Monday, May 27, 2019

Catching up: Moving!

Here's how buying a house works in Amsterdam (this is pretty specific to Amsterdam, rather than the Netherlands as a whole, and is apparently a right-this-minute phenomenon. We picked exactly the wrong time to move here and buy a house. Womp womp):

-You decide you're sick of renting and sick of not having a place for guests to sleep and sick of the all-night shouting from the bar down the street.

-You spend at least 30 minutes a day scouring Funda (the Zillow of the Netherlands) for any new houses that fit your specific but somewhat flexible criteria.

-You go to the open house, where you see at least 20 other couples who look exactly like you looking at the house.

-You say as little as possible, in case the sellers don't like non-dutch speaking expats.

-You go back and forth with your real estate agent (called a makelaar - one of my favorite dutch words) over what the house is worth versus what people might bid on it.

-You guess at a number, it is stomach-churningly higher than the asking price. You have the makelaar place your blind bid.

-You get a call saying that you've been outbid.

-Repeat until you either buy a house or just give up and rent forever.

It took us four full rounds (and 5-6 partial rounds) of this game before we accidentally bought our house.

Wait, but how do you accidentally buy a house?

You go through steps 1-3 and decide that the house is fine but needs a lot of work, you decide to bid a number that seems too low for the neighborhood, but gives you enough money to do the renovations that you would need to do. You assume that's the end of that, until your makelaar calls and tells you the house is yours...and then you start to panic.

We signed the contract on the house in June, but didn't actually close on the house until December. We spent those six months obsessively drawing floor plans, making pinterest boards, finding a contractor, and getting a mortgage which was the hardest bit (in a moment of things-working-out-okay, we were actually very lucky that we had 6 months until closing as getting a normal Dutch mortgage - instead of a higher priced ex-pat mortgage - turned out to be quite labor and time intensive and the pressure would have really been on for a normal house closing).

All I'll say about the renovation process is: get a contractor who speaks the same language as you do. And send pictures of EXACTLY what you want things to look like. And visit the site every day. Oh, and get things in writing. And make sure all of the electricity works before they pack up.

Penelope learned to walk just before we moved, in an apartment full of boxes. The problem with having a company pack up all your things for a transatlantic move is you don't really understand how much stuff you have. When the movers who were moving us to the new house said we would need 90 boxes, I assumed he was grossly over-estimating. Incorrect. 90 boxes was just barely enough. To be fair - we have acquired an additional human since that first move and she has accumulated an irrational amount of stuff in her short little life.

The boxes were good for entertaining Pip because they gave her lots of things to lean on and walk to and also because she loves putting things into and taking things out of boxes, which kept her occupied while we tried to do actual packing. This was going really well until I realized one day that I couldn't find my wallet. After five hours of digging through every already-packed box I finally came across it buried deep in with some toys and dishtowels that she had packed. So helpful.

And then we fiiiiiinally moved in and thus began the impossible task of finding a new place for everything in a space that is different size and shape from anywhere we've ever lived. It has been a challenge that has involved several trips to Ikea (with at least one more in our future), boxes being upacked and repacked, lots of hiding things under beds, furniture rearranging, and second guessing of just about every part of the process.

We still have a lot of projects to do and are often plagued with the "was this the wrong choice" anxiety but it has been totally worth it for the mornings when Pip is up and ready to play at 7:30, so we all just put coats on over our pajamas and take our coffee out to the backyard. Its been satisfying to make such a small space work for us. It is by far the smallest home we've ever had, but it is so nice to know that we're using all the space to its potential. There are no rooms we never go in, no closets we never open.  We're so excited to continue our Dutch journey in this little house with its unpronounceable street name.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Catching Up: A week where a lot of things happened

The last week of November/first week of December was a big one over here.

1- Nonno came to visit.

We're always so grateful when people come to visit us. Poor Nonno had to deal with a very, very sick Penelope (including a first trip to the pediatrician) but dutifully hung out with us and explored solo while we ran around doing a million things (see #3).

2- We went to Pip's first (out-of-utero) concert.

Despite having parents who aren't "music people" and who live across an ocean from all of their favorite recording artists, Pip managed the two weirdest (for 2017) in utero concerts: Third Eye Blind and Dar Williams. Dar Williams is actually the concert that send me into labor (thanks Dar!) in December. 

We have been seriously, seriously struggling with the idea of Sinterklaas. Have your read David Sedaris' Six to Eight Black Men? I recommend it for a humorous idea of what we're dealing with. What we're actually dealing with is a country of people who are waaaaay too casual about blackface. Also, Penelope was born ON the day that Sinterklaas is celebrated (which is like being born on Christmas) which is only making the issue more tedious.

But! We have found an alternative that we love. De Nieuwe Sint. After reading about it on someone's facebook, we dragged my dad along (Nonno loves a little reggae music) and it ended up being a super fun afternoon even with a sick baby who wanted to dance even though she couldn't walk. We are perfectly happy to make this the only Sinterklaas tradition we have.

3- We bought a house

Did I bury the lede on this one? Maybe. But it was somewhat anticlimactic as we had bid on the house and signed an initial contract in June. When we agreed to buy it, we had to agree of a closing date of 30 November (which ended up getting pushed back to 3 December). It was very strange to know that we had already bought a house, but have to wait 6 months to do anything about it. Though all that time gave us the opportunity to plan almost a gut-rehab of the place. It was really nice to have my Mom here when we signed the first batch of paperwork and my Dad here for the second. Purely coincidence but a happy one for sure.

4- Pip turned one!

Okay. I REALLY buried the lede, but this was the last thing that happened. Our little Poo-poo bear turned one year old. We celebrated the day before at school with traktaties and songs and then at home with presents and getting the screen on mama's phone fixed (lucky baby!) and then the next weekend with cake and balloons with some of our new friends.


Catching up: Naples

Remember when I said I would be better about blogging? Me too.  I mean it this time. I really do...

In advance of our second Amsterdam-iversary I'm going to blog some of the highlights since... November (yikes!)

Naples is a pretty disgusting city. Luckily, the food is delicious and there are plenty of lovely things to see just a quick train/ferry/metro ride away. We also lucked out with incredible weather. It was gorgeous and sunny and perfectly warm the whole time we were there.

Our first stop was (obviously) pizza.

Then we did a lap around the city center and decided we were pretty done with Naples. There's garbage everywhere, reckless moped drivers, tons of cigarette smoke -- despite amazing food, it is for sure a pass-through city.

Day 2 was the reason for the whole trip. Since Danny has been a kid, he's wanted to go to Pompeii. Having already been on Escape from Pompeii, the Busch Gardens thrill ride when I was 12, I felt like I had already experienced it... but I was happy to tag along. In retrospect, Pip was exactly the wrong age to take with us. We went without a stroller which was good since the uneven ancient Roman streets do not lend themselves to flimsy umbrella stroller wheels, but she didn't want to be carried, and she was still only crawling (also not great on the ruins). Plus we missed the audio guide somehow (probably because she was throwing a fit and we just wanted to get out of the line of people as fast as possible).  So the first hour was just her crying, Danny trying to download a guide, and me wondering where the Ancient Roman winebar was. After she had had her fill of putting stuff in her mouth and faceplanting into 2,000 year old masonry we got her into the ergo and did some proper wandering.

Pompeii is much bigger than I was expecting. It is really a city that just doesn't have most of its walls or roofs. I loved all of the paintings on the wall that were still visible, and the little road-side food stands with the cutouts where they would put coins. It made it feel very real. Once the little tyrant had woken up, we went to a restaurant where everyone was dressed in "authentic" outfits and the food was meh.

Day 3 was my pick. I had known I wanted to go to one of the islands. Capri is the obvious choice, but since it was the off season, I figured our chance of seeing the Grotta Azzurra was really low. We'll come back to the region eventually (can't move to Europe and not visit the Amalfi coast) and get a proper day in Capri. For this trip we went to Ischia. We got on a ferry and then onto a bus that dropped us near Aragonese Castle.  The castle was also not stroller friendly but P did slightly better in the carrier and enjoyed some more open places to crawl around. It is a gorgeous castle with lovely views of the island and the Mediterranean.

The perk of traveling in the off season is no tourists. The drawback is nothing is open. We wandered endlessly trying to find a restaurant that was open and google maps is zero help (it doesn't recognize "summer hours"). we had to break into the stash of chocolate covered lemon peels we were supposed to be bringing back for coworker treats to survive. The place we found was perfect. I tried a local rabbit dish and had a cocktail. While I know every says Capri is the best, I think Ischa would probably be just as lovely a place to spend a day or two in the warmer months.

Day 4 was a bit of a gamble. Knowing that we wanted to stay out of Naples, we had considered taking another train and trying to see some of Sorrento but didn't want to spend so much of another day commuting, so we hopped on a metro to the castle in Caserta. All we knew about it was that it was super big, and had been in the crappy Star Wars movies. It ended up being a perfect way to end the trip. The castle was very castle-y, but also stroller friendly. It had a massive staircase which was perfect for our little newly-minted stair climber (big ups to Dad for carrying the stroller up all those stairs). It was all shiny, with good light fixtures, and ceiling art. We had a great time taking pictures and learning a bit about the history of southern Italy (not that I can remember any of it now). The garden was a whole other level. We spent another hour or two walking around before taking a bus back to the castle (that's how big the gardens are, you can take a bus from one end to another).

We accidentally ended up in a super fancy restaurant for a late lunch and then wandered around the tiny adorable town of Caserta before getting some much needed gelato and heading back to get ready to fly home. Apparently, the days of "sleeping baby during flight," are behind us. I will miss them very, very much.

Naples itself is heartbreaking. So much beautiful architecture, lovely people, amazing food -- and it is all covered in garbage and unemployment. I cannot say I recommend it, but I do - because there is so much amazing stuff to see in the vicinity. And the wine is very good.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Where we've been...

So, I told myself I was going to be better about blogging, then nine months went by with nothing. There are plenty of excuses as to why - but we're going to try again...again.

Here's a recap of our summer adventures:

We went to beaches in four beaches in three different countries.

We took trains to Brussels, Luxembourg, and Den Helder.

We searched for Nessie in Scotland and cheered on the Cubbies in Chicago.

Granda and Grodmother Annie visited and lived on a house boat.

Cousin Peter and Cousin Kelsey visited (Kelsey even brought her friends Beyonce and Jay-Z).

Tierra and Rusty, Jill and Eric, and Alex and Jess all visited too.

We went to Zaanse Schans three times.

We rode in big boats (to Nantucket and Texel) and small boats (mostly just around Amsterdam).

We saw almost all our Dorn and Grandi families and met new Budzinskis (and so many friends).

It was a jam-packed few months, we took most of the autumn off from big-time adventures to recuperate but we're ready to get back out there with some excitement this winter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Tweede Halloween

Halloween is a Grandzinski family favorite holiday. DBudz likes to go overboard decorating (this year and last year have been subdued, but once we're in our house I have no doubt he will go completely overboard with animatronic ghosts and bats). And I like kids in costume. I like kids in costume so much that I instituted an annual Halloween kids parade at my old office in Chicago. It was, by far, the best thing I ever accomplished at that job.

Last Halloween, I introduced my Dutch colleagues to Reece's pumpkins (my favorite) and candy corn (DBudz's favorite). They thought the pumpkins were great, but were skeptical of the candy corn, "Sooo, are we eating candle wax? Is this a thing Americans do?"

Halloween is slowly gaining momentum here, and by the time Pip is 4 or 5, I'm sure she'll get to enjoy it as much as American kids do.

To get in the spirit, we attempted decorating a pumpkin, but cornstarch-based paint doesn't actually stick to pumpkins AND Pip doesn't really enjoy painting as much as she likes eating paint and eating the stem of the pumpkin.

Since it was my first time dressing up my own baby, you would think I would have gone all out with a fancy homemade costume. Turns out - I'm not that kind of mom (at least not this year), BUT, we did wind up with 3 different costumes.

The Amsterdam Mamas (the expat moms group in Amsterdam) hosted a Halloween parade on Sunday, so we went with some friends. It was the first really cold day, so we had forego our original costume plan and bundle Pip up. I had a last minute spark of inspiration...

Bear suit + Tutu = A Dancing Bear!

Most of the activities were for bigger kids, but she had a ton of fun sitting in the bouncy castle while the other kids bounced around her and she is always happy to crawl around on a new playground.

When we got home where it was warm, she wore her other costume.

I bought this in a moment of online shopping weakness back in the spring from one of those horrible, unreliable Chinese companies. The tag is sewn on the outside, but you get what you pay for. Our growling baby dino in her true form.

And of course, she had to wear a costume on Halloween!

We had lunch plans to show off this silly skeleton (thanks Kelsey K!) but her overproduction of boogers canceled that. We decided to try out decorating the pumpkin with stickers as a "pincher-grasp practice" activity, and had some success.

Happy Halloween friends!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One year...

A year ago today, Danny called up Amsterdam and told them we were on our way. Then 2 days later, I was going to explode with the secret so I started this blog.

A year ago we had just been told we might not be able to have kids, we were both in jobs that felt like they were leading absolutely no where, we had just watched Donald Trump assume the presidency of the US, and we were both so itchy for some hope and change.

In the past 365 days, I have regretted this decision exactly three times. 1 - when I found out I was pregnant and was overwhelmed with the thought of raising a baby a continent away from my friends and family. 2- When my Nonno died and I couldn't be with my family. 3 - When Rocket died and I couldn't be there for my best friend. Beyond these moments of fear and grief - at every turn it has felt like the right choice.

Don't get me wrong - its hard. It is so.hard to miss our people, to miss tacos, to miss legal documents written in English. And it is really, really hard to be raising a perfect little Dutch tulip so far from so many people who love her.

People always ask why we moved here and I inevitably fumble through an explanation somewhere between "we love a good adventure," and "have you *seen* America recently?" But the simplest why is because we like how our tax dollars are spent. We traded in "high" salaries and "low" taxes for something approaching the reverse and don't complain because we are happy with where the money is going.

The money goes towards free health care for every child until they turn 18. It goes towards innovative projects to protect against climate change (pretty critical for a country that is below sea level). It goes towards better bike paths, daycare tax credits, good public schools, and affordable housing.  Things we truly believe in and want to be funding.

There are other reasons too. It is dreamy to live in the Jordaan (despite the inevitable weekend influx of too-many tourists). We still stop on every bridge to look up and down whichever canal we're crossing for a small moment of gratitude that we live in a new and beautiful city.  It cannot be overstated how much happier we are to live in a biking city and a biking country. We relish the challenge of a new language and the opportunity to raise a bilingual child.  We lucked into jobs that are rewarding - where we are valued and our voices matter.

We are grateful for the technology that helps us connect to the other side of the ocean (who doesn't love waking up to a daily #Pipstagram?) and how much more we value time spent in the company of those we love.

We don't know how long we'll be here but I do promise to try to blog more this year.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Eerst Nationale Tulpendag

Apparently January is the official launch of tulip season in the Netherlands, which is kind of strange because I wouldn't quite call it tulip weather outside, but I think this is when they get planted so they bloom in the spring. Despite the 38 degree weather (3 degrees Celsius) we ventured out to experience Nationale Tulpendag and see 200,000 tulips planted in Dam Square.

As with any sort of free event in a heavily tourist populated place - it was kind of a shit show. The line to get in to pick the free tulips stretched on far longer than we had any interest in waiting.  Having been warned that this would be the case, I went up to the fence to snap a couple of pictures of other people picking flowers before we left. The man standing next to me at the fence asked one of the security guards inside the garden to snag him a few flowers, which he happily did (there are no rules here). So I mustered up the courage to use my very, very rudimentary Dutch to ask if I could have one of his blooms, which he happily gave me.

Pip slept through the whole experience but woke up on the way home to admire her first dutch tulip. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

A dutch baby!

Penelope Eliza was born on December 5 weighing 3.61 kilograms.

She shares her birthday with Sinterklaas which is kind of like sharing your birthday with Christmas (so, Jesus?) in America. Her birth story is a story for another day, we're just so happy that she is here and healthy and I am incredibly proud of myself for taking my last bike ride 6 hours before going into labor.

Danny was very excited to pick up her birth certificate which proudly announces her as being born in Amsterdam. And they even threw in some branded swag for her.

Our kraamzorg was the second best thing to ever happen to us. Taking care of all three of us in that first bleary, unreal week of parenthood/being out of the womb. We all cried when she left. America -- you gotta get yourself some kraamzorgs.

We are so excited to be on this new adventure with our little Pip.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Two Dutch day trips

The Netherlands is a pretty tee-tiny little country which lends itself to tons of international travel (France is literally three hours away), but there are so many fun things right here in the Netherlands. We have a long list of adventures that are just a short train ride away this coming spring. Here's a couple of places we've managed so far.


First things first - please don't say it like you would say the name of the cheese. If you're feeling brave and worldly - you can say "HOW-da" with a guttural "how." If you're not trying to be someone you're not - saying it "gow-da" (or just "how-da") will get the message across. The good news is while you don't say it like the cheese, it is where cheese comes from.

Gouda is best experienced in the summer on one of the cheese market days. It is touristy as all get out, but you're a tourist right? Embrace it. There's people dressed up in oldey-timey clothes (and wooden shoes!) and there are secret handshakes. It's a delight. It will be over crowded with other tourists so once you've had your fill of touristy photos and bought yourself some cheese and a few oliebollen, get out of the town square and the rest of Gouda will be basically empty.

The best way to explore Gouda is to just walk around, follow canals, cross bridges, and get lost on the little streets. There are canal tours if you want to see the city by boat, but it is small enough that just walking around for a few hours will be lovely.

If you like to have stops planned:
Museum Gouda cafe - I just went in to use their bathroom but I had I not just eaten an entire bag of oliebollen on my walk, I would have had a proper meal.
Stroopwafel cafe - stroopwafels (or siroopwafels) are a fan favorite - you can see how they are made and buy them fresh, right from the source. The little street that the stroopwafle cafe is on is super cute with some adorable little shops.

There is also a church, and the museum, and you can explore the town hall building in the center of the main square if you need more structured activities.

Den Haag.

Much like Gouda - rather than saying The Hague, the Dutch pronounce it "den haag" (exactly how it looks). Den Haag lends itself to a little more structured visit than Gouda or a smaller town. We started our day with a tour of parliament.

We had a leisurely walk around the center of the city. We skipped the Mauritshuis museum but if the Girl with Pearl Earring does it for you, you can find her there. We also skipped the MC Esher museum (I find it hard to justify wandering around museums when it is sunny outside), but it would also be a good way to wait out a rain storm. We went to the Peace Palace but dropped the ball on getting a tour of the gardens or the building itself. The visitor's center was nice, but do better than us if this is on your list.

After lunch we made it out to Madurodam in Schevenigen. I do not recommend this as a Saturday excursion unless you really love kids running all around completely unsupervised. It is a hilariously awesome place full of miniature displays from around the Netherlands. But, Saturday afternoon was a poor choice on our part.

After Madurodam we went to the beach for the international fireworks festival. If you're in the country when it is happening (mid August), it is worth the trip. The only problem with Schevenigen's boardwalk is it is just like every other boardwalk. Endless restaurants that are all pretty much the same food at pretty much the same over-priced-price. We ended up eating in the De Pier, because it had the most interesting variety of food and also, it was cold and we didn't want to sit outside (the weather is fickle in the Netherlands, even in the summer).

There are so many great places just a quick train ride from Amsterdam -- we're excited to see more in 2018.