Friday, January 28, 2011

Ice skating

Every school year I have grand aspirations to be more involved in the kids' school. Help out, get to know the teacher and other parents. But somehow the whole year goes by, and at the end I still don't know a single soul. Now all the kids are in school, so I can't use the excuse of having a toddler at home anymore.

School rules here are a lot more lax, and parents are still treated like parents, rather than convicted fellons. Each morning, the parents take their young children into the school. Help them put away their jackets and backpacks. Get their lunch into the lunch crate, and help them into the classroom. Say hi to the teacher, give the child a kiss and a hug, and then move on their way. Compare this to the Plano schools where the parents are only allowed in the school if they've had a criminal background check, get a picture ID badge for each visit, and are only granted access at certain times of the day. The children get dropped off the same way a prescription is at a pharmacy; Open the car door, kid jumps out, and disappears. Of course I realize the US schools are only trying to protect the students, but they certainly go way overboard in my honest opinion.

The elementary kids went to the ice skating rink today. Parents signed up to drive them there, and again, no bodyguards involved. Originally I hadn't signed up to drive, but this morning I just kept thinking about the fun pictures I would miss out on. None of my kids had ever gone skating before. I expected Ginger and Sterling to be grumpy and whine. I expected Winter to have fun. The complete opposite happened. By the time I got there, Ginger was at the end of her hour time slot, and was all smiles. Even when she fell down.
Sterling took off like a bullet, and I just couldn't stop laughing at the ridiculousness of his skating style.
Winter on the other had, was frustrated and in tears.
Unfortunately Sterling's happiness only lasted until he crashed hard on his head, and developed a major goose egg.
And fortunately Winter got the hang of skating, and wants to go again as soon as possible.
How volatile their moods can be!
Sterling and Winter with their English friends Hannah and Darren

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Personal space

I keep forgetting to bring my camera! And when I don't have pictures, it makes it that much harder to write on my blog. But if I don't write it down, it will be forgotten. So my mediocre writing will have to do.

Last night, Joe's alumni association for RSM had a social evening in Amsterdam. Traffic is ridiculous around rush hour, so even though Amsterdam is only 100 km away, public transport is a slightly better option. Joe had to leave straight from school, so I was going to have to meet him somewhere halfway. Leiden is a city in between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, so I took the bus to the train station in Leiden. After watching one train leave in the right direction, and with the freezing wind howling around me, and my body temperature dropping, I decided Schiphol (the airport) would be a much more comfortable place to wait for Joe and his fellow students to arrive. Boy was I right! I waited for almost an hour.

At first while I was waiting, I was a little annoyed that I couldn't reach Joe on his cell phone, and that he wasn't calling me, and that I had to wait at all. But then I consciously made a choice to have a different attitude. My new attitude was gratitude. I was greatful to have an evening away from the kids. I was greatful for the cup of hot chocolate that was thawing me. And I was greatful to have some time to do some people watching. No "people of walmart" passed by, but it was fun to watch some people run for their planes, and others sipping coffee at Starbucks.

When Joe finally caught up with me, we headed for the fancy hotel where the gathering was. I'm not going to lie and say it was great, because it was actually quite boring and at times painful. I don't enjoy striking up conversations with complete strangers who, in most likeliness, I will never see again. I find my mind wandering in all sorts of directions, while maintaining an air of interest. And then there were the people who have no sense of personal space. The ones who take a step forward every time I take a step back, until my back is against a wall and I have to excuse myself to visit the restroom. And then there's those single men who seem disappointed when they realize I'm with Joe. (it's weird to say that myself, but I only did because Joe told me he noticed)

5 hours in public transport IS tiring, but at the end of the night, it was great to spend some time with Joe, and get out of the house. Thanks dad and Emma, for making it possible by babysitting!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


When Joe got accepted to Erasmus, and I decided to live in Zoetermeer, I realized this would mean Singlemomdom for me for a year. Although the days can be long, and of course the kids occasionally drive me absolutely bonkers, it helps to know in advance that I'll be the only parent. See, if the kids were driving me up the wall, and I was expecting Joe's help, it would all seem much worse. When I know it will be a long day with the kids at home, I can plan activities to break up that day.

Today's plan was to go to the local petting zoo, but when Talita invited us to join her to the zoo, I gratefully accepted. We bought a year membership, so more Saturdays and Wednesday afternoons, and vacation days can be spent at the zoo. The Blijdorp zoo in Rotterdam is very large, and has most of the typical zoo animals. Today we even saw a 7 week old Gorilla. It was super cute to see the interaction between the mom, baby, and the older brother/sister. The older sibling kept trying to get mom's attention, and climbing all over her and the baby. The mom lovingly but forcefully put the older sibling to the side.

There's a large walk-through aquarium with sharks etc
My and my cousin Talita
You don't see the love between these two too often
Six monkeys

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guilt trip angel

The past few days I've been battling my guilt-trip angel on the left side of my shoulder. See, I've been taking the kids to school in the car, which is clearly against my no-car policy. Before you judge however, let me just explain the I have a perfectly good reason to jump in the car. Joe has practically put me on bedrest. No errands, no cleaning, and no biking were his orders. Along with half the Dutch population I have been battling with a mean cold and cough. My illness doesn't seem to be as severe as many others, and I'd like to think it has something to do with the flu shot I got in November (thanks great grandma, for pushing me to do so). As the Dayquil kicks in, it's hard to lay around when there are so many good things I could be doing. Today is temple day. Groceries need to be bought. I should go downtown and get myself a good-working cell phone. And so forth. But as Joe says: "If you give it 100% when you are starting to feel a little better, you'll be dog sick again the next day". So I'll lay around the house, watch a few movies, take a nap or two, and make a puzzle. I don't know why that guilt keeps rearing its ugly head!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's that smell?

As I'm getting in the grove of everyday life, I'm struggling with a nasty smell that won't go away. I've scrubbed the floors, stuck my nose in all sorts of places it never wanted to be, and it still haunts me. Every time someone comes to visit, I ask them if it stinks, and if they can help me locate the smell. No one can help me. At first I thought I eradicated the smell by taking out the recycling, cleaning out the trash bins, and scrubbing the floor, but when I came inside this morning, the smell was back. Part of the problem is that I'm in the smell all day. And it's subtle enough, that I get used to it and don't smell it anymore. We are clean people, and the house is clean too. Yet it smells like we're living like pigs. It's not rotten potatoes, or Sterling's socks. It's not the trashcans or spill on the floor. I don't know what it is, and it's driving me crazy!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The bike route

As soon as we got off our bikes at the school yard, I realized Sterling had left his backpack, lunch, and gymclothes at home. My first instinct was to say : sorry, I guess you;ll be hungry. However, as his predicament of sitting out at gym and going through class hungry, my heart softened, and I decided that the extra 25 minutes would be a good excuse for documenting my surrounding on our every day commute

Disclaimer: these are all taken from my bike, and not by any means artistic photographs. However, I think they give a good portayal of my surroundings

In front of my house
Bikers often get their own bike path, called a fietspad. Bike paths are distinct by their red color. If there's not enough space for a completely separate path, a piece on the side of the road will be painted red.
Round-abouts have become much more common since I left in 1998. The first half mile stretch to school has 3 round-abouts on it.
Fietspaden are shared by walkers, bicyclists, and moped riders
Because of zoning laws, housing developments are very dense, with small pieces of nature in between. We never leave Zoetermeer on the way to school, but still get to ride past sheep
Age doesn't stop the Dutch from riding
Most single family homes are connected to other homes. They are called "rijtjes huizen" (row homes). In the USA people would maybe call them townhomes, but in my opinion town homes are different. I'm not sure why, or how, but they are.
In Holland they seem to like interesting architecture and crazy roof pitches

soccer fields are important!
I love that we get to ride over this bridge every day. The nice thing about riding a bike is, that you can usually go a much shorter route.
We pass my dad's house every time, and when the kids see this car, they know he is home and want to visit. It's a little surreal that I ride my bike right past his house, twice a day.
Bikers often have the right of way. The squigly line shows the cars to slow down. The triangles show to yield to the bikes, and the speed bumps are thrown in for good measure.
The kids' school. For some reason all the elementary schools are painted this same color blue.
Sterling was very happy that I brought him his lunch and gym clothes
I snuck this picture of Ginger from outside through the window. She never even saw me
One of Joe's biggest pet peeves is that Dutch bathrooms often only have cold water, and also no soap. How are kids supposed to get their germy hands clean when all they have is cold water?
This is in the schoolyard, where the kids learn young how the yield signs work.
On the way home, Emma snuck up on me. All of a sudden she was just there. So there you have it. That's the route I take twice a day. About 6 miles total, 40-50 minutes depending on my speed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Keeps me busy

Talita asked me at church today, why we didn't see each other all week, even though we practically live around the corner from each other. Even though I could tell her I had had a busy week, it was nearly impossible to remember what I had filled it with. That is why I write a blog. Because if I don't, I simply don't remember. I'd like to think my lacking brain power can be contributed to 3 pregnancies, but maybe it's just a lack of activity that has my brain cells in a slump.

Most of the week I dealt with ongoing rain and wind. It usually seems worse from inside the house, and once you get outside, it's really not too bad. But one day, it really WAS wet, and the big padded boots didn't keep the water out. Luckily I was able to find everybody a rain suit, which is a life saver. We found Winter's at the thrift store, and all the other ones each at a different store. Some didn't have the right sizes, others were crazy expensive. Here we are ready to head into the rain on a school morning
Poor Ginger is so padded, that she can hardly walk, kind of like an umpa lumpa.

It has been so great to live close to my little sister Emma. When I moved to the US, she was only 7, and over the years I've only had a week here and there to spend with her. Every time I go to the kids school, we ride right past Emma's (and my dad's) house. Friday I wanted to check up on her, and pester her, because she had skipped school a few days. She was still in bed, and I was able to jump on her, and then just hang out and chat in bed.

After assuring me she would do some homework, we planned to get back together later in the day. We have the blessing of living very close to the temple. It's about 2.5 miles from our house, which is closer than we have ever lived to a temple in the US, how ironic is that? The temple is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and there are only 5 sessions per day since it's a very small temple. Living so close, I made the resolution to attend the temple every Friday for the noon session, until I find a job. It was a great experience, and I enjoyed seeing tante Siegried there as well. On the way, on my bike, there was a pretty strong head wind, and I just kept thinking about the storms we go through in life, and how satan really tries to keep us away from Heavenly Father. But if we persevere, we will enjoy the blessings, and on the way home, we can even have the wind with us.

After school Emma came home with us, and we had a fun girls night. We talked to my other sister Wendy on skype for an hour
played wii fit for 2.5 hours, and into the wee hours of the morning. I convinced her to spend the night, and the following morning we had a recycling run
Then we exercised with Jillian Michaels, and baked pannenkoeken for a ward potluck today. I'm so happy that Emma gets to, and wants to spend time with me and the kids. Joe is gone to school quite a bit, so it's nice to have another grown up around.

Yesterday was also the first time we were able to make the trek out to my opa's house. He lives about 2 hours away, so that's a big time commitment. I feel for him, especially because he does get lonely. He only has 2 daughters. My mom lives far away, and can't see him too often. Out of his 6 grandkids, none of them visit him on a regular basis. I really hope to be able to visit him at least once every 8 weeks. If gas wasn't so much, I'd like to do it more than that, but even with my dad's conservative car, it was nearly €40 in gas alone.

It was wonderful to see him again. He's just doing the same ol, same ol. Watching sports on TV, reading the newspaper, driving his car to the grocery store, and smoking his cigarettes. In order to keep the kids behaving, we brought their DSs, and let them play as long as they wanted. What a genious idea! After a while my opa asked what the kids were looking at that kept them occupied for hours. Here's Winter showing him her game.

And Ginger will pose no matter where she is!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thrift Store

Every Tuesday night a large building opens up with all sorts of used trinkets, household items, furniture, clothing, and anything else you might find in a thrift shop. Since it's only open once a week, it's packed and the good stuff goes quickly. The temptation is always to get cool stuff you don't really need, but that's how you end up with a 800 SF barn full of crap. So I tried to be selective, and only work off the list of needed items.

Things we found today; a bike seat. Ginger is riding on the back of my bike more often than I'd originally thought, so this bike seat should make her ride more comfortable

Towels, toolbox, closet organizers, wicker basket for my handle bars, antique sugar pot, some more forks, and a sauce pan. Apparently the Dutch don't make cookies or bake casserole dishes, because neither cookie sheets or casserole dishes bigger than a dinner plate were anywhere to be seen. Bread is so much cheaper here to just buy. You can get a loaf of great multi-grain $5 bread for €0.79 at the grocery store. Of course you can also find the €3 bread at the bakery, but the grocery store bread is so much better than American bread, that it's good enough for me.

One item I bought was a total splurge (at €0.75), and it's this little treasure
Growing up, my opa always kept his white anise sprinkles in a tin can very similar to this one. I suspect the sprinklers used to be sold in tin cans like this, rather than cardboard boxes.

Another splurge (at €2) is this cool fondue pot
We love to do fondue at our house, and now that we live in the land of the good cheese, we better increase our fondue frequency. Thrift shopping makes me so happy, because all I can think about is how much we would have spent at a store, while these little treasures are way cooler to begin with

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pack mule

Ginger has her own bike, but the past few days has chosen to ride on the back of my bike instead. This is perfectly fine with me, especially since I hold my breath every time she has to stop, ride up a curb, between a few poles, or make sharp turn. My nervousness is well-founded, as was proven yesterday on the way home from church. We were all just riding along, when all of a sudden my gaze is diverted to Ginger careening towards a fence. Somehow she had gone on the curb, and onto the sidewalk, when she lost her balance. She was a bit shook up, but bravely mounted her bike again to finish the ride home.

Before picking the kids up from school today, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things. Just some basics, but my saddle bags were bulging. Usually when Ginger rides on the back, she sticks her legs into the bags, so keep them safe. However, with the bags loaded down, she just had to hang her legs over the top. It made me consider buying a special child's seat for the back. With all that extra baggage, I felt a bit like a pack mule
However, I remind myself if I slip even into the slightest self pity, that this is a life style choice I have made. I could take the car and just zip over to the store. But I don't want to do that. I want to truly live the Dutch life, and do it on my bike. So many things could be done with a car, but biking is healthier, funner, and more beautiful.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

IKEA the Dutch way

Our new 1989 VW Golf. The trunk is surprisingly large. It gets horrible gas mileage, and it cost me €68 to fill up (that's about$91) We will only use this car for large shopping trips and for visiting my opa who lives a couple of hours away.
My first large shopping trip was to IKEA. My little sister Emma came to spend the day with us, while Joe was doing a Rotterdam tour with his classmates. We were supposed to go to a little petting zoo, but it was raining a little bit so we opted for the dry option of Ikea Smaland.

Luckily both of the upstairs bedrooms had wardrobes, and obviously the kitchen had cubboards. But there is no pantry or linen closet, so went to get some shelving for the laundry room. The big question; how to get this full-time bookshelf into our compact car?
Do it the Dutch way, and just stuff it in. And then jam the kids and Emma around the stuff.

Joe had a long day at school, so we wanted to surprise him with turning this
into this
Emma was a great helper

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