Tuesday, August 29, 2017

While You Were Out

Our trip to the Netherlands and Belgium was incredible, but the icing on the cake was the amazing hands our kids were in while we were away. Oma, Belle Mere and Papa shared the load and maybe I'll get the true stories eventually, but I think they did more than just survive - they thrived!

I didn't have cell service in Europe, so each night when I came back to wifi, I looked forward to seeing what kind of fun had been had that day. Oma had all three kids the first day, and they all went to the fire station to "meet the firemen without an emergency," then Peter went to Oconomowoc for 4 days. Cora and Peter were exchanged on Wednesday because Cora had to catch a flight to Washington DC! Louisa and Peter seemed to get along famously at Oma's while Cora was away. Not that they don't usually get along, but in our house, the third child, whoever it is, seems to complicate things.

Louisa was excited to tell me how often they jumped on Oma's neighbor's trampoline (8 times!), so I said something like, "cool! that's once each day I was gone?" "No," she explained, "some days we jumped twice!" They also made eclipse viewing boxes, lemon curd (Lou's favorite) and got to watch the Narnia movies of the books Nate has read aloud over the past couple of months. Louisa made her halloween costume - she'll be Reepicheep this year: she has already decided.

Cora's trip was filled with yummy treats and busy days with Belle and Papa, as they prepared a big shipment of goods for Sarah and Dan in the Ivory Coast. Tonight at dinner, Cora told us that she got to see the White House and the golden chair. I could be blanking, but I'm not sure about the golden chair...(Mom and Dad, you'll have to fill me in). Oh, and speaking of halloween costumes, Cora's may be set too. After their trip to Ikea, she was sporting a sweet Owl cape. If I ask Peter what he wants to be, no doubt he'll say a digger. Oh boy, that seems like a hard costume to make and wear.

Fire station play day

Purse and all
Spraying an apple of the top of a huge tire
One neighbor had a trampoline and the other has a puppy!
Peter learned to slack line with some help from friend Brian, at a Bike the Barns fundraiser breakfast
Louisa enjoyed tracking my flight as I flew from Brussels to Chicago on Sunday
Milk shakes make me happy too, Cora!

Papa helping Cora buy her carousel ticket
Admiring her ticket?
Posing with her ticket
Riding the horse with the golden tail. Maybe that's the golden chair?
Shadows at Yards Park in Washington D.C.

I do know that they missed us while we were gone, but I also love that they obviously didn't miss us that much. That is due 100% to the fact that Nate and I have amazing, loving parents who look forward to spending time with our kids. We're so very thankful for that, Marcia/Mom, Mom/Terry and Dad/Dirk!

The very best compliment I received about my kids was two years ago (so possibly outdated?!), from a nanny that we almost hired before Helen. She spent two hours with the kids and when we came home, said "your kids are really balanced." Perhaps it meant so much because I love feeling balanced? Either way, if they are still balanced two years later, it's due in large part to the other adults in our lives who love them so dearly and are willing to pour so much into them, even for 8 days in a row. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Belgium - Day 8

Our last day! It's late and we seriously need to wake up early to get to the airport on time, so for tonight, our last night, a few pictures to remember day eight by. Goodbye Belgium, goodbye Nederland. It's been lovely!

Artistic Belgian chocolate, purchased in Bruges (pronounced brooge)
A cool flat-tree in Bruges
The beauty that makes Bruges the most visited city in Belgium
Back in Brussels for a brewery tour at Cantillon, which was on Nate's bucket list, despite the fact that sours aren't his fav

Friday, August 25, 2017

Nederland/Belgium - Day 7

We woke a bit later than expected today, but with plenty of time to catch a 1 hour train back to Harderwijk to return the bikes to Trek. We could have biked, but we were eager to get to Brussels, our next stop, so choose to forego the 3 hour bike ride. After catching a train from Harderwijk to Utrecht and another from Utrecht and Rotterdam, we boarded an international train to Brussels-Midi. We arrived at our hotel (called Yawn) around 3:30 pm, before taking off on foot to explore Brussels. What an interesting mix of cultures! Apparently locals will speak multiple languages in a single sentence, but French and Dutch are most common.

Nate brought a library book on Belgian beers, so had a couple of places to check out. Tomorrow we'll continue our beer tour and hopefully find some chocolate to taste as well! 
Sorry you're out of focus, Nate. But the beer is really the star of the show, right?
This plaza of palaces was 100% more impressive after dinner than earlier in the day
It looks like most people are standing, but actually, many people were just sitting in the middle of the plaza, eating, drinking beer and chatting. Why not?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Netherland - Day 6

We rode a beautiful 48 miles today. Our first segment was from Den Haag to Haarlem and then we finished back in Amsterdam. I was super thankful that we had electric bikes, because it made the ride quite leisurely and left us with energy to enjoy a 5 hour food tour of Amsterdam.

Before we arrived in Haarlem, we rode through the gorgeous sand dunes along the coast of the North Sea. It was more hills than we've seen the entire trip, but again, not too bad because of the electric bikes! 

We only stopped in Haarlem for an hour or two, so didn't take many pictures - only one - of a typical Dutch mom bike. Big kid seat in the back, little kid seat in the front, and a large basket or crate in the very front. Of course a few people have bikes like this in Madison, but here, they're everywhere and it's inspiring!

The mix of old and new in the Netherlands is really interesting

Our food tour guide, Charmaine took our photo on a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Netherland - Day 5.5

It's one thing to travel abroad, and a whole other thing to be able to stay with family. Nate's uncle Mark, his mom's twin brother, is currently serving as a pastor of the American Protestant Church of The Hague. The Hague is definitely worth a lengthy stop during a visit to the Netherlands, but knowing that we could see Mark and Lori made it even more worthy of a spot on our itinerary.  What a gift to spend time with Mark and Lori on our own. Don't get me wrong, we love our children and Nate's entire extended family, but there is something very rich about hanging out with two wonderful people in a smaller group.

Mark and Lori were living in San Marcos California until 2016. Lori worked as a RN supervisor and Mark was the pastor of a CRC church. As they tell the story, Mark started to crave a change -- to continue to serve as a pastor, but amongst a new demographic. They prayed and visited international churches in Taiwan and Europe over many years and eventually received a call to The Hague and moved their lives in the summer of 2016.

Mark set up the wonderful carillon concert and pointed out all the hot spots of The Hague from the top of the tower
I loved hearing the story from Lori's perspective too, as leaving California essentially meant retiring from nursing four years earlier than she had anticipated. Of course we only got a small glimpse into their lives in the Netherlands during our short visit, but I was struck by the beauty of how Lori spends her days now that she is no longer working nights as a nurse. She dove right into Dutch culture by signing up for 40 weeks of Dutch language lessons and by looking for opportunities to interact with the people of her new city, in and outside of the Church. She loves flowers and cooking and has embraced the strong biking culture of the city (and entire country), by biking most everywhere she goes. A huge thanks for a comfortable bed, two wonderful meals, and many good conversations Lori!

In front of Mark and Lori's home, before we left for Haarlem & Amsterdam
I also had a special interest in hearing about Lori's decision to leave nursing behind, because I've been questioning my "career" calling lately. Perhaps it's not surprising that in Europe, I've met a lot of people who quit their jobs to discover the world, but it's been a bit of a theme on our trip. There was the frites man who quit his job as a plumber (employing 10 other plumbers) because chasing customers for payment was too much. So now he make artisan french fries. Then there was Charmaine, who left her adverting job in Shanghai to come to Europe. She ended up marrying a Dutch man and now lives in Amsterdam running food tours of the city.

On the plane ride over, I finished a great book, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, and it really got my brain churning on thoughts of doing what you love. The parts of the book that struck me most revolved around this:

"Many of us have believed the myth that achievement and success bring us contentment, only to find it’s actually things like connection and meaning...that provide true peace and genuine happiness."

Although I will say that my struggles with believing this myth happen more outside of work than they do at work. For example, I don't feel that I have an unhealthy drive to achieve higher status or pay at work. I struggle more at home, seeking to find meaning by checking things off my to-do list. Shauna describes my struggle perfectly (especially the part about the living room and well organized closets) on page 37 of her book:

“…the voice that tells me to hustle can find a to-do list in my living room as easily as it can in my office. It’s not about paid employment. It’s about trusting that the hustle will never make you feel the way you want to feel. In that way, it’s a drug, and I fall for the initial rush every time: if I push enough, I will feel whole, proud, happy. What I feel, though, is exhausted and resentful, with well-organized closets."

I've come to realize that I'm dealing with two different beasts. One is discontent with my part-time nutrition career and the other is chasing fulfillment through a clean and organized home. How to tame either one, I'm not sure. Well, I think the home one is more straightforward than the work one at this point. I'll continue to pray about both. This week away has been the perfect opportunity to step back and remove myself from both challenges, viewing each from a distant shore. Amen!

Nederland - Day 5

Today we spent the entire day in one city (amazing!) - Den Haag. I'm sure we only saw a tiny bit of what the city has to offer, but it was a great sampling! We biked 10 minutes to the city center to meet a organist/carillon player named Bernard. We slowly climbed 300+ stairs to the top of the bell tower with him, then went out of the balcony to see the city. He played the bells joyfully and aggressively for an entire hour. After the private concert (which was heard across much of the city), we walked to a nice plaza (called a "plein" and pronounced plane) for lunch before a visit to the Escher museum. 

We decided that someday soon, we'll buy some land and plant evenly spaced tress along the driveway, preparing to (someday) build a house at the end of the long drive 
This is the staircase in M.C. Escher's school, that inspired many of his drawings and carvings. He had plenty of time to dream, because he hated school, so paid little attention.

A nice happy hour back near the church where we started our tour of Den Haag

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nederland - Day 4

We're on vacation, so I guess I don't feel too bad about sleeping until 10:15 am this morning. Needless to say, we got a bit of a late start this today, but once we were on the bike path, we had a nice ride to Gouda (pronounced how-da), along the way seeing traditional windmills and enjoying more smooth, well maintained paths.

In Gouda, we walked through St. John's Church, which has stained glass windows from the 1500's! The building in the third picture below looks like a church, but it's actually the Gouda Statehouse. A wedding party was taking photos outside of the statehouse, and the bride (or her dress?) is obviously what is captivating the little girl in the foreground of the photo. Louisa and Cora would have been equally captivated, I'm sure.

Just a cool view as we walked out of St. John's

The flowers here, potted or otherwise, have really impressed me!
Before our 34 km ride to Mark and Lori's home in The Hague, we walked through a touristy cheese shop and drank a Heineken in the plaza behind the statehouse. Mark and Lori are here for 4+ years as he serves as a pastor in an international church. We feel very lucky to be able to spend two nights at their place and hang out with them again so soon after our visit to Michigan three weeks ago!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Nederland - Day 3

Trek has an office in Hardenwijk and Nate's co-worker Ned was kind enough to set us up with electric bikes for the week. After breakfast in Amsterdam, we took a 1 hour train ride east to Harderwijk, where we picked up the bikes. After walking through the Trek World expo and meeting the 15 or so Trek employees, we rode 53 kilometers southwest to Utrecht. The weather was perfect for a ride: partly sunny, no wind and felt like 65 degrees.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but the bike paths are incredible here! Not once during our 53 km did we have to share space with cars. Whenever there was a roundabout for cars, there was also one for bikes. Pedestrians, bicycles and cars each have their own stop lights and sensors under the pavement let the bike stop lights know when you are coming so you don't have to stop and push the button before you cross. Along our route, there were plenty of cute cottages and grand houses to look at, as well as lots of farm animals.

Once we arrived in Utrecht, we parked our bikes at a fancy, free underground bike parking garage and checked into Mother Goose Hotel and walked to lunch. Utrecht was instantly my favorite city in The Netherlands (so far!). A few lovely canals like Amsterdam, but with better shops and a much less touristy feel. Fewer cars, prostitutes and coffeeshops than Amsterdam, too.

Grilled Goat Cheese at Toque Toque. Yum.

Before dinner at Blauw, an Indonesian restaurant recommended by our hotel, we walked around the Dom Tower, which is tallest church tower in The Netherlands. As we left the restaurant, Nate happened to see a poster advertising (what he thought was) a Radio Head concert coming to Utrecht. As we walked back to our hotel, we realized that the musicians in the bell tower were playing Radio Head songs. We were quite far from the tower when they finished, but happened to have a clear view of one of the top balconies, where they came out to wave and acceptance applause from the crowd below.

See Where Our Pictures Were Taken