Halloween in Holland

When we do Halloween in Holland, we do it right!

Our annual Halloween in Holland party was a hit again this year. It’s fun to see how things have changed since we started. The first time we had the party was right before our wedding and, since I didn’t know anyone here at that point, they were all Hubs’ friends.

Halloween isn’t so much done in the Netherlands. Kids here go door-to-door asking for candy on November 11 for Sint Maarten’s and the Dutch (mostly just the adults) do their dressing up for Carnival. So Halloween in Holland hasn’t really caught on.

Despite all that, it’s Hubs’ favorite holiday. And what better excuse to go all out and make your friends participate than an American (future) wife? So we spookified his apartment, filled a table with creepy hors d’oeuvres, and put together some seriously awesome costumes.

I was still living in the States at the time, so I went to Party City for a Deluxe Scooby-Doo costume for Hubs. I went as Velma, with red Mary Janes from my years at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, an orange sweater and above-the-knee red skirt from Goodwill, white-dyed-orange soccer socks from high school, and a bob wig and thick-rimmed glasses from Charelle’s Costume shop in Frederick, Maryland.

No one else on the invitation list had any idea (a) how to celebrate Halloween, (b) what to do for costumes, or (c) how seriously Hubs was going to take the whole thing. One guest wore an old bomber jacket, another pulled a straw hat from her grandmother’s attic, and a third picked up a police hat and plastic badge from the local party store on his way over.

Now, though, they’ve caught on. And they’re giving Hubs a run for his money. They’re literally gathering amongst themselves and plotting how to outdo us! It’s been super fun to see and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.

We also made it out to the International Women’s Contact Halloween party for the first time. I was asked to come as a fortune teller and read fortunes for children during the party, and Hubs came along as Scooby-Doo to help out.

We’re now preparing for Thanksgiving and the coinciding visit from my parents next week. I more than likely won’t have the chance to post before December, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from the Jansens!

Until next time!

Is Halloween celebrated in your new country? How have you managed to celebrate (or having to celebrate)?

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Family Matters Magazine’s Pet of the Issue

Who has no thumbs and is the Family Matters Magazine pet of the issue? *this* guy!

…is Turner Jansen!

It all started when I was sent a complimentary issue of Family Matters Magazine. I subscribe to FM’s sister magazine XM. As an educator, babysitter, and one who eventually wants children, I found the information in the publication both interesting and useful. There’s other stuff in there too, so you don’t have to be a parent or educator to enjoy reading the magazine from cover to cover.

Over the summer, they began a “Pet of the Issue” series. Now, if you know anything at all about me, you’ll know that I think my dog Turner is pretty darned amazing! So, on a whim, I did a write up on him and emailed it to the magazine with a few photos.

About a week later, I had confirmation from the editor of FM that Turner would be the featured pet in the next issue. Now, at this point, it was right on the cusp of October, which was to be the very next issue. Figuring I’d missed that one, I resolved myself to waiting patiently until the next-next issue made it to the shelves (December-January). Luckily, I happened to pick up a free copy of FM at the Expatica “i am not a tourist” fair, because as I was flipping through the magazine on the train ride back to Utrecht, I spied a familiar (furry) face. Turner’s famous!

Here’s the write-up of Turner that came out in the October-November issue of Family Matters. Read and enjoy!

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Wij nodigen u van harte uit

We cordially invite you

Back in the US, I was a performer. That’s what I spent most of my life doing. I stopped because I realized I would rather have a family and be able to spend time with them than be a Broadway actress.

In the US, there were plenty of opportunities to do community theater and be involved in the arts without being a professional. Here, not so much.

I wanted the chance to perform, so I started looking at some English speaking opportunities. There weren’t many. So I looked into Dutch speaking performace opportunities. Not many of those either. To be in a play, I could either make my way to Amsterdam for every rehearsal and performance and pay €40 to be in the show or I could stay in Utrecht and pay over €200. Neither sounded extremely attractive to me. So I gave up on the idea of doing amateur theater in the Netherlands and started concentrating on building my own after-school theater program.

Then I got a Facebook message from a fellow IWCU member asking me if I’d be able to babysit for her two daughters. A few days later, I went to meet them. She and I started talking and she mentioned that she belonged to a women’s close harmony vocal group. Sounded right up my alley. And they were having auditions that night to replace some singers who, for whatever reason, were leaving the group. “Sure,” I thought, “Why not?”

So off to the auditions I went and roughly two weeks later I got a call asking if I wanted to join the group. I’ve been a member for almost a month now and am loving every minute. The gals are really nice and the music is fun and varied. Another bonus is that the rehearsals are held in Dutch and some of the songs are in Dutch as well. So every Monday evening from 7:30-10pm I get to practice my Dutch listening and speaking skills.

But, back to the question above. What are we inviting you to? The group is called Divina and we are getting ready to celebrate 15 years of making music! And what would a birthday celebration for a musical group be without a special concert? We’ve got some great selections, a stunning sound, and beautiful divas!

So, if you are free on November 28 at 8pm, we would love to see you at the Stefanuskerk, Braziliedreef, Utrecht (Overvecht). Tickets are only €12.50. You can purchase tickets in advance through direct banking to Divina. For more information, click here. This concert is one not to be missed! We would love to see you there.

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Mundane Tasks: Groceries

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”

Doing groceries probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is to me. For two reasons: 1. I never cooked in the US and therefore never really needed to do groceries and 2. I do my grocery shopping in the Netherlands now, which is not where I’m originally from.

My first trip to the Plus during my first week here was an adventure to say the least. It also resulted in three trips in the same day because I wasn’t really sure what I was getting and had no phone to call my husband with for help!

It certainly is an experience and I do enjoy grocery shopping in other countries. Just to see how it’s done and what’s different from what I’m used to. One of my favorite things to do when friends and family come to visit is to take them grocery shopping with me. Sound boring? Think again! Here’s an idea of what it’s like to do your groceries in the Netherlands.

  •  There are several main chains of grocery stores: Aldi (actually a German franchise), Plus, Albert Heijn, C1000, and Super de Boer. I have only had the pleasure of shopping at Albert Heijn and the Plus, although I have stepped inside a nearby Aldi that, unfortunately, didn’t have what I needed. We do most of our shopping at the Plus since it works out to be about 200 meters round trip. 
  • Not everything can be found in the super markets. You may also need to pay a visit to a Toko (the Malaysian word for store. Tokos sell mostly eastern food items and the odd product like Mountain Dew and Cup O Noodles that are not found anywhere else), Turkish store, butcher, baker, or market in order to find everything you need.
  • Everything – for obvious reasons – is in Dutch. Meaning if you are heading out to buy ginger, good luck! You’ll have better luck if you look for gember. I still find myself looking up Dutch translations for an ingredient called for in one of my English recipes. Most of my grocery lists are a combination of items in English and Dutch.
  • In most stores, you weigh produce yourself. Although this is being phased out in some stores because of the “zakje thing.” You’re also responsible for bagging your own items at the checkout. This is different from many stores in the States where the sales clerk or a helper bags your things for you. (Totally off topic, but the grocery clerks here have nice cushioned seats to sit in as they ring you up! Almost makes me want to go to the Plus and pick up a job application… or not) Which brings me to my next point:
  • Don’t forget to bring your own bag. If you forget, be prepared to pay for a plastic one at the kassa. They usually run about €0.17. Most people bring their own vinyl bags for shopping in general. That or they stuff their purchase(s) in their purses, bags, backpacks, etc or just carry them by hand. So environmentally friendly!
  • Unlike in the US, food items here tend to be more on the fresh side. Meaning, they’re not overly processed or overly fortified with heaven-only-knows-what. Meaning that shelf lives of products are not so long. Add to that the fact that you can only fit so much into the pint-sized Dutch refrigerators, and we’re talking a trip to the grocery store almost every day. Your main modes of transportation to the supermarket are by foot and by bike. Buying enough food for a few months is all well and good when you can just load them in your car, but I certainly have no desire to try to transport the amount of groceries your average American buys in one go via Bonnie or my peds!
  • All stores are only open six days a week at most and are usually closing at anywhere from 6-8 o’clock in the evening. There are koopavonds (usually Thursdays or Fridays when shops are open sometimes till 9 pm) and koopzondag (the 1st Sunday of every month shops in certain cities are open for a special shopping day), but most grocery stores are closed at 7 pm and open for a limited time on Sundays if at all. Albert Heijn does, however, have some locations that are open until 9 pm on weeknights and from 4-9 pm every Sunday.
  • You pay a bit extra for the bottles your beer comes in. This deposit is called statiegeld and can be retrieved. To do that, just bring your empty bottles to your local supermarket and slip them into the designated machine. Once you’re done feeding all your bottles in, push the green button and out pops a receipt. Take the receipt to the kassa and have the amount on the receipt subtracted from your total. You can do this with one and two liter plastic bottles as well. The Plus gives back €0.10 for every glass bottle and €0.25 for every plastic bottle.
  • Many stores have rewards systems for loyal customers. Sign up for a grocery card for additional savings and coupons. Collect stamps to earn money or free grocery items. Sometimes supermarkets offer free entrance into theme parks or reduced train fair if you collect the specified number of stamps. These stamps are called zegels. Do you collect them? I do.

Not such a mundane task anymore now is it?

What differences do you notice between grocery shopping in your home country versus your host country?

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It Is a Small World… Afterall

It’s a small, small world

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Miracle on 34th Street. Must be thousands. Though, admittedly, it’s been a while. A very long while. So I was surprised when a director friend of mine in the US contacted me asking if my husband and/or I could help him with something in the script.

Perhaps I just don’t remember because it’s been so long. Maybe it’s because I had no reason then to care. But when I read the two pages of the script he sent me, I was both baffled and pleasantly surprised.

The scene takes place in Macy’s department store where children are lining up to sit on Santa’s lap. The real Santa. A little girl is presented to Santa in tears. The girl does not speak English and has no friends, but she immediately recognizes the man in red: Sinterklaas. Wouldn’t you know it, the girl is an orphan from Holland. And good old Kris Kringle instantly begins to speak to the girl in her native tongue.

My duty was to help the little girl playing the orphan with her Dutch pronunciation and my husband’s was to come up with a Sinterklaas liedje for Kris and the little girl to sing. It was funny reading through the script with my new found Dutch skills. I giggled at the funny Americanized spellings and the grammatical errors. I felt giddy at the fact that I effortlessly understood and could say everything. And my husband dug up what is now my favorite song ever. Try getting that one out of your head!

Sinterklaas kapoentje (kapoentje is a silly made-up word to rhyme with schoentje)
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje (throw something in my little shoe)
Gooi wat in mijn laarsje (throw something in my little boot)
Dank u Sinterklaasje (thank you Sinterklaasje)
*the “je” at the end of a word does the same as “ito” or “ita” in Spanish*


Yesterday, we spent about 30 minutes on Skype with the girl playing the orphan in my friend’s production and her father. Her dad even edited and sent us an mp3 of my husband and I reading the lines between Kris and the girl! It felt wonderful to be helpful and share my new culture, language, and lifestyle with someone “back home.” I was able to show off a bit and you could tell that my husband was proud of how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come.

Today, I’ll be heading to the MediaMarkt and digging around for a copy of Miracle on 34th Street if they have it. And later this week, we’ll watch it – particularly that scene in Macy’s – and, for the first time, I will hear and understand that scene as the story becomes an even bigger part of me. 

Update: I ended up not being able to find either version of the film on DVD here in the Netherlands. But it was gifted to us for Christmas 2009 by my parents. Interestingly enough, the song my husband found is the exact same song they use in the film!

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I Am Not a Tourist 2009

Nope – not a tourist

This time last week, I was just coming home from Expatica’s 6th annual expat fair, titled “i am not a tourist: Lifestyle Fair for Internationals.” Expatica is an organization dedicated to helping expats with their every needs in their new country through websites and events.

The event was held at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. Tickets were free if ordered online in advance and €10 at the door. This year, more than 4,000 internationals were in attendance to check out over 90 exhibitors and choose from more than 30 different workshops and sessions. The idea behind the event was to provide expats and internationals living in the Netherlands with the “opportunity to get all the information and contacts [they] need in one place.”

Considered to be the most important 19th century architectural monument in Holland, the Beurs van Berlage was teeming with businesses, groups, and curious expats. The hallway leading up to the workshop rooms played host to an all-day art exhibition while the main part of the building housed a stage and a bevy of stations to check out. Upstairs, various workshops and sessions were held. Topics ranged from writing workshops to tax and employment seminars to mini salsa lessons. For an extra €15 you could participate in chocolate making or a do-it-yourself sushi workshop or attend a wine or whiskey tasting. For the single expat, the fair also included speed dating sessions!

Exhibitors present included Expat Women, Dutch News, Typical Dutch Stuff, Women’s Business Initiative, Worldwide Brokers, ABN AMRO bank, Hard Rock Cafe, Tulip Expat Services, Expatcenter Amsterdam, American Women’s Club Amsterdam, International Women’s Clubs of Amsterdam and The Hague, British School of Amsterdam, English Breakfast Radio, Xpat Media, Time Out Amsterdam, Webster University, eXtremoS Dance Company, Pet Travel Clinic, and Undutchables… just to name a few!

There were also raffles with some excellent prizes like hotel accomodations, workshop tickets and magazine subscriptions. Many of the exhibitors also had their own raffles and games where you could win additional prizes. I did a few, but as it’s been a week and I haven’t heard anything, my guess is that I was not one of the lucky winners. But loads of fun just the same! Nearly every exhibitor had at least one free goodie for anyone who visited their station. I, for one, don’t think I’ll ever have to purchase another pen again! Click here to read the Expatica summary of the event.

I found out about the fair while digging around Expatica reading some articles. Something inspired me to attend (perhaps the free factor) and I ordered two tickets – one for myself and one for my husband. When my husband fell ill and informed me the day before the event that he wouldn’t be joining me, I considered not going. So I text messaged some girlfriends asking if they’d be interested and let fate work it out. A good friend responded almost immediately and I found myself on the train to Amsterdam with her the following morning – each of us with the obligatory cup of coffee in hand.

The venue is within walking distance from Amsterdam Centraal Station so we enjoyed a nice walk and talk, stopping to check out the occasional elephant. A better building could not have been chosen – although they may need a bigger one for next year as the Beurs van Berlage was packed tighter than a can of sardines! We were greeted at the door by volunteers who checked our tickets and graced us with a goodie bag. Just to the right of the entrance was a free coat check and as far as the eye could see expats, volunteers, and exhibitors mulled about, engaged in conversation.

We went to several different stands just checking everything out. Then we headed upstairs for the Writing Your Life Story workshop led by Jo Parfitt. A writer, publisher, and expat with 26 titles under her belt, Jo now devotes much of her time to teaching writing workshops. The one she gave at “i am not a tourist” was a very much condensed version of her 2-hour session on putting your life on paper and possibly on the shelves of bookstores. It was an excellent workshop and very inspiring. I will definitely be attending more of her workshops in the future.

After that, we wandered through the art exhibition, admiring the work of fellow expats in the Netherlands. Then it was back to the stands to gather information and some really cool free items! Less than a year in the Netherlands for both of us and we’ve already adapted the Dutch habit of gravitating towards anything with the word ‘free’ attached!

I am now a member of Democrats Abroad, have two bags full of freebees, will be enjoying 2-for-1 cocktails with a friend later this week courtesy of Hard Rock Cafe, have a knitting group and writing workshops to attend, and have joined the Women’s Business Initiative. Some great connections were made and valuable contacts were established.

I only wish I had done more planning before the event as I would have been sure to have made the most out of the workshops offered and made sure I had a list of questions to ask and Little Broadway business cards to pass out to the schools in attendance. But there’s always next year. And speaking of – after getting home and telling my husband all about it and showing him all the goods I collected, he’s already making plans to go along next year!

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