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.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Pregnancy in the Netherlands

I do not have much (or really anything) to compare it to -- but I have to say, being pregnant in the Netherlands has been pretty great and, if nothing else, a balm to my Type-A craziness.

We moved here in the middle of my 13th week of pregnancy. The first 12 weeks in Chicago were a whirlwind of doctors appointments, anxiety, and secrecy. We left the country with a clean bill of health for me and the baby, and since then (knock on wood), there haven't been any complications. I try not to foist too many expectations on this little unborn person, but he/she seemed to realize very early that there was going to be so much else happening that we were going to need to navigate (in a foreign language) that it would be really, really ideal for him/her to kick early (and often), maintain a strong, easy-to-find heartbeat, and let my blood pressure stay so low that even after falling off a bicycle, and needing to clean up a bloody cut on my knee (while trying very hard not to have a breakdown in the midwife's office) -- it would only ever get to 110 over 70. So my experience has only ever been as a pretty model patient.

First official "bump" photo - 21 weeks
I  went with one of the biggest midwife "brands" because they were really easy to navigate. They always, always comment on how beautiful my belly is. It is something Danny and I joke about, but let me tell you -- it is quite the ego boost when you're feeling like a beached beluga to have a woman exclaim, "your belly is so beautiful!" 

My appointments are about 20 minutes long. We go in, and she (they all run the appointments the same way) asks how I'm feeling and if I have questions. Then she takes my blood pressure. I lie down on the table and she feels around on my belly. We listen to the heartbeat. We schedule the next appointment. And we're done. I've never been weighed. I've had my blood taken twice (once at my first appointment for the standard full work up and once around 28 weeks to check my iron). Anytime I ask about other tests (gestational diabetes, Strep B, whatever else the apps on my phone say I need to ask about), she brushes it off. Why would they do all those tests when I'm healthy? This seems to be the MO of prenatal care in the Netherlands.  They don't treat pregnancy as an illness or an injury, rather as a process that your body is going through naturally.

27 Weeks. 
This hands-off approach makes a lot of sense, but coming from America, has been a challenge for me to accept. I am worried about everything. Strange pain, weird movements from the baby, making sure all my "levels" are good. While they all do what they can to sooth these anxieties, the answer is almost always a blunt "You're growing a person. Things might feel strange, but everything is fine." The only instance of acquiescing to my anxiety was when we were a few weeks away from flying back to the US and since I was going to be on the cusp of being "fit to fly" and was worried about preterm labor and the baby's growth, she signed the order for a bonus 30-week ultrasound.

This difference between Anglo and Dutch views on pregnancy was no more obvious then when we tried to fly back to the States. We flew from Amsterdam to Oslo with no issues. Then on our flight from Oslo to the US, the British Airways check in people had a meltdown because my letter from the midwife did not expressly say "fit to fly." This meant I had to call the on-call midwife at 5:30 am (not cool) and explain the situation. I could hear her bristling over the phone, what makes someone fit to fly? If I wasn't healthy, why would she have given me this letter in the first place? Everything she was saying was making sense, but this really tedious middle manager at British Air said that they couldn't let me on the plane without a letter specifically saying I was fit to fly. It was for my own "safety" (which, of course, actually means for their own liability).  It was really frustrating to be stuck in this cultural d├ętente. In the future, I'm probably just going to demand that (especially when flying an Anglo carrier) they write "fit to fly" on the letter. Or I'll just not fly again at 33 weeks (probably a better choice).

31 weeks.
In the Netherlands you get 16 weeks (paid) maternity leave and are required to start your leave 4-6 weeks before your due date. When I first heard this, I was annoyed. Why would I want to start so early when I could save up that time for being with the baby after he/she is born? But! As the days ticked down, I got really, really grateful for this mandatory pre-baby leave. It means I sleep so much during the day (which is really nice because I do not sleep at all at night). I have time to do all the things I have been meaning to do (like *finally* go to a physical therapist who fixed a problem I have been struggling with in my hamstring/pelvis since August) and just get ready for the baby. I got a clean break from all my work, so left feeling a little bit guilty, but not worried that there was something I forgot to do. I get to go on walks and get coffee when I feel up to it. I get to make dinner and things to go in the freezer. I am putting slightly more effort into making friends. But really my first priority is to just cook this little one. Its been blissfully refreshing to have people say, "your job is to rest." And while there have been moments of boredom, I will happily take them over having to haul this belly around on the train and into meetings.

38 weeks
The most surprising thing has been the fact that I am still (as of Wednesday, anyway) riding my bicycle. I don't ride for more than 20 minutes at a time, and the rides are sloooooow, but it is actually one of my favorite things. It hurts far less than walking, but still makes me feel active. I'm not quite the speed demon I was in the second trimester, but I have no intention of stopping (this week anyway). I feel very lucky to live somewhere where I feel comfortable riding a bike, and where caregivers love on my belly, and the government gives me four weeks to spend some real one-on-one time with this kicking machine. I cannot wait to see what the next chapter will bring.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Our first (Dutch) Thanksgiving

If I wasn't so against wearing pants these days, we probably would have made more of an effort to celebrate with other people. But instead, pants are optional, and its just the two of us. It is actually the third thanksgiving we're flying solo (duo) in a row. Two years ago, we celebrated on the shores of Lake Tekapo in an RV, last year, we had just gotten back from our trip to Europe and didn't have the energy to do anything beyond make some asparagus and lie on the couch in our PJs. We're getting really good at small thanksgivings, but I think next year, we'll try to get in on some sort of potluck action.

Danny worked all day and I'm only at home because I'm on leave. All the stores are open, kids are in school. It is a totally normal day here. Which is one of those "duh," moments, but also something that I am still processing. Also, apparently Dutch companies don't do turkey, but they do do Black Friday. Glad to see all the best parts of America are making their way across the pond.

There are many things that haven't made their way over, like the semi-homemade vibe. Which means we've had to roast a pumpkin for our pie, make chicken stock out of bouillon cubes, and tear up bread for stuffing (which is actually ideal, never say no to extra french bread in the house). Also, while we were never planning to make a big ole turkey, if we had decided to do so -- I'm not even sure where they come from. There is for sure not a big refrigerated bin of them at the store.

Grocery shopping in a foreign country takes some serious adjusting. Things are categorized differently (all purpose flour is not a thing), somethings just don't exist (like canola oil, apparently), somethings are impossible to find (the brown sugar, instead of living with baking supplies, lives with coffee and tea... it took me four months to remember this), and when you're dealing with a little bit of brain drain like I am, sometimes you make dumb mistakes that you probably wouldn't make if you were looking at labels that were in English (instead of buying heavy whipping cream, I bought just whipped cream -- it has the same name so I just bought it without realizing that the airy, lightweight container couldn't possible have anything but already whipped cream...which is called slagroom, FYI).

At any rate, we managed to get all of our groceries (one perk of a foreign thanksgiving, the grocery store was emp.ty. Combined, we went three times yesterday and came out completely unscathed).

We started the morning with cranberry, orange, pumpkin muffins (no icing! so healthy). I like an on-theme breakfast. The recipe made approximately one billion so we're freezing lots of them to have all winter long. I was surprised by how easy it was to find fresh cranberries. We really only made this because we had a ton of extra pumpkin puree, far more than we would need for pie. A pretty small pumpkin gave us enough to make muffins, pie, a quiche, and a little extra for some weekend pancakes. If you have the time to roast and puree it -- buying a pie pumpkin is so much more economical if you want all the pumpkin things.

For dinner, we decided to really focus on the sides - because (as everyone can agree), the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving. And because I had zero interest in cooking turkey.

First things first, we have been seeing these mini fondue pans in commercials for weeks, so we finally bought one and we had babybel fondue for appetizers.

We added sausage to this apple-herb stuffing recipe for a little bit of protein. We made these roasted sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon (then covered them in mini marshmallows, natch) We weren't going to have mashed potatoes, but they're my favorite, potatoes were on kortig (sale) and this recipe was super easy. Of course, that meant we also needed gravy. And then I looked around and realize there are zero vegetables, so I roasted some broccoli with garlic (I am way too proud of myself for not needing a recipe for this one).

And then of course pumpkin pie. With all slagroom. Danny had extra pie dough, so I convinced him to try the cut out thing. He went with the Sinterklaas cut out as a nod to our new culture.

It felt close enough to a real thanksgiving meal that we feel connected to the US and tradition, but is just "us" enough that it feels very new.

Mostly, we are taking time to think about how thankful we are. Looking back on just one thanksgiving ago, so much has changed and, in our immediate lives, at least, changed for the better. We're so excited to live in a country where we feel like the government truly has our best interest at heart. We're thankful for two jobs that make us feel like we're contributing in a satisfying way. And far and away, beyond all other things, we are so grateful for this little person who we hope to meet in just a few short weeks (if not days. Any day now, baby). We are so happy to be celebrating this thanksgiving, but in all honesty, it pales in comparison to our excitement about the next one.

If nothing else because maybe next year, I'll get the whipping cream right.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Months Later.

It has been five months since I wrote about our lives in Amsterdam. The neglect wasn't purposeful, more that I wasn't sure if what we were doing was actually worth blogging about. But I recently met a fellow ex-pat (from Frederick, MD no less!) who has been blogging about her life in Amsterdam since 2014. I found myself getting lost in her archives and realized that we really should be writing some of this stuff down. So -- here we are, nearly six months in Amsterdam.

Since I last wrote we have managed to settle down and get into a routine, just in time for everything to be thrown into chaos in a few weeks. In July we announced a little stowaway we brought along with us.

This little one will be making an appearance in the next couple weeks. So while I'm home on leave waiting for the big reveal, I'm going to try to play catch up on this blog.

So, five month check in. How goes it?


Awesome. Danny has already gotten a promotion (of course). He'll be running in the next six months. Rachel won the co-worker lottery and despite taking maternity leave four short months after starting, has been welcomed by an amazing group who trust her, inspire her, and push her to take on big challenges, supporting her every step of the way. The commute is still long but the hours in the office (while sometimes frustrating) have left her feeling more energized than she ever though possible. The perks of being an American fish in a small pond.

Most favorite things?
Snacks. We've almost made our way through the entire cookie aisle of the local Jumbo supermarket with incredibly favorable results and now its Sinterklaas/Christmas season and we're in marzipan heaven. The Dutch know their way around a bag of sour candy, a jar of pickles, and tiny fried bites of yum. They have crouton balls for your soup and coconut slices for your pb & j sandwiches. The sprinkles on your breakfast toast thing isn't a joke either.

Bikes. In the rain, in the wind, uphill both ways. In a very Dutch move, Rachel bought a bike that lives in Rotterdam to get her to/from work and the train station. So she owns two bikes in two cities. That's some level 8 Dutch living. Danny has found no limit to what he can haul around on his bike. We love it. It is truly the fastest, best way to get anywhere.

Least favorite things?
Noisy neighbors. This isn't a Dutch specific thing, and we know we could have rolled the dice and ended up with crap neighbors in the US too (and we did, several times), but our apartment on Argyle spoiled us and now living with a cafe/bar that seems to overserve their patrons and then encourage them to sing in street the early hours of the morning has left us a little frustrated. We are optimistic that the winter months will put an end to this behavior.

The weather. It's not great. It rains a lot. BUT it makes us appreciate the sunny days that much more. And there are rainbows everywhere. All the time. You would think we would have gotten more chill about the rainbows in five months. Wrong. Zero chill. 100 photos on both phones of the rainbows.

We went to Bordeaux.

And Malaga.

And London.

And Oslo.

And Copenhagen.

We even managed to sneak in a trip back to the US because back in because this nugget has four very excited, brand new grandparents (not to mention aunts, uncles, cousins, and besties for the resties) who couldn't wait until next summer to spoil him/her. So we had to fly back to the US with a couple empty suitcases. We came back with more blankets than one child could possibly need and confidence that we were making the right choice by having this adventure in Amsterdam.

More updates to come!