Day 158: Here We Are in Portugal


One of the perks of living in the Netherlands is exploring new countries, like we would visit another State in the USA. And since we don’t know how long we will have this opportunity, we try to make the most of every moment we have. It sounds cliche, but in a sense we’re enjoying the gift of time, and living it up like we might not have another chance to do what we’re doing if we don’t do it right now. Know what I mean?? I think everyone should live like this, meaning not doing the same things as me, but doing whatever you’re capable and able to do and experience right now in your part of the world. Maybe you’ve been wanting to visit a friend who lives 2 hours away but you think you’re too busy. You should schedule it right now! You’ll be so happy you did.

We are in Portugal for a couple of days. We wanted to go someplace warmer than Holland and not a 11 hour flight away. We picked Portugal, someplace we would never have thought of visiting had we not lived in Europe and heard so many good things about it.

We arrived late this afternoon and immediately went exploring as soon as we checked into our hotel. We actually took a bus from the airport to our hotel, based on the recommendation of the tourist office. A bus ticket costs 3.50 euros for adults and 2€ for kids. It was also a nice way to see a bit of the city. We then bought Metro cards and rode the subway to catch Tram 28, an old fashioned electric tram car, that felt like we were riding a cable car in San Francisco.


It goes up and down several hills in Lisbon, along narrow streets and through popular neighborhoods. This was a great way to get acquainted with the city with just a half day to spend this evening.

We used TripAdvisor’s Cityguide App to help us find a highly rated, local restaurant nearby where we got off the tram. We were so lucky to have chosen Alpendre, in the Alfama neighborhood. We met Victor who became our friend and who helped us to pick some great entrees. We had shrimp with garlic, grilled assorted whole fish with boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli, steak kebabs, and seafood rice, with fresh bread and butter and cheese.

He brought us ice cold Portuguese beer in freezer chilled metal mugs that made them taste so delicious. Our dinner was filling and the ambiance and service was warm and homey. The kids asked if we could go back again tomorrow. I’d say that’s a good sign.

We enjoyed our late afternoon and evening in Lisbon and are looking forward to more adventures tomorrow.

How are you spending your last day of 2012? Hopefully living it up, your style!



Day 157: Family Bike Ride and Goat Farm

We were all busy cleaning up around our house today, catching up with laundry and decluttering. Isn’t that what you do on a weekend? But then the sun was shining in and we had to stop cleaning and go outside for a bike ride. Just like that.

We live by the Amsterdamsebos, which is an awesome man made forest with lakes and rowing ponds and pathways and fields and trees of course, along with other surprises. My favorite part is riding along this rowing pond or body of water – I don’t know what you call it. But there are always people out running, and riding, and rowing and fishing, and strolling. There are protected paths that make it safe to take your family out for a bike ride, like we did today. Jeff and I also run through this forest every other day when we can get out for a run, as it is so conveniently close.

While we were riding today, we took the kids to a goat farm we had heard about and ran by earlier in the week. We parked our bikes and took a break to check out the farm. Here are some of the animals we saw.





20121229-230630.jpg This trio was funny – the cow was snuggled up to the pig and the goat kept standing on the pig. The pig would grunt and eventually the cow nudged the goat off his back.

P.S. Being with the goats made me miss you Michele, and our trip to the Harley Goat Farm and your pygmies!!

Day 156: Adaptable and The Art of Negotiation

The kids have been home with me for 2 weeks now. I’m feeling shiny!

I wanted them to choose what they wanted to do on their vacation today, and they had three options to consider. I think they practiced and might have learned a bit about:

Not screaming or crying to be heard.
Giving in.
Making a group decision.
Picking what’s good for the whole.

They made a decision with a little gift of chocolate from one sibling to the next. Hmmm… I guess they learned about bribery and influence too. But they decided, and I was pleased with the process.

They decided to go to an indoor water park called Duinrell, about 30 minutes away. It felt kind of strange to be driving in the rain and feeling cold but feeling good about swimming and sliding and burning off some energy in a heated pool. We were all happy to be doing something together, out of the house. But when we got there, there was a sign that said they were closed. The place was too crowded and it would be unsafe to add more bodies. We could wait for people to leave and then go in, but still it would be over crowded. We chose to leave, even though our friends were already inside. A tough decision but remarkably we all easily agreed.

I was proud of the kids for being adaptable and flowing with what was. I think that’s a great life skill – we can’t always control what happens but we can control our reactions. And they were so cool. We decided to go with Plan B, which was what one of the kids originally wanted to do in the first place! Ironic how that works! And he got chocolate too!! Lucky kid.

We came home and changed out of our bathing suits and flip flops and put on layers and layers and warm shoes and umbrellas and headed into Amsterdam to go to the Nemo museum. It’s like the San Francisco Exploratorium, with hands on science exhibits and exploratory fun. Even though it was a crowded Christmas holiday off with everyone there, we used our museum cards and enjoyed a couple hours together playing and having fun.



Afterwards we met up with Jeff at his office so the kids could see where he works. We went for dinner at THE Mexican restaurant in Amsterdam.

It’s hard to come by Mexican food here and we sure miss it! The restaurant was called Los Pilones, in case you are looking for Mexican food too, or know of another place to recommend. We enjoyed a margarita (but it tasted nothing like Steve’s!!) in honor of Stacey’s birthday, and ate some chips and salsa and guacamole. It was pretty good and the ambiance was definitely nice. I think we’ll go back until we can get good Mexican food back in Cali!

Happy Birthday, Stacey!

Day 155: Goodbye Christmas!

We tend to clean up Christmas before New Year’s so that we can celebrate Juliana’s birthday in a fresh house. Today was the day we cleaned up Christmas and I’m so happy we cleared out the chaos and clutter, while still in our jammies.  It’s been a great, lazy day! Our Jewish neighbor stopped by and told us we were way to early to be clearing out the tree, that we should be waiting until January 6th, another holy day. We told him he could have our tree. He said that being Jewish was so much easier with just 8 candles to clean up. I told him next time we are coming back Jewish! I loved the banter and respect between both of us. He helped Jeff to bring the tree out the front window and gave us advice how to get rid of it. We have great neighbors.

And with the Christmas tree out of our little living room, there was room for Char and I to play with Kapla blocks in front of our bay window. What a great invention!!


Day 154: Fun Day After Christmas


All I can say is I’m so glad we stayed home for Christmas this year. We all slept in this morning and that’s a gift in itself. And the rest of the day was pretty chill too.

Jeff and I went for a run through the forest and the sun was shining, which is a big deal here. When we came back, I took the kids out for a run too! Although by the time we got out, it was raining again. We made it through our run in the rain with a few complaints, but I made it fun for them by running to the town center where the only store open was McDonald’s. and of course we had to indulge in a few “healthy” snacks. But we did run there, so that cancels out anything bad we consumed, right??

In Holland, the Second Day of Christmas is also a holiday and everything is closed. Can you imagine no after Christmas shopping? yeah, it was pretty nice! Its probably a good thing for families to share seeing one another on one of three days to celebrate Christmas too. But for us, we just enjoyed another day of togetherness.

Running by the canal.

For Christmas, one of the gifts our family opened was a Day of Art together. We each had a canvas, paints, brushes and a wooden palette to mix our colors. This provided hours of entertainment. We all picked something related to Holland to paint. I would definitely do this again and recommend this project for you with friends and/or family.



Happy 2nd Day of Christmas, Friends!!

Day 153: Merry Christmas!


We enjoyed a crazy, chaotic Christmas at home today and here are the remains! The kids were thrilled with their gifts from Santa and family and friends. We were all definitely spoiled and thank Mom and Dad, April and Steve, Nate and Becky, Michele and Jason, Brenda and Sonny, Julie and Ted, Patti and Brian, Patti Beth and Chris, Pat and Chuck, and Grandparent Hughes for all your gifts, and most especially for thinking of us.  

We enjoyed being woken up early (yeah, right!) by our eager little one, and stayed in our jammies all day.  Jeff spent hours trying to help them set up their new electronic devices. Thank God, for him. It was nice to have a day without an agenda. We took a ride later in the afternoon to see some nearby towns such as Vinkeveen, Abcoude, and Uithoorn and to see the countryside before coming back home for an interesting dinner. We bought what we thought was a smoked pork roast, however it had somewhat of an odd flavoring of cloves and spices that none of us really liked. At least the roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and the pan fried potatoes were tasty!! Luckily no one came over for dinner tonight, otherwise we would have had to throw in a pizza at the last minute!!

Thank you Laurie for calling me and catching up. April and Steve and J & S, I loved seeing you in your jammies too and watching your excitement on Facetime while you opened up the little dutch treats we sent. Thank you Kimmy for letting me see my nieces too – I loved watching G dance to her new game, and K’s long hair, and T’s joyful spirit. Mom and Dad – thanks for calling too. 

We wish you a Merry Christmas, filled with joy and hope, magic and love, anticipation and excitement.  xoxo




Day 152: Merry Christmas Eve!

Tonight is Christmas Eve and we chose to stay in the Netherlands this year and have a European Christmas.

We went to church with friends and enjoyed the uplifting Christmas music and message of hope and light.

Afterwards, we had friends over for an appetizer and finger food type dinner with drinks and desserts. I love having people over and tonight was great! I feel at home here and I love the new friends we’ve made.


After everyone left, we called B to Facetime with her family and open the package she had sent us. We opened the box to see this:

I cracked up laughing before we saw even more that was in the box, which was such a sweet and thoughtful surprise. Back home, we have a tradition of playing Santa’s Elf and leaving a sign on friends’ doors along with little treats and a message explaining the elf process, and paying it forward to two more friends. And you had to be sneaky and not reveal yourself. How sweet was it that they chose us all the way over here??

What was in the box was above and beyond too and something for each of us. But what made me smile the most was the sound of laughter coming from Charlie’s friend, D. He was so happy to see Charlie and Charlie to see him that they just giggled and shared inside jokes. I smiled and cried too…. Missing home just a little bit again and thankful for good friends.

So with that, I wish you the touch of magic that Christmas offers and the gift of love and friendship that fills our souls. Merry Christmas, friends.

Day 151: Turning Off the Computer

Today I told the kids to turn off the computers, and to read and play. This was a challenge, definitely, and took awhile to gain compliance. But look what happened instead, once I got them on board with my evil plan…

The boys got creative and decided to draw a city together on BIG paper.

They each read their books and Juliana worked on her humanities homework.

Jeff and I went for a run together and I wrapped presents.

The boys went outside for a nature walk and collected red, green, yellow and brown things. And after they dropped off their loot, they went back outside with a soccer ball and brought home a neighbor friend to play (video games!!). But hey, they were screen free all day until dinner time!!



We baked sugar cookies together and all had fun rolling out the dough and nibbling on the cookie dough. And Juliana spent more time decorating the cookies with her artistic touch.

Life is good…and Christmas is almost here. This is the most relaxing Christmas I’ve ever had… No stress, no shopping frenzy, no rushing, no pressure. I like this European way… Happy Christmas Eve, Eve. xo

Day 150: Waiting For Christmas


We’re waiting for Christmas to come and are getting ready.

This morning we played with our new toys from the German Christmas market. We loved the wooden and tin creations and the magical movements of the little tin house with real smoke (incense) coming out of the chimney, the real steam boat that operated in water with heat/steam generated by a candle, and the candle operated Snowball scene, merry go round. We sat for a long while playing and watching and enjoying these things.

Juliana and Charlie began baking cookies. Too bad they stuck to the baking sheets and we had to throw them away. We’ll have to try again tomorrow and hopefully we’ll have a picture to share.

Jeff and I went shopping at our adult toy store, Hanos, to pick out appetizers and beverages for Christmas Eve. We have a couple friends planning to join us and now I’m feeling more excited to celebrate. That store is so much fun and we both kept wandering and getting distracted by all the possibilities of what we could make and serve.

While we were gone, 4 packages arrived. I think receiving a package in the mail is so exciting, just like winning a prize and not even knowing what it is. I love the thrill of the anticipation and the thought that someone thought of us and took the time to pick something, find the right box and go to the post office to pay and mail it. So much thought goes into that, that I just want to thank April and Brenda and Becky for the surprises that await. Thank you for thinking of my family. And to my mama, who helped me ship presents to my other family in the states. Thank you!!

And to all the women (and a few good me ) who are busy behind the scenes helping to shop, wrap, cook, bake, write, entertain and clean to create the spirit of Christmas… Thank you for keeping the magic alive and bringing family and friends together in celebration of this wonderful thing called life.

Day 149: German Christmas Market – Dusseldorf


We went to explore a German Christmas market today in Dusseldorf. We left this morning for the 2+ hour drive and enjoyed the day before driving back tonight. I wanted to go before Christmas and before the weekend before its over and too crowded.

We used to drive to Sacramento and back in a day, so this felt kind of like that. We knew it would be a long day, but we were up for the adventure and didn’t want to stay at a hotel. We prefer to be in our own beds when we can help it.

Luckily the weather was fairly decent with scattered showers but nothing too crazy. The skies were gray of course and the temperature pretty cold, but when it’s not windy or pouring rain, I now tend to think of the weather as being nice.

What I enjoyed most about the markets was the decor and festive feel of Christmas. I liked the cute little booths and decorations and lights.

And I liked the unique items for sale, that you don’t typically see in the States.


I enjoyed wandering around the town and finding our way to the center market and the Ferris wheel, which was a nice surprise.





The kids must have felt like they were at a carnival, trying new foods and playing with old fashioned toys. We found a nice steakhouse for dinner that felt more American and had less crowding than most restaurants we’ve been to in Holland. My favorite part was the baked potato with sour cream. Mmm…. I haven’t had one in so long!!

At the end of the day, I’m glad we got to enjoy the day doing something new again, as a family plus one! Charlie brought a friend with him and they were so cute together. I’m also glad the world didn’t end today, because I’m not done living it up yet. I hope you’re doing the same. Merry Christmas!!