Reflecting on Queen’s Day 2009

Oranje pride on Queen's Day in the Netherlands
A very orange street musician shows her Dutch pride on Queen’s Day

Koning is Dutch for king and Koningin is Dutch for queen. Koninginnedag (or Queen’s Day) is a national holiday in the Netherlands celebrating the Queen’s birthday.

Not the current Queen Beatrix’s birthday, which is in January, but that of her mother Juliana. Juliana was born on the 30th of April when the weather in Holland tends to be significantly better than during the winter months

She was known to have ridden her bicycle among her people with little to no security. Her subjects were even permitted to stroll right up and give her a peck on the cheek! This way, the cloggie royalty came to be known as “the cycling monarchy.”

Always available to the public, the royal family has continued to not only attend, but participate in Queen’s Day festivities: playing games and dancing as if they too were part of the crowd.

Celebrations begin on April 29th with Koninginnenacht, or “Queen’s Day Eve,” if you will. City centers all over the country are closed off from cars and bikes (the latter unless you like to live dangerously) and people swarm in to set up camp.

Camp? Yes, they head in early to ensure a place in front of houses, canals, buildings, and in parks to set up their wares. Because what is Konninginnedag if not an excuse to sell all your unwanted items? If you choose to visit the Netherlands on the 29th or 30th of April, be prepared to enter Flea Market Heaven (or hell, depending on how you feel about this pastime).

In addition to the sales is scores of live music and loads of drinking. Food and beverage tents and caravans litter the city, and pubs set up shop outside to sell beer on the streets. That way you can enjoy a brew and a snack as you peruse the rummage sales! Bands leaving much to be desired entertain the masses everywhere you turn, and DJs fill the spaces between. But most importantly, everyone is dressed in orange.

My husband and I had Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken) with friends on Koninginnenacht and then headed out into town for an evening of beer, music, and sales.

The next day, we popped over to the Rummelmarkt (yard sale) in Juliana Park and bought some great makeshift toys for the dog. He now has his very own stuffed version of Holland’s mascot Loeki the Lion. Then we headed back into the city center for a nice, ‘healthy’ lunch of patat (fries typically smothered in mayonnaise) and beer, looked around some more at the sales, and listened to several street bands. It was amazing to see so many people squeezed into the streets and canals.

Each year on Koninginnedag, the Royal Family chooses a city in Holland to visit. This year, they graced Appeldoorn with their presence. But everything went horribly wrong.

As per usual, the royal family began with their parade through the town by bus, when a car broke through the police barricades and the crowd, careening toward the bus. Just in the nick of time, the car inexplicably veered off it’s course and crashed into De Naald monument in the center of the square, stopping it dead in it’s tracks. The royal family was rushed to Paleis Het Loo and immediately put under lock-down.

Eight people were killed including the driver of the vehicle, identified as Karst Tates, who passed away in the hospital before anyone could question him. Before falling into a coma at the scene of the accident, he did confess to having planned the attack on the royal family, with crowned prince Willem-Alexander as his primary target.

Prior to these unfortunate events, Tates had lost his job as a security guard and was in heavy financial trouble. His apartment had been seized and sold, and the new family was to move in the following day. It was also reported that he was divorced and being kept from his children.

It has been concluded that he planned and carried out the attack alone. Authorities have yet to determine a motive. While taking his own life as well as the lives of seven others, Tates did not succeed in altering the relaxed lifestyle of the House of Orange, which plans to continue to enjoy many a Queen’s Day to come.

Read more about the tragedy here.

Have you ever experienced Queen’s Day in the Netherlands? If so, what was it like?

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Dutch Women Don’t Get Fat Either

All that cycling the Dutch do pays off
Could this be one of the reasons Dutch women don’t get fat either?

As an American with a wide cultural background and lots of traveling and living abroad experience, I have always been amazed at how much rich foods European men and women eat and yet remain so slim.

We’ve all heard that French women don’t get fat, but my experience in the Netherlands has shown me that Dutch women don’t get fat either.

After moving to the Netherlands and adapting to the culture here, I quickly figured out why: Lifestyle.

Read my article, Weighty Issues: The Dutch Edition at ExpatExchange.com to see what a difference lifestyle makes. Here’s an excerpt from the piece to whet your appetite:

 

What is it about Europeans that allows them to break almost every dieting rule ever written and still remain so slim?

They eat almost nothing but carbs, have their last meal way after 7pm, drink real milk, eat real mayonnaise, have dessert after at least one of their three meals… You know, all those things they tell you NOT to do when watching your waistline!

And yet, we in America with all of our diets and weight loss aids, a plethora of lite, reduced-fat, and fat-free foods are the ones who are overweight.

The answer is very simple and very logical, yet always overlooked because it is so simple (not to mention it actually takes work).

Lifestyle.

Of the 3 other countries in which I’ve lived, there’s only one that I have enough experience in to actually speak with any sort of authority: Holland. I moved here early December 2008 after marrying a Dutchman.

My first several months here, I drank several cups of tea and coffee per day sweetened with pure sugar. I went from skim milk to halfvolle (“half full” or “half whole”). Every night after dinner, my husband and I would have dessert: ice cream, custard, pudding, etc. Every night we’d watch a movie and polish off a bag of M&Ms between the two of us.

I was introduced to all the Dutch treats. Patat: a large cone filled with fat Flemish fries, smothered in whatever topping you choose. Most Dutch just go for plain mayonnaise, but curry and peanut sauce are also popular. My favorite: a mix of mayonnaise, peanut sauce, and onion called Patat Oorloog, or “fries war.” Ollieballen: a New Year’s treat. It literally means “oil balls.” You take it from there. Bitterballen: God only knows what’s in it, but it’s some sort of meat mixture that’s fried. Speculaas: a spice cookie. Eirekoeken: some sort of bread/cookie thing that resembles angel food cake in texture. Hagelslag: sprinkles that come in all sorts of flavors. Chocolate’s the winner in my book. Vla: a custard pudding. You get the idea.

Do you know how much weight I gained? None. Zip. Zilch. Nil. Not a single inch, kilo, or pound (until my mom came over and lavished us with Easter candy…). Cool, huh? You’re probably wondering how I was able to pull this off… In one word: fiets.

Fiets is Dutch for bike. The Dutch are nuts about their bikes. In the city I live in, they have the traffic lights rigged so you can pretty much expect every light you arrive at to be red. The hope is that this will motivate more people to use their bikes or public transportation. There are bike paths literally everywhere complete with special bike traffic lights and road rules.

A Dutchie utilizes all parts of the two-wheeled contraption: the baggage carrier on the back, the handle bars, they add baskets and bicycle bags, attach baby seats and wagons – anything you can imagine. They carry everything from fresh flowers, to several of their buddies, to furniture.

Families travel on vacation by bike and many Cloggies can even ride without using the handle bars at all! Since being here, I have accomplished riding a bike in heels, with my dog Turner on the leash, with ridiculous amounts of cargo, while talking and texting on my cell, and while holding an umbrella against deadly winds and pelting rain. I cycle to my classes, I cycle into town, I cycle to my friends’ places, meetings, the dentist, the train station, and to work.

But of course, I don’t attribute it all to my bike (her name’s Bonnie, by the way).

The title for this post comes from the title of the recent popular book by Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don’t Get Fat.

What’s the weight situation in your new country? Have you found your eating and exercise habits improving… or not so much?

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How I Avoided Feeling Like a Foreigner

You'll feel like a foreigner as longs as you live out of a suitcase
Put your suitcase out of sight and out of mind. Planning to stay put might help you feel like less of a foreigner in your new country

The other day a friend was telling me about her first Dutch class a few years ago. On the first day of class, the teacher asked students to raise their hands if they had come to Holland for love. The majority of the hands in the classroom went up and the teacher was not at all surprised… that seems to be par for the course for a buitenlander (foreigner) here.

I too moved here for love. My husband is Dutch and we met through mutual friends on his holiday to the U.S. in September 2007. It was a flyby meeting, but apparently one that allowed each of us to make quite an impression on the other.

As my friend who introduced us tells it, we bugged her so much with questions about the other that she finally just gave each of us the other’s email address and told us to leave her alone! A few weeks later we began our online relationship via email and Skype. I felt as though I could tell him anything – and I pretty much did!

In November 2007, I got on a plane to Amsterdam to spend a weekend with him. Upon my return, I called my mom as soon as I could get cell phone reception… and told her I had met the man I was going to marry.

Hubs proposed four months later and it occurred to us that one of us was going to have to leave our home country. As he makes more money and immigrating to the Netherlands is easier than immigrating to the U.S. (believe it or not), we decided I would move to the Netherlands.

I knew it was going to be a big step and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. The last thing I wanted was to feel like a foreigner in my new home. While still in the States, I practiced riding my long-ago-neglected bike, and I had experienced cycling in the Netherlands on one or two of my last visits. My husband also taught and practiced with me the most basic of Dutch. I had also met several of his friends and struck a one-day-per-week babysitting deal with one of them. My first Dutch “job!”

But the thing I found most helpful was my tip on the International Women’s Contact Utrecht (IWCU). One of Hubs’s friends happens to be married to a Canadian who moved here 7 years ago and is very involved with the club. She was the one who had the brilliant idea to give us my first year’s membership to the club as a wedding gift. And on my last visit to the Netherlands before the wedding, she gifted me with a copy of their bimonthly newsletter.

On the flight back to the States, I read the thing from cover to cover! I loved reading about the other women in the club: why they came to the Netherlands, their tips and advice, what they love about the Netherlands as well as what they dislike, descriptions of upcoming events, pictures and write-ups from past events. For the first time since deciding to move to the Netherlands, I realized that I was not the only one. I was, in fact, one of very, very many. I felt like I could do this.

We got married, went on a week-long honeymoon to New York City, and stopped by my parents’ long enough to get my dog and say our goodbyes before flying to the Netherlands.

We arrived on a Sunday and I went to my first IWCU event the following Wednesday. Not only had they all “been there, done that,” but they were able to give me tips on where to look for a teaching job and where I could find performance opportunities in the theater. My new favorite hobby became meeting expats (particularly women) and learning why they came here, how long they’ve been living here, and what they think about life in the Netherlands.

This and my Facebook habit, led me to other expat groups in Utrecht and various expat publications like ACCESS Magazine, The Holland Times, Time Out Amsterdam, The Xpat Journal, and XM and Family-Matters Magazines.

They include all the wonderful things I love about the IWCU publication, but go further than that. I love the “news” articles that keep me up-to-date about what’s going on in the world, what’s going on around the country, and gives fabulous tips on places to go and things to see in the Netherlands. In early April, I took my parents to the Keukenhof – an indescribable wonder and something I don’t think I would have known about had it not been for an article I read.

From there, I added expat blogs to my reading list, particularly those located in the Netherlands. The best part is that, after reading these publications and blogs, I feel like I know so much more about the country I now live in and the people who live here.

At the time of this writing, we have been married for a little over four months and I have been living in the Netherlands for almost as long. I have more or less gotten a grip on the language, the culture, the people, and the whirlwind that has been my life for the past year has more or less settled. In short, I no longer feel like a foreigner.

I really love living in the Netherlands and keep telling people that if things continue to go the way they are going now, I don’t see myself wanting to move back to America. Both Netherlanders and internationals are, more often than not, surprised to hear me say that. Especially so soon.

I think the reason for my feeling this way is that I really jumped right into it, hit the ground running, and all those other clichés that mean I didn’t waste time. I immediately joined expat groups and subscribed to expat publications. I hadn’t even been in the Netherlands for three months before I started my first Dutch class. I read Dutch children’s books, use my Dutch whenever possible, attend a Dutch speaking group, and utilize Dutch language books, CDs, DVDs, podcasts, websites, etc. whenever possible. I’ve been driving with the crazy Dutch drivers and cyclers for over two months now and will be starting my driving lessons in the next month or so. I’m even hosting my own expat events and have built up some wonderful friendships here.

As soon as I got here, I hopped right on the fiets (bike) and started cycling my heart out. Oddly enough, though I never named any of my cars, I felt the need to christen my bike because I love it so much and it has such a personality that I felt it needed a name. And so now she will be forever known as “Bonnie.”

Bonnie and I have already had two crashes and almost knocked my husband into oncoming traffic (I swear it was an accident!). I can now cycle while holding an umbrella, wearing heels, talking and texting on my phone, carrying large, awkward items and loads of bags, and with my petrified-of-everything (bikes included) dog!

At the moment, I’m still waiting for my verblijfsvergunning (residence permit) and the coveted work permit that comes with it. But I am babysitting one day a week and talking to two international schools in Hilversum about starting an after-school musical theater program. The only thing I haven’t found is a good musical theater group, preferably in English. So if you know of one, do tell!

What steps have you taken to get past feeling like a foreigner in your host country? 

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Thoughts on Learning Dutch from a Newbie

Tips for learning Dutch
My go-to books when I first started learning Dutch

One of my favorite websites for learning Dutch is 2BDutch.com. It has been such a wonderful tool in helping me learn the language. With blogs and videos with multiple subtitles (Dutch and your own language are displayed at the bottom of the video screen), this site gives you a great start to learning about Dutch language and culture.

Here’s a blurb from the website:

“2BDutch is an easy and funny way to learn more about Dutch language and culture. Our videos with multiple subtitles can be used to practice your listening comprehension skills and to learn new Dutch words. Or just get more information about the Netherlands. 2BDutch is a community. Everyone can participate. So, feel free to join!”

The article A Newbie’s Advice: Thoughts on Learning Dutch originally appeared on 2BDutch.com.

Let’s see… where to begin? Well, I am a 26-year-old American who moved to the Netherlands for my Dutch husband. I’ve found that the whole “Dutch partner” thing is pretty typical here.

I met my husband in September 2007 and started learning Dutch from the silly words he taught me, like voetjevrijen (“footsies”) and schatje (“sweetie”). He eventually taught me how to count and introduced me to the “biggie” verbs: hebben (“to have”) and zijn (“to be”).

As Walt Disney said, it is a “small world after all.” Just to drive home that fact, there happened to be a Dutch exchange student at the high school where my mother was teaching at the time. It was this student, Naomi, who prepared me for the dreaded “Meeting of the Future In-laws” (which becomes just that much more terrifying when you don’t speak the same language). While all of this was fun and helpful, it certainly was not enough to get by once I was actually living in the Netherlands.

My mother is a stickler for being able to speak enough of the language to get by in whatever country you plan to visit. So it never crossed my mind to live in the Netherlands without learning Dutch.

I have also had this innate desire to be fluent in a second language and have long been jealous of those who are bilingual. I studied Spanish and then French during high school (four and three years respectively) and did extremely well.

But, as the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” And I lost 99% of the Spanish and roughly half of the French. So I see this as being my big chance. Mainly because I now have one key aspect that I was missing with the other two languages: immersion.

I am a firm believer that there is truly only one way to learn a language, and that’s the instruction/immersion combo. During instruction by a certified teacher, you learn the structure and the ‘why’s.’ Basically, you learn to speak, read, and write the language correctly.

With the immersion piece, you hear it all the time and you can apply what you learn in class to real life as well as learn the way the people speak the language – not just the way the text book uses the language.

I started using the Dutch I knew right away. Even when my vocabulary only included dankuwel and alstublieft, I forced myself to use English only to fill in the gaps. Now I use it only when I have asked the person to repeat themselves or speak slower and I still don’t understand.

Another great piece of advice is to speak it all the time. During the break in my Dutch class, I sit with the teacher and listen to and speak with her. I also use it with my husband more frequently as my Dutch improves. And my husband’s friends speak more Dutch around me now that they know I understand the majority of what they’re saying.

I play a little game with myself to see how little English I can use whenever I go shopping or to the dreaded gemeentehuis. I also joined a Dutch practice group through the International Women’s Club I joined here in Utrecht. The woman who leads the group has lived in the Netherlands for 12 years and is positively fluent. She has really given me something to aspire to.

Dutch is undoubtedly a complicated language. I have found bits and pieces of French and English within it, but all in all, it is nothing like any other language I have studied.

The structure of sentences is very complex. You’re always in suspense until you get to the end of the sentence, which is where the verb usually is. And no matter how much I practice or how hard I think about it, niet always eludes me. Where on earth do you put it depending on the point you want to get across? There are just so many rules and exceptions!

The bijzin, in my opinion, is by far the worst. You just can’t translate them literally. Although I will admit that it is fun! Take “als je Nederlands wil leren” for example… “if you Dutch want to learn”??? You gotta love it!

My husband loves the little oddities I come up with. For instance, I learned rather quickly that you cannot directly translate everything. “Home sweet home” does not become “thuis lief thuis.” Nor does “kijk naar je mond” mean the same as “watch your mouth.”

Then there’s the art of communicating in simpler words you do know when you don’t know the appropriate vocabulary. This is an art I have not quite mastered: chopping an onion and saying to my husband, with tears streaming down my face (as happens when one cuts onions) “Mijn ogen hebben water.”

How about you: What pitfalls and a-ha moments have you had while learning Dutch? Any Dutch speaking faux pas’ native speakers have given you an odd look over? I know you have them!

I’d also like to share my favorite video from 2BDutch. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in learning Dutch and want to know more about the books pictured in this post (all of which I highly recommend), see the links below. When you buy using any one of these links, a portion of your purchase goes to the maintenance and upkeep of Clogs and Hotdogs. Thanks in advance for your support!

 

Learn Dutch with DutchPod101.com

Clogs and Tulips

I’m officially an expat blogger

I decided that since I have an overwhelming number of expat chronicles, I would start yet another blog dedicated to my adventures and observations.

Check out Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland*
 

Last night, I auditioned for Divina Close Harmony, a women’s vocal group based here in Utrecht. A new friend via IWCU brought the group to my attention. She is one of their altos and the only non-Dutch member of the group! There was one audition last week and one other one coming up next week. I didn’t hear from them today, which means that they’ve chosen me over last week’s auditionee! Now I just have to wait until next Tuesday to see if I got in!

Before my audition, I watched a rehearsal and it was so much fun! I’m looking forward to making the group and doing performances, recording CDs, going on rehearsal retreats, beginning a Dutch social network and becoming a better Dutch speaker. I will be sure to let everyone know as soon as I find out!

Last week, Hubs’ company held its annual office day which, of course, he attended! The office say is an office field trip of sorts where the staff can relax, get to know each other better, try something new, and practice working together in a non-work-related environment. Past office days have included boating, BBQs, go carting, scavenger hunts, and a skit featuring me and Hubs and the office’s take on our engagement story! This year, they had a day in Amsterdam riding on Solexes (solar powered motor bikes) followed by a catered barbeque. Hubs had an excellent time and all Turner and I heard about that evening was the Solex bikes!

This Friday, Turner will be heading to Yuppie Dogs for the next 2 1/2 weeks. Hopefully there won’t be any drug busts in the areas while he’s there! This will be his first time away from home and without either one of his parents for such a long time! Be sure that I’ll be checking with Yuppie Dogs at least 10 times a day while we’re gone!

And where are we going? Saturday, we’re flying into Florida where we will spend a week in Orlando hitting up 2 of Disney’s theme parks and Universal Studios. The following Friday, we’re flying to Maryland for a busy week filled with an American Football game, Maryland Renaissance Festival, a baseball game, two weddings, and my dad’s birthday! And the Friday after our return is Driver’s License Test for Tiffany: take two!!

*Clogs and Tulips was revived as Clogs and Hotdogs in 2014

This site contains affiliate links. When you buy something using those links, a portion of your purchase goes to helping update and maintain Clogs and Hotdogs. Thank you for your support!

Weekendje in Maastricht

Weekendje is a “little weekend”. I think you can take care of the rest. And that’s what Hubs and I had this past weekend! For the wedding, we were given a gift certificate to any 4-5 star hotel in the Netherlands. All we had to do was pay for dinner and spa services (which we didn’t have time to do). We went to a hotel nextdoor to Kasteel Vaalsbroek and spent a day in Maastricht’s City Center.

Maastricht lies in the south of Holland (about a 2 hour drive from Utrecht) and the language there is, as Erik aptly described it, like they took French, Dutch, and German, put them all in a bag, mixed them up and pulled out an all-new language. While shopping in Maastricht on Saturday, we stopped in a liquor store to purchase a bottle of wine for our Turner-sitter for the weekend. The ladies working there were having a conversation and all the sudden one of them said “Michael Jackson”. The only word I understood. As I always do when I pick out words or phrases I understand, I turned to Hubs and whispered “Michael Jackson! I understood that!” He turned to me and breathed, “That’s all I got, too.” This from a man fluent in Dutch and French!

We got into Maastricht at about 1pm, parked in a garage and headed to a cafe terrace for some lunch. There was a bit of chaos thanks to Andre Rieu and the hubbub surrounding his concert that evening. We parked right underneath what was to be his stage for that evening’s performance! We had a quick lunch and a bit of entertainment from a street performer on stilts. I was surprised at the number of English speakers I heard throughout the day, though I shouldn’t have been, seeing as it’s a very popular tourist area. After that, we walked around and did some window shopping and a bit of actual shopping, too! We went into our first Lush and later that afternoon I got some really great outfits. The architecture of the two big shopping centrums was pretty fantastic – very modern-chic! One was an outdoor mall of sorts with 3 levels of stores and another was a one-storey with a very impressive facade. The highlight, however, was the church-turned-bookstore!

And, of course, we got enough religion in to last us quite a while by going to several churches! The name of the first has, unfortunately escapes me, but the building was just positively impressive on the inside. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed to be used. Hubs had been there years ago for the wedding of one of his former colleagues. A room just left of the entrance contained so many lit memorial candles that just standing on the threshold was unbearably hot! I did get several pictures of the outside of the enormous church, though! Our second stop was St. John’s of Maastricht, named after John the Baptist. The tower of the church is painted red and has been since the Middle Ages. The last paint job was done in 1982. Probably in preparation for my birth a year later in ’83 😉 The final stop on our religious pilgrimage was St. Servaas Basilica. Our tour included the treasury and the church itself, the crypt of St. Servaas, and the cloister.

After a bit of a tiff with Rieu’s traffic control staff, we finally made it to the car and headed to the hotel which is located about 25 km out of the city center. The view along the way was FANTASTIC! So many massive, castle-like structures, green as far as the eye can see, lush wooded areas, and farms. Once at the hotel, we checked in, put our things away, and headed to dinner.

At 7pm, we were the only ones in the dining area! We ordered the most delicious bottle of red wine and tore into the rolls! Soon the waiter came around with a savory creamy tuna hors-d’oeuvre for each of us. I had the most fantastic spinach soup for my appetizer and Hubs got a fish dish served in excellent sauce. About halfway through the bottle of wine, we were served our entrees. They looked roughly the same, although mine was duck and Hubs’s was pork, and they were both extravagantly delicious! The meat was just falling of the bones! Our dessert was creme broulee served with whipped cream, ice cream and a Tia Maria sauce and we rounded off the evening with a cup of coffee and Hubs’s cognac! Hubs spent Monday looking up the wine and where to buy it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do (it’s roughly 30 euro cheaper that way!)! After dinner, we took a walk around the hotel grounds over to the neighboring castle. It was a gorgeous romantic walk before retiring to our hotel room.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in the castle and redid our evening stroll in daylight. Then, we went to the hotel room, donned our bathing suits and headed downstairs for the spa/pool/sauna/tanning bed/workout room arena. The pool was no bigger than the one at my parent’s house, except for the hidden cove at the end where every 20 minutes or so, a jacuzzi effect took place with pressure spouts and bubbles. We played around in the pool and then retired to beach chairs to read. Hubs hit up the sauna and then it was time to shower, pack and head home.

Before we left, Hubs took me to the American World War II cemetery in Margraten. Margraten is a town located roughly 6 km outside of Maastricht, so we had to backtrack a little. Unfortunately my phone/camera died before we got to the actual burial ground. The ground keeper and all staff are, of course, American. A small information office is located to the right of the memorial. A large flat-topped tower stands in the center just before the entrance to the burial ground. The chapel is located inside this structure and the front is the engraving:

EACH FOR HIS OWN MEMORIAL
EARNED PRAISE THAT WILL NEVER DIE
AND WITH IT
THE GRANDEST OF ALL SEPULCHRES
NOT THAT IN WHICH
HIS MORTAL BONES ARE LAID
BUT A HOME
IN THE MINDS OF MEN

On either side of the tower is a long wall with the names of those American soldiers that fell during the battles in the Netherlands. Just in front of the left wall, opposite the main office is a little alcove with maps and inscriptions in both Dutch and English of World War II in the Netherlands. The cemetery itself is very reminiscent of the one in Normandy, France: row upon row of stark white crosses and stars of David. The sight hits you like a fist to the stomach.

We headed back home, picking up Turner on the way. I don’t think any of us wanted the weekend to end! This was the first real date that Hubs and I have had since the night he proposed and it made us both realize that we can never let it go this long again!

This site contains affiliate links. When you buy something using those links, a portion of your purchase goes to helping update and maintain Clogs and Hotdogs. Thank you for your support!

Where Is My Paper Dress?

Never did I think I would miss that stupid paper dress!

So, I’ve done it. I’ve been to the doctor’s, the dentist, and the vet’s here in the Netherlands. Not that I worried about any of them except the vet. I wanted to make sure Turner was in good hands and our vet in the U.S. makes it almost impossible to find anyone just as good and not even worth bothering to try to find someone better – no such thing. Plus, Turner’s so skittish and terrified of everything, that I worried most about bringing him to a new vet and having him exposed in an already terrifying environment (for him) in an unfamiliar language. (Yes, I realize much of the English language is beyond Turner’s comprehension, but we’re also dealing with the fact that Hubs gets upset with him in Dutch, so he’s associated Dutch with Bad Turner).

Since I’ve already started with the vet, that’s where I’ll begin. The veterinarian is called dierenarts. Dieren is Dutch for animal. The art of caring for animals is called dierenpractijk or animal practice. Not much to tell actually. It was very small and looked more like an apartment from the outside than an office. We checked it at the reception and, to my joy and surprise, we were offered a cappuccino – at least I was. Turner got water. We were called in before we even sat down by a kind looking man with curly and lightly peppered black hair and glasses. For being packed in as tightly as it was, the check-up room was impressively high-tech. They had all the latest technology in that little room. I imagine they do surgery there as well. The place was positively pristine. There was one assistant taking notes on the nearby desk top and a second one held and comforted Turner while the dierenarts looked him over. They spoke to me mostly in Dutch unless they were using terminology I didn’t understand in Dutch. Sometimes it was very difficult for them to find the words to explain. Definitely a mental exercise for everyone involved! Less than an hour later, Turner had a passport, updated rabies booster and cocktail injection, general check up, and a second microchip (apparently, European scanners can’t read US microchips. I want to find and murder whoever it was who mandated that animals leaving the US be microchipped before leaving.). For Hubs who had only ever had vet bills for cats and me who was used to writing checks for the vet with sums that made me feel like I was robbing the man, the visit was an incredibly expensive one. But, we live in a city, he’s a big dog, not all vets do their work for little more than a song in return, and he did have a lot done.

About a month ago, I started feeling an intense pain on the bottom of one of my lower teeth right along the gum line. Sure it was a cavity and wanting to be able to eat, drink and floss and brush my teeth again, I scheduled an appointment at the dentist. This waiting room visit was far longer than the one Turner and I had at the dierenarts (dentist, by the way, is tandenarts. Tanden is Dutch for teeth). I think I waited about a half-hour. Finally I was called in and guiltily explained to the tandenarts that my Dutch was not quite to the point where I’d be able to understand what he was saying about my teeth for the most part. And again I was launched into the game of how-do-i-explain-these-technical-terms-in-a-language-not-my-own with a new partner. As for the examining room, it looked identical to every other dentist’s office I had been to. Only, after taking an X-ray of my mouth, he went right to the computer sitting on the counter where my X-rays were uploaded and waiting for him. He was able to show me everything, touching the screen to get to and enlarge certain sections. Turns out, I drink too much soda and brush my teeth too vigorously which eroded my gumline and exposed a nerve. The pain I was feeling was the nerve being hit. He gave me a trial toothpaste created to fill in holes in teeth caused by those very things and we discussed what was to be done with my crown once my implant was finished and he sent me on my merry way after making me promise to get him my dental records ASAP.

The huisarts (or doctor. Huis = house. This one, I don’t get either) was by far the most interesting. Hubs and I are still depending on the anti-baby pill and I desperately needed new ones – after all, we don’t want any Little Tiffanies running around just yet! So, my doctor’s visit was more of a feminine nature. I figured since I was in there, I may as well do that yearly exam that we women find so gezellig since I was due for one anyway. The exam rooms are really the doctor’s office. The huisarts works there at a computer with scanner and printer and phone and fax machine. And on the other side of the small room is the examining table next to a counter filled with cabinets and drawers to store all their goodies. Between the two sides of the room is a lovely little Japanese changing screen pretending that it actually gives the patient privacy.

I was told by my new doctor to go over to the table and strip from the waist down. Which I did and then reached for the chair to grab my paper dress. When I pulled my hand back to me, I was a bit surprised to see that I had failed to retrieve  the paper dress, which was surely laying on the back of the chair. So I turned back to the chair – actually looking with my eyes this time – and was shocked to see there was no paper dress. Feeling quite naked and exposed all the sudden, I began to search for my paper dress. My search turned frantic, but yielded no paper dress. I was about to tell my new huisarts that she must have forgotten to set out my paper dress when it struck me: perhaps there was no paper dress at all. I was not about to Amaricanize myself by insisting on a paper dress (did I mention there was no paper sheet either?), so I sucked it up and sat down. She came around to my side of the good-for-nothing changing screen and told me to lie down. I did and waited for her to pull out the stirrups. I always had this sort of exam done right in my regular doctor’s office and every examining table had them build in. But she did not reach to the bottom end of the table and pull out the stirrups. Because there were none. And so, stirrup-less and without the comfort of my paper dress and blanket, I spread ’em and let her do her thing. I was speechless. But, honestly, what does the paper dress really do? The doctor just opens it up and feels your boobs and looks at your bare hoo-ha while they stick various tools up there. And, much to my relief, I have been assured that at the gynecologist, they do indeed have stirrups. Perhaps they have paper dresses and blankets too. I wonder if I’ll use them?

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Go (Go Gadget) Green!

Life in the Netherlands certainly has a lot to teach about being eco-friendly

Here we are in the swing of summer again. While everything outside is lush and green is a great reminder for us to Go Green! Go Green is a worldwide campaign to create a healthier environment and take care of the world we live in through eco-friendly actions. Living in the Netherlands where preservation is extremely important (the majority of the country is below sea level), I have made several environmentally friendly changes that are a pretty standard way of life in my adopted country. I wanted to share them here in the hopes of inspiring more people to Go Green!

The biggest change I’ve made is in the way I get around. Bikes are a way of life in the Netherlands. There are special bike paths pretty much anywhere with their own traffic lights and traffic rules. I cycle into town, to work, to meet friends, to meetings, to classes. If I can get there in a 30 minute cycle, that’s the way I get there. And when I don’t cycle, I walk. Hubs and I take the car out about once or twice a week, if that. And that’s if it’s just me, just Hubs, or the two of us together. Sometimes we’ll go two weeks or more without even setting foot in the car. Not only does this lessen pollution due to CO2, it also saves a LOT of money. I know this is more often than not impossible in the US to use a bike as transportation, but see if you can start to use it here and there. Every little bit helps. If the school, grocery store, pharmacy, work, or a friend is close by, think about taking the bike out for a spin on your next trip instead of hopping into the car. You can buy saddle bags, wagons, and children’s seats for your bike at pretty much any bike store. Or try looking online.

Recycling is also a great way to be kind to your environment. Most plastics, glass, metal, and paper can be recycled. Look for a grocery store that will give you store credit for turning in bottles, both plastic and glass. Almost all the grocery stores in the Netherlands do this. It really makes a difference in your monthly grocery bill. Find a metal and aluminum center that will give you change for your scraps. There’s one in Frederick, MD called Reliable Recycling. Before I left for the Netherlands, they were paying $0.35 per pound of aluminum cans. Take anything you can’t get rid of  to the nearest recycling center. Donate or give away old toys, clothing, shoes, and appliances. One man’s junk is another mans riches! Right by where we live (less than 100 meters) there’s a recycling center that also takes used clothes and shoes. You can also have a yard sale and make some extra cash! Be creative with the ‘leftovers’. Make a tire swing or a jump set with a pole set atop stacks of tires for your avid horseback rider. Cut pictures from old magazines to make collages, use junk to make coasters, notepads, scrapbooks, whatever you can think of – be creative! If you just have to throw it away, condense it first. Crush cans and plastic bottles, smash cartons, break down the glass, pop those addictive little bubbles in the bubble wrap, and stuff other trash into anything hollow that you can’t break down. This will allow more to be fit into you trash bags which will limit the space taken up in the landfill as well as save you money on trash bags!

My husband doesn’t use paper towels. We have napkins with dinner on occasion, but most spills can be taken care of with a dish or cleaning cloth. Better for the environment to wash a cloth than to add paper towels to the overflowing landfills. Reuse as much as you can. Refill bottles. Make sure your dishwasher is crammed full before you run it. Dishwashers use a lot of water and energy and this will save time, water, energy, and money! Use bath towels for a week before washing. When you dry yourself after a shower, you’re using a clean towel on a clean body. No need to wash a clean towel. By the end of the week, it’ll have collected enough dead skin that it will need to be washed, but not before that. Wear pajamas for a whole week. Unless you participate in the Sleep Olympics, your nighties won’t get soiled enough to earn washing after one wear. When you do do laundry, fit as much into each load as is safe for your machine. Consider air drying as much as you can and combining 2 loads of wash into the drier instead of one (most washing machines are smaller than dryers). Consider not using a blow drier for your hair. If you absolutely have to, I understand, but if you don’t need to, don’t. It’s really bad for the environment and, surprisingly enough, your hair.

Got a garden? If you don’t, you might want to think about it. They’re beautiful and peaceful for starters. They rid the atmosphere of CO2 and replace it with oxygen. They also provide food and shelter for other creatures. Plus gardening is relaxing and fun! If you already have a garden or are planning to start one, be sure to build a compost pile. Not only it is fantastic free fertilizer, it also diminishes the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. My “pile” is composting in a Cola Light bottle just like in Mr. Kemp’s 7th grade science class. Not only do I have a compost, I’m also re-using a plastic bottle which can eventually be recycled too!

Just say no to paper and plastic shopping bags! One thing that struck me instantly upon my arrival to the Netherlands was that stores rarely give you bags. You have to ask for them. Otherwise, they assume you’ll just shove it in your purse or backpack, carry it as is, or put it in another shopping bag. Pretty much everyone carries around a vinyl grocery bag with them on a shopping trip. Either that or they’ll bring a plastic bag from home. I’ve seen many a college student enter the supermarket with a plastic grocery bag overflowing with empty plastic and glass bottles and leaving with the same bag filled with groceries. Most stores here in the Netherlands have these bags or you can buy a store logo free one at a market or the Hema (the Dutch equivalent of Target). In the US, you can get them at most grocery stores. Buy one or two for the car or the house and let it be your shopping buddy. If someone offers you a plastic or paper bag or absent mindedly begins to shove your newly-bought items into one, just say “No thanks. I already have a bag.”

Don’t use heat and AC unless you really need it. Hubs has a rule: no heat after March and not before November. This one was tough, but really, you can live with sweatshirts, sweaters, slipper, socks, and blankets. To my amazement, AC is not a common commodity in the Netherlands. There’s a restaurant in the city center of Utrecht that proudly boasts in paint on it’s windows that it has AC. This is rare. The country seems to have both a figurative and literal Open Door Policy. They open doors and open windows, pull out their fans and take advantage of the breeze. And I’m still alive! And getting used to it actually (although I do miss it at some times more than others).

This last one’s tricky. Limit your water use. Have a bathroom cup for teeth brushing. Fill the cup with water and use it to wet your toothbrush, rinse your mouth and rinse the sink. You’ll use a lot less water this way. Make it a rule to turn off the tap whenever you are not actively using it. This includes while washing and drying your hands, brushing your teeth and taking a shower. Yes, you need water to lather up soap and shampoo and to rinse off, but not while your scrubbing. I have found that this one takes the most self-discipline. Also, if your tap water is safe to drink, drink it. Not only is it just as good as the bottled stuff (some studies say it’s actually better for you), but it saves money as well as the worry of what to do with the plastic bottle once your done.

Here are some sites with information about the Go Green drive and ways to do it
worldwatch.org
msnbc.msn.com
ivillage.com
cnn.com
goodhousekeeping.com

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Expat’s Best Friend

When I said “yes” about 20 times to Hubs’ proposal, I knew I would be making a huge step and moving to another country for my husband. Making new friends, finding a new job, meeting new people, getting involved in new things, learning a new language, starting a life together, trying new foods, re-learning to drive, getting used to a new home and new surroundings, learning a new culture. What neither of us thought about is how it would effect Turner.

Turner was my dog and now (as much as he hates to admit it) is Hubs’ as well. As far as Turner’s concerned, he’s more Hubs’ dog than he is mine! It was an unspoken understanding when we decided that I would move to the Netherlands that Turner would come too. We agreed that I would need a friend – someone to spend time with and share my lonely, home-bound days with while I was just starting out here. I also knew how much he depended on me and was afraid how of he might react if I left him in the States. But it never occurred to either of us how the move would affect our Little Buddy.

While in the US, I was concerned with wedding plans, moving details, and all the administrative stuff I had to do to get my dog into the Netherlands. Actually, the process of bringing a pet into the Netherlands is surprisingly easy. The airline required that he have a certificate of health, a microchip, updated rabies shots, and a pet cargo carrier that complied with the airline’s policies. The Netherlands wanted roughly the same, though they obviously weren’t particularly concerned with what we used to get him here. Other than that, everyone was happy – no quarantine or anything, much to my (and I’m sure, Turner’s) relief.

As far as getting all the stuff, we really lucked out! We got the crate as a wedding gift from one of my bridesmaids, which actually went above and beyond airline’s requirements. Through the Humane Society in Frederick, MD, we got Turner’s microchip, microchip tags, and a T-shirt for $25! Our vet in the US was brilliant. Every time an animal needed to go to the vet for whatever reason, we hoofed it all the way to Charles Town, West Virginia to see Dr. Allera.* When I was living in Washington, DC, I still continued to take my cat, Samwise, there. For $75 we got the following: full check up, rabies booster, completed health certificate, 2 Front Line small dog gels, 2 Front Line large dog gels, 4 Front Line cats gels, and 4 sedative pills for Turner for the flight and New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Because my dad flies for Delta Airlines, my brother and I – now that we are no longer dependents (when we were, we flew everywhere for free) – fly very cheaply. However, we fly space-available. This means we’re usually in business class as that’s where most available seats are. It also means that if there aren’t any unsold or vacant seats, we have to wait for the next flight. In addition, my parents get 8 Friends and Family Passes per year. This allows those friends and family members my parents choose to give the passes to to fly for a little more than what it costs my brother and I (to give you an estimate, when I flew one-way to the Netherlands in December 2008, I paid roughly $120 and sat up in business class). Hubs became very familiar with this way of travel while we were dating! But he didn’t want to risk the possibility of not making it to the US in time for our wedding, so he booked a round-trip flight through United Airlines. Being equally afraid that I might get bumped on the way to the Netherlands and risk Turner flying out without me, Turner flew with Hubs. It was just a matter of calling United and letting them know that my husband would be traveling back to the Netherlands with an American dog.

The day we left for the Netherlands, I was dropped off at the airport first since I had to fly to New York in order to get the flight to Amsterdam. Not long after dropping me off, Hubs and my dad gave Turner 2 sedative pills. I’ve been told that Turner was more or less out before they got to Hubs’ airport. Once there, they put him in the crate and my dad pulled away. Hubs went to the counter and handed the agents Turner’s information. They made Hubs get Turner out of the crate so they could inspect both dog and crate. Then they proceeded to charge Hubs $250 more than they quoted me when I made the reservation for Turner! Afraid he and dog wouldn’t make it on the plane, he complied – although I heard aaaallll about it later!  (turns out , the agent I spoke to over the phone didn’t make note that the dog was only flying one way, so they charged Hubs for a round-trip ticket for Turner. That and apparently prices went up between when I booked the flight and the actual flight – or so we were told.)

Once at Schipol airport in Amsterdam, Hubs got his luggage, picked up Turner in his crate, and passed right through customs without being stopped  to where Hubs’ friend and I were waiting for him. We got Turner, who was more than a little disoriented, out of the crate. There was a bit of water and urine mess, forcing us to bury Turner’s blanket and one of his toys in the airport trash can. And Turner reeked of that musky skunk smell he gets when he’s frightened. But surprisingly enough, he was very compliant! He came right to us when we called him after he escaped from the crate and he went through things he’d never encountered before like it was nothing: moving sidewalks, escalators, elevators, revolving doors, he even got on his first train! I was to find out later (in very much the hard way and much to my embarrassment!) that he did all this so calmly because he was still too drugged up to know what was going on.

I wonder what was going through his mind. As far as he knew, he was sitting in his car and went to sleep. All the sudden, he wakes up to new people, new things, new places new smells, new sights, a different language. The home he had known for well over half of his life is gone and the people he was always surrounded by are gone too. Only Mommy and the man later to be known as Daddy. He’s brought to a new home with no yard, no Belle, no Uncle Timmy, and no Grand People. He’s always on his leash, which until we moved him here and he realized he had to get used to it, always made him nervous. And Utrecht is a city. Knoxville, Maryland most certainly isn’t. So many cars, bicycles (something he’d never seen before), lots of people, lots of dogs, busy streets, loud noises. Taking him out for a walk was a great adventure those first few weeks!

He’s come an awfully long way! He’s still afraid of the bicycles no matter how many times I take him out with mine. And he’s terrified of the huge city truck that comes once a week to empty the recycle bins across the street. Trash days still make him nervous. He clearly recognizes my parents. He hasn’t seen my brother since before we left the U.S,. but it’s obvious that he recognizes his voice when we Skype and it upsets him that he hears him but can’t figure out where he is. What I wouldn’t give to be in his head and know what he’s thinking. Or that he could speak and describe for me what it’s all been like.

He adores Hubs and lives for 6:30pm when Hubs comes home from work and the two of them play on the rug in front of the TV for 5-10 minutes. He’s developed a taste for fine cheeses (particularly paturain, portsalut, brie, feta, and goat) and Dutch pudding and yogurt desserts. And the fact that I have to take him out and walk him 3-4 times a day has really strengthened the bond between us. He helps me take care of the little boy I babysit on Mondays, and we practice cycling on the way there and back. He’s learned to shake with the commands “paw” and “poot” (Dutch for paw). Turner’s also become quite the gardener! He loves to sit out on the balcony with his nose in the daisies. But before he lays down to relax, he first must check inside every pot to make sure that everything’s growing to his satisfaction!

The attitude towards dogs is also much different here. The last time I was in the States, I saw a sign on the Metro bus that read “No drugs, smoking, weapons, pets, or other hazardous material.” I’ll take the Netherlands over that attitude any day! There are all kinds of “honden toilets” where dogs can relieve themselves and the owner’s needn’t worry about cleaning up behind their pets. One of these parks exists about 100 meters from our apartment. No matter what time of day or night, you can expact to see at least one other dog! In addition, there are areas where dogs can run freely without a leash. Turner’s favorite of these is the woods of Bosch en Duin. And there are few places where dogs are not allowed. Only during the heavy summer months are dogs forbidden on the beaches. A sticker with a dog inside a red circle marks those places where dogs are not allowed, but there aren’t many of them. So far, Turner’s been inside a department store, several small stores, and 2 cafes. At the cafes, restaurants, and pubs, they bring a water dish for your dog before they get your drink order!

As a result, Turner’s gotten worlds braver – if you knew him in the States, you’d hardly recognize him now! And he’s become quite famous! Well, in the IWCU anyway. He relishes in the parties we have and loves having people over (this is new… very new), and has been pictured in the IWCU bi-monthly newsletter The Contact twice and mentioned 3 times since January. I think, like me, he’s learned to love it here. And it’s obvious how much it means to him to have a family of his own!

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Oerol

There’s something for everyone and everything for someone at Oerol

Last weekend, Hubs and I dropped Turner off at the in-laws’ and we headed to the island of Terchelling for the Oerol Festival! This was a first time for both of us.

We left on Friday and caught the Ferry from Harlingen to Terchelling with some friends. It was a delightful (albeit windy) 2-hour trip, complete with a restaurant and a terrific view from the deck of the boat. Along the way, we celebrated the 1st birthday of the little boy I babysit! Although he made it clear that it was not his day (apparently, being 1 is not easy), he ended up with some pretty cool presents.

Two more friends were waiting for us when we got off the boat. We left our luggage at the free luggage transport area, got our rental bikes and cycled about 30 minutes to our hotel. The cycle was absolutely gorgeous! The island is covered in grassy dunes and many of the bike paths were made of crushed sea shells. We passes small villages and farms and lots of green! Although there were an estimated 30,000 people visiting the island for the Festival, it was surprisingly quiet!

We got to the hotel where we had rented two apartments: families in one and childless adults in the other. Much to Hubs’ delight, we got the apartment with the sauna and the bedroom with the TV! We dined on pannenkoeken (Dutch pancakes) courtesy of and then headed off to see out first show!

The whole weekend consists of theatre shows and you find stages everywhere! Therefore, it’s incredibly experimental and many times, we could only say if we liked something or not because it was so avant garde, we weren’t quite sure exactly what we saw. The show we saw that night though was my favorite and surprisingly enough, Hubs really enjoyed it too! It was set in a hotel, where the manic hotel owner sends a ghost out to conjure up a storm, bringing several unlikely characters into the hotel seeking shelter. The hotel owner tries to force them into happiness as they interact with each other, move the wheeled set about the stage, and sing old country western tunes to a band dressed like ZZ Top. The whole thing was very international: a Serbian woman who spoke both Serbian and English, a German woman who played the entire show in her native language, a Belgian guy (spoke Dutch, but, for me almost impossible to understand because my vocabulary’s not stellar and I’m not used to the Belgian accent), and a Polish guy and a Latino who spoke only English. Interesting concept, fantastic incorporation of all the nationalities, fascinating movement choreography, fun songs, and an intensely cool set.

Saturday’s plan was to head to the far east end of the island in the morning to catch a dance show. Along the way, we were treated to the creativity behind Oerol stages. One was in a stream (there was a bed, doors, chairs, etc sitting directly int he water), another seemed to span the length of an entire trail, there was one that was a field filled with doors, and one built into the side of a sand dune! After 45 minutes of cycling, we reached the beach only to find that we had cycled about 15 minutes too far and missed the show. So instead, we spent some time along the beach and then camped out at Heartbreak Hotel (my Elvis-obsessed husband was so excited!) for several drinks and lunch. At 3 we had another show done by a group of touring Frenchies! The show was done in English as the French typically don’t speak Dutch and the Dutch typically don’t speak French, but they’re both pretty fluent in English. A bit long (especially since we were sitting on our butts in the middle of a parking lot), but funny with really cool sets. It was essentially a merry-go-round of boats, scooters, cars, and planes that were later taken off and brought on individually as different set pieces. The gist of the show was that someone had taken the last liter of petrol and the actors were determined to find it while discovering alternative means – some great, some not so great, and some just plain ridiculous – of fuel. Very cute. That night, Hubs and I left the group to hang out with my American friend and her Dutch partner. We had a great time hanging out, having dinner, and drinking copious amounts of beer! Finally at 12:30, our friends headed back to the camp ground and Hubs and I headed to the apartment for bed!

Sunday was gross weather-wise. It rained that morning, but stopped for our early afternoon show of Hendrick Jan de Stuntman. Hilarious. The beginning was entirely  interactive with the audience in a cage of sorts and the 2 actors stomping around above us. Via text message, we were able to vote on what kind of show we wanted to see: philosophical or pointless. They divided the audience by what they wanted to see and each actor took their group upstairs to see their show. After some silly slapstick and arguments over top the curtain dividing the two groups, they decided to tear down the curtain and do a pointless philosophical show which was basically a series of stunts with snippets of quotes from famous philosophers. Afterwards we met up with the rest of the crew for drinks and then headed off to the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. First of all, it rained the entire show. Secondly, while following the “Actors” down the other side of the dyke, I slipped on the wet grass right into sheep dung. Then, they took us to an exposition of wind that made no sense and was more creative than scientific. We all hated it. Then back to the apartment where Hubs hit up the sauna while I took a hot bath (and cleaned my pants) and then we met the group for a lovely dinner.

On Monday, we headed out. On the way back to the ferry, we went through the village and past the light house at the center of the island. We turned in our bikes, reclaimed our luggage and boarded the ferry back to Harlingen.

Hubs and I loved it so much that we’re definitely going next year and bringing Turner! And apparently in celebration of the colonies acquiring New York from the Dutch, there’s going to be a similar festival held in New York this September. If you can, I would totally recommend going to see it! Details.

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