For fun, I put together a list of things that remind us we’re not in Kansas anymore.

  • The hot dog at IKEA is a frankfurter and the choice of condiments includes dijonnaise (mustard/mayo) and fried onions.
  • M gets in trouble with his co-workers when he returns with a cup of coffee for himself but not anyone else.
  • No free refills and no ice dispensers. Sniff.
  • No tipping in general. Yeah!
  • No high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oil in packaged drinks and foods.
  • We can’t find any good Mexican food.
  • They serve free coffee, espresso, or tea at the grocery store, the bike shop, the city hall…
  • You have to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store.
  • You can buy wine or beer at your grocer and never get carded.
  • No one ever wears a bike helmet.
  • Locating a free public toilet is like finding a needle in a haystack. You get very creative when your kids have to go NOW.
  • We go to the doctor, no copay. We go to the pharmacy, no copay.
  • Our doctor makes house calls evenings and weekends.
  • The government has a vaccination program for children and it’s free. Kids also get less shots from what I can tell.
  • Dora speaks Dutch & English. Boots sounds like a heavy smoker.
  • One button flushes#1, one button flushes #2.
  • Shops are closed on Sundays.
  • Grocery stores are not open 24 hours a day.
  • Eggs and milk cartons are not in the refrigerated aisle. Eggs are not sold by the dozen.
  • Our house doesn’t have a freezer!!!

Owen started Kindergarten last week!

Nope, none of the kids in his class speak English but he said that he didn’t mind. Actually, he said something quite amazing for a 5-year old: “It takes time” is what the little man said when we asked him if he had made any new friends on his first day. I read somewhere that little ones are more resilient than we give them credit for and although I knew this to be true, it’s nice to see how easily the children are adapting to our new life. Despite being in a new country, a new house and going to a new school, Owen and Sofia have been as happy as can be since Day One (grandparents can now take a deep breath).

We walk to school every day, about 10 minutes, and make sure Owen is sitting down for circle time before the bell rings at 8:30am. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I pack him a lunch so he can eat at school and I pick him up at 3:00pm. On Wednesdays and Fridays, school is out by noon so we eat together at home and have the rest of the afternoon together. This schedule is nice for kids but not so much for working parents, which is a reason why I believe most women in the Netherlands stay at home or work PT when the children are young. The solution? Daycare just like in the US but there is one difference; the government gives you a refund when you do your taxes! I don’t know how much yet but that’s nice!

Sofia has to wait until she’s 4 to go to school. We’ve applying to a “peuterspeelzaal” – a playgroup that meets 2x week for a couple of hours either morning or afternoon. It’s not free but the rates are very reasonable and they are based on your income so the more you take home, the more you pay and vice-versa. Fair, isn’t it? Unfortunately I am told there is a waiting list so Sofia may not be able to go for a while, which means we’ll probably have to send her to daycare 2x week for half-days so she can be around other children her age and learn Dutch more quickly.

Aside from the school talk, we had a good weekend though it was the coolest and rainiest so far. Below are pictures of Owen’s first day at school, our weekend bike ride, and somewhere in between, a strange looking cabbage.

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We’re still amazed by the fact that almost everything is closed on Sundays. It really forces you to slow down, relax and enjoy the day before another week begins. Since we don’t have a car yet, our options are limited to exploring our surroundings by bike or bus only. Sunday was one of the warmest days this summer so the 4 of us biked to Uden and explored the “centrum”. We were gone for almost 3 hours.

We passed a little town called Mariaheide. I don’t think it’s very big so I would call it a village. We saw many cute and quaint country homes and of course, we passed many green pastures, sheep, cows, horses… fresh smells included. I took a picture of someone’s yard (below) because there was a very large blow-up Dutch woman in red clogs. Apparently, people like to decorate their front yards to announce a birth or celebrate a birthday so we think this particular house was celebrating an “over the hill” birthday.

From the little I saw, I can tell that Uden is a larger and livelier town. More shops and restaurants and a few more people out and about on a Sunday afternoon. We had originally considered an apartment in the “centrum” and now that we’re here I’m glad we chose otherwise as our current home suits us much better. We have everything we need within walking or biking distance so again, it all worked out wonderfully.

There is a windmill in Uden and we had a chance to go up and see it from the inside. Finally, on the way back, we stopped at an ice cream shop and the kids enjoyed “aardbei” (strawberry) and I had “citroen” (lemon).

I hope you all had a good weekend too!

I finally have my very own Dutch bike. Check it out!

It’s a green/silver Sparta Marathon 7.0 with 7 gears, front-wheel suspension, dynamo light, a rack and built-in lock that is actually pretty cool. Not the classic looking Dutch bike that I originally wanted  but one that will be very good and practical for carrying groceries and Sofia in the back seat. Once it is outfitted with a basket and a child seat, I will upload a new picture.

Sparta Marathon 7.0

Now, about that lock… I have never seen a lock like this but it seems to be the standard here because all bikes at the shop and most around town have it.

In this photo, the bike is unlocked. The black lever is up and you see the key on the right.

In this photo, the bike is locked. The black lever is down and there is a metal ring below the tire. Pretty cool, eh?

Giant

This is M’s Giant bicycle equipped with waterproof saddle bags. He uses it daily to go to work, about 9 km (5.6 miles) each way. We recently bought a seat so Owen could sit in the back.

Our first week in Holland already! Honestly, I’m not sure it has sunk in yet because I feel like I’m on vacation with the kids since a) I’m not working and b) they’re not going to school.  Without boring you with too many details, we’ve had a pretty good and relaxing first week. Our daily routine consists of going for walks and hitting the playground at least once a day. There is a playground every few blocks so it keeps things new and interesting for Owen and Sofia (and me). Playgrounds here are very cute and usually made of wood. We have several nice ones in our neighborhood made by eibe. So far, zip lines and “turtle” swings are our favorites.

The weather is very interesting here because it is ever changing. What I mean is that it’s sunny, cloudy, overcast, windy and rainy all in the same day and that’s pretty much how every day has been so far this first week. I’m not complaining though. In fact, I find it very refreshing after the Minneapolis heat wave we left behind. However I never know if I need a sweater; when I look out the window it looks chilly but as soon as I step outside, I realize I am just fine with a tee. Temps have been in low 60s and mid 70s. Fine weather if you ask me. I’ll just head south to Spain or Italy when I need some real heat.

Yesterday we went to the library (pictured below) and the kids got their very own library cards! Adults have to pay an annual fee of 35 euros so I’ll get one later. Plenty of Dutch mail at home to keep me busy as I try to decipher the language via Google Translate. How did people manage before this wonderful invention? Anyway, the children’s books are also perfect for me since they teach basic words.

Walking to the center of town, where all the shops and the library are located, takes about 20 minutes so it will be nice to have my own bike to cut the time in half. I actually tested two bikes yesterday that were nice and M said we’ll go to a few more shops before making a decision. I’m looking at a used bike for starters but even used bikes are expensive if you want something decent (200-400 euros). Sure you can get something cheap but bikes are an investment around here since they are used daily for transportation. Honestly, I am really an oddity in these parts with the MacLaren stroller for Sofia. The few strollers I have seen are used by newborns and infants who can’t hold their heads up yet and thus cannot sit on a child bike seat yet. M found a seat for Owen on the Dutch version of Craigslist (www.maarktplaats.nl) and biked 9 km to get it. Sofia and I just have to be patient for a little while longer. Today I took M’s bike for a spin around town – perfect time since almost everything is closed on Sundays and streets are scarcely populated. In the afternoon I took the bike again for grocery shopping at Jumbo, the only grocery store open on Sundays and only from 4-8pm. It’s not very big and it was busy. I think I’ll avoid shopping on Sundays from now on.

Our flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam went well though none of us slept much. After landing, we were off to a bad start as the luggage took a while to arrive and no one at the airport was very helpful (what did I expect, really). Finally, a nice gentleman who saw me pushing 2 heavy carts with 6 pieces of luggage + 2 car seats while instructing my 5-year old to push the stroller with the 2-year old in it, no doubt took pity on me and offered to push one cart through customs so we could be reunited with M. From then on, everything was as it should be – our family together once again. M drove us to our new home in Noord Brabant which is about 1 hour away. It was a very nice drive filled with green landscapes (albeit flat), canals, cows, sheep, horses and the occasional windmill. It was a beautiful and breezy sunny day, a good omen since it usually rains in these parts. In the few photos of that day, you’ll see us eating a yummy egg and bacon breakfast (more like pancetta) and later going to the playground and trying out a zip line (kids loved it so we’ll be back often).

A good first day, wouldn’t you say?