Thursday, February 28, 2013

Leaving On A Jet Plane

♫ 'Cause I'm, leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again ♫  (Actually I do know when we'll be back but the John Denver song sounded so nice!)  As I mentioned in a previous post me & my toddler are headed back to The States for a short visit.  You heard it right, me and my toddler, my husband's staying here in The Netherlands due to work and well the outrageous costs of travelling internationally.  In years passed I refused to take the trip alone, I'm not the best traveler... so it seems crazy that I'm doing this with my 3yr old in tow.  But sometimes opportunities arise that you don't want to miss out on, and this one is getting to visit my grandma and see what her life in a little Tennessee town is like.  Plus I want to help her get the house tidy and organized so she can consider selling it and moving into something more manageable.  See years ago she decided to move back home, she used to live in Florida like I did, but she had always dreamed of returning to the town she grew up in, and she followed that dream.  But life happens, and now she's 75yrs old, and that dream is changing.  At her age managing a large house and yard alone is almost impossible.  I always talked about wanting to see her dream but it seemed so far fetched, if we spent the money to go back to The States we always went somewhere central so everyone could visit us in one go.  Then things happened or didn't happen, decisions were made, and then my husband said, "why not, why not do it".  I couldn't help but cry - it means a lot to me... I cried when he suggested it, I cried when I told her.  And believe me, I don't cry easily.  Then after reigning in the emotions, reality started to sink in.  WTF, I'm about to fly internationally, on a connecting flight, then drive a rental car for an hour, with my 3 yr old, whoa!  Needless to say, I've been getting less sleep these days.  The nearing trip has actually taken over most of my thoughts.  I'm a planner you see, so I've been researching every last detail of the trip (maps, airports, you name it).  It took me 2 days to finally settle on a plane ticket, and another entire morning of research before choosing a rental car!  I've been stocking up on things I need to get through the trip from toiletries & luggage, to entertainment & documents.  I've been corresponding with the airline and malls, and anyone else that can give me any more insight on my trip.  Plus there are other things to arrange, like the dog and making sure my husband has food (just so you know, he is capable of taking care of himself).  The trip is consuming my head (I mentioned that right), you've probably even noticed a lot less blog entries the past couple weeks.  But no matter how overwhelmed I sound (and am), I am truly looking forward to the trip.  Mostly the part where I'm in Tennessee with my Grammy and not so much the travelling part.  I don't know if I'll be doing any blogging while there but I'm sure I'll have plenty of stories when I get back.  What people don't always realize is that when you become an expat you never really fit in anywhere anymore.  So I'll feel just as foreign in Tennessee as I do in The Netherlands.  And based on previous short road trips with my toddler, I'll be sure not to say things like, "we're lost" or yell "f*#k" when things don't run smoothly.  All she needs to know is, "we're almost there".  For any of you out there who happen to be pros at travelling internationally with toddlers, feel free to throw some advice my way, thanks!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday #42

Link up here for Wordless Wednesday!

Our curious camera compilation can also be found here...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Despicable RyanAir

RyanAir, I grumble every time I see the advertisements or even hear the words... RyanAir is a horrible despicable airline.  I've never had any pleasure doing business with them and I would never recommend them to anyone.
Now, I'm only going to complain this post so prepare yourself.
My last post about RyanAir was me fighting with them to reimburse a cancelled trip.  I think the tone of my post tells you they did not reimburse our trip.  They basically stole €700 from our family.  A short recap... our toddler was exposed to two cases of chicken pox and was most likely going to contract them.  We contacted RyanAir, were told she would not be allowed to board the plane if she had them, and then they assisted us in cancelling our trip by referring us on to our travel insurance.  We followed all of their steps, filled out all of their paperwork and they still refused to reimburse our cancelled trip.  We then filed a claim with the travel insurance RyanAir recommended and they too refused to reimburse us.  We did what any good parents would do, we saw a high risk of getting stuck in a foreign country with a sick toddler, and it cost us €700!
This was not the only time RyanAir refused to reimburse us.  During one trip they damaged our luggage to the point we could no longer use it for future trips.  And because we didn't fill the paperwork out immediately before exiting the airport they would not even consider helping us.
And on my very first flight with RyanAir they misled us about costs.  We were told it would cost €100 to bring along our golf bag.  Pricey but hey we were going on a golf weekend.  They conveniently didn't mention this price was one way.  So at the airport on the return trip we had to dish out the money again.
RyanAir poses as a cheap airline, but they hit you with costs anywhere they can and they refuse to help you if anything goes wrong.  I'm not the only one unhappy with them, just look up their reputation online, it's absurd!
I refuse to fly RyanAir ever again.  I have even requested that my friends, family, and company also stop using RyanAir.  And if any one of you ever are faced with the choice of RyanAir versus any other airline, go with the other airline, please!!!
(The above pic is thanks to Liz at Young Adventuress)

Friday, February 22, 2013

You Trader!!!

Well, it's official, I'm a trader... I've switched from a Windows Phone to an iPhone!!!  I fought it for 2 months, so obviously I'm quite stubborn.  When I wrote the original post about my situation in December, I really didn't know what decision I would make.  And to be honest the only thing that forced me to switch is an upcoming trip to The States.  Since my husband uses an iPhone, it'll be easy for us to stay in contact through FaceTime or Skype apps, functions I didn't have on my HTC phone.  (Yeah, you heard it right, me & my toddler are travelling internationally without my husband, but that'll be a separate post!)  Standing in the store waiting to be helped with the switch (you trader!), all I could do was admire the Windows phones on display... I love the tiles and colors and the way they work.  I love that it's the same applications as on my home computer.  I love supporting Microsoft, great company!  But sometimes you just have to make logical decisions, and this time it was to use the iPhone 4S laying around our house rather than investing the money in another 2 year phone contract inclusive phone.  It'll actually save us around €30 a month... that's until I break the phone (I'm clumsy) and then we'll have to pay out of pocket unlike when you have a phone issued from the phone company.  This was one of my debate points, but my husband wasn't going for it.  Sure, in the end he won (just like with the expensive trash can I didn't want), but I gave him hell and held out for as long as I could, ha-ha!  (I actually refused to use a new trash can in our kitchen for a month in protest of the costs, again, I'm stubborn.)  You'll probably never hear me say that I like the iPhone, whether I do or don't, it's a pride thing.  But since I do have one, I might as well sign up for all of the apps that I hear everyone going on about all of the time, Instagram here I come.  Turns out it's also available on the HTC, arg!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday #41

Link up here for Wordless Wednesday!

Our curious camera compilation can also be found here...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Decent Weather

All of my plans for today fell through, but at least it's decent weather!  Today I was supposed to be in Amsterdam at a women's conference, called Women's Inc.  My husband was going to take the day off work so he could shuffle our tot to preschool in the morning and take care of her in the afternoon.  But things changed.  My daughter managed to get chicken pox again.  This meant, there was no way I was going to ask anyone to babysit, when she's sick she needs her parents.  But luckily my husband had put in his request for time off and she was going to be with daddy if she wasn't fit for school.  Then my husband found out an important customer requested a meeting.  For a lot of people a day-off is a day-off, the customer can reschedule.  But when you work for a family business and it's one of the larger customers you go to work.  And just like that my plans changed.  The decent weather helped to make up for it though.  I loaded my toddler into the stroller, bundled her up, hooked the dog to the leash, and we were all off for an hour walk.  It was nice to get them out of the house, no one likes being cooped up when sick.  And the weather, well, as you can see above, it was in the 40's, this is great!  (Remind me of this during the summer!)  After a cold winter and snow on the ground for weeks, blue skies and a temp above freezing was more than welcome.  I can't wait to get back to our outside activities... walking, the play grounds, visits to the parks.  The feeling started sinking in yesterday, I'm done with the winter and ready for spring!  What about you all?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chicken Pox Again

Like father - like daughter, my toddler has managed to get chicken pox twice!  What happened to her father is common, light case as a child, heavy case as an adult.  But my tot didn't wait for her adult years to get the 2nd round, it's been less than 6 months!  At first I thought the spot was a bug bite, and when I found two more I thought maybe a rash... in my mind there was no way she could have them again.  Then when the one on her forehead popped up there was no denying what it was.  I took her to the doctor who confirmed she had chicken pox again.  I asked how this could happen and she said possibly last time she didn't build up enough antibodies.  I figured the doctor would send off for blood work, but she just sent us home.  Now my poor 3 yr old is covered, and it's way worse than last time!  Last time she had a lot of little itchy bumps and fever which lasted around 10 days or so.  This time she has the large ones full of fluid and she keeps getting more and more, they're even all over her scalp.  This was one way to ruin her vacation, she had a week off school and lots of fun activities planned, of course they were all cancelled after our doctor appointment mid-week.  I'm crossing my fingers this round will be enough to build up the proper antibodies so she doesn't have to suffer through it again.  Anyone else know of a toddler that had chicken pox twice?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14th

A couple weeks ago it actually took me a minute to remember when Valentine's actually was, I ran a couple dates through my head before it came to me.  Hard to believe I could forget the date!  Commercial holidays aren't very important around our house, and Valentine's isn't as big of a holiday here in The Netherlands as it is in The States.  I do tend to get my hubby a nice card and make him something yummy for the occasion and this year was no different.  Well, this year I did involve our toddler a bit more.  Since she loves arts & crafts I decided her & I would make my hubby Valentine's Day cards instead of buying them at the store.  We had a fun time gluing & cutting, and she even managed to keep the cards a surprise until this morning.  Unlike our idea to make a cake!  I was going to surprise my husband with a heart-shaped V-Day cake, but she blew the surprise last night, ha-ha!  My toddler loves baking so I should have known she'd tell him.  Oh well, the cake will still be a yummy desert after dinner this evening.  We're both happy to have our Valentine's back home, considering last week he was away on business in Rome.  For those of you celebrating today, I hope you have a loving V-Day, and for those of you not, I hope you have an enjoyable Thursday!
My husband decided to email me a pic he considered thoughtful and sort-of romantic... morbid but sweet in its own way!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday #40

Link up here for Wordless Wednesday!

Our curious camera compilation can also be found here...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Carnaval Time

It's time for "Carnaval" in The Netherlands again (well technically it's almost over).  To be honest I have never really bothered to look up the meaning behind all of the Carnaval celebrations.  I know it has it's backgrounds in the Catholic roots and ends on Ash Wednesday.  To me Carnaval is just a big celebration where the Dutch get dressed up in Halloween-ish outfits and drink & party for a good 3-5 days.  Oh yeah, and there are also parades on the weekend leading into Carnaval.  Of course all of the partying has it's up and downs.  For those of us with children trying to carry on our normal lives, the drunks and trash littering the streets can easily be hindering.  Plus there are also the people that decide to get violent, nothing like a 3-5 drunken celebration to bring that side out of people.  Last year my husband was actually involved in a fist fight while trying to help some teenage girl out of a bad situation.  When this year rolled around neither one of us felt like dressing up and joining the raging party in the center of town, but some how or another, there we were.  We had a babysitter for the night and after dinner with friends we ended up at one of the few acceptable bars, Dr. Ink.  But since we were not dressed in a costume we were harassed, which inevitably sent us home to come up with some sort of outfit.  Since we live within 5 minutes of the center this wasn't a crazy plan, not to mention I desperately needed to use the restroom but the one at the bar was beyond dirty.  We popped home with a friend and grabbed some of our masks, combination of el-cheapos that belong to our toddler and an old Frankenstein mask that's been handed around our friends.  But since this just wasn't enough my husband also lent us all some of his sports jerseys from when he was a kid.  Now, I wouldn't quite call this a thought out costume, but it was enough to make us look colorful and silly, which would keep us from standing out (as funny as that sounds).  When we returned to the bar, no one said another word, it worked!  It turned out to be quite a night - we started it out by losing our money before even entering the bar, eventually being forced to use the disgusting bathrooms, and there was some girl unhappy with my dancing (I guess I kept bumping into her) - among all of this we had a great time.  My husband promised to take pictures for me while we were out so I didn't need to take my purse, but once the night started going he didn't appreciate the shots I wanted to capture.  I did get him to take at least 5-10 pictures and now it's been like pulling teeth to get them off his phone.  I did manage to get at least 3 pics from him.  The first was on the way to the restaurant, it was still day time and things were still on the fun family side of Carnaval (entrance to one of the busy party streets).  The next pic was me in a mask but before changing into the jersey (I eventually ended up trading masks with our friend and I think I possibly lost mine by the end of the night).  And the last pic was of the bikes covered in snow, we didn't expect it to be so cold, much less a small snow storm, but by the time we walked home we weren't feeling much.  Overall Carnaval has been fun this year, my toddler loves seeing all of the people dressed up in costumes, we're inside by the time the crazy people come out, and our night out was expensive but still worthwhile. 
(Oh yeah, and the gloves my husband blames for losing the money were ones I forced him to wear because they're for smart phones, since then I've missed placed all of my gloves, borrowed these for a trip into town today, and lost one somewhere near McD's, I guess that set of gloves was doomed from the start!)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pink or Blue?

When you purchase things for your children, is it important to you that the item be specific for their gender?  Years ago, planning for our new arrival, I decided I wanted to buy neutral toys and clothes.  Not because of some thought out process about how I want her to grow up being more than just a label, FEMALE, it was to save money (you know I'm frugal).  I figured by decorating her room in a jungle theme and buying colorful items not just pink & red, I would be able to reuse these items for the next kid.  You never know what gender the next kid will be and I didn't want to waste things because they weren't appropriate for a boy.  But over time my daughter's closet started filling with pink & red, her father insisted on a pink infant carrier, and dolls galore started arriving.  I could deal with it, it didn't exactly fit my plan of reuse but obviously I was appreciative.  (Plus my family knows I will not be buying her many dresses or clothes with bows & frills, so they figure someone has to do it!)  One day while skimming through my daily blog list, I came across a post on What To Tell The Neighbors... Suzanne wrote a post about one of her childrens' Christmas requests and that the toy was what people in general consider for the opposite gender.  Then it hit me, I don't care if my daughter plays with "boy toys" or "girls toys".  I don't feel the need to push her in one direction or another.  If she wants to dress up in a princess costume while rough-housing with boys, I don't mind, and why would I?  It's my job as a parent to expose her to options in life, and as we all know, life isn't always black and white (pink or blue, ha-ha).  She has an array of toys, she loves Little People, not only does she have the girlish pink airplane but she also has the boyish pirate ship.  And when it comes to her bed spreads, she has the cutsie colorful one with animals and teapots, and then she has the one with roads and cars.  Why not enjoy it all, I'm opening her imagination.  So I guess, it has gone beyond being frugal for me.  And this round when it came to choosing the next size-up car seat, we went with something she likes, and she ended up with one covered in a soccer ball pattern.  Why, she loves watching Manchester United with her dad, plus she adores her cousin who happens to play soccer.  And you know what, I still plan on reusing most things for our next kid (when that happens).  No, I'm not going to put him in dresses but there will be plenty of hand-me-downs he can wear.  And guess what, if it is a boy, he'll be using her red toddler car seat and red buggy (no need to spend the money on new ones).  And if the next one turns out to be a girl, well, she has a great head start with colorful creative toys not specific to one gender or the other!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday #39

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

Free Facial

I really lucked out, I received a free facial today.  Some how one of my family members ended up with a gift certificate for a facial, it was passed around through a couple of women and then ended up in my hands.  Do you think I passed it on?  No way, I've been wanting a facial for a while I just couldn't justify the costs... and voila, a gift certificate appeared.  Good things come to those who wait, so they say!  The gift certificate allowed me to choose from multiple different beauticians throughout the country.  Obviously I'm not going to drive across the country to get a facial, especially considering I squeezed it into the few hours my daughter attends preschool in the morning, so I found someone local.  Well sort of, one town over.  There was a beauty salon located here in town but I would have had to parallel park on a busy road and well, I wouldn't say I have up kept my parallel parking skills since I managed to get my Dutch license last year.  So I opted for a salon in Waalre called Huidverzorgings Instituut Mireille.  Considering where I live it was about the same distance to either one.  It's quite common here that women run salons out of their homes, so this meant I could easily park in a driveway, yes! 

The gift certificate turned out to be more than just a facial, they also plucked my eyebrows, treated my hands, and gave a light face & shoulder massage.  Then at some point they walk away leaving you covered in Cenzaa products so you can relax and listen to music.  It was great, I can't remember the last time I was treated to this!  (Probably was the last time I received a gift certificate, ha-ha!)  The salon turned out to be much larger than I expected, there were at least two treatment rooms and a staff of three.  This might sound small to Americans but this is large on a Dutch scale.  Now, I wasn't helped by Mirelle herself but I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the beautician that pampered me for around 2 hrs.  Yeah you read that right, 2 hours!  Too bad I don't remember her name, but the next time I make an appointment (still have a little left on the gift certificate) I'll be sure to request her, they must keep records, and it's not like American's walk through their door everyday so she should remember me.  Towards the end of the appointment as the next round of customers filtered in I realized I had used the back entrance, no wonder there was a sign on the door saying the salon entrance was around the other side, oops!  But hey, I still managed to get my driveway parking spot.  My only issue now is some of the products ended up in my hair, which means shower #2 will be happening today, I'll have to keep this in mind next time.  I also cut it close picking my daughter up from school, I had no idea the appointment was going to last so long, but in the end it all worked out.  So if any of you readers are in the Waalre area, be sure to make an appointment at Huidverzorgings Instituut Mirelle!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Art For Sale

Since the economy took a turn for the worst a few years back it's become quite obvious that a lot of stores & companies are struggling to survive.  Across the street from where I live is a great corner spot for a shop, but thanks to the economy nothing seems to be surviving in this location.  Maybe it's such a prime spot that no one can afford the rent???  Anyway, over the years it has hosted many shops like a bed store, teak furniture shop, temporary design outlet, and the latest, an art shop called Cobra Art Company.  I must admit, the art shop has been my favorite so far.  Why, because it was like having an art gallery across the street.  I found out that all of the artists are Dutch, so no imports.  It was fascinating, eye popping, and worthy of such a popular corner.  There were many bold pieces, ones I would love to have purchased except they were quite pricey (over €1000 per piece).  After realizing there was no way I could afford one of these unique pieces, I started wondering what normal people actually can.  This made me realize there was little chance this store would survive.  But it turns out this art isn't meant for normal consumers like me, it's meant for businesses and designers to resell.  I crossed my fingers hoping the high end furniture store next door would pull in the big spenders and the right companies keeping the store alive but unfortunately it didn't happen.  According to our neighborhood bulletin the art shop was a trial for 3 months, if it was successful it would stick around longer.  Well, 3 months is over and this passed week the company swept through the shop and cleared out the colorful collection of portraits and uniquely staged scenes.  I'm sad to see it go, I truly enjoyed watching the collection rotate.  Once again it was like visiting an art museum without having to actually pay to visit.  Apparently Cobra is quite a large company and has many dealers and displays, too bad they couldn't afford to liven up our street corner any longer!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Old Pics #2 - Cameras

Even at a young age I was armed with a camera!  You can ask most anyone I know and they'll tell you 95% of the time I have a camera on me snapping shots here and there.  My interest in cameras and photography began when I was a toddler, as you can see in the old photo from the early 80's.  My grandfather (I called him Gramps) loved photography, he was one of the few people I knew that owned a Polaroid camera in the 80's.  He wasn't alone, my grandmother (Grammy) took her fair share of photos also, helping to document my early years.  These years sparked something inside me and by the time I was a teen I always had a disposable camera on hand.  I wouldn't say it's the actual camera or composition of the photo that keeps me interested, documenting life is why I tote a camera around.  My teenage years and early 20's were caught on film, whether it should have been or not.  Really how many drunken party photos does a teenager need?  I could have blackmailed half of my high school, if needed, ha-ha!  Throughout the years I have thrown out a lot of the unneeded pics from school but I did keep some to help spark the memories.  I guess that's what photos are to me, memories you don't want to forget, but when life gets busy those memories slowly disappear into the dark cervices of our minds and these photos bring the moments back to life.  Since we bought our first digital camera sometime in the early 00's photography has changed for me.  I take too many pictures, making them almost lose their importance.  When you have one picture of you and your first dog, you hold on to it and cherish it.  When you have 500 of your latest dog, well, the meaning sort of fades.  But no matter what, I keep documenting.  My relationship with my husband, our wedding, honeymoon, vacations, pregnancy, all of it's in pictures.  And just like my grandparents, I am now photo documenting my daughters life.  And since blogging and getting to often use my father-in-laws Digital SLR camera well, a new world has opened.  My creativity is slowly breaking through.  But I must admit, I remember very little from my high school photography class and I still have a long journey ahead.  The biggest problem I face when working with the DSLR is my vision, I wear contacts and it's quite hard for me to get the clear shots I imagine once I've taken it off automatic.  It's kind of hard being a photographer when you have crap vision!  My collection of photos keeps growing and growing though, not only do I collect pics we've taken, I also collect childhood pics taken by other family members.  And I have real fascination with old-old photos.  My grandmother keeps me supplied with pics of her relatives long gone.  And I find plenty of websites supplying photos of what cities looked like when cameras first came to be in the 1800's.  Have you ever seen a pic of your street from 1901 or 1918, I've seen mine!  Nowadays people tend to capture their lives through the cameras on their phones, maybe one day that'll be me too (I had a short stint of phone pics until I messed up the lens), but for now I'll stick to my little point and shoot digital camera.