafels/Coffee Tables. The smaller is 90cm x 55cm x 45cm and about half the price, the larger (reviewed here today) is 118 cm x 78 cm x 45 cm; but both have a "magazine shelf" underneath, come in the same 3 colors (white, black-brown, and "birch effect"), and seem to be made of the same materials (fiberboard, particle board, paper, acrylic paint). And I'll go out on a limb and assume that the construction process is the same.

The construction process is simple. Starting with the table top upside-down, screw in each leg (like a giant screw) into place. Then screw into place each "L" bracket. As always, do yourself a favor and use a power drill instead of the tiny allen wrenches that come in the hardware packaging - specifically if you plan on putting several pieces together. Once each L bracket is in place, flip the table onto its correct side, slide the magazine shelf in, crawl under the table, and attach to the L brackets with screws to the magazine shelf.

L bracket supporting magazine shelf

IKEA recommends that two people put the table together for safety, but since I like to flirt with danger I put it together by myself. The magazine shelf is surprisingly heavy - it seems to act as an anchor weight for the whole table because the top and the legs are hollow/filled with paper - and if you have a bad back, the awkward motion of lifting and sliding this large piece alone could cause you to do something uncomfortable.

One of the important things to remember about the whole Lack Series is that it is the cheapest of the cheap. The prices are very affordable, but the quality is lacking (see what I did there?), even for an IKEA product. I have 3 major problems with the piece that stem from two main issues: the legs weren't flush with the corners when screwed in all the way, and there seems to be no protective finish or lacquer.

When I screwed the legs in, one in particular didn't wasn't flush with the corner when screwed it, making it impossible to put in the magazine shelf. So I was forced to leave it partially out, and the leg manages to turn itself on its own volition. This makes the table look even cheaper than it is and makes me wonder about the overall stability of the table.

Angled legs

The other issue is that without a protective lacquer, the table top and legs have suffered lots of chips and gouges from normal use and is more prone to damage from pen and marker. I've accidentally had pen go off my paper and left marks, and Little Man had a moment of artistic inspiration with a navy blue marker that left several interesting outlines of all items sitting on the table at that time. IKEA says to wash with a damp cloth, and that mostly takes care of it, but the pen and washable marker that come off of the other IKEA products without much effort are still visible in some places after 6 different washings.

Just two of many, many chips in the paint.

Even though I know it's a "cheap" item, I'm pretty annoyed by the deficiencies of the Lack Salontafel/Coffee Table. The Lack receives the Life in Dutch rating of 2 Swedish meatballs. Points are lost for the overall poor quality, no protective lacquer, and leg problems. It's still standing, so that's something, but if this thing takes on any more issues, I may have to find some ideas to Hack the Lack and "improve" it. We'll see.

Life in Dutch Rating for Lack Salontafel/Coffee Table:

12 September 2013

The Kindness of Strangers and Friends

Tuesday evening brought some unexpected adventure to a routine evening; but it was one that makes me very thankful for the kindness of total strangers and the kindness and patience of friends.

On a normal Tuesday evening I ride my bike to my language school to teach an English lesson and take a Dutch lesson. By bike the trip usually takes the same amount of time as the bus, but I don't have to rely on the bus schedule - I can just go when I'm ready without rushing to the stop or waiting for the stop. But since fall came up suddenly and it brought the rains with it, regular heavy rain fell all day on Tuesday, I decided I should ride the bus rather than show up drenched and windblown.

This was a perfectly reasonable plan and the trip went as expected... until I left my phone on the bus. I checked the phone just before stop and then thought I tossed it into my bag, but I guess I dropped it onto the seat. I jumped off the bus and made it about four steps before doing a regular obsessive pocket check and found no phone. And there was no phone in the bag. Crap.

Cue dramatic music: Dun dun dun...

I ran to the language school, but forgot that since the main office was closed I couldn't get to a land line to call my own mobile. It was at this point that I realized how I rely on this little chunk of technology for so many different functions: Phone, e-mail, social networks, translator, map, schedule for bus and train, camera, watching cat videos. You name it, this phone can probably do it or tell you how to do it. It was a little discouraging to come to this conclusion 5 minutes after losing the phone - so I had to stop and think, what would I have done a year ago before I had a smart phone?

I was able to log onto a computer and sent Mark some frantic emails and G-chats asking him to call my phone before my student arrived (acutely aware that I was still relying heavily on technology to solve this problem). After my student left I found messages from Mark saying that someone actually picked up when he called. It turned out to be the bus driver, who is a really stand up guy. Though his shift was over, he was willing to wait for me at the station in city center to pick it up. And since I had no other way to get there, my amazingly kind Dutch instructor drove me to the station, and then stayed later than normal to give me a full lesson.

I'm VERY fortunate. Someone could have easily nicked the phone off the seat. The driver could have taken the phone or dumped it someplace else. He could have gone directly home at the end of his shift. My Dutch instructor didn't have to offer the ride or continue to stay late for me to have a regular lesson after. And, of course, I have a wonderful husband who has patience for my idiotic shenanigans and helps me solve them.

Despite the situation, it turned out as well as I could have hoped. I didn't catch the name of the driver and I don't know if I'll come across him again on the same bus line, but I hope I expressed my thanks well enough - because I am still very grateful to everyone that helped me. It's a blessing to receive that kind of kindness from strangers and friends at the same time.

Have you experienced a great, random act of kindness from a stranger or a friend? Have you experienced great kindness in another language?

10 September 2013

Fall is Finally Here

Sometime over the last two days, Fall has descended upon us in all it's cooling glory.

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw - FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not that summer in the Netherlands is sweltering - it's more the idea of moving into fall. School is in, the summer blooms are long gone, the days are already getting shorter. It was time for the weather to start matching the feeling that things were changing.

I've been especially looking forward to this Fall since it will bring a lot of new experiences for us. Little Man starts school in November which drastically changes our routine and brings new challenges for all of us. We'll start to navigate a new set of developmental expectations for Little Man once he moves up to kleuterschool (4 to 6 year old school) with the "big kids;" and we'll encounter a new set of cultural expectations as we learn more about the Dutch approach to early childhood education from our American perspective. But for a curious kid, kleuterschool will be a good transition if only because it brings new learning opportunities.

This transition also means that I'll have more time work without interruptions - and I've got a whole list of projects that I've been waiting to start because I know it will be easier without "help." I anticipate that it will also be easier to make appointments and engage in some networking since I'll have a bigger chunk of time to work with each day.

But until then, I'll take the novelty of Fall in stride and enjoy the milder (though rainy) weather, pop on my beloved moccasin slippers, and make sure to cherish the last few weeks of Little Man's time as a peuter (toddler) before he becomes a kleuter. I'm excited for the coming changes, but I'm willing to let them come at their own pace.

Are you looking forward to fall? Is it bringing changes or just a sense of the familiar?

09 September 2013

Monday Coffee Morning and Organization

It's Monday, so I'm connecting up with Molly at The Move to America for the Monday Coffee Morning and getting energized for the week!

The Move to America

Last week I focused on getting back to normal after Mark returned from a conference, so nothing really exciting happened. But I finally finished some of the little critters I've been threatening to create for a couple weeks.

The first of several litters. Voila. 

And now that I have several litters worth of these little kittens, I'm moving on to some dinosaurs. I doubt I'll finish this week, but I'm getting started and hopefully get some good progress.

I'd also like to brag that I finally finished our 2012 US tax return over the weekend. I filed an extension back in April because of weird tax laws for Americans living abroad the first year, and I'm happy to report that I finished the taxes before the extension deadline - I feel almost efficient. At least they're done and I don't have to think about them any more.

So, what's in store for this week? Staying organized is my number one goal. The next few weeks will be busy with events and deadlines, so I'm trying to stay on top of things. Mostly I need to stay prepared for the Dutch lessons I take and the English lessons I give, but there are is a writing deadlines coming at the beginning of October, so getting that post ready will take some careful organization of my time.

I'm also in the process of planning an apple picking trip. I took Little Man apple picking near Chicago two years ago, and he absolutely loved every minute of it. Apple picking is one of those things that I feel was part of a very "normal" American experience growing up that I'd like Little Man to share, even if it's not in a New England orchard. I've heard of a couple places in the Netherlands that have self-pick, so now it's a matter of determining the closest/easiest to reach place and picking a good date. Apple picking makes it feel more like autumn, so I'm hoping we can find a good place to make it happen.

And I'm starting to plan out an itinerary! We decided to go to Paris for a long weekend during Little Man's herstvakantie (fall vacation) in mid-October, and I want to make sure we've got some type of schedule to make good use of our time there. We already have our train tickets and hotel (near Notre Dame!), so now it's a matter of filling in the days.

At least all my deadlines are for fun things - that should make the work go faster, or at least feel more entertaining. Here's to the week!

05 September 2013

Not the best beer, but the coolest bottle

The Dick Bruna Huis and Nijntje/Miffy

I was looking for something special to do with the Little Man last weekend, and decided to take up a suggestion I received from Alison at A Flamingo in Utrecht to make a visit over to the Dick Bruna Huis, part of the Centraalmuseum in Utrecht and just a short walk from the Domkerk. The Dick Bruna Huis is a celebration and exploration of the artistic work of Utrecht native Dick Bruna, the most famous of which is Nijntje (or Miffy). The museum provides a great combination of activities for kids and adults, and  is a wonderful visual experience.

Dick Bruna Huis, Utrecht

Before talking about the museum itself, I feel it's worth providing a quick look into Dick Bruna's personal story and his development of Nijntje. Both are fascinating stories which the museum also shares with it's visitors. Bruna was born in 1927 to a very successful publisher who wished his son to follow in the family business. During the Second World War, the Bruna family went into hiding; and to pass the time, Dick Bruna started drawing and painting. As he developed his own style, he was increasingly influenced by Henri Matisse and the idea of using simple lines and bold colors. After the war, Bruna convinced his father he wasn't meant to work in publishing and instead began designing covers for his father's company.

It was while vacationing in 1955 that Bruna developed the story of Nijntje as he was making up bedtime stories for his son about a rabbit they had seen in the vacation home garden. After sketching the rabbit, Nijntje became a reality - the name "Nijntje" coming from the word konijntje (bunny). Since 1955, Bruna has written and illustrated over 30 Nijntje books that have been translated into 40 different languages - though outside of the Netherlands, Nijntje is known as "Miffy." In every story Nijntje is portrayed in a way that children can relate to, and her experiences cover a range of topics that children may encounter.

The Dick Bruna Huis is located in a building across the street from the main Centraalmuseum building, but tickets still must be purchased at the main building. And because I can never shut up about how much I love the Museumkaart, I'd like to point out that admission is free for card holders.

As soon as you walk into the Dick Bruna Huis, you can tell that the space is intended to be playful. A giant Nijntje greets you at the entrance, with little peepholes in the base for visitors to find a surprise (all G-rated, I promise).

Surprise! A Nijntje inside a Nijntje!

A book room displays Nijntje books all over the walls, and provides listening stations and display books for children to enjoy.

The reading room and listening stations

Next to the book room is a room describing the Bruna's life story and the development of his artwork, but Little Man saw the next playroom just beyond, so I can't tell you anything about it other than it exists. If you children have more patience, please check it out. The play room has Nijntje's house, building blocks, computer games, and Nijntje shows playing on little screens. Newly walking toddlers and kids up to about 10 can enjoy the features of the room at the same time.

A variety of Nijntje computer games for different ages

Display of characters used in the Nijntje stop-animation television shows

Above the play room, there is currently an exhibit called "Nijntje in the attic" featuring the work of Roland Sohier, which explores the similarities and differences of cartoon rabbits through modern history. The exhibit is complete with more play areas, and dioramas for a "Where's Nijnte?" game (think a 3D Where's Waldo type of activity).

Where's the real Nijntje?

Let's be honest, this kind of potty humor really is funny.

Shiny! Can you find her?

And what kind of children's museum would be complete
without a slide?

When visiting the museum during the atelier's opening times, it's worth venturing upstairs to get to put together some giant puzzles and make some Nijntje crafts. If nothing else, take a look at the guest artwork on display - some of the creativity of new "stories" for Nijntje are just as interesting as the originals.


Guests' artwork on display
Little Man at work

While relatively small in space, it's very easy to spend hours in the Dick Bruna Huis. It's "meant" for children, but adults can appreciate the history of Nijntje and Dick Bruna's love and respect for children. And with that, I'll leave you to consider this message from the creator of Nijntje himself:

"Take children seriously. Be as honest with them as they are with you." - Dick Bruna

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