Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I'll clear something up to start, schmownies is not a word, just liked the ring of it, brownies-schmownies.  So, this morning I went to a Mums & Toddlers coffee morning / play date with my daughter.  At one point I questioned if we'd ever get there, despite having a navigation system in the car I seem to always get lost.  And as so often, I'm at the brink of giving up, turning around, and going home, when I manage to find my way.  Apparently major roads and neighborhoods change often enough for the navigation to give up on me, and personally I have little sense of direction.  But needless to say I made it to the coffee morning, even though I was 30 minutes late.  The last time I attended one I arrived empty handed, I didn't want that to be the case this time, so I baked brownies.  To many of you that seems simple, but for me, it was a first.  And the bar is so high when it comes to M&T's, some of these women bake well enough they could open their own shop.  I was embarrassed to admit I struggled to make it, much less that it was a box mix.  Before you start assuming things, I do cook, I wouldn't say I'm a natural, but I'm generally capable of following a recipe.  I can even make a banana cake from scratch, but I do that about once a year.  I wouldn't say I'm handy with a mixer, especially since I'm a bit clumsy.  Things seemed to go well at first; dumping things in a bowl isn't too hard.  But then came the mixer, I was told it works best on full blast, so I stuck the beaters in the bowl and unleashed full power.  Immediately chocolate powder filled the air and splats of chocolate flung onto the counter and tiles of my kitchen.  But I didn't give up, the box said to mix for a full 3 minutes.  At one point I realized there were a lot of ingredients on the side of the bowl and I was going to need to use a spatula to push it down (because when I put the beaters on the side of the bowl things just got messier).  I was holding the spatula with my left hand, and that wasn't working out so well, apparently I'm not ambidextrous.  After managing to switch hands, while still blending, things seemed to start going smoother.  The only cake pan (silicone) I have in the house is heart shaped from the one time I made my husband a cake for Valentine's Day, the women were just going to have to deal with it... I didn't think using the silicone loaf pan that I use for meatloaf was the right alternative.  Surprisingly I managed to dump the brownie mix into the pan without a disaster, then it was time for the chocolate sprinkles.  I wouldn't say I distributed them evenly but it worked.  I baked it for the allotted time, but wasn't convinced it was finished.  I showed it to my husband (the better cook) and he said to give it 5 more minutes in the oven.  I gave it about 10 because I forgot about it; dashing to the kitchen I managed to get it out in time.  There was a back-up box just in case but I didn't feel like going through the ordeal again.  When I took it out it had risen but unevenly, how did that happen?  Oh well, at least I didn't burn it.  I wouldn't say my presentation was great either, an uneven heart shaped brownie plopped onto a leftover bunny paper plate from Easter, with chocolate icing only covering parts of it.  My parents are probably cringing, they go above and beyond when it comes to food presentation for get-togethers.  Some of the women did try it though, they were nice and said it tasted fine.  And they also said the dark soft stripe in the middle of the brownie was normal.  My daughter on the other hand spat it out.  I think next round I'll just pop over to the baker like my husband suggested, but at least I tried.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Too Personal

Taking things too personal... it's one of my bad traits. This entire post stems from two events, each of which happened in around 30 seconds but have played on my mind for a useless amount of time! Event one - our neighborhood bulletin printed an insult about my street. Event two - my daughter's preschool teacher lent me a book to read over the school vacation. Both seemingly meaningless yet both equally bothered me (most men reading this post are already rolling their eyes by now). How did this come about... taking things too personal??? Is it because I'm too sensitive?  Is it because I'm selfish and think things revolve around me? Is it from years of dealing with passive aggressive people who don't dare to be direct? Is it because I'm a woman (now the feminist are rolling their eyes)? Is it because I'm self-conscious? No matter what the reason, it happens, but it is something I'm working on. You're probably wondering how the above events led to this post. 
Event one : I've proudly lived on my street for the past 6 yrs and I take it personal when the neighborhood bulletin prints insults about it. How can I possibly feel for a street, it's ridiculous, but I do! Sure I've noticed the decline (thanks recession), but that doesn't mean we're an embarrassment. Just so you understand what happened, the bulletin wrote an article about a new shop on my street and this is what they said, "Renew Fashion lijkt een aanwinst voor de straat die toch een beetje het 'ondergeschoven' kindje van de Bergen lijkt te blijven".  Basically they're saying our street is neglected, almost not worthy of belonging to the neighborhood, and that the new clothing store is a plus for us.  Nice, we're not worthy of belonging to the high-brow neighborhood, "De Bergen".  I take this personal, we're part of the neighborhood, yes we're on the outer rim, but that's good, we don't get the high traffic of the stores and restaurants, yet we're close by.  Our street doesn't get shut down for every event, yet we can still see them from our window.  I also take it personal because we're trying to sell our apartment and this isn't a great advertisement.  It bugs me so much I almost want to contact the bulletin and complain... if you know me well, you know I'll write a complaint letter or email in a blink of the eye!  Companies should know where they can improve (I promise I'm not a super negative person, I just notice things).  I am also highly aware I could have translated it incorrectly, it wouldn't be the first time I was offended over something that I misinterpreted! 
Event two : my daughter's preschool teacher lent me the following book - How To Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way.  What is she saying, does she think I need some guidance raising my kid?  Does she think I don't understand the Montessori system?  Was she just happy to find an English book she could share with me?  Does she too see how amazing my daughter is?  I tried not to take it too personal.  But on the walk home from the preschool I called my husband to run it by him (he's more level-headed than me and not so emotional) and he basically said I'm being crazy... something I hear often from many people!  Wow, as a parent it's hard when people try and help, it's so easy to take it too personal and take it negatively when really they're just trying to share something or speaking from experience.  No matter what, I'll do my best to read the book, and hopefully learn something.  It never hurts to get a little advice, even if it steps on some toes.
All in all, especially after re-reading this post, I can definitely say I'm being oversensitive and taking things too personal, oh yeah, and being extremely negative.  And the only true thing I can blame it on is, caring too much so I take everything to heart.  It's important to me to be able to step back and analyze my opinions/views/decisions... to look at things from an outsiders point of view... and to be aware of my faults.  It's how I grow, it's how I understand myself and others, and it's a tactic that has helped me through many situations.  (I'll try and make the next post a bit more light-hearted!)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Expat Blog

Here's another short post, but worth while to bloggers.  If you've followed my blog long enough you've realized I love "plugging" companies, other blogs, websites, and stores I like.  If any of you are unfamiliar with the term plugging, it means to advertise something... like in the movies where people only seem to drink Coke products.  Unfortunately I don't get paid to advertise even though I could (long-live Google AdSense).  Anyway, I side-tracked like usual...   

Expat Blog Community, the name of the website/company speaks for itself.  For those bloggers out there who want to find a place where you can inform people of your little piece of the internet or find other bloggers like yourself Expat Blog Community is for you.  Since signing up I have found a lot of interesting blogs throughout the world, ones I never would have thought to look for.  And a lot of new people have started popping up on my blog.  So if you're interested in networking, it's a good place for bloggers to start.  Just a tip!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sticker Graffiti

Well the drain pipe outside of our apartment has turned into sticker central, modern day graffiti.  I don't mind graffiti if it is done well and in the proper locations.  And I don't mind the stickers on the drain pipe either (this is not an invitation for more).  Now if someone was tagging the front of my house in the suburbs I might not be so pleased, but the stickers seem to liven up the front of an otherwise fairly drab apartment front.  All along our street, a busy road in the center of a big city, you can find these stickers... all over town actually.  Every time I pass one I wonder who did it, what does it mean, and how in the world did they even get it up there.  Often as I walk by I think, today I'm going to take a photo and put it on my blog, and most days it's just a fleeting thought.  But today, today I did it.  I stood outside of my apartment snapping shots of a drain pipe, I must have looked a little strange, but who really cares.  Like so often in life, once something is brought to your attention you start seeing it everywhere... much like the light bulb sticker or the girls face.  Wondering what they mean, I headed over to Google Images (love this feature) and of course answers started popping up.  Well, answers, not exactly, let's just say I'm not the only blogger to have taken notice.  Some people say they're soccer football related, others blame the Stickerkoning (aka Sticker King), and some people don't give explanations just a lot of examples.  When I was a teenager my bedroom door looked much like this drain pipe, was it art or was it just another way to leave my mark?  Probably both.  Our drain pipe is now host to 14 different stickers... there's duck dude, weird ghost guy, eye with a hat, light bulb, wolf/sheep, shiny hair girl, flower or star, European Student Vereniging, Mr. Cat, one-eye guy, Nostradamus, the faded one, armed hooligan, & creepy monster.   And yes, I just named them.  I can't imagine what it would cost someone to produce so many stickers just to tag the town... but people will invest anything to advertise - it might just help to know what they're advertising though.  Maybe it's a secret society and they have to follow the stickers to get to their lair (maybe I've seen too many movies).  As I write this my brain is churning, I'm going to have to investigate some more.  Cue the suspenseful, ominous, dramatic music... picture footsteps and a magnifying glass.  Voila!  And the only thing I found out was that Mr. Cat is actually referred to as Gato.  Oh yeah, and apparently the combination of stickers is important, wow do I feel out of the loop (do I even want to be in the loop???).  Anyway, just thought you all might enjoy another random, fleeting thought of mine, and if anyone can explain the stickers to me - I'm interested. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2AM Bike Rides

For those of you that know me probably can't imagine me biking to work at 2 in the morning, but it's true.  When I first moved to the Netherlands my in-laws employed me, they gave me an opportunity to join the IT world and learn the family business.  But after many discussions with my husband we decided it was best for me to find work elsewhere.  I upped and quit my job one weekend (in hind sight I would have done things differently), and decided to pursue new things.  In all of the discussion I never once considered I might not be able to find work (I was in my early 20's).  In The States it was easy (I'm talking before the recession), I thought it would be just as easy here, I never once figured in that I barely spoke Dutch and never completed college.  Well, I was in for a rude awakening.  I reverted back to my teenage years and started going shop to shop asking for applications and work.  Most of the people chuckled or stared at me like I was an alien, mostly because my Dutch request wasn't better than a 5yr old.  Now that my Dutch has improved and I look back I was literally saying : "I search work".  Who says that?  I should have consulted with my husband, jotted down a few Dutch sentences, anything other than standing at the counter of the baker, the drug store, and the grocery store saying, "I search work".  I sounded like a caveman!  Anyway, I put in applications where I could and eventually landed a job.  It was seasonal work (1 month) at a strawberry farm.  Cold December, standing in a non-heated barn, sorting strawberries with other foreigners.  I gladly accepted, money was money.  Then days later I convinced UPS to hire me in their warehouse, they were very reluctant, they couldn't see the benefit of a female office worker in their warehouse sorting boxes in the dead of the night.  But with a lot of begging they gave me a chance... now I temporarily had 2 jobs.  I didn't want to let the farm down, so I decided to push myself harder than ever physically.  I would wake up at 1AM, get ready for work at the warehouse, bike there at 2AM, work until 7AM, then bike straight to the farm, and work there until the afternoon, CRAZY!  But I did it.  Anyway, my post is supposed to be about the bike ride (but hey I always have to give the back story).  I'm an American, the idea of a woman out on a bike, alone, at 2AM sounded insane, but I didn't have an option.  Not to mention I really suck at riding a bike!  Luckily the UPS warehouse was only 3.1km (2 miles) from our apartment, I could get there in about 10-15 minutes (depending on how fast I biked).  I'm a fairly nervous/paranoid/antsy person in general, so you can imagine what a 2AM bike ride, alone, in the dark, to the outskirts of town, through a wooded area must have felt like for me.  I came up with tactics to make sure there was no one following me.  Some of the bike paths had loose stones that would clink when I biked over them.  I learned to bike around them, knowing if I was being followed they wouldn't know to avoid the stone and I would hear them.  Or I would listen to the leaves on the bike path, too much rustling or crackling behind me would make me bike two times as fast.  Obviously I survived because I'm writing this blog!  I also learned other things, like how to bike in the snow & ice, or freezing rain, as I already mentioned it was the winter.  I also got to deal with the Thursday night bar crowd, I was leaving for work as they were wrapping up at the bars.  One time I even saw a man passed out in the middle of a round-about, that was interesting.  My work at the warehouse only lasted 4 months, because I managed to get promoted to the office.  I was obviously out of place in the warehouse, but I didn't mind the physical work, I was the thinnest and most muscular I had ever been.  What I minded was the fact my mind wasn't challenged (and the hours of course).  I also proved a lot to myself (and family); I'm not afraid to work hard, I'm not afraid to start at the bottom and work my way up, and I try my best not to think I'm too good to do something or better than anyone else.  You never know where life may take you, and sometimes you have to spiral to the bottom to get to the top. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dog Debate

The dog debate between my husband & I has gone on for years now... mostly because of me, if he had his way we would have bought a dog a long time ago.  I like dogs, I do, and I'm running out of excuses.  Before we had a child the responsibility seemed too big (I knew I would end up doing most of the work).  First & last walks seemed dreadful, plus I had a full time job and there would be no one home with the dog.  Now that I'm a full time mother, I'm up most days before 7AM and I decide my schedule (for the most part).  Like I said, I'm running out of excuses.  One excuse reason, the biggest one of all, I'm allergic to dogs, even a lot of the ones people claim to be hypo-allergenic.  But the look on my husbands face when he plays with a dog or hears me shoot the idea down again is starting to mess with my head.  Now he's involved our daughter, who is also a dog lover... he points out how much entertainment she would get, his childhood experiences with dogs, and the fact we're not ready for a 2nd child.  So, I started looking, just looking.  I pulled out all the stops, I explained hypo-allergenic pure-breed dogs cost a fortune here in the Netherlands, I said we'd probably have to skip a vacation this year, I stooped low enough to say it will be harder to sell our apartment if we have a dog, but nothing deterred him.  Between my allergies and the small amount of breeders here, the list of dogs was short.  I showed him a few pics, knowing if I choose A he'll choose B, and what did he do... he picked the only dog on the entire list that I liked!  Damn!  I then started contacting breeders, running the risk we could end up with a puppy within a couple months.  But I had no luck, almost a year has gone by since I started contacting breeders.  Part of me was content, there was no dog to rush home to before it peed everywhere and the endless costs of dog food and vet bills didn't exist.  But part of me started wanting a dog, ahh!  I wouldn't say my past experiences with dogs pushed me, it was more my imagination (and my husband of course).  Then the other day one of the breeders contacted me; she recently bred her Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier and hopes to have puppies by August.  For those of you unfamiliar with this breed here are a couple pics I found, and kind of how I imagine it to be (puppy playing out back / having his own seat in the car) :

In the Netherlands, the breeders like to meet with you before agreeing to sell you a dog (might also be the same in The States).  So I spoke with her for a while, explaining our situation, listening to her explain the breed, and promising to set a date to drive up to meet her and her dogs.  After all was said and done my husband tells me he isn't sure if this is the dog he wants, WHAT!!!  No matter what I am going to force the three of us to take a 2hr round trip to go see the breeder.  You never know, I might be allergic, they might scare our daughter, or my husband might not like them at all... and the dog debate goes on.  (Just in case these pics didn't sell you, check out the last pic on an old post - Dog Sitting.  It's what sold me!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Recycle (#2)

This post is a quick follow-up to one from last October - Recycle!  My search for a one-stop recycling spot is over, I've found it.  With one quick trip in the car (not involving a visit to the city dump) I can take care of all recycling in one go.  It's on the corner of the Karel de Grotelaan & Keizer Karel V Singel, near the Domino's Pizza.  They have containers to recycle plastic & glass (which you can find everywhere), but also paper/cardboard & clothing.  I was surprised to see the container for paper & cardboard, I haven't seen one anywhere else.  Now I no longer have to wait for the city to pick up paper once every two weeks, I can now take care of it before the bag starts overflowing.  Clothing bins are harder to find than you imagine, so I was ecstatic to see one mixed in with the other recycling containers.  Hope you find your way to the recycling hub I found, and help make a difference!