An Unfinished Book

Have you left a book unfinished?

I have.

Typically, this occurs for two reasons: I didn’t like it, or I haven’t had time to finish it. Oma and Opa (Bob and Sue) Van Dellen are like an unfinished book to me (I know what you’re thinking, keep reading).

Growing up in our small Northern Michigan town it was rare not to know someone’s parents.

I never met Bob or Sue.

It was the summer of 2006 and Andy and I were on our way to meet his Dad and Step-Mom. My mind was going nuts pondering the following: What did they know about me? What were we going to talk about? Hopefully, they are fast eaters… Oh wait, Andy already said they aren’t fans of the eat and run kids. Shit. What if I don’t like what they cooked? Couldn’t we just meet at a restaurant and chat over some nachos?, I recall asking Andy as he turned down S 45 mile road.

‘Nope. In fact, I was thinking about it and I thought it would be funny if you ate dinner without using your utensils tonight.’ -Andy. Yes, what an idiot and yet I’m spending the rest of my life with him.

Interesting, because I can’t think of one reason that would be a good idea the first time I meet your parents…or ever. (Continuing this thought with …maybe we aren’t a good fit for each other…)

The thought faded over time, and my nerves about introducing and spending time with Bob and Sue calmed. The anticipation of their visit to Amsterdam, in May, was the polar opposite from our initial meeting back at the farmhouse in 2006.

One of their first days here in Amsterdam, Bob and Sue expressed interest in renting a boat. Packing some drinks, and fulfilling hankerings of Dutch cheeses, bread, and stroopwafels sounded like the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. As you are all aware by now, we would never object to such a request! It was a bit overcast, not too hot or too cool…perfect weather for a canal tour.

Our conversation seamlessly bounced from Grab Cooper, to I’ll take another drink and pass the Parma ham. As Andy continued narrating the tour with questionable ‘facts’, Sue filled in the gaps with her own history of the city. Pointing out neighborhoods where cousins previously lived and telling stories of weekend adventures on the canals during her stay as an exchange student. As our boat rental came to an end, I realized I was no longer hungry for more cheese, but wanted more recollections of Sue’s time in the Netherlands as an exchange student and then again as a young adult.

For our next adventure, Oma and Opa expressed interest in the zoo. Neither had previously been and knowing Cooper is a big fan, it seemed like a good addition to our agenda.

It was no surprise that shortly after our arrival at the Artis, the educator in Oma and Opa couldn’t be contained anymore. Cooper was on an individualized tour, listening to facts, observing animal behaviors, and talking about the animal’s interesting features. Seeing the two of them take advantage of a teaching opportunity left me curious…What were Bob’s lectures like? Sue was the principal of a school, would she recommend this route now? Bob likes to write too. What’s his approach? Is he as distracted as I am?

One of Sue’s beautiful traits is the ability to put together an amazing itinerary that meets the needs of everyone involved. Therefore, when we received the below email from her, prior to their visit, it didn’t require much debate.

After we talked yesterday, I got online to look for some ideas. I’ve never been to the Waddenzee Islands and have always wanted to — so I looked there first. I really looked at Texel because it’s the closest one to the mainland and there’s a car ferry that goes there (most don’t). Anyway, I went ahead and booked rooms. Don’t panic. I’m more than willing to cancel the booking if you don’t like it or would rather do something different.

Giving Cooper a chance to roll in the sand, exploring the Texel Lighthouse (the only lighthouse in the Netherlands were you can see the sea on three sides), early morning walks that were detoured by the amazing aroma of fresh croissants and hillsides full of sheep, afternoons getting wiggles out at the parks, the three of us were unaware of just how much we had missed stepping outside of the city and getting lost in a remote little town.

One of our adventures included a trip to Ecomare, a facility that cares for around 100 young, sick, weakened or wounded seals each year. When they are healthy, they go back to the sea. Oma’s ability to speak and understand Dutch was an asset as we observed the scheduled feedings. Bob, Andy, Cooper and I stood there fascinated by the observable facts. Sue would fill us in on all the information that was shared in the presentation. My envy for multilingual individuals came to fruition (as it often does here)…again. As we followed the winding road, surrounded by sheep and bikes, back to De Corksdorp I thought to myself, I wonder Oma’s approach to learning a second language was and how she has managed to maintain it over the years.

Some of the most important conversations I’ve ever had occured at my family’s dinner table. – Bob Ehrilich

Over the last 10 years, I continue to learn things about Bob and Sue and their connection to food. For example, breakfast (not including coffee) and lunch are optional. This is an extreme difference between us as Andy, Cooper and I all suffer from hanger. Dinner, on the other hand, is worthy of careful planning, research, and creating an experience, not just a caloric intake.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I used to find their attempts to bring the family together for meals, asking us to organize babysitters so we could have some adult time, and progressing from snacks to after dinner coffee’s irritating and drawn out.

My mindset around these requests has shifted. Food (and drinks) has a way of bringing people together. As I reflect on my continued learning and memories with Bob and Sue, I realize that many of the unread chapters seem to get read over meals together.

It was a typical Dutch evening…pouring rain. Andy and Bob had left Sue and me to organize where we were going to have dinner. As I continued to scroll through the local restaurants in De Corksdorp I contemplated just bailing. Coop hadn’t napped well that morning, I was tired, my indecisiveness was present (as it usually is), and let’s not forget…it was raining.

However, as you know, I enjoy food too. So, I grabbed the umbrella and rallied. I picked a restaurant and it turned out that Sue had landed on the same one while scrolling in her room. A quaint little bruine kroeg (a term used for cafe’s with wooden interiors surrounded by walls stained a yellowish-brown hue due to years of smoke) just down the main street. The menu looked amazing and they had a highchair (something we have learned to check for before committing to a restaurant). I was glad I rallied.

The Dutch servers would say that meals are to be enjoyed and that they don’t want to intrude upon your conversation, therefore they are mindful of unnecessary table interruptions. Us Americans may say, they are non-existent. The lovely brown cafe confirmed our assumptions thus far. For Cooper, the meal dragged on by the slow pace of European meals. We were hitting a wall. Cooper’s threshold for diaper bag entertainment maxed. Another walk in the rain, crawling on bar stools, eating cheerios, playing with painters tape, cracking plastic eggs, etc… our go to’s were exhausted.

Knowing I love desserts, Andy took Cooper back to put him to bed. Bob, Sue and I continued our evening and I got to taste test the sweets.

The remainder of the dinner was lovely. We conversed late into the evening about many topics, most notably a one-liner Bob threw out as we were preparing to head back to our rooms…I was once invited to a nude dinner…A little statement that led me wanting to read more…Before saying another word, I made a mental note to revisit this statement in the near future!

As we returned to Amsterdam, we had a few more nights together. One of which was for an adult dinner. Meaning, nice place, find a sitter. Three years ago, Bob, Sue, Andy and I traveled to the Netherlands together. Bob discovered a little restaurant on Kerkstraat called DenC. It made such an impression on us that Andy found it necessary to steal the hand-towel from the bathroom as memorabilia and we ate there two nights in a row. Since our initial visit, the four of us (not all together) have since returned to the restaurant 4 times. It seemed fitting for us to revisit. Andy and I organized a babysitter and I actually did my hair (I can count on one hand how many times this has happened in the last 10 months). While I could go on for several more paragraphs about the food, I’m not going to…

This is the type of place, where you can walk in 3 years later and the owner walks up and says ‘I remember you, you haven’t been here in a while, but you were here, together a while ago. You sat at that table.’ She was correct and clearly wasn’t making it up to make us feel good. From pondering how in the world the owner remembered us, talking about childhood schedules, reflecting on our time here in Amsterdam, sharing challenges as new parents and diving into some of our personal and family goals, we walked back to the flat from our nearly 4-hour dinner (not due to poor attentiveness this time!) laughing and continuing the conversations.

Emmalou, one of the owners of DenC…somehow she remembers us each time we come in…(image from DenC website)

Initially, I was frustrated about trying to find a babysitter for Cooper. However, as I laid my head down that evening I was reminded of the value of such evenings.

A great relationship doesn’t happen because of the love you had in the beginning, but how well you continue building love until the end.

-The Love Bits

If you recall, there are typically only two reasons I don’t finish books. I didn’t like it. Or I haven’t had time to finish it. I’d like to put it in writing that I do in fact like my in-laws…that’s not why I compared them to an unfinished book. But rather, with each and every visit, I grow fonder of the two of them, my interest is peaked about their lives, and I continue to learn from the two of them. This visit was no different. While I am a few more chapters into the Bob & Sue book, I’m left desiring more time.

Proost, Bob and Sue, to another wonderful visit! I look forward to my continued reading.

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!

A Ride of Emotions

It was three or four months into our Adventures in Amsterdam. I was adjusting to the cold, dark and rainy season. Learning how to force myself to get out of bed when it felt like it was still the middle of the night. I worked on penciling in some me time. A blend of both, personal and professional time was desired and needed. Finding the balance escaped me since the birth of our little one and our transition to Amsterdam. 


My release for nearly a year prior to moving. 5 am spin class was my release, my processing time, and my fuel. My release of frustrations, stress, spousal arguments or spilt milk.

My processing time. Waking up in the middle of the night to process work problems and outline projects was a common occurrence. However, when I started spinning it was like my mind could relax knowing as soon as I hit the saddle my mind would start processing.

My fuel. I used to laugh in disbelief when people would say, You really should work out when you’re tired, you’ll feel more energized when you’re done. But you know what, they’re right! The mornings where I drug myself out of bed, sometimes not even taking time to put my contacts in, I came home and felt energized and ready to take on the day.

Finding a local gym which offered a spin class was one of my first priorities upon our arrival to the Netherlands. Luckily, I found one that offered classes that were feasible with our schedules and it was only about 8 minutes away from our flat.

Fast-forward several months and I’m feeling good. Once again, my workouts were becoming routines as opposed to random happenstances. My brain was happier and so were my energy levels. And let’s not forget the other real benefit, my jeans were feeling larger.

Majority of the comments I read about Kensho were tailored to the family feel of the gym. In a diverse city, it is a place where locals, expats, and visitors can come in, be greeted by name, get a workout that meets their needs, and then sit in the lounge and debrief, vent about their spouses, or connect over a coffee or smoothie. Many of my favorite things all in one place.

Now, if you’ve forgotten, the National Language in The Netherlands is Dutch. Prior to attending my first spin class at the gym, my husband questioned whether or not I had considered that the class may be led in Dutch. Not going to lie, I hadn’t. Yes, naive of me, but to be honest nearly everyone in the city was able to speak English and they did so without frustration. I hadn’t yet encountered a situation where communication was at a standstill due to language barriers.

While I tried to let this possibility delay my attendance, I eventually forced myself out the door. Which is always a little bit harder than it was back in Nevada. Why? Well, because as opposed to getting in a warm car at 5 am I had to get on a bike. Yep, spinning to spin.

Thankfully, the instructors had learned that my Dutch was…slecht. Unlike many of us from the States, this didn’t present an issue for the instructors, they simply switched from Dutch to English as quickly as they shifted from 75 to 90 RPMs. To validate the comments about Kensho, I had found a gym that felt like home and yes, even sounded like home.

That is until one Saturday morning class.

Cooper had woken up the household at what he thought was a reasonable time, even though we tried to convince him otherwise. As the morning hustle began, Andy suggested I take some time and go to spin. Per usual, I searched for an excuse not to go, but couldn’t find one.

So, onto the oma fiet I went, spinning to spin.

After raising the height of my seat to 12, shifting the distance between the handlebars and seat from 0 to 1, taking a moment to do an overhead stretch and quick backbend, I clipped my shoes in and took a deep breath. Ahh, me time.

As the music started, I started thinking through the course of the class. Sibel. The Saturday morning instructor. Fierce, intense, somewhat of a scary individual. However, I knew after the next 45 minutes were over I was going to feel satisfied because she was going to kick my ass.

Your bike is programmed to you. It uses an equation consisting of your gender, height, weight, age, and the number of hours you work out a week to calculate the intensity of your workout. During the class, your bike lights up. The color representing the intensity of that stage for you personally. Depending on the instructor, some instructors tell you what color to be in and other’s tell you the RPM they want you in, both should lead to the same outcome.

Today was different.

It was like Sibel had forgotten the other 15 classes I had attended of her’s. Why was she yelling? Did I sign up for Boot-Camp instead of spin? She knows my Dutch is minimal. Why are the only words she’s saying in English are go and tabata? What does vierentachtig, translate to in English? Shit, she just said Come on Mandi (of course that was in English)! Ugh. This is awful. Thankfully, I can read the universal wall clock and see that I only have 10 more minutes of hell, and then I can remove my name from all future Saturday morning classes.

What seemed like an eternity later, the class ended. I grabbed my water and coat and marched out of the spin room. As I was about to storm out the door and get back on my bike, something in my mind suggested I take a minute and reflect on how I was feeling and why.

Off to the plush purple couch I went. Too fired up to even treat myself to a coffee.

Why was something I love and crave, yes even though I try to avoid it, making me so mad this morning?

Empathy, I concluded.

I was fired up because Sibel hadn’t put herself in my shoes. She didn’t instruct the class in a way that would best support me.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize this frustration was self-induced. Never had I come out and said what would be helpful for me, nor had I asked clarifying questions about the class. Instead, I privatized my expectations for the classes along with the assumptions and was now irritated that the gym hadn’t gone out of their way to individualize the experience for me.

Man, the power of reflection.

As I got back on my oma fiets and peddled home my roller coaster of emotions started to flatten like the Dutch countryside.

As an avid advocate of empathy, this experience was embarrassing for me. Empathy is defined as understanding and sharing the feelings of another. I allowed myself, and my self-induced discomfort to skew my interpretation of an individual because I didn’t think she was demonstrating empathy towards me.

The lesson relearned?

When talking about empathy, it shouldn’t be a one-way street. So next time your mad or frustrated that someone isn’t demonstrating empathy to you, stop to take a moment to see if you are demonstrating it to them.

Let’s recap: Sibel is teaching a spin class in her native country, where the native language is Dutch, and the majority of the members are also Dutch. For some reason, I am upset that she’s not accommodating me, the only one in the class who doesn’t speak Dutch. I left being pissed about it, even though she called to me by name to motivate me…

Thanks for the reality check, self. 

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

Just Some Words on a Page

I can’t do it.

I know.

I said I was ready and I am. Just not right now.

It’s been nearly 10 months and I haven’t gone a day without him at my side.

What was I thinking, planning a trip to another country while he stays here with you?

In through the nose for 8… out through the mouth for 8.

They say that should help calm my nerves.

It’s not.

Maybe if I turn up the volume on my headphones it will drown out my thoughts?

Recently, I took my first international trip since having our little one. Yes, he stayed back with dad and I knew the two of them would be fine. I, on the other hand, was sitting on my hands restraining them from flaring up exposing the emotional roller-coaster I was rocketing along.

As if it was meant to be, I happened to pick up my copy of You are a Badass by Jen Sincero a few days prior to departing. During my skimming and scanning, I came across the following, which felt like Sincero had written specifically for me:

“We’ve made being in fear a habit.”

“We’re taught to play it safe and not take risks, and to caution everyone around us to follow suit.”

“For the most part, when we watch someone take a leap of faith, our first reaction is to scream, “Look out!”

“If you put a bunch of crabs in a bowl, and if while they’re in there crawling all over each other, one of them tries to crawl out, the rest of them will try to pull him back down instead of push him out…Imagine how different our world would be if we were less crab-like.”

“The feeling of being afraid is real, but the fear itself is all made up because it hasn’t even happened yet…”

I’d be lying if I said these quotes eased my fear of heading back to the States with my little one in another country, but they did give me some things to ponder helping decrease the volume of everything else going on in my head.


Something I haven’t really put much thought into. However, these quotes prompted me to think personally, and professionally:

What fears occupy more of my mind and less of my experiences?

What opportunities did I let pass by because of fear?

Likewise, who have I been crab-like too?

I continued marinating on these ideas as I traveled across the Atlantic and have since typed various versions of this blog, only to delete them. Leaving me with one major takeaway, possibly this text impacted me and I can’t articulate exactly why.

That’s the true beauty of a text. To some, it sparks no interest or thought – just words on a page. To other’s, it can be just what is needed at an exact moment in time.

Text has the power to do something amazing, leave us with a feeling that is unexplainable. What’s remarkable about those feelings are that no actions accompanied them…it’s still just words on a page.

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!