05 December 2014

He's Ba-aack. Sinterklaas 2014

Well, here in NL, tonight is THE night. Sinterklaas has been hanging around the Netherlands for 3 weeks, but tonight he and the Pieten leave the goodies for the kids in/by their shoes for Pakjesavond.

This is our third year with the skinny man in the tall red miter and I have to say that this year is the first year I think I've truly understood the extent of his reach, which is so much bigger and stronger than Santa Claus in the States. I know that some Americans may scoff at that idea when store Christmas displays have started creeping into view around Halloween, but I'm not exaggerating - Santa has nothing on Sint.

Firstly, Sinterklaas is for everyone. It doesn't matter what religion your family follows - Sinterklaas comes for every child in the Netherlands. While the feast day of Saint Nicolas certainly has it's roots in the Christian church's calendar, the way the day is recognized and celebrated has gone under a significant transformation into a very secular holiday. Because the focus is on the kids and family time there is no tension (that I've seen) from religious differences.

Sinterklaas' arrival in Tilburg 2014

And since he comes for everyone, the whole country seems to go nuts with the Sinterklaas season. Officially, it begins with the intocht - Sinterklaas' arrival by steamboat in the Netherlands - in mid November. He's met with great pomp, and the arrival is televised nationally, followed the next day by his intocht into the other cities and villages. He rides upon is brilliant white horse, accompanied by all the Pieten.

And then the craziness really starts to ramp up. The Sinterklaasjournaal is the daily children's "news" show, keeping the kids updated on Sint and the Pieten's preparations for Pakjesavond,and as far as I can tell, every kid watches it. Pieten come to the schools during the build up to December 5th, showering children with pepernoten where ever they go. And Sinterklaas himself makes appearances at special occasions (we got to see him at the University a week ago) and finally at the schools on the morning of December 5th. It really feels like everyone is in it, and there's no escape, particularly when you have a school-aged child.

Our homemade pepernoten. Typically round, Little Man decided to make
pepernoten snakes. Yes, we're fully aware of what they resemble...

But for all the intensity of the build-up, I will say, it's amazing how every child is involved. No one is left out. And while there's certainly plenty of controversy in the holiday, it is nice to feel the inclusiveness for all the kids.

If Sinterklaas is making his way to your home tonight, enjoy the evening. And if you live outside of NL, enjoy the day anyway.

26 November 2014

Good Gravy! Thanksgiving 2014

Today, many of our friends and loved ones are traveling or at home preparing for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, so it seems fitting to do our annual bit about Thanksgiving in the Netherlands.

I love American styled holidays. Because FOOD. And we Americans certainly know how to celebrate with food from the end of November through the end of the year. Thanksgiving in particular is THE holiday for food, and it's one that's hard to replace in Europe. But we've managed to do a rather decent job of it the last few years, and this year is looking to be one of the best abroad yet.

In years past we've used turkey breasts and a whole goose as the meal's centerpiece (both delicious, by the way) - but this year our friend scored an actual whole turkey! I've just about perfected baking with pumpkin chucks, so pumpkin pie is on the menu. Another guest found orange sweet potatoes rather than white - which is sometimes harder to do than you would think. And this year I'll be re-attempting cranberry sauce from whole, fresh cranberries - the process for which I have no expectations because it really could go either way... The meal is looking like it's going to turn out great, which is increasing my excitement for our celebration this Saturday.

While the food has had me salivating at the thought for the last two weeks, really, the best part will be the company and sharing with friends. I don't think I can overstate how fortunate we've been to find good friends that we can share these special holidays with. And when you get down to it, the food helps bring a sense of home, but it's the people you share it with that make the holiday what it is.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

22 November 2014

Dutched Up: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

I've had the pleasure to get to know some other bloggers on the interwebs, and I've connected up with quite a few based here in the Netherlands. In the process of getting connected, a collaboration began to get stories from all these bloggers into an anthology and get it out to the world. And now it's here!

Dutched Up: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style is a compilation of the experiences of expat women living all over the Netherlands. There's a little bit of everything in here, giving you a glimpse into every aspect of expat life. Whether you're thinking about moving to the Netherlands, have lived in the Netherlands, or are considering visiting the Netherlands, this book has some great stuff in it. I'm honored be among these fabulous writers. 

You can purchase Dutched Up here at Amazon.com or here at (the recently launched) Amazon.nl.

Dutched Up is also available here at iTunes books.

The fabulous contributing authors:

The European Mama – Olga Mecking

The Nomad Mom Diary – Lynn Morrison

Stuff Dutch People Like – Colleen Geske

Finding Dutchland – Rina Mae Acosta

The Three Under – Farrah Ritter

Neamhspleachas – Molly Quell

Currystrumpet – Deepa Paul

George With Ears – Zoe Lewis

Dutch Australian – Reneé Veldman-Tentori

Expat Life With A Double Buggy – Amanda van Mulligen

MissNeriss – Nerissa Muijs

2 Little Monkeys in Breda – Rosalind Van Aalen

Olympic Wanderings – Caitlyn O’Dowd

Smart Tinker – Lana Kristine Jelenjev

Expat Since Birth – Ute Limacher-Riebold

Life In Dutch – Aislinn Callahan-Brandt

The Non-Hip Hippies - Alexia Martha Symvoulidou

Naturally Global - Katherine Strous

Amayzmom – Shivangi Tiwari

Naija Expat In Holland - Tamkara Adun

Amber Rahim – Amber Rahim

Amsterdam Mama – Catina Tanner

Like A Sponge – Marianne Orchard

The Tini Times – Damini Purkayastha

Bardsleyland - Donna Stovall Bardsley

Foodlovas – Kerry Dankers

Social Fusion Amsterdam – Iulia Modi Agterhuis

12 November 2014

Life with a 5 Year Old

In the Season of Crazy, we have made it through the first event. Little Man is officially 5 years old (a whole hand old!) and we have fully celebrated with friends that feel like family and friends from school - though "Happy Birthday to You" is still being hummed around the house and will be for the foreseeable future.

It feels a bit strange to think that Little Man is already 5 years old. Five years is simultaneously not all that much time and a very long time. So what do you do when your kid turns 5 years old?

  • Marvel that you've all made it this far.
  • Contemplate the difference between that 7 pound little baby you rarely put down, this big kid that can now touch your shoulders, and all the changes that happened in between. 
  • Realize that you now know more information about dinosaurs and dragons that you would have ever guessed... or voluntarily learned.
  • Laugh at the most unexpectedly profound and/or hilarious things that come out of a 5 year old's mouth - especially when the phrase "when I was a kid" is used.
  • Find yourself totally amazed at the new physical abilities and intellectual developments happening in front of your very eyes every day.
  • Wonder how it is that this kid makes you feel so. old. and. tired. while also making you feel so young and playful.
  • Cherish all the moments of babyhood, toddlerhood, and little-kid-hood that seemed to pass so quickly.
  • Look forward to another year of amazing milestones and development.

Happy birthday, Little Man!

03 November 2014

The Season of Crazy

November is upon us, and while it's already been warmer than expected, the odd weather seems to be an appropriate beginning to the insanity generally swept in by November.


For the last five years, November ushers in what I can only describe as the Crazy Season. We have (what feels like) non-stop activity that begins with the Little Man's birthday. This Friday our Little Man turns five - perhaps he's not so little anymore - and the fever pitch is building. Our count-down is on the door in the living room, and he's been happily removing the next page every morning. He doesn't know what he'll be receiving for his birthday, but he knows that there will be gifts, baked goods, and decorations, which is good enough for him at the moment.

The birthday hype leads into Thanksgiving. We don't celebrate on the actual Thanksgiving day, but this year we're pretty close, celebrating on the Saturday afterwards. The idea of a delicious food coma induced by bread stuffing and pumpkin pie is almost as good as the food coma itself - I'm having a hard time staying awake just thinking about it; but knowing that we've found some good friends to celebrate with over the last few years has made our Thanksgivings away from home enjoyable.

Thanksgiving is quickly followed by the arrival of Sinterklaas. This will be our third Sinterklaas experience - and the excitement surely has not worn off for the Little Man. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is not just the held on 6 December - there is a huge building to the gift day, starting with his arrival from Spain (the intoch), happening on 15 November this year, and he continues to make appearances around the country until he delivers the gifts on 6 December. The morning children's television has been ramping up the toy ads, which is why I can sing the Pillow Pets jingle by heart and Little Man talks about how ALL THE THINGS are so cool to get from Sinterklaas. Every Dutch parent knows the excitement and stress fueled by the dude in red, and somehow we all make it through.

Once Sint has retired back to Spain for the rest of the year, we move toward Christmas. This will be our first Christmas in the Netherlands, but we won't just be staying put in the house. We've already got plans for day trips to some Christmas markets in NL and Germany, and we'll be expecting some guests as well.

And for the first year, we'll experience New Year's Eve in the Netherlands, which I understand will likely be filled with an insane amount of fireworks as it's the one day a year they are legal in the country. In years past, we've returned home to find the streets littered with what I can only describe as a "disturbing" number of empty cartidges, and I can only hope that it's not on a higher level than the illegal neighborhood idiot fireworks on the 4th of July in Chicago.

So there you have it. We have entered into the Season of Crazy, which will also be dotted with occasional decorative changes in the house - as I remember. I hope to see you on the other side in one piece.

When does your "Season of Crazy" take place? Is it crazier if you live abroad?

Did you know we're on Facebook? Come follow us through the Season of Crazy!

11 October 2014

#SundayTraveler: The Canals of Haarlem

Fall just recently crept up on us, but we were enjoying a nice long summer which let us get out easily on the weekends. During the lovely weather, a friend of ours invited us to meet him in Haarlem to rent a little boat and cruise along the canals for the afternoon.

Not our boat, but some lovely buildings along the canal with a view of the Grotekerk in the distance.

Haarlem is a wonderful city with a rich history. We've visited the city a few times before, each time just enjoying the atmosphere and architecture as we walked around. What we didn't really think about until now is that with all the canals around the city, it's easy to rent a small boat and cruise around, getting some great views of the city and some of the gorgeous landscape as you leave the city at head into the more suburban areas. A quick Google search will help you find the best option for you, but our friend made arrangements based on his own experience and the availability (read as: I didn't pay attention, but believe me that there are plenty of options). The rental company provided a boat, a quick explanation of how to operate the motor, a life jacket for the Little Man (complete with "emergency whistle" - which was used several times despite the lack of emergencies), and a map, though we mainly used the miracle of GPS programs installed on mobile phones to keep track of where we were going. We provided the drinks and snacks and were off for a leisurely cruise. 

Since we've walked through Haarlem before, I found afterward that most of the pictures I took were of the amazing natural space that surrounds the canals as you head out of the city. Beautiful houseboats, amazing canal side homes, quaint old windmills, and lots of green space line the canals. If tulips had been in bloom, it would be exactly as most tourists imagine Holland to look like. 

This type of weekend ride is a relaxing activity, and with good weather on your side, you can be quite comfortable.

When booking your boat rental, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • With a lot of canals, rental agencies are located all over the city. You have a lot of options, but there's no single location to go to
  • If you visit during peak tourist/vacation season you need to book in advance and will likely pay higher rates
  • Check that life jackets are available for the kids and adults that may need one
  • The canals can get busy, so keep your wits about you and look out for other vessels

Today's post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up hosted by Chasing the Donkey and friends. Please be sure to check out the other interesting travel posts! I'm happy to be participating again after a hectic summer!

06 October 2014

Dutch Walls

Normally, I try not to complain about things that are different about living in the Netherlands from my experience as an American. Most of the time it would be petty and not very constructive, so I try to let differences roll off my back and take them for what they are. But then again, there are some that are just downright confusing for me.

The latest thing to confuse me has been the walls. Now sure, that sounds stupid - a wall is a wall and I'm not stuck in some giant rat maze - but I'll explain.

When we first moved into our new place, we marveled at how quiet the apartment is. We live on a very busy road in Tilburg, but when the doors and windows are closed, you hardly hear anything go by except for an emergency vehicle with a siren. We don't hear our neighbors next to us or above or below us. Everything is well insulated. So far it sounds great, and it is. My confusion developed during the first attempt to put something ON the wall.

I'm not super-handy, but I know how to use a hammer and a drill. In our last place, the walls were tough, but you could hang a picture using a regular drill, a little brace, and a screw; and I had been pretty successful getting everything set up. So imagine my surprise when I tried using the drill and didn't make a mark deeper than what I might have done with a toothpick.

I made a call for help through Facebook, and learned that not only are most Dutch walls made of heavy-duty cement, but most people own a concrete rated drill for regular home use. And the other foreigners were just as dumbfounded by the walls as I was. Command strips wouldn't work because all the walls have a stucco-ish texture on them, so we were going to have to find a drill solution to get anything up.

We borrowed a concrete drill from a friend and got to work. At first, things did not go well. We tired to install a cheapo IKEA light to the ceiling in Little Man's room and even with the concrete drill, it was almost impossible. We were reluctant to try again, but we also didn't want to live with all these pictures sitting on the floor forever. It turns out that with the proper equipment, the job is easier to do (you're welcome for that earth-shattering realization). We got several pictures up and the place started to look truly lived in and not just occupied by squatters with an IKEA fetish.

Ta-da! Things look normal!

Initially, we planned to surround that cute little rectangular window with our pictures. Then as we started under the window, we somehow melted the drill bit. Maybe it was rebar, or maybe it was a different harder cement. Either way, it scared us enough into calling it "good enough" for the living room and looking into a replacement drill bit to hang the curtains I made for Little Man's room.

Go ahead and marvel at my DIY skills - just don't look at the seams. And stop trying to stare at the neighbors.

In the process of all this fun we discovered that the interior walls (that we're connecting to the outside or to a neighbor's unit) were mostly like good ol' American dry wall. In particular, this means that the water closet (a.k.a. the toilet room) is now covered with pictures we couldn't hang elsewhere.

Hang all the things!

Now that everything is hung, it will stay put. I appreciate the insulation, but I really hope we don't have to deal with the cement walls again - at least not without a spare set of drill bits handy.

29 September 2014

The Lunch Pause

When we moved to our new neighborhood, Little Man started at a new school. We're very happy with the new school, and already in the last few weeks, we've seen him start to come out of his shell in a totally new way. It's been so positive in the month that school has been in session, it's crazy to think we nearly missed out on this great learning environment.

I liked everything about the school from the first visit. The staff and teachers were friendly, the students were happy, the school's population was diverse, the achievement scores were good - everything was looking wonderful. But our final decision was held up by one factor: the lunch pause.

The lunch pause is when the kids eat lunch (obviously), but traditionally, a Dutch basisschool would send all the kids home to eat their lunch. Many schools have opted for in-school lunch time overseen by parent volunteers in recent years, but some schools continue to use the more traditional schedule. At our new school, that makes the day run a bit later than other schools due to the built-in travel and eating time for the kids that head home for lunch. And what about the kids whose parents are working? For a small fee your kids can overblijven (stay over) during the lunch pause under adult supervision. You send them with their own lunch, they'll eat it (or not), and get some extra outside play before heading back to class.

When it came time for us to choose a new school, I hemmed and hawed over the final decision because of the lunch pause. I didn't want to limit my availability for my potential English students or have to pay for overblijven, but I really liked the school and I was afraid that the second choice school wasn't going to be a good fit for Little Man. In the end, we went for what felt a better fit and decided on overblijven two days a week to give me some continuous days to work with. And as it turns out, the days Little Man does lunch pause at home have given us time start getting into chapter books together with the bit of extra time after eating.

It was the best choice for us to make. We were right about the school being a good fit for Little Man, and we're starting to see him develop in such an amazing way in a truly nurturing environment. I'm so glad we didn't miss out on this school just because of my reluctance over the lunch pause.

Have you ever done lunch pause with your kids? Or do you have experience with a "different" school schedule?

16 September 2014

The Importance of Baked Goods

One of the perks of moving to a new place was that we needed to buy a stove. At first glance, this looks more like an expense than a perk, but I can guarantee you that this has already been money well spent.

A few times in the past I mentioned my experiences with the devil appliance - the combination convection oven and microwave. For someone that likes to bake things and making casserole-ish type meals, more often than not this meant burns on the outside while underdone on the inside. I figured out a few things that I could make while working around the oven's quirks, but favorite meals and treats were missing.

When we moved into the new place, we had to buy a stove and a refrigerator for ourselves, and now we have a proper oven again. Which means that in a few short weeks I'll need to start rolling myself out of our flat. It hasn't been a month yet, but I've already made 2 large batches of cookies, 3 batches of muffins, and an assortment of dinners in the oven. It's been amazing, and I have no plans on slowing down - I have 2 years of baking to catch up on.

All sorts of delicious.

And so in honor of my favorite new appliance, I'm sharing my own take on the famous Chocolate Chip Cookie. Unfortunately, I have no pictures as of yet - they just don't last too long in this house. But trust me, they look and smell great, and it's a version of the classic recipe that I've tweaked over the last few years to what I think tastes best.

Ace's Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
250 grams/8 ounces dark chocolate bar - cut into small chunks

Preheat your oven to 350 F/175 C.

In a small bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Set to the side.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the shortening, butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat thoroughly. Next, add in eggs and vanilla to the sugar mixture. You can do this in a mixer, but I prefer using a wooden spoon.

In small amounts, add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture. The mix will become tougher as you add the flour. After the flour mix is completed, add the chocolate chunks to the dough.

Using two spoons, make small drops of dough, approximately 1 inch in diameter, and place on baking paper or a cookie sheet.

Place the cookies in the middle of the oven. Bake for 9-10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before movie them to a cookie rack.


09 September 2014

Moving, According to Murphy's Law

Did you miss me? It's been entirely too long, but I'm back! And I can blame the lengthy disappearance entirely on the moving process. We are happily settling into our new home, but getting here was more of an adventure than any of us would have anticipated. The story was supposed to be simple: Get the keys for the new place 14 August, move everything over 16 August, get the old place cleaned up, turn the keys over from the old place 24 August, all while anticipating the usual annoyances of moving yourself in the middle. If the story ended there, this blog post would have been up sooner, and would have ended right here with "and we love the new place. The End." But that story doesn't make for a very interesting post, so fate handed us a more exciting tale (or so I keep telling myself).

It had the potential to be straightforward...

When we arrived to pick up the keys on 14 August, we were told that there was a problem with the elevator that started about an hour before we arrived. This happens occasionally, we were told, but it's typically back up and running within an hour. It should be no problem for our scheduled moving day 2 days later, when we were to head up to the 5th floor (that's the 6th floor for the North Americans). The key exchange was normal - and since we brought some cleaning supplies along with us we gave the place a quick once-over before measuring the spaces for refrigerator and stove and heading off to the appliance store.

The next day, Mark carried a few things over to the new place on his bike and arrived to find that the elevator was still broken, with a new note attached to the doors saying that the defect was with a custom piece that needed to be replaced, which would happen when it could happen. We moved our moving truck reservation to 21 August, figuring that surely everything would be fixed a whole week later. In the meantime, some friends lent us their car so we could still start sleeping in the new place as planned, making it feel like home before Little Man was scheduled to start at his new school a little over a week later. At this point in the process, the cats deduced that all of our strange behavior with the boxes over the past few weeks was actually a sign of the End of Times. Thanks to our friends' for the use of their car, we got a surprising amount of stuff over to the new place with a day and a half's work and started forcing our moving plan into a new mold.

Initially, we left most things where they originally stood in the old house waiting for the moving day. But when we remembered that because we had reserved a carpet cleaner for Tuesday, we needed to get everything big and heavy off the carpeted level of the old place to actually clean the carpet. We rode over on our bikes and moved everything down a level. With everything jammed into the living room area, it was impossible to clean the main level, so instead of cleaning the whole house in one day as originally planned, so I started breaking up the work into stages based on accessibility. We made due with the new piecemeal schedule, though it meant more bike trips back and forth between the two homes to make it work.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, the elevator was still broken with signs of the elevator company only beginning to remove the old broken pieces, and they had no idea if the new piece was completed yet or not. We decided that with all the cleaning work we still needed to do in the old place, we couldn't wait any longer - Thursday would have to go on as planned, sans elevator. We steadied our nerves and preemptively popped a few ibuprofen. We're lucky to have some amazing friends - one friend took Little Man for the morning while another helped us with the furniture in the truck and carrying it up. We schlepped most of what we own up all 5 flights of stairs while wondering where all this junk came from and left the heaviest and bulkiest items in our storage unit (that is thankfully only a half a flight down). We even managed to get our beds all put together and coaxed the cats down from the ceiling, and called it good enough for a pizza dinner and beer reward.

On Friday, in full accordance with Murphy's Law, the elevator was fixed and fully operational.

After struggling to decide if I wanted to jump for joy or beat my head against the wall, I decided to use the elevator exclusively for the next month whether I needed it or not.

It could have been worse - We had a working truck and didn't need to inquire if this
bad boy was available for hire. And it wasn't raining, so there's that.

And that brings us pretty much up to speed. Just retelling the story is making me feel tired again, but we're liking the new place and getting settled in and we're really close to having a normal routine back. So, more to come from me now that the Summer of Insanity has come to an end. It's good to be back.

28 July 2014

Expat Anniversary, the Second

It's hard to believe, but Saturday marked our second expat anniversary in the Netherlands. We didn't realize it until the middle of the day, and with everything else going on, it was easy for it to slip by.

We spent the day doing a rather typical Tilburg thing: checking out Kermis. Kermis is like a traveling fair/carnival that moves through the country during the summer, and Tilburg's Kermis is a big deal. The streets around city center are shut down, and rides, games, and concessions wind along for 3 km. The center is basically one big party for 10 straight days while people come to enjoy the festivities. And you can find just about every type of ride (including a log flume ride) or game you can think of - giving you plenty of variety along the 3 km stretch. As I said, very typically summer activity in Tilburg - one that was finishing up the day we first arrived and more or less marks our expat anniversary.

After two years, we're happy to take part in the "typical" and experience life as a local. There's still plenty to do and learn about, but there's a comfortable feeling about where we are, too. It's all part of the adventure, after all, and we're looking forward to the next leg.


I'll say here, the next few weeks are winding up with our upcoming move. There's a good chance we'll be left without internet for a few weeks in the moving process, so the blog here may suffer a bit. But, I'll have the amazing power of social media still at my fingertips. You can follow some of the moving updates and random observations with the Life in Dutch Facebook page by clicking the link here or by liking the button below.


Do you have something "marking" your expat anniversary or that reminds you of when you first arrived?

19 July 2014

Giving Our Condolences - MH17

There are few words that can ever really feel appropriate when faced with a tragedy. As we receive more details about the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 and the victims on board, it's been difficult to know what to say. The Netherlands is mourning, as are the other countries whose citizens were on board. The scientific community is mourning the loss of major scholars and researchers who dedicated their lives to the eradication of AIDS.

All I can offer is our condolences and prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues effected by this senseless tragedy.

16 July 2014

Driving Privileges

I've actually gotten my act together and have an official Dutch driver's license. This might not seem like much, but the requirements for even just getting the paperwork are far more stringent than anything I dealt with in the States, even when I was first going for my road test at 17.

So what made this process so long? The short answer is: several appointments and loads of paperwork. 

First, we had to make an appointment with the Gemeentehuis Tilburg (Tilburg City Hall) to pick up an Eigen Verklaring - a personal statement declaring that we were mentally and physically fit to drive. Once it's completed and mailed it, you wait for the approval letter from the CBR office. We didn't have to, but if you find yourself indicating that you have particular conditions or medications, you'll have to have an additional form filled out by your physician declaring that your condition/medication doesn't interfere with your ability to drive. Once that was out of the way, we called the Belastingdienst (Tax Office) for confirmation that we qualify for the special "30%" tax rules (given to "highly skilled workers" and their partners). 

We took the CBR approval letter, the Belastingdienst confirmation letter, passport-sized photos, and our US licenses to another appointment at the Gemeentehuis for someone to process our requests to exchange our licenses. We waited several weeks for everything to process, and, voila! Dutch licenses! And they're valid for 10 years, which was surprising when you're used to renewing one every 4 years. 

For those that don't come from an country approved for direct exchanges and/or have a 30% tax rule, there's a written test (and potentially a road test) required for your Dutch license. Check the official website, www.rijbewijs.nl, for information related to your particular circumstances. My friend Farrah over at The Three Under has had an interesting time getting her's exchanged - you can follow her on Facebook for the fun details. 

And now for the real challenge of the license process - learning to drive a manual transmission. I'm willing to bet it's going to be one heck of an adventure for the poor kind soul that brings me out the first time. 

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting a Dutch license? Or have you had to exchange a foreign license before?

12 July 2014

Last Day of School

Yesterday was the last day of school before the summer vacation for the southern portion of the country, and it was Little Man's last day at his current school. We've been happy with our experience at the school, but unfortunately, it's too far away from our new home to make the trip twice each day.

Typically, kids stay in the same class through the year in which they turn 6 - often that means close to three school years with the same teachers and roughly the same group of kids - so when a child leaves midway, preparation is done not just for the child that is leaving, but also for the classmates. Because we had enough notice for the transition, his teachers did some wonderful things that helped give a sense of closure (at least for me).

Little Man and a little girl are both moving over the summer, so the teachers held a special good-bye celebration with the class. Both Little Man and the little girl had "crowns" similar to the birthday crown worn by young kids on their birthday and received adorable books with "Vergeet ons niet," (Don't forget us) written on the cover and filled with signed self-portraits made by every child in the class. We received a nice spiral-bound book of his important work from his time in the class with lovely notes from the teachers telling him to have a fun time at his new school and to enjoy his new home. I think these are all wonderful gestures and help add to the memories Little Man will take with him.

I'll admit that I feel a little guilty about moving schools, but I also know how impractical it would be to try and stay at the same school. And Little Man has already come into himself so much over the past school year, that I know he can and will continue to thrive at the next school. Young kids are always more resilient that we first give them credit for, and I know Little Man is one of them. So, the adventure continues for us and for him while we work through the six weeks of summer vacation and the move. He's already looking forward to the changes ahead, and that kind of optimism rubs off.

09 July 2014

Oh Blog, I Have Not Forsaken Thee - At Least Not on Purpose

I'll be totally honest - I have not been doing a good job keeping up with the blog here the last month or so. I've been forced to switch up priorities lately, so the blog has fallen by the wayside while other aspects of life have taken over. So let me give my excuses for my neglect.

After getting back from the US for my brother's graduation in June, we hit the ground running with finding a new place to live. I've mentioned a few times here that we'll have to move this summer. Our current rental agreement is coming to an end and cannot be renewed, so that matter has forced our hand on the issue. But we're looking forward to the change. We miss the urban feel of Chicago, and without a car, sometimes getting around is a pain in the neck. So, we're moving closer to Tilburg's city center and we've found a place that has a great location. I'll admit that I was pretty frustrated by our search in the beginning (before leaving for the graduation companies kept telling me they wouldn't help us because it was too early), but I feel like we've gotten really lucky. Our new place is an easy bike ride to center, there's lots of bus routes stopping close by, it's closer to work for Mark, but it's also far enough from the student housing to help keep things peaceful (particularly on weekends and at the end of the semesters).

Through this whole process we're learning on a curve - but it feels like we're navigating it pretty well. In the Netherlands, it's common for tenants to put down their own flooring and sometimes to provide their own appliances. We've already bought the floor from the previous tenant but we're looking into buying a refrigerator and an oven. Since we bought our own washing machine early on, I think we'll be okay, but it's still a bit of an adventure when you've never had to do this before in any language.

Once we found the new place, we started looking for a new school for Little Man since we'll be too far from the school he attends now. I spent several days making appointments and visiting a bunch of schools in the area, and found one that seems like it will be a lovely fit. I feel a bit bad about moving him so soon after he settled into his current school and routine, but there's really not anything that can be done about it. Luckily, he's young enough that this is all very exciting and he's happy about the idea of a new school.

And if we didn't have enough going on already, in the middle of all this we made a quick trip to Rome and got back last night. Mark had a conference, and Little Man and I tagged along since we figured it would be our only chance for a family vacation this summer.

So, to sum it up - there have been a few things happening around here - and it looks like it will be a pretty busy summer. I'll do my best to keep up with everything here. After all, it's another interesting part of the adventure.

29 June 2014

#SundayTraveler: Scenic Prince Edward Island - Our First Trip

Mark and I celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary tomorrow, and since I'm feeling all sentimental, I'm taking a look back at our honeymoon - and first trip together - on Prince Edward Island in 2007. (Go ahead and insert your "awww" here.)

Our honeymoon was the first trip that we planned by ourselves. I'll admit that I only had a vague sense of how to find a hotel and surrounding activities, but looking back as a more seasoned traveler, I think we did pretty well for the first time. We picked Price Edward Island because it was within reasonable driving distance from Massachusetts (where we got married) and because I had dreamed of visiting ever since reading the Anne of Green Gables series as a girl and falling in love with the descriptions of the landscape. Mark thought the idea sounded good, too, so off we set.

After arriving on Prince Edward Island (PEI), we had to check out some of the Anne of Green Gables-related locations in Cavendish. To start, we checked out the location of the home that Lucy Maud Montgomery lived in while a resident on PEI. Only a foundation of the house remained, but being a history nerd, I always appreciate just having a moment in a space where others have been.

From Montgomery's home, you can walk along a wooded path, the setting of the "Haunted Wood" in Anne of Green Gables, to the Green Gables house. The house and gardens were beautifully kept and rooms in the house were set up to reflect the descriptions in the books.

While the Anne-fans will enjoy the trips around the island to identify the places described in the novels, you really need to take in the breath-taking natural surroundings on the island. PEI is famous for it's brilliant, red soil caused by a high iron-oxide content. Driving around the island, it's hard to miss the bright contrast of the red and green of the crops growing on the farms or the island's amazing red cliffs.

And when traveling in the summer, the wild Lupines are in bloom all over the island. They are gorgeous and come in a stunning range of pinks, blues, purples, and white. As evidenced here, I really liked the Lupines...

We also took advantage of the free national parks on the island and spent a day exploring the woods and the beach. The island is small and easy to drive across, so you have your choice of beach to explore, and marked paths run through all the national parks. With a little bit of exploring, you can find some great lighthouses, docks, and nature. We were even lucky enough to come across a Lady Slipper growing along a path in the woods.

Now having blogged about this blast-from-the-past-trip, I should probably finish up the scrapbook I started for this trip six and a half years ago...

Have you been to Prince Edward Island? What were your favorite places/activities?

Today's post is part of the #SundayTraveler linkup hosted by Chasing the Donkey and friends. Please be sure to check out the other great posts!

24 June 2014

The Orange Explosion

Yes, Little Man and I DID make it back to the Netherlands! We had an interesting return and battle with jet lag for a few days after (that may have involved our being up entirely too long), but we're home and about as normal as we could hope to be.

But the surprising part about our return was the difference in level of care about the World Cup. When we left America, the pre-games had started, and notice barely registered as a blip on the American radar. We landed in the Netherlands, and it was like a giant canister of Tang had exploded over the whole country. There is a level of national pride that I've never seen here before - even with the excitement of a new king taking the throne last year - and it seems to be growing as the Dutch team has been winning.

It started with general decorating. For Koningsdag, you will see orange banners and assorted apparel for sale and up on certain houses, but for the World Cup, there are more people than you would expect participating. The house down the street that decorates seasonally is all oranged-out, but so is the house of the single guy that doesn't do anything at any time of the year. On game day, it's hard not to find someone wearing orange and clearing out of the work place or the grocery store to be in front of a screen in time for the start.

Football-shaped breads

Just two of many Hup Holland Hamsters, free at the grocery store
with your purchase of 15 euro or more.

And in between, there's been hardly a lull in the enthusiasm as the grocery stores advertise some other new and exciting addition to your game-day celebration. To be sure, coming from a country where football involves a funny-shaped ball, oversized pads, and crash helmets, the whole thing is a bit fascinating to watch.

So far, I feel like you can't help but be in a good mood with all the jolly orange decorations and happy fans. We'll see how long those feelings last as the games progress, but in the meantime, we're enjoying getting to be part of the action.

Are you watching the World Cup? Is it a big deal to anyone around you?

06 June 2014

A Quick Update From the US

Little Man and I have been back in the States now for 5 days. My first trans-Atlantic flight solo with Little Man went well enough, and he was a trooper keeping up as we ran through the Dublin airport to make an extra-tight connection after a delay of our first flight. We're mostly over the jet lag - though we're still waking up much earlier than I would care for...

Mostly, we've been enjoying the time with family, but we're also enjoying some of our favorite American goodies - mostly lots of Annie's Cheddar Bunnies and Goldfish crackers - with plans to bring some back in our suitcases.

My younger brother is also getting ready to graduate from high school, so we're also prepared to part and cheer him on at the ceremony. We've got a busy few days ahead, and we're looking forward to it. Perhaps we'll even get some pictures in.

Have you ever returned home for a major event? How did it go?

27 May 2014

I (Unexpectedly) Miss Screens

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone - and screens in the windows is one of those normal aspects of housing in America that you don't necessarily find in Europe. Most homes have no screens on their windows. They can be purchased, but most of the time you or someone else needs to custom-build for your window needs. Since we knew we had a temporary lease in this house, I decided that I'm too cheap to spend the time and money, but there have been a few instances I really wish that we had them.

It would keep the cats in. I can't prove it definitively because I didn't see it happen, but I am 99.99% sure that one of the cats jumped out of a window on the first floor (that's the second story for the North Americans) into the garden below. Tweedle-Dum (meaning Sebastian) has a tendency to perform amazing, yet extremely stupid and rather graceless acrobatic feats to get into high places or get outside. During this particular episode, I had left some bedding to air out in Little Man's window and went about my business. A little while later I heard a crash of some child-sized chairs falling over, then saw the cat outside. The backdoor was still locked and the downstairs windows shut, so leaping out the window seems the only likely scenario, though I had previously thought (and hoped) he wasn't dumb enough to try it. At least he didn't break himself in the process.

And then he had the gall to yell at me when I
wouldn't let him out as I left the house later that day.

It would keep Little Man in, or out. Occasionally, we have to remind the Little Man that while the cats may do it, it's not okay for people to crawl through the kitchen window when the backdoor is closed.

It would keep the critters out. One night last fall while Mark was out of town, I found a monster-sized spider I on the blinds in our bedroom just after finishing the bedtime routine with Little Man. I'm not exactly a huge fan of spiders to begin with, and I think this was the "big one" I've been worried about. I couldn't smack it without bending the blinds and/or missing and losing it and spending a sleepless night waiting for it to crawl over my face. Instead, I spent 15 minutes performing some sort of extended swatting action with a thick pamphlet, vigorously "encouraging" the spider to go out the wide-open window. About 2 minutes into the performance, Little Man came bounding out of bed and into the room to provide questions and commentary that didn't exactly calm my mania. (What's his name? His name is Charlie? He's REALLY big. Spiders lay eggs? Is Charlie a mama? Wow, that was a silly thing to do! - and when Charlie finally acquiesced to my repeated requests to rocket out the window - FLY, CHARLIE, FLY!!!!) This guy wasn't the first to crawl through the window, and he sure won't be the last, but I really just try not to think about it.

It's one more item to keep people out. I know that the Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world, and maybe I was living in Chicago too long, but to me there's something about the psychological barrier provided by a screen in a window. Yes, one can easily get through a screen if they want to, but
it would be easier to just forget about it and move on. For now, we just close the windows when we're gone.

That being said, there are two situations that come to mind that I don't mind having screens. The first is if a child locks themselves in, and you out. This happened once during a playdate, but since the window was open, I just climbed in and unlocked the door from the inside. The other situation is any time we want to use the kitchen window like a McDonald's drive through - usually while we're grilling. These are all fine and good for a once-in-a-while-need, but I think I'd still prefer the screens.

Have you been surprised by a "normal" thing from your homeland that just isn't a thing in your new country?

25 May 2014

#SundayTraveler: Tilburg's Hasseltse Kapel

Tilburg is the sixth largest city in the Netherlands, but it doesn't draw many tourists as the travel guidebooks rarely mention anything outside of the area surrounding Amsterdam and The Hague. Since travelers aren't necessarily directed to Tilburg, I thought I would point out some of the great hidden gems that are worth exploring around the city. Recently, a friend of mine (a native of Tilburg with a real appreciation for the city's history), brought me to visit the Hasseltse Kapel - the oldest religious monument in Tilburg, and one that certainly deserves some recognition.

The Hasseltse Kapel was erected approximately in 1536, though the first document to mention the chapel is dated from 1540. Interestingly, the chapel wasn't used for worship between 1648 and 1796 - there were no priests specifically assigned to the chapel and for a time the chapel was used as a regular house, though the clock tower and the building itself were still used for public functions.

As worship services returned in 1796, a wooden Baroque style statue of Mary holding the Christ child was installed in the chapel. Though the years, benefactors of the chapel and donors have left elaborate clothing and jewels on the statue as a sign of their faith and devotion. In 1971 and 1972, the chapel and the statue were restored, fundraising for which was helped in a great part by schoolchildren selling commemorative decorative plates with an image of the chapel.

Today, the chapel holds some religious services and arrangements can be made for Catholic and non-Catholics that wish to hold their wedding and anniversary ceremonies in the chapel. In the month of May the chapel celebrates Mariamaand (Mary's Month) and Catholics make a pilgrimage to the chapel as an act of devotion. The chapel is easy to miss if you're not looking for it - it stands in the middle of a park in a small, quiet neighborhood. But the peace and quiet that surround the chapel and it's unique history make it a wonderful place to visit.

The Hasseltse Kapel (Hasseltplein 40, 5042 AC Tilburg) is open daily from 09:00 to 19:00, unless otherwise scheduled. Visit the website for additional information.

Today's post is part of the #SundayTraveler linkup hosted by Chasing the Donkey and friends. Please be sure to check out the other great blogs!

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