10 Things We Learned in Holland

We went to Holland…..in April. So I’ve had six months to think about this post in my drafts folder, and the fact that I’m falling further and further behind in documenting our travels. One of the best things about living in the middle of Europe is the opportunity to see so much. But it turns out our capacity to absorb awesome places and incredible historical sites and unique meals and interesting culture is limited. Very quickly, you can end up feeling stuffed. By writing about our experiences, we hope to better remember and savor them.

With that said, 10 things we learned during our weekend in Holland:

1. Where is Holland anyway?

North and South Holland are two provinces in The Netherlands. This clever video explains it well. Seriously, check out that link- it’s quite interesting.

We stayed in Edam, a little city in the Northwest corner of The Netherlands in North Holland. While we didn’t make it into Amsterdam on this trip, the area where we stayed was so quiet and lovely. We woke up each morning to cows and sheep and brand new lambs out our bedroom window, a home cooked breakfast, and helpful advice from our homeaway hosts on what to see and do.

Side note- we’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences staying in peoples’ homes or guest houses through sites like airbnb and homeaway. We read reviews thoroughly and do our research because it’s worth it to us for more of a personal home base from which to see a new place (also, it’s often much cheaper, especially when you have a kitchen to work with). Hotels can look the same all over the world, but the hospitality of locals can make for a truly unique, memorable experience.

2. Hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and a million other flowers I didn’t know existed.

Today, the Netherlands is still the world’s main producer of commercially sold tulips, producing as many as 3 billion bulbs annually, mostly for export.

We learned that tulips are actually originally from Turkey, brought to Holland in the 16th century. Also, it takes a full five years for a tulip bulb to form from seed!

While the gardens at Keukenhof are beautiful, we were much more impressed by the endless fields of flowers. On a smaller scale, you can see beautiful floral arrangements just about anywhere, but the fields are quintessentially Holland.

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3. We really, really don’t like crowds. Or selfie sticks.
Unknowingly, we went to the famous Keukenhof gardens on their biggest weekend of the year, the day of the flower parade. Maybe for other people this would be a happy mistake, and maybe we just need to be a bit more patient, but shuffling through thousands of people, pressed on all sides, battling to get a view of the gardens unobstructed by selfie sticks just isn’t our thing. The amazingly sweet smell of the flowers mixed with cigarette smoke is disappointing. Forty minute waits to use the bathroom are problematic.

That said, the gardens would be so, so lovely on a less insanely busy day and we’d love to go and enjoy them again with better planning! 

4. The Dutch are serious about their cheese.

We enjoyed some of the very famous (and in our case, very local) Edam cheese each morning with our breakfast. In retrospect, we should’ve bought a lot more cheese. It was so, so good.

The Dutch produce 650 million kilos of cheese annually, exporting 2/3 of that, which makes Holland the largest cheese exporter in the world. I read that the average person in The Netherlands eats about 7 lbs of cheese per year, but given how much we consumed in a weekend, that figure almost seems low.

We ordered a cheese plate with our dinner one evening which, apart from the exceptionally stinky, very blue cheeses, we enjoyed. Daniel’s palette is a little less limited, I guess, because he devoured those we couldn’t stomach.

10 Things We Learned in Holland

5. The Dutch are also serious about biking.

Everyone bikes, everywhere. We saw several bikers with a child in a front seat, a child in a rear seat, a trailer with an additional kid or two, and sometimes another child riding alongside. So impressive. We might’ve seen all of these awesome family bikes over the course of our two day trip.

6. SO MUCH WATER! 

It’s been said that “God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland”. The Dutch first began battling the sea about 800 years ago and today, over 1, 491 miles of dikes keep North Sea from flooding, oh, 65% of the country below sea level.  The amount of infrastructure required to keep this country in existence is really quite incredible- bridges, dikes, dams, canals. We noticed these shells in a parking lot- proof that this used to be the ocean floor.
All the water allows for amazing bird life – swans nesting, ducklings swimming, cranes and pheasants and geese and probably hundreds of other birds I couldn’t identify. 

7. How windmills actually work.

They’re big. And impressive. They have sails. They can rotate 360 degrees. Who knew?

It makes sense that The Netherlands- totally flat and very windy- has so many, many (1000+) windmills. They were (and are, in a few places) used to mill, saw, pump and press–everything from bread and mustard to oil, paint and paper. Today, the working windmills are primarily used for drainage to keep all the reclaimed land from flooding again.

8. Wooden clogs are a real thing. 

As in, we didn’t realize before that people really wore these shoes in real life for hundreds of years. Historically, there were many varieties and styles for different classes, vocations and occasions. These below are traditional wedding clogs.

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Today wooden clogs are really only worn by some rural farm workers and tourists, but in a number of places, you can still watch them being made, carved from a single piece of wood. We watched a demonstration on the craft, fought our way through hoards of people buying these not terribly comfortable shoes, and purchased a tiny key chain clog for our token Christmas ornament from The Netherlands. We decided that a single Christmas ornament from each country we visit will be our “thing”- no souvenirs to collect dust around the house, no worries about where to put stuff all year long. DSC00902

9. Chocolate sprinkles are a legitimate breakfast food. 

Our hosts brought us a bottle of chocolate sprinkles with our breakfast each morning, alongside an assortment of delicious breads, cheeses, jams, butter, coffee, tea, smoked meats and eggs. Each morning, we ate everything else and puzzled over the purpose of the sprinkles.  I didn’t realize until much later that the “hagelslad” (the Dutch word for sprinkles, meaning “hailstorm”) are eaten on buttered bread for breakfast. Or a snack. Or lunch. Or whenever you, respectable grown- up, want to eat chocolate sprinkles for a meal.

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10. The little dutch boy is an American fable.

It’s a classic children’s story we grew up with- a little boy sticks his finger in a hole in the dike and saves his village from flooding.  It seems the only thing we really knew about Holland before our trip turned out to be a story imported by American tourists.

The tale originates from American author Mary Mapes Dodge, who published the story in her book “Hans Brinker” or “The Silver Skates” in 1865. We’re a little disappointed.

Daniel, on the other hand, is angry about the car. Teething, tired, screaming for the entire four hour drive there and back again, this was not Daniel’s best trip. Real life traveling with a baby, folks. After this weekend, frazzled and exhausted, we wondered if our road tripping days were over for a while. But thankfully, Daniel is quite a good traveler and this particular weekend proved to be the exception, not the rule. Thanks, kid- we still have a lot to see! In fact, we’d love to make it back to The Netherlands again, perhaps with a visit to Amsterdam, a canal tour, the Anne Frank house, and the sea. 

Babies Don’t Keep

I know this because suddenly, our baby was replaced by this one year old little boy.  How did this happen? Gradually, of course- little by little, month by month, milestone by milestone. And yet at the very same time, there are times when babies seem to grow in great leaps, unapologetically, all at once. DSC02696These days Daniel is very curious and busy. He doesn’t sit still, but that’s always been the case (thank goodness we’ve reached the end of this perilous sit-still-in-the-chair photo series!). He’s quite gregarious, making friends wherever we go and willing to shamelessly flirt for food. He’s an adventurous eater, particularly fond of bananas and smoked salmon, but willing to try anything, including stinky French cheese and escargot.

He’s very close to walking, but mostly more interested in getting to wherever he’s headed the fastest way possible. He says “mama’, “dada” and something like “Kaaaaa!” that we’re going to translate as “Kaia”. He likes to wrestle and claps his hands. He loves his play kitchen- banging pots and pans together and relocating felt vegetables all over our house. He loves the water- the bath, the pool, the ocean.
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He recognizes people on Skype now, and it’s sweet to watch him interact with his daddy from across the ocean. Daniel made it to ten countries in the past twelve months: Germany, Switzerland, the US, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, The Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Austria. He’s an excellent traveler, though his etiquette in cathedrals could use some work–he generally thinks they’re hilarious.

As for me, I’ve been thinking about the list of skills I’ve acquired this year. I learned to wrap my boy in a few seconds, set up a pack in play in less than two minutes and how to change diapers in the most impossible places. I can recite “Is Your Mama a Llama” from memory, among many other board book length literary treasures. I learned that everything, even the simplest errands, take longer than you think they should. I learned that even after the most draining day with Daniel, I’ll miss him when he goes to sleep for the night. I learned that there are a gazillion ways to do the “right” thing, and chances are you know best what that right thing is for your baby. I’ve learned to love long, long walks, logging many miles with our BOB on the trails near our village. I learned that I can’t do all the things, and sometimes it’s ok that there’s laundry to be done and the kitchen is a wreck because there’s great Turkish take-out down the street and babies don’t keep. This won’t last forever.  I learned that my walk with God in this season looks a lot less like focused, quiet time in the Word and more like prayers while nursing, sermons on the trails, stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. And I’m learning that there’s nothing like a little human being who relies on you for everything to make you realize how much you rely on God for absolutely everything. He is so good to us.

Also, I’ve accepted that my coffee will never, ever be hot. He’s so worth it.

Happy 1st Birthday, Dan man. We can’t imagine life without you.
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Flashback Friday

What a difference a year can make! I just discovered the beginnings of an April/May 2014 post languishing in my drafts folder. This time last year was one of the busiest, most up-in-the-air seasons of our life together so far. After earning his wings, John was away for several months of training, I traveled around a bit and spent time with family, I graduated from Moody and worked on growing our baby. We were on the brink of our move to Germany, our household goods long gone and a million questions to answer as soon as our feet touched the ground. Looking back, I’m so glad to be on this side of things! We made it. We did it. God has been so faithful!

Instead of discarding yet another neglected draft, I thought it’d be fun to do a little side by side comparing and a little catching up on our life lately.

April 2014: I celebrated Easter with my family while visiting my Uncle Fred and Aunt Renee in Albany, Georgia. I had just driven from Columbus, Mississippi with Kaia after moving out of our house and sending off our household goods shipment. John was away for training in the C-21 in Texas. Our baby was 26 weeks old and doing flips in my belly at this time last year. 
April 2015: We celebrated Easter with our families in Illinois/Wisconsin, back from Germany for John’s refresher training back in Texas again. Daniel turned 8 months old while we were in the States and enjoyed spending time with his grandparents and many aunts and uncles! 
April 2014: My family drove down from Georgia to spend a few days with my Great Grandma Lois who lives in Venice, Florida. She was thrilled to feel her growing great-great grandchild in my belly, which was bittersweet because we didn’t think there would be any way she’d ever get to meet the baby. After all, she was 100 years old and we were moving to Germany! 
April 2015: Because we were back stateside for John’s training, my mom, sister, aunt and I made the trip down to see Grandma Lois and introduce her to her great-great grandson. How amazing to see his little hands and feet in her arms, nearly 101 years between them! 

 
May 2014: Rachel drove down from Door County for a quick visit before we left for Germany and she left for an internship in Guatemala. Now that she’s busy being awesome in Colorado and we live across the ocean, we haven’t been able to connect since. I think this might be our lifetime record of time without a visit! We’ll remedy this someday soon.

Also last May, we celebrated my graduation from Moody Bible Institute, marking the end of a season. Distance learning is not for the faint of heart!

May 2015:  I’m thankful to have traded paper writing and theology exams for board books and bath time. Side note: speaking of theology and babies, we are loving this story book Bible for Daniel. It does such an excellent job of presenting the Bible as one story with Jesus at the center, tracing the gospel all the way back to the garden. Beautifully written- it’s worth a read! Or many a read! We look forward to many years of sharing this Bible with our children.

the first snow

“You know, I think we might be through the worst of it,” I said to John yesterday evening. As soon as the words passed my lips, I wondered if I’d spoken too soon. I don’t believe in jinxing things, but as a new, tired mom, I value sleep as one of the most important things in the world. It must be protected.

To be fair, Daniel has ordinarily (as in, for the previous 3 1/2 months of his life) been a pretty good sleeper. A gloriously good sleeper. But for the last two weeks, our little guy has been doing a great deal of eating and growing without a whole lot of sleeping. I feel like he learns something new everyday. He’s smiling all the time, giggling, talking to us with sweet little coos and “guuuh” sounds, playing with his toys and, to my dismay, rolling over. A LOT.

He started this flipping over business at about 2-3 weeks in protest of tummy time. Then, thankfully, he took a few months hiatus. He’s really not into being swaddled, but he has loved sleeping on his tummy. Until, of course, he rolls himself over. Repeatedly. All night. At which point he becomes quite upset and commences screaming until I soothe him back to his tummy again. And repeat. Did I say all night?

At least it feels that way.

After three great I-think-we’re-out-of-the-woods nights, last night was rough. Since John was flying early this morning, we waged this sleep battle in Daniel’s room. Sleep 10-20 minutes, flip over, get angry. And not a cry for 10-15 minutes sort of angry- this kid has serious stamina. I nursed him, burped him, changed him, cuddled him, sang to him, rocked him, prayed over him. Tried to remember that this is temporary and I’m not actually going to be exhausted for the rest of my life forever and ever…

 It was about 3 AM when I happened to open the curtains in his nursery to discover the breathtaking surprise of snow. Already, everything in sight was blanketed in white with large, sparkling flakes glistening in the dim light of the street lamp. I wept for the beauty of it. Tired as I was, it felt like this sight was somehow meant just for me, God’s gift to my weary, frustrated soul. Baby in my arms, we swayed back and forth in the window watching the snow, talking to God. Peace. Stillness. Quiet.

And, finally, Daniel went to sleep. 

life with the little one

Lately I’m loving:
My little boy’s big, dark eyes as he quietly takes in the world around him.
Kissing his head.  Also his nose and his little mouth, his hands, his super soft feet and that sweet spot in the folds of his neck. And his cheeks- those, too. 
His coos– and something that sounds either like a small bird or possibly a dolphin. I can’t decide.
His sweet, milky baby breath.
His love of baths. I’ve been taking the no-fuss approach of just getting in the bath with him. I wouldn’t trade that time for the fanciest baby tub.
The smell of calendula on his skin.
The way he burrows into my chest, sound asleep in his wrap.
How ridiculous he looks in his cloth diapers. He’ll grow into them eventually…. Too quickly, really.
When he lets out a giant, back-arching, limbs-stretching yawn, then smacks his lips. Nyup, nyup, nyup.
I can’t believe Daniel has been here nearly a month already. I’m surprised  by how normal our new life feels, yet I still find myself astonished that this is our son. Half of each of us. We’ve determined that he definitely has my mouth and chin; we’re waiting to see more of John’s baby photos before we make any further judgments.
I am amazed by our Creator’s design, in wonder that this child was formed in my body for nine months, from a few cells at conception to a fully formed, beautiful baby with fingers and toes and crazy long eyelashes. I am in awe that through the miraculous, challenging, messy business of childbirth, I actually pushed this baby out of my body. And if that weren’t enough already, I’m grateful for the ability to continue to feed and sustain this little person now curled up in my arms.
Psalm 139: 13-16 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Early on in my pregnancy, these verses hit me with a force I hadn’t felt before. I was incredibly, incredibly thankful for an easy pregnancy. Aside from being pretty tired during the first trimester, I felt great. So initially, at least, the pregnancy seemed surreal. Day to day life seemed normal.  I was going about my routine as usual. And yet what God was creating in me during even those earliest weeks is indescribable.

Even with everything we know from science today, we can’t really explain all the complex, miraculous processes involved in the creation of a human being. The Psalmist’s language portrays these processes as the intentional, involved, creative work of God. It is a physical, yet mysterious process- Daniel was created, knit together, made in the secret place, woven—intimately known by the Almighty God.
Thinking about pregnancy in these terms, I am all the more devastated by abortion. It is the deliberate destruction of God’s masterpiece, one created in His very image. It is a crime not only against the vulnerable unborn, but against the Giver of Life. God sees their unformed bodies; it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the moment of conception or eight weeks or twenty weeks or a full-term, “viable” baby. The point is that long before a pregnancy test reads positive, regardless of how that result came to be, God has a purpose and a plan for the unborn child. I am reminded again that it’s not enough to be passively pro-life, if there really is such a thing. If we truly value all life as given by God, we have no choice but to see abortion, the killing of the vulnerable unborn, as a most grievous sin. How will we respond? With prayer and support for mothers and children, with counseling and loving and awareness-spreading, yes. But more specifically? It’s something worth thinking and praying about. 

Fearfully and wonderfully made. We know this full well. 

Moving Matters

After a couple busy weeks of getting everything in order to move overseas (think government passports, sorting orders, a few briefings, microchipping Kaia, medical clearance, etc.), John left for training in Dallas and then St. Louis on April 6th. We tried to motivate ourselves to pack as much as possible before he left, but there’s only so much you can do until right before the movers arrive. It’s also pretty un-homey to live among boxes and sad, bare walls for weeks. Kaia seemed to know exactly what was going on and made a point of climbing into empty boxes to ensure she couldn’t be forgotten.

We were miserably unprepared to leave Los Angeles. I think we might’ve started packing the night before our movers arrived. While our apartment was quite small and we didn’t have much stuff, that’s not a strategy I’d recommend to anyone! This time around, we were in a much better place with a few key “lessons learned” to keep in mind:

Yes, the military moves us (unless we elect to do so ourselves). And the company they contract will pack our stuff. But….

1. Your idea of “packed” and the movers’ definition might be quite different.

When we unpacked in Columbus, we discovered that my wedding dress had been crumpled beneath John’s skis and our outdoor equipment. Our kitchen drawers had haphazardly been emptied into boxes.  Our nice knives were “packed” totally unwrapped- just tossed into a box with all of our flatware and several (consequently ruined) books.

Therefore,

2. The more organized you are before a move, the better. 


This is certainly an ongoing process, one I’m sure is just about perfected by the seasoned military family. We’ll get there in time… 

3. Never underestimate the power of fresh snickerdoodles. 


They may have considerable influence over your movers’ motivation to do their job well. Also helpful are tunes. Lots of tunes.

4. Accept help. 

…maybe especially if you happen to be pregnant and otherwise alone.

I was incredibly humbled by my friends in Columbus who gave so much of their time and energy to help me prep the house for our final inspection. It takes a special someone to be willing to scrub your bathroom or detail your buggy window tracks. Looking back now, I can’t imagine having done it without them!

5. Simplify. Always. 


Since we’re going to be doing this fairly often, we want to use each move as an opportunity to reevaluate our stuff. We’d like to live by this adage:

With an overseas move, this is a bit more clear-cut in some ways. For example, it didn’t make sense to hold on to several appliances we know we’d have to store in Germany due to the electrical incompatibility. Some things are fine with adapters and transformers, but other things just aren’t worth the risk.We sold and donated quite a bit before packing up and now that we’re here, we’re thankful! German homes really don’t have storage, period. 

6. In the end, it’s all just stuff. 


Things will be lost and damaged. It’s inevitable. We actually heard an account of one person’s shipment which was lost at sea…twice. He lost all of his belongings both en route to an overseas assignment and again on the way back! Obviously his is an unusual case; if nothing else, it makes for a really crazy story! 
Our stuff certainly helps to make a new place more homey, but it does not define us. Home is wherever we are together and, ultimately, we know that heaven is our home. I wonder if one advantage to a transient, military life is the reminder that we are but sojourners on this earth. 
—–Wrapping up this post several months after our initial move from Mississippi, we’re finally sitting among the last of the mostly-unpacked boxes. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed again and preparing meals in your own kitchen! We’re thankful that our stuff arrived intact and that we are able to so quickly settle here-all things considered, we couldn’t ask for a much smoother process. We are incredibly relieved to see the pieces falling into place as we figure out our new life here in Germany. Discovering and dusting off this post has been a helpful reminder of how far we have come and of the Lord’s abundant goodness to us each step of the way!

Goodbye, 4119 Mississippi. It’s been quite a year!

Beautiful Spokane

While John was away for training in Washington, I flew out to visit Stephen and Jess in Spokane. Unfortunately, John’s schedule prevented our paths from crossing while I was in town, but I enjoyed a few wonderful days of catching up with Stephen and Jess. It had been a whole year since we’d seen one another at their wedding and certainly much longer than that since we’d really had a chance to just hang out. 
Spokane is stunning. It’d be challenging to think of reasons not to live there! John and I passed through very briefly on a cross-country road trip in the fall of 2012, but it was extra special to share the beauty of this city with Stephen and Jess and to catch a glimpse of the life they’re creating together. 
We walked around downtown near the river. 

We spent an afternoon in Manito Park, which offers garden after garden of the most beautiful flowers.

We also hiked a bit in Riverside State Park, breathing in the fresh pine and loving the sunshine.

There was much tea drinking and reminiscing, reading, singing, and Scrabble-playing. What more could I ask for? Thanks for hosting me, Stephen and Jess! So thankful I got to spend some time with you before we head overseas.