It’s Our 1 Year Anniversary!

As we have reached the first anniversary of our move to The Netherlands, I thought it was appropriate to take a minute to reflect on the past year and look toward the coming one.

This year began with a whirlwind of emotions-sadness to leave the place that we have called home for so long and the people that we care about, anxiety over leaving some of our things (mainly our house) behind and trying to begin the process of getting things arranged and settled here and begin at a new school, frustration over not understanding the language or knowing where or how to find things (or work our appliances!), excitement over being in a new place and getting to explore areas around Europe, utter chaos of trying to pick furnishings and put them all together and get the house set up so that we could function even without our shipment boxes with all of our things, and fear of getting lost or making a mistake in our new surroundings.  All in all, it was a stressful time.  At that exact moment in time one year ago, I really couldn’t have told you how this would all work out.

A few weeks into the journey, we started school and began to meet some people.  It was a bit lonely in the beginning as we tried to fit in among people who were already friends and comfortable in the surroundings.  For me, I felt isolated at the house a lot in the beginning.  I was a little scared to venture out and didn’t have a lot of people to venture out with.  There was still a lot of arranging and paperwork that needed to be done to register here, so we never quite felt settled.  In addition, we were dealing with some difficulties with the kids.  Our oldest seemed to just be numb and was showing little emotion and our youngest was exploding with anger and frustration and having a meltdown everywhere we went.  We were really wondering what we had done to our kids and feeling pretty down about it.

Finally, around month 2, our belongings arrived and we could actually arrange the house to feel more like a permanent home.  In addition, I was getting more involved at the school and with other parents.  I began my tennis lessons, joined a Bunco group and a book club and was doing some social activities.  The kids seemed to be settling in a little and some of the previous issues were beginning to resolve themselves.  Still, I would look at some of the people that I met that had already been here a year or more and see how comfortable they seemed navigating around and going places and how happy their kids seemed to be, and I felt like we would never get there.

By about month 4, I finally got my car which made getting to some places and tackling some tasks a lot easier.  We had been able to do some nice traveling and we all continued to make friends, so it seemed like things were going pretty well.  I was even feeling a bit more comfortable navigating around.

In month 5, we went back to the states for a brief visit.  After that, we had a resurgence in the emotional issues with our kids.  In addition, we came back to winter and, in The Netherlands, that means short days and very little sun.  Things definitely felt a little down, but we kept plugging along.

As we rounded the corner into month 7, we were able to head to sunny Portugal which was a much-needed break.  Now the days were longer and things were beginning to bloom.  It definitely put us in a better frame of mind.

By month 8 and 9, we were out and about a lot more.  We were doing a lot of socializing, and I felt pretty good about things.  Our youngest child seemed to be doing well and was enjoying things.  Our oldest still seemed to struggle with feeling down, though a big portion of that was the amount of homework being assigned and a lack of free time.

Finally, at month 10, I had to do some longer distance driving and navigating around some other places.  Suddenly, I realized that I had made it to where all those friends who had already been here a year were at when I thought I would never get there.  I was fairly comfortable going places, I knew my way around our city and where to find things, I had some knowledge of the language and wasn’t as worried about interacting with locals or making a mistake.  I felt like I had a strong social group and was going to be fine.  Then, we had a slight setback when I found out that almost every single member of the said social group was moving.  I really began to worry about how I would handle the upcoming year and some of the old panic and loneliness began to creep back in.

Now, as we hit the one year mark, am I saying things are not good?  No-for the most part we really like the area we live in, we enjoy the activities and vacation spots that we have available to us and we look forward to meeting new people this year.  So am I saying everything is great?  No-there are still times that I feel a little uncomfortable and out of place, there are still emotional struggles with the children, and there are still moments of doubt and uncertainty about the future.  I guess it’s just like many things in life; we just have to take it one step at a time, keep positive and enjoy ourselves as much as we can.  At one year, I am confident that we can handle things and that there is still much to look forward to.

So, as year 2 begins, what do we hope to accomplish this year?

  1. Learn more Dutch
  2. Visit more places (we’ve got some really great vacations and day trips on the horizon that we are really looking forward to).
  3. Take some biking excursions and/or work up a biking group with some friends.
  4. Take a small ladies trip or do some other exploring locally with friends.

Happy 1 Year Anniversary to us (and to this page) and Here’s to Year 2!!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Markets?!)

Christmas is upon us and it’s a little different here in The Netherlands.  There are Christmas decorations and lights though nothing to the magnitude of the displays in the US.  There are Santa decorations here and there but no Santa at the mall or on street corners ringing a bell.  The radio has all Christmas music stations just like in the US and we found a store that was like Christmas on crack with tons of snow village displays, trees, decorations and more.  There aren’t many Christmas parties or specifically Christmas themed events but there are ice rinks, special shows, and light displays.  And of course, tis the season for Christmas markets in Europe, so we had to check some out.

First, I went to a small Scandinavian market.  Not many exhibitors at this one, but there were some nice things and it was held inside the Norse church in Rotterdam which was very interesting.

Next, we ventured to Brugge, Belgium.  Here the Christmas market was outdoors and spread into several sections of the city.  They had some craft and artisan vendors but there were a lot of food vendors as well as an outdoor ice rink and several midway-style rides and games.  We bought a lace ornament for our Christmas tree and some candy coated peanuts and almonds.  And while everyone else had some hot chocolate, I had some gluhwein, a staple of the Christmas market. (for those wondering, it’s essentially a hot, spiced red wine).


Finally, we went to Monschau, Germany.  This market consisted of several areas of market stalls spread all over the city.  There were a lot of vendors selling artisan products as well as cheeses, candies, gingerbread confections, breads and of course a lot of food and drink vendors.  Some stalls were inside city buildings and many of the shops around the town were open as well including a three-story Christmas store.  We bought some cheese at this one and then we decided to get out of the cold and eat at one of the restaurants.  Monschau is well known for their mustard so I tried the schnitzel with mustard sauce.  It was a spicy brown style mustard which was good-even the kids liked it.  We also tried their famous dessert Monschauer dütchen which was essentially a hardened cake shaped like a cone with vanilla ice cream inside-no one was very excited about this one.  But our favorite part was trying some chestnuts roasted on an open fire, or rather, in a large kettle type drum used for cooking chestnuts.  We had never had them before and they were good in a strange sort of way.   Monschau definitely had some European charm with the half-timbered buildings which was enhanced by the snow on the ground and the twinkling Christmas lights and garland strung everywhere.


Overall though, I think that the Christmas markets may not live up to their “romantic European” hype.  Instead, they are sort of like the fair-you pay to park, pay to get in, pay if you want to buy anything and pay for food which ends up being the highlight of the adventure anyway.   But they are a nice excursion for a weekend in December if you don’t mind being a little cold.  We’re already scouting out a few that we want to check out next year as well as some other winter events.  So, for this year, I raise a glass of gluhwein and wish you all a Merry Christmas!



Last weekend we took a drive to Belgium to an ice sculpture exhibit.  While there we decided to ride the ice slide which might have more aptly been named the slide of definite injury and possible death.  Essentially this was a decent sized curved slide made of ice.  There were small cafeteria-style trays at the bottom of the slide for you to sit on as you came down.  There was not, however, any signage indicating the dangers of the slide or that you ride at your own risk.  There was also no employee regulating the traffic flow on the slide.  Now, I can tell you that cafeteria trays plus downward sloped ice are very, very fast.  I can also tell you that children going down ice that fast can get both scared and hurt, and adults going down ice that fast will likely break something while pretending to be neither scared nor hurt!  Luckily we escaped with just one smashed finger that has healed quickly, but we witnessed large adults shooting off the slide and slamming into the floor on their sides, backs and faces.  We also watched a pregnant woman shoot off and land on all fours, barely avoiding having her stomach hit the ground.  And this was all we could observe at the bottom before having to get out of the area for fear of being knocked over by one of the sliders as they performed their aerial dismount.

Now imagine this slide in the US-no disclaimer, no monitoring; one of those victims of the slide would have sued before they even hit the ground!  This isn’t the first time that we have witnessed this kind of thing in Europe.  Here it seems very unregulated while in the US there is a disclaimer on everything.  But, interestingly enough, here in The Netherlands, we have liability insurance which protects us from liability on everything from our dog biting someone to our kids breaking a window with their ball.  It even protects us if we ruin our friend’s furnishings while eating at a party at their house!  Now I’m not saying this insurance doesn’t exist in the US, but it doesn’t cost too much here and it seems that most everyone has it unlike in the US.  Now, I can only assume there is something like liability insurance for the company providing rides such as the ice slide in addition to the fact that the culture is just not as prone to suing, but maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe in Europe, they just figure if you are dumb enough to sled down a slide made of ice on a tray then you just have to accept the consequences and they don’t need to post a sign to explain that!

It Ain’t Easy, But Friends Help

Lest you think that moving your family to a foreign country is easy, let me enlighten you.  Is it hard being a stranger is a new culture?  Yes.  Is it hard not understanding the language?  Yes.  Is it hard not knowing where to find things or finding that things are just different?  Yes.  Is it hard to navigate through all the differences and new things?  Yes.  But all of that pales in comparison to the emotional struggle-most of which involves our children.  On an almost daily basis, we struggle with one or more of our children as they attempt to cope with the changes their lives have undergone.  As a result, on an almost daily basis, I struggle with the guilt of whether or not this was the right decision, or if I have systematically altered my children’s personalities and changed the course of their lives in a negative way forever;  and that’s a lot of guilt!  This constant state of living in an emotionally charged existence puts a strain on yourself and all of your relationships.  It’s a whole different level of hard.

The good news is that if you look and open yourself up, there are other people who are going through or have gone through the same thing.  I’m not sure how I would survive these ups and downs if we hadn’t connected with a group of other expats through the school.  Just being able to talk to these women (and laugh a little) and hear that they have gone through the same thing and that their kids have gone through the same thing and displayed the same behaviors, lightens the load a little.  Will this solve the issues?  No, of course not.  Will this make all of my guilt go away?  A wonderful thought, but no.  But, at least for a few minutes, it might help lessen that guilt and provide a ray of hope that this will pass; that we will survive and that someday our kids will be happy and thanking us (not murdering us in our sleep over unforgiven emotional scars)!  So, for now, here’s to friends, empathy, support and someday!



Baby Steps- Strong Legs Required

Today, I took a baby step toward making a life here.  I went to the grocery store-alone and On My Bike!!!  This may sound like no big deal, but, for me, stepping out on my own in another country is huge.  And, in fact, I felt like it was a multistep process.

Step one-get on the bike path and make it to the store-check.  Step two-lock my bike in an appropriate “parking spot”-check.  Step three-get in the store and put a Euro in to use a shopping cart-check.  Step four-pull up my app that allows me to scan as I go and pay at self-check at the end-check (one of the machines wasn’t working so this almost sent me into a panic!).  Step five-maneuver around the other shoppers and get what I need whilst scanning and loading my shopping bags-check.  Step six-use my phone translator to translate a few items that I haven’t learned yet-check.  Step seven-successfully use the produce scale to weigh and print a ticket for scanning the item-check.  Step eight-return the scanner to download my purchases and then scan my app and pay-check.  Step nine-return my cart successfully so that I can have my Euro back-check.  Now here’s where it gets tricky; step ten-carry my three very large and heavy bags to my bike and get them loaded on.  This was a bit of a struggle.  Two bags went into the carrier that I have attached to my bike, but the other bag had to hang on my handlebar.  Nonetheless, I got them on and the bike unlocked-check.  Step eleven-and here’s where I was really panicking because this bike was weighted down-balance the bike and pedal hard enough to get home with that extra weight-check.  To complete this process, strong legs were required!

But here’s the funny part-strong legs weren’t just required for the pedaling.  I felt like I needed “strong legs” to get through the whole eleven step process.  I may or may not have had to talk quietly to myself today to reassure myself that I was, in fact, going to successfully complete this, but I did it.  My legs, taking those baby steps, were strong enough to get me through.  Perhaps, in a future step, I’ll need more strength, and I won’t quite make it.  But, if I keep trying and moving forward, I’ll make my legs stronger, and by the time I’m done with this experience in my life, man will I have some “strong legs” to stand on!


The Container Has Arrived-Oh Happy Day…Right?

So, our belongings have finally arrived!  Watching all of those boxes being loaded into the house was so exciting.  I could hardly wait to open them up and start getting our things out.  All of our stuff was finally here!  But what I didn’t anticipate, was, that with that sense of relief and joy, there was another feeling.  Because as I relished the fact that all of our stuff was here, it also dawned on me that all of our stuff was here, meaning that this was, in fact, a permanent move and not just some temporary trip.  And reality set in.  The joy was tempered with some sadness, proving that you can feel two polar emotions at once.  Are we happy our things are here and will life be much easier with them? Absolutely!  Does that mean that life is easy and every day is positive?  Nope!  Just another part of the misadventure of being an Expat.

Technology Is a Life Saver

I am by no means a techie nor am I even a fan of technology at times but I will say that surviving in another country is so much easier with technology.  If we don’t know where to go, we pull out our Google maps or use the navigational system in the car-it will even tell us when a speed cam is coming up.  If we don’t know what something means, we can pull up our translator app and either type in a word or scan an entire area of text and get a translation.  If we are missing someone and want to communicate, we just pick up the phone or computer and reach out through messenger for a video phone call (though some people do need constant reminders that there is a time difference!).  We can watch our American TV shows through Hulu and Netflix here, and if we don’t know what store to go to for a particular item, we can just pull up an online site with translation assist and buy what we need.

I may be no fan of technology but I’m super glad we have it-it may just be what helps us to survive!


*Disclaimer-we have not tried to translate “Where can I find a cheeseburger.”

Bikes Galore

To say that biking is a way of life in The Netherlands would probably be an understatement.  There are bike lanes everywhere, there are specific rules regarding traffic and bikes and at any time you can see people of all ages biking (not to mention the hundreds of bikes at the bike racks).  And then there is the bike store-I truly had no idea that picking a bike was such a scientific process.  In my mind, you go into the store and you pick a bike that looks nice and is in your price range.  It probably has some speeds but those don’t matter too much because you will mostly pick one and stick with it.  Not here….the store was filled with hundreds of bikes.  The bike salesmen were walking around much like you would find at a car lot.  Their purpose seemed to be to help you test the bike to make sure it is the appropriate fit.  You see, apparently, bikes come in different sizes (frame size and wheel size) based on your height, and there are male and female versions of the bike.  Once you have determined the correct size of bike that you need, you must then have the bike serviced to make sure that the seat is at the right height level so that you can sit up straight, reach the floor but not have your knees come up too high.  And I’m not even going to tell you the pricing levels for bikes (let’s just say it’s much more than the Walmart versions I have purchased at home).  Also, you must buy a heavy duty bike lock and if you want to carry things on your bike you will need a basket, cart or bag.  It was a lengthy process but in the end, we are all now proud owners of Dutch bikes.  Let the biking begin!


Special Delivery

So I recently ordered some items, including a large area rug, online through an Amazon type site in The Netherlands.  The rug was supposed to arrive in two days so imagine my surprise, when the next day at lunch, I received a call from an unknown Dutch number.  It was the store that the rug was coming from.  They had received the order from the website but noticed by our address that we live just a few streets over from one of the employees/managers and wanted to know if he could bring it by on his way home from work that evening.  So, sure enough, we received our rug a day early.  Can’t imagine that happening in the US!

Ikea-Mecca of All Things or Hell on Earth

During our first week here in The Netherlands, we were at Ikea (for at least one or more hours each time) on 5 days.  That’s 5 days out of 7!  Now I had never been to an Ikea before.  Upon entering our Ikea here (by the way, the first time was about 5 hours after stepping off the plane), the sense of overwhelming decisions was apparent.  I’m not sure how to describe Ikea except that it has both endless choices and yet no real variety of options.  The hoards of people, similarly wandering around trying to make decisions, does not help the overwhelming feeling.

Let me describe Ikea’s setup.  In addition to being an all-consuming vortex of chaotic decision making, Ikea also sports a cafeteria and deli as well as a check in play area for kids in an attempt to make sure that you never need to leave.  They have a warehouse where you can pick up all the parts needed for your selected furnishings, or you can pay the store to pick it all up for you.  And then there is the massive checkout line which Ikea has down to a science.  The line moves at a good clip thanks to the multitude of check out registers and the TV monitor which informs you which line you should head to.  In total, Ikea has a map showing nearly 30 showrooms/shopping areas and all the shortcut paths you can take to arrive at different areas.  You might have better luck reading a subway route map.



On our first trip, we had one goal-get beds so that we had somewhere to sleep.  We managed to select beds through the fog of jet lag and no sleep, but if we had the beds delivered on that day rather than waiting until we had selected the other big items like wardrobes, couches and desks, then the delivery charge would be double (where is our big truck when we need it).  So, bright and early the next morning we went back to Ikea to attempt to make more decisions.  Did I mention that the process of making decisions with overwhelming choices and hoards of people, is magically enhanced by your kids who do not want to stand around while you make decisions?  In fact, those kids just want to make sure that it is nearly impossible for you to think through any decision coherently!  Nonetheless, we did make decisions.  So after seven days of five Ikea trips, two furniture deliveries, a couple of trips of stuffing the car to the brim (I mean seriously, the kids had rugs squished in next to their faces in the backseat) and a couple of times in the return line (take a number and wait forever…you would think it was a DMV), we had the furnishings we needed to set up the house.

Now the real fun began.  You see, Ikea furniture comes in as many pieces as humanely possible-none of which are labeled-and instructions that use as little directional information as possible.  So those beds that we wanted for the first day, well they didn’t get put together until about day 5.  In fact, it took three days of a handyman working 8 or more hours a day, plus putting together several more pieces on our own, and a couple of furniture-related injuries, to get it all done.  We currently still have the outdoor furniture to do, but as those require an electric screwdriver and a wrench, both of which are still on that darn boat with the rest of our things, they will have to wait.

So after feeling like Ikea was our home and our sole supplier of life for the first week of our time here, I am happy to report we haven’t been at all in a week, and now I am left wondering if Ikea is a mecca of everything I need or just hell on Earth.  The jury is still out, but I’m not in a rush to get back (though my kid keeps asking when we get to go eat at Ikea again!).

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