Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 2. Or is it Day 3? Uh... the Second Day Here. In The Netherlands, that is.

Megan was up before 6am, even though she didn't go to sleep until almost 11pm last night. (Maybe the nap Monday was a bad idea? Hard to say- what is preferable, a grouch or a spaz?)


We scurried around to get ready, as our Relocation Agent was going to meet us at 7:45am, so we ran down for the fastest breakfast ever at 7:30 or so. Chicken sausage, croissants, teensy muffins, fruit... the buffet was nice. They even had Ratatouille, which was pretty good! Kip and I both downed a cup of coffee, and we were off.

Megan is still barely eating anything- seems she only likes toasties (toasted cheese sandwich) and fruit. She managed to eat most of a pear and a few bites of a dutch pancake, we took some pastries for the road and met our agent.


First stop was Rijswijk (most likely not spelled correctly) which is near the Hague. There we applied for our Dutch residency, and really had a very pleasant experience with Dutch bureaucracy- we were in and out in less than 45 minutes. They are very civilized when it comes to government processing of people- you make an appointment. What a concept!

After we left with more stamps, stickers and hologram stickers in our passports, we headed over to the real estate agent's office, but she was not in. We landed in a cafe down the street from the office and had another cup of coffee with our agent, and Megan and I took turns drawing pictures for one another while Kip and Lette(? I am notoriously terrible with names, and adding a language factor only worsens the matter) went over maps, booklets and general info on some of the cities we would be visiting in the next few days, as well as good traffic routes to take to avoid some of the bad traffic that plagues the Netherlands during rush hour.

With some more caffeine in our systems, we were ready to house-hunt. Our real estate agent, Susan, was very hospitable and helpful. We looked at 4 different properties in Leiden, one of which is a strong contender for the title of "Noser Household, Netherlands." Dutch architecture is influenced by a few oddities- the taxation of property is based on the width of a house, so they are traditionally narrow-faced, but run deep into the property. Staircases look like a dare- they almost go straight up and the steps are almost exactly the depth of your toes and the ball of your foot. Megan wanted to scootch down the stairs on her behind- so did I, to be honest.


Leiden is a disgustingly adorable town- one of the properties we looked at was built in the 1500s, and most of the town center is the same age or older. There is gorgeous gothic architecture everywhere you turn, and, of course, a windmill. Leiden has TONS of canals, and a lot of properties face the water. Two of the homes we looked at were across the street from a canal. One of them was above a Chinese grocery, and yet another above a Snooker Hall (billiards, anyone?)- it's amazing where people live here!

Doesn't Everyone Have a Gothic Cathedral View?

We saw more "A Day In The Life of the Dutch" as we roamed and drove around Leiden. There seems to be an unspoken rule about biking- the maximum allowed passengers on a bicycle depends on how many you have to transport. We saw a mom with a new-style bike- the front wheel is separated from the peddler by a wheelbarrow-like bucket thing- and she had 2 kids in the bucket, one in a kid's bike-seat behind her, and one wedged between the seat rider and herself. We saw kids clinging for their life, riding on the cargo-carriers that most Dutch bikes have, and kids transporting friends on their handlebars.


We also saw a beautiful white swan swimming in the canal by the real estate office! It fearlessly swam up to us, and upon discovering we had no food to share, hissed at us (scaring Megan) and swam away, brooding.



We returned to the hotel, ate some lunch, drank more coffee, and I uploaded a ton of photos while Kip napped and Megan played. While Meg and I were playing Megan's new favorite game which involves hiding 5 rocks all over the hotel room while the seeker hides in the bathroom, Kip did some work. When we had played to the point where there were no original hiding places left, and Kip was still working, Meg and I headed downstairs and rented a bike to ride. She sat on the luggage rack like a good little Dutch meisje, and we rode around the buisness park the hotel sits in. I felt so rebellious riding without a helmet, my child clinging to fist-fulls of my jacket to stay on the bike!

About 7 we headed back to see if Kip was finished trading, and he was just wrapping up. We drove into Alsmeer (approximately 3 minute car ride) for dinner, Megan telling us the first half of the drive "I'm not tired!" and slumped in half asleep the second half of the drive. She was out cold all through dinner, and we kept checking her for a pulse.


I tried 2 things at dinner that I was surprised I liked:
1) Heineken. Well, Heineken in the Netherlands. TOTALLY different beer here in NL. It must suffer terribly during import to the USA.


2) Fries the Dutch Way. I know- it seems SO weird, but it's not actually mayonnaise like we know it in the US, it's sweet, like ketchup, and has a very mild flavor. I was the most shocked that I tried it, but almost equally as shocked that I liked it.


Megan woke up as we were leaving the cafe, and ate her dinner on the way back to the hotel.


I think I am going to try to find a kip a day. Maybe I'll make a coffee table book or something.

Touristy Windmill Photos Of The Day:





Stuff I forgot.

Wow, it's amazing what 8 hours of sleep and a shower can do for you- I feel like an entirely new human being. Thought I'd make a quick note of a few things that slipped my mind before we go get breakfast:

1) Belgian Chocolate makes Godiva taste like Hershey's. We paid 8 Euros for what I would have paid $30 at Godiva, and the difference is indescribable.

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2) The only bike riders that wear helmets are racers, Lance Armstrong types. I did see one kid in a ride-along seat wearing a helmet, but everyone else was without. Megan actually pointed that out to us.

3) The sun was setting when I went to bed at 10pm last night, and was up before 5am. WTF.

The clock here says 20:50, 8pm and the sun is still a shinin' like crazy.
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4) Megan wishes that our house could have room service.

5) The Dutch word for chicken (the animal, not the scaredy-cat) is "kip." It's fun to see how many times Kip's name is on the menu, and in combination with what other words:
-the fun goes on!
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Off to see what mysteries await at the breakfast buffet!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jetlagged Jet-Setters

Ok, wow. It's been 9 years since my last international flight, and I had totally forgotten how much being 7 hours ahead really stinks that first day. I am typing this going on about 4 hours of sleep- 1.5 in the plane, 2 or so in the hotel this afternoon. So, thsi should be filled with spelling errors, totally random non-sequitors and general idiocy.

So, like every other one of my posts, basically.
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But, I digress. WE'RE HERE! We are actually IN the Netherlands, it's no joke, no kidding- and wow is it amazing. But let me tell you breifly about our adventure getting here.

Sunday Kip, Megan and I fought for about 7 hours getting packed. Om a scale of 1-10 I would say our stress level was a 47 Kajillion. I packed and re-packed at least twice, I have a tendency to overpack (understatement) and I was the main packing agent for Megan, too, so it was insanity. Megan was altered to say the least- she was wigging out all day, one minute jumping on the bed all excited, the next crying and wailing, "I DON'T WANT TO GO TO THE NETHERLANDS!!" At first we tried to be very understanding, after 6 hours we were pretty rude and dismissive of her, saying lovely gems like "There are lots of kids that would LOVE to go to the Netherlands" (lie) and "I guess we can just leave you here, then. See you in a week!" (That should account for a year or more of therapy in her 20s.)

Dear, sweet Grandmommy and Granddaddy Noser drove us to the airport, and Megan listened to her new iPod Shuffle in the car (another source of drama- at the Apple Store she picked out the color, then said, "Oh, but I don't want an iPod" and cried a few times. Stress city). I explained to her the night before that there was going to be lots of rushing around to stand in lines. She took it very well- fortunately the lines were very manageable, and we were through check-in and security in less than 30 minutes. She asked so many questions about security, why they x-ray everything, why we TAKE OFF OUR SHOES- we tried to explain... there are some things you just don't want your 5-year-old to understand. Terrorism is on that list for me.


After some chicken nuggets (stress caused us to forget meals that day), we hopped on the plane and got all situated. Megan listened closely as the pilot spoke over the intercom, and was really the most well-behaved kid I have ever seen on an airplane. She colored, watched the in-flight movie, picked at the dinner they brought us, and managed to fall asleep for 4 hours.


Oh, to be less than 4 feet tall on an international flight. She had her head in my lap, feet in Kip's lap, totally comfortable. Kip and I, however, could not get comfortable. I have a notoriously bad back due to a pinch of scoliosis, and I would doze off and startle awake when I couldn't breathe, I was hunched over so awkwardly that my lungs couldn't fill. I finally managed to lay down next to Meg and get about an hour and a half of sleep.

Pretty much the most dramatic thing that happened on our flight was Megan dumping an entire glass of apple juice on me and the floor when she was finished with her dinner. Even the landing wasn't too terrible. We were just glad to be finished with the flight, and get on to more exciting things.


We got our bags and wandered over to the rental car desk in the Schipol Airport, looking like total freaks- there are these free carts to load with all your luggage- we, being jetlagged and stupid with exhaustion didn't grab one until we had carted our luggage out of the airport, headed towards the rental garage. The carts were EVERYWHERE, and were totally free, which I think is such a nice thing. We had 3 suitcases, a car booster seat, my camera bag, Megan's backpack and Kip's laptop backpack- we were heavy laiden. Mostly due to overpacking on my part, but I have already admitted to that, so don't judge me.

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Seriously, she's heavier than she looks.

We hopped in our rental VW Jetta and zoomed off to the hotel- unfortunately the city our hotel is in wasn't on the map, so we ended up taking a 45 minute drive to find the airport, which should have been a 15 minute ordeal. We did find one of the neighborhoods we will be house-hunting in this week, and I ADORE IT, so it was time relatively well spent (unless you are Megan "I have to go to the bathroom!" Noser in the back seat.)

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Kip had a meeting at his office at 4, so we checked-in, ran upstairs where we ordered room service while he got ready to go to work. Here's my take on Dutch food so far- um, it's different. Some of it BAD different (hot Tuna pizza, complete with egg on top) and some of it just different (watermelon, beef, salad- not bad, just not the same). After Kip left, Meg and I started a movie for her and I found myself dozing off. Poor kid- she entertained herself pretty well for having a lump for a mom this afternoon.

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Kip came back to the hotel around 6, and we ran back to the airport for YET ANOTHER round of identification photos, these for our residency applications. Megan had fallen asleep before Kip arrived, and she slept on his shoulder through the wait for the shuttle, the 15 minute ride to the airport, and our wandering to find the photo place.

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She woke up moments before they took her photo, and looked it. I will no doubt call her "Poor Kid!" a million times in this blog. Poor kid.


We grabbed some sandwiches (and ate them with our hands as we watched the Dutch around us use silverware to eat sandwiches. weirdos.) then hit a chocolate shop, then hopped the shuttle back to the hotel.

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Kip is now SOUND asleep, Megan is playing dolls next to him, tucking in her Cynthia and her coloring book. As soon as my photos upload, I'm going to take a HOT bath and call it a night... more tomorrow- we go to the Hague and then house hunting!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

I almost forgot!

Kip, Megan and I had dinner last night with one of Kip's co-workers, Olaf, and his wife Greetje. They have been here in the US for 16 months, and are getting ready to move back to their home in The Netherlands in August.

Let me summarize our encounter: Olaf and Greetje SINGLEHANDEDLY saved the reputation of the Dutch people. They are simply wonderful! Warm, funny, helpful, personable- they are the Anti-Anke. They should be declared national heroes. They should have park benches constructed or trees planted in their honor in every park in The Netherlands. (The Dutch don't do people statues.)

They drove-home the universal truth about bureaucracy jobs- they had just the same miserable experience with the DMV and Social Security that we did with the Consolate. So I suppose Anke is off the hook. We'll see how things go Tuesday when we go and apply for the Dutch version of SSNs.

I was comforted that Greetje (pronounced like "Khreh-tcha") had basically been through what I am about to endure with the relocation. She had learned English growing up, but mostly just how to read it. She found herself thrust into an English-speaking world here, and had to overcome her fear of making grammatical and pronounciation mistakes very quickly. She and Olaf made a brilliant point I hadn't thought of- when you move to another country, you don't get a break from the new language. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines- everything is in the new language. Greetje brought stacks of Dutch books so that she could get a reprieve from English. Fortunately, English books for adults are easier to come by in the Netherlands that Dutch books in America- but I will take great care to make sure we have books for Megan in English, and gobs of movies for all of us.

It was wonderful to hear how Greetje's neighbors had embraced her, and kept her thinking and speaking in English. She drove-home the point that a network of friends makes all the difference in the world when you are transplanted in a foreign country. Just having someone you feel comfortable with to sit with, laugh with, someone who knows where the good ice cream and shoe sales are... One of the most wonderful things she said was, "We make such a big deal about differences in people. We're all so very much the same- the same worries, fears, problems, delights- the differences are so insignificant."

I am lucky to have a few online acquaintences who are located in the Netherlands, too- most of them photographers I met through Flickr, and one I found through a few web searches. Funny, I'm starting to feel a lot more excited about the trip now...

T-Minus 4 days and counting...

Visas? Check.

Airline Tickets? Check.

Panic Attacks? Check.

We're leaving Sunday for our week long trip, and these last few days have felt like I am on a 45 degree slope made of that slidey material they make the "speed skate your way to fitness" mats out of. I have nothing to wear. My hair is a wreck. I'm pretty sure I am going to suffer a stress-induced acne breakout that will cause me to look like I'm headed to The Netherlands on a high school club trip, not a home-finding mission.

But OH MY GOD WE'RE FINALLY GOING! This is where you, reader, heave a giant sigh of relief- the boring posts with "waiting two more weeks" are over! This is the dawning of most exciting part of this blog- the part where I actually BLOG about something!!!

Now that you have all (three of you) changed your pants, since you lost total control of all your bodily functions from the anticipation and excitement you are no doubt feeling, I will run through just a few small stories about the last week with our preparations for departure.

First, Anke. Lovely, wonderful Anke. Megan and I dropped off all the necessary paperwork, AND those all-important forms, last week on Tuesday. Anke was there, and seemed to have no recollection of who we were, but struck up a PAINFUL conversation with Megan while we were in the office:

Anke (devoid of any emotion and inflection): Hello. What is your name?

Megan (with sparkles and hearts dotting the "i"s): Megan. *small sparkly grin*

Anke: What? *leaning closer to paperwork port-hole in glass wall*

Megan: MEGAN.

Anke: Ah. Hello Megan.

Megan: I'm moving to the Netherlands.

Anke: Ah? You are?

Megan: Yes, to Amsterdam.

Anke: You're moving to Amsterdam?

Me: Well, CLOSE to Amsterdam.

Anke (with no recognition I spoke): That's nice for you, Megan.

(pause where I SWORE she was going to ask Megan if she had filled out the paperwork)

Megan: I have on my stripey leggings.

Anke: Ah.

Megan: They match my black headband.

Anke: Ah. (now looking into the office for something to take her away from the window)

Megan: I-

Anke: Nice to meet you Megan. (walked away to desk)

Megan looked at me, and I just shrugged my shoulders. She did the same, and went over to the lovely bench she was so familiar with from our last visit. Poor kid.

Second, our lawyer. (This is not as long and interesting as the Anke interaction, but it happened in the last week, so I wanted to include it.) We had a handful of legal documents we needed drawn up (most of them we've needed for 10 years now) so Kip and I enlisted the help of counsel, namely Hal D. Hale. Yeah. It just adds to our "Texan" rep that we have a lawyer by that epithet. (PS, he reads this. How cool is our lawyer? Ridiculously cool, that's how.)

So, the next update will be FROM the Netherlands. Unless I get a wild hair before then, which is possible, seeing how my hair is reflecting my mental status these days.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Houston, We Have A Date.

Ok, here's where things should get slightly more interesting! We finally have flight reservations to go on our house-finding mission- we leave July 27th for a week.

THANK GOD. I seriously thought that this would NEVER happen.

I did get my first taste of the Dutch people in dealing with Anke at the Dutch Consolate. She was, um... Dutch. And tall. And looked like she could kick Kip's ass with one arm tied behind her back. Plus, she was contained behind a long counter topped with a window that went from waist level to the ceiling and contained 2 vented port-holes for verbal exchanges and little slots for passing paperwork into the office on the other side of the glass. She was a force to be reckoned with, for sure.

Now, I was born in the South, raised in the South, and consider myself to have a certain charm that allows me to navigate social situations with great ease. The Dutch appear to be immune to this charm, or maybe it's that they are not programmed to detect it. My conversation with Anke went a little like this:

Me: Hello! *big charming smile*

Anke: *barely looking up* How can I help you.

Me: We are here to check-up on the status of our visa application. The Miami-

Anke: *looking at me like I was a 2x4* Have you filled out the application?

Me: Um... What appli...? My husband recieved a letter to let us know our visas have been approved, but our paperwork was sent to Miami. They were supposed to-

Anke: But have you filled out an application?

Me: *glancing down at Megan, who is looking up at me like, "What is wrong with this woman?", then looking back at Anka* How could we get a letter that said our visas had been approved if we hadn't filled out an application? Are there two applications?

Anke: *flipping through top 4 pages of stack of paper 2 inches high* I don't have your paperwork here.

Me: *wait- she hasn't asked the name, how does she know* Uh...

Anke: Do you have all the necessary items with you?

Me: My husband should be here momentarily, he has a stack of paperwor-

Anke: Does he have the applications?

Me: You know... I'll just go over here and have a seat until he gets here.

Anke: *no reaction to the fact that I had left window to go sit down*

Then, about 2 minutes later, after I had seated myself between two brochure towers that were starving for reading material (but contained booklets such as "Dutch Innovations: Hydro-engineering", "Dutch Innovations: Advances in Sports and Athleticism", and many about services from the Embassy/Consolate for Dutch ex-pats) I hear from the back of the office on the other side of the window-wall, "What is the name on the paperwork?"

Now, I am not a spiteful person, but I felt that I had worked pretty hard to communicate with this person, and had shown a lot of grace in the face of our earlier exchange, so I did not answer her. It was her turn to work. Plus, she had on one of those little ear-mouthpiece things that go with modern office phones, so I halfway assumed she was talking on the phone, as she was not facing me or even a burly arm's-length from the glass wall.

This act of ignoring her appeared to get her attention. She turned and clomped over to the vented port-hole and honked "The name on the paperwork." at me, and I kicked the southern charm up to 12 (out of 10) and our interaction continued:

Me: "Oh! I am so sorry, I didn't realize you were speaking to me! My apologies. The last name is Noser."

Anke: *not even looking at the stack of papers in front of her* I don't have your paperwork. You didn't fill out an application, did you?

Me: You know, I'm just going to wait until my husban-

*Kip bursts through the door in blue spandex with a flowing red cape and his hair slicked back, minus a single, casual curl on his forehead. He produces the folder 'o paperwork and on top is a printout of a letter with very official Dutch Embassy letterhead.*

Kip: We're here to check-up on the status of our Visas. The Miami office should have-

Anke: *not even looking at Kip* That's not what I need.

Me (to Kip): *whispering* How on earth does she know? Do the Dutch have eyes on the top of their heads or something?

Kip: *glares at me for my obvious cultural idiocy, then says firmly to Anka* This is what the Embassy sent my office in The Netherlands.

Anke: *Now looking at her stack of paperwork* That's not what I need, I don't have your paperwork. Have you filled out an application?

*I glare at Kip until he looks at me, then give him a non-verbal "I am going to kill this person"*

Kip: *after looking at me like I am TOTALLY overreacting* No, this letter says-

Anke: I know what it says. It isn't what I need. Have you filled out an application?

Kip: The Miami Consulate was supposed to fax our paperwork to this office.

Anke: When?

Kip: Yesterday.

Anke: I don't have it. Have you filled out an application?

Kip: *giving up* Can I see the application?

Anke: *sliding 3 applications through the paper pass-through in the glass wall and looking triumphant* Please fill out one of these for each of you.

(At this point I walk away so I don't cause an international incident)

This is starting to get totally out of hand, and I don't want to put you into shock with such a long post after MONTHS of literally starving you for good reading material here... to make a long story short, we filled out the paperwork (much to our Dutch Hostess' delight, and even made her beam because she shuffled it right back to us because we didn't have some of the information for the forms), and Megan and I are going back Tuesday to drop off MORE passport photos, a huge stack of papers, and the freaking forms to dear Anke.

God help us all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wooo ho! Awww, crap.

We've gotten word that our visas are approved! Yes! I know, right?

All the paperwork is ready and waiting for us at the Dutch Consolate!!!!!

In Miami. Florida.

Kip had fun explaining that it was NOWHERE near where we live.

So.... we're waiting for a paperwork transfer of some kind, but after that!!! It will be about 5 business days.

F*@k! Oh, well. At least I can add to my skill set on my Dutch CV "Can wait like a CHAMPION. Seriously- like NOBODY'S BIDNESS."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Another NON-update. Try not to have a heart-attack and die of not-surprise.

So, Kip got the following email from the poor HR person in the Netherlands that is assigned to our relocation:

"I just called the IND and they told me that the decision has been made but I must wait for the official letter where is stated if your application is approved. They IND never tells by phone if a decision is approved or not. I’m sure I will receive the letter shortly and then I will let you know."

So... there you have it. Whatever IT is. We'll keep you posted, of course.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Self-Nomination for "Most Boring Blog Ever"

Wow, in reading all the entries, I can see why we aren't getting zillions of hits daily! I apologize for the bland nature of this web log, but hopefully (cue to cross fingers) tomorrow we will have news on our visas, and then life will get REALLY exciting. Maybe TOO exciting. So, take some no-doze and stay tuned. Things should go from snooze to awesome soon!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it's not a bullet train.

We may only have one more week in limbo! All our visa paperwork was turned over to the Dutch authorities last Monday, so it is very possible that a week from today we could have visas and be able to plan our first trip!


So, stay tuned- I know this blog has been dry, dry, dry... I'm taking BOTH cameras with us when we finally get to go house hunting, so I should have some cool stuff to share soon.