09 November 2015

Al Weer Jarig in Nederland - Another Birthday Aboard

It's hard to believe, but Little Man turned 6 over the weekend. All of these birthdays are a big deal at this age, but he really feels like a "big kid" this year - even more so when I realize that he's now celebrated 2 more birthdays abroad than he had in his home country.

Most of Little Man's birthdays, we've celebrated at home with just the three of us or with some good friends - but this year we were luck enough to have his Mormor and Bumpa with us to celebrate. Normally living in the Netherlands means we're too far away for a big family celebration for Little Man's birthday. We even lived too far away in the States (with a birthday so close to Thanksgiving) for him to celebrate with any other family on his actual birthday, so the visit made this year's birthday extra special.

When I think about all 6 of these birthdays, I can't help but reflect on the massive amount of development Little Man's experienced in his time living in the Netherlands. When we came over, he was just a toddler that hadn't yet been exposed to Dutch or a whole lot outside of our little family unit. That started to change about a week after his 3rd birthday when he started at the peuterspeelzaal. Now he's a seasoned veteran of travelling and attending school and is learning to read and write in 2 languages.

I'd like to take some credit for it, but I'm very aware that it's due to his own personality (and probably a good amount of luck) that he's adjusted as well as he has to the crazy learning situations we've arranged for him. I hope that it's made him more flexible and ready for whatever the future will throw at him.

20 October 2015

Losing Track of Time

It turns out that it's rather easy to lose track of the time. I realized that it's been almost two months since I've gotten anything written and put up!

So what's been holding me back for two months? In truth, just life stuff. We got back from vacation in Canada, school started up again, we started running, Little Man started swimming lessons... and there you have it. Normal, boring life got in the way.

For me, it takes a couple weeks to get back in the normal groove once you've had a vacation, or longer yet, a school summer vacation. Once school started Mark and I started running a few times each week - and let me tell you, that walloped us for another few weeks.

At least the kicks are cool.

When you are not used to running and you start going every other day, your body tells you pretty quick that what you are doing is a terrible idea. Parts of you that you didn't know existed start to ache and you're exhausted before dinner every night. And when you are in the process of running, your body hates you as much as you hate it. Have you ever seen a runner look really happy? The answer is definitively "no." Surprisingly, things have improved and we can now run 5km with just short breaks. The ultimate goal is to run the Tilburg Ten Mile race next September, and already it looks much more possible than it did even just a month ago.

Until then, we've got plenty else to look forward to. Little Man's birthday is coming. Sinterklaas things are already filling up in the stores and the toy catalogs seem to be self-reproducing. And I'm looking forward to Christmas markets popping up in December.

And that pretty much brings us up to date. I've got a bunch of things I want to write about, so now I just have to do it. Bug me on Facebook to remind me not to be lazy.

24 August 2015

The Great Earwig Massacre of 2015: A Cottage by Lake Erie

We spent our summer vacation in Ontario, Canada this year. We decided to split our time at a cottage by Lake Erie and at a flat in Toronto to give ourselves a nice combination of country and cosmopolitan.

The first week kept us by Lake Erie. We spent some great time with family, and since the cottage had a private beach right on the lake, the kids had a lot of fun playing in the water or running around the yard. There were huge trees all around, we took the canoe out on the lake and explored around a few bends of the shoreline, we could see turkey vultures gliding on the breeze, we could listen to the gentle sound of waves on the shore in the evening, and the mosquitoes didn't actually seem too attracted to us.

Sounds idyllic, no?

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

And for 98% of our time on the lake, I would say yes.

But as it turns out, this damp, cool region is heaven... for earwigs.

Our first run in with the pincer-butt demons of nightmares occurred the morning after having left Little Man's swim trucks on the back of a lawn chair to dry overnight. Mark handed the trunks over and an earwig fell out. Figuring that was the end of it, Mark told Little Man to pop them on. He refused, white faced and saying there were still bugs in there. A quick shake of the trunks knocked 5 more out, and we started to realize how conniving these bugs are.

From that point on, we only came across a single earwig here and there.

Until we left the canoe on the grass.

As it turns out, the metal lip around the top of a Plexiglas canoe is an IDEAL hiding spot for earwigs. Those little buggers had jammed themselves up and into that metal lip, so that when the canoe was tipped right-side up to carry it down to the lake, earwigs started spilling down the sides of the canoe and into the bottom of the canoe, where Little Man would be sitting and our bare feet would be resting.

Now, if you've ever had the misfortune to Google "earwig" you would probably have the same reaction that we did. (Note: If you want to sleep tonight - or this week - DO NOT GOOGLE EARWIGS) For about half an hour, the neighboring cottages could hear the non-rhythmic slapping of flipflops and sneakers on canoe as we tried to kill the flood of earwigs. That in itself was bad enough, but slapping the canoe with shoes caused more earwigs to fall loose.

All told, we killed over 60 earwigs in the canoe. A few others were allowed to escape so they would warn the others to stay away.

And THAT was how we spent our summer vacation.

At least in part.

Do you have a crazy summer vacation story? 

14 August 2015


Well, it's been a little while since I've been able to post. Between prepping for the Staatsexamen, recovering from the Staatsexamen, and prepping for and going on vacation in Canada, I've been neglecting my little blog here. But now that I'm back and only suffering from the crazy induced by school summer vacation, I can give the blog the TLC it deserves.

And with that, I can also share a little good news *coughcoughbraggingcoughcouch* ... ahem.

My exam results came in while we were on vacation, and I passed all four sections of the exam!

I have no idea what the numbers mean other than "passing" - which is good enough to snag a nifty looking diploma and update my CV with an official "Look, I'm officially not completely helpless in Dutch" status.

While I can be continue to be self deprecating here (it is a favorite hobby of mine, after all), I do have to admit that I am rather proud of myself. It's taken 2 years of hard work to get to this point, and while my Dutch is far from perfect I've come quite a long way. And I give a lot of thanks to Mark (and by extension, the Little Man) for supporting me and making my formal lessons possible, and my friends and colleagues at Bogaers Taleninstituut for teaching and supporting me through the last 2 years.

And thanks to the rest of you who've come along with my so far. I'm not done yet, so let's see how far I can take this thing.

07 July 2015

What to Expect When Taking the Dutch Staatsexamen NT2 (Programma I)

I'm now 2 weeks past having taken the Staatsexamen NT2, and my brain has mostly re-solidified (no thanks to the European heatwave). So now that I'm feeling coherent again, I'm sharing some advice about what to expect about taking the Staatsexamen NT2 Programma I.

Firstly: some disclaimers/background information.

  • I wasn't required to take the Staatsexamen for any reason, though depending on your situation, you may find that it is some sort of requirement for you due to work, eventual inburgering, etc.
  • I have been taking private Dutch lessons for over 2 years now and decided to take the exam because a) my fantastic instructor felt pretty confident in my ability to pass and b) I figured I might as well put this knowledge into practice and see about getting a nifty certificate to prove it.
  • I took the exam at the Eindhoven location, so my information is based on my experience there.
  • This information relates to Programma I. I have not taken Programma II, nor do I know anyone that has. So if you want to take Programma II, you're on your own, but please let me know what it's like.
  • I've written this post entirely based on my own experiences and was not asked to share this information by any organization.

When you've registered for the Staatsexamen, you receive via post a confirmation of payment within a few days. However, you won't receive the address and official test-taker information until about 2 weeks before your exam dates. If you decide to go for all 4 test sections (reading, listening, speaking, and writing) try not to be totally shocked when you see that the test spans two days.

When the day comes to actually take the exam:

  • make sure you arrive AT LEAST 30 minutes prior to the test. This gives you time to check in with the office, put all your things in one of the provided lockers, and have a last nervous-pee in the restroom before getting called into the testing room. 
  • You'll need an official photo ID and your official test confirmation from the Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap.
  • The test proctors call everyone in somewhere between 10 and -2 minutes before the official exam start time. If you are not in the test room at the official start time, you forfeit your test time and the exam cost.

When you walk into the testing room:

  • You'll have to find a piece of paper with your name and official test number at an assigned seat. You can't switch spots with someone as your test number has been programmed into the computer at your seat. 
  • Test takers may not take any type of electronic device (phones, cameras, electronic dictionaries, etc) into the testing area. 
  • Watches, even analog, are also not allowed in the test room. 
  • Up to three dictionaries are allowed for the reading and writing tests - but these will be checked by the proctors for any loose pages and probably also hollowed out areas holding illegal items. 
  • You may not bring your own pens or paper - you will be provided with pens and scrap paper that will be collected at the end of the exam.
  • Bring your official test confirmation paper and photo ID into the exam room.
  • You're allowed to bring a drink with you to the testing room. They encourage you to have a water bottle with a cover on it. 
  • The proctors will check that you match your photo ID, and will check your ears for any earbud/headphones and your wrists for watches. 

While taking the tests:

  • Both the reading and writing sections have you doing work out of a workbook and on the computer.
  • The headphones for the speaking section are not noise-cancelling headphones, and you will be able to hear the other people in the room. Some are more annoying than others.
  • The proctors will give a 15 minute warning and a 5 minute warning towards the end of the exam time. Analog clocks are also hung around the room to help you track your time.
  • Don't even bother trying to track your time during the listening and speaking sections. It all moves too fast and it'll increase your anxiety even more trying to do the math in your head.

After the tests:

  • You won't receive your exam results for 5-6 weeks after the test.
  • You will feel like your brain has been through a blender. 
  • Go home and have a drink. 

Have you taken the Staatsexamen? Do you have any other insights?

12 June 2015

Marktplaats and the Rommelmarkt: Junk, Crazies, & the Occasional Treasure

My dad has a joke that every year during the summer, all of the crap in the US exchanges hands through the garage sales that dot suburbia. All your old junk goes out in the driveway, someone else will probably buy it and use it for a little while before it goes back out in another garage sale in the future. It's like the Circle of Life for tchotchkes and incomplete toy sets.

But at the same time, there's a little treasure hunter in all of us that wonders if we'll finally find the Holy Grail hiding within someone's box of old, beat up LP's. Since huge garages and yards aren't a thing in the Netherlands, the options for spreading the junk around are limited, so you need to take advantage when the opportunities present themselves. A few times a year, you can visit a rommelmarkt. The people "in the know" can find these things pretty easily (much like the garage sale hawks in the States), and as far as I can tell, they find them though a mixture of experience, pure cunning, and maybe some sort of animal sacrifice to the rommelmarkt gods - often the information on the internet is incomplete or nonexistant. But despite their elusiveness (to the foreigner) the sheer volume of resellable junk at a rommelmarkt is staggering and requires a bit of patience if you're hoping to find The One True And Complete Board Game or something really unique.

Fortunately, for those of us unable to divine when and where a market will present itself there is Marktplaats. Marktplaats is the Dutch Craig's List. It's open 24/7 and free to use - you just need to be able to read/write a bit of Dutch or use an online translator. The benefit of course, it that you can search for exactly the treasure you want or post an advertisement (providing you can figure out the right search terms) without having to fumble through your Dutch in front of a live person. But again, the amount of junk is staggering, but you can find some treasure, especially if you don't mind killing some time shuffling through the pages.

One thing to be aware of while searching through your local rommelmarkt or Marktplaats is that koopjes (good deals) bring out the crazies. IN DROVES. I've now bought and sold things at rommelmarkten and on Marktplaats, so I can indeed confirm that this is true. Through Marktplaats I had someone ask to pick something up at 5 o'clock in the morning (erm?) but luckily it's easy to brush someone off by email (especially when the address is hidden through the system). In person it gets a little dodgier, like when Little Man and I got stuck next to a crazy while selling at a rommelmarkt on Koningsdag. At first it was just annoying that she kept trying to get Little Man to buy the crappy toys she was selling. It got weird when she figured out we were American and wanted to rehash the events of 9/11. But I lost the ability to speak when I watched her buy up a bunch of tennis balls from another guy, then demand to return them with her money back when she realized he had more and would be "competition." Cue cuckoo clock sound.

But, if you can wade through the junk and keep your wits about you, these places can really give you treasure. At Tilburg's Meimarkt (a massive overnight rommelmarkt) Little Man found a sheep's jaw bone and Mark found some great LP's. And on Marktplaats, I found Little Man's bike and my amazing Pfaff 30 sewing machine with the hand crank.

Here she is! This is my amazing Marktplaats find. She runs like a dream and I think we're going to be very happy...

These things might feel a little few and far between, but I promise that you can find good stuff. If you feel around the crap and dodge a few nutters, you'll have a bit of luck.

Have you been to the rommelmarkt or used Marktplaats? Was it worth it?

08 June 2015

The Lone Rider

There are certain milestones that just sort of happen. 

Yesterday, one of Little Man's milestones came while he was practicing riding his two-wheeler... and all of a sudden...

He was riding on his own!

Now that he's got going, he's just got to figure out how to stop. But even before he does, he's well on his way to bigger and better things. He's already ridden his bike to and from school today, and he's quite proud of himself. 

Congrats, Little Man!

31 May 2015

Colors of the Keukenhof

If you want to see an explosion of color (and the epitome of tourism in the Netherlands), visit the Keukenhof during tulip season. From March to May every year, this extensive garden opens its gates to 800,000 people from around the world. Approximately 7 million bulbs are planted for each season, and since tulips are synonymous with Holland, the Netherlands, and the Dutch - these bulbs attract plenty of people curious to see something "typical Dutch."

We made a visit to the Keukenhof once before. That year the winter had been longer and colder than usual and only the crocuses were thinking about showing themselves and crates of tulips were on display inside the pavilions to make up for the hectares of green outside. And there was an awful lot of green while the tulips were waiting for some sun.

This year, we waited until the park's last weekend to make a visit to guarantee seeing a bit of color in the park and we were not disappointed. While some of the tulips had already been "headed" there were plenty of beautiful tulips still at the peak or not quite ready to give up. And for someone like me that loves ALL THE COLORS, the trip was exactly the rainbow explosion I was hoping for.

Even before moving to the Netherlands tulips were one of my favorite flowers. I've always been fascinated by the variations in the petal shapes and the ways the colors can develop into flames, veins, or borders. It's mind boggling to think that some of these genetic mutations "just happen" and manage to produce something so bold and beautiful in something so delicate.

If you've ever wanted to know a bit more about tulips (and I promise it's much more interesting than you would first think), check out my recommendation for Anna Pavord's The Tulip. Much of my understanding of tulips came from this book, which also goes into details about the flower's strange history.

Have you ever made a visit to the Keukenhof or Holland's tulips fields? What did you think?

24 May 2015

Mariamaand at Hasseltse Kapel

The Hasseltse Kapel holds the distinction of being Tilburg's oldest religious monument (you can read more about it's history and my first visit here), but during the month of May, also known as Mariamaand (Maria Month), the chapel takes on an additional importance.

But first, a quick history lesson (that I've just picked up via the Roman Catholic Church's Dutch website): Early in the Roman Catholic Church's history, the church often took advantage of existing pagan celebrations in order to relate to those they were trying to convert. Mariamaand came about while connecting celebrations to pagan goddesses' fertility and the breaking of the cold weather into warm, usually around May 1, to Mary's fertility as the mother of Christ. Sometime in the 13th century, the entire month of May was dedicated to Mary. As time when on, pilgrimages to specific places of worship were made by believers to honor Mary.

The Hasseltse Kapel is one of these sites. A Baroque style statue of the Madonna and Christ Child installed in the late 18th century is the focal point of the chapel. Every day during the month of May, people come to the chapel to light candles and say a few prayers or sit in reflection. It's amazing to see how many people will come just to this a small, tucked-away chapel during May.

After you visit the chapel, you can make your way over to the snoepkramen (candy carts) set up outside the chapel park. I'm not entirely sure when this tradition started, but to add to the festival atmosphere at some point, the snoepkramen were added along with a few small concerts and other activities. As you might imagine, the snoepkramen are quite the hit with the kids, but there are plenty of adults picking out candy for themselves, too.

If you can, make your own pilgrimage to the Hasseltse Kapel in Tilburg during May, or any other time of the year. 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.

19 May 2015


Here we are - this is officially the 300th post at Ace the Adventure. This is a big deal in terms of blog-life (especially because I missed the more "rounded" 250th post) - it's a bit like watching the odometer in your car tick past 100,000 miles, but while reading and writing and without threat of crashing while taking a picture on the highway.

This little blog started back in July 2012 with the intention of keeping friends and family informed of our whereabouts while we made the BIG transition from the US to the Netherlands. I won't lie - most of those posts in the beginning were pretty boring as they were written during bouts of stress, jet lag (for a time), and a stubbornness in avoiding admitting just how stressful and confusing everything was in the beginning. I'd like to think things have become more interesting and readable over the course of these 300 posts (and if not, don't tell me. I like this little fantasy I've created for myself). During the time it's taken to get to 300, we've learned a lot about and adapted to our new home in the Netherlands, learned a great deal of the Dutch language, traveled - and the adventure is hardly over yet.

So, keep reading along with me as we move forward. There's no telling what lies ahead!

17 May 2015

The Beauty of Lisbon's Azulejo Tiling

Anyone that knows me well knows how much I love having bright colors around. If it were possible to declare my favorite color "rainbow" I probably would. So when visiting Lisbon, like my earlier trip to Fes, Morocco, I was amazed by the colors that radiate from every corner of the city.

The first thing that we noticed about Lisbon was that the stucco of the buildings was typically painted lovely pastels or covered with colorful tiles (called azulejos) that are produced in the region. Whether on a main strip, or a small winding side street, I found myself just enjoying walking around to look at the patterns of the tiles.

Historically, the tiles' purpose was both functional and decorative. Particularly in the hot summer months, interior tiling cools the indoor space while exterior tiling reflects the sun's heat away from the building. Most of the pictures I took of the tiling were just on the outside of buildings we walked past, but tiling can be found inside buildings, from regular homes to businesses and important government buildings, and even palaces.

Tiles everywhere: on average homes...

...and palaces like Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal.

Most azulejos feature geometric shapes or organic-looking patterns of flowers and at first you may think that while beautiful, the tiling is simple in design. But getting up close reveals just how intricate many of the "simple" designs are. And while the geometric designs are very popular, you can easily find portraits, scenes of importance to Portuguese history or to the Catholic faith, or landscape designs.

Plain tile neighbors intricate tile

Tiling surrounding a reflecting pond at the Botanical Garden, Lisbon

The azulejos are inseparable from Portuguese culture, and are beautiful to look at. When visiting Portugal, take time to look around and view the tile - you may be surprised by its intricacy.

Have you been to Portugal? Did you observe the azulejos?

04 May 2015

The Things I'd Only Ever Dreamed Of

It's moments like now that I can't help but look back and feel blessed.

We just got back from Lisbon, and it's yet another trip that makes me realize that just a few years ago, trips and experiences like these are things that I could only have dreamed of. The US is a big country, and while there's plenty of cultural differences between regions, you can't even begin to compare it to the cultural differences that exist between countries.

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

European vacations from the US are expensive, which limits the opportunities Americans have to travel outside their own culture. Living in Europe has allowed me to make my dream trips to Dublin and Paris and create a "travel wish list" that seems realistic without an "if I ever win the lottery" caveat. I've been able to stand surrounded by other languages and hear how they're truly spoken, even if I can't understand a word. I've walked along ancient streets that I'd read about but never imagined touching. It's humbling to think about.

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

Portugal is a gorgeous country and the city of Lisbon is full of history, color, and plenty to do. I'm going to work on some posts about it, but at the moment, I'm content to think about the opportunities I've had so far and how grateful I am for them.

08 April 2015

Ready or Not, Here Comes the Staatsexamen

I've been taking Dutch lessons for two straight years now. It's been a commitment to continue with my course, but it's been very important to me, mostly because I've felt that I needed to learn Dutch alongside the Little Man and share in that struggle (and joy) of his adjustment to life as a foreigner. Now, after two years, five textbooks, and endless patience from my fantastic instructor, it's time for me to put my new vocabulary where my mouth is: I've signed up for the Staatsexamen NT2 - the national exam for Dutch as a second language.

Up til now, taking the Staatsexamen has been a lovely little fairy of a daydream goal: nice to think about and work toward, but conveniently very far off in the future. But with having done so much work it's become clear that it's time to put all this practice into more concrete use, and hopefully pick up a snazzy official certificate while I'm at it. So, on Monday I registered for the exam taking place on the 22nd and 23rd of June.

On one hand, it's nice to know I have an official deadline to work towards. On the other hand, I. am. freaking. out. Sure, my instructor wouldn't have encouraged me to sign up if she didn't feel I was ready, and I wouldn't have registered if I didn't think I was able to do it. But, still. There's a 2-day test and time limits and people judging you while you fumble around with a number 2 pencil. The idea is flashing me back to sitting through the SAT, and thinking about high school is not exactly soothing my nerves. Like back then, I know that I've come a long way and I've learned quite a bit but I also know that there is so much work left to do and so much more to improve. It's hard to balance out in my head what's "good enough" for the exam versus my ideal. Working through that is just as much part of my preparation process as reviewing my sentence structure.

I have 10 weeks of prep time ahead of me, and I know I'll make it out on the other side of this test. I don't know what sort of shape I'll be in, but I know I'll come out of it. The other side of this promises a bit more confidence, but also knowing that I've accomplished something pretty big for myself and for Little Man. Wish me luck as I fall down the rabbit hole of studying in the coming weeks.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

02 April 2015

Navigating the Metric System While Under the Imperial Influence

There are plenty of habits that I've adopted while living in the Netherlands. And then there's the metric system.

In some respects, the metric system is great. It's universal. It's a base-10 system. You use decimals in your measurements instead of crazy fractions. You'd think that this would be easier, and the rest of the world clearly does. 

But the US has stoutly ignored the metric system. We operate on the English Imperial system for weight, volume, length, etc. Sure, we'll throw the 30-ish centimeters on the other side of the ruler to say we taught the kids metric measurement, but we're all only using the tick marks for the 12 inches to the foot on the "main side." Our big soda bottles may come in liters, but every other liquid is measured by ounces, quarts, and gallons. Our cars' odometers boldly display the speed in miles per hour, while the tiny markings for kilometers per hour were added on as an afterthought - in case you cross into Canada. And I don't see this changing any time soon.

I'm with Grandpa Simpson on this one.

So what does an American do abroad? Make endlessly broad assumptions about measurement. 

I know that 500 grams is *about* 1 pound, that 1 liter is *about* 1 quart, and that 1 kilometer is somewhere between a half mile and a mile. These types of "measurements" do not instill confidence in your metrically-minded peers. I've tried to switch, but it's just not sticking. 

And after this long, I've stopped caring. The Imperial system is so ingrained in my brain that I can't escape it. I can only envision things in feet and inches, and my work doesn't rely on accurate metric measurements, so, meh. Consider my reliance upon the Imperial system as a quirk of my personality; so just smile and nod while I'm talking in gallons and miles, and when it's really necessary we'll break out a smart phone and Google it. 

31 March 2015

Windy, Windy, Windy

As far as weather is concerned, most people think that the Netherlands is just full of rain. It's true that it rains a lot here, but for the most part, it's a light rain. It's annoying to ride a bike through but it doesn't stop you from going out. The Dutch simply employ their amazing balance skills and ride with one hand holding an umbrella and the other checking their mobile and go about their business. 

Except when the wind comes through. You know all those windmills the Dutch are famous for? Well, they don't work unless you have a lot of strong wind, and often. Great for grinding wheat into flour, not so great for cycling against. Today, depending on which weather app I consult, the winds are expected to blow around 50 kph/30 mph with gusts up to 80 kph/50 mph. Let me tell you how excited I am to ride to work...

I'm not.

This cutesy "wind" symbol doesn't properly express the dread
you ought to feel about leaving the house today.

A day like today can more than double a cyclist's commute if riding against the wind, and increase the travel time by about 50% if the wind is at your side. Admittedly, riding with the wind at your back gets you where you're going faster, but at the risk of taking flight if you hit a bump. Even living and cycling in Chicago, the Windy City*, doesn't prepare you for this sort of wind. The wind tunnels from the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago have nothing on the relatively open streets of Tilburg. Even as I'm typing I'm watching the tree tops stay bent at 30 degree angles for what feels like an impossible amount of time. 

Will that stop the Dutch cyclists? No. They'll look miserable going against the wind, but they'll be out in regular numbers because that's just what you do. I'll be along side them today, with bricks in my bags to keep my wheels on the ground.

Have you ridden through the Dutch winds? Or experienced some crazy wind elsewhere?

*As a history geek, I NEED to point out that while Chicago does get a lot of wind and can have strong gusts, the real reason for the nickname is the "windbag" politicians of the mid- to late-1800s. Know your cliches, kids.

26 March 2015

Medical Advice Purgatory

Monday afternoon the weather was fine and Little Man was playing with a friend after school. They were playing on the "big kids'" climbing thing at the school, and per usual, Little Man was jumping off the top of it. While this usually induces a mild heart attack in any adult witness, the Little Man's flying squirrel imitations typically end with him landing on his feet and climbing back up for another go.

But Monday, instead of landing on his feet, he landed on his arm. His friend's mother checked him out and took him back to their house, and checked him again. There was nothing noticeably wrong, but Little Man couldn't stop crying and didn't want to bend his elbow. The friend's mom sent me a What's App to let me know what happened and that she was bringing him back home. She gave me the whole story (and apologized profusely, she felt terrible about the whole thing) and then I brought him inside, preparing to make a visit to the huisartsenpost and find out if his arm was broken or just banged up. 

And then we hit our problem. I called the huisartsenpost and heard on the recording that the office didn't open until 5pm. Even though the huisartsenpost  is closer to our house than our doctor's office, I decided to call the doctor's to see if they could put us on the huisartsenpost's appointment list for when they opened up. As it turns out, our doctor's office stops taking phone calls at 4pm so staff can focus on the patients in the office. I called at 4:01pm.

So we waited through the hour of Medical Advice Purgatory - the time when non-life threatening emergencies just have to wait until the right phone line opens up before you can ask a professional about what you should do, and there doesn't seem to be any way around it. We sat on the couch and Little Man got more treats than a normal afternoon as we read books and kept the distractions coming.

As soon as 5pm struck, I was on the phone dialing again. I got through and got an appointment for an hour and a half later. Luckily, the doctor said that the Little Man's arm wasn't broken, just a deep-tissue bruise that would heal as it was ready and we should give paracetamol as needed. While Little Man didn't move his arm much the next day, you can tell he feels better and that there isn't any lasting damage. I just hope we don't ever have to sit through purgatory again.

Have you ever needed advice abroad and had to wait to get it? 

23 March 2015

Pannenkoeken: Dinner as Big as Your Face

Pancakes are pretty awesome. Americans have a very specific idea of pancakes, too. Fluffy. Sweet. Butter and syrup. Breakfast. Breakfast for dinner is okay, but it's still fitting into all these other categories. That's how we like them. 

So Dutch pannenkoeken can be a bit jarring for the American taste bud. Dutch pannenkoeken may be sweet. Or savory. They are not fluffy. They are not breakfast. And they're big enough to wrap around your face. But as long as you don't eat one expecting a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast, you can still appreciate a Dutch pannenkoek

Mark was away at a conference last week, so I decided to treat Little Man and myself with a trip to the pannenkoekenrestaurant for lunch on the half day of school. He's a fan of pannenkoek with powdered sugar (or more accurately, powdered sugar with a side of pannenkoek) and I'm a fan of not cooking and cleaning my own dishes. 

The pannenkoekenrestaurant opens in time for lunch and closes mid-evening - again, this isn't for breakfast - and offers an overwhelming number of ingredient combinations for your dinner plate-sized pancake. There are so many options on a typical pannenkoekenrestaurant menu that you give the server the identification number of the pannenkoek you want to each - which can reach to over 900 identification numbers. Luckily, we both knew what we wanted going in, so ordering was fast.

And, per usual, we were happy with our choices. The pannenkoeken are fairly difficult to screw up - you can only do so by burning one and the combination options are all tried and true, so unless you order something you don't actually like, the flavors all make sense. They're so easy to make you can easily do so yourself at home with this simple recipe. But like I said, I like not having to make the mess and clean up after myself. 

Have you had pannenkoeken? What did you think?

18 March 2015

The Bookstore Experience

Despite an ever-growing list of titles on my "to read" list, I'm always looking for something new to read. Having an impossibly long list simultaneously makes me feel ambitious  because I have lots to get through and extremely lazy because I haven't got very far through it. Apparently, I enjoy internal conflict. 

Adding titles is difficult when you can't just pop into a bookstore whenever you want. I could pop into the Dutch bookstores, but seeing as my reading level is at children's chapter book, that can leave you feeling a little deflated. When we're up in Den Haag (the Hague) or Amsterdam, I like to make a trip to the bookstores to have a chance to look around and thumb through the books, and over the weekend, Little Man and I made a trip up to Den Haag and stopped in the American Book Center to do just that. 

Little Man went into the shop with a purpose: to find the next book in the How To Train Your Dragon series. He's what you might call a "local expert" on dragons and a huge fan of the "Toothless" films and books. I was a little less focused. I wanted something new but didn't even have an inkling about what I might want. Normally I cruise through the history section, but nothing was really jumping out at me this time. I wandered over to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section and noticed a couple of dragons on covers - I've developed an eagle eye for them while hanging out with the Little Man. I read the back of one and noticed a praise blurb from George R.R. Martin, which was good enough for me.

We may have a bit of a theme going on here...

I do end up paying more for these books at the shop than if I were to buy them online. But I've come to justify it as paying for the experience as well as the book. The bookstore has become something special, a once in a while thing - like an amusement park. We make a day of the trip and do other special things while we're out.  It's also so much easier to browse and find something new to read when you can page through the actual book than when you try online, and there's something intensely gratifying about walking out with a heavy bag of adventures.

We're fortunate that it's relatively easy to make the trips to the bookstore a "special thing" and that the books aren't astronomically priced. Otherwise, I might actually get all the way through my "to read" list - which I don't actually want to do quite yet.

01 March 2015

Simple and Delicious Homemade Granola

We love good granola in this house. In Chicago, I had gotten into the habit of making granola on a regular basis and taking it for breakfast or lunch with a little yoghurt and some berries. When we moved here, the devil appliance wasn't big enough or reliable enough to make granola any more. I had been buying it in the store, but often the prepackaged granola choices are gross, expensive, or both. But I have a proper oven again, and that has meant the return of the regular fresh and delicious granola!

Making your own granola not only allows you to mix in what you like, but it's less expensive than store-bought, especially if you buy your ingredients in bulk. Buying in bulk isn't always possible in the Netherlands, but you can do an excellent job of keeping costs down by buying Euroshopper products at any grocery chain. And it's an easy recipe to boot, which is why I'm sharing it today.

The Ingredients:

4 cups uncooked oatmeal (havermout)
1.5 cups wheat germ or wheat bran (I typically use wheat bran - tarwezemelen - found in the "health nut"/extra-organic section)
1/2 cup sliced almonds (amandelschaafsel)
1 cup honey (honing)
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil (zonnebloemolie)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (kaneel)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla aroma (I can usually only find Dr Oetker's vanille aroma)

The Process:

Pre-heat your oven to 300 F/150 C.

In a large bowl, combine the uncooked oatmeal, wheat germ/wheat bran, and almonds.

In a large liquid measuring cup, measure out 1 cup honey. I then add the 1/4 cup sunflower seed oil on top of the honey, using the markings on my cup. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract/vanilla aroma. Mix everything as thoroughly as you can - remember that there's only so much mixing the oil will comply with.

Pour the honey mix on top of the dry mix. Mix some more. The goal is to get the dry mix as thoroughly covered by the honey mix as possible - you want the whole mix to be a bit damp from the honey - the dry mix will turn a darker shade of brown.

Spread the mix out on a cookie sheet. Cook the mix for 40 minutes, stopping to stir every 10 minutes. This allows you to toast the granola evenly - especially because the granola in the corners of the pan will burn a bit if left in the same spot.

After the 40 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and let rest about 15 minutes. The mix will harden more as it cools.

Store in an airtight container. I even have a fancy Ball jar and scoop that I purchased *specifically* for my granola. You can store this in the airtight container for 2-3 weeks, but to be honest we don't let a batch sit around that long around here.

I'm so classy, I have a jar and scoop designated for granola.

Some Notes on the Recipe:

It's quite easy to add in some additional dry ingredients such as crushed walnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried blueberries, or dried cranberries. This particular recipe is a fantastic base from which to build your granola to your specific tastes. You can easily add up to another 1.5 cups of dry ingredients. If you like sweeter granola, consider increasing the honey by another 1/4 cup.

Try serving with plain or vanilla Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit!

Eet smakelijk!

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