Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trip to Holland: Day 14 (December 30)

After our busy last two days, we're spending today relaxing at home. We've been busy updating the blog and uploading more pictures on Facebook. Jan is working on a little paint job, and Kitty is making oliebollen and apple beignets. Oliebollen are deep fried donuts with raisins served hot with powdered sugar and apple beignets are discs of apple deep fried in beer batter. Both are traditional new year's treats. Yum!

Daniel took a trip to the Home Depot-like store with Opa this afternoon and enjoyed looking at lights. He has shown both Oma and Opa what a good little shopper he is. He loves to check out everything. He's just to the stage of pointing, so his little finger is working overtime.

On a sad note, it looks as though our trusty little camera is coming to the end of its days. It's only 2.5 years old, but has been to Curacao, Vermont, Alaska, the Midwest, Virginia and Europe, in addition to documenting the first year of Daniel's life with over a thousand pictures a month. The poor thing looks about ten years old and is slowing waaaay down. We've added it's newer cousin to our 2010 wishlist. Good think we have Opa's camera for the rest of our trip here.

This afternoon when we went to mail our postcards Jen did something she hasn't done in 20 years... She drove a car with a stick. The last time wasn't a big hit in a truck with a very tempermental clutch. This time around (and 20 years of technological clutch advances) she was able to manage just fine. She was able to drive away twice and stop twice and shift gears without a problem. John can be proud of his teachings...

Trip to Holland: Day 13 (December 29)

This is our golden month-iversary: celebrating 29 months of wedded bliss on the 29th! Since Niels has been given grief around the world for forgetting my Christmas present, he's really been on the ball about this and my birthday (he already got my present: Season 1 of The Big Bang Theory with Dutch subtitles!).

We got our big day off to a good start on Monday night as we were coming home from Maastricht. We stopped at a flower shop and picked out 29 red and white roses. Flowers are so much cheaper here, I couldn't believe my beautiful arrangement only cost €8, about $10! Needless to say, it would have cost much more at home so I'm glad he made the big splurge here. They're beautiful!

Oma and Opa once again called dibs on Daniel so we woke up Tuesday morning with plans to spend the day in Amsterdam. I have never been on a train like the ones are so popular and common in Europe, so I was just as excited about our mode of transportation! We walked to the train station, about a mile away. (I'm very glad I'd been doing all the walking before we left. We walk everywhere here!)

This has been one of my favorite trips. I love learning about new places, and so much of what I enjoy has to do with the everyday life. Since we are here for 19 days, we have plenty of time for down days (which my brain also appreciates). We've been doing a bit of siteseeing, but there's no rush to get everything in, because we know we'll be back.

One observation I made (well, Niels pointed out to me) at the trainstation was what I thought was just a unique design to the walk way. Actually, the ridged tiles form a tactile marker for blind pedestrians. They put their stick into one of the grooves and then guided to their stop. Pretty smart, I think.

Another thing that no longer surprises me is the ubiquitous bike racks. In front of the train station, there are both regular racks and completely enclosed lockers for rent. I noticed that several places had storage lockers. It's one of those things you don't think about until you see them. Most places in the States removed all public storage lockers after 9/11. Given the attempted terror attack this week, I guess they stuck out a little more.

Helmond has four train stations, quite a few for a city of 90,000. We boarded the train at the eastern most station, Helmond-Brouwhuis (Brewer's House). It took us about 15-20 minutes to get to our first stop, Eindhoven. From there, we transferred to a double decker train straight to Amsterdam. When we got to Dutch "flyover country," we brought out the cards and played Gin 13 while nimbling on some stroopwafels we bought at the Eindhoven station.

After Niels beat me, yet again, we took out my Holland tour books and read up on Amsterdam. My first priority was the Anne Frank House. Niels and I have been to Amsterdam before, shortly before we got engaged. My dad, two sisters and brother-in-law had an 8 hour layover on their way to Israel (where my BIL's family was living), so Niels, his parents and I met them there. And that is where Niels asked my dad for his blessing on our upcoming marriage. (He proposed a few days later in Paris). During that trip, we walked by the Anne Frank house and an extremely long line. Since our time was limited (and Niels' chat with Dad was the priority), we skipped it. But first, Niels promised me that we would go the next time we were in Amsterdam.

Our second priority was the Rijks Museum, pretty much the Dutch Louve with paintings by many of the Dutch masters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh... Ultimately, we didn't have time to make it this trip, but next time we're in Amsterdam...

Once we arrived at the train station, we walked to the local public transport office for an all day, all access pass that allowed us to go on any tram or bus in the city. It was about a 15 minute wait, but we didn't mind being in the warm building because baby, it was cold outside!

We found the tram to take us to the Anne Frank house, and then walked the few blocks to the museum, where once again there was an impressive line. Niels balked at what he thought would be a three hour wait in the cold, but only an hour later, a very happy Jen entered the museum with a crow-eating Niels. Speaking of eating, we made good use of our time in line by sampling some of the city's friet, or french fries. Here they are served in a cone shaped paper container and usually with mayo, although my hubby wisely came back with ketchup. The fries also came with a cute little plastic fork, though I still managed to get ketchup on my gloves. I didn't mind later when a whiff of ketchup cleared my nostrils from all the cigarette smoke. (Europeans are definitely not up to par with Americans on clean air codes!)

The Anne Frank house was definitely a highlight of this trip for me. I'm not completely certain, but I'm pretty sure I started journaling and recognizing my own love of writing around the time I read Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl for the first time. As noted at the museum, it's not so much about Anne, as much as it is that she put a face on what seems so inhumane. It's haunting to walk through those narrow passages and steep stairs knowing the circumstances and unfortunate outcome of those who lived there.

One thing I never quite understood before visiting is how the annex was actually hidden. The hiding place was almost a separate building built behind Otto Frank's store. From the front, you would only see the store. The building is very tall, so you wouldn't see the depth of it. Most people wouldn't see the back of the building because four blocks of building formed a closed square with a courtyard in the center (containing the chestnut tree Anne writes of seeing from the attic).

The actual annex was cleared of most furnishings when the Germans raided it. Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only one of the eight to survive the concentration camps, returned later and demanded that it remained bare. Only the fixtures (lights, sinks, etc.) remain, along with a few things on the wall--pictures Anne glued of celebrities, a map of Normandy and pencil marks indicating the growth of Anne and her sister.

The museum itself is extraordinarily well done. The actual site is very well preserved, yet accessible for visitors to experience. (Unless, of course, you are unable to climb incredibly steep stairs!). The museum has purchased several of the other homes on the block, which now houses several additional feature areas and a gift shop. Since no pictures are allowed in the museum, we bought a pretty cool gift book with pictures of all the rooms with accompanying quotes from Anne's diary for me and a new BBC version of the movie on DVD for Niels (and me!).

We walked out both disturbed and inspired. It was already 4pm by that time and the Rijks Museum closed at 5, so we adjusted our plans. We found a delft gift shop across the street/canal, so we wandered over there to get a little something for my delft-collecting stepmom.

We made the misguided decision to get off our tram to see a few souvenir shops. This was not a good decision since the next tram, which was supposed to come every 10-12 minutes, never arrived in the 40 frigid minutes we waited. So we walked the mile or so back to the central station so we could still have some heat in our bodies!

Next up was a little more modern culture. Dinner and a movie. We took the tram to suburbian Amsterdam. By this time it was raining, so we opted for the sit down Burger King, rather than the stand-only Dutch restaurant. The menu at BK was mostly the same as in American, though they had some yummy cheese balls which we had to try.

There weren't a lot of choices for us at the movie theater. There is a Dutch movie I'd like to see, de Hel of '63, about the Dutch ice-skating event, but alas, no English subtitles. We ended up seeing It's Complicated, with Dutch subtitles. Given the subject, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it, but Niels and I both ended up laughing a lot more than we expected. John Krakowski was particularly funny!

By this time, it was 9:30 and snowing, so it was definitely time to head home. This was the longest I had ever been away from Daniel over a two day period and I was missing my little boy, even though I knew he was already in bed. (I peeked in on him when we got home).

We rode the bottom of the double decker train on our way home since there wasn't anything to see in the dark. I finally beat Niels in Gin 13 and became thoroughly engrossed in my book from the Anne Frank Museum.

At our stop in Utrecht, I managed to pull a muscle which made the rest of the trip home interesting, but I was very happy it happened at the end of the day. It worked itself out on the mile walk back to Opa and Oma's house.

We had a great report from them that Daniel was a good boy, and that he learned a new trick. When he sees a pillow on the floor, he goes over to it, puts his head on it with his legs still straight--sort of a modified downward facing dog. My son, the yogi.

After a nice hot chocolate to take the chill out of my bones, we called it a very good night!

Trip to Holland: Day 12 (Dec 28)

On the menu for Day 12 was ... dinner at 6pm and open for the rest. Hmm, pretty good day for us to leave Daniel with his Opa and Oma and for Mommy and Daddy to go exploring. We decided to go to the Niels' favorite Dutch city Maastricht.

Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in Holland and has seen continuous occupation since before Roman times. In the 2nd through 4th century it had a Roman settlement and a Maas river bridge that stood until the 12th century. During the middle ages it was ruled by Bishops and became a triving town. There are many old churches (some as old as the 10th century) and some of the medival city walls are still present. Even Napoleon briefly occupied the city with the 4th muskatier (D'Artagnan) being killed in one the sieges). Today, it is a very bourgeouis city with lots of restaurants, outside terraces, city squares and a very French, joie d'vivre that - combined with the history - makes it such a beautiful city.

When we were there Niels showed where he worked - Penske had an office in downtown Maastricht - before he moved to the States and afterwards we made our way to our #1 attraction: the Worlds' most beautiful bookstore. It is housed in a former church and looks simply stunning.

We found a nice ABC book for Daniel and card for Mom. We also visited the oldest church and after some soul-feeding it was time for some stomach feeding. The winter carnival was in town and that ment lots of Oliebollen, Poffertjes, Brats and Burgers. We had some very XL Brats and were thinking of our friends in Wisconsin (that includes a friend who got engaged 2 days later, congratulations!). All that food aside, we still had a dinner appointment back in Helmond at 6pm at the local pancake resaurant, so Helmond-bound we went.

The pancake restaurant was only about a mile from our home-base here in the Netherlands so the whole family walked to dinner. Very nice, makes us miss sidewalks in the States... Daniel had fun in the kids-section and enjoyed some of Opa, Daddy and Mommy's dinner. At home we feasted some more on that yummy Cinnamon (Kaneel) ice cream before we called it a night.

Trip to Holland: Day 10 and 11 (Dec 26, 27)

Christmas in the Netherlands is spread over two days: 1e kerstdag (Dec 25) and 2e kerstdag (Dec 26), similar to the Canadians and British celebrations. The traditional Christmas Eve (Dec 24 pm) is not celebrated here, although shops do close earlier that day. The giftgiving that usually takes place on the 24th in the States is done on Dec 5 on Sinterklaas (see the Sinterklaas post).

On the 26th we had nothing planned other than a family dinner in the afternoon so we kind of lounged, slept-in (Jen, Niels was up with Daniel) and kept it nice and simple. It's good to wind down and reflect a bit on a day like that. Around 3.30pm we left for a dinner at Niels' Uncle Jan's place about 25 minutes south. We met the entire family there and after some nice convo-time (in Dutch, so pretty tiring for Jen) we set down for a beautiful and delicious 6-course dinner.

The menu:
  • Course 1: pastry with mushroom like sauce
  • Course 2: Chinese tomato soup (yum!)
  • Course 3: Salad with chicken and pineapple
  • Course 4: Choice of Beef filet, round steak, venison ( in Holland?), pork tenderloin with bacon, potato au gratin, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed pears with cinnamon sauce and green beans
  • Course 5: Apple-flavored ice cream with chocolate
  • Course 6: Coffee or Tea (again, with chocolates)
Yeah, they do know how to eat well here. Especially the Chinese tomato soup was 'erg lekker'. It was a multi-hour event and we kind of dreaded that with Daniel, but every 10 minutes someone of the family wanted to spent some time with our little boy. Needless to say Daniel did very well after the last course he took a well deserved nap until we left at about 10pm.

On the 27th we went to a local English-language church 'Cornerstone Baptist Church' in the nearby city of Eindhoven. There is only 1 non-Catholic church in Helmond and no English-languauge services (in a city of 90,000). Eindhoven has a number of large businesses and a couple of universities and therefore has an expatriate community and those are served by a couple of English-language churches. Cornerstone is one of them and - tech-savvy as we are - their website looked the most professional, so we picked them.

It was a true bapist church with longer prayers and lots of praise, but the pastor (a Dutchman, residing in Dubai) was a very good, but had a - for (Southern) Baptist terms - very laid back preaching style. We met a Dutch-American couple with the 1 year old where the Dutch husband works in IT that met online... Sounds familiar? Since we had one of Niels' groomsmen Pascal waiting for us in Helmond we agreed to talk a little longer with them next week.

At home - after picking up lunch at Subway and Jen's birthday present, NOT going to forget this time - we had a very time catching-up with Pascal, his wife and now two kids. Funny that Pascal's 18mth old daugther and our 12mth old Daniel are the same size. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed and the only other thing we did was upload some of the pictures before went to bed. Gotta love being on vacation...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holland: Day 9 (Christmas Day)

Prettige Kerstdagen, allemaal! Merry Chrstmas, everyone!

We started our Christmas day 6 hours ahead of our friends in Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, 7 hours before our family and friends in Minnesota, 8 hours ahead of my mom and gramma, and 9 hours in before our friends in California!

We started the day by picking up Oma and driving to church. The northern part of Holland is predominately Protestant (think Calvin and the Dutch Reformed). The southern part, where we are, is predominately Catholic. And it's not even close. In Helmond, this city of 90,000 people, there is ONE Protestant church. Oma has been going to Bethlehem Kerk for the last 30+ years. Holland is generally post-Christian, so there were a lot of white hairs in the service! They do have a nursery, for ages birth to five. Daniel did great, and dove right in to the toy bin. There were about five other kids there.

The service was completely in Dutch, but I was able to follow almost everything. Most Christmas services do follow the same general story! We sang several carols, a few of them had English counterparts, so I sang in English for those and did my best with the Dutch ones. One fun moment was when the choir sang the song "Peace, peace, peace" English!

Daniel was ready for his nap when we got back home, and I thought that was a good idea so I did the same. My headache is much better today, but they always wipe me out. After we woke up, it was time to open our presents. Daniel has been so good about the Christmas tree. He is fascinated by it, but he won't touch it unless we bring him to it. He does point at it a lot, though!

Oma passed out the gifts, which oddly enough, were mostly for Daniel! Daniel received several Dutch books, a laughing monkey, and a little toy lion (get it? Daniel and the Lion) from Oma and Opa, a silverware set from tante Ingrid and ten euros from Oma. I received several Dutch-themed items for our kitchen: oven mitts, tea bag holder and an apron. Niels got a book about Helmond's history and a DVD of 1974, when he was born. We also got Dutch treats, including stroopwafels and chocolate letters. And yes, if you read my Facebook status, it's true that Niels forgot to get me a present, but being married to him is present enough for me! (I'm sensing a theme here, he almost forgot the ring when we were here to get engaged, he forgot to kneel when he proposed...and I thought I was the forgetful one!)

For Christmas dinner, we enjoyed a traditional Dutch dinner, the gourmet (pronounced gore-MET). It seems to be primarily a Dutch thing, I couldn't even find a description on Wiki! The best way I can describe it is like a fondue dinner, except that instead of using a communal cheese pot, there a communal electric grill. Each person has a little pan, maybe 3" wide, to cook their own meat, veggies, eggs and/or pancakes. It's a special occasion-type meal, as it takes a good amount of time to both prep and enjoy.

We've just put Daniel to bed and I'm enjoying yet another bowl of cinnamon ice cream. If only I could figure out a way to bring that back with me...YUM!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holland: Day 7 and 8 (December 23 / 24)

When I'm posting this one it is one of those blessed nights of the year in the US, Christmas Eve. Funny thing is that here in the Netherlands it's not a big deal at all. Christmas day (Dec 25) and Boxing day (Dec 26) are a far bigger deal and we also don't see too much of the last minute rush for shopping. The latter is due to the fact that on Dec 5 it is Sinterklaas where traditionally most of the gift-giving is taken place in the Netherlands.

But let's see what we did over the last two days here in the Low Lands...

Yesterday we slept-in and didn't get breakfast until about 10am... So nice to have grandparents taking care of the little one. Speaking of the little one, he's walking back-and-forth across the living room on both carpetted and tile surfaces. It's fun to watch his walking confidence level grow. Wednesday Dad, Jen and myself went shopping for Dad's new home cinema set (minus the TV, which he already has). We went to a couple of stores, ranging from discounters, to big-box stores to smaller mom-and-pop specialty stores. During most of the shopping time Jen went to the toy stores next door while the guys were checking out the goodies. In the end (after about 6 hours, incl a nice lunch) we found a new receiver, blu-ray player, speakers and universal remote for dad which the guys took the rest of the night hooking-up. We christened the new set by watching WALL-E. Very nice, but a pretty late and short night since on Thursday (Dec 24) we had an appointment at 8:30am for her 20 week ultrasound (called an echo here).

The next morning Niels' sister and baby-daddy picked us up and we had the pleasure of watching a very health baby [boy/girl] growing and developing. Mommy and Daniel took a nap after we got home and unfortunately Jen woke up with a pretty bad headache. What's a holiday without either some drama or some sickies... (or snowstorm in the Midwest)?

We still did some shopping at a local equivalent of a Meijers store and on the way back both Jen and Daniel fell asleep some of which continued at home. Dad and Niels went to the Dad's store to print our Dutch Christmas card photos and frame a family picture for Oma as her present.

Now it's closing in on 8pm and we have 'Merry Madagascar' cued-up to watch as we will have an early night to take Oma to Church tomorrow.

Prettige Kerstdagen!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holland: Day 7 (December 23)

Just a quick note tonight because I am beat! This vacationing stuff is hard work!

Today Daniel had an Oma day while Niels, Jan and I went to Eindhoven (a bigger city, about 30 minutes away) to check out for media stores. Jan & Kitty wanted Niels to help them pick out a new home theater. (Niels is good with the techy stuff, you know). I tagged along to see the city and was able to go to the Dutch Toys R Us and a boutique kids store.

It's a few minutes before Christmas Eve. I think it's a quiet day tomorrow, so maybe I'll get Niels on here to fill in the blanks and add some photos!

Merry Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holland: Day 6 (December 22)

Okay, I'm getting a little behind. Sorry about that...We'll have to get Niels on here to fill in the blanks.

For the last two days, Niels has been working at Penske's Dutch office so I have been getting the full Dutch immersion treatment! Yesterday was an especially long day because the snow caused one of the roads to be closed. Niels' one hour commute turned into three! We are very thankful he got home safely. Today's drive was much better, and he was home at 6:30pm instead of 8.30pm!

Daniel is doing well, despite having picked up a little cold on the plane. He has such a sweet personality, even when he doesn't feel well. The only challenge for him has been sleeping. He seems to have turned a corner. His cheeks are not so rosy and he's sleeping much better. He's still coughing a little and has a runny nose, but we do think he's on the mend.

The big news around here is the freak snow storm. Here in Helmond, we've gotten about 6" of snow. Not much by Midwestern standards, but it's the most they've had at Christmas time in the last 30 years! The Brussels airport, where we flew into, was pretty much closed down the day after we arrived and everyone was told to stay of the roads the first two full days we were here. We made the best of it by catching up on sleep, and taking Daniel for a couple rides on a makeshift sled (we screwed a laundry basket to a sled so he wouldn't fall over!)

Daniel continues to delight Oma and Opa. He's getting quite good at standing and walking. He also likes to dance around whenever music is playing. He "talks" nonstop, which is quite interesting because I'm trying to figure out what he's saying in English and everyone else is using their Dutch filter!

We've watched a good amount of TV here since, as at home, we are in for the night when Daniel goes to bed at 10pm (he goes to bed at 8pm at home). There is quite a bit of American television on here, though it's usually at least a season behind what we see in the States. There are also some shows that are cancelled in the US, like Two Guys and a Girl, which I was just telling Niels about because it starred the guy from Castle. Last night, after we watched an episode of Bones, which Niels got me hooked on this year, Kitty pulled out DVDs of the first three seasons...and that explains what we did today while Niels was at work!

One of the requests Jan and Kitty made of us was to make some American meals. They have some favorites from when they visited us last year. They love pot roast and were very happy to have found an European crock pot a few months ago. Crock pots are very rare and very expensive in Europe. The local Best Buy-type store (Media Markt) had one for 100 Euros (about $140!). You can always use a converter on an American one, but you can have problems with the electricity so it isn't advised. Jan and Kitty were very happy to find one for about 50 Euros (about $75). So today, I made pot roast and it was yummy!

Tonight we're watching "Night of the Proms," a national concert featuring all the biggest names in popular and classical music.

Tomorrow, Daniel will have an Oma day while the rest of us go to the Media Markt so Niels can help Jan pick out equipment for a home theater...and maybe some computer upgrades. (Sound familiair, Mom?) I'm going to tag along to check out things.

I've finally uploaded some pictures to my Facebook account. If you're my friend, you can see them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holland: Day 5 (December 21)

Daniel loved his sled ride yesterday. It took about 15 minutes to walk through the snow to Oma's house. We decided to just drop off her dinner and return since it was getting close to Daniel's naptime and there were a lot of layers to contend with if we went inside! On the walk home, we passed a petting zoo with deer, sheep, and even kangaroos!

When we got back home, I finally figured out how to post pictures to Facebook, so that kept me busy for awhile. Since we don't have our computer here, it was a little time consuming. I'll try to add more as I can.

Daniel was pretty tuckered out after his ride (and looked SO cute!) so he went down for his nap without much complaint. Opa quickly followed, as he seems to have caught a bit of a cold. He feels so bad because he wants to spend time with Daniel. (Fortunately, he seems to be feeling better today)

While the oldest and youngest boys were sleeping, the rest of us watched the movie, Oorlogwinter (War in Winter), a Dutch movie about a 13-year-old boy who joins the Resistance during WW2. It was very well done, and in fact, won several Golden Calf awards, which is the Dutch film award...and funny to me, if you know about the Old Testament story about the Golden Calf.

to be continued...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holland: Day 4 (December 20)

Sigh...(yawn)...another sleepless night. Eventually Daniel and I will adjust to European time. We are getting the meantime, I'm getting all familar with the BBC latenight shows! Last night I watched a detective show. Niels and I always watch with closed captioning at home. Usually this is a good thing, because you can have the volume lower...always nice when a baby is attempting to sleep nearby. However, the subtitles here are in Dutch. I missed quite a bit! At least if I can't sleep tonight, I might be able to go to to see how the Vikings are doing.

Today should be a lowkey day. A true day of rest. Niels got home a little after midnight, and Jan and Kitty didn't arrive til much later. I'm sure there will be naps all around today.

I had a realization today as I nearly flooded the bathroom with my shower. In some ways, visiting Europe is more taunting that visiting other countries, like Israel and China. When I went to those places, I expected everything to be quite different so I was more prepared to adjust (squatty potties, anyone?). However, we Americans tend to think of Europe as people just like us, but who talk differently (freaky deaky Dutch, as my Ohio friends say). But there really are a lot of day-to-day differences. Take the shower for instance.

In America, most showers are enclosed...unless you have a really high end walk in shower. You have either a shower curtain or an enclosed area with a door. Here (at least at Jan and Kitty's house, and on the House Hunters episodes we've watched), most showers are not enclosed. Instead, there's a slight elevation where you step out of the shower. With a normal flow of water, the water drains and doesn't overflow onto the rest of the floor. Apparently, I ran too much water pressure this morning. Sorry, Jan & Kitty.

Speaking of the bathroom, the other difference is the toilet. Well, the actual toilet is the same, but instead of an attached flusher, there are two buttons on the wall, one big and one small. One is for flushing #1, and one for #2. I'll let you guess which is which. Actually, the idea is related to the amount of water needed to flush away the waste. It makes quite a bit of sense and is indicative of the rather European perspective of conserving energy and recycling.

In the same way, perspectives of space are different. Our rather modest house at home is palatial by European standards. Here in Holland, especially, land is at a premium. A good amount of land here is "reclaimed," meaning that water was drained from the sea to expand the borders. Very few people have large yards, and houses are build up instead out, like we see in America. It gives you a better idea of why Europeans are in such better shape, as a whole, than Americans. All those stairs!

Enough of that for now...I need to get Niels up so we can go to church. Today we're going to visit a church in Eindhoven, a larger city about 30 minutes away. Helmond, where Jan & Kitty live, is a city of about 90,000, with only ONE Protestant church. There are several Catholic churches however, but still a tiny amount compared to the church on every corner we see in America. In general, the northern part of Holland is Protestant (think John Calvin and the Dutch Reformed) and the southern part is Catholic. The reason we are going to the church in Eindhoven is that it's an international church with both English and Dutch. We'll go to the local church with Oma Toos (Niels' Grandma) for Christmas.

Tot Ziens!

9am...change of plans, no church today. Too much snow! Guess we'll have a very relaxing day at home! Jan and Kitty are already up, trying to figure out how we can take Daniel for a sled ride. They have a sled, but we need something to keep Daniel secure...hmm...

1:30p...We've figured it out. We've attached a laundry basket to the toboggan. Now we just need Daniel to wake up. He's sleeping really well today, almost and hour and a half already. Maybe he's adjusted to the new time? We have blankets ready to bundle him up, then Niels and I are going to give him his first sled Oma Toos' house to deliver dinner.

I've started to upload some pictures to Facebook, but it's slow going. I can only do five at a time and they took about 10 minutes to load. Niels will be doing a little exploratory surgery on Opa's computer to see if we can get them loaded a little faster!

We hear the thumping of pacifers...Daniel's not-so-subtle signal that he's ready to get out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holland: Day 3 (Dec. 19)

Daniel is attempting to take a nap before we leave for Oma and Opa's big 40th anniversary bash, so I thought it would be a good time to jot a few thoughts.

Last night we had a really good pasta dinner. The sauce came from a packet, so Niels and I are going to add it to our shopping list! Daniel took a nap strike in the afternoon, so by the time we were eating dinner, he was SO tired. He actually fell asleep between bites! He went down around 6:30pm.

After dinner, we broke out the ice cream. There were many yummy choices. I started with a little of the stroopwafel ice cream I picked out, but then I noticed kaneel, CINNAMON! It's my favorite flavor and apparently unheard of in Ohio. I haven't been able to find it since I left Michigan. The Dutch kind is even better because it has little cinnamon chunks, too. SO GOOD! Niels had triple chocolate (even better than double?).

At 7, Niels left with Ingrid to help her move some things into her new place. While they were gone, I watched the Dutch news and a little TV with Jan and Kitty. It's unseasonably cold here in Europe, in fact, many of the European airports were shut down yesterday--including Brussels, where we flew in. It's a good thing we came on Thursday morning! Niels said later that Europe was trying to give me a Minnesota Christmas. Thanks...

After the news, we watched Popstars--like American Idol for Dutchies. The interesting thing is that most of the contestants sang English songs. It's quite noticable to a native speaker that they are not native speakers! I can tell that my Dutch is much improved from the last time I was here--2.5 years ago because I could usually get the gist of what everyone was saying.

Niels and Ingrid returned about 8:30 and we had some yummy dessert and hot chocolate. I had a piece of forest berry cake. Niels had apple tart. I see some apple pie and cinnamon ice cream in my future!

Daniel woke up again around 11, as his body thought he just had a morning nap. Niels and I felt bed that he was loud and keeping anyone else from falling asleep so we brought him into our room. Even still it took almost 3 hours for him to fall completely asleep. I watched a bit of TV in our room and learned to stay away from the national stations in the wee hours. Yikes!

To be continued...

And I'm back...

At about 2, Daniel was asleep, so I got up to put him in his crib. I was then wide awake, so I very quietly pulled the laptop to the cold floor and spent an hour checking email and my regular sites. I was super careful so I wouldn't disturb Niels. Around 3, I decided to try to fall back asleep. I very quietly got back into bed and reached for Niels...and reached, and reached, until I reached the end of the bed. He wasn't in there! I walked downstairs, and there was Niels, very quietly on his sister's computer, trying not to wake me up! We got a good laugh out of that as we went back to bed.

We were able to sleep until 10 again this morning. Daniel got up a little bit earlier, and had a nice bath with Opa. Once Daniel went down for his morning nap, Niels and I headed out to downtown Helmond so I could get some exercise. (I have been spending between 60 and 90 minutes on the treadmill for the last month). The cool air didn't bother me a bit and I was able to see how much my strength and endurance has improved in the last year. (I was pretty much mush after being on bedrest before Daniel was born).

We found a cute baby store and we got two onesies for a steal. (One says "I love my daddy" and the other says "My mommy is the sweetest." Both are in Dutch). We also found a Dutch Christmas CD from an artist we like (Andre Rieu) and a few Dutch DVDs we can play in our European DVD player. We stopped at the library and got a card for Daniel. In Holland, you have to pay for a library card (28 Euros a year). Youth can get one for free. The interesting thing is that with a youth card, you can only check out youth items. We got 5 board books and a Dutch Sesame Street DVD (the DVD was two euros).

We stopped at McDonalds for lunch. I never eat at McDonalds in the States, but I like going to McDonalds in other countries to see what's different. Today, we shared some bitterballen (a deepfried meat nugget) and I had a McKroket sandwich. It's a deep fried mincemeat sandwich with honey mustard sauce. Not too bad.

We got back to the house and relatives were already filtering in for Jan and Kitty's 40th anniversary party. They had lots of different cakes (tarts) and my favorite international soda, Spa apple. Before we knew it, there were about 40 relatives there. Daniel was a big hit, charming everyone with his smile and toddling steps. After a little bit, I took him upstairs for quiet time (another nap strike...sigh) before we left for the bocce ball club for dinner and the big party where friends would join us.

When we arrived at the club, we realized that they didn't have any high chairs for Daniel. We improvised with two scarves tied around the chair, one around his waist and the other under his arms. It worked surprisingly well, until Daniel nearly feel asleep eating his olives and chees from my salad. Daniel and I said goodbye and Niels drove us home. Daniel was asleep even before we got out of the parking lot of the club!

So now I'm home alone with a sleeping baby and Niels is with everyone at the party. There's a bocce ball tournament, which sounds like a lot of fun, but a little down time is pretty good too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holland: Day 2

The day started off quite early for Daniel. He woke up around midnight. Mommy and Daddy were fast asleep so Oma was spending some quality time with Daniel downstairs. I woke up around 1:30--my headache still hasn't let up--and found them when I grabbed some Tylenol. Oma assured me that they were fine and I went back to sleep. The next thing you know, it was 10am!

We enjoyed a leisurely morning. Daniel got more presents: a nice outfit from tante Ingrid and a 3D Winnie the Pooh poster from Oma & Opa. It was fun watching Daniel give the poster kisses!

Jan got out a DVD of some home movies from when Niels was a baby and young boy. Daniel is definitely his daddy's son!

In the afternoon, we drove to the next town over for some three generation pictures with the whole family. We all took turns entertaining Daniel.

After the pictures, we went to Albert Hijns, the closest thing to a super market in Holland. It's a national chain and pretty impressive, though still small by American standards. I love going to grocery stores (and bookstores) in different countries so we were there for quite awhile. I love seeing the different kinds of foods and they way things are packaged. Since I've been here before, nothing was a big surprise, but I still enjoy looking. We picked up some stroopwafel ice cream. Can't wait to try it!

Daniel is having a hard time with his naps. I'm sure the change of scenary and time difference have a lot to do with it, but hopefully he'll adjust soon!

Tonight is a quiet night at home. Tomorrow is the big anniversary party for Jan and Kitty. We'll have family here first and then a big dinner and bocce call-themed party at the bocce ball club in the evening. We're bring the pack and play there for Daniel--there's an office where we can set it up. Hopefully that will work!

Holland: Day 1

We made it!

After several delays and a pretty uneventful flight, we made it to Brussels, and then...a little later, to the Netherlands and Oma and Opa's house.

Our plane ended up leaving almost 2 hours later than planned. Daniel was not super patient with the delay, but we can't really blame him because he was all ready for bedtime. As you can see in an earlier post, Daniel made friends with some Belgian children in their makeshift play area. Once we boarded, he quickly fell asleep in Daddy's arms. Niels and I passed some time watching The Time Traveler's Wife. Interesting movie, but our ear buds were horrible. I'd like to see it again. Niels enjoyed following the flight plan and I passed most of the time reading a book. Neither of us were able to sleep very well. Hard to do with a baby spread across your lap! We did think of my mom as we watched the sun rise over Ireland.

We arrived at the airport about 10 am local time (4am Ohio time). It took us awhile to find our luggage..Niels says the luggage rack was hiding! But soon we had all our "things about us," and we quickly found Oma and Opa waiting for us at the exit. They were SO excited to see Daniel! After about 10 minutes, they said hello to Niels and I, too! :-)

It is unseasonably cool in Holland, and there was even a little snow on the ground, which made for a pretty drive back to Helmond. Not that Daniel saw much of it...or me, for the matter. It was pretty hard to stay awake!

We found our first surprise as we drove into the driveway: a big three foot banner with the picture from our blog welcomed us! There was also an American flag waving. Someone also surprised Jan and Kitty by plastering the number 40 all over the garage and front window. Today is their 40th anniversary.

The official spoiling of the grandson began as soon as we walked in the door. Oma and Opa bought an activity table similar to the one we have at home. Only this one "speaks" Dutch and French! Daniel LOVES it. He also loves the coasters. And the cookies Oma gave him.

News that we had arrived traveled fast and soon Ingrid (Niels' sister) and Oma Toos (Kitty's mom) came over and fawned over Daniel. Daniel had a hard time going down for his nap, until Mommy laid down with him...then we both fell asleep. Niels fell asleep sitting up in a chair downstairs and had a crick in his neck when he woke up!

Ingrid--who looks adorable with her cute little preggo belly--stayed for dinner, which was typical Dutch fare: potatoes, spinach, carrots, beef, pork with gravy. Oma had fun feeding Daniel...who ate everything that was offered!

Niels and I took a walk to the neighborhood grocery store before dinner. It was good to stretch our legs. (There's no treadmill here, so I wanted to at least get a little bit of exercise. I'm afraid it's going to be hard to get going again when we get home. I've been walking/running 3-4 miles a day!) I had fun looking at all the different foods and Niels enjoyed seeing all the Christmas specialties. We forgot to bring our Dutch debit card, so we'll do our own shopping a little later. I found stroopwafel ice cream, so that's definitely on our list!

We watched TV for a little bit where Jen caught up on her Dutch celebrities. After a nice bath with Daddy, Daniel fell asleep without too much trouble. Jen followed not much later.

Berry and Xenia (Jan's younger sister) came over for a quick visit, but only got to see Niels...We'll see them again on Saturday at the big anniversary bash. Niels was a trooper and made it to 11:30.

Hopefully we'll all adjust to the six hour difference soon (as I write this on Friday, Daniel is nap striking!).

Tot Ziens (see you soon!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In promptu playground at the gate

This makes waiting for a plane a lot less stressful ;
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Another delay... in Newark.

We got into EWR at about 5:15pm, plenty of time to catch the 6:35pm flight to Brussels. However, the aircraft had maintenance issues so now we leave at 7:20pm so we should be able to make up most of that time. We'll blog again once we are in Brussels
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In-flight to Newark

Nice view of the wing.

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At the airport...

And so it begins. First flight from Cleveland to Newark. Delayed 1 hour but still plenty of time to make our connection to Brussels.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

We Have a Walker!

So I was checking my facebook when all of a sudden I see Daniel WALKING across the living room. He took about 10 steps, then fell down. He scared himself so I clapped and praised him and put him back on his feet. He walked about 15 steps! So I grabbed my camera and turned it on before putting him up again. I couldn't get more than a few steps away from him so I shot it is.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daniel's one year appointment

Daniel models his new 18 month PJs from Auntie Liz, Auntie Carisa and Uncle Andy.

Today, Daniel had his one year appointment. Dr. Hood was very happy with him. He's meeting all his milestones and is very healthy.

Height: 31.25"/79,2 cm (90th percentile).
Weight: 25.4 lbs/11,5 kg (80th percentile)

He's a big, healthy boy and we are blessed.

A Year of Good Eats

Nothing like have a baby to make you think about your diet! Making good meals hasn't been a strong suit for either Niels or I. Before we got married, Niels usually had a whole Stoeffers meal-in-a-bag for dinner (The caloric count is shocking!) Since my head injury, I've been more of a grazer as my body re-learned that food is a friend.

After we got engaged, we started planning and making more meals together. Then after we got married, food took a back seat to survival with the miscarriages and hard pregnancy. For most of 2008, dinner was anything that seemed like it could stay down! Niels fended for himself.

So, in 2009, after Daniel's safe arrival, we make a goal of trying a few new recipes a week. We didn't try as many as we had hoped, but partly, that's because we've found a few favorites we like to repeat. Our grocery bill is a lot better too, because (most weeks) I plan out our meals and we only buy what we need.

This weekend, Niels and I watched the movie Julie & Julia, which inspired me to list all the recipes we tried this year, at least, the ones I can remember!
  • Oriental Beef & Broccoli
  • Easy, Cheesy Tortellini Bake
  • Ginger Chocolate Chip Bars
  • Bubble & Squeak (one of our favorites, it's made of cabbage, carrots and hamburger and gets its name from the sound it makes while cooking)
  • Pumpkin Penne Pasta
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Sausage, Spinach and Provolone Pizza
  • Sweet and Spicy Chicken (now known as de Jong chicken...mmm!)
  • Oatmeal Raspberry Bars
  • Basic Quiche (and many variations...our favorite has pesto, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower)
  • Lactation Cookies (made with extras to help milk production. I stopped pumping in October so this one is out of the rotation now)
  • Ginger-Stuffed Chicken with Sesame Spinach
  • Skirt Steak with Lemon and Chili-Roasted Potatoes
  • Crock Pot Beef Sandwiches
  • Sloppy Joes (another regular because it's so easy)
  • Lamb Meatball Gyros with Yogurt and Mint
  • Homemade Granola Bars
  • Tortellini with Bacon, Greens and Brown Butter
  • Last Minute Lasagna
  • Rasta Pasta (actually, this was part of our regular rotations, but we like to switch it up a little from time to time)
  • Blondies
  • Three Cheese Calzones
  • Banana Bread (several recipes)
  • Ravioli with Roasted Zucchini (also with Sauteed Zucchini)
  • Teriyaki-Glazed Burgers
  • Chinese-Five Spice Pork Chops with Grilled Plums (we dropped the plums, but love the pork chops!)
  • Cauliflower and Ham Gratin
  • Spinach Pesto and Pasta (made the pesto from scratch!)
  • Broccoli Salad
  • Steak with Cauliflower and Crispy Bread Crumbs (I learned how to make croutons from scratch)
  • Spinach Cheese Manicotti
  • Honey Chicken Skewers with Grilled Corn Salad
  • Bitterballan (a Dutch meatball-like dish)
  • Grilled Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas
  • Rice Pizza
  • Asian Chicken Salad
  • Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Broccoli
  • Melt-in-Your-Mouth Meat Loaf (it was okay)
  • Cloggers' Delight Salad (a cabbage salad. My Dutch husband loves cabbage).
  • Pumpkin Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
  • Pot Roast (several recipes)
  • Broccoli Cheese Soup
  • Slow Cooker Beef Stew
  • Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
I still have a big stack of recipes to try, so we'll see what we discover in 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Checking Out the Christmas Ornaments

We didn't do a lot of decorating for Christmas this year since we'll be heading abroad pretty soon, but I did put our wreath on the front door and the jingle bell door hanger on the inside. As you can see, Daniel was quite fascinated by it.

Peek-a-boo with Daniel

Daniel is getting more sophisticated in his play. The other day, he rolled over to me in his walker, grabbed the blanket off my lap, and started playing peek-a-boo!

Picture of the Week: Week 52

The boys like their milk

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Daniel's Big Boy Jammies

Another piece of clothing from the Dutchies that seemed SO big a year ago.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Daniel's first Sinterklaasdag (Sinterklaas Day)

I think he likes chocolate!

A Sinterklaas Poem for Daniel

A Dutch tradition is to write a poem for a Sinterklaas gift, so here is ours for our little boy:

Hij is niet eens een jaartje oud:
een lief onschuldig baasje.
Hij weet nog niet van "braaf" en "stout",
van Piet noch Sinterklaasje.

Zijn wereldje zo wonderlijk:
wat rolt, wat piept of praat?
Hij kruipt en grijpt, hijst zich omhoog,
en schatert als ie staat.

Hij zit en praat en loopt nog niet,
hij eet, hij poept en slaapt,
hij speelt, ontdekt en hij geniet
van al' wat hij opraapt.

Wat moet die uk met een wedstrijd dan?
Zijn kans is mooi verkeken?
Sil, die niet rijmt, of kleuren kan,
dat heeft Sint zó bekeken !

Dat is niet waar het Sil om gaat,
zijn hartje snel doet kloppen.
Wat boven aan zijn lijstje staat,
is niet in een schoen te stoppen.

Uw aandacht, knipoog, stem of lach,
een liedje, kriebel of aai.
Zo schenkt U een baby een mooie dag.

Zo'n leventje is toch nooit saai?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Daniel's first Dutch birthday card

Daniel was very happy to receive his first Dutch birthday card (verjaardagskaart) in the mail today.

Blogging from the Blackberry

Since we are such BB fanatics, it only makes sense that besides Facebook we can also blog from our Blackberry's. Well, here is the first one...

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Picking Out His Birthday Cake

We're just ONE week from Daniel's first birthday. So today Daniel and I went to Fishers, a local grocery store, to pick out his cake! Fishers made our wedding cake and we've been sold on them ever since.

We got off to a rough start. Since it was raining out, I carried Daniel in, rather than put him in a cart outside. As I was walking into the store, with Daniel in my arms, I slipped on the wet floor and fell. I cupped my hands under Daniel's head as I fell forward to protect him, and took the brunt of the fall on my left knee. Daniel was silent for a full 10 seconds before screaming inconsolably for 15 minutes. So scary! There were plenty of witnesses who all came running over to make sure we were okay. I think we are. Daniel was just terrified and I was a bit shaken as I faced deja vu of my other fall. The manager came over and took my name and number, got me some water and even ran out to our car to get one of Daniel's toys to try calming him down. After awhile we were calmed down and made our way to the bakery.

We will just be having a quiet night with the three of us on the 9th, so we didn't need anything big. Daniel was still full of big tears when we got to the cakes, so the baker asked if she could give him a cookie (and so it begins). All was forgiven, then! While Daniel munched on the cookie, I picked out a small white cake with confetti and buttercream frosting. It will have blue and brown balloons and his name. I already bought a "1" candle, so I'll add that at home.

Daniel was so good. He loved looking at the cakes and was very patient while I put in the order. Then, we walked very carefully to the exit of the store, where the manager and cashier watched us very carefully (there was now a rug over by the entrance door) as we left.

Our Handsome Growing Boy

A little over a year ago, Opa and Oma arrived from Holland to meet their 9-day-old grandson. Their suitcases were filled with gifts, including clothes in many sizes. When we first looked at everything, we couldn't imagine Daniel ever fitting into some of the things. But since his latest growth spurt, we're starting to run out of things for Daniel to wear. Our almost 12-month-old is wear 18-month clothing! This cute sweater vest was too big when he last tried it on, yesterday, it seems, but now it's starting to get tight! Thanks, Opa & Oma for the sweater...I can't wait to see you in a few weeks!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Daniel's first birthday present

Daniel's favorite toy at Gramma's--other than Gramma herself!--was a walker that she borrowed from a friend at the park. We had been trying to think of a good 1st birthday present for Daniel. I had also been re-thinking Daniel's daily routine. For the past several months, we've spent our days camped out in the front living room, where we have a big play yard enclosing the entire space. Daniel loves to cruise, so he will spend hours walking the length of the gate. Lately, however, he's been wanting to move beyond his enclosure. I've been trying to figure out how to give him that freedom, and gain some freedom myself to do more in the kitchen and dining room (bills, cleaning, cooking, etc.)

So last night, the family headed to Once Upon a Child, a nice store with used items for kids. They had 5 walkers and Daniel had lots of fun trying them out. We ended up with a pretty decent tan one. It has a tray for snacks and a couple of toys for him to play with as he cruises around.

Daniel is cruising around as I type this, hopefully wearing himself out for a long nap!

Picture of the Week: Week 51