Wonders of the world

"There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child.  There are seven million." ~Walt Streightiff

Isn't this so true?  I remember being a kid, and how easy (in retrospect) life was.  However, I don't remember there being seven million wonders of the world.  But I am sure there were at the time.

For J#3?  I think there are EIGHT million.  And it is the simple things:  planes, water fountains, kitty cats.  

Daddy brought home a plane set from the airport on his latest trip.
Pure excitement; had to start playing ASAP.
See?  He is very serious about the playing
Water fountains.  This one is in a local mall.
 His word for water is "ga".  Oh, but wait.
That is his water for juice, milk, bath.
Anything that involves liquid.
At least he is consistent, right?  Gotta love it.
I am excited for when he can specifically identify water, juice, and milk.
But for now, at least we know he wants liquid.   

Rocks. The kid could collect rocks all day.  And, they 
aren't particularly pretty or exciting rocks.  Hmm.  Is that a boy thing?
His baby sister. 
Well, pretty sure she is one of the wonders of the world. 
But that is an entirely biased mom writing.  

Sort of a good reminder to take a second to remember the little things that make life---life.  A great life. For me they are things like a good movie, a good book, fitting into a size smaller (of anything!), watching J#3 laugh, seeing J#4 smile and a great hug from J#1. 

While we try to teach our children all about life,  our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt

How about you?  What makes your life great? 


Top 10 -- Things I miss about "home"

It's hard to keep this list to just ten items, so you will see several items grouped together.  I guess when you grow up in one state, live there almost your entire life (except for a two year move to New Jersey), you get used to things.  And you miss them.  New Jersey was definitely a big move, but only two of the items on this list (#1 & #10) would have applied. 

This weekend someone from Europe asked me if I like it better here or in Minnesota.  I had to say Minnesota.   I see many benefits to a European lifestyle--a bit slower and more relaxed, less consumerism, and more time for family, among other things.  But like I told him,  "Minnesota (and the U.S. in general) is "comfort"."

"Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts." 
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

10.   Caribou Coffee.  Missed it when we were in New Jersey too.  I am just not a Starbucks girl.  Although, if I  were, a short one hour drive or so would have me in a city with a Starbucks. 

9.     Oh, so many foods. From items that make it easier to cook (pre-cooked chicken strips, chicken broth in a can, Campbell's soup, hashbrowns) to goodies like Cheese-its and Reese's Peanut Butter cups (although I just learned there is a store here that sells them--uh, oh) to true Midwestern foods like Chedderwurst.  (Chedderwurst just got added to the list.  J#1 asked me if I missed it.  My response?  "Well, I didn't...but now that you mention it...")

8.    Girls Scout Cookies.  I know, they are a food as well.  But important enough to deserve their own line. Although, not having easy access to Samoas and Thin Mints was probably a good thing.  

7.     Going out to eat.   This is one of those things that is probably a benefit (i.e. not going out to eat), but I would just love to not have to cook about 95% of the time.  But, alas, it is pretty expensive and you don't see many kids at restaurants...so it is home cooking for us!  

6.    Cheap clothes.   Thanks to not having a car and less access to some of my favorite foods (see #10, 9, 8, 7 & 2), I have been losing weight.  Enough that I need to buy new clothes.  But, hard to find inexpensive clothes (since I hope to not be wearing them very long--just passing through some sizes on the way to my goal)  I can't wait to be able to walk into an Old Navy, outlet mall, or...

5.   Target.  Oh, how I miss my favorite store.  Did you know that I subscribe to the Target videos on Youtube?  Sad, I know.  And shopping online is just not the same.  It is MUCH harder to impulse buy when you know you will need to ship it across an ocean. Guess where I will likely be spending half my days on our trip back to the States this summer?  Ha.  Don't fret, we ARE bringing an extra suitcase with us. 

4.    Knowing the language. At this point, I have the basics down for grocery shopping and being polite.  Plus, I am lucky that we are in a country where just about everyone knows English as a second language.  But, sometimes I'd like to know what the older folks who talk to J#3 (which happens a lot) are saying, and not feel like I am putting people out by asking them to speak something other than their native language.  Although, there was a day last week when I think some mean old guy was annoyed with us at the grocery store.  That was a good time to NOT know the language.  

3.    Having a car.  I mentioned this was going to be on both lists.  And here it is.  So many benefits to not having a car.  But would love it if J#1 wouldn't have to leave work to take us to doctor appointments, we could check out different parks and stores outside of town and have an easier time seeing our friends who don't live nearby (hmm, that is all of them!).  

2.    Pizza.  American Pizza.  That is probably an oxymoron, since really isn't pizza considered Italian? And we are a lot closer to Italy now. But give me a good Carbone's Pizza any day.  Or Broadway Pizza--I would be fine with that.  Or even Domino's...   (Please note, there are Domino's pizza here, but it just isn't the same.  Evidently, they haven't gotten the memo that Domino's just improved their recipe about a year ago.)

1.      Family and Friends.   This really goes without saying and could have been #s 1 through 10.  From the kids seeing their grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins to girl's nights out to having babysitters nearby to trips up to the lake with good friends to family barbecues to grabbing lunch with girlfriends and so much more.  All I can say is:  Thank God for Skype and Vonage.  

So, tell me--if you are an expat, what do you miss most about "home"?  And, if you are still at "home", what do you think you would miss most? 

p.s.  I think I will probably do a whole other post on working.  Do I miss it?   Yes (especially the people).  And no.  More to come... 


Top 10--The "things I like" list

Sorry about the delay...yesterday was filled with fun travel (to Brugges, Belgium) and visiting a dear friend from high school (thanks Facebook!) that lives in Belgium.  So, home late means this didn't get posted yesterday.

A top ten list of my favorite things about living in Eindhoven and the Netherlands. Tomorrow (or later today)...watch for a top ten list of things I miss from the U.S. 

10.   Child health care in the Netherlands.  Until the age of four, children are routinely seen by a doctor and nurse at the ZuidZorg, at no cost to the parents.  For the first visit, they come to your home, and after that you head to the office.  This is where they get their vaccinations and have what in the States we would consider "well baby" visits. 

9.     Our favorite bakery.  
J#1 ordering our "regular"


8.     The mystery.  There are new trees, plants, landscapes to learn and appreciate.  Who knew there would be a tree just outside our living room window that would have beautiful pink blossoms? 

7.     Not having a car.  Which  means the kids and I, during the week, walk everywhere.  To the grocery store, the park or anywhere else we want to go.  Great to know that it is better for the environment, better for my health, and better for our pocket book.  (even though there are these great aspects, this for sure will be on top ten things I miss too)
our new ride, the double stroller saving my back. notice grocery bag
on the back, and more groceries in the basket at the bottom.

6.     New and different foods.  While I can't say that I am a big fan of Dutch cuisine (except for Appleflaps-num!), I appreciate not having access to some of the conveniences of grocery stores in the U.S.  It is helping me become more self-sufficient in the kitchen.  (guess what?  this will be on the top ten things I miss as well)

5.     Making new friends.  The people I have met here (mostly expats like us) have been so extremely kind and generous.  From giving us rides to having playdates, I don't think we could have met a nicer group of people.  

4.     Being in Europe and having the opportunity to travel to and see so many different places.  Who would have ever though I would be taking long weekends to Paris or day trips to Germany and Belgium?   Blessed, so blessed. 
J#4 and me at Keukenhoff outside of Amsterdam,
one of my favorite trips so far

3.    TUC cheese crackers.  My new addiction.

2.    Growing closer as a family.  Having new adventures as a family.  Spending more quality time as a family.

1.    Adding to our family.  J#4 will always be a beautiful reminder of our time here in the Netherlands. 



Six months...

It has been six months, to the day, since we landed in Amsterdam.  Our small family of three, groggy and excited, found our way to meet the driver who would take us to our new city.   We didn't pull right up to our new home, staying instead at a Holiday Inn until some of our belongings were shipped from the U.S. and we had time for a first shopping spree at Ikea.  Cribs are essential for eighteen month olds!
although...he looks pretty happy in this bed (at the Holiday Inn)

We have settled in.
J#3 is a VERY good helper

We have survived the winter.  Which I suppose isn't saying much. If we would have been in Minnesota we would just now be enjoying a bit of Spring and would have been snow-blowing just about every other day.  See how we time our moves?  the year we moved to New Jersey I remember there being close to record cold temperatures in Minnesota--for weeks at a time.  

We have made new friends.  

We have ventured out and found our way around our new city.
would you believe i just learned yesterday what the
purpose of that funky structure is?  it is a tunnel
leading to an underground bike parking garage. 

We have traveled around Europe.
Christmas in London

We have added to our family.
the baby girl, not the train.  well, the train too, I guess

We have been enjoying spring here for about a month now.  Sounds like there has been more sun this year than there usually is in the Netherlands.  Lucky us, right?
enjoying the outdoors, sans heavy coat and stocking hat

In honor of our six month mark, this weekend I will share a few "top ten" lists.  Tomorrow it will be a list of the top ten things I appreciate about living in Eindhoven.  And, then on Sunday, a list of the top ten things I miss about the U.S.  Or should I switch the order??  Hmm... Stay tuned.


J. Homemaker Series #2: Cleanliness is next to Godliness?

So, I have crossed into the 'dark side'.  I have a cleaning schedule.  Can you believe this?  Because, frankly, I can't.  

Psst.  Let me tell you a secret...I don't think I have followed it one week since I started printed it out

But, I generally get most of the stuff done.  It is my job after all.  And I have always been known as a hard worker...wouldn't want to ruin my reputation.  Ooops.  Guess no one would have known if I was ruining it if I didn't write about it here.  Oh twell. 

Here is part of my dilemma: 

Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.  ~Phyllis Diller

Ah, if I haven't read a more true quote.  Why clean at this point?  I wish I would have taken before and after photos the other day.  Our living room/dining room/kitchen went from tornado alley to magazine ready (okay, probably not magazine ready, but pretty darn clean--I even scrubbed the floors) during J#3's nap.  

Um, yeah.  And about a hour thirty minutes after he woke up?  Half way back to it's previous state. 

But how can I complain?  If he would have been awake for the cleaning, you know he would have wanted to help: 

wonder where he learned this...

maybe I should find him a footstool? 


What was I thinking?

Bad hair.  We've all that one bad hair-style, right?

No?  Not ALL of us?  Well, I have.

In yesterday's post I mentioned that a few of my regrets revolve around hair.  I also mentioned that if I had a scanner I would maybe share a photo, but thought I was safe because we don't have a scanner here.  Until I remembered that in the deep, dark recesses of Facebook lives a photo.  Of me. With REALLY bad hair.

ooh, a bit blurry, but you still get the idea
So, seriously, is this for real?  Why didn't someone tell me that this is NOT a flattering hairstyle for me.  My hair is too thin (even though, according to stylists, I have a lot of it) to have long, flowing hair.  

Friends and family, I beg of you, if I ever let my hair grow past my shoulders again...take me directly to a hair salon.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.   

Well, maybe I will pay you $200 just to save me from the trauma of having to look at photos of myself with long, stringy hair.  I seem to remember a lot of ponytails during this period in my life.  Now I know why!

To make myself feel better, I thought I would find some other bad hairstyles online, so Pinterest search, here I come....

Ah, I feel better already.  


Start over?

Children make you want to start life over.  ~Muhammad Ali

Well, I am not sure I am 100% on board with Mr. Ali.  I can't imagine there are many people who really want to go through junior high (at all), braces and speech class again.  Hmm.  Hold up. I was a Speech Communication major in college.  What was I thinking??  Purposely subject myself to more speech classes?  Yes, I did.

And how about having to run the mile in gym class?  Dreaded it.  Was about to get out of it.  Still dreaded it. 

Anyhoo...back to the subject at hand.  

When I first grabbed this quote, I was in total agreement.  There are a few things that I can think of that I would want to "start over" (more on those in a bit).  But generally, I don't really agree with his statement. 

First, like previously mentioned, who wants to subject themselves to the less enjoyable parts of childhood?

Second, I don't have many regrets.  Well, except for a few hairstyles. Too bad I don't have a scanner or I would share some scary photos I have recently unearthed.  I may have made mistakes in the past, but I have learned from each and every one of them. Making mistakes teaches you. 

Third,  what if my life wouldn't have ended up the way it is right at this moment? 

The few things that I would start over are:  eating better, watching less TV, and being more active.  In fact, I am "starting over" on these items as we speak.  Guess that is one of the advantages of a whole new environment.  Hopefully, by watching me, our kids will learn to be active, eat well (would probably be helpful if J#3 would be willing to eat more than chicken fries and pizza), and read or play instead of watching TV.   

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Ali?  Maybe I am taking it too seriously.  Perhaps he just says that because of all of the playing kids get to do.  


Sweet Update

With just over two weeks until Easter, I wanted to make sure I gave an update on giving up sweets for Lent.  Evidently, seems like I should write all of my goals or commitments in a blog post.  The accountability does wonders.

Have I ever stuck with something throughout the entire Lenten season?  Don't think so.  I know--bad, bad, Catholic school girl.  Usually I can rationalize my way into getting away with not sticking to it.  Same thing with New Year's resolutions.

But, this year I have truly not had any sweets.  There are a few things that might teeter on the edge of being sweets, but I am pretty sure they won't qualify as sweets.

See the cups in our hands?
For instance, Starbucks Vanilla Latte.  We were in Dusseldorf, Germany, and it had been months (about five) since we have had prepared coffee drinks.  I figure that I would have pancakes with syrup and not consider that a sweet, so the vanilla syrup in the coffee drink doesn't count.   Now, if only Caribou could open a store on this side of the ocean, I would be a happy camper.

The other questionable item, which J#1 called me on, is Life Saver mints.  I found a few left over from when my Mom was visiting in February and had brought them from the States (thanks Mom!).  I don't consider gum a sweet, so mints are the same thing.  Right?  

My new favorite sweet treat?  Strawberries.  Num.   I have really only had about 2-3 real strong cravings for sweets, so I guess I wasn't too addicted to them. 

Finally, my plans for Easter.  I am baking sugar cookies.  I found Easter cookie cutters, so I'll be enjoying some bunny and egg shaped treats.  Oh, and J#3 just got some Peeps sent to him from Minnesota.  If those aren't gone, I might will have to have one or two of those.  

Now, the question of the day.  Graham crackers?  Sweets or no?  I mean, "crackers" is in the name--which is traditionally not a sweet item.  (ha, see the rationalization starting to occur?).  Let me know your thoughts.


J. Homemaker Series #1: Popovers

Welcome to a new feature on the blog, the J. Homemaker series.  The plan is to publish a post each Wednesday dealing with homemaking.  For those of you who have known me for some time (or maybe not that long too), you will know that before moving to the Netherlands I was NEVER known as "Suzie Homemaker".  But, seeing as how cooking and cleaning are now two of my main responsibilities, needless to say, I have "seen the light".  Or, the inside of an oven.  A lot.  

I kid, I kid.  It may sound from that last sentence that I am not enjoying my new found relationship with the kitchen, but I really am.  In fact, there are a few items on the bucket list that are a product of this.  For instance, popovers.  

I have had a popover pan for over five years (maybe even longer--it has been SO long, I am not even sure how long I have had it).  It has moved from Minnesota to New Jersey, back to Minnesota, and finally it took a trip across the ocean to the Netherlands.  

Popovers are one of my favorite treats.  I sometimes frequent restaurants just because they serve popovers. So, it was finally time to try to make them myself.  I was a bit intimidated because I had heard that popovers are difficult to bake successfully.  So, on a quiet Sunday afternoon (obviously, had to make sure J#1, my kitchen guide, was home), I made an attempt.  

first, the pan.  it should really have it's own passport.
next, the ingredients
The recipe I used?  From the packaging that came on the pan. Here it is, in case you want to try this at home: 

1 ¼     cup flour
1/3      teaspoon salt
3        large eggs
1 ¼     cup milk
2        tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 even pieces
1        tablespoon unsalted butter melted

Oil or spray (with nonstick vegetable oil spray) popover pan.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and set rack in middle of oven.  Preheat popover pan in oven about 2 minutes.  Blend flour, salt, eggs, milk and melted butter until mixture is the consistency of heavy cream, about 1 to 2 minutes.  This can be mixed in a food processor, blender, electric mixer, or with a hand mixer.  The batter can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.  Batter should be used at room temperature.

Place 1 small piece of butter in each cup and place back in preheated oven until butter is bubbly, about 1 minute.  Fill each cup half full with batter and bake 20 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking 20 minutes.

Makes 6 popovers.

So, how did they turn out?  

not perfect.  not disastrous either. 
would have preferred them to be a bit more airy. 
So, final thoughts:
1.  Our oven here only goes up to 200 degrees Celsius, which is not quite 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps why these weren't as perfect as I would have liked. 
2.  I forgot to spray the pan.  I am going to give the folks in the photo below credit for that.  
okay, that isn't fair.  it was my fault.  but I just wanted to
post this photo.  he's got his hands full, huh? 
3.  They were enough of a success to cross of my bucket list.

Will I try them again?  You bet.  But, for guests.  Found out that J#1 doesn't love popovers, so don't want to use about an hour of my time baking them just for us.  

So, how about it?  Want to come over for some popovers??? 

P.S.  Please forgive the less than stellar photography.  Obviously, I haven't gotten to that item on my bucket list yet.  


Amsterdam. Part Deux.

Saturday, April 2nd, in the Netherlands was b-e-a-utiful!!  About 70 degrees and sunny all day long.  It was the perfect day to take in the views and activities at the Keukenhof Gardens, which are about a 25 minute ride out of Amsterdam.  If you are in the Netherlands, or plan to come here for a visit at some point during the spring, I would definitely recommend it.

There were:

in every shade imaginable

and combinations of colors too

little boys getting a bit too close to the tulips 

And these are my faves; don't think they are tulips though

For the kids, there were:
slides to slide on

swings to be swung on

ponies to get close to 
turkeys to chill with (they are J#3's peeps, after all--one of
his nicknames is "turkey").

Oh, and this is where I should
mention I was about 25 (yes, not lying) before I saw a wild
turkey.  My husband, who grew up just miles from me,
thought that was crazy!!

Bunnies to pet (J#3's favorites!)

patio for some lunch--schnitzel and fries.

If you have made it through all the photos; a few fun facts about the Keukenhof Gardens.  It is the world's largest bulb flower garden, with over seven MILLION bulbs planted yearly.

Each year they feature a different theme, and this year's was Germany.  I was very excited for the panoramic planting that they had talked about on the website.  Unfortunately, we hit the garden a bit too early in the season, because this is what we saw: 
See Berlin's Brandenburg Gate?  I have a feeling this is
going to be awesome once the flowers bloom.

Last, J#4 wore her first dress on her visit.  So, I had to get a photo:
Smiling girl

A try for a photo with the two kiddos.  J#3 is in a
"no photos, please" stage, and well,  J#4 is 2 months old. 

For someone like me, a.k.a. black thumbalina, this turned out to be a great stop.  Wish we could come back every year to check it out!


Amsterdam? Check!

Back to the bucket list.  After all, that is the reason for this blog, right?

This past weekend we took a trip to Amsterdam.  It is actually our second trip there in about two months, but since the first was just to get J#4's passport and American citizenship set up, I wasn't going to "count" that.

This time, we headed to Amsterdam on Thursday night, spent Friday walking and touring around the city, and headed to the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens on Saturday.

We started our jammed packed Friday taking care of some business.  J#1 actually had to get more pages added to his passport, so while he headed to the consulate, J#3 did some...

 and sliding. 

Then we headed to the Van Gogh Museum.  We are not big art museum folks (I know, gasp, right?), but seeing has how Van Gogh was born here in the Netherlands, we thought it would be prudent to check out the museum.  Since they aren't able to put a lot of his work on display, there was actually just one floor of Van Gogh pieces, so we weren't there for a very long time--which was probably a good thing since two-year-olds generally don't have a lot of patience for looking at pictures (that they can't touch) on the wall.
The line at the museum 10 minutes before opening

Waiting for the museum to open, before we decided to wait
and come back later in the day

The museum.  You know, since you can't take photos inside.
We actually got there before it opened, and there was a huge line waiting already to get in.  We decided we wouldn't have time to make the trip worth--and thought lines would be shorter-- it at that point before J#1s appointment, so we came back after he was done.  Low and behold, the lines were STILL long.  No worries, though, I had bought tickets online before we headed out of town.  Would wholeheartedly recommend that to anyone.  It was awesome skipping the line, and just walking right up to the entrance.

After the museum, we stopped for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, because that is just what we do when we are in a city with a Hard Rock Cafe.  Then headed out walking around town.
Of course, had to get the obligatory canal photo. 

Our plan was to check out the Anne Frank Museum.  The wait to enter there is generally about an hour or more, so I had tried to buy tickets online for that as well--but they were all sold out!!  That will teach me to wait until the week of the trip to buy tickets.  But we did walk over there, just so that we knew we had seen it.

The actual house is the 2nd building from the left;
the museum is on the far right.

After that, we walked back towards our hotel, which was in the Centrum, and did some shopping.  Yes, I bought J#3 a wooden clog coin bank.  I mean, she was born here, right?

 More on the Keukenhof Gardens tomorrow.  The Gardens deserve their very own post.  Here is a bit of a preview:
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