Beautiful Ireland:May 2014

IMG_1416Right after my parents left in May, we took a trip to Ireland. We were attempting to catch up with my niece Emma as she was finishing a tour through Europe–part of her program with the University of Georgia. I won’t bore you with the ridiculous and excruciating logistical issues that arose with trying to coordinate our ‘let’s meet in Dublin’ idea….. I will just say it was wonderful to see her in Dublin–for what ended up being only a few hours…..IMG_1420 IMG_1419  Emma’s energy was infectious– , she literally bounced in her seat, simultaneously sipping hard cider and telling stories from her trip, only stopping to interrupt herself. Her enthusiasm for learning, her appreciation for the experience she had just had, it was palpable…..  I was so glad we got a chance to see her. Aer Lingus and the flight attendant strike be damned…we made it work!

So on with the rest of our trip: our accommodations through Air BnB were not the most ideal, so we were excited to get out of our apartment the next day and tour Dublin. DSC_0002 DSC_0004We bought tickets for a hop on hop off tour of the city, and it helped us hit the ‘highlights’.DSC_0005 DSC_0021 DSC_0022We didn’t get off to tour the Guinness factory, but we did get off at Dublin’s oldest place of worship (1000 years): the Christ Church Cathedral. DSC_0047 DSC_0041DSC_0040DSC_0039There was a special exhibition on linen, flax, and Biblical cloth, and I couldn’t help but think of my sister and Mom. DSC_0037 DSC_0035Strongbow’s Tomb and the crypt were highlights… as well as the beautiful mosaics and tilework in the building.DSC_0034 DSC_0032 DSC_0046 DSC_0042There was continued excavation work outside.DSC_0030 DSC_0029Back on the bus, we explored more of the city, learning about Georgian architecture and rebellious young leaders in Ireland’s history.   DSC_0006DSC_0015 We got off and walked, traversing another famous bridge with locks: the Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey.DSC_0053 DSC_0054

In true Bond fashion, we stopped for a drink and some cards in a bar called John Kehoe. (I kind of knew Ireland would be a good place for us in this respect)…DSC_0061DSC_0063 DSC_0062 Temple Bar, more walking, and even ice cream!:DSC_0056  DSC_0059DSC_0064

That night we listened to some fantastic strings and harmony at the Brazen Head. DSC_0071  DSC_0077DSC_0081A wonderful way to end the day.

The next morning we planned to stop at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, but when we woke up it was pouring, cold and windy. We optimistically thought the weather MUST be better in the country, and so all piled in the car to drive to Donegal, the second leg of our trip.

Oh, yes. driving….. lots of rain. signs in Irish Gaelic, DSC_0084AND we’re on the other side of the road!DSC_0085 It is at these times that I am extremely thankful that Chris is a confident driver, and actually enjoys driving, despite new and uncertain circumstances. It affords me the chance to admire the landscape and take pictures…..DSC_0089 DSC_0091 DSC_0087 ….lots of green (and plenty of sheep)!!!

We made it to our Kinnegar Close rental in less than 3 1/2 hours. The manager was a little surprised to see us.  DSC_0095 DSC_0098DSC_0101  The place was perfect.  Right on the beach, with tons of greenspace to explore. Small, but cozy. Did I say small? Maybe Cooper is just getting bigger…..DSC_0096 DSC_0097  DSC_0099The driveway made for a perfect football pitch.

We walked down the beach to dinner, and I was thankful for our cool, but dry weather.DSC_0102 DSC_0105 DSC_0106 DSC_0107


In the next few days, we explored the gorgeous countryside of Donegal. Rocky cliffs for climbing, beaches, and GREEN everywhere…..our kind of place.DSC_0113 DSC_0115

this is my view of the boys and Chris looking over a cliffside.DSC_0120Sometimes when I take pictures like this, I think: Should I be taking a photo of them, or should I be holding a leg, or a foot….so they don’t tumble over the side….?

We spent a lot of time in the car–because you can’t really drive quickly on this type of road. Often I would request that we stop so I could take photos,and the boys would grumble. But depending on how far I jogged up the country road, they would get out and start kicking the football around in the road. Great way to pass time…..



It was too gorgeous not to stop. DSC_0151DSC_0137DSC_0122



In an area as remote as this, you always get a few amusing sites as well. While looking for a place to have lunch (which we never found)….we saw this dog chained to a fuel tank outside a convenience store. DSC_0133  Lunch ended up being cookies/bicuits from this store…there was not a lot of development in this area.

The beach stop near Fanad Lighthouse was the boys’ favorite.DSC_0145 DSC_0144DSC_0149 DSC_0140

Our lodging had a tennis court and fantastic climbing trees..DSC_0152 DSC_0154 IMG_1425

Both nights we walked down the beach to town and had dinner. It was so quiet/small, that the staff at the restaurant assumed we were in town for ‘the wedding’ that was happening that weekend….as if no one would frequent their etablishment unless they were here for an event. We really enjoyed the Irish people. Everyone we met was friendly, and was quick with a smile or an offer to help.

With no traffic to worry about, the boys played while Chris and I enjoyed a sunset drink outside on the streetIMG_1431 IMG_1433IMG_1437

Horses on the beach made me think of a friend….IMG_1447 IMG_1444 IMG_1428

The next day we packed up and made our way into Northern Ireland, stopping to photograph the gorgeous cliffs, DSC_0156 DSC_0157  Dunluce Castle,DSC_0165DSC_0164DSC_0168DSC_0172  and looking for the ‘oldest headstone’ in a graveyardDSC_0182 DSC_0181 DSC_0177

After a quick bite we headed to the World Heritage Site of The Giants’ Causeway, a geological ‘wonder’ with over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. DSC_0190DSC_0209DSC_0212How did this happen? Science says it was volcanoes and heating/cooling/shifting plates. Locals believe mythical creatures carved the rocks to make a pathway.DSC_0219 DSC_0215 DSC_0198It was one of the most amazing things we had ever seen, surreal actually. Cooper said at one point, ‘I have never taken this many photos at a place. Not since we moved to Europe’. DSC_0221 DSC_0191 DSC_0213



Heading back to Dublin to fly out, we stopped at Carrick a Rede rope bridge, but didn’t want to wait in line to cross the chasm. DSC_0244

I guess we had seen enough beautiful landscape, if that is possible. We will all remember Ireland in exactly that way– what a gorgeous country.

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Until next time….. Tot ziens!

Italy in October, again…..

…..yes, again.

Because in my opinion, Italy is a place to which you can go over and over, and never feel done. Beautiful and varied landscapes; unique cities full of history; fantastic food; and warm, welcoming people. Just wonderful.

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A goal on this trip was to include Venice (both boys were intrigued after watching “The Italian Job”–?). Jack wasn’t the only one who wanted to see the city that had ‘boats instead of cars’, and he was hoping for a ride in a gondola. Chris and I wanted to explore the Italian countryside and vineyards, perhaps the mountains as well. We considered the Dolomites, and also Tuscany. Then I remembered a recommendation from a woman I met last year who grew up in Italy…she said, “visit Umbria instead of Tuscany– it is just as beautiful, and not as crowded!” (maybe she knew our family is ‘anti-crowd’?) We ended up with an itinerary that included 2 days in Venice, 2 in Florence, and 3 on a farm in Paciano: a village of 1000 inhabitants in the Umbrian region.

We flew into Venice and arrived late Friday night. I had been cautioned about having to haul luggage up and over the canals, but I didn’t really plan ahead.IMG_2271  In hindsight, it would have been smart to check the water taxi schedule to shorten the journey to our hotel. The canal bridges weren’t quite as picturesque at 11 pm……. IMG_2277 ….and the boys were DONE with steps by the time we got to the hotel.

After a nice sleep in, we woke to gondoliers going by under our window– IMG_2289  DSC_0086Some of them were playing accordions, serenading their passengers as they floated along.

We ventured out…. and after crossing a few more canals jammed with gondolas,DSC_0067 ended up in the impressive St Mark’s Square– with its enormous basilica, Campanile, clock tower (complete with a winged lion), and Doge’s Palace.IMG_2309 DSC_0120 DSC_0117 DSC_0114 DSC_0102DSC_0014 DSC_0071

Jack disapproved of the ‘no football’ rule in the square: DSC_0013

It didn’t take long for a representative offering free boat rides to Murano (the island infamous for glass-blowing) to approach us. Did we look that obvious? We had planned to go later that day, but when he claimed the factories weren’t open after 1 pm, we hopped on his company’s boat and headed across. DSC_0015 The weather was perfect, and the view from the water was beautiful.DSC_0017 DSC_0021

Our hostess in Rome last year told us that Italian people don’t own dryers, they let “nature do it”. I became a bit intrigued with clotheslines on this trip….DSC_0109 DSC_0019 ….they go right along with the ‘vintage’ filter that Venice has– without a filter.

DSC_0035 Murano Island had a small dock serving as a water taxi/boat stop, and a long string of shops that sold everything and anything you can imagine made out of glass. We didn’t explore too much, as our representative’s partner took us straight to the factory for our ‘exclusive’ tour and demonstration.  DSC_0024 Chris and I had seen glass blowing in Barcelona, but the boys hadn’t, and were impressed with the materials, the heat, and the method. The man first made a vase, and then a horse.DSC_0030DSC_0023 DSC_0032 We were then escorted up to the showroom and specialty store, where we were told about the authenticity of the pricey creations. I wasn’t supposed to, but I asked to take a picture. This photo doesn’t do justice to the pieces that were available.DSC_0033 They were amazing, and truly works of art. There was a guitar made out of glass, and a 4 foot sculpture that was made by 5 people working together. Cooper secretly snapped this pic–turtle –turtles are his favorite.

It was amusing to watch the boys eyes as we checked out the price tags…. Although we did end up taking home (and ordering) a few souvenirs, I’m not sure it was within the price range of what our ‘representative’ was hoping for…..oh well!

We took the vaporetto (water taxi) back across to Venice,  DSC_0050 DSC_0054 DSC_0053

ate some pasta carbonara, and explored a bit more…

A friend recommended that our boys read The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke, before arriving in Venice. We decided to read it as a family during our trip. Things like the Rialto Market, The Bridge of Sighs, the islands off of Venice, and even the plethora of masks became more relevant….DSC_0065DSC_0088DSC_0059  DSC_0087 DSC_0079…thanks Lynn!

We stopped to play cards and have a drink at a cafe near the Rialto Bridge. There were street musicians for entertainment, and we spotted two ladies playing badminton in an alleyway.DSC_0090 DSC_0093 More clotheslines on the way back to our hotel….DSC_0097 DSC_0099

This time as we went through St. Mark’s Square, I decided to visit with the pigeons, which seemed to be a popular activity for tourists.DSC_0072 For a few euros, there were gentlemen that provided seeds to hold so the birds would alight on your arms, shoulders, ….. and pretty much anywhere they pleased. DSC_0074 I didn’t know that he would put the seed in my hair—this ended up being a little less comfortable….DSC_0076

The next morning as my men slept in, I went for a run along the Grand Canal. IMG_2305 It was wonderful to see the city with a few less people milling about. Without my luggage to carry, I didn’t even mind all of the steps (!) I saw several older men IMG_2302fishing and talking with friends.

After breakfast, we contemplated visiting St. Mark’s, or taking the elevator to the top of the Campanile (bell tower); but since it was Sunday (and extremely crowded) this was difficult. So we just walked a bit more and did some shopping.

Here, Cooper, Jack and Chris discuss James Bond maneuvers…

DSC_0134 …. jumping across two or three gondolas to reach the other side of the canal. These kinds of conversations occur regularly in my family…..-not yours?

DSC_0130 DSC_0126DSC_0135 Warm weather = slushies!!

I didn’t purchase a mask, but I was tempted. Some of them were outrageous.DSC_0137 DSC_0136

My fellow consumer-in-crime bought a cool plastic watch with a unique LED display. DSC_0107

gondola selfies:IMG_2320 (We saw A LOT of that!)

IMG_2323 DSC_0112Heading out on the water taxi, we realized that there was a lot of the city we didn’t explore……maybe next time!

We picked up a rental car at the Marco Polo Airport (the boys loved that name) and drove to Florence, accompanied by our very amusing, and not always accurate, GPS guidance: “Now, go straight on this road– for a long time”. OK! I am happy to report we got to Florence, although we realized right away we didn’t want the car, (and were glad our AirBnB hosts had reserved a garage spot for us). Our apartment was very comfortable and in a great location.   DSC_0140 DSC_0138 Views from the roof.

While the boys relaxed, Chris got recommendations from an Italian friend, Paolo, on where to eat. Dinner was at Trattoria 4 Leoni, and it was fantastic. Local recommendations continue to be very reliable. Despite a few pesky mosquitoes (yes, in October!?), we had a good night, and got up ready to explore the next day. Did I mention Chris drinks lattes? Did I mention that this makes traveling with him absolutely wonderful, because in the morning, HE is looking for a place to get coffee? Yeah!

With a football at the boys’ feet DSC_0141(it is always easier to walk a city this way), our first stop was Boboli Gardens– an expansive city garden with great views, and fascinating sculptures as well. DSC_0146 DSC_0152DSC_0145DSC_0155

DSC_0148Poseidon, for the Lightning Thief fans….

The boys walk down “Cypress Lane”, lined with statues and very large cypresses.DSC_0158DSC_0162

On both sides of this wide path, there were smaller covered paths, that were also beautiful, but in a different way.All of us agreed that it would have made a great place for hide and seek. DSC_0161 DSC_0164 There wasn’t a lot of information available about the garden or the sculptures, but I plan to look on line. DSC_0169 DSC_0172 DSC_0173 DSC_0175

We headed over the Ponte Vechhio Bridge, towards the center of Florence . DSC_0243DSC_0180 DSC_0182 DSC_0186 Typical streets, shops, basilicas…. And a little bit of football as we go….DSC_0190 This time Chris chipped it over the enclosure into ‘illegal’ territory. DSC_0191 DSC_0192 No worries, Cooper is quick… :-)

Lunch was another fantastic recommendation by Paolo: Gabbio 13.DSC_0222DSC_0188 I loved all of the shutters, but it made finding things a bit difficult when the streets all look the same…. Chris said Gabbios’ lunch was his favorite meal of the trip: bruschetta, and three different pastas to share. It seemed more authentic (there were tourists, but lots of Italians there too– good sign).

On to the Duomo….DSC_0196 DSC_0209 DSC_0207 WOW. The detail on the outside of this structure was astounding. Perhaps because of the different colored stone? I have no idea, but from every angle, it was beautiful.DSC_0196 The inside was amazing as well, –…DSC_0203 DSC_0205 DSC_0202DSC_0199You don’t ever stop wondering— how did they accomplish all of the artwork on the ceiling?

Lighting candles….DSC_0198 DSC_0197

…and now gelato!DSC_0217 DSC_0220

The historical significance of Florence can be overwhelming– and difficult to present to two boys that are more interested in sports (and gelato) than art or religious history. But I wanted to impress upon them that Florence is considered the ‘Birthplace of the Renaissance’ by many, so I decided we would make a stop at the Opera Santa Croce–another basilica, but this time containing the tombs of some very significant people.DSC_0223 DSC_0231 DSC_0224 DSC_0232 DSC_0233

The Gothic architecture and artwork was amazing (Giotto, Donatello — many more I hadn’t heard of before). We whispered with the boys about the tombs….DSC_0228 DSC_0227 DSC_0226Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli…..Scientists. Artists. Thinkers that changed history.

Back out in the sunshine we noticed it was later than we thought, and headed back home. Jack was impressed by the graffiti on this recycling containerDSC_0242and all of us were impressed with this small pitch, set up alongside the Arno River (with high netting so you don’t have to fetch the ball out of the water…) DSC_0247

Ponte Vechhio selfie… pv selfie fam 1 

Chris and I took a run the next morning along the river, and then we enjoyed a pastry and a latte (yes!) in the small piazza by our apartment: San Spirito. IMG_2343 IMG_2344 The cafe had a liberal policy regarding dogs  IMG_2338

IMG_2341(and pigeons!)..

We checked out and began our drive through Tuscany towards Umbria. We were stopping in Montepulciano for a wine tasting. “Montepulciano”….I love the way it sounded—especially if you attempt an Italian accent, like I did growing up with Italians in Verona. Yup, Verona (New Jersey)–with last names that included Venezia, Damiano, Bevilacqua, and others that I saw written on trucks and buildings as we were driving. I love that about Italy–it brings me home a little.

Our GPS wasn’t really sure how to proceed in getting us to this very old, very hilly, very small town. DSC_0273 DSC_0322 DSC_0321It was fantastic. Exactly what I pictured when people talk about ‘authentic Italian villages’. Redi Winery had a long history which matched the look/feel of the town, and we heard about the legend of the hedgehog while sampling great wine, cheese and tasting selfie Cooper wasn’t as miserable as he looks in this photo, he really liked the meat and cheese plate (he just doesn’t like all the picture-taking….)
After the tastings we went down in the cellar to check out the enormous casks.DSC_0260 DSC_0257 DSC_0250 impressive, even for the boys.DSC_0249 When we stopped at the car to put away our new bottles of wine, I took a few minutes to read a story about Cesare Mazzetti, an artisan that worked in this village. I had found his story on-line, and was interested in meeting this coppersmith, whose family had been working with metals since the end of the 19th century. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I am so glad we went.

DSC_0296He didn’t speak a word of English, yet we spent 45 minutes with him. He not only explained his craft, but made us three ‘Mazetti memories’ to take home…two bookmarks, and a family crest of sorts, where he hammered all kinds of dates and symbols into a copper circle that represented elements of our family. It was fantastic.DSC_0290  DSC_0292  DSC_0284

photo 2 (1)As we left, we pointed out to the boys that we had to ask him where we could purchase the things he made. He never tried to sell us anything. He never marketed that ‘his pots and pans were the finest’. He just shared his work, because he loved his work, end of story. Class act.

We walked the town and its square, visited the church, and people-watched. DSC_0317 DSC_0315 DSC_0300DSC_0280 DSC_0276 DSC_0314

Not too hard to spot the authentic Italians, versus the tourists:


The boys discovered that towers and viewpoints (where adults frequently force them to stop) lend themselves well to flying paper airplanes. They never got a chance to send one from the top of the Campanile in Venice, but they tried this gorgeous vista…..DSC_0309 DSC_0304 DSC_0319 finding and retrieving the planes afterward is sometimes difficult….!

So, on to our home for the next few days in Paciano.IMG_2346 The countryside was gorgeous as we drove, but I refrained from hopping out of the car every 5 minutes for photos, (like I did in Ireland….).

DSC_0325  DSC_0323 Our town home of Fontegirasole, (meaning ‘spring sunflower’) was part of the “Country Slow Living” establishment of Il Fontanaro: an organic and sustainable olive oil farm, that offers cooking classes and lodging. We didn’t stay on the farm, but we had olives growing in our yard.DSC_0324

We went out for dinner in town (there were two restaurants to choose from), and also picked up some groceries for the next morning. We played cards and watched The Gladiator, remembering our trip to Rome last year.

The next day we had a very lazy morning and then took a short trip to Castiglione del Lago, a town on Lake Trasimeno. Locally made products were the highlight– for lunch, and for sale on the sidewalks…..DSC_0329 DSC_0333 DSC_0337 Cheeses and cured meats were everywhere, particularly wild boar (one of Jack’s favorites)DSC_0331 DSC_0339

The weather was turning, so after we bought some cheese and wine, we headed for home. The sky was incredible as the wind blew in the storm….DSC_0340DSC_0344

We were glad we had no plans that night! Lots of wind ripping across the fields…DSC_0346

The next day was one I was eagerly anticipating: our cooking class with Lucina and Alina Pinelli at Il Fontanaro. We were cooking lunch, so we headed to the farm at 10.30. Before we started in the kitchen, we walked through the garden with Lucina. DSC_0353DSC_0381 DSC_0370 DSC_0369 DSC_0365 With our family and a young couple from Chicago that joined us, she discussed the benefits of seasonal cooking, and organic farming. This led to a description of the problems occurring this year with the olive crop in the Umbrian region, due to an insect that devastated the groves. (In fact Alina, her daughter, was discussing possible solutions with an Italian horticulture professor on the phone while we were making Tiramisu….) I appreciated that this part of the experience was genuine. The fact that they didn’t have a harvest in 2014 was a very real problem — these women were business owners and farmers– not just running ‘scrapbook filling’ cooking classes for tourists. I’m glad the boys heard a lot of the discussion around obstacles in organic farming, the politics of tourism boards, and other aspects of their endeavors in agrotoursim.

We made tiramisu first with Lucina.  beating the egg whites, assembling the layers….IMG_2351 IMG_2353

We tasted olive oil, picked out wine from their impressive cellar, and then got to making the pasta, while the two resident labs stood watch IMG_2361

Jack and Chris work on beating the egg carefully within the flour ‘volcano’….

IMG_2359 IMG_2360Cooper works the dough with Alina.IMG_2362 After a bit of time in the fridge, the pasta was ready to be rolled and cut….IMG_2369 IMG_2368 While we were busy with making strips and filling ravioli, the zucchini sauce and the meat sauce (sugo) were started on the stove, (the smell was amazing!)IMG_2364. More chatting and drinking wine while it all came together….IMG_2366 Jack enjoyed having Bacco around under his feet. He looked very mellow, but we heard stories about him eating live chickens. No poultry for this sustainable farm, I guess!

Enjoying the ‘fruits of our labor’ in the greenhouse. Delicious!IMG_2372 I had to excuse myself right after dessert to grab a few more pictures. It was a beautiful place.DSC_0375 DSC_0367 DSC_0352DSC_0358  DSC_0357 DSC_0354 DSC_0371DSC_0377 DSC_0380 A huge thank you to our fabulous hosts!

We headed home with very full stomachs to pack and get ready for the drive to Venice airport the next morning. After some ping pong, IMG_2374….we enjoyed our last sunset in Italy…. DSC_0396

The last one for a while anyway, because I am hopeful we’ll have a chance to get back to this beautiful country (that is quickly becoming one of my favorite places on the planet…..).

As always, thanks for sharing with us.




The best times aren’t always exotic or luxurious: my parents’ visit

IMG_1361This past May, my parents came from South Carolina to visit us in the Netherlands (after first taking a river cruise through Germany). It had been 50 years since they had been to Europe ! I spent weeks, (months, actually), thinking about what we would do together, and their arrival — on Mother’s Day, at the dock in Amsterdam– couldn’t come soon enough in my mind. I hadn’t been with my Mom on Mother’s Day in over 20 years, and now she had come half-way around the world to see me. Needless to say there were a few tears when we first saw each other.

This post would be ridiculously long if I included everything, so I will go through the highlights (and for my parents and those that are interested, the funnier and more sentimental “moments we will never forget” are at the end…)

OK– here it goes. Not in any particular order.

The Rijks Museum: We spent a good chunk of one day touring the Rijks. DSC_0190DSC_0182 DSC_0176 DSC_0174. DSC_0177 It was difficult to pick and choose what to see, but at a museum this large, you have to narrow things down unless you are going to stay for a week. We decided on a 17th Century Tour, because like many others, Mom and Dad wanted to see Vermeer, and Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

We had a great guide:DSC_0184DSC_0013

We visited the gift shop in a quest for grandchildren souvenirs and enjoyed some delicious soup in the cafe. Like many of the places we visited, Dad took time to appreciate the design and architecture……DSC_0189

Keukenhof Tulip Farm: If architecture is Dad’s thing, flowers are definitely Mom’s, so Keukenhof was a must do for her, even though it was late in the season, and there weren’t as many tulips to see…DSC_0196

Because of the weather, we spent quite a bit of time indoors–first with the liliesDSC_0226 DSC_0225 DSC_0220 Look at the size of this bloom! Wow.

and then with the orchidsDSC_0242 DSC_0241 DSC_0240 DSC_0244

The grounds were beautiful, and there was no shortage of photo opportunities:DSC_0212 DSC_0202 DSC_0260 DSC_0256

Naarden Vesting: Because our car only seats 5 people, it was difficult to take a trip with our whole family involved. However on the weekend, I took 4 people, Chris grabbed a boy for the back of his Vespa, and we headed to nearby Naarden, with its quaint streets nestled inside fortress walls- (complete with a moat!). DSC_0301 DSC_0316Despite the majority of the Vesting Museum exhibit being in Dutch, we were able to get a pretty good sense of the fort’s layout–with its impressive and unique star shape. DSC_0305 DSC_0302DSC_0306 DSC_0303 (it doesn’t look like he’s safe, here, does it?)

The boys enjoyed soaking their shoes with the mini water cannons….DSC_0315 DSC_0314 DSC_0309

Den Haag/Delft: With the boys in school during the week, we took advantage of the room in the car (and absence of adolescent groaning about museum touring), and took a few day trips. One was to Den Haag, or “The Hague” as most people know it.DSC_0462 The Peace Palace was not open to the public, but we took an audio tour of the visitor’s center, and learned a lot about Andrew Carnegie, and the history of the International Court(s) of Justice. DSC_0475DSC_0484 DSC_0464Outside, there was a small dogwood tree that was covered with small pieces of paper.DSC_0468 Upon closer inspection, it was an opportunity for visitors to write their individual messages, with hopes for peace. DSC_0472 ….wonderful to see in so many languages

We headed to Delft for lunch. We didn’t tour the factory, but instead enjoyed lunch in their quiet courtyard and picked up a few souvenirs (yes!) in the gift shop.DSC_0498 DSC_0497 DSC_0492

Dad was becoming a hot chocolate connoisseur….!IMG_1403

We briefly walked through the small town of Delft, which is sometimes called a ‘mini Amsterdam’ because of its canals and bridges.DSC_0509 DSC_0507  DSC_0502

Anne Frank Huis: One day we picked up the kids at school and headed into Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank House. It was something we wanted to do since we arrived in NL, and I was glad to have the opportunity to do it with my parents. There are no photos allowed on the inside, but it’s a powerful place, and the kind of experience where pictures aren’t necessary to preserve memories. Outside, we took a few stereotypical ‘stand in front of the canal’ photos, which the boys were thrilled about. DSC_0192DSC_0191 DSC_0193 DSC_0194

Walking Amsterdam- Centraal Station to the Flower Market:  One day we took the tram to Centraal Station and worked our way along the canal rings to the Singel Flower Market. The station itself is an impressive buildingDSC_0272, and my parents were also amazed at the enormous structure that provides several thousand spaces for the commuter bikes for the station:DSC_0274 DSC_0273 How do you remember where you parked your bike? My mom wondered.

It was a beautiful day, and after stopping for a quick visit at the Nieuwe Kerk, we enjoyed lunch in Dam SquareDSC_0278. The canals themselves are usually what is the most striking to visitors….we stopped several times for photos.DSC_0276 DSC_0275

After finding a small, almost ‘hidden’ church in the Kalverstraat,DSC_0281 DSC_0280 DSC_0279 we moved on to the Singel Flower Market. DSC_0287   Anything and everything having to do with tulips and flowers was available– even pre-packaged bulbs in tin cans, (so you can bring them on the flight home with you).Definitely a bit toursity, but fun nonetheless….. :-)DSC_0288 DSC_0285 One of my favorite cheese shops was right in the area as well– Old Amsterdam– so we stopped in for a few samples, and made some more progress on the souvenirs….DSC_0291 , (right Mom?) :-)

Bruges, Belgium: There were plenty of overnight trips I considered for my parents’ visit, but Bruges won for being easy to get to, as well as being ‘doable’ in two days. Plus, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s very walkable, and it’s gorgeous!DSC_0325   DSC_0339

We did a lot of walking– poking our heads into churches, courtyards and chocolate shops along the way.DSC_0358DSC_0450DSC_0459 DSC_0330 DSC_0317DSC_0350 This is one of my favorite photos of my parents: Mom is admiring the herb garden, and Dad is photographing the roof line of the adjacent building. (It is classic ‘them’, and I love ‘them’, just the way they are!)

Even though the Notre Dame of Bruges was being renovated, we were able to see the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.DSC_0366 1504. White marble. Enough said.

Food was a huge highlight and focus in Belgium– especially the sweets! We watched candy and chocolate being made  DSC_0373DSC_0377DSC_0379DSC_0453 DSC_0452 and we picked up some chocolate footballs and boots for the boys,DSC_0457 DSC_0456(which were displayed with extravagant Brazilian masks in honor of the upcoming World Cup!).

Our favorite meal (dessert?) by far was the Belgian waffles. IMG_1401As a matter of fact, we loved them so much we went to the exact same place twice in two days. With strawberries in season, and the fresh whipped cream, they were just fabulous. IMG_1400

We took a canal tour as well, which was a very relaxing way to see the city.DSC_0421 DSC_0409 DSC_0443 DSC_0401

It was a fantastic trip (and our weather was amazing, which is always is a bonus!)

DSC_0324 DSC_0333 DSC_0332 DSC_0441

Amsterdam again and again!!!: I dropped my parents off at the Van Gogh Museum one day. They took a few hours to do an audio tour while I had a meeting.DSC_0513 DSC_0521 Museumplein is just gorgeous when you have nice weather, and the cafe at the Stijdelijk museum was perfect for lunch.

Chris took a day off and we did a ‘hop on, hop off’ canal tour. Again, fantastic weather- with a chance to see the city via boat, which is perfect. DSC_0534DSC_0578 DSC_0541 the famous Magere Bridge.

We ‘hopped off’ near the Hermitage Museum and walked to Rembrandtplein for a drink and a chance to shop. DSC_0553 DSC_0556 DSC_0558 then we hopped back on to head back towards the Rijks. Mom and Dad enjoyed the many different kinds of houseboats.DSC_0549 DSC_0580 DSC_0576Dad perfected the ‘lean out the window picture’ stance….

In our little village of Laren, we covered all of the highlights: the ‘brink’ and the church, the windmill, .DSC_0300 DSC_0297 DSC_0295  and of course– the poffertjes stand:DSC_0592 DSC_0591

In Dutch tradition, we even hosted our neighbors for a ‘borrel': pre-dinner drinks and snacks DSC_0587 (Bella, our neighbors’ new beagle, was a highlight of that event- attempting to steal cheese off the table in the garden :-)

Although we explored and experienced a great deal, my favorite part was simply being together. Waking up and having a cup of coffee with my parents every day for two weeks is priceless in my mind, and as we sat there laughing about past family journeys or discussing present-day issues, it wouldn’t have mattered where we were in the whole world. I felt grateful that the boys had a chance to just ‘hang out’ with Grandma and Grandpa……learning about new apps:.DSC_0602  attending football tournamentsIMG_1407subjecting them to ‘bags/cornhole’ competitions DSC_0596 DSC_0593 and making sure Rooney got his daily back and head rub:DSC_0597

They headed home and the house was a little quieter, but I was glad I knew we would see them soon enough during our summer break. I felt so fortunate that they had the means–physically and financially to take on a trip like this, as I will never forget it.

And now, if you are interested: the list of things we will never forget. A few are sentimental, and others are just amusing. Traveling is always an adventure:

**Not being able to get to the Anne Frank House because part of the route was under construction- (and subsequently rushing back to the car to drive in order to make our reservation…). I can’t accurately repeat what the bus driver said to me about the closure, it was something like: “It is broken there. It is not possible to go there like this” ….ugh– ! And I had planned it all out so well! (I thought!?)

**Getting to Bruges and finding out we had no lodging. “It was AirBnB’s fault”, the host claimed. Hmmm…. The place at which we were re-booked was great, and we got a fantastic free breakfast out of it, so no worries.

**Walking the Singel Flower Market — twice. “Wait, haven’t we already been on this corner? Let’s check the map”. Sometimes all of the canals start looking the same.

**The ongoing, slightly conflict-causing, attempt to find souvenirs for all 10 grandchildren (for those who know our family and think they counted wrong, Liane and Paul are fostering a toddler, so we have an extra Clark in the mix). Even picking out postcards to send them takes a lot of deliberation with these two involved…..:DSC_0271

**Dad’s attempt to tip the waitress at the Stijdelijk Cafe by writing an additional amount on the Visa receipt– she kidded, “are you writing me a love letter?”. He commented after, “I really need to start carrying coins around– for tipping, and for using the bathroom!” (yup, you need to pay to pee….)

**Getting stuck in ridiculous traffic through Antwerp –twice. Dad attempting to use the Google Maps app to assist me from the back seat…”The red line extends all the way on the E34 to the next exit, let me see if I can ….oops! I just touched something and lost the screen….what did I press?” classic. Mom attempting to text Cooper on my phone to let him know we’d be late led to a similar situation. “Wait! Where did that screen go?”…. Me: “swipe to the left, Mom”…. “What? How do you swipe?”. Giddy from the reminders that the current generation’s ‘smart’ devices aren’t all that simple to use, we were sitting in a literal standstill for about 40 minutes on the E19, E34, (or whatever it was)…when the navigation screen pops up and says “There is an alternate route that is 1 minute faster, would you like to reroute?”. ONE minute?? We basically burst out laughing.

**Noting the inordinate number of young couples either on their phones, or taking ‘selfies’ as they traveled together (another generational thing, I know…)DSC_0447 DSC_0568 this next one in particular made us laugh, because this couple was together, but didn’t even take their ‘selfie’ together:DSC_0265

**Our tour guide at the Rijks that walked at a break-neck speed. We were continually afraid we might lose her around the next corner.

**Teaching Grandma and Grandpa card games, particularly the ones with inappropriate names like “Horseballs”, (which we temporarily re-named “Suits”, until at one point when Jack slipped up and said to Grandpa– “you got horseballed since you can’t bid what you want”).oops.

**Directions about, and understanding of, our appliances. “Yes, Mom, our washing machine’s cycle is 2 hours and 32 minutes….”

**DSC_0255  Tackling my Mom at the Keukenhof windmill

**the beautiful orchid that they bought me for my birthdayIMG_1367

**DSC_0578 Dad’s ‘function over fashion’ BlueBlocker sunglasses (Mom’s favorite….)

**Taking pictures of the same things as Dad, with many times Dad IN my pictures taking a picture…DSC_0429 fantastic!DSC_0416

and my favorite, which still brings tears to my eyes–

**Picking up my parents at the Viking Cruise dock on the first morning. It was pouring rain and I spotted my Dad standing on the deck looking for our car. I gave him a big hug, and as we headed across the deck inside, I asked him briefly about their last few days of cruising, and how their trip had been going. He told me Mom was in the lounge saying goodbye to a few people they had met in the last 10 days. “Mostly people from Europe”, I remember him noting. I walked into the lounge where she was chatting with a few women, and she stood up to greet me. As I hugged her tightly, I said “Happy Mother’s Day” into her shoulder. She said the same, and we just hung on for a while, oblivious to the group that was standing there watching us as we shared a good cry.

As usual, thanks for listening, and for sharing these experiences with me.





April Break: The Turkish Coast

turkish harborI knew I would like Turkey even before we left. Old World charm, beautiful coastline, great food…. I even like the simplicity of their flag. It is no surprise that it ended up being one of my favorite trips so far.

We were to spend the week in Kas, a small fishing village along the old Lycian Way. The guidebooks indicated that Kas was popularized first by hippies and writers, and then by scuba divers (tons of diving in the area: sunken ships and ruins). But if you appreciate the idea of getting away from the crowds, like we tend to…first you have to get there. IMG_1172 IMG_1174So after a red eye flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul, than another flight to Dalaman, we got in our rental car and drove another 3 hours to our AirbnB rental in Kas. ugh.

After a good 1/2 hour of the ‘count the Mosques’ game, the boys fell asleep in the back.IMG_1179

I stared out the window, as usual. I was struck by how much agriculture we passed….orchards and greenhouses lined the side of the road DSC_0319 IMG_1182and herders stood by goats on the side of the road, preventing them from crossing into traffic.IMG_1181 If we didn’t have two sleeping boys in the back, I would’ve asked Chris to stop for pictures:  (‘my’ kind of picture: goats standing next to satellite dishes in a front yard…. culture…. way of life). But we drove on to our place, which was fantastic, and instantly reminded us why we like to get away from it all….DSC_0505 DSC_0503

DSC_0004 the boys woke up and got in the pool within minutes.

DSC_0009We took the steep hill down to the rocky beach. At the small neighboring hotel, there were ladders built into the rocks to get in and out of the water. DSC_0010 TURQUOISE coast is what they call this, DSC_0022…we get it!

Chris and the boys ‘bouldered’ around a bit, DSC_0018Chris and Jack wet the line (too windy to really fish), DSC_0034 DSC_0033 DSC_0032and we all took in how quiet it was. (off-season has its benefits….) You could get a sense of how this same area might be packed with Brits sipping cocktails in sun loungers during mid-July….DSC_0020DSC_0025This is Cooper, fetching his shoe from off the roof of the bar (after flinging it off his foot, one of his favorite pastimes– ….?)

Jack, “Cactus! My favorite plant!”DSC_0006

That night we grilled hamburgers (Chris will remember that experience, as the ‘coals’ were wood chips, and it took 2 boxes of matches to get them lit), played cards and relaxed.

The next day I was glad I made coffee before the power went out. The caretaker at the house wasn’t surprised when I called him, responding: ‘Yes, this happens here– it is better later today’. OK then!– beautiful country, with a less consistent power grid. After attempting breakfast (I bought buttermilk, which doesn’t taste as good on cereal or in your coffee….), we headed into Kas to explore..

We sat right on the edge of the town square for lunch. DSC_0291Jack noticed the amount of stray dogs and cats right away.DSC_0042DSC_0084 At one time, there were 4 cats under our table. The boys will remember the pushy manager that coaxed us into his “Italian” restaurant, who said it wasn’t possible for Cooper to order pepperoni on his pizza.

  DSC_0054Kas was beautiful, I could have taken pictures all day. I loved the market– the brightly colored ceramics and textiles, all piled up alongside one another.DSC_0052

DSC_0082 Jack and I visited this particular shop a few times. Here he is doing some consumer research on a chess set.DSC_0083  I love having another shopper in the family, (Cooper and Chris were next door having a drink).

We visited the ‘Lion’s Tomb’, one of the oldest and largest Lycian tombs in the area.DSC_0064 DSC_0058 DSC_0057 DSC_0056DSC_0059Translation anyone?

After the power outage that prevented the boys from checking Instagram that morning, I pointed a few things out regarding resources….note the solar panels with the clothes line , the man carrying a couch on his back…

DSC_0075 DSC_0074 DSC_0071 and my favorite– container gardening in re-used fry oil tins.

I guess many people wouldn’t think this is beautiful. They would use words like ‘run-down’, even. I guess I disagree.DSC_0066DSC_0095DSC_0085DSC_0091 DSC_0094The boys had tired feet, so at one point we dropped them at a spot in the street and kept walking.DSC_0079(I love this cat watching…).

Ice cream…! DSC_0089 just like the locals…DSC_0088

Then home: to sit by the pool, visit with our own stray cats…IMG_1241(who enjoyed the buttermilk more than we did) and play cards. Our caretaker picked some ‘mushmala’ from the tree in our yard for us…a delicious fruit that is about the size of a plumDSC_0097 Construction going on at the house next door provided a little background noise poolside….DSC_0096 IMG_1245(ask Cooper to do his blowtorch imitation, it’s pretty realistic!).

We stayed up late so the boys could beat us in spades that night.  Hmph.

The next day after a breakfast involving the milk we were used to, fresh bread from our caretaker, and GORGEOUS strawberriesIMG_1240 (a flat of which cost less than ice cubes), we headed to Kaputas and Patara Beach– which I had read were “sandier”.

Kaputas was located at a hairpin turn in the road, where a deep gorge had been cut in the rocky cliffs. DSC_0134 DSC_0132Steep stairs led down to a small beachDSC_0130  The boys thought it was a good idea to bounce the football down the stairs. I might’ve shared a thought on the ball bouncing over the railing into the gorge to be never seen again (or at least played with that day-?) .DSC_0129… but I don’t tend to win these arguments very often.

Kaputas was a little cool for swimming, but fantastic for football and “Clash of Clans”-type castle building. DSC_0103 DSC_0117 DSC_0114

We spotted some beautiful sea birds as well, and a man venturing out to collect mussels from the rocksDSC_0120 DSC_0110 There weren’t any facilities at this beach, so before it got too close to lunch, we decided to head on towards Patara, which was supposed to be more developed.

Of course, everyone’s idea of development is different….DSC_0160 (this is the restroom in Patara’s carpark)

Patara is not only the longest sandy beach on the Turquoise Coast, but also a famous nesting site for the protected Loggerhead Turtles. I was also excited that for 5 Turkish lira a person (with a discount for Jack), our admission also included entrance to the Lycian and Roman ruins. History and the beach! Nice.

DSC_0137 It wasn’t long after getting out of the car that we realized how windy it was out here on the long sandy beach…DSC_0140 DSC_0141 DSC_0142Chris took cover in the beach shack/restaurant, but the boys would have none of that– they buried each other in the sand.DSC_0149 DSC_0147 It looked fun from inside :-)

Chris and I ordered a beer, and pretty soon the boys came in to have a burger too.DSC_0152 DSC_0155  Brotherly loveDSC_0156 On the way out, I noticed the markers for the turtle nesting sites, and the rules posted to protect these creatures that have such an interesting (and risky) way of reproducing. DSC_0157 DSC_0159When the sea turtle babies are born they cannot see but instinctively turn toward the light, or the ocean side. People are prohibited to build fires on the beach beyond the markers, and no development is allowed on that side, for fear the turtles will turn in the wrong direction and not make it to the water, where they will live the rest of their life. Interesting, and made for a beautiful, relatively undeveloped coastline.

We drove to the ruins next, which were very impressive. After being in Rome in October, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the Roman ruins in a large city-center, and the ruins here. DSC_0196 DSC_0197 Not only did we purchase admission for the equivalent of 3 or 4 US Dollars (with the beach!), but this natural, (lots of goats grazing) site was quite extensive…..DSC_0232 and you were free to walk about wherever you wanted. The boys enjoyed the amphitheater, and took lots of panoramic photos.DSC_0166 DSC_0178 DSC_0172

There were bath houses, a city center complete with Roman columns,DSC_0213 DSC_0199 and also an arched entryway. DSC_0231 Fabulous actually. DSC_0181 DSC_0183 DSC_0201 DSC_0204 DSC_0216

Time to head home… DSC_0219 careful of the cows as you drive.

Mosquito issues caused a bit of a sleepless night, so we spent the next day relaxing by the pool, with a brief venture into town later in the day.DSC_0248 DSC_0235DSC_0241 DSC_0242

In Kas that evening, Jack purchased the chess set, and we shopped a bit for ourselves and friends as well. DSC_0294I like to browse, but I don’t usually buy a lot of things while we are traveling. I consider my photos my memorabilia. Turkey is one place I wish we had purchased a few more things. DSC_0304 Cooper even found a cool set of graduated elephants carved out of stone. We walked the town again, stopping in a hookah shop for a drink. DSC_0255DSC_0252DSC_0256

The owner was very excited we were there, as he had just opened his doors for the season. IMG_1266When we left a small tip, he told us he would give it to the teachers he hired for the summer, so that they could have more money to bring back to their families. (yes, I did want to give him what was left in my wallet, but I refrained…).

We explored the harbor, and booked a boat tour for the next day to the sunken ruins of Kekova.DSC_0268DSC_0261Skipped some stones and relaxed as wellDSC_0266 DSC_0281DSC_0274 DSC_0260  We ate at a recommended restaurant that night, “Jimmy Jokers”DSC_0301…supposedly the best burgers in Kas. All three boys ordered one, and interestingly enough, it was actually a steak, served on a bun. Different, the boys thought, but still delicious. While we were eating, Jack was surprised to see a cat being fed by a shop owner, and took a photo. He called it ‘the loved one’…and thought the other strays in town must be a little jealous.DSC_0298We knew the next day would be full, so we headed to bed fairly early. No mosquitoes….very good.

We were picked up at 9 by a van that took us (and about 15 other people) to the small harbor town of Kekova, east of Kas. It was about a 45 minute drive, and our guide shared some information about the people and the area along the way. We learned that the nomadic goat herders in the region are usually farmers that grow crops on both sides of the mountain ridge, bringing their goats back and forth seasonally to pick apples on one side, and grow eggplants on the other, eg. Because of this, there are towns with the same name on the coastal side and the inland side of the mountain– settled by the same groups.  We saw some herders as we were driving– there was a bit of a ‘goat jam':DSC_0316 DSC_0312 We also learned that the crops grown in the region are sent to Istanbul, where 70% of Turkey’s population lives in/around the city. LOTS of veggies in the Mediterranean diet. This explains the ridiculous amount of greenhouses we saw, for sure.

In Kekova we met our crew and then boarded our boat, the “Neseli”.DSC_0383 DSC_0328 DSC_0327 DSC_0329

We stopped at this small, very rickety dock to begin our walk on the Lycian Way, an historic footpath along the Turkish coastline, named for the ancient civilization of Lycia. As the hand-painted sign indicates, we were headed to the Aperlai Ruins.DSC_0332  Our guide told us in order to follow the Lycian Way (all 540 km) of it, just look for red and white waymarkers, painted on the stones  DSC_0337DSC_0338 DSC_0343 DSC_0340 We were provided with A LOT of historical information, and I probably should have brought a notebook. Instead I listened, and took pictures of what I was told were 2000 year old olive trees. Chris and I were pleased when we could tell the difference between a Lycian, Roman or Byzantine ruin, (it’s the shape of the stones used…) — the area we were navigating was built, raided, built again, shaken up (by earthquakes), built again, on and on through the centuries.

By the time we got to the Aperlai ruins and listened to more history (this happens when you are in such an old place), the boys were excited they could stick their feet in the water to take a break. DSC_0362 DSC_0365Our guide joined in as we skipped some stones DSC_0373 DSC_0375DSC_0376DSC_0366  (this “wheel” is an ancient olive oil press)  DSC_0357 Then we headed back to the boat, stepping around a few more cows.DSC_0380 and had a fantastic traditional Turkish lunch as we headed to the sunken ruins.

DSC_0415We anchored in what was once a bay. There were people snorkeling, seemingly the best way to see the sunken ruins. It was easy to see the foundations of buildings that were once Tersane, or dockyard, of the ancient city of Xera. DSC_0416 DSC_0418A 2nd century earthquake caused it to fall below sea level. Like many other areas, this was also rebuilt during the Byzantine Empire, so there were remains of a Byzantine church (Cooper, Chris and I swam over to check it out, Jack took pictures from the boat).DSC_0400 Despite it being a little chilly, Jack also joined us in the water.DSC_0409 DSC_0412 DSC_0396DSC_0386 Floating ice cream salesman….classic.

As we continued on, Chris and the boys spoke with the guide, who pointed out the details in more cliff-side ruins. .DSC_0442 DSC_0423 DSC_0433DSC_0439Cooper also enjoyed the Turkish tea DSC_0421

The next stop was the island of Simena, (or Kalekoy in Turkish) which has no roads, and is only accessible by boat. DSC_0446 Approaching, you could see its most prominent feature, a Byzantine castle built during the Middle Ages to fight pirates from Kekova. We did not go into the castle, but it is famous for a small theater, which was carved from one piece of rock.
Simena was another place I could’ve done a photo essay– I loved watching the people in this remote community…. DSC_0452 DSC_0482 DSC_0485 DSC_0481 DSC_0484 We walked to the top of the island, and saw several more Lycian tombs. DSC_0467 DSC_0465The Lycians buried people with their valuables, so grave-robbing was common (which explained the damage we saw to most of the tombs).

Chris spotted a mushmala tree for a quick snack, and Jack photographed and befriended a few more strays: DSC_0456 DSC_0473 DSC_0474 DSC_0475

Then we headed back to Kekova for the van ride home.DSC_0491

Back in Kas there was a celebration going on with a street fairDSC_0500 DSC_0495  — Turkish independence and children are celebrated on the same day in April every year, because they believe the children hold their future. We had a traditional meal, complete with mezze, and Turkish bread that was so large the waiter ‘flew’ it in from Turkish Airlines. DSC_0498 DSC_0499The boys were offered ice cream in the back for dessert…. (sometimes I wonder if food-related things make more of an impression than the sunken ruins…but that’s OK….).

Chris left the next day due to work, and the boys and I would follow early the following day out of Dalaman. We spent the day relaxing, swimming and cleaning up the house. I think the boys will forever tell interesting stories about the “Burq Hotel”, the very quiet (abandoned?) airport hotel where we stayed our last night…the empty pool had huge cracks and plants growing in it, we had broken furniture in our room, and of course there was the man sleeping on the couch in the office when we checked out in the morning. Chalk it up to life experiences, I guess (!) We did end our trip with another fantastic meal at a local restaurant. (Did I mention I love Turkish food?)  Its head through the window, this pup asked for some handouts from the table next to ours….IMG_1281

Turkey was without a doubt one of my favorites, and a place to which I would love to return. Thanks for listening, and sharing its beauty with us…. perhaps this inspires you to visit some day as well!


Life is ‘full’…in a very good way

DSC_0052A few weeks ago, my friend Val forwarded me a link on Facebook involving a young guy who documented his trip around the globe with a ‘GoPro’ video camera, and then spliced all of the bits together into a 3 minute video. It was fantastic. Sometimes I wish that someone was following me around with a camera like that… NOT because I like to see myself on film, but because I am so afraid I am going to forget some of it …..IMG_1074

I have definitely hit the “I can’t believe how incredible this is” phase, and I have started filling my days. In fact I have embraced the adventure so much I haven’t taken the time to write. But I need to, or I might not remember. It’s not enough just to write about the family trips to new countries — every day it feels like there is something I could/should document:IMG_1163IMG_1002 IMG_0887 DSC_0030 IMG_0815Yup, that’s a woman on a bike with her pony. People escorting their horses is one of the traffic challenges at ‘major’ intersections in my town…. you see what I mean about getting it all down? And so I write….

Our late winter/early Spring was very mild by Netherlands standards, and provided a lot of opportunity to get outside and explore. In March, I went on a walking tour of Amsterdam with a group of ISA families. The tour was led by one of my favorite Australians, Jane, who just happened to be a travel agent in her previous life (aka: before she was an expat Mom). DSC_0071She is fantastic at helping people feel more comfortable in a new city: which trams to take, which shops to visit, etc. It was a great day, and a chance to meet new people. The Albert Cuyp market and the streets near Rembrandtplein provided plenty of opportunities for photos:DSC_0061 DSC_0076 DSC_0077 DSC_0084 DSC_0088

My new-found comfort level with navigating the city also led to joining my city friends for some fantastic lunches: usually accompanied by a bottle of good wine, but always accompanied by good company. One such lunch included visiting this unique restaurant north of Jordaan in Amsterdam–DSC_0004Yes, the building is on stilts in a shipyard…But it makes for a nice view! DSC_0011 DSC_0005 I learned how to bring my bike into the city for that one — (and I was only a LITTLE bit late to pick up Jack at his drum lesson…)

Another outing took a few of us out of the city, to a quaint little village called ‘Broek on Waterland’.DSC_0019 DSC_0008 We tried some traditional Dutch pancakes –sweet and savory– and walked the town together.DSC_0011DSC_0001  DSC_0014

My other favorite Australian “Captain” Kate has access to a (‘fleet’?) of small electric boats that are perfect for the canals of AmsterdamDSC_0027On this unseasonably warm day, we all chipped in a few euros for her, brought some snacks, water and wine, and off we went for a few hours in the sun. DSC_0025   DSC_0060At one point Jill, (who is a fairly new expat like me) looked over to me and said, “Is this real?”. I smiled, because I was thinking pretty much the same thing….DSC_0053

Eating lunch on the sidewalk in the city is a popular thing with the Dutch– particularly those that don’t have gardens because they live on the upper floors. It was fitting that I shared this sidewalk lunch with Kate (that’s the captain again) and Juliet– my two friends that not only speak Dutch really well, but also seem to have embraced the culture in a way that is an inspiration to me. 2014-04-11 13.12.07 (I wasn’t late to pick up Jack this time….!)

Speaking of culture, celebrating birthdays is a very important Dutch custom, and one that the group of ladies I hang out with quickly adopted. Here is Jenn on her birthday, receiving a really cool vase, that when turned on its side, is a map of Holland–IMG_0999 (I might have to bring one of those home!).

Celebrating birthdays– mine, or others’, is something I’ve ALWAYS enjoyed growing up, (and I am not Dutch at all….. :-)). My father said I always had to have a birthday party, and I guess that’s why I always loved putting together my boys’ gatherings– including games, scavenger hunts, and of course the party bags for everyone to take home. Cooper’s birthday is April 1st, and after we did our family celebration, IMG_1055 IMG_1058 IMG_1059he wanted to invite a few friends to hang out and spend the night. Because he is way beyond the “Pin-the-wings-on-the-cutout of Batman” (I made one of those) days, I let him guide me on what he wanted to do for his party. He surprised me a bit by saying he thought it would be fun to do a scavenger hunt, so I put together one in our village of Laren. All of the boys invited lived in the city, so I thought it would be interesting for them to walk/bike our small streets. Two of the boys (of four) were leaving Holland this summer, so I incorporated a “Netherlands” theme into the hunt, and even gave away bright orange National team footballs as their ‘treasure’. IMG_1071(You could say I kind of get into this stuff…it’s fun!). One clue led them to our windmill, where they had to take a ‘windmill selfie’, and another led them to our neighbors’ yard, where they had to create a Kings’ Day photo with lots of orange gear and Dutch flagsIMG_1105Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd, and Happy 13th (wow!) to our oldest. He has grown up so much this past year.

Over the last few months, I have definitely spent a lot of my time with friends and activities in the city, and this might lead you to believe that I am never in our ‘kleine dorp’ (little village). But this is not the case. Despite feeling a little ‘out there’ (particularly when I am stuck in traffic on the A1), I very much love Laren, and enjoy the neighbors and friends we have made there. Rooney, in particular, loves his walks, and even met a new girlfriend-Sally-while we were in the park one day. IMG_0863Sally’s Mom, Gina, is an ‘expat’ from Germany (I put that in quotes because she and her husband have lived in Laren for 13 years, so I’m not sure that still qualifies them as expats!). We regularly get together with our pups to go on long walks. Sometimes a swim as well!  IMG_0866 IMG_0867 IMG_1042Rooney is smitten with his new ‘older woman’, and when Sally leaves to go home, he stands by our gate, sulking, as he watches her go.IMG_1021 He literally will stand there for 5 minutes. I’m not joking.

In other dog news, our neighbors Liz and Aryan just got a beagle puppy, and that has been exciting for not only Rooney, but our whole family. DSC_0014 I don’t blame Jack for asking to go and visit regularly….DSC_0008 She is very sweet.

To catch up on a few ‘everyday’ things (in our not-so-everyday place)– Jack had a drama production at school involving folk tales–(That is him in the grey with the elephant mask): DSC_0021 DSC_0044DSC_0002 They also incorporated a music piece, where his class played Jamaican and African drum songs.

Football, being a year-round sport, continued. Here both boys compete for SV Laren in their black and white stripes….DSC_0012 DSC_0010 IMG_0932 IMG_0934 Jack has learned to ride his bike with no hands, just like his Dad and big brother…. (it’s tricky taking pictures while I’m riding too!).

In addition to football, Cooper also joined the ISA Track and Field team. For something that was relatively new to him, he did very well, and enjoyed the trips to compete. Here he is in Antwerp (in heavy rain), running the 1500.DSC_0120Like most kids his age, I think what he enjoyed most was having an opportunity to spend time with his friends, and also be active. DSC_0126 DSC_0159 I enjoyed sharing ‘running’ with him (when he let me :-).

I took a class at ISA called “Let’s Cook Japanese”, and learned how to roll my own sushi from 15 Japanese women.IMG_0965 IMG_0995 It was fantastic, and delicious!

Since we were traveling over Easter break to Turkey, we dyed our eggs a little early this year. DSC_0022 DSC_0027 Notice a little bit of home (green and yellow Oregon egg with the “O”), but also the orange eggs for Holland. We were surprised by a package one day from Grandmommy that included the makings of an Easter tree, something we didn’t bring from home, but used to display every year.IMG_0943 We found a branch to hang the pretty German figurines.

I have written a lot, but I feel like there is so much more I could include. I need to write a separate blog to address recent ‘big’ stuff…: our trip to the (gorgeous) Turkish Coast over Easter breakDSC_0010, our much-anticipated, fantastic visit with my parents in early May DSC_0522 and our most recent long weekend in IrelandDSC_0115

How can I catch up?

I might not right away, but it is a wonderful problem to have, and I am grateful for every bit of it.

I will leave you with a few pictures from our first Kings’ Day as a family. IMG_1288 DSC_0002 DSC_0008Kings’ Day is a wonderful celebration, a country-wide celebration, of the Netherlands….Complete with street music, an open-market fair with games for kids, and of course, ….LOTS of Orange! DSC_0005 DSC_0014 DSC_0020 DSC_0022 DSC_0027 DSC_0035

As always, thank you for sharing this with us…..




Dubai: because there is culture everywhere…..


In late February for Crocus break, the boys and I traveled to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. I love the name “Crocus Break”, and here in Holland with our more-than-mild winter this year, the name rang true– there were crocuses up all over our yard. They came up right after the ‘sneeuwklokjes’, with their dainty white bell-shaped flowers. My Dutch teacher told me they are the true harbingers of spring in the Netherlands:photo-37–a picture for my Mom(s) and sister, my gardening buddies.

So anyway, back to Dubai, and our trip for some fun in the sun. Many ISA families had recommended this perpetually sunny destination as a break from the (usually) cold and rainy Holland winters, and Chris would be in Canada for meetings. With the boys and I flying solo I was looking for something ‘easier’… and then I found out a good friend from ISA with two boys would also be there. Perfect!…. maybe. The boys were very excited about this trip, and I was……well…….I was …’conflicted’??….for lack of a better word.

I tend to be a person who processes/analyzes/reflects about things… (no shocker there), but as we headed to Dubai, I was being just down-right ridiculous. Dubai represented too much for me, and I had many questions and criticisms for this place to which I had never been….: my environmentally-conscious side was having a hard time,  as the UAE is an oil/petroleum-based mecca; my “we need to experience CULTURE (damn it)” side was also having a hard time…. What would the boys gain there? How can they get ‘culture’ in a place that has been built primarily in the last 43 years? 43 YEARS! That’s my life span!! With our adventure as expats in Europe being time limited, were we ‘wasting’ a trip if we went? Finally, instead of being a defensive mess every time someone asked us where we were going for break, I just thought: “Shut up, Laura, and get on the plane”. I am pleased to report it proved to not only be a great trip, but a fantastic cultural learning experience. (but, I guess, so is everything…..)

Flights into Dubai are at strange times, so we arrived very late. Going through customs the boys immediately noticed the men and women dressed in traditional Arab clothing, which they don’t see as often in NL or the USA. Everyone was very quiet and serious in the customs line, and it took a LONG time to process our passports. Jack asked if he could take a picture of his passport stamp that said United Arab Emirates…I recommended he wait until we were OUT of the official screening area ….(?!)
It was midnight as we traveled by taxi to our Airbnb condo, but we could already get a sense of the enormous development in Dubai. Modern buildings and new roads, alongside many, many cranes and construction barriers… indication that still more newer roads and buildings were to come.

Heading to bed, we told each other it didn’t matter what time we got up in the morning, and it felt great to have no plans. The next day we caught up with Carolyn and her boys –William and George– at the pool, and had a pretty lazy day.

DSC_0031 DSC_0032 DSC_0033The grounds surrounding the pool and cabana were immaculate, and downright beautiful. No doubt, this is what people rave about in a place like Dubai: they do ‘man made’ very well.

Carolyn and I’s biggest achievement that day was a cab ride to the grocery store to stock up the pantry. It didn’t take us long to realize we were a bit of an ‘oddity’ for this country’s culture….: not only were we women traveling alone with children, but our questions about costs (like the odd cab fares) could’ve been viewed as ‘assertive’, and we carried our own groceries. The bellhop (is that word still used?) at the door looked at me strangely when I hefted two bags in one hand. “I’ve got it”, I assured him, but thanked him for holding the door. Independent women, hmm…. Despite our attention to modest clothing recommendations from Dubai travel guides, we probably stood out a bit. Regardless, mission accomplished: we had some food for the week.

The next day was one we were all looking forward to: a trip to Atlantis, the famed all-inclusive water park at the tip of the ‘palm’.(**)11 DSC_0137 DSC_0121It was an impressive place. Very clean, well-maintained, and well-run (we had waterproof wrist bands to access our lockers). The smiling lifeguards in their matching rash guards looked more-than-capable –in fact they were running test drills while we were there. Because it wasn’t crowded, we also had access to sun loungers and inner tubes whenever we wanted them. Fantastic!  DSC_0120 DSC_0119 DSC_0128   Speaking of inner tubes, you really never had to get out of one if you were so inclined. A ‘river’ system connected the whole park, and you could be pushed along from one ride to another all day long. There were more daring rides on bigger rafts (with bigger drops), and those involved hiking up stairs,…. slitherinebut we spent a good chunk of the day exploring the different inter-connected runs together. Thankfully even though George was in Kindergarten, he was tall enough for the big stuff, which he was eager to try out with his older brother and new buddies.10 shark tunnels This one is called ‘Shark Attack’, where you finish the run literally inside a tank full of marine life. I loved it, but my boys said it wasn’t ‘fast enough’….(the family expression became: “The Bonds are going big!!”)…. There was one big ride that they didn’t do –the 9 story “Leap of Faith” drop leap of faith, but we had already decided we were coming back later in the week, so that was put on the list for next time. (**please excuse the stock photos in this section. Since I was riding in a tube all day, I didn’t have my camera with me!!)

The Schweitzers and Bonds went hard all day, and were two of the last families in the locker room showers. It was a fantastic day.DSC_0009 Long-time swimmers often acknowledge that there is something about being in water that triggers hunger, and all of the kids were starving (and tired) as we explored the options at the Atlantis Hotel…. Dubai reminded Carolyn and I of Las Vegas, so we weren’t surprised at the high-end shopping and restaurants available. However, since we were weren’t dressed ‘high end’ enough, we decided on a small Asian place, which turned out to be delicious. Our younger sons were almost sleeping at the table in between devouring wanton soup and spring rolls. Carolyn and I ordered a glass of wine, and I savored mine like a hot commodity….(the UAE doesn’t sell alcohol in stores).

After dinner we caught a bit of a second wind and headed to Cold Stone Creamery. This particular establishment had a following for incorporating ‘tricks’ into their sundae-making,  and ice cream was being thrown across the room like fish at Seattle’s Pike’s Place market  DSC_0025Fun, yet difficult to catch on film…. George was hit at one point by a flying ice cream scoop (without injury–).

We found a minivan-type cab back to our condo, and then hung out that night together –playing cards, talking, checking Facebook and mine’crafting’. I could go on and on about how great it was to have Carolyn and her kids there with us, but I will simply say it is fantastic when you travel with someone that is flexible, understanding and genuine. Someone that is willing to say, ‘my kids/family can’t do that’, and then understand completely when you need to say the same– without offense, and without guilt. This made the entire week so much more enjoyable, and relaxing.

The next morning we slept in a bit, hung out by the pool and then headed to the Dubai Mall to tackle the Burj Khalifa, which at 828 meters, is the tallest building in the world. photo 2(1)The Dubai Mall itself is colossal: I was told it is about a mile long, and people at times will take a cab to get from one end to the other to retrieve their car. We used maps and asked at information counters, and then finally found the entrance for “At the Top”– the entrance to the Burj Khalifa tower. (Side story here: while we were in line at one of the information counters, a young girl in front of us asked: “If I ride by bike to the mall, is there a place I can park it?”. The woman at the counter looked a little befuddled, and then said, “No, we don’t have that”… meaning bike racks…!?! Being that our entire crowd resides in the Netherlands, we laughed for a quite a while about that contrast in culture…!).

Back to the record-breaking tower…like Atlantis, everything was new, clean, and ran like a well-oiled machine (pun intended)….. We printed the tickets we had booked ahead at kiosks, and got in line around a beautiful, sparkling model of the building.DSC_0042 DSC_0045 

The exhibit was extensive and very well designed–providing information on the vision of the project, the construction, and of course all of the records/superlatives the tower owns…: tallest structure, highest outside observation deck, and so on….DSC_0050 There were several interactive videos that the boys enjoyed, and we really didn’t feel like we were waiting in line as we moved through security, past displays, and onto escalators that took us to the elevators up…the part that I (we?) were a little nervous about.

A pleasant man in uniform briefed us about the elevator experience before we got on, explaining that the ride is very smooth but very fast (fastest in the world, of course): “You will travel 10 meters per second in your vertical ascent”. Wow. He also told us to pop our ears, and to relax. OK then. The inside of the elevator was dark, but as we moved there was a laser light show with relaxing music– IMG_0787 The only visible evidence that we were going ‘up’ were the small numbers changing by the door (look closely for the 77)IMG_0786

The ride was exactly as he said, smooth and fast. I did pop my ears, but it didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. No jolting, no swaying, no ‘dropping’ feeling when you settle at the top floor. Surreal, actually.

The observation deck was equally impressive. Inside, yet outside, with no wind, and no perceivable movement, even though we were several hundred meters above the ground. DSC_0059 DSC_0087

The boys enjoyed the interactive ‘telescope-screens’ that provided information about the surrounding area on a touch screen. DSC_0070 DSC_0068 DSC_0082Jack seemed amused about the warning that dropping a phone, (or a shoe?) is possible through the open spaces.DSC_0058 DSC_0052

Lots of opportunities for photos:DSC_0056 DSC_0064 DSC_0054

With my ever-present ‘cultural norms radar’, I noticed this couple:DSC_0085It is unusual for Arab men to show affection in public, (in fact it is forbidden to kiss, it says so in the Dubai Mall guide!). This, I guess, was an affection exception.

Some views from  “At The Top”:

DSC_0051 DSC_0071  Lots of development. Not a lot of green….Getting bothered…. OK! Moving on….

We headed back down, through the gift shop (where we purchased a deck of Burj Khalifa playing cards, a most appropriate souvenir for our euchre-obsessed children) and into the mall….a crazy place even without the tallest building in the world. Anything and everything you every wanted is in this mall, including an aquarium and an ice hockey rink….DSC_0115 DSC_0117DSC_0097 kind of nuts…. DSC_0113 DSC_0110

We visited an enormous toy store, and enjoyed some well-made shakes. DSC_0092 DSC_0093 DSC_0090 Then we made our way outside for the music and light show in the fountain (again, the largest in the world….). It was difficult to take photographs of the show, but Cooper has a video if you would like to see it.

The tower is so enormous that it is also problematic to get a photo ‘in front’ of it (especially in the dark: DSC_0106(I am pretty much on the ground with a wide-angle lens for this one– not the most optimal conditions, but still fun to say we were there :-)

We were all exhausted, and even passed on cards this evening. Carolyn and I agreed to meet for coffee in the morning (which became a fantastic routine!), and we went to bed.

More poolside fun the next day. IMG_0795 IMG_2522 The boys realized the shallower, ‘jacuzzi’-type pool was warmer, and spent most of the time playing dodge ball and Marco Polo in that area.DSC_0036 DSC_0034DSC_0038

I took the boys for lunch at the hotel next door, and we spent some time observing the stark contrast between women fully-covered in black burqas, alongside women in string bikinis. This made for some interesting discussion about modesty, roles of men and women, commerce through tourism, and other things….. (all of course, during a milkshake)IMG_0790

That night we played more cards, spent some time on the screens, IMG_2532and booked tickets to visit Atlantis the next day. We even headed to bed (relatively) early.

Next day, being already familiar with the Atlantis ‘system’, the boys knew what they wanted to accomplish. Lots of tubing, a few bigger drop rides, and some hide and go seek in the massive childrens’ play area with George. And the big task: both Bond kids were determined to do the “Leap of Faith”. A 9 story solo drop from the Tower of Neptune into the shark tank. Here we go! William was my ‘spotter on the bridge’, so I could get the camera ready when the boys were in the shoot. The whole descent takes only a second, so I knew I had to be quick. Jack went first….DSC_0129

I will add the close-up of his facial expression for understanding, if not amusement:DSC_0130 He said ‘it wasn’t that scary’….and I truly believe hindsight is 20/20….!

Cooper went next. He said later, “It was harder to wait in line and think about it than to go down”….DSC_0133

His expression reflects more of a ‘zen’ attitude about the whole experience: DSC_0134 I love our boys! They had such a blast the whole time, and I was excited they could have this experience.DSC_0138 DSC_0153

DSC_0003DSC_0136 DSC_0135 (snow cones were also on Cooper’s ‘To Do’ list)

While doing some people-watching, I spotted these two girls looking for their mom to come through the ‘shark’ tunnel on her inner tube– the incorporation of marine life into the park was amazing. DSC_0125

The next day was our last day, so we decided to be mellow–pool, beach, and then a trip to the other enormous mall (The Mall of the Emirates) to see the Lego Movie in 3D.

IMG_0803There was an indoor skiing facility at this mall. I tried not to be too negative/critical….. but really?– a ski resort in a mall in the middle of the desert? Can you say “carbon footprint”? IMG_0805IMG_0806 Alright, I guess I was ready to go home. Home to some green, to some natural landscape that you can ride a bike through, and to pull a few weeds that were probably growing around the crocuses in my garden. The movie was fun, by the way…..(especially for kids that have been “Lego-crazy” a good chunk of their lives.

IMG_0802 Carolyn and I both agreed that Dubai looks prettier at night. The lights make everything sparkle, and you are less aware of the construction, and the concrete/asphalt everywhere. At this point, I don’t have to be defensive though, I can truly say I thought Dubai was fantastic. Of course it didn’t have the history of a place like Rome, or the natural beauty and landscape of Austria, but it was an experience. One that involved culture, learning, and a ton of fun.

And that is what this whole adventure is about. What a gift (again).




Has it been 6 months already?

Mid-January marked our 6th month anniversary of being in the Netherlands. Perspective on time can be a strange thing, but I can honestly say this past 6 months has felt like at least 6 months, if not more. Very full. Very different. I have learned so much about myself from this move…(and will continue to, I’m sure).

We started off the new year with opening our “Good Things” jar from 2013… (I got the idea off Pinterest last year)IMG_0654 It was great to hear the boys read their contributions remembering the ‘good’ things from their time in the US, and their time in NL. I tried not to cry too much, but it is hard when you are reflecting on all the experiences and gifts we have as a family. We emptied it out, and began a new one for 2014.

Before the boys went back to school, we did a few local trips, taking advantage of our mild winter weather. We biked to Huizen (literally translated as “houses”), which is a nice community on the water in our area, Het Gooi: IMG_0621 DSC_0060 DSC_0058 DSC_0057 DSC_0064 Despite Chris using the GPS on his phone, we struggled with finding the route from there to Naarden Vesting, where we were trying to go for lunch. At one point we were out by the motorway and Jack declared, “I’m just done”  IMG_0629 IMG_0626 If you look closely, Chris is pushing him along as they ride in front of Cooper, who at this point is on my bike (…there were a few ‘issues’….) We ended up with two hungry, tired boys who very much appreciated a slice of apple cake when we finally found our way……IMG_0631 I love that we ordered in Dutch. This is ‘appletart met slagroom’ (applecake with cream). In their case, they were having the same thing, so after Cooper ordered, Jack said, “Ik, ook!” (me, too)

Also in early January, the boys and I finally got around to making bullar (being that it is a Christmas tradition, we were a little late!!).IMG_0633

Bullar is a Swedish coffeecake, and we use my Mom’s (from her Mom’s) recipe. I love the fact that Cooper and Jack enjoy this tradition, and will actually ask me, “When are we going to make the bullar this year?”. Who wouldn’t enjoy playing with flour and dough?…..IMG_0634 IMG_0635 IMG_0639 IMG_0642 IMG_0645 The final result was quite tasty. We brought some to our Dutch neighbors as a thank you for having us for New Years’ Eve. Note to self: next year, make a double recipe! Small footnote of thanks to our friend Naomi for the use of her Kitchen Aid mixer (I don’t bake enough to justify buying one here with the correct plug….)

A trip into Amsterdam involved an evening canal tour and dinner at a fantastic Indian restaurant. Pictures at night are a bit tough, but you get the idea:DSC_0050 DSC_0030 DSC_0044 DSC_0031 DSC_0023 We always enjoy the chance to walk through Amsterdam, and in the Christmas season, everything is ‘dressed up’….DSC_0013 …including Museumplein and the Rijks Museum, in front of which they build an ice skating rink every year. DSC_0004 DSC_0006

The boys tried out stationary bikes inside the tunnel of Rijks….they powered colored lights that changed from blue to red depending on how fast you were pedaling.DSC_0010 DSC_0008 Nice way to keep warm.

Chris and I were invited to our first Dutch wedding in early February. Our neighbors Karlien and Jeroen, who have been together for over 10 years and have two young children, decided to finally make things ‘official’.  Karlien is an artist who paints (and teaches painting) locally. She designed the invitations, which I thought were very pretty.DSC_0067 DSC_0068 Being new to the Netherlands, I appreciated their ‘orange’ theme…..(this is the car they used to drive to the ceremony) DSC_0069Chris was not able to go since he was traveling, so I accepted the generous offer to go with our other neighbors Liz and Aryan. I love learning about traditions and culture, so I enjoyed observing the festivities at the reception. (My Dutch isn’t very good, so I tend to do a lot of observing anyway….:-). When the bride and groom arrived, family and friends performed a song for them that told a story about how Karlien and Jeroen met. Aryan told me this is very typical at a wedding, and the song/performance can be based on the alphabet, a timeline, or whatever the special guests choose. Here they are thanking the crowd:DSC_0071 Karlien and Jeroen met on ‘wintersport holiday’ (aka: going skiing) so there was also a themed photo booth where you could take pictures in ski gear in front of an Austrian mountain backdrop. Here are my fantastic neighbors Liz and Aryan trying it out:DSC_0072

Anything else? I guess the last thing we took care of early in the year was Jack’s 10th Birthday party. (Yes, his birthday is 3 December, but we couldn’t find a date that worked with everyone traveling for break….).

Jack invited his good friends from school to “Bounz”, a place full of trampolines …..DSC_0115 DSC_0091 DSC_0086 DSC_0083Cooper also brought along a few ‘big’ guys (literally and figuratively) from his grade.DSC_0122 DSC_0127

Dodge ball, jumping and cake– some things are very similar from one culture to the next   DSC_0133 DSC_0107

It was fun celebrating double digits with some new friends…(the guests’ countries of origin included Australia, Japan, Korea, England, the Netherlands, and the good ole’ USofA).  I love that part….

More soon! Tot ziens!

“Home” for the holidays….part 2 (Christmas, Bruges, and ringing in the New Year ‘Dutch style’!)

IMG_0402 After we visited Austria, we came home to Laren for Christmas.  Chris and I decided a while back that we weren’t going to fly to the US to see our families, and even though I questioned that decision a few million times, we ended up with a very nice ‘blended’ holiday: we incorporated the majority of our old family traditions, but also experienced some new things here in our Dutch world….

We put up our tree before we left for Austria (it was a little dry when we got back…). DSC_0135 This year it was Jack’s turn to put the star on–Cooper will do 2014. I had packed our ‘important’ ornaments, which is not an easy task….Chris and I both grew up in families where the children received annual ornaments. Then of course we started the tradition for our children, so needless to say our tree gets pretty crowded. I usually try to give the boys an ornament that symbolizes something significant from that year. When Jack was 5 for example, he received a pewter bicycle because he learned to ride that year….(putting it on the tree this year I felt like it could have symbolized our move to Amsterdam). This year, however, a “sledder” was the choice, from the Salzburg Christmas market and our memories of Austria  DSC_0124 We also brought out our Jultomten….Swedish Christmas Elves. My Mom has Swedish heritage, and Chris’ Mom pretty much has always wanted to be Scandinavian, so we have lots of these little guys to line our mantel and sit upon our tables DSC_0098 On Christmas Eve, the stockings were hung, literally ‘with care’….because our mantel was tricky……DSC_0095 DSC_0097  and then we read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, which we do every year. Cooper shared with us that “Donder” means “Thunder” in Dutch, and “Blitzen” means “Lightning”…. (an “aha!” moment for us…)

Christmas morning came early (at least for Chris and I)….and the boys and Rooney dug into their packages. Another tradition, from my father, is to put clues on the gift tags, so the recipient has to guess what is inside. I think I only stumped Jack once this year, with his Skylanders game DSC_0110 DSC_0109 (it doesn’t help that Lego boxes SOUND like Legos from the outside when you shake them…not fair!?).

The rest of the morning was spent building Legos, trying out new games, and relaxing in our PJs……DSC_0115DSC_0120 IMG_0541DSC_0118

I ordered my Christmas ham from Rotterdam (we liked the rhyme), and despite a few issues with a new oven, an unfamiliar cut of meat, and lack of knowledge about ingredients/cooking times, it was one of the best hams we have ever eaten! IMG_0546 …go figure.

I think everyone’s favorite part of Christmas was ‘being’ with family via Face Time. In the course of two days, we were on the line with the Clarks/Shipmans in South Carolina, the Bonds/Ruperts in Portland, as well as our other ‘families’ in Oregon– the Priests and the Evans. I didn’t cry that much, so I thought of that as an accomplishment.

The day after Christmas we packed the car and headed to Belgium. One of our priorities for our second trip was not boarding Rooney again……IMG_0540(yup, we’re a dog-centered family), so a road trip with a dog friendly accommodation was a must.

Bruges was our destination, and it proved to be the beautiful ‘outdoor museum’ everyone told us it would be. IMG_0571DSC_0189

As we headed into another place with incredible historic and cultural significance (the entire city of Bruges is an UNESCO World Heritage Site)….I was determined to find a way for the boys to appreciate (some of?) it. In the last 6 months of traveling, it has been evident that their priority isn’t racing from museum to museum to absorb every last piece of art or musical history….hmph.. So, I got a little creative and gave them a project: create a photo journal of our time in Bruges, and include some of the things for which the city is famous: diamonds, hand-made lace, swans, chocolate, and a legend about a bear being the first resident of the city. We read about all of these during heavy traffic through Antwerp.

After we checked in at the Hotel Prinsenhof, we took Rooney for a walk around, and then thought about dinner. It makes Chris and I laugh that in our 4 days in Belgium, we ate at a Chinese Restaurant, an Irish Pub, and an Argentinian ‘asado’ (grill). Cooper was the only one who had a traditional Belgian stew…which was delicious, I might add. I don’t think we were consciously rejecting Belgian food, it just seemed to end up that way. Speaking of food from Belgium, the boys enjoyed Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce our first night at the Christmas market. Beautifully lit up in the Belfry square, it also had an ice skating rink. IMG_0549IMG_0554 yum!

The next day we got in line early for a canal tour. DSC_0139 DSC_0133 DSC_0173 DSC_0187We thought sitting at the back of the boat would be a good idea for pictures (and it was), but it wasn’t so great for hearing the guide over the boat motor. So much for taking in history/culture…..DSC_0180 DSC_0142

But look! Some pictures of swans and lace for the photo journal…..DSC_0156 DSC_0163

It was chilly, but sunny, so we walked the city …..and sampled chocolates along the way. In one shop, we watched truffles being made, and then purchased one to go. DSC_0196 DSC_0197 DSC_0199

We had heard of the famous ‘Dumon’ Chocolatier, so we also went there. DSC_0205 DSC_0203 Is it a surprise that Cooper had a sore tooth on day #2?– probably not.

DSC_0129 Jack found a depiction of the Bruges ‘bear’ legend  DSC_0131 as they continued the search for their journals…This shop made chocolate swans,…….. double bonus!  DSC_0198

Despite Jack and I buying hats at the Christmas market to cover our ears, the boys got tired of walking in the cold, so they headed back to the hotel. Chris and I took the pup for a walk to Minnewater: “the Lake of Love”. DSC_0209 DSC_0214 DSC_0207 We also walked the grounds of a Beguinage, (or “begijnhof” in Dutch). First set up in the 12th century, these were a series of small buildings around a courtyard, used to house Beguines –predominantly Roman Catholic women– that wanted to serve God but also not be completely cut off from their community. Historians say there was a surplus of women due to war/violence at this time, and they needed to unite and acquire the support of benefactors in order to survive. DSC_0212 DSC_0211 It was a beautiful, quiet place. I walked briefly into the chapel, and there were about 25 women, in habits, doing a reading together.

That night we went to Delaney’s, an Irish pub, for dinner. The boys had become a little obsessed with playing euchre since we taught them over Christmas, so we played a couple of hands while we were there, and also back at the hotel. Jack’s minion hat from the market proved to be his ‘lucky hat’, and he wore it the rest of the trip (despite our objections). I think he even wore it to bed. IMG_0565 Nice game face.

After the boys went to bed next door –(it is uncommon to find two double beds in one room in Europe)–Chris and I watched: “In Bruges”. It is film about two hired killers that have to hide out in the titled city after completing a ‘job’ in London. The movie is moderately violent and a little troubling, but is filmed entirely in Bruges—the location was not only beautiful, but now familiar! We knew we wouldn’t ever look at the Belfry tower the same way again…..

Early the next morning, I got up with Rooney for a walk. I enjoyed the sunrise, he enjoyed the ducks in the canals IMG_0562 IMG_0560 IMG_0555No need for details, but poor Rooney was having a few stomach issues, so he went on a lot of walks in the short time we were in Bruges….

We (again) enjoyed the buffet breakfast at the hotel ….salmon, fruit and hot chocolate? no complaints there! As we ventured out, we first checked the line to climb the Belfry. Since it was ridiculously long, we opted for Jack’s request to visit the Diamond Museum. On our way there, we passed beautiful courtyards and churches. DSC_0222 DSC_0221 DSC_0220DSC_0219 Spotted a bagpiper on a canal bridge….the pic is for you, Dad.

The Diamond Museum was small, but interesting. In addition to learning about the history of the “world’s leading Diamond country”, we watched a demonstration of diamond polishing. (Jack has the full video from the front row, if you are interested….:)DSC_0244 DSC_0239

To the future partners of my sons, I am pleased to report they now know the difference between a ‘brilliant’ and an ‘emerald’ cut diamond….  (you’re welcome).

We had lunch at De Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery, and although we didn’t take a tour, we sampled their product.IMG_0577 DSC_0231 DSC_0230

We browsed a few shops– DSC_0232 DSC_0233 .. DSC_0234and walked by a candy shop making lollipops.DSC_0226 DSC_0227 Jack became easy to spot in that hat….

There were an incredible amount of chocolatiers, and no way we were going to sample all of them. But we did stop at quite a few just to check out the fantastic window displays. The figures made out of chocolate were amazing. DSC_0247 DSC_0249 A worker at the “Chocolate Line”, another famous shop: DSC_0248

We had an Argentinian dinner at El Churrasco Steak House– lots of grilled meats and spicy sauces. It was delicious, and Chris got to use his Spanish a bit.

The next day was our last day, and our last chance to climb the Belfry tower. DSC_0287Because of the narrow stairs and the limited space at the top/along the climb, only 40-50 people are allowed into the tower at a time. There was some family discussion about ‘giving up’ when we saw the line, (particularly since it was REALLY cold), but we decided to stick it out with 700 of our closest friends.DSC_0258 For about an hour (Cooper timed the wait on his phone-),the boys kept warm by jumping benches, creating obstacle courses, and just being sillyDSC_0253 DSC_0251 DSC_0259

We also admired the work of a painter who was doing watercolor, and ended up buying some very inexpensive postcards from him.DSC_0255.

Finally we were in (just in time– the wind picked up and it started to rain), and began the 366 stairs to the top. This pic was taken about 1/3 of the way up, looking down on the square: DSC_0263 There was a bit of history provided on the way up, and we learned that the tower was built first in 1240, but rebuilt several times due to fire. It was used as a kind of ‘town hall’, and at one time housed municipal archives and the treasury. It was also used as a watchtower, which isn’t surprising at 83 meters.

The carillon was impressive, its gears clicking away mechanically, timing the chimes…. DSC_0269 But then of course there were the bells themselves. 47 Bells in all, they weigh a total of 27.5 tons. DSC_0274 DSC_0271There was one bell that weighed close to 12,000 pounds (which is interesting to think about when they are mounted above your head…)

The 360 degree view from the top–DSC_0273 DSC_0272 It was VERY windy, so we didn’t stay long before we headed back down.DSC_0277 DSC_0275 You can see why they don’t let a lot of people in at the same time– very narrow, very steep.

We got some hot chocolate and lunch to try to warm up, but the weather was definitely turning, so we decided to walk back to the hotel.

DSC_0288 DSC_0281DSC_0286

Nap and postcard-writing time..DSC_0290Rooney loved the company (and he was feeling a lot better!)

We had one last dinner at Delaneys, the Irish Pub, and after a few more rounds of euchre,IMG_0573 we went home, packed, and got ready to get on the road the next day. We were all ready to get home, and that is a good thing!IMG_0592IMG_0591

Our highlight to end the year was an invitation by our neighbors to join them in celebrating “Oudejaarsavond”, or Dutch New Year’s Eve. I had heard stories about the craziness in the Netherlands, because fireworks (even the larger kind) are legal, and people young and old set them off ….everywhere…..
I know living in Amsterdam would’ve been a much more extensive light and sound show, but our little village put on quite a display in her own right. IMG_0615 IMG_0613 IMG_0604

It was a great night, and fantastic to celebrate with our Dutch friends. We ate olliebollen– (fried dough with powdered sugar), ..” IMG_0600 IMG_0598IMG_0610 drank champagne and lit fireworks. Jack took a video of one that exploded right above our heads, and his commentary is funny: “wow, big fireworks….OK, that’s right there….and big….” It was one of those nights that you didn’t realize what time it was until you got home at 2.30. What a fun way to start 2014!

IMG_0619Gelukkig Nieuwejaar! Tot ziens!





“Home” for the holidays…(part one)

IMG_0529 The end of 2013 was a busy time for the Bonds, and a little bit emotional as well. For us, like many people, the holidays are filled with traditions….and historically, these have been spent with people we love. Heading into this time, we all knew this year would be very different. Deep breath…..

December began with Jack celebrating his 10th birthday on the 3rd…..”Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd!” was the mouthful we wished him, as he opened some gifts and talked to family on the phone. Along with a few more Legos to add to his collection, he isDSC_0109 DSC_0122 DSC_0132 also now officially the “drummer” in the family. DSC_0095

In mid-December at ISA, there was a winter market project for Jack’s class. All of the fourth graders were given the task of marketing and selling a product, as well as analyzing costs/benefits, etc. of the process. He and his friend Sam, (after much deliberation about elaborate comic books), decided to sell bookmarks and popcorn. (Don’t ask about the connection, there really isn’t one….). With their popcorn being voted ‘the best in the market’, they ended up raising over 70 euros for victims in the Philippines. Jack, Cooper and I had a blast making it…..(and taste-testing, of course!)IMG_0383 IMG_0381 IMG_0378 Here are a few pictures of the ‘sales’….IMG_0398 IMG_0390 IMG_0389

The International School has almost a month off for the winter break. We broke up our 3 weeks, spending the first one in Filzmoos, Austria, the second one in Laren for Christmas, and part of the third one in Brugge, Belgium. We planned to be back in the Netherlands for New Years’ Eve, because we heard it was pretty crazy…

DSC_0173 Filzmoos is a quiet little village about 40 minutes south of Salzburg. When I Googled, “family friendly places to ski” it was on the top of the list….. and I have an understanding now of why it was perfect for our family. Cooper and Jack had been cross-country, or “nordic” skiing with us in Oregon, but they had never been downhill. Despite many efforts from Uncle Patrick (goggles for Christmas, money for ski lift tickets, etc….) we never seemed to get them on the slopes of Mt Hood or Mt Bachelor. I think part of this was selfish for Chris and I–we have always enjoyed the backcountry nature of XC, as opposed to the ‘amusement park’ of the downhill scene. When our kids and our dogs loved to join us….why would we fight it?

But, since we were in Europe and had the Alps in close proximity, we gave it a shot. Filzmoos was the perfect place to do it, because it was very small. Because we were there the week before the Christmas holiday, it was very quiet. And I mean really quiet….they actually opened the lift for us one day, (I’m not kidding). Note the pony in the pen next to the lift operator…… IMG_0530 DSC_0100

The lodging I found through airbnb was perfect…. and very inexpensive. We had the 3rd floor in a chalet that was one of two houses on a small working dairy farm (we could smell the cows). It took about 5 minutes to get to the center of town, but we truly felt like we were out there by ourselves…..and we tend to like this when it comes to accommodations.

DSC_0160 DSC_0148 The boys enjoyed sledding on the hill and on the road. They had races when we got back from skiing at night..DSC_0143DSC_0167 DSC_0165

Skiing was great. The boys and I had a lesson the first day with “Bas” (from Holland!), and then we all hit the slopes at our own pace. Chris took on some of the bigger stuff right away, so we took the gondola up to meet him for lunch. IMG_0452IMG_0456 IMG_0455Not a bad view for a bowl of soup, hot chocolate and a beer! IMG_0525(There were also sleds at this restaurant…..bonus!)

IMG_0453 My favorite gondola pic.

Mid week we took a break from skiing and explored Salzburg.DSC_0095 We toured the Hohensalzburg Fortress, and the views of the city from the top were absolutely incredible DSC_0106 DSC_0110 DSC_0108 DSC_0107Chris and Cooper are our ‘panoramic’ guys, and I frequently steal Cooper’s photos for use in my albums later…..

We had a piece of cake at the fortress restaurant,  DSC_0112 DSC_0113 played a game that seemed to be a cross between shuffleboard and curlingDSC_0101,

and purchased souvenir pressed coins. DSC_0117This has become a bit of a tradition wherever we travel. For example, the boys have pressed coins from Crater Lake, but also from Manchester United’s Old Trafford. Chris would say I’m the one that encourages this low-cost, memory-making purchase, and I think it’s probably connected to my childhood obsession with souvenirs, but who knows. Hopefully someday they’ll appreciate their box of pressed coins from all over the planet…. (?!) DSC_0115

After the castle, we visited the Salzburg Christmas market, which was a priority for me.  DSC_0129The boys were pretty patient about walking around in the cold while we browsed the treats, wooden ornaments and booths with other goodies…..Holy Pretzels: (!)  DSC_0126DSC_0131Of course, warm Gluhwein and chocolate always help…..mulled wine at the market

DSC_0132 We headed back home to be welcomed by the farm’s resident cats, and then did some late-night sledding.IMG_0436IMG_0486 IMG_0490 IMG_0513

The rest of the week included a lot more skiing, and many wonderful opportunities to relax as a family. After Chris’ travel schedule this fall, this was a very welcome change! A few pics for Uncle Patrick (we made very good use of the goggles, thanks!!):

IMG_0523 Chris handling the steep stuff…DSC_0122

Look carefully…it’s Cooper and Chris heading up on the lift.DSC_0102

DSC_0110 Jack stuck mostly to the beginner hills, but improved a lot as the week went on.DSC_0105 Headed through the gates….DSC_0104

By the end of the week Cooper opted for the steeper hills with his Dad and I, and although he wasn’t super-fast, he was very comfortable.

DSC_0118 DSC_0096Brotherly love

Cooper and I got stuck during one run, because the mountain wasn’t really groomed/ready entirely, and there wasn’t a ton of natural snow. We ended up having to take our skis off and hike for about 20-30 minutes back up to the place we split off the marked trail….ugh! Even though he doesn’t look like it in this picture, he was a trooper about it…..IMG_0531

While off the slopes, we tried some traditional Austrian (German-influenced) food,IMG_0446 and also cooked quite a bit at the house. This worked out well, because we were usually exhausted from skiing, and didn’t feel like sitting in a restaurant. We also taught the boys how to play cribbage and euchre, and had family match ups every night.IMG_0520 (and sometimes even early-morning training, like you see here….)

The area around our house was a winter wonderland, and I couldn’t resist heading out for a hike with my camera. I particularly liked the 300 year old hut that was at a bend in the road about 200 meters from our house.DSC_0175 DSC_0137 DSC_0142 DSC_0146 DSC_0149

When it was time to head home, we checked out and headed into Salzburg. We passed this castle for the 4th time, (which we kept trying to photograph from the car….)DSC_0100 We had a late flight, so we spent the day exploring the city on foot a bit more. We visited the Mozart house/museum, and Jack was very impressed with the antique pianos and violins, as well as the sheet music from Mozart’s time. The visit didn’t convince Cooper to start practicing an instrument, but we’re still working on that…..

This is The Getreidegasse, a famous shopping street in Old Town Salzburg.DSC_0104DSC_0105Many merchants still use the old signs that were hung hundreds of years ago, before people could read. DSC_0128 DSC_0126  DSC_0110DSC_0112 DSC_0108  Mozart rubber duckies…OK, I guess I have a small problem with souvenirs…..

DSC_0113 Here, street artists are playing “Silent Night’, for which Salzburg is famous for,– and also happens to be my VERY favorite hymn at Christmas. “Silent Night,” was performed for the first time in the chapel in Oberndorf near Salzburg on Christmas Eve in 1818. The lyrics were written by the Salzburg pastor, Joseph Mohr. We didn’t visit the chapel, but we learned a little bit about the song’s origin:  Salzburg was extremely destitute in the early 1800’s, the salt trade had practically broken down during the Napoleonic War. Apparently, there was not even enough money in Oberndorf to replace the bellows on the organ damaged by mice. Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber composed a song to be accompanied by guitar and sang “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. Two hundred years later, the song has been translated into over 170 languages and is one of the most well-known songs of all time. (And no, I did not break into the alto harmony on the street and embarrass my boys,…..although I was singing it in my head….)

There was an incredible amount of fog, so we didn’t have the best view of the Salzach River or its banks… DSC_0123 But we did get a close look at the ‘love locks’ attached to the railing on the pedestrian bridge. DSC_0122 DSC_0120 DSC_0116I looked up this ritual of affixing padlocks to bridges as a symbol of a couple’s love: Some people say it began in Rome (the bridge Ponte Milvio) and can be attributed to the 1992 book Three meters above the sky by Italian author Frederico Moccia. Cooper and Chris weren’t very interested in the locks, but Jack and I tried to read some of the inscriptions — checking out the different languages, the countries the couples came from, and the year the lock was attached.

The fog that kept us from seeing the city almost grounded us at the Salzburg Airport that night, but we managed to get out and get home to NL (thankfullly). It was a great trip on so many ski(3)

Because I really have to do some Dutch homework (part of a New Year’s Resolution for 2014), I am going to close for now, and check in about our “Christmas ham from Rotterdam”, as well as Brugge and “Oudejaarsavond” (New Year’s Eve) in Part II of this post…..





A month in pictures…

IMG_0297The seasons are changing, school is busy, and the holidays are upon us ….bottom line is: I don’t always have the time– (clarification: ‘make’ the time)– to write… This time I am using the ‘quick and dirty’ method: lots of photos with brief descriptions. (Because we all like that part the best anyway, right?)

As I write this, it is December 1st….here that would be 1 December. When I looked back through my pictures from the last month, I realized how full (busy?) life has been. Our day to day has focused much less on transitioning, and much more on enjoying our day to day life, the friends we have made, and the traditions, people and places around us (including visitors!!). Here is a sampling of what we’ve been up to since the end of October:

Unbeknownst to me, people celebrate Halloween in Amsterdam. In particular, a group of expats work with local Dutch families, and help the American kids with maintaining their tradition of trick or treating. From the pictures, you can tell our costumes were kind of ‘thrown together’ (because we decided to do this the DAY of Halloween…)halloween pic DSC_0009 DSC_0005Jack borrowed a baseball costume from his friends from San Francisco (it was a little tight), and Cooper threw a wig on, borrowed a friend’s shirt and called himself the ‘crazy dentist’. OK! (I am piggy-backing Jack at the end because this was his first day out of his cast…too much walking).

On to November, and our back to back weekends in Koln (Cologne) and Manchester.DSC_0039 DSC_0143 DSC_0156 I already blogged about this, so no need for details. Both were fantastic– ticking countries off as we go….

As the seasons change here, it is getting wetter, colder, and darker on a daily basis. We are used to this coming from Portland, but it seems even more extreme here. My walks with Rooney have been beautiful in the park. Some mornings we even get frost.IMG_0294 IMG_0310 IMG_0339A lot of the hedges here aren’t evergreen bushes, so even the sides of the road change color. It’s beautiful as you drive.

Colder weather also means more indoor activities….These pics are from a trip we took on an in-service day/ day off from school (there are less of those here than in Oregon, but they still occur). We traveled to the Natural History Museum in Leiden with a few of Jack’s friends and their siblings.DSC_0106 DSC_0107DSC_0120 DSC_0115 DSC_0110 DSC_0104 DSC_0100

In the past 2 months, Jack has also started drum lessons… if I knew how to download a video I would include one, but here he is composing some rhythms to practice. IMG_0312 He loves his teacher, who is VERY supportive and upbeat. I love having a musician in the house!

Late November brought the arrival of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, a new tradition for us. I encourage you to read about this tradition if you are curious. It is very different than Santa, and is not related to Christmas Day at all. Briefly, Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain with his helpers– Zwarte Piets–, and his horse. He intermittently provides gifts in childrens’ shoes at night– from late November through December 5th. In the shop windows, there are a lot of representations of the characters involvedIMG_0343 DSC_0129

ALL over the Netherlands there are parades and celebrations as he ‘comes into town’ (it is even covered on TV and in the news). Sometimes he’ll come across the water in a boat. In Laren, there was a parade, and our mayor greeted him on the front steps of the Prinsemarij in the center of town. DSC_0105 There were lots of songs, and many children dressed in the likeness of the “Piet” and Sinterklaas. The whole presentation was in Dutch of course (a chance to practice listening…) but despite the language barrier it was a lot of fun to experience the town enjoying this annual event together.DSC_0098 DSC_0110 DSC_0117

Our boys gave up their ‘belief in magical things’ in the last few years, but decided they’d try their luck with putting their shoes out anyway. I told them that since they used to leave notes for Santa every year, perhaps Sinterklaas would like a note as well. I love that they wrote their notes in Dutch….IMG_0305

And guess what? Sinterklaas did come! Only a few times….and he wrote back!. He brought some treatsDSC_0097as well as some non-traditional gifts, like Barcelona socks. IMG_0314 Looks like Sinterklaas has an employee discount.

And speaking of Barcelona…..Chris got tickets to the Barcelona v. Ajax match last week. I gave up my ticket so Jack could invite a friend for an early birthday present. The match was incredible…Ajax was not expected to win, and did 2-1. The boys and Jack’s friend, Julian, were routing for Barca, but Chris encouraged them to keep their jackets on over their jerseys. Chris had trouble taking pictures because the crowd was nuts, but managed to capture this one… I LOVE Julian’s face. IMG_0330 That’s a ‘football-crazy’ kid….(Nike term for the target consumer)….

Just yesterday we had our first ‘friends from home’ visit as the Klarp family came through Amsterdam on a European vacation. They stayed in Amsterdam for a few nights, and then came out to Laren yesterday to see what village life was like in the Netherlands. It was a lot of fun walking them around town (the weather cooperated, which was nice!), and sharing our day to day life/experiences with them. We brought them to the deer park in the center of town DSC_0124 horses withthe klarps and visited the horses around the corner. There were some ‘must dos’….like getting a family picture in front of our windmill DSC_0122; trying the traditional “olliebollen” -deep fried dough covered in powdered-sugar-DSC_0127 (not so easy to eat, but VERY tasty…..); and a visit to our town ice skating rink and poffertjes stand that is built in the center of town annually for the winter season.DSC_0130
It was really great to see them. We caught up on life in Oak Hills, we were able to hear about their trip through Paris and London, and also share about our life as (now official) residents in the Netherlands. DSC_0138

The dark and cold can definitely get you down, but as December begins and we head into the Christmas season here….IMG_0344 IMG_0346 I can honestly say that we are really enjoying all that this experience has had to offer. I look forward to the coming weeks and days, as we celebrate Jack’s 10th birthday, travel to Austria to ski, and experience our first Christmas here in Europe. Missing family, friends and the familiarity of home is a given, but remembering what we have in the bigger picture is always the key…..(reflecting on the pictures I just posted, it is easier to do that!!)

Thank you for sharing it with me.

DSC_0007 Tot ziens!