Oct 17, 2011

Three Months (I Know, Can You Believe It?)

So our Stuff arrived, and after a few days of blissful reunion when Stuff was on its best behavior, Stuff soon settled back into its old habits, namely being strewn around the house, causing arguments, and drinking straight out of the milk carton. Though we only pretended to be annoyed, because the truth is, we really missed Stuff.

The other night we were sitting around the living room: Mark and Sam were playing chess, I was reading with Mia, and Nate was playing with his train set. Mia looked around and said, "I can't believe it! Everyone is happy! No one is bored, or crying, or asking to watch TV. It's just like you always wanted mom!" Yes, it was. Thank you Stuff. Sorry about my flings with Simplicity. I promise from here on out to be entirely faithful to materialism, and to stop complaining about what a pain you are. Oh yeah, sorry that I used to complain about you being a pain. And to prove how sincerely reformed I am, I promise to go to IKEA soon and come back with a new shelving system just for you. Pinky swear.

Crazy that we've been here 3 months now. Gradually, I'm feeling back to my normal self. Except that it's a new normal self whose daily life is completely different from my old normal self. Unfortunately, my new normal European self is now addicted to two packs of second hand smoke a day. However, I finally beat my old American self's addiction to having two healthy lungs. So glad to get that monkey off my back.

But I digress. This post is meant to be a glimpse into our daily life here in Amsterdam, 3 months in. So let's begin.

The kids and I have to be ready to catch a city bus to school at 8:22 every morning. Back in Seattle, I usually wasn't even awake at 8:22, let alone dressed and on a bus, so this is a tad bit difficult for me. And for Sam. Despite being the first one up every morning, he is always the last to be ready. Often I just have to pick him up and run out the door in whatever state he's in. We have a 25-minute bus ride to school, and I'm betting that before long we'll just be hopping on the bus in our pajamas and getting ready en route.

If I haven't mentioned it, Mia and Sam are going to a Dutch public school here, and will spend this school year in an intensive Dutch immersion program. In theory, they will be fluent enough in a few months to start transitioning to our local school one day a week. I plan on posting more about this later, so for now I'll just say that most mornings I pry them off of me, ignore their pleadings, push them into their classrooms, and then hop on another 25 minute bus ride with Nate, while I try not to cry, or shout for joy (depends on the day).

When we get home, it's time to start thinking about dinner. This means heading down to the grocery store down the street. The local grocery store, Albert Heijn, is similar to a Trader Joe's in size and packaging options. For a family of 5, I usually need to buy 8 of everything in order to not run out by the next day. And keep in mind, whatever I buy, I have to bring home on my bike. When we first arrived and were trying to stock our kitchen, I would go grocery shopping, and 4 hours later the kids had eaten everything I'd bought. This continued to be a problem, until I saw my neighbor getting an Albert Heijn grocery delivery. Salvation! We now get most of our groceries delivered, but I still end up at Albies at least a few times a week. Our newest discovery is the Albert Heijn brand strawberry-rhubarb jam. It has completely revitalized our relationship with toast. However, there is no root beer, and the artichoke hearts are not marinated. Also, we've found that unscented laundry detergent is the way to go here.

Our local Albies. Notice that there is no parking lot, only bike parking.

You might be interested to know that we have an entire shelf in the fridge just for cheese, and that is not just because our fridge is about the size of Gary Coleman (which is why I call it The Coleman). I finally worked up the nerve to walk into one of the two cheese shops on our street and as a result, we are now the proud owners of a cheese knife, and a whole boatload of cheese. When the 13 year-old kid working in the cheese shop knows more about cheese than you know about the entire sum of everything you've ever learned, it's hard to say no. And yep, two cheese shops on the same block.

They both look exactly like this. Surprisingly, they don't carry Kraft.

In addition to the cheese shops, on our way to the Albert Heijn, we pass by a bakery, two produce markets, a flower stand, a butcher, a fish market, a cigar shop, an oil and vinegar store, and a chocolatier, most of which intimidate the crap out of me. But then there's Hema. It's right on the corner, and it's like a tiny European Target. We find a reason to go there every day. In fact, we just got back (turns out we needed some Belgian Bon Bons). I recently learned that the Hema-brand smoked sausage is considered a national treasure. This is what it looks like.

I thought it was a dog toy. Can you imagine if Target made the best smoked sausage around? There would be rioting in the streets. According to Wikipedia, Hema is also very popular for its underwear and house paint. Guess I just got my shopping list for tomorrow.

I don't think even the bike riding with 2 kids on board can make up for all of the chocolates and sweets we are discovering here. Say what you will about their taste in sausage, but the Dutch don't mess around when it comes to sweets. Do you know that they consider chocolate sprinkles on buttered bread to be a perfectly acceptable breakfast item? Well, now we do too. 

When we're done shopping, it's time for laundry. Rather, it's always time for laundry. It's never not time for laundry. Our washing machine is really a washer/dryer combo, and it's the cutest little thing you've ever seen. And I don't use the world little flippantly. It's like an appliance in embryo, which is why I call it the Baby Coleman. It's supposed to be super energy efficient, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how something that fits 1/4 of the capacity of our old washer, and takes 4 times as long could possibly be more efficient. All I know is, I put 2 pairs of jeans in, press a button, and 4 hours later they are completely dry. Or they could be completely dry, but we hang dry everything now. If we didn't we would only be able to wash 7.3 items of clothing a week at the rate it takes. But I'm not complaining. My new motto: Keep the Baby Happy.

Occasionally, laundry and shopping and bus rides and eating delicious pastries are all taken care of, and Nate and I find ourselves with an hour or two to spare. At this point we might hop on our bike or a tram, and make our way to a museum, or the American Book Center, or a park if Nate is really lucky. Or, Nate will have some "Dutch lessons" from Professor Television, and I'll research someplace to go on an upcoming weekend (recently, the beach at The Hague, and Belgium this coming weekend), or study my Dutch homework. Or, play on my newly arrived piano that I don't regret shipping here at all, apartment living be damned. But really, mostly it's laundry, shopping, and bus rides. And somehow I still manage to waste plenty of time on the internets, and stay up way too late, just like back in the States. Some things will never change.

So three months later, here we are: we eat chocolate sprinkles for breakfast, we shop at a chic European shop for towels and measuring spoons, and have a dedicated cheese-shelf. We wash our clothes in tiny batches that take 4 hours for every outfit, and I've added phrases such as "back in the States" to my repertoire. I ride the bus for 2 hours each day, we're getting lung cancer, and last weekend our kids swam in the North Sea.

It's our new normal.


Courtney @ Ordinary Happily Ever After said...

I drink straight out of the milk carton too... OK, not the milk carton. The water carton.

I'm glad you are adjusting. I've seen one of those combo units. Crazy thing!

thespangenbergs said...

mmm...chocolate sprinkles on toast!!! YUM! See you soon-ish ;)

Shelly said...

Makes my life seem fabulous! Thanks for the info...always wonder what life is like outside the US.

Kacey said...

I love reading about your life Donna! You are so funny and clever in your writing. I love the idea of all that chocolate and riding bikes everywhere.

Julia said...

Sounds like an awesome "new normal"! Seriously...while the logistics of everything sound nightmarish, you're still doing something pretty dang cool. Keep the entertaining posts coming!

Robert and Megan Elliott said...

Donna I laughed so hard reading this. I could just see you telling us all this...your much better woman than I.