28 February 2014

Happy Carnaval!

Today, the schools kick off Carnaval - the pre-Lenten celebrations held in the south of the Netherlands (Americans can think it akin to Mardi Gras). Officially Carnaval starts tomorrow, when the revelry really begins - especially for the adults. I haven't leaned a whole lot about Canaval since last year, so I don't have much to say in the way of information today other than Little Man is celebrating at school today dressed up as a dragon.

Our draakje (little dragon)

Dragon wings

He's been really into dinosaurs and dragons, so I wasn't too surprised when he announced that would be his costume, but then I had to figure out a way to make it happen. My crochet skills came in handy and I whipped up a dragon hat (now available in my Etsy store  *winkwink*) and some dragon claws. The rest of the outfit we put together with a cheap sweatsuit and some extra fabric I had in the house.

Handmade by me - Found at arcBcrafts

Handmade on special require of Little Man

It's homemade and a little silly, but he loves it. Today is all about silliness and fun, so it's a perfect outfit for that. Enjoy your Canaval!

Are you celebrating Carnaval (or something like it)? If so, what are you doing?

25 February 2014

I Heart Holland: Reason #15 - "The Netherlands" Is Not "Holland"

We've lived in the Netherlands for a year and a half now. We've learned some of the language, the culture, and the history. And the idea of "Holland" is one thing that touches on each of these things.

Holland and The Netherlands are not the same thing. Many outside of the Netherlands refer to the whole European country as "Holland" but in actuality Holland applies only to the provinces of North Holland and South Holland located on the western coast. I suspect part of the reason is due to unfamiliarity with the nation's history, geography, and political organization and the other part is that the word "Holland" seems to roll of the tongue better than "The Netherlands" (at least for English and French speakers) - though this wouldn't be an issue if we used "Nederland" (which does roll off nicely) but not pronouncing a country's name in it's own language is a rant for another time.

Not to toot my own horn too loudly, but I was able to figure out the distinction between Holland and The Netherlands pretty soon after our moving here. I love the complexity of the idea but I also know that the distinction isn't well known. A friend recently shared this video with me, so I am passing it along to you. It's a wonderful and quick explanation of the difference between "Holland" and "The Netherlands." So, watch, enjoy, and then go impress someone with your new-found knowledge.

Have you ever lived someplace where a common name for the town/city/region is not actually the name at all?

*I do call this series "I Heart Holland" - but the choice came from to my love of alliteration and an inflated sense of wittiness, and I noticed that many native Dutch will refer to the country as "Holland" when speaking to English speakers - because they know that we don't know any better. This may actually contribute to the confusion, but this little post will hopefully combat that. Remember: Knowledge is power.

23 February 2014

#SundayTraveler: The First Time I Felt History

Today's post is a re-posting in full of a guest post I did for Earth to Jade a few months ago. It's been almost a year since my first trip to Dublin, and I've been feeling a little nostalgic for it, so I'm sharing it again today:

My father’s family left Ireland and settled in America several generations ago. I grew up around Boston and I was keenly aware of my family’s ties with Ireland, even though I was raised in America – like many generations before me – and had never glimpsed the Irish coast. Like many Boston-Irish, my family retained a certain pride in being Irish, and I wanted to know more about the land my family left. Since I couldn't get to Ireland myself, I read Irish fairy tales and dug deeper into her history. Continually drawn to stories, my readings eventually led me to the Easter Rising of 1916.

During the Easter week of 1916, a small number of Irish republicans, convinced that an armed rebellion was the only sure way to free Ireland from British rule, seized Dublinís General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street. On what was an otherwise ordinary day, extraordinary men and women threw the city into chaos, initiated a six day standoff with British soldiers, and permanently rerouted Irish history towards independence.

General Post Office (GPO), Dublin

I kept returning to the Easter Rising because I was fascinated by the way an average day became a turning point in history. All but the facade of the GPO was destroyed during the Rising. It was eventually rebuilt and continues to be the principal post office in Dublin, simultaneously serving as a permanent reminder of the Easter Rising and a normal, everyday post office in a modern city. It was this coexistence of history and modernity, of heroic importance and everyday normality that called me to Ireland.

Last March I finally made my way to Dublin. With my husband and son in tow, I left Connelly Station and walked towards O'Connell Street (as Sackville Street was renamed), the GPO gradually coming into view. Outside the building, Dubliners hurried on their way to work, sweeping past the spot where the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read to bewildered bystanders 97 years ago. Men and women casually pushed through the doors carrying packages, letters, and monthly bills where once barricades were hurriedly thrown up in preparation for a siege.

The 1916 Proclamation - an original copy housed at the GPO

I walked into the lobby with visions of the Easter Rising swirling through my head as the business-as-usual Friday bustle continued uninterrupted in the place where chaos and din of battle shook the walls. The memories of the men and women of whom I had read, whose portraits and biographies I had studied, whose zeal had fascinated me, were so close. The voices of Irish rebels and British soldiers seemed to stir the air with the wind on my face as I walked back outside, crossed the street and gazed back at the building. And yet it went unnoticed by those around me – this was today, that was nearly a hundred years ago.

Then it struck me: I was in Dublin. The streets and buildings I had conjured up in my imagination were now part of my memory. After alI I had read of the GPO, I now touched its walls, walked on its marble floors, and passed by the teller windows – for a brief moment I experienced the Easter Week. Ireland – a place that was always in the past, the distant home of stories and my ancestors – now lay under my feet, connecting me to the past while grounding me in the present.

I walked away from the GPO and crossed the River Liffey. I watched the water flow under the bridge and thought about how the past finds ways to touch the present. And, happily, I could say that I experienced a part of it.

View of the River Liffey

Today's post is linked up to the #SundayTraveler linky. Please be sure to explore some of the other wonderful travel posts and blogs!

22 February 2014

19 February 2014

Cycling in NL: Yes, This is Normal Here

Every country has its "quirks" or things that make it stand out culturally, and when you compare it to another country sometimes those differences can be rather staggering. After our recent trip back to the States, I started thinking about some of the differences between the US and the Netherlands, but in general those differences are pretty benign. But one of the things that many expats in the Netherlands notice (especially when going back home) is the difference in the cycling culture.

The Netherlands are well known for the use of bicycles, but I think that until you really see it and experience it, you have no idea just how big it is in Dutch culture. Bikes can and will be used for just about everything, and you would either get a lot of strange looks or possibly have someone call the police if you tried the same things in the US. But after spending some time in NL, you really just take anything bike-related as part of daily life, and it's something that we've been happy to embrace during our time here.

To start, bikes are everywhere. Literally. In a country with a population of roughly 16 million people, there are approximately 18 million bicycles. Bikes are used for recreation, but they are also a main mode of transportation. Kids bike to school or to a friend's house. Adults bike to the grocery store or work. Many times it's more convenient than going by car.

A fraction of the kids' bicycles by Little Man's school.

In the US, people are often hesitant to ride around with their kids on a bike, but the Dutch don't even blink at it. While it is something you'll even see in the US, the Dutch participate on a much grander scale no matter if they're in cities, suburbs, or villages. As we don't have a car, to get a lot of places we're strapping the Little Man into his seat and heading off.

Little Man with Mark on one of our trips over the Belgian border.

If your child is too big for a bike seat but doesn't have a bicycle or you're just making a short trip, there are options to ride along anyway. Many people have their kid hop onto the rear rack and hold on, or you can purchase a special bar to give some support and help prevent your kid from falling off the back. The fancier ones will even come with a padded seat.

Having two kids is easy, too. It's very common to see parents (or even grandparents) cycling around with two kids on one bike. There are specific moederfietsen (mothers' bicycles) that you can purchase with two seats already attached, or you can purchase seats separately and install them yourself. Sure, you could get a bike trailer (and some do), but that takes up space and gets pretty heavy - two seats attached to your bike is a lot easier to manage. The first time I saw two seats on a bike was in Chicago, and I was impressed. They are so common in NL that it doesn't even register in my brain most of the time now, even when I see someone talking on their cell phone and smoking a cigarette while riding with two kids and all their groceries. True story.

A moederfiets (mother's bike) with 2 seats, and snazzy matching bags
Image from qibbel.nl

Now, if you're thinking, "Surely they stop at two kids," you're way off. The bakfiets (cargo bike) is a good option when carrying several kids. And there are several options available. My good friend Farrah has a cargo for her boys that hauls from the back, but there are also options where the load sits in front of the cyclist. Depending on your brand of bakfiets, you can fit up to 5 kids. I once saw a woman riding with 4 kids in the cargo box and one kid behind her on a mounted bike seat, which is real dedication in my opinion. And if you're thinking that rain may hinder these amazing feats of balance, you're wrong again - You can even purchase rain covers to keep the kiddos dry when biking in the rain - because there's no reason to drive just because it's raining.

Boys in a bakfiets with rear-mounted cargo. Photo courtesy of Farrah at The Three Under

Bakfiets with front cargo.

The different bakfiets  may also be used for regular deliveries by shops or by people that regularly find themselves hauling large and heavy stuff.

Delivery bakfiets from a Tilburg cafe.

Biking with a baby isn't a problem, either. If you already own a bakfiets, often the baby's car seat can be strapped into the cargo area and off you go. But if you don't own a bakfiets, the babymee is often the next option. The babymee is a special basket/contraption that is mounted onto a parent's bike and then holds specific brands of infant car seats. This crazy thing really threw me the first time I saw it because I'm pretty sure someone would call the police for child endangerment in the US. Different manufacturers recommend waiting until the child is somewhere between 2 and 4 months old - whereas in the US the general recommendation is waiting til the child is 12 months old and has a neck strong enough to hold up a helmet before taking them along on a bike ride. But when cycling is as deep a part of the culture as it is in NL, it doesn't surprise me that there are options for young infants.

Babymee with infant carrier attached.
Photo courtesy of koopkeus.nl

What I've written here are just some of the basics of what you can find in the Netherlands and I decided to write about it because it is VERY different from the cycling culture in the US, but there's so much I haven't touched on. If you're interested in reading more about bicycling culture in the Netherlands, I recommend reading Bicycle Dutch. The blog has a wonderful combination of history, policy, and current events as it relates to cycling in the Netherlands. Or come and visit and experience it for yourself - either way, you won't be disappointed.

What sort of cultural aspects of your new country would surprise the people back "home"?

A quick post script - The wonderful SJ at Chasing the Donkey had me over for a guest post on her blog. Check it out, and then stick around for some wonderful posts about Croatia!

16 February 2014

#SundayTraveler: Climbing Aboard Noah's Ark

Since Mark is away this weekend, I wanted to make sure Little Man and I did something special together so that we really enjoyed the weekend. I initially intended to find a new museum and use our museumkaart, but I accidentally found another option. I say "accidentally" because I quite literally picked a city at random and did a Google search for museums and found the Ark van Noach (Noah's Ark) in Dordrecht. I was intrigued by the idea of visiting Noah's ark, so yesterday we made a trip over to Dordrecht to check it out.

Follow the animal prints into the ark

Now, this is not actually Noah's ark, but there's still a neat story as to how this massive boat ended up in Dordrecht. Johan Huibers, a contractor in the Netherlands, was inspired to share his faith by creating a replica of Noah's ark and making it available to anyone to visit. The ark was to be an entertaining place to visit but also a way to provide Christian teachings to visitors. Originally, a smaller ark that was scaled down to fit the canals of the Netherlands was built and then traveled to different cities. After 3.5 years, the ark team was able to construct and permanently moor a full-sized replica (30 meters wide, 23 meters high, and 135 meters long), based in Dordrecht since 2012.

This is one big ark!

The Ark van Noach gives visitors the Biblical account of the great flood and describes what life would have been like on the ark. Visitors can tour nearly the entire ark, see real animals (including goats, rabbits, and kangaroos) and life sized models of other animals (since it's a bad idea to keep real rhinos and leopards walking around enclosed areas filled with people), and view educational films. And throughout the ark are large paintings and images depicting the story of Noah and Biblical verses from the book of Genesis.

A replica workbench as part of the description of Noah's building process

Part of a "Would Noah have brought this?" game. Each compartment has an
item (fake fruits/veggies, fly swatter, Coca Cola bottle) and kids guess if it
would have been taken onto the ark.

Noah with the returned dove. The mannequins were a bit
strange looking, but were a small part of the ark.

A real live and hungry goat.

"Watch out! We can bite" - I think this sign was actually meant for the live
kangaroos, but looked hilarious next to the fake emus.

Exploring the ark.

The final image from Peter Spier's picture book, Noah's Ark

The Ark van Noach is a great outing for the whole family (we spent a good 2.5 hours walking around the ark) and has and interesting story of it's "landing" in Dordrecht. It's certainly worth a look.

As of February 2014, the Ark van Noach is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 18:00 (but check the website for any special or holiday schedules) and is easily accessible from the Dordrecht train station by bus. You can check current admissions prices here. Throughout the ark, information is posted in Dutch, English, and German.

Today's post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up hosted by Chasing the Donkey and others. Please check out this week's other contributors!

12 February 2014

My Top 5 Expat Goodies

Mark is heading back to the States today for a conference. He'll do all sorts of professional stuff and catch up with friends at the conference, and even get to visit some family while he's there. Here at home, Little Man and I have already implemented "one grownup survival mode," meaning we use as few dishes as possible and try to keep the peace as much as possible since we've got a week ahead of us. But while Mark is away I keep reminding myself that the benefit of this conference for Little Man and I is that I've asked Mark to pick up some goodies that we can't get here - which leads me to today's post, my top 5 expat goodies.

1. Annie's Cheddar Bunnies/Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers

"Bunny Crackers" are the only food item from the US that Little Man still asks for on a regular basis. And I can't blame him since they're delicious. I hope the first person who fused cheddar into cracker form was given some sort of medal - because this snack is nothing short of genius. In the States, I would buy Cheddar Bunnies for me and Mark as much as I would buy them for Little Man, and since I have no problem with the irony of "organic junk food" I will continue to happily munch on these until I'm full. And when Annie's bunnies are hard to come by, Goldfish are the next best thing. Because, y'know - cheddar and cracker fusion.

2. Ranch Dressing

I've written about my love of the white gold that is ranch dressing before, and it's a well placed affection. While bottles of ranch dressing would get heavy awfully quick, the convenient seasoning packets are small, light, and easy to pack. And since I add the additional ingredients anyway, I can make the tangier version we love so much with some creme fresh added into the mix. With some ranch packets around vegetables, pizza, sandwiches, and other food options are made even tastier.

3. Burt's Bees Soap Bark & Camomile Deap Cleansing Cream

This is the only thing I have found that keeps my face in check. Without it, things get rather ugly. When we've had visitors, I ask them to bring me a bottle or two. When we came home from the States after Christmas, I brought back 3 bottles with me. I plan to bring just as many back again next trip. It's either that or walk around with cherry tomatoes all over my face.

4. Mucinex

At this time last year, I didn't care about the over the counter cold medicines from the States. Then, through March, I was so sick with such a bad cough that a doctor confirmed I had likely broken 2 ribs, and I never had a third likely break checked out because there was nothing to do about it anyway. I'd like to avoid that again if possible, so now I will gladly turn to small doses of OTC medicines to keep things from getting that crazy again. Yeesh.

5. Macaroni & Cheese

At first, I didn't really miss mac 'n' cheese for the taste, only for the convenience of something easy for dinner when it was just me and Little Man. A few months ago an expat friend told me that one of the little Asian groceries in Tilburg had some in stock (pictured here) and I went and bought a box. I couldn't believe that I hadn't missed it before then - it was delicious. So now I'll occasionally treat us to a box, and while it's not my favorite brand, I still have to remind myself to slow down and savor instead of shoveling it in.

These are my top favorite items from the States, and I will pack some up every time we return. Because there are some things that you really don't want to go without.

What are your favorite "goodies" from back home?

10 February 2014

De Overblijfmoeder: The Aftermath

On Thursday, I went into Little Man's class as "de overblijfmoeder" during lunchtime - something that I was hesitantly looking forward to. Well, I'm happy to say that made it through unscathed.

First, it was nice to find out what goes on in the classroom. We can only find out so much from Little Man about his day - he keeps most of his school activities to himself or can't find the right way to express it in English or Dutch - which is fine since he's only four. But now I know what's expected of him at lunch. There's no talking until the kids have finished all their food, then they have to clean their space before they can draw or read a book until the teacher returns. Since I didn't know any of this prior to my overblijfmoeder stint, this was all rather enlightening. And since Little Man was excited to have me in the room, he was pretty keen to show me things that aren't accessible during the morning drop off and afternoon pick up, which also gave me a better idea of what happens at other times of the day.

The children speak better Dutch than I do (not like it was much of a surprise), but at least I was able to make enough simple sentences that they understood the instructions - though mostly I kept saying, "Ga zitten," (Go sit down) which was effective but almost feels like cheating. Of course, they tested me with little things to see what they could get away with, like when 5 at a time would complain they each "moet plassen" (need to pee) when there was only one child allowed out at a time. But they didn't revolt or lock me out of the classroom, so I'm going to call it a win.

Gulliver's Travels and Other Writings
Considering this is how I envisioned it going,
I'd say the result was rather pleasing.
You can find this copy of Gulliver's Travels here.

I thin the funniest moment for me was when one of the oldest girls in the class came up to me and told me that Little Man doesn't always speak Dutch. I explained that we come from America and speak English at home, which sparked a lot of excitement. The girl very proudly told me she could count in English, and as she started counting she was suddenly joined by a chorus of other little voices making the count up to 12 (at which point they all petered out).

So I didn't have much to worry about, and I'm glad of it. My language skills are decent enough to keep 30 small children in check for 30 minutes, and I feel like that's an accomplishment for how far I'm come since starting Dutch lessons last March. Of course, there's still a long way to go, and I'm not sure that I could last much longer than I did or do as well with an older group of kids, but it's a start. And we all have to start somewhere, even if it's just telling someone else to "ga zitten."

05 February 2014

De Overblijfmoeder

While dropping the Little Man off at school last Friday, the teacher was making a sign to stick on the door (where all the announcements go) that a substitute overblijfouder (literally "remain parent" in English) is needed during lunchtime this Thursday (tomorrow). At the Little Man's school, all the children stay at school for lunch, bringing with them their boterhammen (sandwiches) and drankjes (drinks) each day. The teachers get a break from the kids at lunchtime and an overblijfouder comes in and watches the kids and helps them open their lunch boxes and drinks - and generally makes sure no one starts climbing the walls. I knew this when the teacher asked me to be the overblijdmoeder ("remain mother") and I agreed... but now I'm thinking about the other part of this adventure, which means talking to all of these kids. In Dutch.

Photo courtesy of: rakratchada torsap

Normally, talking to kids is no cause for anxiety for me (I was a teacher after all), but in the past I've also been talking to kids in English. I know my grammar is often... um... awful... and I know I have a strong American accent (read as: don't pronounce things correctly). The first time a school friend of Little Man's came over, I tried a "Kan je je schoenen afdoen, alstjeblief?" ("Can you take your shoes off, please?") when the boys came in. The kid looked at me and said, "Wat?" And after a few more of my attempts the poor thing looked at me again and said, "Ik kan je niet verstaan." (I can't understand you.) I resorted to "Schoenen. Af." (Shoes. Off.) - which worked, but was not exactly what I was going for.

For the most part, talking to young kids isn't too bad. They are also making grammatical and pronunciation mistakes so speaking with them doesn't carry the same potential for embarrassment from making mistakes as it might when talking to an adult. I also figure that the teacher wouldn't have asked me if she didn't think my level of Dutch was good enough for fending for myself for a half hour. And I've recently learned a lot of the imperative in my Dutch lessons, so I can say "Get off that" and "Eat your bread" more effectively, so that helps.

I think I'm safe from reenacting the famous scene from Gulliver's Travels, but if you don't see anything here tomorrow or somewhere on social media, please call the school. Just in case.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

04 February 2014

My Latest Endeavor

I have not been on top of my posts the last couple weeks. So I confess, I have been distracted. I have recently decided to restart an Etsy store, arcBcrafts. I've gotten some positive feedback over some of the "critters" and other things I've been making, so and I figured I might as well give Etsy another go and see what happens. You never know if you don't try, right?

So, I'm using today's post as a medium for a bit of shameless self-promotion. I've added a new tab with some basic information about arcBcrafts and please check out my Etsy store. Stock is a bit light in the store right now as I'm (literally) building up items, but more will come, so check back often. And if you don't see something you'd like, please let me know and I can work out a custom item.

And as always, thanks to the folks that have already been encouraging my work!

02 February 2014

#SundayTraveler: Making the Most of Museums While Traveling

One of my favorite parts of living in Europe and traveling to different countries on the continent has been getting to experience all the different museums. I'm excited to visit museums dedicated to art, history, science, and just about everything else, and the opportunities in Europe seem endless. But I know that for some people, incorporating museums into a trip can seem daunting, uninteresting, expensive, or all of the above - but they don't have to be with a little bit of advance research. So, here are my tips for making the most of the museums available while traveling.

With any trip, even when I'm looking into hotels, I'm considering the museums around the area. Even when the possibilities seem endless, I force myself to pick out my favorites by going to the website for each museum that interests me and checking out their current exhibits, any traveling exhibits, and information regarding full or partial museum closures due to maintenance. And I work museums into my itinerary based on the areas of town we'll be in and other activities around that area.

Of course, my research always includes the cost of admission. Each museum offers different rates for adults, kids, and seniors, but other discounts may be available, or the museum may offer a reduced or free admission on a particular day of the week/month. It's worth planning your other activities around special rates, especially if the costs your other activities aren't likely to change. I'm also a huge fan of special tourist discounts - mainly a temporary museum pass. I feel like it's an often under-used resource for tourists, but the deals can be amazing if you price it out ahead of time. We used the 2-day Paris Museum Pass during our trip last October and saw 10 different participating museums and monuments at €78 for two adults - the cost of which would have been €120 more had we paid face-value admissions at each site. We'll be taking a trip to London in the future, and have already purchased the 1 Day London Pass to make the most of the big "tourist sites" in London. By my current calculations, we'll be saving at least ₤24 if we just see my four "must see" sites.

For longer stays, it's worth seeing if there are long term discounts good across a city or country. We've purchased my much loved Museumkaart, which provides free or significantly reduced admission for one year at 400 different museums across the Netherlands. In the last 10 months, we've gotten back the initial cost of the card at least four times over. We can skip the lines and the fees at wonderful museums like the Rijksmuseum or even small museums in smaller cities and see a bit of culture, and we always find something that we find made the visit worth it.

I think museums are important to visit when traveling for the culture and memories that they give you, so I make every effort to visit at least two on our trips. And it's easy to incorporate them into your own traveling with just a tiny bit of research.

(And if you don't think that you can do it with kids - read this and reconsider. Your kids may surprise you!)

Today's post is joined up with the many great travel posts in the Sunday Traveler linky. Please check out the wonderful hosts and other delightful link-ups!

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