Thursday, November 29, 2012

Whistle-stop Tour (2)

Unfortunately during my dad's visit to The Netherlands my husband wasn't able to get any time off work (but hey, that's what happens when you're GM).  He was kind enough to let us borrow his SUV as often as possible though.  On one of these days I was sure to take my dad & his partner to one of my favorite places in The Netherlands, Valkenburg.  Like Den Bosch, a lot of the older buildings survived the war and it has an added bonus, caves!  Since we were going to be gone for most of the day we had no choice but to bring our dog, so we all piled into the SUV.  Valkenburg caters to tourists, so there are tons of places to eat & shop.  During the summer there are also fun outside activities like a cable lift and castle ruins.  And during the winter its known for the multiple Christmas markets.  Throughout the year you can visit the caves, and during the winter holiday they are decorated for Christmas.  I am yet to see the Christmas market inside the caves, I was finally there at the right time of year and someone had to wait outside with the dog, oh well.  I have toured the caves during other trips and they are adorned with incredible artwork, the caves housed many families during WWII, and the guides have a great knowledge of their history.  We happened to arrive in Valkenburg right at lunch, so we quickly found a place to eat.  The Dutch don't mind you bringing dogs to restaurants as long as they stay outside, and luckily a lot of restaurants provide covered (and heated) terraces to eat on.  Long live the smokers and people-watchers who have made this possible.  We happened upon a great restaurant named meat@Valkenhof, the portions were huge, the food was excellent, and the service was friendly, jackpot!  After lunch we were off to explore the town, my dad pushing the stroller, Ron controlling the dog, and me rotating between cameras.  Overall it was a successful day, and worth the hour+ trip down there.  Hopefully next time my parents can visit longer from The States, but no matter what it was great seeing them.  I'm sure after a week with a talkative toddler and energetic puppy they were happy to get back to their tidy house.  It was hard to see them go, and even harder to hold the tears back in order not to upset my daughter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday #29

Link up here for Wordless Wednesday!
 
Our curious camera compilation can also be found here...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Whistle-stop Tour (1)

As I mentioned, we had family visiting from The States.  I don't like to write about it until they're safe back home, so when I saw the email this morning they had arrived back in FL I knew I could finally write a post.  It was a short visit (hence the "whiste-stop tour" title) but still a nice one.  My dad & his partner flew over to spend a week with us!  They started off in London for a couple days, headed our way for a week, and then rounded their trip off back in London.  A week doesn't allow for the grand tour of The Netherlands but luckily my dad has visited a few times before.  A week does allow a quick mix of seeing some of my daughter's activities (school & swimming) and a couple short trips.  This will be a 2-part post, mostly because I want to spend my time rambling on about Valkenburg in my next post.  Today's post will be about a side trip we took during their visit to 's-Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch).  If you ever visit The Netherlands I recommend a 1/2 day visit to Den Bosch.  It wasn't hit too hard during WWII so there is a lot of great architecture and history to be seen.  We were on crunch time, a rush between nap and dinner so it was a whirlwind visit.  My main goal was to show them the incredible cathedral there, Sint-Janskathedraal (St. John's).  It's one of those places you learn about in school but can't imagine ever seeing in person.  The detail that went into the cathedral is beyond words.  It's construction dates back to the 1300's, and if the outside didn't take your breath away the inside will.  The paintings that are larger than life, the stained glass, the tombs, the fact that you can't even begin to count how many people have walked through there since it's construction.  My dad has a great appreciation for architecture and I knew he would be highly impressed with this stop.  Besides getting lost and struggling to parallel park we made it inside the church 20 minutes before it was to close for the evening.  Once everyone was shuffled outside and the large wooden doors were closed we decided to loop around the center of town before heading back to the car.  The town always has something to offer from restaurants to shops, and being winter it's also decorated with Christmas lights.  The mix of old buildings and new shops is typical of The Netherlands, and the small canals winding throughout the city also add to its character.  I think my dad & his partner were delighted with our visit, and maybe next time they fly over we can enjoy a meal on one of the side streets.  My daughter wasn't as impressed with the cathedral as everyone else, she found it to be scary... maybe because of its size, the fact the sun was setting and it was dark inside, or possibly the freezing temperatures turned her off.  At least the Christmas lights dotting the city and decorative stores made up for it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mini Countryman

While my in-laws were on vacation in sunny Florida, my mother-in-law entrusted her car to me.  Which was a surprise considering I totaled the last car they let me borrow.  Sure it's been just over 10yrs since I ran the red light and sunk their purple Chrysler PT Cruiser into a truck across the intersection but that doesn't mean I wasn't reluctant to borrow one of their vehicles again.  When she said I could use her red Mini Countryman, I was going to pawn it off on my husband and then drive his SUV in the mean time.  But he had no intentions of downsizing.  My next plan was to leave the car at her house and borrow it sparsely... we live in the center of town and only have one private parking spot, being cheap I wasn't going to pay the city to park the car for over 2 weeks in the public lot.  Then just before their vacation new renters moved in next door, renters with a parking spot and no car.  They were kind enough to let us borrow their spot, and before I knew it the little red car was at my disposal.  Of course I made sure to visit all of the places too far to walk to, we did plenty of shopping over the course of their vacation.  I always told myself if I had a car I would still walk, it's healthy and good for the environment.  But when normal activities arose, ones we always walk to, we ended up in the car.  I think my daughter was happier with the car than me, I can imagine sitting in the stroller for extended periods could be quite boring.  I would ask which one she wanted to take and she always voted for the car over the stroller.  It took a while to get used to the Mini, even though I took driving lessons in one, it's a lot different than my husbands Hyundai.  It feels wide on the road and has a narrow windshield, and the pick-up well, let's just cross our fingers that I didn't rake in too many tickets.  By the end of their trip we were zipping around easily though, I doubt I would buy one in the future but it turned out to be quite fun to drive.  My mother-in-laws car was impeccably clean when we first borrowed it, but after a couple weeks parked under a pine tree losing its fall leaves, a dog that leapt into a muddy canal to chase ducks, and the general messiness of a 3yr old, I had a lot of work to do before I returned it.  I don't remember the last time I cleaned a car like that.  When I used to live in Florida I owned a red Chevrolet Cavalier and I didn't mind cleaning it, mostly because it involved a bathing suit and getting a tan.  But cleaning a car in cold weather is much different, thankfully there are drive through car washes!  The day I was to return the car I grew nervous, I had managed to drive it the entire time without damaging it and all I wanted to do was get it returned to her driveway in one piece.  Then her sister called asking for a ride, this meant not just a trip one town over to return the Mini, but now I also needed to swing by an additional town to pick up my husbands aunt.  This meant an additional half hour of risk, luckily it went smoothly and I returned the car clean and in one-piece.  I don't know if I'll have the nerve to borrow it in the future, but I did enjoy the time I had bopping around town to town in it!
The included photo is close to what her car looks like, I meant to get a shot of me driving it but that didn't happen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Absence

Please excuse my absence... we have family visiting from The States and of course while they're here our time is dedicated to them!  I promise by next week to have some nice posts for you... ranging from my time with a Mini Countryman (a car) to more tourist stops within The Netherlands. 
 
And no, that's not my home office, but it's cute.  It's occasionally fun to imagine the possibilities for the future... one day we'll be out of this apartment and into a house!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday #28

Link up here for Wordless Wednesday!
 
Our curious camera compilation can also be found here...

Monday, November 19, 2012

GLOW off.

Besides the official GLOW taking place in Eindhoven, there was the unofficial GLOW off.  This is where amateurs make their own venues and display them during the last day of GLOW.  Us and some friends decided we wanted to make our own film so that we too could participate.  One weekend we set up a make shift studio in a friends backyard.  This including white sheets hung between ladders for a backdrop... an iPhone for filming... a few props inc. a wind machine... and a computer program to turn our images into silhouettes.  Again I'll reiterate we're amateurs.  Living downtown gave us the prime location to display what we created.  So after an afternoon of filming and some 10 odd hours of editing on the computer (thanks Mike) we had a short film to air.  To be honest, I expected loads of people standing outside of our apartment watching the film we were airing on to our front window.  But we only had a few passerby's.  Sure the larger light displays in town were nice, but we were easily comparable to the smaller ones.  Needless to say we had fun and made a night of it!  Unfortunately I didn't get the best photos but I do have the movie for you!  The film could have used a bit more tweaking but we had already put enough time into the one night project.  The photo I included above gives you an idea of what the movie looked like displayed on our window.  The funniest part of the entire night was when the neighbors above us couldn't figure out why there were people outside taking pictures and pointing... maybe we should have warned them, oops!
video
 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

GLOW

Living in a large city definitely has its perks, as in there is always something interesting taking place.  Right now Eindhoven is hosting GLOW.  It's an incredible display of art projected around the city onto a variety of buildings.  Besides just light shows, there are also many odes to artificial light and its capabilities.  GLOW brings people from all over... once the sun sets hordes of people wander around the city gazing up at the displays. 
 
It's also a great opportunity for photographers, so besides crowds oohing and awing, there are also tons of people running around with cameras and tripods.  Since we live in the center it would be pure lazy if we didn't step out our door and participate.  One evening after dinner I realized my husband would be late and there was still around an hour before my daughters bedtime, so we bundled up and headed into the crowds.  At first my daughter was impressed with the street lights, she's not often out after dark.  But when we actually neared the displays she was overly impressed.

Some of the displays combine poetry & lights, some music & lights, and others, just art & lights, each one interesting in it's own aspect.  We saw around 7 displays and my favorite this year has to be the garden of lights on the Wilhelminaplein.  My daughters favorite has to be the display on the cathedral, she told her dad all about the people dancing on the building (what she didn't realize was that it was a conductor and parts of an orchestra, but I will not burst her bubble).
 
Sometimes the displays are too artsy for me, I remember last year watching one (a combo of poetry and light) waiting for something to happen but that was it... someone reading text to dramatic music as it flashed by on a wall.  This year they also displayed and read text, but the words were projected over a huge building giving it more of an affect.  If you're in the Eindhoven area, I recommend joining in the fun.  It's free, it's interesting, why not take advantage of it.  GLOW runs from November 10th-17th.  I didn't get the best photos, I was using our small camera at night, but I wasn't there for the pictures anyway.
 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

RyanAir

If you don't want to hear a lot of complaining about an airline ripping us off then avoid this post...
 
I know I'm not the only one out there but I despise RyanAir.  Every time I've ever used them it has ended up costing me extra money and hassle.  Every time I've ever used them I've sworn never to use them again, and yet some how it happened.  Back in August we wanted to fly up to Ireland with some close friends for the christening of their baby.  Then our toddler had a chicken pox scare, we contacted RyanAir and they informed us she would not be allowed to board the plane if she showed signs of chicken pox.  There was no way we were going to be able to go on the trip, we couldn't risk getting stuck in Ireland while she suffered through chicken pox.  We followed all RyanAir procedures just to find out later they were not going to refund the over 700 we spent on the tickets.  See, here in the Netherlands the doctors will not release medical records without proper consent.  Therefore the airline needed to first request our written consent then their medical department needed to contact the doctor directly in order to obtain any medical documents about our toddler.  Do you think the airline is going to bend over backwards to refund our money, no way!  After endless faxes and emails back & forth they finally said there was nothing they could do for us and possibly we should take the issue up with our travel insurance company.  They referred us to a company named One Claims, which emailed us a stack of paperwork to fill out and a list of other requests.  One of which, a "no-show" letter from RyanAir.  I didn't want to contact RyanAir again, I didn't want to give them another cent of our money but I had no choice.  I went on to their website to find out how to get the document, turns out I have to call their 900# at .45 a minute in order to request a document that RyanAir is going to charge me 20 to get via email!  I almost flipped out.  Then to top it off while I had RyanAir on the phone I realized I didn't have our credit card, so I had to interrupt my husband at work to get the info.  All the while RyanAir was still charging us money for the call, then the CSR had the nerve to tell me he couldn't hold the line any longer, I almost let him have it.  Luckily we stalled long enough for my husband to get the info!  Now I get to sit around and wait for the document, which I'll have to print out myself (costing me more money)!  Then it will be on to phase two, stacks of paperwork that I have to mail to who knows where, costing who knows what, just to continue this 3 month fight with the airline!
 
I'll be sure to keep you updated on our progress, and in the next post about RyanAir I'll tell you a couple other stories about how they have ripped us off over the years!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Autumn Walk

Adding a dog to the family has changed the activities we participate in the weekends.  In the past we just looked for something entertaining for our toddler but nowadays we look for something that suits the entire family, dog included.  There are a lot of great places in and around Eindhoven to let your dog off the leash so they can run free and enjoy life outside of the bustling city center.  One of which happens to be near the golf course my husband belongs to.  We noticed the park we usually take the family walk in has been a little too busy lately so we headed the other direction.  Sure we crossed paths with a few people, but for the most part it was quiet and we could take in nature as it was intended.  Our toddler loved climbing up and down the small hills, shaking trees, and collecting pine cones.  And our Wheaten Terrier was over the moon running about, playing in the mud, and sniffing out rabbit & fox holes.  My husband claims to have seen deer, but the rest of us missed them somehow.  Days like this remind me to be thankful for these moments together, watching our family grow and bond... for the fresh air and beauty of nature... for the smile on my tots face as Dad saves the soccer ball from the tree... for the smiles on our faces when our daughter giggles with excitement... for the pleasure our dog gets from exploring and leaping... and for the invention of cameras so that we can capture these times and cherish them for as long as we can. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Suit

Being a former Floridian I've owned many bathing suits in my lifetime.  There were the teenage years, skimpy bikinis held together by strings.  Then board shorts became popular, and of course I owned matching flip-flops and visors.  In my mid 20's I moved on to bikini's with shorts to ensure no slippage during activities, combining the idea of bikinis and board shorts (and to cover what I thought then was fat).  After having my daughter I decided it was only fair to everyone to conceal my stomach and start wearing a tankini, what a wonderful invention!  But as of late I'm realizing the tankini just isn't doing its job.  During my daughters swimming class as we jump around in the pool and chase each other, it's constantly raising up still revealing my stomach and nearly comes down flashing the class.  So I decided to try out a one piece bathing suit.  I put on the Speedo I use for water aerobics and lap swimming but it only accented the ring of blubber I've developed around my waistline.  I put it back in the closet and decided it would only be used for sports not toddler swimming class or fun visits to the pool.  I went online in search of my options, and of course the ones with waist control were screaming my name.  When I pulled the bathing suit out of the bag I just knew it would be a disaster, again helping to destroy my confidence (I hate trying on clothes).  But when I put it on I was amazed, it was flattering and suited me well.  I was a bit nervous about swimming class, all of us moms are quite observant and a new suit requires comments.  But the feedback was positive, jackpot!  So here I am, early 30's and I've already progressed to the one-piece bathing suit, what will I be wearing later in life, a full caftan in the water?  As of now I am content and wanted to show off my new suit (no, not while wearing it!) 
This week has been a busy pool week... three different activities, three different pools.  There was lap swimming at the pool on the north side of town.  Then there was babysitting my nieces which included swimming class with the 8 yr old at ZIB one town over.  And then we rounded off the week with normal toddler swimming at the pool on the south side of town.  Luckily I like the water!!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Guide Books

Maybe you have or haven't noticed but besides the usual posts on my blog I also have a couple lists, ranging from people following my blog to websites I like, but one is also goals for 2012.  So far I've only completed 3 out of 7, I wouldn't say that's very good considering it's already November.  But to be fair, some of the goals are out of my hands or based on other goals.  I can't make someone buy our apartment, and until we sell the apartment, goals like buying a house and getting pregnant are just going to have to wait.  But there is one that can be achieved, I can write a synopsis for one of the two books I completed.  Sounds easy enough, except this has been on going since 2008/2009.  I am a creative writer, and writing a synopsis is like being back in high school English all over again.  Being that I'm a story teller I also struggle to summarize things, I like to give the full drawn out description, and as we all know a synopsis is a general summary.  Back in 2008 when I realized I had the potential to be a published fiction author I asked for two books for Christmas, both written by Jeff Herman
1) Writer's International Guide to Book Editors Publishers and Literary Agents 2008
2) Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents
They were helpful, full of great tips.  They helped me to realize I wanted to use an agent to get into the publishing world instead of pursuing things alone.  I searched through the endless lists of agents and found one that suited me.  But then fear set in.  Then our daughter was born.  Then... I could keep coming up with reasons.  Here I am, years later, still wondering if I could ever pursue my dreams, if I really am capable of producing books people want to read.  Here I am still calling myself a writer, yet not letting anyone read my work.  So after a talk with my husband, I realized I needed to dust the old books off and see where it gets me.  Knowing the above mentioned Jeff Herman books were outdated, I ordered the latest :
It arrived yesterday!  I still haven't opened it, I need time to sit down and really process the tips again.  Decide how I want to market myself and get a proper worthy synopsis written.  I'm tired of wondering if writing is just a personal hobby or if I could actually make a career out of it.  I don't know if I'll meet this goal by the end of 2012, but I'll at least have a good start.
 
Oddly enough I don't read fiction unless it's my own.  But I do own a gazillion self-help books and guides to this & that.  Right now I am borrowing a book from a Dutch friend about Feng Shui
While flipping through this guide I realized how much work it would take to actually get this right.  Everything in my house is off, but to be honest I'm not ready for a home make-over.  I'll definitely consider some of the tips for the next house (whenever that happens).  One thing I will be taking away from this book before returning it to my friend is a list of plants and how they help the Feng Shui in and around your house.  It's a small step and something I can easily work on in my own home.  And it also has a lot of great ideas as to how to stir up creativity... now all I have to do is bust out the old compass and figure out which direction I'm sitting to make sure I'm stimulating the creative energies around me.  It never hurts to learn about something new and take away what I can, even if I'm not ready to apply it to all aspects of my life.  In Dutch they use the term "mooi meegenomen", it's not something you can literally translate, generalized it means "an added (sometimes unexpected) bonus".  Here's an example : I might not be ready to overhaul my life with the ideas of Feng Shui, but I did learn what types of plants are best to put around the house to help lift moods and stimulate energy. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lap Swimming

In this ongoing quest to lose weight and keep it off I'm always coming up with great ideas to stay in shape... I just can't say I always follow through with them.  The only consistent fitness tool I use is my elliptical machine, other than that fads come and go.  Fads like, belly dancing & Zumba dvd's.  A friend and I used to regularly attend water aerobics, but we really slacked off the past year, something was always coming up and we just couldn't get our schedules aligned.  My friend was into swimming as a form of exercise way before I was, for me swimming was a fun activity to do with my kid.  As I mentioned we used to put ourselves through a grueling 30 minute water aerobic class (you might be chuckling as you imagine a pool full of senior citizens with dumbbells swaying back and forth, this class wasn't like that).  Once we were in the rhythm of attending class, we started adding laps to the routine.  So before or after class we'd swim the pool a few times.  Now a year or so down the road it crossed my mind again, I really should get back in the pool and I don't mean just for my toddlers swimming class.  I don't always have access to the car and the pool isn't close, but I do have a bike I'm willing to ride now.  (Our old bike wasn't meant for people who lack coordination.)  Taking things one step at a time, I decided just to give it a shot, no reason to get over enthusiastic if it doesn't suit me.  So today while my toddler was at preschool I headed to the pool (admittedly with a car).  I checked the schedule and options at both local pools and realized that only the 50 meter pool was open at the Tongelreep, despite my lack of understanding meters as I should, I knew that would be too much for me.  The Ottenbad didn't have their 25 meter pool open but their recreation pool was open for swimming laps, the same pool I used to take water aerobics in.  I'm not the bravest person in the world, and this was a big adventure to take on my own.  (I know, I know, I can move countries, but I'm nervous about swimming laps alone, silly, huh!)  Something I remembered about swimming laps was at the time it felt great and the next day my entire body ached.  So I set a small goal for myself, 15 minutes or 10 laps.  Surprisingly it wasn't my muscles that let me down, it was my breathing.  I was out of breath before I knew it.  This time I was mixed in with all the senior citizens (hooray for them, no need to stop exercising because you're over 60 or 70 yrs old) and they were putting me to shame.  No we weren't using the same stroke or speed, but they were consistent and not heaving for a breath on the side of the pool.  Maybe the muscle shock will come later today or tomorrow, but as of now I need to study up on breathing techniques if I plan on keeping this up.  I'm keeping my goals small, I plan to swim laps at least once every two weeks.  (I said small, and I meant it.)  We'll see where it goes from there.  With the winter nearing and not having my own car I can't exactly imagine myself biking through snow or -7C weather to get to the pool, but who knows.  All I know is I tried something different, I survived without utter embarrassment, and I fit in half a workout today (that means I only have to do 15 minutes on the elliptical machine in my cold shed!) 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fresh Veggies

While driving from one town to the next you can often find great fresh vegetables, flowers, or honey stands on the side of the road.  I've often thought about popping by one, but generally if we're passing one we're lost or in a hurry and after that I quickly forget the location.  Another blogger here in Eindhoven recommended Oirschot or Riethoven for fresh vegetables or eggs.  Now that I actually had a direction to drive (and my husbands car for the day), me, my tot, & my dog set out to the village about 30 minutes from where we live.  I knew exactly what I wanted to buy, winter veggies, but for the life of me I couldn't find a stand in Riethoven... I did come across flowers though.  Besides just wanting fresh veggies other than from the super market, I also wanted to get my tot & dog out of the house, we had been cooped up due to a light case of chicken pox.  So, I wasn't going to give up.  Instead of taking the highway home, I decided to drive through every small town on the way back until I found them.  Luckily it didn't take long!  In the village Walik on Hobbel (the street) I found a great selection of winter veggies ranging from pumpkins to winter squash, jackpot!  My daughter was also fascinated with the selection and the fact there was no cash register.  They used the honor system, collect your own veggies and put the money in the milk canister hanging next to the bags.  I bought her a small pumpkin to decorate... just because we don't make a big deal about Halloween at home doesn't mean she's clueless, she sees it on tv.  And for dinner, I bought two different types of winter squash.  To be honest, I didn't get around to cooking the squash for a couple days, it takes a lot of oven time and my schedule has been pressed lately.  But the cold weather kept them fresh, so I just left them on our back terrace until I was ready to cook.  I have never cooked or eaten winter squash before, so it was an all around new experience.  I asked my mother in The States for cooking suggestions and then the next time my mother-in-law visited (also a big vegetable fan) I served up a beautifully baked squash.  It was good, and I barely did a thing, and surprisingly enough, it tasted a lot like sweet potatoes (something I ate a lot of in Florida).  I still have one more squash to prepare and no one to help me eat it.  I guess I can always blend it into my tots veggies, she might not notice.  This is what Autumn is all about, enjoy the photos!