Monday, April 24, 2017

Dutch and Mom Staycation Week

Dutch is in daycare full time and will start kindergarten in the fall. We have to pay tuition for him at daycare whether he's there or not (i.e. holidays, family vacation, sick days, etc), but he does accrue "vacation" days every 6 months.  This means we can keep him out of daycare and we won't get charged. They don't offer this for new students, but he was grandfathered in under the old policy when the daycare was acquired a couple years ago. So, he had 5 vacation days saved up that I figured we might as well use before he starts elementary school. I decided to put my normal responsibilities on hold so we could spend a week together, having fun and taking a break from the daily grind. Of course it would be worth it because of the activities we'd get to participate in together, but the added bonus was that if we spent less than $250 throughout the week, it would come out cheaper than what I would have spent on his daycare!

Day One:
First up on Monday was a visit to Kid Mania. He had been there 1 or 2 times in the past, but it's been quite a few months. I had never gotten to take him first thing in the morning on a weekday, so I thought he might enjoy it being less crowded. That was actually not the case. Lol! After spending 30 minutes going through every single play structure, he came out and told me he was bored and wanted to play with somebody. Luckily we saw another boy about his age (that conveniently looked like a cousin he adores), and that kid was up for playing tag. That bought me another 45 minutes of Dutch's happiness.

After Dutch built up an appetite, we headed to BJ's Restaurant because he said he wanted corn dogs AND chicken fingers and I knew they could provide that. We had fun completing the tasks on his menu together and he liked helping me write the tip on the receipt.

I next took him to the Village at Allen because I remember seeing a small play area there and it also happened to be home to my FAVORITE ice cream shop - Coldstone Creamery. We first played outside in the kids' train depot and maze and then rewarded ourselves with the best ice cream ever made.

As you can see, Day One was a success:

Day Two:
On Tuesday I needed to get some grocery shopping done, which is not one of Dutch's favorite tasks (KROGER IS SO BORING, MOM). So, I had to sweeten the deal by letting him push his own cart and pick something out to put in it (he chose mini fudge brownies).

We spent a short while at home after that while we waited for Chuck E Cheese to open. I'm not a fan of that place for a few reasons, but I don't mind bringing Dutch there on a day when it's not busy, just to play games. All their games only require 1 token, and there are usually coupons online, so you can play a ton of things for not a lot of money.

Next on the agenda was a visit to see our friends at a local fire station. We stopped by Stein's Bakery on the way to pick up some petit fours to bring to them. Dutch got to sit in the engine and pretend to put out a fire, and then the guys were nice enough to oblige him on a game of Trouble!

Day Three:
I decided to take Dutch to the Perot Museum on Wednesday because he loves a few things there, but also because we usually don't get the chance to explore the whole museum when we go as a family. I did not factor in the school field trip schedule and YOWZA, was it crowded. Seemed like every school in the metroplex was there, but we still got to do some of the things Dutch loves most - play the predator/prey video game and visit the mock farmers market in the young child section.

After the museum, I drove us to The Lot, which is a kid-friendly restaurant we had tried to visit on a weekend recently but were unsuccessful because it had a 2+ hour wait for a table. I figured afternoon on a Wednesday wouldn't be a high traffic time, and I was right. We got to eat on the patio, right next to the huge sandy area where kids can play. Luckily I had some random toys in the car, because Dutch needed something to do in the sand.

He enjoyed himself and I certainly didn't mind having a relaxing lunch in the nice weather.

Day Four:
On Thursday, we started with a trip to Adventure Landing. Dutch asks to go to this place all the time. It's a second-rate Dave & Busters, but the prices are good and he typically wins a ton of tickets, so I don't mind bringing him.

He has crazy good luck here.

Target was nearby, and we needed to pick up a gift for a friend's birthday party coming up, so I also let Dutch pick out a puzzle we could do together. I used to love to do large puzzles when I had a thing called free time, but that ship has sailed. I thought our staycation might be a good chance to actually complete one though, so we grabbed a 1,000 piece puzzle related to superheroes.

1,000 pieces is too many for a 5 year old. He quickly got bored!

We didn't want the fun to end, so we grabbed Daddy and picked up little bro from daycare and headed to a nearby playground. It was an awesome day!

Unfortunately, there wasn't a Day Five for our staycation because Meezy and I had to go to a funeral on Friday. One of Jude's teachers, Tuesday Wilson, unexpectedly passed away the week prior and there was no way we were going to miss her service. Jude adored her and she previously taught Dutch as well. She was a wonderful teacher, caregiver, and nurturer, and I'm so sad there won't be the opportunity for more kids to have had the pleasure of knowing her. 

Dutch was able to spend time with his cousins and his Oma while we were at the service that day, and I know he enjoyed it! He even got to dye some eggs to get ready for Easter.

I had a great time with my kiddo during our staycation and I can't believe how soon kindergarten will be upon us!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Europe Trip 2017 - Day Six

Tuesday was kind of a free day for us in that we hadn't made any set plans besides a dinner meet-up. So, in the morning, we decided to drive 30 minutes to Liege, Belgium. Might as well visit another country when you're this close! A famous tourist attraction in Liege is the Montagne de Bueren, which is a 374-step staircase. If I was going to keep eating all those waffles, I needed to burn some calories! The four of us had some pep in our step when we first started the ascent, but the pace definitely slowed a little as we got higher and higher! We all made it without any trouble, though, and the view at the top was pretty cool.

My biggest question was...who delivers the mail to those houses? They all had mail slots!

Going back down was way easier.

Rewarded with a view.

After conquering the steps, we walked into the city center of Liege. This was a bit of a culture shock for us. We definitely felt like we looked like outsiders, because it was full of residents going about their daily lives, not really a tourist hotspot. We also noted some military personnel walking through the streets, armed with high-powered rifles. We took that as our cue to leave. 

From Liege, we drove to the Designer Outlet Roermond back in The Netherlands. It was another opportunity to do some shopping and walking around. I was bummed, though, because the Nike store there was under construction. I had specifically wanted to visit a Nike store in Holland because they have a partnership with KNVB, which is the governing body of football in The Netherlands. You can find cool Nike KNVB gear in Europe that you definitely can't get in the States. While at the Outlet center, we ate at a restaurant called Schnitzelparadies, which as you may have guessed, serves schnitzel! Lucky for me they had a vegetarian option, so I was set. 

Our next stop would be the Lindt factory store in Aachen, Germany. We needed to get there before they closed, so Meezy took advantage of the lack of speed limits on the autobahn.

The Lindt factory store is basically a chocoholic's dream. While you might be used to seeing a few high-priced Lindt products in your local store in the US, this place offers every single product they manufacture, at very low prices. This is a small sampling of what I'm talking about:

Pictures couldn't do it justice, so I took a video. This is ALL Lindt chocolate, y'all! 

After we stuffed our carts with gifts and goodies, we headed to the next destination. We were scheduled to have dinner with our German friends in Cologne one last time before we left Europe, but we discovered there was a Nike Clearance Center in Kerpen, on the way. I wanted one last chance to get some Dutch Nike gear, so the gang agreed to stop there. So glad we did, because I hit the jackpot! Not only did I find a ridiculous amount of orange shirts to keep Dutch clothed for the next 5 years of his life, I also picked up some unique tops for myself and a really cute drawstring backpack. Nearly everything I got was between 5 and 15Euro apiece, which made it even sweeter.

Feeling content, we made our way to Cologne to meet our friends. Traffic had picked up by then and trying to find parking in the middle of the big city was a bit of a disaster. We even had Fabian come out of the restaurant and help direct us to a nearby parking garage! We arrived about 20 minutes late, but they understood. We ate at Vapiano, which is a cool restaurant where each person gets a card that they bring with them to various food preparation counters. You order what you want, a chef prepares it right in front of you, then they load the item's cost onto your card. You turn your card over to a cashier when you leave, and you pay for everything you loaded onto your card. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, but the company was even better. Kim's mom and step-dad had driven into Cologne from their home about 2 hours away, just to join us for the meal. I hadn't seen them in about 7 years, and this was my sister and her husband's first time to meet them. It would also be our last time to see Kim and Fabian on this trip. It was certainly bittersweet, but the bond we've made with these people is unbreakable! I look forward to seeing them again, whether it's in the US or Germany.

After dinner, we made the 2 hour drive to Eltville, Germany, where we'd be sleeping for just a few hours! We stayed at the Parkhotel Tillmanns because literally everything in and around Frankfurt was booked solid or priced 4x higher than normal because of a large conference going on. This hotel was more of a bed and breakfast, and 25 minutes outside of Frankfurt, but all we needed was a place to lay our heads until our early flight the next morning.

On Wednesday morning, we departed Eltville, returned our rental car to the airport, and started our journey home. Luckily there were no crazy mishaps with flight delays or changes, and we actually got to enjoy the extra room in Comfort+ seats this time, so the trek home wasn't too bad. We ended up landing at DFW about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, which meant I got to hug my littles even sooner! What an unforgettable trip we had. Can't wait to see what's next for my crazy life!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Europe Trip 2017 - Day Five

Not that every day hadn't been amazing, but I was especially looking forward to this day of our trip because we had a couple fun items on the to-do list. We didn't have breakfast at our hotel, so we walked to the nearby Mosae Forum and grabbed a quick bite at the Jumbo (grocery store). There were a couple items that cracked me up and I couldn't resist snapping a pic.

Hey, those Europeans like us. They think we're cool.

Wait. This is how they really feel.

The best part of this jaunt into the grocery store was what I found on this aisle however:


You can't call yourself a Dutch person if you don't have a box of De Ruijter chocolate sprinkles in your cupboard at all times. But, living in Texas, I am typically very limited in my options and have to spend $4 - $5/box. My sister and I were in heaven when we saw these shelves. They had way more varieties than we had ever seen and most boxes were under 2Euro. You bet your ass we both snagged some. When I turned the corner and saw Stroopwafels and Verkade cafe noir cookies on the cheap, they found themselves a spot in my shopping basket too. (Sidenote: I typically buy these items at Henk's European Deli off NW Hwy in Dallas, or at World Market). It felt like Christmas to see the items I love so much for half of what I normally pay. It's a good thing I couldn't take much more home with me, or my waistline would have gotten a lot bigger after the trip was over.

Because the shopping malls weren't open yet (they open late on Mondays), we walked around Maastricht and found the old Dominican church that had been converted into a bookstore. It's such a cool idea and is fun to walk through. 

From there we headed to the Vrijthof Square, which is in the center of old town Maastricht. There are various restaurants, churches, and other architecturally-interesting buildings surrounding it, so we ambled around and took in the sights. By this time, we needed to hit the road for our first adventure of the day, so we walked back to our hotel to pick up our car. We had a lunch date planned with our former exchange student's aunt who lived 30 minutes away in Geleen. Meezy and I met and spent time with her the last time we were in Europe, but my sister and her husband had never met her. When we arrived to her house, we were greeted with the most impressive lunch spread! She really outdid herself and prepared soup, salad, an assortment of breads, cheeses, meats, fruits, and pastes. It was seriously the most beautiful table! 

We had a wonderful time visiting with Renee and she kept us laughing constantly. Dutch women are known to be observant, blunt, and honest, and she is no exception. That's why I love spending time with her! I'm still trying to convince her to plan a trip to visit us. 

After lunch, we headed back to Maastricht so the girls could shop and the guys could drink. It's fun to walk through clothing stores you've never heard of before and try on things you could never find back home. My sister had also been telling me about a waffle shop called Pinky that I needed to try, so we found one and I obliged. It's hard to beat freshly baked, warm waffles, but they found a way. You want chocolate inside the waffle? You got it. You want ice cream on top? Sure.

Who cares about the calories when they taste so good? 

The guys had posted up at a bar called Old Dutch while we shopped, so we went there after to meet up with them. Shortly thereafter, our relative Patrick brought his son (Dennis) and father (Cor) to hang out with us. Patrick's daughter, Sanne, happened to be nearby with her boyfriend, so they joined us as well. I had never met any of them before, so it was neat to get acquainted. Cor was the one who originally found us on Facebook and established our familial connection, so we really had him to thank for this meeting! We laughed and drank and shared stories and then took some pics to commemorate the occasion.

As it got closer to dinnertime, we said our goodbyes to Patrick and Cor and headed back towards our hotel with the young relatives. We passed a Musti Doner Kebab food truck on the way and, given it's one of my sister's favorite foods, we figured we'd give it a shot. It did not disappoint! The falafel was excellent and their spicy red sauce on top of french fries was THE JAM. 

After our quick bite, Sanne and her boyfriend bid us farewell, and Dennis and the four of us set out for the piece de resistance of the day. We had tickets to a soccer game! But, it wasn't just any soccer game. The home team was the team my Opa (grandfather) played for about 70 years ago! I'd always been told about Opa's stint playing semi-professional soccer for a team called MVV in Maastricht, but to actually be at their stadium and watch them play took it to a whole new level. I was giddy! 

Pic of Opa's team in 1945

The game was awesome and MVV played well. We had great seats, but I don't think there was a bad seat in the place, really. I loved looking around the stadium at all the signs and artwork. I bought an MVV jersey at the fan shop for Dutch to grow in to.

It felt surreal to be watching the team my Opa played for so many years ago. For those couple hours, I felt closer to him and closer to my heritage. I know it's sappy, and I know you might not understand, but it's a feeling I won't forget and I hope to feel it again someday. 

"Us MVV'ke" means our little MVV

Mestreech is a Dutch dialect spoken in Maastricht, or what residents of Maastricht might call themselves

Thankfully MVV scored a lot of goals so there were plenty of chances for us to pretend to sing along to the celebration song!