Day 216: Dutch + Sushi + Ikea

Ooh, doesn’t the title of my day just sound so romantic? Maybe for a middle life couple with kids!! I guess any time alone together could be considered a date, right? So today was one, long heck-of-a-date!

Jeff and I are taking a Dutch class together. We decided to walk to class today from our house. Half way there, we remembered we had bikes! Why didn’t we think of that? I felt so dumb! We are so not conditioned to using our bikes as a means of transportation. Jeff still thinks of riding a bike as something that children do around the neighborhood or something you use for exercise. It’s a good lesson though, how our minds think in ways that might limit how we actually see the world from our own narrow vantage point when there might be better options we haven’t even considered.

We are so not Dutch yet and must stay here longer until riding our bikes becomes a natural choice to get around this small town. I’m kind of embarrassed that it’s not already! Maybe when the weather gets warmer.

As we walked home, we stopped to buy some frites to share from the organic market that takes place on Tuesdays. They were so sweet and delicious and hot! We walked a bit further and close to our house is a cute little Japanese store with limited hours. It was open today so we peeked in and learned that they serve meals too.

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We enjoyed a spontaneous sushi lunch with hot tea, and shared what we loved about Sunnyvale and Holland and what we missed and didn’t like too. I’m always assessing what’s best for the family and think about the choices we are making and have to make moving forward. I sometimes get confused with the details and wanted to bounce ideas off him. I’m sure Jeff thinks I think too much, but he humored me nevertheless.

It was a great conversation, and what I discovered is that we have to live in the moment and enjoy where we are and what we are doing no matter what. Sounds obvious but sometimes I really long for home, and get confused because I have two homes now. And the grass isn’t necessarily greener somewhere else, right Julie? So instead of longing for something else, I choose to refocus on the gifts of the present and to continue to be thankful.

I think that’s a good lesson for anyone.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

My present moment at 1:30 pm was exhausted from 3 hours of Dutch drills and my “psychology” appointment at lunch! But I was content, and maybe delusional, to agree to go to Ikea this evening. I don’t like shopping and I don’t like Ikea, but Jeff needed a few things for his office and I figured we might as well extend our date after work.

I wanted to see if they were advertising their meatballs, but they weren’t of course! The news just reported that some of their meatballs contain horse meat. Yuck! For some reason, that disgusts me and made me curious. Notice what’s missing from their menu!

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We spent way too long there, as always, but had a much more pleasant experience than usual and actually enjoyed some friendly customer service. We drove over to Jeff’s office to deliver the loot late at night, so we could park on the sidewalk without too much traffic! His office is looking great and the nighttime view of the Amsterdam canals made the present moment perfect.

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How is your present moment? If you feel stress, practice what Charlie taught me: 7-11. Breathe in for 7 seconds and blow it out for 11 seconds. Cool, right? Namaste.

Day 28: The Good and The Bad

Which do you want first?  The good or the bad?

Ok, I’ll give you the good first – We had our third day of orientation today, but today was for the lower school kids. C was so happy seeing his new classroom, meeting his sweet, new teacher and making new friends immediately. I love how kids can just do that. They just run after each other, and say, come on let’s go and the fun begins. By the time we finished our BBQ lunch, I couldn’t get him off the playground without demands for a play date right away and whose house it was gonna be at.  The coolest part was that his new friend is originally from Los Altos, which is the next town over from our home town. Charlie said he was so happy that he could keep his friend forever and that when we’re done in Holland he can still see his friend back home. How sweet is that?  I’m so happy for him, and for me too! Loved his new best friend’s mom, and if she didn’t have company and I didn’t have to run errands again we’d be at each other’s houses already. Ok, maybe tomorrow.

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And CJ stayed home while we were at orientation, hanging out with his new friend that lives a couple doors down. He was happy to have someone to watch movies with and play games, and just be a teenager with.

One last part of good news, before the bad… JJ and I went shopping on our bikes to the market place while Jeff waited for another IKEA delivery that we’ve been waiting for, for weeks. I’ll get to that in a minute. Can you see where this leading?  Anyway, it was fun to go on a date with my soon to be middle school daughter, just her and I – trying on new clothes and looking for a new backpack, and shopping for dinner together. We gathered everything in our reusable bags and rode home. It was really fun, and we saw geese and ducks on the canals along the ride home. The air was cooler and it was so pleasant.  When we arrived back home, we were happy to see that the IKEA delivery items arrived and were on the floor of the kitchen.

The bad news is that the IKEA table we ordered on August 8th, was missing parts. We tried to fix the problem, but customer service in the Netherlands isn’t their strong quality. And when you call customer service, it’s a 900 number you have to dial and they charge .15 cents per minute. And they put you on hold. And they don’t give you a reference number. And they don’t solve the problem, but tell you something different than what is reality. So basically, you’re screwed. And we were. And we waited. And we called. And we got the run around. They said they couldn’t redeliver our table for another 3 weeks. And I cried FOUL!  And they said that was the best they could do. And I said BS.  And so yesterday, we drove back to IKEA and ordered a new table (while we wait for them to come pick up the defective table) and scheduled delivery for today (after orientation) – imagine that it could be delivered in less than 3 weeks. AMAZING what happens when you don’t accept no for an answer. But anyway, the table that arrived tonight – you won’t believe this… was missing the same exact parts. 12 of them to be exact!  OMG – can you imagine the frustration?  It’s really not fun not having a table “forever”. So we printed off the crazy letters explaining our case, and highlighted the missing parts on the assembly instructions and went back to IKEA again!  Now we swore we’d never go to IKEA again – yet there we were.  And the guy in customer service looked at us like this couldn’t be possible. And he hadn’t heard of this, and blah blah blah.  But basically, he sent us to another warehouse a half mile away, where we opened up the boxes of the same table and took the missing parts, hoping we could put our table together.

So all that was bad is now almost good. Jeff and I worked for a little over an hour, after putting the kids to bed and we now have a table. And one dead table sitting on the floor, that somehow has to get back to IKEA so that we can get our money back since we’ve paid for two tables. The guy wouldn’t give me credit without the delivery company picking up the old table and having me sign some receipt – that I then have to take back to IKEA again!!  He says that the pickup is scheduled in the system, but I don’t believe it. I think I’ll call a 900 number again tomorrow and pay another 15 cents a minute to help them run their operations. Wish me luck!  Oh, and he threw in two free lunches. Wow – wasn’t that nice? I bet they have a lot of working tables in the lunch room. Anyone want to join me??

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Day 17: Food, Glorious Food

Carla was curious about what we eat here and what we feed the kids. Believe me, I was curious too and I’m still learning. Everything is different – from size portions, to flavor, to directions in a different language, to ovens using celcius vs. fahrenheit, from pounds to kilos, to how frequently they shop here, to the packaging, and I could go on and on.

For breakfast, I grew up with a Dutch treat – Hagel Slag. Basically it is a dark, chocolate sprinkle that you sprinkle onto buttered toast. In California, I could buy a box for $6.00 at Ranch 99. Here at the Albert Hijn (the favored grocery store from the locals here) a box is less than 2 Euros – less than half price!  My kids are enjoying this sweet treat, although it’s not the most healthiest of breakfasts. Jeff and I also like a piece of aged cheese on toast for breakfast.

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For lunch, we’ve been enjoying Toasties – like grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes with a slice of thin meat. Lil’ C has found a new passion which is helping me cook in the kitchen. He actually found a new way to make grilled cheese toast by sprinkling cheese into the hot pan first to melt and crisp it, and then to add the bread on top. The cheese sticks to the bread and makes the most delicious sandwiches that we all love. The other family favorite is quesadillas. Although they don’t seem to have cheddar cheese here, like we do back in CA. Instead, it’s a white, young cheese that tastes great.  We’ve figured out the right packaging now.

While we’re busy messing up the kitchen, we have also been preparing dinner at the same time. Cook once, eat twice!  I like it. But lots of times the dinner smells so good, that there are lots of taste testers and samplers nibbling away at dinner.

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One thing I like about the local stores is that they have a lot of pre-cut and pre-sliced mixed vegetables and meats that make for easy stir-fries.  We’ve been making curries, stir fried noodle dishes, fried rice (nasi goreng) and similar dishes. They are easy to make and we all love them. We add some soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and/or salt and pepper.  But I think we need to find some new ideas.

The hardest part for me is reading directions on the backs of packages. I’ve been able to adapt and just be creative, but I’d love to follow a recipe or instructions to make something as simple as pancakes. I know I could type the recipe into Google translate, but that means more work. So for now, I’ve just been cooking what I know.

Some things taste very different than we expect too. For example, C wanted BBQ sauce on his fries. His BBQ sauce actually tasted more like thousand island dressing and nothing like BBQ sauce.  And when I made fajitas for the Petersons, using packaged fajita seasoning, it had a nice curry flavored undertone. That’s great if you’re expecting curry, but not so great when you’re hoping for fajitas.

We’ve also noticed that the savory flavors we’re used to tend to be milder here.

Another snack like food we all love are the bitter-ballen. I don’t know exactly how to describe them, but they are like a deep fried, thick gravy like veggie filling that are served with spicy mustard. You can order them as little snack size balls or as Kroquets – more of a Twinkie like shape that is served on a bun. I love them.  French fries or frites are also quite popular. The difference is that they are served typically with mayonaise, but not the Mayo we’re used to in America. It’s actually quite flavorful with a much better texture. Satay (peanut) sauce is also served with fries. Mmm…. Not going to get any skinnier eating this way!

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And as for shopping, the cashiers sit at their cash registers and customers must bring their own bags and bag their own groceries. Of course, they have bags to buy too.  Eggs are not refrigerated but instead are found on a typical shelf like you would find bread. I still refrigerate them when we get home. Luckily we have a big, American sized refrigerator!  The bread is very fresh and there are several local choices. You don’t see as many big name brands competing for shelf space like we do in the states. I like this change.  To use a shopping cart, you must put a 50 cent piece into the cart to use it, and when you return it, your 50 cent piece is also returned. Good control of the carts!  By the cash register, the candy choices are a bit different too.

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One other difference that is HUGE, is that kids can buy and consume wine and beer at the age of 16!  Isn’t that surprising?

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The market place is also open on Friday afternoons in Amstelveen. It’s fun to shop around, people watch and taste hot, freshly made stroopwafels! My favorite dutch cookie – waffle like cone flavored cookies filled with a sweet, warm, caramel filling.  This week we enjoyed seeing the fish market with HUGE live lobsters. The kids also picked some sweet candies and we enjoyed just walking around and taking it all in.

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We’re enjoying our new home and settling in.  Today the massive IKEA delivery arrived and the assembly team worked for 8 hours straight!  We’re just waiting for our couch to arrive next week and for our kitchen table to be re-delivered hopefully early this week as some pieces were missing from the box today. Oh well – we will just enjoy our chairs and one ottoman.  And the kids are happy with their new bedrooms and personal items. It’s all good.  Now I need to go get a stroop wafel for dessert! Want one?  xo

Day 9: Wired

Can I just tell you how happy I am to be sitting on my couch with the TV on, my connected computer on my lap, kids in bed and my husband by my side? This is comfort to me.  I AM Content.

I don’t know about you, but having internet connectivity is like having electricity. Sure, you could live without it, but WHY?  I love having access to information and I love connecting with loved ones, and now that I am over seas and across time zones, the internet provides a way of connecting and being in touch with the world. I actually got to watch some of the Olympics. That’s HUGE to me!  So glad the Ziggo guy showed up on time today and provided internet and cable connectivity. Happy. hApPy. happy.

Ok enough about my obsession with connectivity – I want to share my gratitude again. You see Anita and Gerard came over today and spent the entire day with us. Gerard took the day off from work so that he could bring his trailer and help us shop and pack and deliver our loot. He also brought tools and a drill to help with the assembly!  We took two cars and a small trailer and the kids and ventured to IKEA for a 5 1/2 hour shopping extravaganza! Now we typically don’t like IKEA, but here it provides a one stop shop. However, not speaking the language makes it especially hard to translate and connect with the local workers. Having Anita to write down all the codes and prices and locations was so helpful. I just let go and let her take care of me. That’s not comfortable for me. I like to be in control. I like to be doing the giving and don’t particularly like asking for or receiving help. I want to be the giver. Yet today, it was her turn and I was so happy she was there by my side. She knew what mattress sizes I needed and what size sheets would fit, and what type of comforters we would need for summer and winter weather, and had suggestions to offer around every corner.  We all meandered through the maze that is IKEA, writing orders and filling our bags and baskets until we stopped to refuel in the food court. 5 1/2 hours later we were done for the day because we had to hurry back to meet the Ziggo guy. Missing our appointment was not an option!

We made it back home by 5 pm, and Anita and Gerard got to work assembling stools and benches and dressers and bookcases. Jeff started assembling the bed frame for C’S bed, while I made coffee for everyone and picked up the empty boxes and plastic wrap and providing assistance as I could.  Little C proved to be quite handy and helpful with a screwdriver and was a fast learner. He loves to be helpful and to work with us. I love that!Image

While we were assembling furniture, we were also getting hungry!  I stepped out of my comfort zone again and drove for the first time in a foreign country to the local Indonesian restaurant to pick up some Rendang, Nasi Goreng, Bami, Soya Chicken, Marinated eggs, Sayer Lodeh, Kru Pruk, Green Beans, and pickled veggies. Mmmm… sayer Lodeh is a dish that my Opa used to make when I was a little girl. I used to eat that until I was stuffed and couldn’t eat any more but would still go back for one more serving, it was that good. Having it again makes me so happy. This is the restaurant we visited the first night in town and the guy remembered me and at the end of placing my order, he gave me a side of the sayer lodeh just for me, without me even asking. How sweet is that? Not only because I love it so much but because he remembered me. He saw me and knew who I was… that’s huge!  I’m a local! And I drove to our local Indonesian restaurant?? I’m excited by the little things in life like good food and good people.

Well dinner didn’t disappoint. It was so nice to have family with us again and to share a family meal.  After dinner, they finished building a book shelf and moving the mattresses in from the porch before the rain came. They stayed longer than I thought they would as they had a birthday party to attend.( I still can’t believe they gave up their whole day for us – thank you! )

Another learning — parties here start between 8 and 9 pm usually, after dinner and usually go until 1 or 2 in the morning and this is normal! Who knew?  I better start practicing staying up late and not falling asleep at the table! Haha — ya, that’s happened before, just ask Stacey!  

Today was a very good day, thanks to Gerard and Anita!  Thank you!  Our house is starting to feel like a home.  

Day 3: Family and Friends and Settling In

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Oh my gosh, really, only 3 days and you won’t believe all that happened today!!! I still can’t believe it and it’s only the weekend.

Today I feel like we really have a home here, which is great. Dorine and Nadja arrived at 10:45 am and just left at 11:30 pm!! How lucky are we to have family to love and support us? They brought over the famous bosschee bollen from Den ‘Bosche. These are like the best chocolate covered cream puffs you’ve ever had and I guess they can only be found in their home town. Our job was to provide coffee when they arrived, so yesterday we bought a coffee pot and this morning Jeff walked to the market to buy ground coffee, Such a fair deal.

After our coffee and sweet treats, Nadja drove me and Dorine to Ikea where we bought everything we needed to run a household and boy was that work! We bought plates, glasses, cups, silverware, bowls, cooking supplies and utensils, containers and bags, towels and hangers, pots and pans, and more. We had three shopping carts full and I was so surprised when we we’re able to fit it all into Nadja’s little car!!

We unloaded the loot and then they took Jeff to the Makro for his shopping delight!! Makro is like an upscale Costco where you need a business license to shop for discounts. He bought a new tv, vacuum, toaster, trash cans, fans, telephones and more. I think he spent more than me!!

We unloaded everything again and Dorine and Nadja started loading the dishwasher and breaking down all the boxes and helped to make our home feel gezellig!! I can’t even believe it!

In the meantime, the previous renter had shown up and talked to Jeff and he showed him how to use the oven that we couldn’t figure out and how to turn on the outdoor porch light. He also showed us how to turn off the water and just basically gave us his contact information should we have any questions. At the same time, the neighbors joined us and offered us their wireless access and gave us their extra porch table and chairs. They are so helpful and friendly.

When I arrived, the kids were out playing with their new friend. They discovered a petting zoo and miniature golf course behind our house in the retirement community. There is a big open field also on the opposite side of the canal from our house where they can kick around a soccer ball. Today we let them run around a little bit more without our immediate supervision and we felt safe. I think it helped that the neighbors were encouraging about letting their 8 year old daughter run around too. It is very quiet where we live and not much traffic, which is very pleasant.

Having kids outside playing also helped us to meet more neighbors. One family just moved here from Redondo Beach two weeks ago. What a small world. So far our neighbors our mostly Jewish and a couple families are from the International School where our children will attend. I’m so glad that people speak English and are so warm and welcoming. I think I will feel at home pretty quickly!

What really made me feel at home today was having Dorine and Nadja with us all day. We ordered Thai food and had it delivered to our house. We set the table and all ate together as a family. The kids went to bed and we had coffee and stroopwaffels for dessert before they headed home. What a great day! We got more done than I ever expected.

I Am Content.
How was your day?

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