Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Final Countdown

We are in the final countdown now!   Bill was home for 10 days for Thanksgiving and flew back to Amsterdam on Sunday evening.  His plane tickets are booked now for his final venture home...in exactly two weeks he'll be home for good and working back at the West Point buildings....10 minutes down the road from our house.  

While it's been crazy single parenting it, I am so thankful to all of our friends and family members who have offerred their help, love, and support.  Simple kind and encouraging words have meant so much to me.  I must say that even though I am running ragged, all of the sports and activities that the kids are involved in are certainly keeping me busy.   By the time that I sit down at night to catch up with a book, paperwork, or my DVR, I'm exhausted and the day has flown by. 

Sure, there has been a few times when I want to throw in the towel or I wonder why we made these choices but ultimately, this is my husband's dream job!   This was the position that he has talked about since we met!  If you were to ask him 10 years ago or even 5 years ago where he wanted to see his future at work, he'd say working internationally - hands down.  Guess what...CHECK!  He's done it and it's now a permanent part of his work experience. 

I have to hand it to him, while I was going nuts with how quickly the whole experience happened after the ball got rolling (there were quite a few several months that we were in waiting limbo), Bill really had his ducks in a row.  Working in trips back home every 4 weeks in the fall was AMAZING.  It made our time apart go by a little bit faster - and he isn't missing any holidays.  If only he had thought about getting first class written into that deal...

Tonight, I took a walk down memory lane, looking back at all of our blog entries from this past summer.  I still can't believe that this is my life.   I cannot  believe that the kids and I were able to go spend the summer abroad.  The only thing that I really think about is that I wish I would have known ahead of time how much I would love it over in The Netherlands.   Had I have known that I would fall madly in love with the country, I would have tried to work out a way to stay there through Bill's entire job assignment.   I did things this summer that I never would have dreamed of.   For starters, I flew internationally with two children TWICE!  I get anxiety just thinking about flying.  I also took trains, lived without my cell phone for 10 weeks, and somehow managed to figure out how to order beer, buy cheese, bag groceries at Albert Heinz (it's much harder than it sounds), and busy myself and the children daily while Bill was at work...without the use of a car!  

The sights we saw - breathtaking - Eiffel Tower, Liege, windmills, national parks, MANY historic churches, Disney, holding monkeys (that is still my hands down favorite)....   

I still cannot believe that this is our life.   I cannot wait to see where our next adventure takes us...trust me...I'm already plotting how we can top the "Summer of 2013."

***Editted note 2 minutes after the initial post - I find it very fitting that without even thinking about it that this post title is the exact same as my very first post title back in June - The Final Countdown ***

Monday, November 4, 2013

Where did the time go?

I cannot believe that we have been back in the states for over 2 months now!   Time has flown by!    The kids are keeping me very busy with their sports and lessons.  We have some type of activity (at least 1, if not more) 6 out of 7 days a week.    All this running around is keeping my mind off of Bill not being with us that much.  There sometimes isn't a moment to rest.   I've begun to accept the help offered by some friends and family members.  I've realized that I am not Wonder Woman.    

Bill has made it home for two visits already.   He came home for our 10 year wedding anniversary and also again for Halloween last week.   We bumped up Roman's birthday celebrations also to while Daddy was here and we are so glad that he got to celebrate with us.   Bill flew back to Nijmegen last evening and he has already booked his flight home for Thanksgiving!    Let the turkey countdown begin!

Somehow I have still managed to squeeze in a few runs and my half marathon is just 5 days away now!   I haven't trained nearly as much as I should have but my goal is to follow a run-walk-run method and simply to finish.  I do not care about times this go around.   AHH!  I still cannot believe that I am doing this!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Last Night

The song Leaving on a Jet Plane seems very fitting right now...with some minor wording changes.  All our bags are packed but we are not ready to go! 

Tomorrow morning we'll get getting up bright and early to drive to Amsterdam.  We'll be leaving behind an amazing town and country...and husband!  This truly has been a summer to remember.  We've met so many kindhearted individuals and loved living the expat life.  Who would have thought that this sheltered PA girl would actually be jealous of her husband staying in a foreign country for a while longer?!?!  Today marks 8 weeks since we first stepped off the plane into The Netherlands.  It sounds like a long time but the summer flew by.  There is actually so much more that I want to see and do in this beautiful country...so for now I will live vicariously through Bill.  I'm even leaving my new camera with him so I am expecting some great pictures!       

I am so thankful for Bill!  He followed his dreams and goals and that brought us on this amazing journey of a lifetime.  His drive, dedication, and commitment is exactly the type of modeling that our children need.  Without him and his goals, we would have never had this summer that will provide memories for many, MANY years to come!  I remember when we first started dating that he commented that his career goal was to work internationally.  Here we are, just a few days shy of our 11 year dating anniversary, and he's crossed it off of his bucket list!!!   

Not too many kids can say that they spent the summer gallivanting around Europe.  We desperately don't want to leave Bill but we are anxious to see our friends and family back in the states.   I'll continue to update the blog as we transition back into our PA lives.  I'm sure that the next few weeks will go by in a whirlwind - once we recuperate from our jet lag.     

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pannenkoekenboot

Bill's birthday is on Sunday.  The kids and I are leaving on Friday.   While he was at work last week, the kids and I had a pow-wow and decided to celebrate his birthday before we left.   I let them pick out what we would do.   The kids agreed that they wanted to take Daddy out on the Pannenkoekenboot - The Pancake Boat!  http://www.pannenkoekenboot.com/    We went out on an hour long cruise from the docks in Nijmegen.   It was a beautiful trip up and down the Waal River.  I have run the bridges in and out of the city several times and stopped to take in the breathtaking views BUT there's something about seeing the city from the water that is simply wonderful!!    Tonight was no exception...we saw wild horses running along the beaches, cows wading in the river, the new bridge being constructed, and our wonderful cityscape!   

The pancakes on the boat were delightful.  There were three types - apple, natural, and bacon!!!  There was also a wide variety of toppings - plenty of sprinkle options, fruit, sauces, cheese, meats, hard boiled eggs, and so much more!!!  Each of the kids got to top their own pancakes and we all had a great time!  

Roman's masterpiece

Kayla's deliciousness

Bacon and cheese pancake

Wild horses

Another view of our city 

Yup!  There was a giant ball pit for the kids
   

Flipping About

Last night Kayla took her first class that was instructed completed in Dutch!   What type of class did she take?!?  GYMNASTICS!!!   One of Bill's co-workers teaches gymnastics in the evenings.  He arranged for Kayla to participate in an hour long girls class for her age.  To say that she was ecstatic was an understatement!  She looked forward to last night for a week!  Even though the class was completely in Dutch, she kept pace with the other girls and even did assisted front and back flips off of the trampoline!!!



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Monday, August 19, 2013

Full of hot air

One thing that I have loved since we got here is seeing hot air balloons up in the air.  If you are my friend on Facebook, I'm sure you've seen pictures that I have posted.  Besides my family, I think they have been my favorite subjects to snap pictures of with my new camera.

After arriving home after a day of sightseeing in Utrecht, the kids suddenly started shrieking from their bedroom.  Taking off, thinking somebody was hurt, I came upon one fantastic view!

There were 20 hot air balloons sailing across the Nijmegen sky....all directly above our apartment!   Some flew close enough that the kids waved and we were able to see the occupants waving back to us!   Some of the balloons were so neat - Garfield, a bunny, a girl with pigtails, a child with headphones, and a giant monkey...just to name a few!

I think Bill is going to have to send me pictures of hot air balloons weekly, just so I can get my fill.









Utrecht

On Saturday, we hopped the train and headed 50 minutes away to the wonderful city of Utrecht.   It is described as one of the nation's oldest cities....it seems that there are quite a few of those nearby!  The canals in Utrecht are different from the rest in country.  They are down below the street level and lines with small walkways with warehouses, homes, and restaurants.   We took time to walk around the town, taking in the beautiful sights and stores (our favorite store was one that sold Willy Wonka candies!  Bill got his craving for SweetTarts fulfilled), and then went on a canal boat tour.  We continued to window shop and Kayla made the only purchase of the day - she bought a new field hockey stick for when her season starts up in November.   Afterwards, we walked up to a popular restaurant and had some drinks while sitting right above the canal on a bridge.  The scenery and atmosphere was amazing in this small province.  

Utrecht's old canal

The Domtoren


Canal side 

The view from our pit-stop for beverages  

You buy it, you carry it!  Kayla toting around her new field hockey stick. 



Carnival in Oss

On Thursday afternoon, the kids and I set off on the train to Oss.  We met Bill at the train station and we headed over to check out the carnival taking place in the town!  It was a great evening!  We scoped out the scene, rode a few rides, got Roman's hair cut, ate dinner, got cotton candy, and rode a few more rides.   Kayla is a total daredevil and her little brother isn't far behind.  Basically, if it went fast or had flips, they wanted to go on it!  The rides were set up all throughout the town center.   A fun time was had by all!   Bill and I commented a few times that Ocean City NJ needs to adopt a few of these amusements!


Walking on Water was our FAVORITE!

 Notice the water at the bottom of this snapshot

Roman's dutch haircut for the start of school

Go speed racers!

Bungee Trampoline

Spinny Roller Coaster 


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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Food, Glorious Food!

Grocery shopping is an almost daily event here!  While we've gotten pretty good and now pride ourselves in the days that we DON'T have to go, we still frequent our local AH several days a week.

We've now been in The Netherlands for 2 months and there are certainly foods that we LOVE and will miss dearly when we return back to the USA.  

We've found a few foods that we absolutely adore: 
- for Momma it's a hands down for all of the different types of olives
- Kayla gravitates towards the cheese section 
- Bill is on a mission to try to find Mexican cheese and a hot sauce that may slightly compare to our beloved Frank's Red Hot
- and little guy LOVES the yogurt that comes in a milk carton

The kids also love Vla Flip!  It's a combination of yogurt, custard, and a fruit syrup.  This has become their favorite dessert to request. 

Stroopwafels - OMG!   These are the best!  In my opinion, they are cookies that are a combination of two of my favorites - Pizzelles made by my grandmothers and Girl Scout Caramel Delight cookies!   The cookies are made in a press and they have a caramel center.  Often they are served along side of hot drinks at local establishments.  You sit the stroopwafel atop the drink and the caramel begins to melt within the center. DELISH!  You can buy them in the grocery store but the best ones are served up hot and fresh at the local outdoor markets.  

Licorice -  YUM!   Black licorice is very popular here!  It reminds me of going to Booth's Corner growing up and sucking down the black licorice shoe strings with my dad.   The kids have even taken a liking to the flavoring.  

We haven't really made attempts with the pasty meat products and K and I are still eyeing up the herring. We WILL eat it before we depart! 



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Primate Heaven

Zoos are one of my favorite places to visit...no matter where we go on vacation.  The Netherlands zoos that we have visited on our trip have surpassed every zoo in the USA that I've ever gone to.   The animals are in large natural like areas...no cages and a lot of room!  Babies galore and very knowledgeable staff everywhere!

Today we ventured to the one place on Momma's Netherlands bucket list.  Apenheul!   It is a free range primate park situated just 45 minutes from us.  The monkeys were nothing short of spectacular!  There were silverback gorillas, gibbons, lemurs, marmosets, and tarmarins, among so many other breeds.   When you first walk into this zoo, you come to a trail that is filled with squirrel monkeys lining the pathway.   You are not allowed to pick them up but if one comes to you, you can certainly enjoy the company!  Needless to say, we spent a lot of time in this section of the park and went back to visit them again after we completed the loop.  They seemed to love pockets and climbing on my backpack.  There were also quite a few babies throughout the park and we loved watching them play with their older counterparts!   This should go without saying, but I did take a TON of pictures to document the awesome experience - 245 proofs are presently being downloaded onto our Snapfish account.

Here's the link to this beautiful primate park:    http://www.apenheul.com/   If you click on the British flag or use Google Chrome, everything will translate to English.  Many thanks go to my colleague Julie who told me about this wonderful gem!

Here's a small sampling of a few of our favorites from today's experience!

What do you have stashed in your pocket? 


Lunch time

The baby orangutan just hanging around 

 The family favorite - an Emperor Tamarin
Her three babies were in a nearby tree.

Momma in her glory!

Holding hands

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cheese and Windmills

Wow!  We are down to our last few weeks in the Netherlands before it's back to reality for the kids and Momma.  There's still so much that we want to see.   We got up early yesterday morning for a road trip. 

First up,  Gouda...Cheese capital of the world!  Living here, we quickly learned that the city name is actually pronounced How-da.   Thursdays are the market days in the city.  We got to witness the famous cheese auction, bought baked goods, watched a woodcarver make clogs, and sampled cheese galore before settling on a few to bring home with us.  My favorite flavors - pesto, italian herb, and wasabi cheese.  Kayla loved the various types of Gouda cheese - who knew that there were so many kinds to select from!?! The city center was beautiful...lined with old historic buildings, music playing throughout, and decorative cheese hanging above the streets!  

The second leg of our trip was to Kinderdijk.  It's a small little village that is famous for its 19 windmills - another UNESCO World Heritage Sight to cross off our list.  http://www.kinderdijk.com/     We walked along the paths that lined the waterways and even went into one mill that was preserved to its original state. We climbed to the top of the windmill and got to see the blades moving and the gears turning.  We even met a miller - complete with his blue overalls and clogs.   I cannot even begin to tell you how many wonderful pictures that I took.   The majority of these windmills are still inhabited!  Unbelievable! 

Here's just a sampling of the over 200 pictures that we snapped today.  

He's carving out wooden clogs

Hanging with a traditional cheese girl

This is a bid at the cheese auction. The potential buyer and seller 
barter back and forth slapping hands until a price is agreed upon mutually by both parties.  


Windmills at Kinderdijk

Waving hello from the top window of the mill

Windmills as far as the eye can see 

I love the reflection on the water in this picture.  

From the 5 year old photographer's point of view 












Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Low Key Start

The first few days of this week, we've been hanging low around Nijmegen.  We've gone shopping and purchased some postcards to send back home.   We have also sampled a few types of kaas (cheese) in preparation for our day trip to the Gouda (actually pronounced with an /h/ instead of a /g/).  We even packed up and had a picnic lunch in our favorite park. 

Momma got out for a nice run on Monday evening to kick off my 1/2 marathon training Dutch style.  I managed to go 5 miles and basically ran the outskirts of the city.   I took the Waalbridge out of the city, running above the bridge right as a barge passed below the was called the Carpe Diem, then ran along the shore line to the walking/bike path/train bridge that went back into the other end of the city centre. Yup...you read the right...Jen who hates hills apparently likes to run bridges. The view from the middle of the bridges are the payoff!   

It looks like today will be our first day hanging out inside for the majority of the day.  It's pouring rain.  I guess it had to rain during the day at some point during our trip.  We are gearing up for grocery shopping this evening.   

Tomorrow we are planning to go buy some cheese and seeing some working windmills at Kinderdijk.  Stay tuned. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bikes and Van Gogh

I've determined that the weather forecasts aren't just wrong in America!  Today was a 70% chance of rain in Nijmegen.  We woke up and the sun was shining away!  We took advantage of this and I found a place on the internet that looked worthy of a day trip - The Hoge Veluwe National Park is only about a 1/2 hr away from our apartment and several travel blogs had it listed as a "must do."  http://www.hogeveluwe.nl/en/14   The plus was that Kayla has been asking to go biking and this park has almost 2,000 free bikes sitting by their entrances and throughout the park.   We arrived about 12 pm and immediately hopped on some bikes.  Kayla rode on her own kid sized bike and Bill and I took turns with Roman in the child seat behind us.  He liked going with Daddy much more than Mommy.  Being the biker, Daddy goes much quicker than Momma does.  The park was full of marshlands, forests, sand dunes, and lakes scattered with lily pads.  We  opted to ride along a 10 K loop (there are bike paths all over this huge park) and eventually came to Kroller-Muller Museum.   The Kroller-Muller Museum is an art museum that houses paintings from some of the greatest painters ever - including Van Gogh and Picasso.  There was also a massive garden containing quite a few sculptures.  Kayla was in her glory at another art museum.  I think it's safe to assume that we'll be going to the Philly Art Museum in the near future when we return home to PA.  Here's a few pictures from our great day outdoors! 
 
Pit stop by the lake 
 
A view of the trail from our picnic location...yup, that is sand!

 
Kayla and Van Gogh getting reacquainted 
 
Biking along the beautiful trails
 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Milestones and oppressive heat

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We have a swimmer!!!  This afternoon Roman took his first strokes unassisted!!!  We are so proud of him.  He was working very hard earlier this summer trying to learn now to swim like his big sister.  I guess I'll be renewing my community center membership come September so we can keep up the progress.

Today was the hottest day since we arrived in Nijmegen - 95 degrees.  Living on the fourth floor and having no air...it was a little brutal in here today.  We opted to beat the heat by going to Golfbad, the local indoor pool in Oss that we visited on our first week here.  Tonight, the pool was less crowded and wild than it was when we went in June.  Much more manageable and my sanity stayed in tact!   The kids had a great time going down the slides and playing in the waves.  Hopefully they sleep well tonight.  

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Week in Review

We've been very busy over the past few days re-acclimating to life in Nijmegen after our whirlwind trip to Belgium and France.  Kerri traveled back to Nijmegen with us (brave girl) and we loved showing her our home away from home for a few days.  She's currently on a plane back to the USA and we hope that she has a safe flight and that we sent her off with memories to last a life time.

On Tuesday, Bill went back to work after our vacation.   While he was working, the girls
and kids went exploring. We figured out how to buy train tickets and take a day trip to 's-Hertogenbosch (otherwise known as Den-Bosch).  It was another beautiful, old, fairy tale city.  We navigated maps, saw sights, dodged rain, and even took a canal boat tour.   Check another historic church off our list - Sint-Janskathedraal.   Even though the canal boat tour was completely in Dutch, the views were amazing!   The canals in Den-Bosch are all within the city walls, going under small streets, houses, and walkways.  Some portions were just wide enough to fit the boat through...we all had our breath a few times, wondering if we'd get stuck. 

Wednesday, we explored Nijmegen...we went to Kronenburger Park and our Sint Stevenskirk Church to climb the spiral stairs up to the top for the view of the city like no other.  On Wednesday evening, Kerri offered to babysit and Bill and I took full advantage of our first dinner out together sans kids in over 2 and a half months.  I realized that there have only been 2 times in the past 2 months that I have been without the kids - one run and a quick walk to the mailbox.  It was wonderful to go explore Nijmegen, as adults!   Of course we had to get a drink in the oldest bar in the town - dating back to the year 1542!  We then walked just a few feet to De Waagh in the smack dab center of town.  Dinner was delicious and we loved sitting outside enjoying the sights of our little town!  The service was exceptional and we had some time to meander around, looking in shops, finding new little side streets, and exploring more local establishments.  Our last stop of the evening was at a cafĂ© called De Templier.  We've always looked at it as we walked by but it was always so crowded.  While sitting inside making small talk with the bartender, a gentleman walked by and said "Hi there."  We greeted and didn't think much of it.  A few minutes later he came back again, inquiring if we were American. When we responded affirmatively, he invited us out to meet some fellow "Colonials."  Turns out it really is a small world!  Both were expats from PA!  One was from our neighboring town of Skippack Village!!!  The initiator was not American, but he was a very kind Englishman.  We spent the rest of the evening with our new friends.  I learned how to properly pronounce the street name that we live on (with close approximation), and got lessons on how to correctly eat herring and kibbling.  Bill got to talk golf and I think he now has a few new golf buddies for when the kids and I leave.             

Thursday night is the big night in Nijmegen - shopping night!  Many of the stores stay open until 8 or 9 pm (usually they close at 6).  Of course we had to go get ice cream and even found a delightful Belgium chocolate store nearby.  Bill then took the kids back home and Kerri and I got to explore the town together on her last night.  We ran into our PA friends and enjoyed an evening talking and catching up without kiddo interruptions.  

Today, I am cleaning, catching up, and the kids are simply relaxing.  It's 95 degrees here!  Unheard of!!!   The current daily average is in the upper 70s.  Being on the 4th floor and no AC, it's slightly warm in the condo right now.   In a bit, we'll be hopping the train to Oss and meeting Bill at the train station.  Then we're going to Golfbad (the indoor pool that we went to our first week in The Netherlands).   I'll be sure to bring my camera this time along!!!    Later this evening, we'll be mapping out our last few weeks and what we want to see.  I cannot believe that in just 3 weeks the kids and I will be on our way home!  I don't want to leave!!!   

The beautiful city centre in Den Bosch
 
A view on the canal boat tour
 
 
Yup!  We ate dinner here on Wednesday night! 
 
Sampling the local french fries at dinner - typically they are served with a glob of mayo atop. 
We had it put on the side to appease both of us.