Monday, June 3, 2019

expat life : our first year(ish) in the netherlands!


"So how are you doing over there?!?!?!"

It's a common and innocent question that, as an expat, you get all the time.  I usually give an honest answer, which is:  "Okay!"

We are okay.

Some days we LOVE it here in the Netherlands, if the sun is shining, if we've gone on a long bike ride, if we've finally made it to a museum or park we've been talking about for months.  With three kids we tend to stay close to home, but sometimes we venture out and see the cool stuff.  Having our third baby just before we moved here probably took a bit of the adventure out of our experience.  We rent a house in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts (it kills the city girl in me to write 'suburbs') because when we were moving I couldn't imagine functioning in the bustling city center with an infant and two small kids! 

Other days I long for home and stare at the calendar wanting it to magically jump ahead to the end of our assignment.

just waiting for the bus, living our best lives.
Please don't read this as anything other than me being real.  YES, I am very grateful that we get to travel around to other countries and see new places with the kids. The school year is structured a bit differently here (shorter summer, more long breaks during the school year) so we take advantage of traveling during those breaks. I live for our adventures! But the fact is that the exciting adventures are 5% of our time here. The rest is just normal life.

At four months into our assignment I shared my thoughts in this post. The first four months were hard.

After six months things really started feeling more comfortable here.

After nine months I felt confident, even!

After nearly a year and a half? The shimmer has worn off a bit. Life is so much easier, but not as exciting, if that makes sense.  There is a flow of normalcy to our world now.

A few of the things I've learned here, about Dutch life and about myself...

1.  No, I'll probably never stop missing Target.

2.  I do miss seeing people lose their s*** sometimes. The Dutch seem very stoic and very practical.  This is nice...but also, sometimes maddening!  They will matter-of-factly point out when you are doing something against the rules, whether those rules be "official" or simply rules they believe all people should just follow.  Example : If it is a bit chilly and you aren't wearing a scarf they will point out your error.  Dress appropriately for all weather, all the time. Use the correct bike lanes. Enter bus from front and exit in the back. If you are carrying more than two grocery bags it is too much food.  Et cetera.

3. I looooooooove riding my bicycle and think all cities should have bike lanes like the Netherlands has.  It is awesome!

4.  People seem healthier here, in general.  I guess everyone is just biking everywhere and not buying very much food.  (see #8!) 

There are adventures to foreign lands, but mostly it is just our everyday walking along the canals every day with Whit.
5 . Stores have VERY limited hours. For example, Sundays and Mondays most stores don't open until noon, grocery stores are not open past ten or open late on Sundays, so you definitely need to get your stuff while you can!

6.  On that note, if you don't buy your bread before 6pm you might not get bread. Also, if you don't eat it in a few days you'll need more bread, as it gets moldy fast!

7.  There is one facing of bagels in the grocery store (branded "American bagels") and if you want microwave popcorn you have two options : sweet or salty. However, there is an entire 4 ft section of mayonnaise! Big love for mayonnaise here.  And sprinkles!  

A couple dear friends I have made. 

8.  While I'm on this whole grocery store tangent : I ALWAYS seem to have have the most groceries in my cart of anyone in line.  An elderly Dutch woman asked me in a concerned voice the other day, "Where will you put all of that?" as she gestured at my overflowing shopping cart.  (The refrigerators here are tiny! And you can't buy in bulk.) Most people here go by the philosophy of "buy what you need for the day and then come back tomorrow."  I guess they don't have three kids, one being a baby who really hates being in a cart.  Side note: None of the carts here have seat buckles!  And they require a coin to ensure you always return it to the corral.  Also, make sure you bring your bags as you'll pay for new ones - no free bags 'round here.

having friends + family come visit is THE BEST when you're an expat!
9. Amsterdam is not the super trashy, horrifyingly vulgar place some Americans think it is...even the Red Light district.  It is pretty clean here, and I have felt very safe in general!  People are quiet and mainly keep to themselves. Any loud crazies in Amsterdam are usually tourists. If you've been to Bourbon St. in New Orleans...well, it is nothing like that. I adore New Orleans, it is one of my top five favorite cities, but it is full of drama and interesting characters! Amsterdam has tourists and the Dutch. (see #2) 

10.  So much daylight!  (But not necessarily sunlight.)  In the spring and summer it is bright out from 5am until 11pm.  Literally bright as day.  It is confusing for the kids at bedtime.  Blackout shades are a must.

5am. So bright!

11.  Flower and plant selection is SO GOOD HERE.  Quite inexpensive, and extra lovely!  There is no excuse not to buy yourself fresh flowers all the time. 

I try to get a fresh bouquet every week!
12.  We won't be an expat family for life - or probably even more than a few years.  Some fall in love with this expat life and the perks that go with it (and there are many!) Financially, if you move abroad on a corporate expat package it can be an amazing gift! That was one of our main reasons we took this assignment. Our goal is to be fully debt-free by the time we turn 40, and get back to the States with our mortgage completely paid off. Because of this goal we chose a modest home here within our expat home allowance (and collect rent on our home in the US to fast-track the mortgage pay down.) We drive the only car option we were given in the package (a super boring station wagon that we can barely squeeze our tiny blondies into.)  I still buy inexpensive clothes and accessories. We still operate by our Dave Ramsey "cash envelope system" - which doesn't work quite as well here, thanks to many Dutch cashless lanes. (Better have your PIN card!) The only things we DO spend more money on here than we used to are travel and babysitting!

I share all that to say : expat life is different for everyone!!!!  It all depends on what you want to get out of it. You make choices that work for your family and situation and goals. You might take your compensation package and add your normal mortgage spending to live a more stylish European lifestyle. You might splurge for the huge SUV (they are freakin pricey here!) You might hire an au pair or someone to clean your home every week (which is all comparatively less expensive here than in the States, but more expensive apparently than other countries.)  Your kids might be older and easier to take on fun excursions (or maybe they are tiny but you are way more chill than I am!)

Being an expat is definitely an amazing experience, no matter how you do it. If I could go back I wouldn't change my mind - I'd do this again in a heartbeat.

That being said, it has taught me to more fully appreciate the simple things...
such as Target and 24-hour grocery stores.

Monday, May 13, 2019

meant for motherhood. yes, even me.

I never thought I'd be a mom.  Sure I'd daydream about the husband and house and kids, but I never really thought it would happen for me.

You see, I was never super nurturing.  I didn't push around my dolls in a tiny stroller and pretend I was their mommy.  I was not a sweet older sister to my little brother - tormented him relentlessly is more accurate. Then as a teenager, while I thought it was fun to help with Bible School at church, I rarely babysat and had no desire to hold tiny babies or change diapers. 

No one ever said to me in my younger years "You are going to be such a great mom someday." 
Not even once.

But the truth is this : God has much better ideas about you than other people do.

In my twenties I told myself all kinds of lies, like I wasn't deserving of motherhood. That motherhood was for other women, and I'd probably be physically unable to get pregnant.

Then - motherhood was thrown to me like a fastball. (And I suck at sports.)  Hubby and I had been married three years, had the house and the dog, I was approaching thirty. A baby seemed like the next logical step.  I didn't get my hopes up going into the process...but it happened before I could even comprehend it.

As soon as I knew there was a baby inside me, there was a radical shift in my mindset.   I almost heard God whispering, "This is what I want for you.  None of that other stuff you are doing or have done.  The selfish stuff, the unhealthy stuff.  Give that up and take this.  This is the thing I have for you and it will save you. This is grace." 

Sure, the whole first year of motherhood I was a complete mess.  I hadn't a clue what I was doing.  I made tons of mistakes.  I stressed out and read a million parenting books.  I probably gave Cormac permanent anxiety from all my hovering and helicoptering I did during his baby years.

Eight years later I'm still a mess.  I yell at my kids, nag them and my husband, am rather disorganized and have dropped the ball about plenty of school stuff (thankfully Cormac is SUPER organized and reminds me of the important details.)

If I compare myself to other moms it could leave me paralyzed.  Sometimes I look at social media and think : Why is it that some moms seemingly can do it all and have it all and I can barely do the minimum? 

Then I stop the comparing and I remember the grace.  I remember the things I do right with my kids. I love laughing with them and goofing around.  I acknowledge their feelings and make sure they know they can express them and feel them all safely.   I read to them voraciously and tell them about Jesus and say I'm sorry when I screw up.

I remember that God meant me for these kids.  That my past experiences can help me parent them.  Motherhood has forced me to address issues I had pushed down, causing me to seek help and work through things and grow even further as a mom and a person.

I will always be a work in progress.  Always.

However, now I see that I was meant for motherhood.  Even me.

I wish I could go back to that spirited little girl, that angsty teen, and that hot mess of a twenty-something version of myself, grasp her hands and tell her lovingly, "You are going to be a great mom, someday.  What you are going through now will make you that mom."

+ + + + + + + + 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I encourage you to check in with your kids and with your own self, address issues that arise in a timely way, and get help when necessary.  You are helping write their story, and even though you won't be perfect and you are not meant to be a perfect parent, you can help them by caring what they are going through and paying attention. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

fearfully + wonderfully.

Recently my daughter came home told me how she had cried at school that day.

When I asked her why she said, "Some of the kids made fun of me today before gym - they saw my belly and laughed.  So I didn't want to change."

My mama heart sank.

Already?  In Kindergarten?  Body shaming?  I ached with disappointment that my joyful, happy daughter was already having her confidence chipped away by comments such as this.

I remember being teased as a pre-pubescent kid  - about my non-existent breasts, my super-oily, blemish-ridden skin.  I remember forgetting all the good things about myself in those moments, and feeling defined by the supposed flaw being publicly pointed out.

But I don't remember it being at the tiny, tender age of five.

I know that this is only the first incident of many when one of my children will come home crying, hurt by a comment made by someone else.  I know they have to learn to deal with it, because this will unfortunately occur all throughout their lives.

I know all this - and yet it doesn't make it any easier.

Dang.  Parenting is rough and seriously each day comes with a new challenge.  I was just hoping this one would come much later.

So how should we deal with this gracefully as parents - particularly as mothers?  Body image is a big topic.  It is one I have personally struggled with, having grown up being sent a very clear message that what you look like is important.

The fact is we cannot prevent the comments or opinions of others.  As Rachel Hollis often quotes her therapist : "Other people's opinions are none of your business!"  I love that.  But can a five-year-old abide by that truth?

My daughter is awesome -- she is funny, and bold, and caring.  Those things are what matter.  She has amazing qualities that are to be praised!  She was made on purpose, by a great and loving God.

For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

Besides teaching our kids that inner beauty is more important than physical appearance, we can also try our best to set a good example of kindness and encouragement -  to other people...but also, just as importantly, to ourselves.

I am telling all this to myself most of all, because I could write all day about my shortcomings as a mom and insecurities.  I used to promise myself I would not self-criticize in front of my daughter...but I can't say I've been 100% successful at that.  She has probably heard me body-shame myself, and it hurts to even write that.  But tomorrow is always a new day, and all I can do is keep striving and showing up.  To speak to myself with love, instead of criticism -  particularly regarding my body.  My kids are hearing all of it, and it may be helping them "build the house" they end up living in.

source : @hellosunshine IG

Recently it was National Women's Day, and there was so much love going around social media  regarding women.  It was day that was inspiring and so full of positivity!

Let's not keep the "girl power" vibe just to one day, though!  Let's try to teach our daughters every single day where their true value lies - and that is definitely NOT in their size or shape.

Let's teach ourselves that, too.

Friday, November 2, 2018


It was meant to be our ten year 'second honeymoon' trip, 
but then life happened.
 I got pregnant with Whitman and was nine months along and HUGE when our anniversary came around last September. 

So we had a baby, waited until he was one year old, and coordinated a visit from Paul's mom to come to the Netherlands to visit us.  She graciously agreed to watch our kids for five days while we escaped for our first "just us" trip in ages.  It worked out and I am so, so grateful.

Greece had been on my personal travel bucket list for quite a while. You know how you have that place in your mind that you somehow just know you are going to love?
That was Santorini for me.

I was attracted to the cliffside cities of white cave buildings, blue domes, and sunset views, 
and this island met all my aesthetic expectations.  So pretty!
We stayed in a hotel in Oia (pronounced WEE-ah, which I got wrong 90% of the time) right in the cliffs above Amoudi Bay.  

Santorini is probably one of the most unique places I've ever been.  Everything is on a cliff.  It is literally the caldera of an ancient volcano.  The buildings set on the cliffsides are the quintessential white you'd expect, and the blue contrast of the doors and trim are lovely.  Add vibrant bursts of pink bougainvillea and the whole place was one photo opportunity after another.  I kept saying, "Is this even real?" so I guess my expectations were met as far as how beautiful it is!
saw this bougainvillea cascade against the cloudless sky and was completely in awe.
I loved our little cave suite, adorned simply, yet with antiques and books.  It also had a French press and fresh grounds to make your coffee...not the usual pod coffee maker or electric tea pot with instant coffee.  I'm not that fancy and had never made coffee with a French obviously I found a Youtube video and figured it out really quick.  It was one of my favorite moments on the trip.  The coffee tasted divine and I learned something new!

Our place was technically a "honeymoon suite" and while lovely, it was not exactly private.  Each night when we watched the sunset over the Aegean Sea, there were a few New Zealanders also kind of "with" us...on their little patio just over our shoulders.  It was cozy...but the view was worth it!

It wasn't all bougainvillea and sunshine, though!  If there is any downside to Santorini it would be that it is very touristy (a cruise port.) When the ships would dock and cruisers disembark the narrow streets would become almost impossible to walk through.  I know, I know...I'm a tourist, too.  But, ugh.

Also, don't pack any heels if you head to this island, as it is a very rocky, sandy, dusty, steep place to walk.  TONS of steps, and let's not forget the donkey dung.  

The food is pretty tasty in Greece!  (Spain is still my favorite foodie destination, so far.) 

What to eat?  Moussaka (a layered dish sort of like lasagna, but with potatoes at the bottom and no pasta) Santorini salad (basically a Greek salad but better) hummus and freshly baked pita bread, souvlaki (meat skewers) and any fish that are local to the Aegean.  

What to drink?  Mythos beer (local and SO GOOD!) and mastika (a Greek liqueur that tastes like pine but is nice to sip after dinner) 
Paul sippin' some mastika after dinner our first night. 

Here are some photos from where we stayed, as well as our first day in Santorini...

our cave suite.
I loved the view from our little patio.  Any place you stay on this side of Oia and you get a view that is amazing.
they had these cute little rope + bead hangers for "do not disturb" 
looking down at the steep steps descending to Amoudi Bay.
our first meal there!  Ate way too much seafood down by the bay.
looking up at Oia. 
donkeys heading up the steps of Amoudi Bay.
me and a donkey.  
Looking up at Oia
I drank more Mythos than wine on this trip.  Such a good beer!
Found a little spot that had the best casual Greek eats.  This fresh pita bread has ruined all other pita for me, forever.
Santorini good! 
swimmers and sunbathers gather here - with a cliff to jump off on the left!

Over the four days we were there we had plenty of opportunities to walk through the narrow streets of Oia, lined with shops and restaurants.  One shop I'd highly recommend visiting if you are on Santorini is Atlantis Books.  Small and cave-like, it is a book shop after a book lover's heart.  So cool and quirky and a wall full of gorgeous first editions that can be yours if you have at least a couple thousand Euros to spend on it.  We didn't, but I did buy the souvenir map for five Euros.
I didn't inquire about cat rentals (Paul is allergic) but thought this was fun.

so many quotes on the cave walls of Atlantis Books.
We took one day and made it a hiking day.  If you want to get exercise and a million gorgeous views of the cliffside cities of Fira and Oia, then make the roughly six mile hike from one to the other.  It is a well-marked route, heavily traveled in the city areas but fairly desolate once you get outside the cities.  You hike along the cliff with the sea in view most of the time, passing churches and many, many, many bridal couples getting their photos professionally taken amidst the gorgeous backdrops of cliffs and sea.  Santorini is clearly a popular spot for weddings, so prepare your heart to see many white gowns during your stay. 

hiking along the caldera.

this gives a bit of perspective of the "volcano" 
crazy winds, sun has set, but we're still hiking!

our hike from Fira to Oia ended in the dark, so we got to see the city lights!  
If you want a beach vacation, I wouldn't recommend Santorini.  It does have various beaches (red, white and black sand) but if you are staying on the "sunset side" of Santorini it may be quite a journey to get to one.  We took a 2 hour bus ride to get to the black sand beach in Perissa on day two of our trip.  (It would definitely be quicker to take a cab or rent a car!) The water was warm, but the beach was more rocky than sandy.  We swam a bit, relaxed a bit, and then wandered a bit to find a lunch spot.  It was a really nice time, but in hindsight I would have rented a car and left earlier in the day!
looking out from the boardwalk at the black sand beach area.
we got chairs right next to that cliff, so we were a bit protected from the gusty winds!

nerdy beach selfie!
it had a fun beach boardwalk with your typical array of shops and restaurants - a fun vibe!
While I love seeing historical places and doing tours sometimes, to be honest what I prefer to do on vacation is not have an agenda and simply relax.   Neither of us like an over-scheduled trip.  We both like naps, reading for hours, and getting pizza to eat in our room at least once every vacay.  We have also been known to seek out a local movie theater and do a movie date.  Even in an exotic spot.  I'm sure some find that disturbing but I am totally okay with it.  (Although I kinda wish we would have done a dinner/movie date at Volkan Cinema, where they were only showing My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mamma Mia!)

Alas, no movies this time, but plenty of book reading and napping and coffee drinking.
freshly Frenchly pressed.
hot shower, fuzzy white robe, and fresh coffee.  this is all I need on vacation, really.
good morning!
a big breakfast is also a must.
These were hung over our bed.  To inspire romance?  Is this a Greek thing?  I didn't ask...
lunch on our last day.  me drinking beer again.  it was cloudy but clearly very bright out!  cheers!
I had to snap one last bougainvillea shot.
recommend this restaurant, Apsithia, in Oia for a romantic dinner with excellent authentic food and great service
indulged in all traditional greek dishes!
the morning we left was hazy and even windier than before.  little did we know that hurricane winds were going to hit soon after!  
even on a cloudy day Santorini is pretty
typical blue dome and cascading flowers. 

Finally, the most lovely part of Santorini may be the famous sunset view you can see from one side of the island. We wanted to avoid the crowds and chose a hotel with a view so we could enjoy from our patio, while soaking in a warm hot tub.  The first night was the clearest, and we were treated to a sunset sky full of all the colors of the rainbow...
can you see the people gathered up on the wall to watch the sunset?
me on my perch watching the sunset.

It was one of those moments during a trip that unexpectedly take your breath away.  I'll treasure that first night sunset always.   

+ + + + + + + 
So, Santorini is finally checked off my list!

Have you been? I would love to hear about your Santorini experience! 

What place is at the top of your dream travel list?