10 things that are awesome right now

These are the hard times seasoned expats talk about. Missing out on simple gestures like gift swaps with siblings, shopping the lightening deals on Amazon, and signing up for who brings the bread rolls and who is on pie duty. The hustle and bustle of fitting in your own immediate family fun, while frantically and excitedly running off to the ‘rents and then to the in-laws.

Truth be told, I’m missing my family desperately. I totally wish I was there with them right this very second, but understand why we are apart and the value it holds. We are here in Belgium (only) three-ish years. Three big years to do big crazy things we could never do or see living in central Indiana. But yes, three big years away from so much family and friends that are as good as family.

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So to compensate, I’m listing 10 things I’m thankful for right this very second. Random little bits, just off the top of my head, with as little thought involved per usual:

1. I have dedicated speakers in my kitchen (I got for my birthday) where I can plug in my computer, tune into NPR (English speaking!), and listen to American talk radio while I prep food. Since we’re somehow roundaboutly connected through a server computer thingy in Indy, my Pandora ads include Fox59 highlights, and I totally know Ray Cortopassi is still on my side.

2. Extra freezer and fridge space in the garage to supplement my bitty baby dorm-room sized European appliances in the kitchen. It’s a big deal, you guys.

3. Michael is always a willing participant to my weekend travel plans. Even though he works extremely hard all week and probably just wants to veg out on Saturday and Sunday, he’s still always (mostly) up for any adventures that get me out of the house. Last week I had him drive the family into France for a warehouse cookware sale, and this week I plan on him driving us into Germany for a Christmas market. Frohe Weihnachten!

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4. My kids are not picky eater. Meaning, they’ll try anything once, and sometimes not like it at all. But they will always try it. And almost always like it. Also – food here is different, but in a mostly good way. But still, salsa and peanut butter be gone.

5. We have a working fireplace, something i haven’t had since a child and it’s a total dream to fire it up every chance we get.

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6. I found the one store (gas station!) in town that sells Kraft mac n’ cheese. It’s only $4 a box (complete eyeroll). But at least we can obtain it in the event of an emergency or 5th birthday.

7. Our netflix is hooked up and in good working order (which is actually a really big deal here, it’s not common). We’re (I’m) currently binging on Gilmore Girls, House MD, Hotel Impossible and Sons of Anarchy. Whatcha else got for me, hobos? It might be a long winter and I need to be prepared….

8. Today I took Paul to the doctor. It was our first time for this sort of thing and I’m glad to finally have it under our belt. It went much more smoothly than expected, and ho-boy health care in Belgium is wildly and beautifully different compared to the approach and protocol in the US. Also, I’m not complaining. I could (and probably should) write a whole post dedicated to this experience.

9. I feel like I’ve crossed a very *small* social hurdle. Slowly but surely, I’m finding my way and getting involved in activities that don’t directly revolve around my children. Think book club, signing up for running races this Spring, Mums night out, ect. It’s nothing major, but it does add up.

10. I wake up every morning and don’t feel complete loneliness. This is not me being dramatic, this is me being real. Moving away and across the globe from everything I have ever known has been difficult. I am by no means completely assimilated, I’ve just started to feel a shift in the tide.

So I’m doing ok. Things are looking up, possibly borderline awesome.

A pilgrimage to the motherland (AMSTERDAM! For the weekend)!

When we told our friends and family back in West Michigan that we were planning to move to Belgium, inevitably it would come up and they would say “you’ll be so close to the motherland!”.

You see, I’m 100% Dutch. My husband Michael is *mostly* Dutch (percentages unknown, I’ve decided I still love him, despite my non-Dutch inherited last name, le sigh).

And a freakish amount of our friends are Dutch. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Tall as the day is loooooong. My people you know who you are.

Because if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much. Am I right?

So when my mother-in-law planned her first visit to Belgium over the kid’s fall break, I knew we needed to take the family to see the montherland for a long weekend.

DAY 1:

We left Belgium late morning, en-route to a small dutch town called Huizen, which is only about two and a half hours from Brussels by car. I rented an old farmhouse for our group of seven through Airbnb, and it did not disappoint.

For our large family, staying in homes and apartments through Airbnb has been the only way I’ve found to travel cost-effectively through Europe. A house (and kitchen) to ourselves with a place for the kids to run? Well that beats two one-room hotel rooms (both economically and spatially) any day of the week.

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You guys, this view is what used to be the stables, where they kept the horses. I think it cleaned up well, don’t you?

After we settled into our home away from home, we drove into the quaint little town of Laren and did some window shopping.

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A domestic flock of deer in the middle of town? Why the heck not! (and where is my stale loaf of bread?!)

Eventually we wore ourselves hungry and exhausted, and found a great little pizza place that didn’t necessitate a reservation. It was also open at 5:30pm, which if you’ve ever been to Europe you know is like the holy grail of family dining with little kids. After dinner we drove back “home” and enjoyed an early to bed kind of night, because we had an early to rise kinda morning ahead of us.

DAY 2:

Trial and error has taught me that the best way for my family to travel is to have one structured activity planed in the city we’re exploring, and then a few other “if we get to it, we get to it” spots to hit up depending on everybody’s mood and attention span. And since my mother-in-law loves to bikes, I booked us for a three hour tour with We Bike Amsterdam. Because when in Amsterdam…

So bright and early in the morning, we left Huizen and picked up a quick 30 minute commuter train ride into the city.

While I’ll never do it justice in this post, our short time spent with our guide Thijs (co-owner of We Bike Amsterdam) was by far the highlight of the weekend. What I loved best about his tour was that he skipped many of the major tourist attractions, but instead took us though the many backstreets of the city.

He was beyond patient with our crew (we were a group of 7, four of which were little kids, one very spry 70 year old,  and oh and I hadn’t been on a bike in like 10 years), which means we became a traveling sideshow. Thijs was amazing, making many intentional stops to tell us about the history of the city, and pointing out interesting architectural features for the endless warehouses we encountered.

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I honestly cannot say enough good about We Bike Amsterdam, and I cannot recommend them enough. Who wants to visit Amsterdam? I know a bike tour….

After biking, we had a picnic lunch on the back lawns of the Rijksmuseum, where there is a fantastic free playground for kids. Because after you bike for three hours, you need to blow off steam, right?

Dinner was at yet another (yes we love it, and it’s a cheap way to feed a crowd) pizza place. We dined at La Perla, and I would highly recommend it for families with kids when visiting Amsterdam. But please, take the time to call ahead to make a reservation so you’re not disappointed – it’s a small space. 

DAY 3:

The third day of our trip we only had one goal: tour the Anne Frank House. Because I knew it was somewhat of a tourist “hot spot”, I admittedly purchased tickets the minute I knew we were planning a trip to Amsterdam, about 2 months in advance.

Protip: buying tickets in advance is an absolute must, especially if you have children. The exhibit is somewhat small and contained, and you weave from room to room in a single-file line at times. If you know you want to visit the house (which I highly recommend), book tickets in advance and you’ll save yourself a few hours standing in line outside.

And it wouldn’t be an accurate review if I failed to mention that I took my 4 kids (ages 10, 7, 5 and 2) through the house. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have taken the younger two through. Maybe it was because I wanted to believe that they could be well-behaved to handle it, or I didn’t really know what I was walking into. But regardless, my advice is that it’s a somber and somewhat religious experience, so gauge your children’s maturity.  I personally spent a lot of time begging the boys to be quite, as to not disturb other guests.

Additionally, I would also highly recommend reading the book A pilgrimage to the motherland (AMSTERDAM! For the weekend)!, as having Anne’s story and journey very fresh in my mind made it all that more real. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to share from the house or museum, as they kindly request no photos and I obliged.

After the Anne Frank house, our crew headed to the The Pancake Bakery, a place absolutely perfect for both large parties and young kids.

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What we loved here was that they totally catered to children, had attentive service, and really tasty comfort food. I would recommend calling in for a reservation, as I know the house gets packed on the weekends.

After a filling up on a traditional Dutch pancake lunch, we rolled on out onto the city streets for a few last minute souvenir shopping moments (cheese slicers and tulip bulbs!) and a bit of sight seeing as we headed back to the train station.

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(Yes, he totally leaned in and fell asleep on that old lady’s arm. And yes, she loved every minute of it.)

It was a action packed, super fun weekend, and I absolutely cannot wait to come back now that I’ve gotten a better lay of the motherland.

So who’s next? Which of my Dutch friends can I show off my new pride and joy?

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