28 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from NL

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a normal, grey November day here in the Netherlands. For everyone around us, it is a regular, nothing-special day, which is a bit weird. At school there have been no hand-turkeys up on the walls, no paper pilgrim hats, no cornucopias overflowing with veggies - rather, the build up to the arrival of Sinterklaas has been oozing out of every classroom and storefront. Yesterday, there was no madness of the highway or airport on the way to our Thanksgiving destination - since this is the second Thanksgiving that we will not be celebrating with our families. What's even weirder is that I nearly forgot Thanksgiving was happening. I guess without the "regular" visual cues it was a lot easier to have it slip my mind. 

And yet, even with this strange disconnect from everything I think of at Thanksgiving, I have much to give thanks for:
  • We will be able to Skype with our families today and share the holiday that way. 
  • We may be missing the holiday in America, but we have the opportunity to live abroad and experience so many wonderful things because of our move: learning a new language, experiencing life from a different culture, traveling Europe relatively cheaply, and I could go on.
  • We have made wonderful friends that we could only have met as our paths crossed in the Netherlands.
  • We will still get to celebrate the day, and we will do so with friends, and we will still stuff ourselves silly.
  • We have each other and get to share this crazy expat experience together. 
  • And this is just the tip, there are so many other blessings we have on a daily basis.

If you're an American in the US or abroad today, I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, however and whenever you decide celebrate it. If you're not an American, I hope you enjoy your day anyway, and highly recommend trying out some stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy - you'll thank me later. 

How are you celebrating Thanksgiving, either at home or abroad?

27 November 2013

A Bit of New Business at Life in Dutch

Typically, I like to talk about my plans for the week on Mondays when I join up with the Monday Coffee Morning Social hosted by Molly at The Move to America. I didn't link up this week since I wanted to get the Malta post up, so I thought I'd share a bit of the plans for next week here on Life in Dutch.

Sinterklaas will be dropping by our house next Thursday night, providing that everyone has behaved themselves. This afternoon we are attending a special visit by Sinterklaas at Tilburg University, and of course, there are constant reminders that the day is coming. In short, you can expect to see some Sinterklaas related posts in the next few days. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about or who this fellow is, you can read up on our experiences last year with Sinterklaas here and here.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America, but our feasting is postponed until Sunday when we get together with some friends to celebrate the holiday. I'm looking forward to some bread stuffing and, in lieu of turkey, trying goose for the first time! I'll share some insights into our Expat Thanksgiving next week.

I know I said I was going to get my Food in Dutch series up at the end of November, but I managed to forget about Thanksgiving when I first said that. So, officially, the first post in the Food in Dutch series will go live on Tuesday 3 December. Really, I promise. There's a date involved now, so I'm sticking to it. The series will be a total of 6 posts with information about the dish, the recipe and method, and how it turned out. And you can decide whether or not you want to include the dish into your Christmas or New Year's menu.

In the mean time, we're trying to stay rested during the excitement of the next week. We've had a cough we just can't get rid of, so we're trying to stay relaxed while we can. The cats are doing a pretty good job of this, and I'm a little jealous of their ability to fall asleep anywhere.

Do you have big plans for this week? Are you making an American Expat Thanksgiving or gearing up for Sinterklaas?

25 November 2013

Moms' Getaway in Malta

My friend Farrah and I made a moms' getaway to Malta two weekends ago - and let me tell you, it was quite the adventure! I've been waiting to get this post up, but I'm really excited to share this because Malta really is a wonderful place to visit.

The adventure started with our RyanAir flight from Eindhoven that didn't actually happen. The weather was so foggy that the plane we were supposed to board couldn't land and was diverted to another airport in Germany. The whole flight was bussed to Germany (entirely along back roads) and flew out from there. Unfortunately, we lost half a day in Malta because of the delays, so we really packed a lot into the time that we did have during our stay.

Our official tour of the country started with the Island of Gozo, the second largest of the Maltese islands. We intended to take the ferry from Malta to Gozo, and were told that the best way to get to the ferry was a bus. As it turned out, it was the free day to take the ferry (including cars) and the traffic backup was terrible. After a bus ride that took at least twice as long as it should have, we actually got off the bus and walked about a mile to get to the ferry.

Part of our walk from the bus to the ferry included this
very rocky path down a hill. And so the adventure began.

And that ferry was packed - people really took advantage of saving the 5 euros for the round trip ticket. It was a little crazy. But thankfully, the ferry ride itself was uneventful and the beautiful sunny day gave us plenty of opptorunities to take pictures.

The Gozo ferry, a view of the harbour of Gozo, boats in the harbour

We decided to use the hop-on-hop-off tourist buses to get around the island since they stop at all the major sites. The roads of Gozo are mostly old and skinny, so there are only a few places that the buses can drive, but they do make it to the places people want to see. First on our list had been Calypso's cave, where Calypso is supposed to have held Odysseus as her prisoner guest that couldn't leave for 7 years (see Homer's The Odyssey), but we didn't realize the bus didn't automatically stop at each location (confusing since there are no call buttons for the stops, either - just walking around while grabbing onto seats/people for support until the driver notices), so we missed this stop. But since we did figure out the system, we were about to visit the two other sites on our list: the Ta' Pinu Basilica and the Azure Window and Fungus Rock.

The countryside of Gozo, taken from the hop-on-hop-off bus.

The Ta' Pinu Basilica has an interesting reputation as a miracle church. The first recorded miracle occurred in 1585 when the original chapel on the site was slated for demolition. When the first workman swung his tool to begin he broke his arm, and this was taken as a sign from God that the chapel should be preserved. However, the miracle that really solidified the church's reputation happened in 1883 when Karmela Grima heard a woman's voice tell her to visit the church while she was walking past. The voice told her that she should go in because she would soon be unable to attend for another year. After going in and reciting her prayers, Karmela Grima went home and fell ill, unable to leave her bed for the next year. Since then, many people make a sort of pilgrimage to the church to pray for miracles. As the years have passed, grateful recipients of the miracles send evidence of their answered prayers. There are rooms off of the sacristy filled with pictures, newspaper clippings, casts and other medical devices, baby clothes, and more to testify to the blessings people received after praying in the church. The show of people's faith is humbling and inspiring.

Left: The Chapel of Our Lady, Top to Bottom: The sacristy, evidence of miracles from thankful recipients, the Basilica as viewed from the outside.

Our final Gozo stop was the Azure Window and Fungus Rock, two amazing natural formations created by the erosion of the island's limestone. The Azure Window is especially beautiful - the rock gives a view of the clear blue ocean and the sky, and another section of the island - we visited toward sunset and the sun made the rock glow. You can also climb on top of the formation, and get a further view of the surrounding natural beauty, and if you look closely at the rock you're standing on, you can see succulents growing and bits of fossils sticking out of the limestone. The Azure Window is expected to erode completely in the next few years (a sizable piece already fell off in 2012), and I am grateful to have seen it myself.

The Azure Window

Top: Succulents growing on top of the Azure Window, Fossil in the limestone
Middle: View from on top of the Azure Window
Bottom: Porous limestone, Pools in the limestone

Fungus Rock

On our way back to the ferry, we encountered more traffic, and again jumped off the bus and walked about a mile to get to the ferry, which was again packed to capacity. At least there was a beautiful full moon over the water that was nice to look at.

The full moon, and the Gozo ferry in the opposite direction.

The Gozo ferry takes about half an hour to cross from Cirkewwa on Malta to Mgarr on Gozo. The #41 or #42 buses from the main bus terminal in Valletta bring you directly to the ferry dock at Cirkewwa. On the island, we used the Sightseeing Gozo Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus which was very easy (just make sure to pay attention to the company's timetables).

On Monday, we spent the day exploring the capital city of Valletta, starting with a harbour tour of Valletta (included in our tickets for the Gozo Hop-On-Hop-Off bus). Malta has a rich and fascinating history; because of it's prime location in the Medditeranean it has been fought over throughout the centuries. The Valletta harbour tour shows you the prime major points of the harbours and provides rather extensive historical background.

Valletta viewed from the harbour. The Dome of the Carmelite Church is a prominent part of the skyline.

Left: Watchtower on the Valletta wall
Top: Dome of the Carmalite Church; One of many buildings erected by the Knights of St. John.
Bottom: The hospital built by the Knights of St. John; The Maltese Cross - taken from the Knights of St. John

Fort St. Elmo, built 1488
Left: Hospital used by the British Navy
Middle Left: Siege Bell given to Malta by Great Britain after World War II; Colorful buildings along Cruise ship dock
Middle Right: Cruise Ship docked for repairs; Colorful Maltese boats; Maltese home with enclosed wooden balcony
Right: Harbour watchtower - the carved ears and eyes were to remind the watchman of his duties

One thing that we were disappointed to learn about Malta is that the buses that had been in use since the 1930s had all been retired. These unique buses were something that our pre-trip research kept turning up, but we wouldn't get to experience riding one. But we did get to step onto one, which has been re-purposed as a tourist trap gift shop.

One of the famous Maltese buses - now a tourist gift shop

After grabbing lunch and doing a bit of shopping, we headed back to downtown Valletta to visit the St. John's Co-Cathedral, a cathedral built in 1577 by the Knights of St. John during their control of the Maltese islands. The Cathedral is very plain on the outside, and had remained plain also on the inside until the Knights were inspired to take up the Baroque style on the interior. The carvings and paintings of the church's interior are fascinating - I can only describe it as an explosion of color that strikes you as soon as you walk in the doors. Entry is 6 euro for adults, and a free audio guide is available in several different languages that provides wonderful insights into the building, the individual chapels, as well as relics and other objects housed in the church.

After the Cathedral, we went to a nearby cafe to enjoy some wine and Maltese dishes. After finishing a bottle of wine, we heard what sounded like a marching band coming down the street, and looked up to see a giant chicken walking toward us. And by giant chicken, I mean a 12 foot tall chicken. Thinking that we needed photographic evidence to prove it wasn't just the wine, Farrah went to snap a couple of pictures. While I was watching by the table in amusement, a priest walking toward me looked at me and laughed, "Don't ask me what it is, I have no idea." "Father," I replied, I'm glad to hear you say that. My friend and I have been enjoying some wine here together, and we we're sure that it was real. But if you also see it and have just as good of a sense of humor about it, then I'm sure it's real." The priest (thankfully) laughed again and said, "Oh, yes, it is real. Bless you, child. Enjoy the rest of your vacation."

Yes, there was wine involved, but we really did see a giant chicken. A priest told me it was real.

We finished up our meal at the cafe and headed back to the hotel. We had an early flight back on Tuesday morning, so we got to bed early. For just two days, we managed to see a lot of Malta, but there is even more to do. If you have the opportunity, I recommend making a visit because it's a really enjoyable time. Who knows, maybe you'll also be lucky enough to see a giant chicken.

21 November 2013

Another Malteaser

It might seem like I forgot about the blog, but really, I didn't!

I made it back from Malta on Tuesday. The weather had been gorgeous in Malta and we had a lot of fun that I'm excited to share, but it will take a few days before I get a proper post up about the trip. I came home to a sick Little Man that stayed home from school on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, plus all the other daily things, so I really hit the ground running as soon as I got home.

Little Man is better today and back at school, so I'm catching up on some things around the house. I really will get a real post about Malta up soon, but to hold you over until then you can check out the first Malteaser and the following surprise that is the St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta.

Totally plain and unassuming exterior

Total Baroque-explosion on the interior

18 November 2013

A Malteaser

Here's a little teaser photo from the Azure Window on the Island of Gozo yesterday. And yes, I did climb on top of it.

16 November 2013

Malta, Here We Come!

The beginning of November has proven a bit busier than I expected. As such, there will be a brief break here for the next few days as my friend Farrah and I make our way to Malta for a long weekend starting today. There's a chance I'll put up a few "Malteasers" (see what I did there?) while we're there, but otherwise I hope to have something back up on Wednesday.

If you're interested in following our exploits on Twitter, we'll be using the hastag #luxmomsgetaway since we'll be staying in the very nice Hotel Pheonicia (this is where Queen Elizabeth held a reception the last time she was on Malta).

Enjoy your weekend!

13 November 2013

The Difference a Day and a Half Makes

The Little Man has officially been in school since Monday. He spent all day on Monday and a half day on Tuesday (it was a studiedag) completely surrounded by the Dutch language. And let me tell you - there is a huge difference made in just a day and a half.

I'll admit, I was a bit nervous on his behalf on Monday morning. From now on, all day every weekday he will be in a sink or swim situation as far as learning Dutch. I know that kid's ability to pick up another language is better than an adult's, but even so I worried that the peuterspeelzaal could only do so much to prepare him, (he was only there 2-3 hours four times a week) and I could do even less since I'm still learning myself. I haven't truly been sure as to what he could do in Dutch since he is often reluctant to speak Dutch with me; but at the same time I often wondered how far along he was with the language, especially when he would insist, "Mama, at thuis, I speak Engels." (Mama, at home, I speak English.) Or, "Mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed. Ik spreek alleen een kleine beetje Nederlands." (My Dutch isn't very good. I only speak a tiny bit of Dutch.) Yeah... sure you do, kid.

But, despite my concern of sink or swim, he's in it now - and he seems to be swimming. It might just be the dog paddle at this stage, but it's certainly better than nothing. His teachers have both said that he's a bit shy (which we knew) which makes finding out what he already knows a bit difficult, but they feel he'll soon settle in, learn the rules, and start speaking Dutch more freely.

And already, after just a day and a half, I have seen the difference. Both days, Little Man was sprinkling his English conversation with me with far more Dutch nouns and verbs than normal - and I heard his dinosaurs speaking Dutch to each other during some of his solo play.

Some of our Dutch dinos.

There's still quite a bit for him to learn, but it's coming. I'm relieved, and thankful. And amazed at what a kid can accomplish in just a day and a half.

Do you have an unexpected experience with language learning (or learning in general)?

11 November 2013

Monday Coffee, Cleaning Frenzy, and the Countdown

Another Monday is upon us, and I'm joining up with Molly at The Move to America to reflect on last week and prepare for the week to come!

The Move to America

Most of last week was one big party in our house. Officially, the Little Man has moved out of "toddlerhood" and into being a "little (big) boy." We celebrated his fourth birthday last week as a family and with some great friends, we had fun doing birthday Skype calls with family, and he is fully enrolled as a kleuter (child of 4 to 6 years old) in school. And to round it all off, he even got to use his first train ticket as a 4 year old. It was a week of fun and milestones!

Blowing out the 4 birthday candles

From now on, Little Man is at school all day during the week. And that means that the projects I've been putting off or just unable to start/finish are on my to-do list. Mostly, this means that a tornado of cleaning will commence shortly. There's still papers and documents to organize, rooms that need neatening up, and things that have never found their place in the house - and now is the time that this is going to change. I'm feeling rather motivated at this point, so we'll have to see how long this enthusiasm lasts.

What's very exciting for me this week is the countdown. My friend Farrah at The Three Under and I have a mamas' long weekend getaway in Malta starting on Saturday! I am stoked. This will be the first time for both of us in Malta and the exploration and relaxation is going to be fantastic, and the warmer weather won't hurt anything, either. Just 5 more days!

What are you planning for this week?

10 November 2013

The First Train Ticket

Now that Little Man is officially four years old, he's required to have a ticket for the trains. Today is our first trip by train since his birthday, and he is very happy to be a big boy with his own ticket. It's one of the perks of turning four years old. 

07 November 2013

Happy Birthday, Little Man

Today, Little Man turns four years old.

At times it's hard to believe that this little bundle:

Just a few hours old (November 7, 2009)

Developed into this rolly-poly baby, just as curious as the cat:

Checking the beads with Sebastian (May 2010)

Then grew into this energetic toddler (and kept growing as an energetic toddler):

Post-1st birthday cupcake (November 7, 2010)

First pumpkin-picking (October 2011)

First demonstration of his parkour abilities (September 2012)

And then became this smart, funny, smart alecky, even more energetic little boy:

4th birthday morning (November 7, 2013)

Every day is a new adventure, and full of wonder for all of us. And there's so much more in store.

Happy birthday, Little Man!

05 November 2013

Winter is Here

During some point during the night, winter came to the south of the Netherlands. It was cold and rainy when I brought the Little Man to school this morning, and I spent the whole day indoors doing things around the house. Once I went to fetch him at the end of the day, it was just as cold and still rainy, and I felt good about my decision to stay inside.

The other day we realized that it was time to start putting the winter coat on the Little Man when we go for a bike ride (for the record, I also put the disclaimer that the child also had a hat, it just wasn't pictured). Now I realize that we need to start including mittens for Little Man, and probably a hat and gloves for me, too.

I'll offer my last proof that winter has come. The temperature in the house dropped below 12 C/64 F today, so I broke down and turned on the heat downstairs. The cats thanked me for the kind gesture and spent a good while cuddled up on the heater.

While I'm definitely not a fan of the cold, winter's arrival does mean some good things are about the come. Sinterklaas will be arriving in a month's time, and Christmas will be here soon after that. AND since Thanksgiving doesn't happen in the Netherlands, no one will call me crazy for starting the Christmas music now... well, except maybe Mark.

So folks, embrace that winter is upon us - just remember to bundle up. It's cold out there.

04 November 2013

Monday Coffee, the Birthday, and a bit of Doing

Monday is upon us again, and this week we're really gearing up for a lot of activity to come. As usual, I'm joining up with Molly at The Move to America to reflect on last week and prepare for this week.

The Move to America

Last week I wanted to get more cooking done, and I've been doing pretty well working through the Dutch food series to come. I'm really excited about sharing it - just a few more recipes to try and posts to write up, and I'll be ready to go for the end of the month. We do a lot of cooking at home anyways, but we've fallen into a bit of a rut lately doing the same types of meals every week. Working on this series not only gave us something new to try, but has helped us think outside of our normal meal patterns, which is good for all of us.

Over the weekend, Little Man joined a Halloween lampion (lantern) parade at our local winkelcentrum (shopping plaza). Since Halloween isn't really a thing here in the Netherlands, no one cares that it happened 2 days after Halloween or that half of the kids in the parade weren't in costume. Little Man went as a spider and got to sample suikerspin (cotton candy) for the first time (happily for us, he didn't really like the suikerspin).


Checking out the lantern

Still processing the impression of the first bite.

The big event coming this week is the Little Man's birthday. He would like to remind everyone that it's just 3 more bedtimes until he turns four. We'll celebrate and home and with a few friends, and we'll celebrate at school with his peuterspeelzaal on his last day in class. And since he will become officially a kleuter (a child between 4 and 6 years old) he will start full time at "big school" next Monday. Not only is he excited about his birthday, he's ready to be in school full time. He really loves his new class and you can tell he's disappointed that he has to keep going to the peuterspeelzaal. He's experienced being a "big kid" and he doesn't want to go back.

Just 3 more bedtimes...

For me, the week will involve baking something tasty for the Little Man's birthday. I was hoping to do cupcakes, but after a disastrous attempt at making muffins in the devil appliance convection oven, I think I'd better stick with a full sized cake. For some unknown reason, the smaller items take as long as a full sized item, and I just don't have the patience for that kind of nonsense.

When we're not celebrating, I'm hoping to get more work done on some crocheting projects. I'm currently finishing up a dinosaur for Little Man and I made up my own pattern for a donkey that I'm making for SJ at Chasing the Donkey. I've run into a few snags with the donkey and been readjusting the pattern as I go - but SJ, I promise that it's coming! And, of course, there will be pictures here.

Here's to your week and getting through your goals!

01 November 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair

It's IKEA Vrijdag again! If you're suffering from a post-Halloween candy coma and don't want to move very far, then I have a perfect IKEA product for you to consider today: The Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair.

Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair

When we were buying the furniture for the house, we wanted to have a "grownup" chair in Little Man's bedroom for story time or late-night "visits" because the Kritter Kinderstoelen/Children's Chairs were just not going to cut it for our adult-sized rear ends for those purposes. As much as I liked the idea of an easy chair, we also knew that we wouldn't need to have a chair in his room much longer as he gets older, so we opted for the simpler Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair instead.

In the maze that is the IKEA showroom, this item is located in the kitchen tables and chairs section. The Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair is made of solid beech wood and colored with stain and acrylic lacquer. We chose red to go along with the rest of the primary color furniture and decor in Little Man's room, but the chair is also available in white, black, or beech colors (beech is available in the UK and Europe, but not in North America). To clean, you can use a mild soap and water and wipe dry afterwards. We've needed to clean the chair once, and that was enough. The chair is comfortable enough for shorter sitting periods, but it is just a folding chair. If you require a lot of back support, you may want to consider another chair if only because the back of the chair is high and skinny.

The best part about the chair is that there is no assembly required. All the bits are put together, so all you do is take it home and open it up.

The chair is of decent quality, but it will likely make creaking sounds every time you sit on it until the wood "wears" enough. If you're considering this for your kitchen, I do have two warnings for you:

1. The back of the chair is rather high up, if you have young toddlers or sitting babies, don't sit them on the chair alone as they're likely to fall right off the back of the chair. See my demonstration with the Cabbage Patch Kid doll, below.

It would be easy for a toddler to slip right off.
No dolls were harmed during this demonstration.

If you are vertically challenged like me and tend to stand on kitchen chairs daily to get around the kitchen, be very careful standing on this chair. The slats are thin and will visibly bend when standing on the chair. It hasn't broken yet (I see the bend a lot because I can't seem to follow my own advice), but you should consider this before climbing all over the house with this chair as your step ladder. Perhaps a chair cushion would alleviate this, but I have no plans to stick on one.

We give the Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair 4 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. I have deducted 1 meatball for the constant fear of breaking the slats on the seat while I'm using the chair to reach something, but overall I am satisfied with the product.

Life in Dutch Rating for Terje Klapstoel/Folding Chair:

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