Berber baked bread & the Marrakech Medina

I asked Andy to author his adventure with Annie (his mom). Assembling an alliterated article was his approach. As anyone assumes, Andy arrived on this annoying attempt unaccompanied.

Mandi and the munchkin maintained the manner while mom and I made moves to Morocco. Mainly motoring and marching through the Marrakech Medina, many memories were made. Mom and I mobilized to the Atlas Mountains where modern means mix with medieval methods. Moseying among mountains and masticating marinated meats maximized our moments.

Veered vehicle ventured to the vista for this valley view.

Rough roads ran from rental retailer to ramshackle rooms. To rejuvenate, we required a recovery rest. Ramadan; a religious recurrence reduces rations resulting in respectful requests. Regulated religious retreats restrict non-Muslims, except a retired Mosque. We reembarked.

Past place perched prominently for periodic praying people.

Tasty Tagine took us till ten. Too tired to tackle our tit-for-tat Gin tournament, it was time to tumble to bed until tomorrow. Day two, the hostess taught us traditional techniques. Typical to-dos take tons of time. Then we travel to towns and trading traps. Temperatures tilted too the top of the thermometer.

Happy hands harvest heifer half and half. Humbling.
Carefully calibrated clay caves cook crusts.

Gracious guests going to gardens, garbage, goats and gimmicks. We graduated to gregarious gobs of greedy go-getters. Getting greeted by grabby guys. Gracefully gallivanting through grimy gangways, gulping as galloping scooters go by at gruesome gaits. Good grub of grilled goat, lamb and gambas (shrimp). Grateful for grabbing good times with my Mom.

Willfully walking within wonderful wild works.
Late libations, look for the lounging lady lying low.

Hoi, Ciao, Bonjour

Bucket lists… are a funny thing. Or maybe we are funny about them? Growing up, I had a bucket list and imagined I would someday start checking things off it. But to be honest, there weren’t a lot of things on that list because a bucket list was supposed to be filled with extravagant to-do’s. Things I shouldn’t be able to accomplish or afford until way later in life, in other words, things I didn’t even know I wanted to do yet.

Then Dad’s words, Andy’s messages and Jim’s philosophies started sinking in. In Dad’s words, Enjoy life and spend the money (if you can), you can’t take it with you. And then there’s Andy who says, You shouldn’t have a bucket list. A bucket list indicates it will only happen once in a lifetime. Make it happen as many times as you want it to. Late to the game, but still with some words of wisdom (though never tell him about this credit), my brother-in-law, Jim, who believes, you don’t wait for the special occasion. You make any occasion special.

For the last few years, Andy and I tried to fulfill the goal of alternating each year between a house project and a trip. Prioritizing new places over repeats, an unwritten family rule.

I love rules and I love following them, unless that rule is stupid.
― Anna Kendrick

Upon our arrival in Amsterdam, we decided one of our previously established rules may fall under the stupid category and modified it.  We decided to attempt to travel at least 1x a month. It would be silly not to take advantage of our European home base.

Now, as previously mentioned, there aren’t/weren’t a lot of items on my bucket list. However, there are a few items, and one of them includes traveling Europe with my parents.

As random conversations of traveling to Italy and France gradually turned into excel sheets with arrival and departure times, I couldn’t help but recall the refreshing taste of gelato alla fregola, dream of a croque madame at a French café and anticipate all the memories to be made as the Van Carldolphs were about to take on Amsterdam, Cinque Terra, and Paris!

Now, it’s no secret the 7 of us, Mom, Dad, Morgan, Jim, Andy, Cooper and myself have all spent plenty of time together over the years, but as you know everything is a little bit different when traveling…

For example, definitions of coffee time…heck even definitions of morning. What sounds like an adventure for some, may be hell for others. And for each what a how should, some prefer to prepare for the how and other’s prefer to just let it unfold.

Andy and I have always said that we prefer to explore a city through our bellies, turns out this is true for the Van Carldolphs:

As much as we enjoy food, we are also fully aware that we all need it…and the window for that needing to take place is narrow. Unfortunately, the hangry curse has been passed onto Cooper (emergency crepes):

All rules, stupid or not, are allowed to be broken under certain circumstances:

…and when convince outweighs cost, it’s ok (take the cab over the train):

I haven’t been Everywhere but it’s on my list. –Susan Sontag

While my bucket list may be short and my pockets lean, my ability to see the beauty in these opportunities is grand:

They say,

The best things in life are the people you love, the places you see, and the memories you’ve made along the way. -Author Unknown

If that’s true, this European adventure was one of the best things.

A few more images of the memories made:

and a few where we just weren’t able to capture the moment digitally:

  • I sent the men on a fishing trip in Italy for Andy’s birthday. They all swore it was great, even though they didn’t catch anything…It later came up that when they pulled up their lines (at the end of the trip) they were tangled. Happy Birthday Andy???
  • You saw a picture of the Leaning Tower. This was an added pit stop on the way to the airport for Mom and Dad. What you didn’t see was a photo of Cooper and I covered in the back of a cab with 2 rounds of puke. (The cab driver took us seriously when we said time was limited.)
  • Cooper could have a book of all the indecent exposure moments he’s had across Europe…when you gotta go, you gotta go.
  • Last but not least, let’s not forget when you do for your loved ones…like travel an hour across Paris to the new hotel, only to then travel the hour back across town because you really do care about seeing that museum. Luckily along the way you passed the amazing macaroon’s your sister had been searching for!

As we sat in Mom and Dad’s hotel room on our last evening, drinking the rest of the hotel beers, sampling a few more macaroons, guessing the flavors of chocolates, countering the sweets with some French cheese, and picking at more pastries than 7 people should ever be allowed to have at once, we began to reflect on the adventures.

Morgan mentioned her and Jim always try to leave something to come back to when they travel. As I pondered what this was for me, I decided it would be going through Notre Dame. While everyone else went through it, Andy, Cooper and I spent time outside of the cathedral as Cooper was having a bit of a hangry moment.

That was Friday.

On Monday, it caught on fire.

As we sat back in Amsterdam staring at the t.v in silence, I continued thinking about this bucket list adventure. I vowed to myself to continue finding the balance between taking advantage of the moment, and leaving some things to come back to. Either way, no regrets.

Occasionally, taking advantage of the moment involves fulfilling someone else’s bucket list. That’s Keukenof. An item on Mom’s bucket list, one I could take or leave depending on the day. However, she was adamant that we go. Given we gifted her tickets for Christmas, I was somewhat obligated to attend. What an experience! At the end of the day, this too was an unforgettable moment and, again, I was reminded of the importance of stepping outside your box. Occasionally, something that sounds like hell for you and an adventure for someone else ends up being incredible for both.

As I think back to the opening of this blog, I need it to be known that while the first Van Carldolph European adventure was a success, and a check on my bucket list, I sure as hell hope it’s not a once in a lifetime experience! The only difference will be that the next one must include the Rau’s and…

Baby Van Dellen #2, who is due to arrive October, 2019!

Dwelling on the Days

I don’t know about you but I’m 100% guilty. Guilty of negative dwelling.

Andy and I disagree and suddenly our relationship is falling apart. We have one bad day and I equate that to weeks and weeks of dissatisfaction.

A few pending tasks that I can’t complete alone, or at least, I think I can’t, and suddenly I’m incapable.

I get a negative remark about my work or unhappy participant and I beat myself up for days. I’ll grow from it, but I can’t stand the fact that you spent time with me and your needs weren’t met.

I spend a lot of my professional career coaching others to reflect on their experiences and grow from them. To be honest, this can be a challenge for me too.

I am with Cooper for his first year (and more) of life. Yet, I continue to spend time dwelling on the what-if about my professional career.

Dwelling. It’s a time suck, it’s a rocking chair, a pendulum of useless.

Over the past several months, specifically in Amsterdam, some experiences:

  • I had days where I swore one of us (Cooper or I) weren’t going to be in the flat when Andy arrived home from work.
  • I woke up pissed because it was pouring rain and windy…and there was no food in the place (this meant loading Cooper up and walking or biking to the store).
  • Some days I get in my zone and all writing blocks disappear that is until Cooper reminds me that he wants to be the number 1 priority.
  • I’ve been puked on multiple times while traveling and spent hours smelling like it.
  • My intentions have been set day after day, either get up and go to the gym or get up and write…instead I hit snooze.

The list could go on.

As you might presume, these actions lead to more unproductive dwelling.

Lazy. Unable to hold myself accountable. Distracted…and at times they did.

But more recently, I’ve noticed something different.

I’ll give you a hint, there is one common factor…

The Cooper Factor.

A little over a year ago, on March 12th, my life was changed for the better. Many experiences since then, are worthy of negatively dwelling on or getting frustrated over. However, when I stop and think about the last year and moments such as traveling with a scent of spoiled milk as opposed to my favorite Anthropology scent my mindset is different:

Months 1-12

As I scanned through my 6,000 plus photos since Cooper’s birth, I realized how many of the images could trigger a negative memory. I’m thankful they don’t. Instead, these memories have made for good stories, were moments I grew from, or simply weren’t worthy of stressing over. Establishing a positive mindset and finding the good in each moment is something I aspire to refine.

I recently read a book that suggested you take a moment at the end of each day and write down what you are grateful for. While I haven’t started writing them down, each night as I lay Cooper down for bed I take a moment to tell him our moments throughout the day that I am grateful for and why. While I know he won’t remember these moments right now, I hope someday he is able to recall the moments we stopped and watched the trains go by, rather than the ones where I was yelling at him to be quiet so I could get my work done. Hoping to instill a positive perspective in him as well.

As our Adventures in Amsterdam turns into Returning to Reno, I can’t help but think about the moments, experiences and values I want to take back with us. The Dutch are known for putting their families first. They work to live as opposed to living to work. Rather than dwelling on the crappy weather, they get out and carry on with their days. Yesterday, I was sharing with my dad that I have yet to see an angry parent yelling at their child while biking to school, the store, etc. It’s a desirable lifestyle I want to preserve.

I’d be lying to say I eliminated negative dwelling from my vocabulary but what I can say is that our time here in Amsterdam, (a forever thank-you to Andy), has provided me the opportunity to look at my unchecked to-do’s, like this blog post that has been sitting on my list for over a month now, and take a breath. Take a breath, and instead of beating myself up over my failed attempts at being productive, be grateful for the time I have with Cooper. To get chores done when we can, even if it means hanging up the laundry over and over so Cooper can pull them off the rack. Further, to take those moments of negativity in stride and forget them, because, after all, life is what you make it; and it is pretty good right now.

The Adolescents’ View of Amsterdam

“If we experienced life through the eyes of a child, everything would be magical and extraordinary. Let our curiosity, adventure and wonder of life never end.”

Akiane Kramarik

Last month, Andy, Cooper and I had the pleasure of hosting in Amsterdam my sister Megan, her husband Eric, and their two girls, Rylee and Hailey. This was the Rau’s first international trip together and we couldn’t have been more excited that they chose to come see us! I must say, these girlies demonstrated their abilty to be travelers!

Prior to their arrival, I sent the girls a set of cards that had roughly 50 things to do in Amsterdam. I asked them to send me the sights, activities, and restaurants that they wanted on their itinerary. I was pumped when I got an email of 15-20 things they wanted to see and do while here.

Here were a few of the requests:

  • Artis: Amsterdam Zoo
  • Nemo: Science Museum
  • Van Gough Museum
  • Swimming with Cooper
  • A’dam Lookout
  • NDSM
  • Ann Frank House
  • Eat Stroopwafel

While I can assure we made the most of our time together, I’m not going to recap our daily itineraries. One night while Megan, Eric and Andy went to explore some of the nightlife, I came up with a better idea for this blog…

Prior to traveling somewhere new, I find myself doing endless searches on Pinterest, going through my Rick Steve books, and reading blogs. However, I don’t read or talk to kids who have traveled to the location.

So, while the girls were supposed to be finishing some down time with an episode of Full House (yes, the original!) and then heading off to bed, I decided to pull the Auntie card, serve another bowl of popcorn, and interview them. Of course, using my teaching abilities to sell this very big task to them. After explaining what a blog was, showing them mine, explaining the importance of speaking from the heart and your own beliefs, and informing them they would be the centerfold of the next post, they were hooked!

Keep reading to hear about Amsterdam through the adolescent eyes.   

A week prior to the Rau’s arrival in Amsterdam, Andy attended a professional development day. They were guided through an exercise to help become a more engaging speaker/story teller, called LOTS of LOTS – Lots Of The Senses (or something like that). The intent of the partner based activity is to tell a story using as many sensory descriptors as you can, try it. Tell me how you woke up or started your day. Say three sentences.

You’ll be surprised, most often you stated a fact-based narrative without any sensory descriptions. The alarm went off, I got out of bed and took a shower. Instead of, as the blast of my alarm radio penetrated by groggy sleep induced ears, I was shocked to see the morning sun peeking through the curtain. I won’t go on, you get it.

R indicates Rylee’s responses (10 years old) and H indicates Hailey’s responses (7 years old).

Describe Amsterdam using your 5 senses.


                       R: a lot of people on bikes, in a car or on a tram

                       H: the water and a couple boats


                        R: sirens going by

                        H: sirens going by


                        R: cigarettes

                       H: Well, the burger place smells like apple juice (hops!)


                        R: It tastes like people who have smoke in their mouth and then they blow it out.

                        H: It tastes like Stroopwafel!


                        R: Warm and windy at the same time.

                        H: When your asleep if feels like you’re on a fluffy cloud because it’s so comfortable here.

What is best part of Amsterdam and why?

            R: You can bike whenever you want and wherever you want. It’s fun and you get to go different places than you’d go in a car.

            H: Spending time with my family because you get to have fun with your family and spend time with them. (I swear I didn’t pay her to say that!)

What is the worst part of Amsterdam?

            R: That everyone smokes because it’s bad for you.

            H: The worst part is every day you hear the sirens go off and smoking. I do not like it.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in Amsterdam?

            R: Rock climbing because it’s really fun and I don’t get to do it a lot because it’s not by me.

            H: So far, it would probably be the petting zoo and the big slides because it’s really fun and you get to burn your energy out and pet animals.

What’s one thing you wouldn’t do again?

            R: I would never eat bitterballen again because they didn’t taste good to me. Hailey interrupts: Oh they are really good for me!

            H: I would never buy raspberries again. Why? Because Rylee eats them!

What’s one thing you’d miss if you moved here?

            R: My friends.

            H: The rest of my family. Nana and Papa, Grandma and Pops and my cousins.

What’s one thing you’d like if you moved here?

            R: Riding my bike because it’s fun for me.

            H: Rock climbing because you get to work through things and make it to the top. Even if it takes you to your last try to make it. It’s fine.

Favorite Memory and Why:

            R: When mommy’s bike tire went flat and she had to ride on the back of daddy’s.

            H: Going to the Bagel and Beans shop because it’s weird how you get hot milk and just put chocolate chips in and stir it up…it’s so weird!

If a friend was coming to visit you’d tell her/him to…

            R: I would say go to the Van Gough museum because it’s really fun and interesting.

           H: I would tell them…umm…I would want them to try the burger place that we went to because you get to go on a ferry. That was fun.

What’s one thing you still want to do here in Amsterdam?

            R: I want to go to a couple more parks because it’s fun to see all the different play sets here. Hailey interrupts: and you also get to burn your energy. 

            H: Umm. (Laughs) I would like to go rock climbing as long as it’s open. Like, for the whole day…if it’s open that long. (Smiles)

Would you come back to Amsterdam?

            R: Maybe, because the food is different and people from the US aren’t used to it, it’s hard to get used to. Like the cereal and ketchup.

            H: Yes, because it’s really fun here and you get to learn new words. Like words about Dutch.

Should we stay in Amsterdam or move back to Reno?

            R: Stay here, because it’s really fun and then we can come back and stay and you can keep showing us around and teaching us new things.

           H: Maybe, because…well, how would you get the dog here? Maybe you could spend some time here and different times home with Henry?

H: I wonder if there’s a question about what we would change? Ok, what would you change about Amsterdam?

            H: It would be that there would be a roller coaster with pedals all over Amsterdam and you could just pedal and go anywhere in the city… or not pedal. (Coming from the one who was chauffeured around all week in a bakfiets!)

            R: For people to stop smoking because they’d be happier and live longer.

Anything else you want to say about Amsterdam?

           R: If you live in the USA you should come live here, and if you live here you should come to the USA because its fun to see the differences…like the food and stuff.

            H: If you love elephants…just come to the zoo here. Because you can see like any animal you love here, except for a couple of them. And the red panda is so cool.

It’s no secret we learn a lot more about one’s processing and understanding by talking in person, as opposed to reading written down responses. For me, this was true in talking to the girls about their Amsterdam experience. Some of the things I thought would be highlights weren’t and others that seemed like a quick “filler” were some of the most memorable moments. In reviewing our discussion a few things stuck out to me:

  • It’s amazing. You can put two people in the exact same situation and provide them the exact same experience, yet they will still have completely different interpretations—smoke to stroopwafel (those coming will try to provide the stroopwafel version!)
  • Young or old, time with family is always valuable.
  • Let children determine what they enjoy and what they don’t. I thought the girls would be bored out of their minds at the Van Gough Museum. They both loved it and I’ll never forget their excitement and engagement as they restated all the facts they learned!
  • Kids will be kids. Sometimes it worth noting how frustrating it is when your sister eats your raspberries!

In closing, I continue to be forever grateful for any time with family and friends, whether it be FaceTime or time in person. As we continue navigating the cold, dark, windy and rainy season here, it brings us closer to home and sheds a light that is refreshing in so many ways! Being able to share the unpredictable joys and frustrations Rylee and Hailey experienced on their first European adventure allowed me to slow down and view the city through a different lens, one that provides so much insight!

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

New Years from the Netherlands…or is it Holidays in Holland?

I love the clog ornament.

It screams Dutch to me.

Although, it says Holland on the clogs…

I want them to say the Netherlands…given that’s where we are living.

…I wonder why this shop, here in Amsterdam, doesn’t have any ornaments that say the Netherlands on them?

Holland, the Netherlands…wait, are these two locations the same place?

I found myself pondering this very question as I was shopping for a Christmas ornament (hoping to have at least one on our tree this year). Suddenly, I was questioning where I am living… In fact, I know I’ve heard locals refer to living in Holland and others say they live in the Netherlands.

So, what’s the verdict?

After doing some research, I learned that the Netherlands consists of 12 provinces, two of those provinces, Noord and Zuid-Holland together are Holland. However, Holland is often used when the Netherlands is meant.

So, when it comes to Amsterdam, which is it, Holland or the Netherlands? It’s both. Amsterdam is located in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, specifically in the province Noord-Holland (one of the two provinces that make up Holland).

Luckily, the purchase still meets our requirement of Christmas ornaments (purchased by us), and is a place we have visited as a family…and yes, I’m now confident in making that statement. 

Christmas. Ornaments, pierogies, ugly sweaters, Buble and the timeless NSYNC Christmas album…

It’s been a magical time of the year for me since…well as long as I can remember. Andy claims it’s the only day of the year I can get out of bed on my own! From Dad bringing home the scissor lift the day after Thanksgiving to decorate the house like Clark Griswold, to the memorable yearly letters from Santa recapping the year’s events, and the Christmas morning challenge trying to discover if the snowmen, the snowflakes, or the striped wrapping paper contained my gifts from Santa. These traditions are ones I’m not ready to let go. So, you can imagine how deflated I was when I asked Andy when we could go get our Christmas tree and he replied with, “What, you want a tree this year? Coopers not even going to remember it.” The discussion continued with: “You can either come with me and help me, or else I’ll find another way to get one. But…Cooper and I are getting a Christmas tree.” Needless to say, a few evenings later, Andy and I tackled the wind and rain to find the perfect tree.

If you’re questioning how that process works here, take a look:

The Carlson tradition has always been to put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving. Which was my plan this year, that is until we learned about December 5th.

Sinterklaas. The Dutch version of Saint Nicholas, who resides in Spain with his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten. For those of you who don’t know, Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten travel to the Netherlands every November by steamboat to celebrate his birthday, bringing presents for all the “good” children in the Netherlands (it’s actually a huge event here, Sinterklass comes through the canals).

Once Sinterklaas is in the Netherlands children sing a song, leave a carrot for Sint’s horse and set their shoes out for Sinterklaas to leave little presents in them. December 6th, is Sinterklaas’s birthday, however the main celebration takes place the night of the 5th, pakjesavond (present evening). Early in the evening there is a knock at the door and a sack of presents is found by the children. Since Christmas and Sinterklaas are two separate holidays, Christmas decorations don’t traditionally appear until after Sint has left, on December 6th. 

A bittersweet discovery!

Two Christmas celebrations…but a delayed decorating date.

Cooper’s first Sinterklaas was celebrated at the Patagonia Sinterklaas party (where every child was called up by name, their name read from the book, and given a gift), and then again at home. 

Gotta love international culture – hey, you two interns, dress up like Black Piet (Zwart Piet) and dance around for the kiddies – avd

As you might expect, December 6th was then spent putting up our tree!

Since arriving in Amsterdam, a goal of mine has been to make our temporary house, feel like home. Unfortunately, I’m discovering the disconnect between looking and feeling. While we are in fact surrounded by a flat full of furniture, artwork on the walls, cards from family, Nana’s handmade stockings hanging and holiday decorations carefully placed in sight (but out of reach), it isn’t quite the same…

As this realization was starting to dampen my holiday spirit, something perfectly timed happened…our first visitors arrived!

Below are a few snapshots from our adventures with Nana and then Uncle Jeff and Aunt Catherine:

Nana’s first stoopwafel
Cologne, Germany Christmas Market with Nana, Andy is real excited to be there
Dusseldorf, Germany Christmas Market
Amsterdam Light Festival, via boat tour
Dandelion Fluff, Amsterdam Light Festival
City tour like the locals
Canal Tour
(Cooper and I didn’t go on this one…but we took a picture like we did!)

On January 21st, as our second visitors, Jeff and Catherine, headed back to England, I was feeling refueled and ready to ensure Christmas in Amsterdam (and Cooper’s first Christmas) was as special as my childhood memories.

Which meant…figuring out how the hell I was going to make Mom’s homemade pierogies for Christmas…with a baby…and without Andy’s help (assuming I’d already pressed my luck with the tree).

Ok Cooper, we are going to need 2.5 cups of flour, 1 large egg, 3 medium-size potatoes, 8 oz cheese…

This was my tactic: First, make sure Andy was within hearing distance. Second, begin talking to Cooper about the ingredients and process of making pierogies. Lastly, wait for Andy to pick up on our conversation long enough to realize what I was doing…(talking to Cooper when what I really wanted to do was talk to him about it).

Man, if your talking about making pierogies, why don’t you hold off on making them this year?

Perfect! He’s in the conversation!

Hmm, that’s not going to happen. It’s not Christmas without them!

To my surprise, (not really, because Andy’s usually two steps ahead of me) Andy informed me that he knows it’s not Christmas without pierogies and he is getting authentic Polish pierogies dlivered from a Polish co-worker!

As it was looking, Christmas was going to be differnt, but it was going to be as close to a Reno/Michigan/New Hamshire Christmas as we could get!

Per tradition, on Christmas Eve we all get to open one gift (which is always new pajamas). Cooper had his bath, filled his plate for Santa with Dutch treats (cheese, chocolates and Kruidnoten) and was snug in his new pj’s. Ready for bed as if it were any other night.

I, on the other hand, was as excited as I was 15 years ago, only this year my excitement was being channeled in another way…for we now got the chance to play Santa!

Shhh, Cooper’s still sleeping… I made you a coffee. Why don’t you get up and  we can go sit by the tree, the two of us, till he wakes up?

Yes, much to my surprise, I was still sleeping and Andy woke me up on Christmas morning! If it weren’t for the lingering smell of a fresh Almond Nespresso, I’m not sure I would have gotten out of bed, but there was a fresh coffee so I did.

Holy Shit! What are you doing here?! This is awesome (cue the tears)…

and just like nearly every other Christmas morning, some of my wishes had come true. There, sitting by the tree, were Naughty and Nice (aka Nana and Papa/Mom and Dad).

I won’t go into detail about this surprise, but let’s just say it was a fantastic one successfully pulled off by my parents, Andy and my sisters! For the next week, our temporary house felt like home.

Cooper opening presents Christmas morning
Proost to Christmas Day and more visitors @ Brouwerij ‘t IJ!
Canal Tour through the Amsterdam Light Festival
Bedtime stories with Papa
Rijksmuseum (Cooper attended too, he’s just not in the photograph!)
Snuggles with Nana

While it would be nieve to think that our visitors would stay forever, it was more than refreshing to have family here over the holidays. In fact, it’s hard to express just how much their trips meant to us.

American singer-songwriter Anita Baker was quoted saying, “You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family.” Now, we haven’t landed a fortune here, but we are living one of our dreams and when we didn’t make it home over the holidays, it meant the world to have family make the journeys to share it with. Thank you all!

Knowing how great it was to share our experience with Nana, Jeff, Catherine, and Mom and Dad we are now counting down the days for the rest of you to come!

…and with that, I leave you with some videos from the most intense New Year’s Eve Celebration I have witnessed. These are not fireworks from the city, but from citizens, as the only days it is legal to buy fireworks and deploy them are the 3 days before NYE. Which means, the ENTIRE city is shooting fireworks off for as long as they will last, which is about 7 hours.

To help paint a picture of the night, these were taken from our flat somewhere around midnight…the party started at 5 pm and it finally calmed down sometime around 3 am. Needless to say…attempting to get a 9 month old to sleep was worthless!

We hope you had a wonderful holiday too! Proost to 2019!

Thanksgiving, in Hindsight

Mom! Megan won’t let me curl my hair!

Do you like this outfit? You do? Well, I’m not comfortable, I’m going to go change again…

Morgan, it’s time to get up!

Brody has Dad’s shoe again!

Mandi, that’s my shirt! And no, you can’t wear it!

Girls, we were supposed to be out the door 10 minutes ago…

Has anyone seen dad? (Look out the window) Yep, he’s sitting in the car waiting for all of us.

Wait, did someone grab the rolls?

A typical Thanksgiving morning conversation in the Carlson household. The chaos of 4 girls trying to get ready and out the door in time to arrive at Grandpa and Grandma’s on time. In our minds (the females in the family), on time meant before dinner was served. In Dad’s mind, on time meant at the start of the gathering. Our typical arrival was somewhere in between with some side bickering along the way.

But then…

There was the aroma of mom’s rolls which overtook the cocktail of Abercrombie 8, Clinique Happy and wet nail polish that was aerating from the backseat.

And 2 plus hours later walking into Grandma and Grandpa’s to see Grandma’s tiny little frame pulling a delicious pie out of the oven. The gravy simmering on the stove top. The turkey prepped. And of course…the essential cinnamon and poppy-seed loaves already cut and ready to be covered with butter that was somehow always the perfect temperature. Whichever cousin had promptly grabbed Grandma upon arrival was likely to be using, the best kitchen gadget, the hand-mixture, to whip up the cream for the pies. The rest of us were pushing our way around the table, that always felt larger than it actually was, to admire the task. All the while, Grandma carried on with her stories and laughter, never breaking the smile on her face or stopping long enough to catch her reflection and notice the sole roller she’d forgotten in her hair.

In the front room, the rest of the family was attempting to greet one another over the noise of the football game while awkwardly trying to find a place to sit until dinner (which was rather hard because Grandpa had filled every available space with tables and chairs). As for all the cousins, we were somewhere between dumping the nostalgic 5-gallon bucket of marbles out, dressing up in Grandpa and Grandma’s square dancing outfits, getting tickled by dad and Uncle Mick, seeing how fast we could make Grandpa’s exercise bike go, or locking each other in the scary blue room. 

As soon as Grandma hollered, “Dinner!” from the kitchen, everyone found their way to the table. For years, I recall looking up at the big table wondering how many more years I had to sit down here at the kid’s table.

There was the choral saying of grace, and the traditional go around the table and share what you were thankful for, and then it began…the juggling of the platters and filling of our bellies till we felt like a stuffed turkey ourselves.


This is what I remember about Thanksgiving.

It’s been several years since Grandma’s passing, one since Grandpa’s, and far too many since I’ve been with my sisters and parents to celebrate Thanksgiving. Knowing we would be in Amsterdam for the holiday this year, it was no surprise that this year would be another spent apart, unfortunately.

In my mind, I knew I wasn’t going to come across Thanksgiving decorations in the store, nor was I going to witness the hustle and bustle at the turkey freezers in the supermarket, given it’s an American holiday. But for some reason, I couldn’t convince myself to chalk it up as a different year. 

But it would be easier to do so.

We live in a flat. Our oven is the size of my old Easy Bake. I’m pretty sure we own exactly one set of Ikea plates. Oh, and let’s not negate the fact that I’d been living on coffee for a solid two weeks. Yep, Cooper was in the midst of a cold and a serious battle with his top two teeth.

As hard as I tried to tell myself to let it go, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love this time of year. Over one of the many walks to the supermarket, I got to thinking about traditions and how some traditions just stop. For example, sometimes these savory memories become just that, a memory. And while some things are better forgotten, I prefer to be the one who determines when that happens, not the other way around. And… I’m not ready to wake up on Thanksgiving without smelling rolls, or sneak snacking on a pumpkin bar!

Therefore, the decision to host Thanksgiving in Amsterdam was made!

Now, as you might expect, the next big questions was: Who do we invite? This didn’t end up being a long drawn out conversation because, well…we don’t know that many people in the Netherlands! Our guest list ended up being some Dutchies, Italians, Chinese, and Americans.

My favorite comment, after sending out the invitation, came from Andy’s Italian co-worker, who just couldn’t comprehend why you’d eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon. Wasn’t this going to screw up dinner?

As soon as the invite went out it was time to start planning. However, instead, we decided to take a quick trip to England for some family time with the Wades!

The one task I requested of Andy before heading to England was to figure out a turkey. About 10 minutes prior to boarding he called one of the few butchers in town who sold turkeys (turkeys aren’t sold in stores here…ever) and was able to set something up. No later than 5 seconds after hanging up his phone he looked at me and said, “Hmm, I forgot to ask how much it was going to be.” As Andy does, he started Googling and discovered that the 8.5lb turkey he just ordered (which we weren’t even sure would fit in the oven) could cost about 170 Euros. “Holy shit, I like Thanksgiving, but for that amount, we aren’t having turkey!” He decided to call the butcher back in hopes of finding that this fresh, free-range turkey coming from France was not actually going to cost us nearly 200 dollars, and if it was, he was going to cancel the order. Luckily, it was going to cost about 70 Euros instead (still a bit steep!).

Upon returning from England, I started trying to organize my thoughts around how we were actually going to pull this off. I started with a menu, then broke down the menu into shopping days (considering the longevity of the product and of course how much Cooper and I could carry each day) as well as the size of our fridge, then finally taking an inventory of each dish in our flat and matching it with menu items:

Over the course of 5 days:

  • Cooper and I went to the store at least once a day
  • Maxed out (thus far) how much we could carry back from the store
  • Discovered that sour cream (zure room) does exist here, even though every store owner claims it doesn’t (gotta have those cheesy pots!)
  • Confirmed that pumpkin pie is non-existent, as well as canned pumpkin (luckily Cooper let me use his fall toys in the pumpkin bars)
  • Made both whipping cream and frosting (this isn’t really significant other than we had no need for whipping cream)
  • Successfully prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for 13 people with no kitchen appliances (other than oven, stove, and microwave)!
  • Discovered how to stream a recording of the Lions game to watch
  • …and had a lovely day sharing our Thanksgiving Traditions with family and new friends.
Andy wanted a bacon wrapped turkey. If you’re going to show people how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, you have to put bacon on everything!!

In attendance was Uncle Ryan, the one who cuddles with the babies and winds up all the little ones. Aunt Xiaomin, who showed up with wine and a turkey crafts to entertain the kiddos. The Dutchees who were starving but didn’t eat…we finally realized this after they informed us that the Dutch would never eat before the host! As soon as Andy took some food they were much happier;) The Italians who wanted to support the American tradition and show up with marshmallow potatoes (as they called it) but after several YouTube videos and frustration decided to bring what they know best…tiramisu (which no one was upset about!). A few Americans who showed up late, because that’s what we do. And of course Cooper, who successfully managed to pull off an Irish Good Bye.

The Friday night before our Thanksgiving, (we celebrated on Saturday because everyone had to work Thursday) Andy and I got take out, made a few gin and tonics and finalized our prep. Somewhere between gin and tonic number 1 and 2…or 3, we got to talking about what we want Cooper to remember about our holidays and what traditions we want to share with him, a conversation we may not have had if we decided to forgo the holiday.

As we embark upon Christmas, another holiday away, I hope to remind myself it’s not about the size of the house, the number of dishes in the kitchen, or all the nots, but rather the opportunities that exist to create new memories, continue old traditions and start new ones.

We wish you and your families a wonderful holiday and look forward to continuing the conversation in the New Year!

Twintig Ervaring Van Leven Buitenland: Deel Twee

Twintig Ervaring Van Leven Buitenland: Deel Twee

(20 Lessons From Life Abroad: Part 2)

As promised, Part 2 of our Lessons from Life Abroad:

Nummer 11: Don’t Take Things For Granted…Like Amazon Prime

My love for Amazon Prime and the conveniences of American shopping run deep. From everyday necessities like deodorant and diapers to just in time birthday gifts, and then, of course, the items you prefer not to be seen buying…like pregnancy tests. Amazon Prime lives on my list of all-time favorite things.  So, you can imagine how disappointed I was to learn that the Dutch Amazon Prime only exits for books. You read that correctly…books! Now, I am all about getting lost in some good fiction, but that’s beside the point!

After doing some research, in hopes of deeming this a myth, I discovered a few things:

  • Amazon Prime NL is really only for books.
  • You can use your Prime Account anywhere, which is pretty incredible, that is unless you want to buy more things than books.
  • Amazon Prime Germany delivers to the NL. Pitfalls: Still not all the products and two days is a lie.
  • Trying to use our US Prime Account to ship to the NL…niet goed. Let’s just say when you calculate the shipping costs, the deals are non-existent (I tried everything!).
  • the Dutch version. Pitfalls: Not as many products, you have to spend 20 Euros for free shipping, and your box doesn’t greet you with a smile.

Don’t forget to appreciate all you have…I now have to go walk to the store to get 100 diapers.

Nummer 12: Swap Your Lenses for Your Shields 

Speaking of walking to the store, it took me about three weeks to master Lesson Number 12: It’s more important to grab your raincoat/stroller shield than your sunglasses. From Phoenix to Reno, it is routine for me to have a pair of sunnies with me. We learned this the hard way and now pay much closer attention to the app Buienradar, which gives the rain forecast in 5-minute increments! Lesson 12.2 – Dutch rain forecasting is accurate, take a page US meteorologists, the rain predictions are down to the minute.



Nummer 13: “If It Ain’t Broken, Don’t Fix It”

Several Dutchees say, “We’re always 10 years behind what you do… (in the States)” and in some ways, I hear and see what they mean. However, there is what is believed to be a Stone Age Phrase: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

After getting all of our paperwork in order and finalizing Visa’s etc. we were informed that the government would reach out to set up Cooper’s doctor appointments. Knowing Reno, you should have signed up before you thought about getting pregnant, so this sounded super. I was excited that I didn’t have to search for pediatricians. Also, much to our surprise, we were informed that the doctor made house calls. Not going to lie, my initial thought was, “Igh, is this like a child protective service visit?!” After speaking to a few local moms, it became apparent that is not the intent. The Netherlands still uses home visits occasionally,  a newborn child being one of those reasons.

During our wonderful visit with the doctor, the thinking behind the structure was explained: It doesn’t make sense to stress a new mom and baby by making them get all loaded up (most likely on a bike) to go to an appointment, or to bring a little one into an office full of germs when the doctor can just come to your home.

Overall, this experience was extremely valued. Cooper was chill and playing with his toys while the doctor and I had a coffee and talked about Cooper’s health and his future appointments. While not every one of his appointments will be done at the flat, it’s a much nicer experience! They also gift you a booklet to keep track of all Cooper’s records and information (A bit nicer than handwritten notes on a piece of paper!).


*Additional Fact: After giving birth here, a nurse moves into your home for over a week to support your family in the transition!

My vote goes for bringing this practice back!

Nummer 14: Everyone Speaks English, But It’s Appreciated If You Attempt to Speak Dutch (So They Say)

Nummer 14, it pretty much speaks for itself. As more than tourists in the country, Andy and I decided to at least make an attempt at learning Dutch. Insert Duo Lingo. If your not familiar with this app, it’s worth checking out. Some couples struggle to find ways to connect with each other once they have little ones, Andy and I, on the other hand, find great fun in our evening routine:

  • Step 1: Finish dinner
  • Step 2: Find a nightcap (ranging from hot cocoa to beer/wine)
  • Step 3: 7-30 minutes of Dutch Language Practice.

Here are a few noteworthy takeaways:

  • Repeating the word a million times doesn’t make it easier to translate.
  • No matter how many times Andy says, “I #*$%ing nailed that!”, meisje is not vrouw. (I must take pride on the few times I am right and Andy is wrong.)
  • If Step #2 in the above-outlined routine has occurred for too long Step #3 is a waste of time. (Yes, sugar has the same effect as alcohol.)
  • It is very easy for Engels to sound like anal if your pronunciation is not precise….(You can imagine the look you get if you ask someone to “sprek anal.”)

Nummer 15: Word of the Day Helps Nummer 14

A few days into work, Andy came home and informed me that his Dutch colleagues made it their goal to help him learn Dutch (even though the official office language is English). “How are they doing that?” He explained that they are giving him a word of the day. They will teach him the word, it’s definition, how it might vary in pronunciation through different parts of the country and then review it over time. “Makes sense, so what was your first word?”


I’ll give you a moment to look that up…it will clarify where his colleagues now stand on my list.

Apparently, the words are selected by how tricky the throaty sound is…I’m still skeptical.

Cooper and I also work on Words of the Day, some might say we decided to take a much more family-friendly approach:


Nummer 16: Don’t Assume…Packages May Not Be What You Think They Are

We had been doing so well…finding our stride between curriculum writing, daily trips to the store, getting out, laundry, introducing solids, making sure the dishes are clean etc…and then came a little reminder…not to get ahead of myself. Or as previously mentioned: Don’t Assume. It had been a good 2 weeks or so of me frantically trying to check daily tasks of my To-Do List when I mentioned to Andy that I needed him to add dishwasher detergent to the shopping list for me. His confused expression led me to ask, “What?” “Well, I’m not sure why we need a new box of detergent tabs when there is a whole box under the sink.” He opens the cabinet and instantly I was reminded that my hair is still blonde. But in case you were wondering, laundry detergent also gets the dishes clean.

Nummer 17: 

Upon moving into our flat we were surprised to see our new laundry set up. At first, I was confused because of the one tiny machine. Then, we discovered that the one machine, may be small but it has a big job, it’s both, the washer and the dryer. Wow! That’s space effective. Take a look:

As we continue to establish a relationship with one another, some keys takeaways to note:

  • Small in size = small loads, therefore laundry is being done about 4 days a week
  • Eco-Friendly: I need to revisit the definition because Eco-Friendly shouldn’t mean constantly running
  • You can’t identify when the washer turns into a dryer: some baby toys now have new shapes
  • All of the symbols are foreign and don’t mean anything. We still aren’t sure which number to put the dial on
  • Dry = nonexistent, regardless of the dry time it’s still wet. (Insert drying rack into living room decor)

Andy was very impressed with himself this week, because he finally figured out how to dry a load of laundry. As he hung the final pieces, I hear, “You’re going to have to do some work on this!” holding up one of Cooper’s onesies (showing me a stain that was on the outfit, pre-wash).  A few more items go on the rack and Andy goes back to throw in another load. “Hmm…” I hear from the laundry room. “I just hung up that load, yet the entire tablet is still here in the machine.” “What setting do you have it on?,” I ask. As we start putting it all together, Andy realizes, he ran the load on dry only, setting all the stains, and that was why they were finally dry. Down came the laundry rack along with our positive vibes for this machine.

Nummer 18: Kind Neighbors Exist Here Too 

There is a rumor that many Dutch families like to keep to themselves. Luckily for us, this has not been the case. In fact, we continue to be pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness and hospitality of our neighbors, Andy’s co-workers, and those that Andy refers to as our “distant family members.” In Reno, we remain thankful for our kind and considerate neighbors, so it’s been refreshing to experience a similar feel here. From coffee dates to cocktails that turn into dinner and late night knocks for wine bottle openers, it helps to make this pseudo home feel a bit more like home.  Below is a welcome gift we received from our next door neighbors:

We are slowly making our way through the traditional Dutch items. So far, nothing has been put back on their doorstep (which is what I said I would do for the items we dislike).

Nummer 19: Little Ones Are In Deed Helpful

Prior to having a little one of our own, many people were often expressing how exhausting it can be to look after one all day. After several years with 30+ 7-year-olds to call my own, I often chuckled at these remarks. I’m happy to report that I’m not sure what everyone was always talking about…Cooper is turning out to be one SUPER helpful little dude around here:

He does laundry

He rearranges furniture

He LOVES vacuums

and he helps load the dishwasher

Regardless of the sarcasm behind Nummer 19, this little guy continues to bring a smile to our faces each and every day!

Nummer 20: The Number 7 Is Still My Favorite 

The Number 7 has been my favorite number for several years now. The love for this number began somewhere in Junior High when it became my volleyball number. Years later, whenever asked I still call it out as my lucky number. This past week was a reminder of why I still love this number:

  • Thursday, October 11th, Andy and I traveled to our 7th country together.
  • Friday, October 12th, we celebrated Cooper’s 7th month birthday.
  • Monday, October 15th, Andy and I celebrated our 7th anniversary.

In true Andy fashion, we celebrated the trifecta of my lucky number with an experience:


And with that… Proost to Norway, Proost to the Lucky Number 7, and Cheers to Continued Learning over the next 9.5 months!





Twintig Ervaring Van Leven Buitenland: Deel Een

Twintig Ervaring Van Leven Buitenland: Deel Een

(20 Lessons From Life Abroad: Part 1)

A few nights ago, Andy and I were enjoying a lovely dinner of tasty farmers market items when it hit us, we’ve been here for 1 month! Gek! (translated: crazy)

While we are by no means locals, we learned several important lessons. If you’re inclined, continue reading to hear our Part 1 of our Top 20 Lessons (so far) From Living Abroad:

Nummer 1: local markets are worth it

It’s true, visiting the neighborhood markets are fun and have several perks: they can lead to some delicious dinners, Cooper is captivated by all the colors and smells, and there are great spots to pick up some sneak snacks (otherwise known as unnecessary snacks).

The downside? The markets are responsible for me trying gluten again and exploring the answer to this question: is it the gluten or how it gets processed in the US that makes me uncomfortable? Hence, the introduction of Mandi’s #glutentreatoftheday. As you might expect, this study was initiated when I walked into the local Co-Op and that fragrant Dutch Apple Pie (pictured below) had just come out of the oven. #sorrynotsorry #sold #grandmasguiltyforthislove

Nummer 2: Koffie

This lesson doesn’t need an explanation for any of you that know me, but let’s just say, while I do have a hankering for a Pumpkin Spice Latte, I am by no means deprived of coffee. I informed Andy that as long as I have enough coins in the diaper bag for a coffee once a day, then I’m happy. You know, because coins aren’t the same as spending real money:)  I’m not sure he was impressed with that statement, however, today he left with a pile of coins on the table. Maybe this isn’t something he learned as much as something he remembered: Happy Wife, Happy Life.

Nummer 3: The Cheese is Lekker, The Wine is Cheap, and The Beer is Nearby

So far, the important lessons all lead to caloric intake. Which I guess is fair, given we typically prefer to explore cities through our bellies. Hopefully, over the next few months, that’s not displayed in our selfies! But seriously…the cheese, it is SO good! We can’t stop.  At any given point we have about 5 different kinds in our fridge.

12 Euros. Yup, that’s the price of my current house wine. Did I mention that’s for 3 bottles and it’s not even Boons Farm?

As for the beer, and Andy’s belly, luckily, Cooper and I stumbled upon a quaint craft beer store in our neighborhood,  De Beirkoning.  I foresee lots of Andy’s daily coins being spent here. Although I must confess, #glutentreatoftheday has been several sips of these beers.

Nummer 4: Shopping Carts

Although it seems like a nice idea, we can’t survive on markets, cheese, wine, and beer. Enter Jumbo and Albert Hein, the two most common grocery stores in our neighborhood. To get the way of the land, we decided to do our first store run as a family. Thank god we did, because it’s nice to have someone to laugh about this lesson with.

Upon arrival at Jumbo, Andy went to grab us a shopping cart. A few seconds later he came back and informed me that he can’t get the cart. Confused, I asked, “What do you mean?” “I don’t know. Everyone is walking up and inserting something and then they get a cart, it looks like it should be coins, but it’s not. I don’t know what it is and I feel like an idiot standing there.” I walk over to the carts, intending to prove him wrong. Fail. I can’t get the cart out either. We decide to sit on the bench outside the store and observe, hoping we look casual doing so. After a few minutes we can’t figure it out, so Andy asks the next couple that comes out of Jumbo how to get a cart.

After laughing at us, the kind couple taught us lesson number 4: you either get a special key from the store or put money into the carts to get them unlocked. This lesson made shopping so much easier.

Nummer 5: Shopping

Along with the shopping cart challenge,  lesson number 5 also came from Jumbo. To the left, the shopping carts. To the right these:

Obviously, these are scanners to take through the store with you. However, not everyone uses them. So what’s the perk? After some additional observing, we learned the importance of the personal scanner: since everyone has to carry their groceries back by hand, or bike, they often have their own bags with them. If you opt for the scanner you can scan the items as you shop and pack your bags during your shop. When you’re done, you just turn in your scanner and pay. Briljant! This way, you’re organized and efficiently packed for your pedal home!

Nummer 6: The Transportation of Groceries 

It’s taken us nearly 4 weeks to figure out our shopping schedule. What’s the big deal you ask? Well, let’s just say, you scream American when you leave the store looking like this:

I circled Cooper’s foot in the photo to showcase his help and prove that he’s actually in the stroller. Gone are the days of Costco runs and stockpiling groceries for over a week. After 1 trip like this, several awkward glances on the route home, and a conversation with a local, we adapted and started doing several shops a week. I may still be pretending that I am enjoying the experience, but at least we don’t stand out quite as much.

Nummer 7: Cooper’s Sleep Schedule

Casey, Margaret, Elise and Shannon, I know we all questioned once or twice how the #$%^ to get our little ones to take a good nap during the day. Well, we figured it out. Walk EVERYWHERE. Andy and I had several conversations during our first few weeks where we questioned what to do if Cooper continued to sleep every time he went in the stroller. Luckily, after a month, he learned how to stay awake going over the cobblestone!

Nummer 8: Lamberfeeties, Bikes, Ferries, Trains, Trams, Uber & Busses

Between the three of us, we have explored all of the major types of transportation available to us, without a car. There isn’t too much to report here, however a few quick lessons:

When waiting at the bus station, you actually have to wave it down in order for it to stop. We learned this the hard way.

When traveling by car, car seats are optional…

(I can’t even post the photo of this due to my guilt.)

I swear this will not become a habit! Let’s just say it was a late night and we needed to get home and the Uber driver was supposed to drive slowly.

And by train…

sometimes the lifts are gebroken, so you make do.

Nummer 9: Damesfiets and Heren Fiets

After several days of walking an average of 6 miles, it was time to purchase bikes. Andy was pretty sure he wanted a Vanmoof (aka The Moof), and I wasn’t sure what I wanted. A Vanmoof seemed very cool and hip, yet an Oma Fiets seemed appealing as well.

As soon as Andy made his purchase he was pumped and I was jealous. I mean wouldn’t you be:

Several more days of searching led me to what I believed was the perfect purchase:

There are so many reasons why I loved this bike. Yes, if you are carefully reading that was loved not love. I looked at this bike over the course of three days (editors note, for anyone who knows Ang or Mandi, for some reason it takes 3 days, all to the same store, just to make a purchase. #isavedsomuch #ilovekohls #Mangie – avd). Finally, I was ready to make my purchase. Cooper and I were back at the shop, Euros in hand. As I was about to pay, I asked the elderly gentleman to show me the serial number on the bike so that I could check to make sure it wasn’t a stolen bike. Let’s just say this didn’t go over very well and my morals kicked in. He got irritated and annoyed, which made me really believe it was stolen. So, once again, Cooper and I walked back to our flat for the millionth time in a week. Which brings us to lesson nummer 10.

Nummer 10: Some things are worth the wait

Some of you may recall that Andy is looking forward to purchasing a minivan when we get back to the states. Knowing this is his dream, I would never dream of taking it away. However, somehow, I have ended up with the minivan.

After making the moral decision not to purchase the likely stolen Cortina, I was devastated…and still walking…everywhere.

Two days later, Andy informed me that he lined up another test drive. Skeptical, Cooper and I went along for the drive. Details are unnecessary at this point, so let’s just say it was love at first sight. 100% worth the wait. Racks, big cushy seat, basket (Andy’s modifications for the umbrella stroller) and all ..a real mini van of a bike! We call her the Zelle and she makes me and Cooper very happy.


And with that, your drink is probably gone by now, or your baby asleep, so I am going to call that good! Look for Twintig Ervaring Van Leven Buitenland: Deel Twee coming soon, Lessons 11-20!

Arrival in Amsterdam

Arrival in Amsterdam

Well, as most of you are aware, we made it to Amsterdam a week ago from today!

Yes, just in time to miss this weekend’s big game between MSU and ASU (Jeff, Sparty On for me)! Here is a recap our first week (and a few extra days) for those of you who are interested:

Temporary Good-Byes

Prior to departing The Biggest Little City, we were overwhelmed with the love and laughter shared with many friends and family (yes, even on school nights!). Another moment similar to Cooper’s arrival, this move reminded us how lucky we are to have an amazing network of friends and family from coast to coast. Below are a few of pictures from our “temporary good-byes.”

Cooper and his lady friend, Miss Everly

We can’t forget Miss Ellie!

Future trouble makers: Coop and Ryder

Stenson, Ollie and Cooper

VD cousin love

…and let’s not forget the best duo, Hank and Coop

VD3 Family Pic


As you might guess, the temporary goodbyes were fun, cheerful, and yes, tear filled for me anyway, Andy doesn’t cry. However, they were great distractions from the daunting task of packing. Packing our lives for 10 months. It’s questionable how we traveled to Europe for a month in a single bag. When moving for 10 months, it seemed nearly impossible. Actually…now that I think about it, it shouldn’t have been. According to previous packing rules (from Andy) we are allotted one bag per month…somehow Andy tricked us into 4 bags for 10 months?!

Here’s a look at the feat:

Priorities: sneak snacks for Coop Man (nobody likes a hangry Van Dellen)

Dad’s bag: check, he even packed Cooper
Mom’s bag: delayed by trying to convince Dad to bring Henry

As always, Natalia comes through with some incentives!

When it came time to depart at 4:15 am, we made it! 4, 120 liter bags; 1, 45 liter bag; 2 backpacks, 1 diaper bag, a stroller and a car seat. Phew!


As hoped, Cooper was a champ on both flights, RNO to DFW and DFW to AMS. He lucked out with the in-flight bassinet. As for mom and dad, all was good! If I recall, Andy actually looked at me at one point and said, “I think I’m going to declare gluten-free on our way home…your dinner was better than mine.” First time for everything folks!

Bon Voyage!

About to board

Cooper brought some treats for the passengers around him and our flight attendants.

Snooze Pig

…and just like that…we relocated abroad!

Getting Settled

It seems crazy that we’re here. While the three of us are still recovering from jet-lag, we managed to enjoy some sights, a few sleepless nights, navigate our way around our neighborhood and a bit beyond, fill our fridge, small but functional, with necessities, practice some Dutch phrases and unpack all of our bags. Overall, I say it’s been a successful transition week!

First family photo (minus Henry)                              abroad

A place to call home

Jet-lag…it’s a real thing

I think we are going to be alright here. Xo