May 25, 2012

Familiar Faces

(Well hello there. It's been a while.  It's not that I've been that busy, it's just that I blinked and April was gone, and May was half over. Not much I can do about that, I have a really slow blinking reflex is all.)

It's always fun to walk past someone who looks exactly like someone else you know half way around the world.

Makes my day every time.

I don't know if any of you people have Dutch ancestry, but Spencer Hadley, Lindsay Macdonald, and Scott Heffernan, I've run into your Dutch counterparts here in Amsterdam. I've also seen Jesus, twice. And this morning, Paul Rudd rode past me on a dutch bike. I almost waved to Dutch-Paul Rudd, which was less awkward than when I tried to high-five Dutch-Jesus, but still, it's always hard to recover from the Oh-I-thought-I-liked-your-movies-but-then-I-remembered-I-didn't wave. He probably has that happen a lot here.

Tangent: sometimes people tell me I look like Helen Hunt. It's the high-forehead, no upper lip thing. I assume this is what they're thinking of:

Speaking of look-a-likes, in April, we got a visit via snail mail from Flat Ryan. It's weird, he looks exactly like our 7 year-old cousin Ryan, only flat. He wanted to see the sights, so we took him to some places flat paper-kids like to go. You know, windmills and such.

This windmill is from the 1600's. As you can tell, Flat Ryan is extremely impressed. We made a book about Flat Ryan's visit and sent it to the real Ryan's 1st grade class. I'm pretty sure it was the finest literary work they've read all year. 

We're happy to host visitors of every paper variety, and the non-paper, real human visitors too. In fact, we had our first house-guests in April. 

This visitor came for a long weekend, along with her husband, who is not pictured but looks remarkably like Inigo Montoya. (How awesome is that? I bet when strangers wave at him, they really mean it.) Jen is one of my closest friends from Jr High and High school. Can't you just picture us, passing notes, giggling about boys, and speaking in a secret language? Because that's what we did. In Jr High too, not just while she was visiting. Jen is part Dutch, and it was at her house that I first learned about eating chocolate sprinkles on white bread with butter. For breakfast. Along side a bowl of rice, because she is also part Filipino.  Let me tell you, when you come from a family that eats oatmeal every morning, and you find someone who eats rice and chocolate sprinkles for breakfast, you keep that friend, for life.

Thanks for visiting, Jen and Peter! We hope you enjoyed your stay at the Bardsley Hotel.

                                         These familiar faces arrived in time for Easter. 
Since the day we moved here, I've been anticipating my parent's visit, because for some reason, being able to say, "we have family in town" just makes you feel nice inside. Also, I'd been making a list of all the things I wanted them to bring from the States: shoes for the kids, solid deodorant, chocolate chips, books in English, and 2 Costco-sized bags of baking soda. Only your parents will pack 26 pounds of baking soda in their luggage for you. And in case you're wondering, I use it for laundry. (1 cup per load for ultra-fresh clothes. You're welcome.) 

We got to visit for 9 days, and wandered all around Amsterdam. Don't let these life-long Republicans fool you-- they would become European retirees in a heartbeat. I think it was the bakery around the corner that weakened their loyalties. I wouldn't doubt that fresh pastries have been the undoing of even the fiercest patriots. 

This picture cracks me up, because you would never suspect that seconds before there had been a slight "disagreement" over where to stand. I believe I said, "OK, stop fighting and smile." Such obedient parents. 

We got to do touristy things, such as going to Keukenhof, which is one of those places that you try to pronounce really quickly so people don't really catch that you don't know how to say it. It's also one of those places that's really amazing. And when I say really amazing, it's because it is a huge garden, so as far as the kids were concerned, really not amazing.

That is until, we whipped out some cameras for them, and suddenly every plant specimen was worthy of a glossy 8x10. I wish I could take credit for this picture, but amazingly, it was Sam. 

Sam also took about 250 other pictures, many of which were almost in focus. Here is a tiny fraction of the pictures Sam took:
Now you know why I wanted to go riding through fields of tulips. 

Funny story: we walked into a tiny old bakery, and saw a jar of sticks for 25 cents each. The lady swore to us that they were not actual sticks, but rather candy made to look like sticks. Well, for 25 cents, it was candy sticks all around! And as it turned out, they were, in fact, actual sticks, flavored to taste vaguely of licorice.  Sam ate it anyway.

We also went on a day trip up the coast, to explore the country side.  

It involved a ride on an old-fashioned steam train, which actually made Mia kind of smile and here is the proof:

Hate me forever Mia, but you were happy for at least a few minutes one day here in Holland. And even though you didn't want to admit it, you also liked the boat ride. 

The boat stopped here, in a little port town called Enkhuizen, the very definition of old and quaint.
Wandering through these old Dutch towns makes me wonder about the people who live there. Do they love it, or do they look around every day and think, meh.

Meh is definitely what my kids thought about it. Up to this point, the kids had loved the train and boat ride, but within seconds of getting off the boat, wasted no time loudly voicing their appraisal of how poopy this stupid old town was.  If one of them ends up studying 17th century Dutch architecture, I will die from the irony. I wonder, death by irony, does it hurt?

More of the quaint little  town. Looking at this is our kid's idea of torture. Hey kids, should we hang you by your toes, or go walk around a beautiful, historic village? Hang us by our toes, please! 

How about you? Wouldn't you love to walk down a street like this? Come visit, and we'll take you. (We'll leave the kids with a babysitter.) Really, we'd love to see your face. 

May 12, 2012

Tutorial: Family Outing FAIL in 10 Easy Steps (complete with cell phone pics!)

Tired of all those family outings that "go really well" and often result in everyone having "an amazing time"? Then this is for you.  

Step 1: Decide on a Saturday afternoon at 3 PM that you should definitely go on a family bike ride through some tulip fields, because after all, you live in Holland now, and there's bound to be some tulip fields around somewhere. Right?

Step 2: Spend 3 minutes consulting Mr. Google, read some random blog with vague details about a super fantastic bike ride someone went on once. It's just that easy to spend as little time possible preparing!

Step 3: Take a "30 minute" trip to a nearby charming city, lugging 3 kids and 2 bikes on the metro, and then a train. Make sure it takes 3 times as long though. It's crucial that you don't forget that part.

Step 4: It's helpful when you arrive in said charming city, if there is a big street festival going on that you didn't know about, and there are thousands of people wandering the streets, and most of those streets are blocked off. Did I say helpful? Sorry, I meant super helpful.

Step 4.5: Try your absolute best to get separated in the crowds and winding, medieval streets. I cannot stress enough how essential this is. Because trying to navigate through masses of people on a bike while talking on a cell phone in a place you don't know in order to find your spouse who doesn't know where they are or how to get you there is a total blast. It's just like playing Where's Waldo in real life, except with less stripes and more marital discord. Are we having fun yet?!

Step 5: Remember the charming city part in Step 3? Well, when you finally find each other, get through the crowds and find yourself on the outskirts of this adorable place, do not allow your children to be happy about the quaint and picturesque surroundings. Make sure they are whining, and cold. Check to see if you brought extra warm clothes for them. No? Good thinking.  That will increase their unhappiness by at least 6 fold, which is really the minimum level for an adventure like this.

Step 6: Get a little lost. Go ahead, turn down that random road. Poorly placed signs really go a long way to facilitate this. Also, not having a map. Really, when it comes down to it, no maps and no signs are the key factors in getting lost. Remember that. And if you forget, you can always ask someone in a Tourist Information Center for directions, because they are sure to be no help whatsoever. In fact, it's part of their job description.

Step 7: Hungry? Well, you will be if you ate all the snacks on the train, and you've been biking for over  an hour. Good job.

Step 8: Decide to turn around before you reach any actual tulip fields, because it's been 3 hours since you left the house and it's going to get dark soon and no one has had dinner and everyone is freezing. If you actually reach your destination, you have failed. *Hot tip: beg your kids to ask you "when are we going home?" every 2 minutes.

Step 9: Take a picture by some one's yard so you can post it on your blog with the caption, Beautiful ride through some tulip fields. We're in Holland after all!  

Step 10: Repeat Step 2, only in reverse, and try to make a scene this time. Go for something like spilling hot chocolate while hefting your bikes on the train. That's always a good one-- bonus if someone gets 1st degree burns on their hand.

Optional step: When you arrive home, go to your favorite closest Japanese noodle bar, and congratulate yourself on another successful family adventure. If that sounds too idyllic, I have two words for you: chopstick swords.

Don't be discouraged by the deceptive simplicity of it all. Seriously, with a little incompetence and unpreparedness, anyone can do it. Just go for it. It's not that hard to have the most. mediocre. day. ever!