Monday, June 30, 2008

Cute snacks for Soccer fans

At the grocery store the other day I was craving "rocket pops" which are those red white and blue popsicles. I saw this package and without really looking at the contents, put it in my basket. When I got home I realized it was a variety pack with soccer ball shaped ice cream sandwiches, ice cream bars shaped like soccer players (complete with orange jerseys) and rocket pops in red white and blue (the colors on the Dutch flag). I'm not sure what the ice cream cones represent. Maybe boundary cones?

They're a lot more palatable to me than those sausage logs in the automatic vending machines. I've since learned that those snack shops with vending machines are called Febo, and the sausage logs I posted a picture of a while back are called Frikandel. In the Netherlands, the frikandel mainly consists of a mixture of pork, beef, chicken and horse meat. Horse meat? Yuck.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dutch appliance lessons

To set the stage here, I don't speak Dutch. I can say "Hello" (hallo) and "Thank You" (dank u) but usually I just look sheepish if someone speaks to me first in Dutch. I typically reply "Sorry - I don't speak Dutch yet," and then English is spoken immediately. There's no "I don't speak Dutch yet" button to press on the appliances here, so when I moved in and the landlord said that the prior tenants had mistakenly taken the instruction manuals, I knew I was in for a mini adventure. Mini adventures are a daily occurance when you're living in a foreign country though, so you have to expect little snags and just try your best.

The Dryer - Dryers in Amsterdam aren't always hooked up to a drain, so instead there's a reservoir of water that you have to empty after each load. I've posted pictures of the controls. You tell me if you can figure them out :-)

The Oven/Microwave Combo - With space at a premium, the Dutch are masters at efficiency. In our apartment here we have one appliance that functions as a microwave AND an oven. It's big as far as microwaves go, but it's MUCH smaller than a traditional oven in the US. I've been known to bake a lot, and I enjoy roasting a turkey, but this year things will have to get scaled back a bit.

The Refrigerator - Also much smaller than a typical American unit, the fridge/freezer is very compact. There aren't any special controls here, but I have to remember that the freezer is on the BOTTOM - and I won't be able to let various random sauces and dressings accumulate here. There just isn't enough room.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

We're moved in!

This afternoon Holly and I moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in the Rivierenbuurt (River neighborhood) which is part of an area called Oud Zuid (Old South). It's still considered the city center but is more suburban feeling than the centrum. That's ok by me because there's a huge park nearby (Beatrixpark), and all the stores I need on a regular basis are within a 3 minute walk. There's a grocery store, bike shop, housewares store, vet, pet shop, nut and cheese shop, Italian grocer, health food store and dry cleaner all within a few blocks, and there are tons of restaurants from Thai and Indian to Japanese, Chinese and pizza.

Transportation is great too. We can walk to the RAI train station in 20 minutes, and have tram service just 5 minutes away. My commute to work is 30 minutes on tram 12, and Brett can cycle to his office in 5 minutes. If we want to be in the hustle and bustle of the city center we can be there in 10 minutes by taking a tram. We're also walking distance from the Albert Cuypmarket and Museumplein where all the major museums are located.

The landlords are also very nice and the wife gave me a big hug as she left. She said that she'd be glad to go out for coffee or take the dog for a walk with me since I don't know many people here. It was a really nice gesture. I continue to be amazed by the hospitality here. In my entire year in California I haven't had as many coffee invites as I've had in 3 weeks in Amsterdam! She's a really interesting woman as well. Originally from Hong Kong, lived in California for a number of years and then married a Dutch man 13 years ago. She promised to give me a great dumpling recipe and to tell me the best places for dim sum in Amsterdam. That's my kind of landlord :-)

I'll post more in the coming days about some of the interesting traits of apartments here and the funny groceries I've seen. Potato chips flavored like barbeque ham anyone?

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm all smiles tonight

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Holly and I are moving into the apartment tomorrow. That's great on its own, but what really has me smiling is 2 encounters that I had today:

I learned today that my friend Damion and his roommate Kevin had cleared their whole weekend *just in case* I needed help moving into my apartment. They also offered to take me shopping with their car to pick up the odds and ends that I might need to get settled. That might not sound like much, but Damion is someone I've only seen a handful of times in my life.

He shared an apartment in Amsterdam with a former co-worker of mine, and I stayed with them for a weekend in 2000. My co-worker returned to the US, but a few years later, Brett and I visited Amsterdam and Damion took us around the country, visiting Rotterdam, Haarlem and The Hague. A few years after that, my dad and I stayed with them for 5 days and they took us to the Dutch archives in Rotterdam and Leiden so my dad could do geneology research. My dad still talks fondly about that trip. Fast forward to 2008 and they've been the best resource I've had in settling into my new home. I'm SO lucky to have met them. Damion and Kevin will truly be a lifelong friends and I can never repay them for their kindness.

My second encounter was with a woman who works at the hotel. Every day Holly and I would walk past the business center and a woman working there would come out to pet Holly and chat with me for a few minutes. It was really cute, as Holly became accustomed to these greetings and would perk up and start wagging as soon as we approached the area - even if if was well past the business center's normal hours. Anyway - today was our last walk by the business center. We met our new friend and wished each other well.

Then this evening I got a call from the concierge. He said he had something to bring me and that he was on his way up. He arrived with a letter and a small box of Dutch porcelain magnets. I thought it might be a gift from the hotel management because I've spent so much money on Internet the past 3 weeks - but in reality it was a nice note from the woman in the business center. She just wanted to wish us well in our new apartment and said that if I didn't know anyone in Amsterdam that she'd be glad to meet me for coffee or attend a movie some day!

It was such a nice gesture. I called to thank her and will definitely take her up on her offer one day soon. I said in one of my very first posts that the Dutch are incredibly welcoming - and today absolutely confirms it. I am a VERY lucky girl. How did she know that I collect magnets? :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Everyone's got their own version of a Nicoise salad

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't eat Nicoise salad everyday back in the US - but my understanding is that it typically includes tuna, green beans, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, onion, capers, and potatoes.

Here at the airport grocery store a Nicoise salad includes tuna, capers, tomato and onions - but it also has green olives, feta cheese and honey mustard dressing! I didn't love this version but I'll try almost anything once. You never know what you'll like.

When I lived in London I discovered sweet corn mixed with tuna fish. They served it on baked potatoes and I loved it. I never did try tuna and sweet corn on pizza, but to the Brits - it's a treat.

In other news, Holly and I move into our apartment on Saturday. We couldn't be more excited to be out of the hotel, and I'll be sure to post pictures of our new home and neighborhood. I've also got some fun business trips coming up. One to Paris and another to London. Did I mention that I love this job? :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gourmet water is for sissies

While walking down the street the other day Brett and I saw this gourmet water store. You might not be able to make it out in the picture but there are rows and rows of different gourmet waters for sale. I can only imagine what a tasting would be like there. I kept envisioning something like a wine tasting, where I was encouraged to spit out the waters as I tasted them, and where I ate crackers to cleanse my palette for the next offering. I guess if there can be wine aficionados and beer connoisseurs there can be water devotees - but for now I'll just stick to tap, no matter how low brow that makes me look in a Dutch restaurant.

I also saw this "Sissy Boy Homeland Store" sign at the mall. I'm not sure what the store sells, but I'm guessing it's not wimpy Dutch men. Still, this is Amsterdam. They sell a lot of things here that you can't buy in the US :-) In reality though, they sell clothing, furniture, and home accessories.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Update to my "brush with greatness" post

After living at the hotel the past few weeks I've befriended a few members of the hotel staff. Coincidentally one of them has an American boyfriend who lives in Reston, VA where we own our house. I asked her about my encounter the night before and she said "Yes, the Dutch team stays here. We don't even think about it anymore because we're so used to it. Last night the gates were up in case there were angry fans."

Luckily there were no angry fans last night. Just supporters. I did however figure out who I saw by the elevator banks. His name is Giovanni van Bronckhorst , in the center of the front row in this photo. He scored the 3rd goal in the Netherlands - Italy match, which the Dutch won 3-0.

My brush with greatness (I think)

Last night at 10PM I went downstairs to take Holly out for her evening walk. Since the ground floor of the hotel is a conference center, it's usually pin drop quiet that time of night, especially on a weekend.

As I walked towards the door there was a tall man in a suit eyeing me. Then, when I got to the door there were security gates blocking my path along with a TV camera. There was also a small crowd beyond the security gates. It reminded me of tourists with "hi mom" signs in NYC, trying to get on a Good Morning America taping.

I was puzzled but needed to get the dog out, so I picked my way through the people and the gates, even working my way around the camera man with a camera pointing in my general direction.

On my way back in, I watched the crowd continue to grow, with people running up from cars carrying soccer balls and journalists running along clutching high end cameras. I asked a cab driver next to me who it was, and he replied "Dutch team."

Aha! More flash bulbs went off and I saw a few of the players behind the security gates in their street clothes. I couldn't get back into the hotel the way I'd gone out so I went in another entrance and started to go up to my room. Imagine my surprise when one of the team members I had just seen downstairs was standing at the elevator bank! By himself, just 1 foot away.

It's too bad I didn't have my camera to record any of this. I almost always carry it here. Oh well. Even if I had a photo, I still would have had to scour the soccer sites to figure out who it was. Still, it was kind of cool in a "I'm not sure why I should care but others seem to be gobsmacked" kind of way.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Netherlands loses to Russia 1-3

What a bummer. In the Euro 2008 soccer tournament quarterfinals, the Dutch (who were the favorites to win), lost against Russia in the 2nd half. I don't typically watch soccer or any other sport, but it's hard to ignore European passion for the game. When walking yesterday the streets were decorated with orange flags, there were orange soccer ball cakes for sale at the bakery, and everyone was clad in orange.

Last week when Turkey won their match, a band of about 10 cars kept doing laps around the Amsterdam city center at 10PM, with flags and people draped out windows. They were yelling and horns were honking. I can only imagine what it would have been like if the Dutch had won, but I wish I could have seen it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Today's challenge: Money - lots of money!

No, I'm not broke though I sometimes feel that way when I paid $20 today for about a cup of pasta and a half cup of seafood salad at the airport. The exchange rate is just awful - but that's not really the issue today.

Today's challenge: How to secure an apartment when your bank's wire transfer service is only open Monday - Friday EST. I'm meeting with our new landlords on Monday to sign the lease. That means I need 3 months rent money up front (2 months deposit for the furnished apartment and the first month's rent). In other words, several thousand dollars! I don't have a Dutch bank account so the money needs to be wired from the US. I just hope the wire transfer doesn't take too long. I'd like to move in as early as Thursday.

Other "strange" things that I've been told are standard in Dutch lease agreements: Landlords can take 60 days to return your deposit, and the tenant is responsible for any repair under $200 - without limit to frequency. Luckily this apartment has been renovated, but I wish repairs were included. When the tenants in our house in Virginia called to tell me the microwave broke - the repair bill was $400! I just think that for the amount of money we're paying - things like this should be covered. Oh well.

Today Holly and I took the train and the tram to a co-worker's house for a walk in the park. It really is dog friendly here. The ticket agent playfully tried to hand Holly her "hond" ticket and then on the platform a nice man from South Korea enjoyed petting her and telling her "it's ok Holly" when she was startled by the air brakes on the train. She was still nervous on the train and tram but it wasn't as bad as last time. She just might become a city dog yet! There were ponds in this park and I decided to let her take a swim since she's been cooped up in the hotel. She had fun getting muddy and ran around "smiling." One thing to watch out for in parks here though? Dog poo. It's everywhere and nobody picks up. Ick. Regardless, if you want to see a happy dog running in the park in Amsterdam, enjoy the video below.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Becoming a resident

Obviously I'm new to the Netherlands, so the processes are all foreign to me (pun intended). From what I've been able to make of it, I have a work visa from the Dutch government already, but that doesn't entitle me to stay. I still need to go to a meeting with Immigration to apply for a residency permit. The decision to grant a residency permit can take up to 6 months. After a residency permit is issued you can apply for a SOFI number, which is what's used to open a Dutch bank account. There's one Dutch bank that will open an account for you with just a passport, but unfortunately the online banking site is only in Dutch.

Since a SOFI number can take a while to get, I guess I'm going to have to become good friends with an online translating tool. Not my first pick when dealing with finances, but hopefully everything will be fairly straightforward.

In other news, we expect to sign a lease for a place on Monday. More on that to come.

Other discoveries/thoughts from the day:

1) Putting cantaloupe slices (or any other fruit) in a pitcher of ice water makes a really tasty drink.
2) I've eaten more cheese here in the last 2 weeks than I've eaten in the last 6 months!
3) A bag of several slices of bread is a typical snack here
4) Dog fur is really visible on royal blue hotel room carpets
5) I really like my co-workers in the Amsterdam office
6) It stays light out until past 10PM here
7) There are 4 Starbucks locations in the Netherlands, 3 of which are at the airport. Supposedly the Microsoft office has the 4th.
8) I probably shouldn't buy "reduced price sushi" from the airport grocery store - but so far I haven't been sick :-)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Holly hates the train

We've been hard at work looking for a place to live since the market is pretty tight here in Amsterdam. We think we found a place to rent that will take Holly - but before we told the landlords we'd sign, I wanted to have Holly try the stairs to the apartment from the street. The apartment is on the 2nd floor with no elevator and the stairs are pretty steep here. I wasn't sure how she'd react - especially as she's a "senior" dog.

She handled the steps just fine - but the train to get there? Eh, not so much. First off, getting her to the train took a few extra steps - like not taking escalators because her hair might get caught as we exited. You may laugh, but I had a shoelace get stuck in an escalator once and it ripped the shoelace off my shoe!

Anyway - once we got to the train track (and I paid for a "hond" ticket for the dog) we went to board. Holly bridged the gap between the platform and the train ok, but she was a nervous mess for the 7 minute journey. Her entire body was shaking and she kept trying to hide her head in my elbow! She was much better for the return trip, but I wouldn't say it's her favorite mode of transportation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Holly's 1st bus ride & Lori's 1st train mistake

Last night Holly and I were invited to a friend's house for dinner. I was glad to receive the invitation - not only because these are good friends, but because I got a break from airport food and I was able to do some much needed laundry.

Holly and I took the bus to get there since we don't have a car. In Amsterdam, dogs are allowed on trains, buses and trams so we climbed onto Bus 195 for our journey. It was Holly's first bus ride and she was generally fine with it - but the lack of traction on the floor made the trip interesting. She was sliding all over the place and couldn't figure out how to hold on. I'm sure she'll get better with practice.

Then this morning on the way to work I had my own transportation fun. I had fallen into the habit of going to track 3 at Schiphol, taking any train headed towards Central Station. My office is at Sloterdijk station which is the 2nd stop. Until today, every train we've caught has stopped there. Not today though. I unknowingly caught the express train to Central Station. I discovered this shortly after the doors closed and rode all the way into the city where I had to turn around and head back. I was about 40 minutes late to work, but luckily the team cut me some slack.

Tip of the day: ALWAYS read the stops on the sign before jumping on a train :-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Just the two of us

Brett left today to go back to San Francisco for a few weeks, so Holly and I are on our own until July 7th. We went for a walk around the lake after work where she attempted to chase every rabbit, bird and motor scooter in sight. I guess the hotel room is a little boring during the day. After a few rolls in the grass and some belly rubs she felt better. One funny thing about the hotel is that I think Holly's afraid of heights. The elevators are glass in the back and every time she goes in she immediately slinks down and faces the front doors after it starts to move. I think seeing the floors go by freaks her out. She's also not too sure about the open atrium we walk past on the way to our room. It's 8 floors up and the glass half walls in the corridor are see-through to give a great view. She's intrigued by the sounds of the water but always jumps back after she leans into the glass wall for a look. It's as if she's thinks she's going to fall. I wish I had a good video to share of it. I'll keep trying.

I've had a few people ask me questions in Dutch while I'm standing on the train or in the elevator recently. I guess it's a compliment that I don't look so American that they wouldn't bother, but it still feels a bit awkward to respond in English even if they understand me.

Other than that, nothing exciting to report on today. We're still looking for an apartment and housing inventory is very tight here - even without the added challenge of the dog. We found a place we REALLY liked in an area called the Rivierenbuurt (River Neighborhood). It's on a canal a short distance from the city center and walking distance to grocery stores, restaurants and public transport - but it's on the 3rd floor (known as the 2nd floor here) with no elevator. I didn't think too much of it, but my co-workers have all warned me that the stairs will be bad for the dog's hips - so now we're looking for a place that's one flight of stairs or less. Fingers crossed that we find something soon. :-)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dinner with friends

Last night we had dinner with friends at a South African restaurant called Tjing Tjing Instead of ordering off the menu, we just told the chef to bring us whatever he wanted. (It helps that our friends know the chef). We started with an asparagus soup with smoked cheese and a variety of house salads , and then enjoyed an ostrich filet for our main course. After removing the plates, we got a new set of silverware, including a steak knife. I couldn't imagine a dessert that needed a steak knife, but was still surprised when ANOTHER main course was delivered. This time it was "kudu" which is like an antelope. It was also delicious but you can imagine my surprise when the chef came out and said "Are you ready for another main course? Or would you like dessert?" I know we're American, but how much did he expect us to eat? :-) We passed on a 3rd main course and had a delightful bread pudding instead.

Tonight we had dinner in the Jordaan neighborhood with a former co-worker of mine. He was in town for work and brought along 2 co-workers from the local office. We had a great time chatting and once again, I came away from the experience with more learnings about my new home. I learned:

1) It is considered down market to request tap water in a restaurant.
2) If you have leftovers, it considered down market to ask to take them home. (Though generally the portions here are much more reasonable than in the US)
3) A canal can divide a street so you have even numbers on one side of the canal while odd numbers are on the opposite side - BUT they don't synch up. ie: you can have #169 on one side of the canal, and directly across, it can be #374.
4) That I'm going to have a REALLY hard time pronouncing things correctly without sounding like I'm dealing with phlegm.

Think gas prices are high in the US? Try Amsterdam.

When Brett and I drove from San Francisco to New York, we drove in a rented Ford Expedition that we laughingly called "The Beast." It was a comfy ride and great for towing cargo - but we both own smaller cars, so getting 18 miles per gallon was quite a shock. Our gas bill for the trip was almost $700 when you factor in $4/gallon gas and 3,000 miles of driving.

Here in Amsterdam $4 per gallon would be quite a steal as the prices are over double what they are in the US. We haven't seen more than 1 or 2 SUVs on the streets yet, and none of them have been full-size, though we have seen plenty of "Smart Cars," scooters, and of course the most fuel efficient transportation of them all - bicycles.

The sign in the picture shows gas at 1.69 Euros per litre. With 3.8 litres per gallon that's 6.42 Euros per gallon. When you factor in the exchange rate, the price in USD for a gallon of gas is $9.85. Our gas bill on the x-country drive would have been $1,650 or almost $300/tank! Luckily for us, public transportation is easily accessible here and the train systems are excellent.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fun foods

One of the best parts about traveling to a new country is seeing all the different foods that are available. Brett and I have already spent an hour in Albert Heijn (a Dutch supermarket much like Safeway), trolling the aisles looking at all the new foods while making mental notes of groceries that we like but haven't seen.

There are a lot of the same products you see in the US, like Pringles, Snickers and Diet Coke (aka Coke Light), but then there are some new ones like "carrot croquettes" which are like baby carrots - but round. We've also seen vending machines for hot food that sell an item that is supposedly a sausage but looks like something very different. I'm sure you can use your imagination on that one.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Learnings from the past few days

Last night I had dinner on the water with some friends that live in Amsterdam. It was great to see them and they gave me feedback on my housing search and other tips for living here. Besides having a great meal with friends, it made me realize how much easier it is to move to a new country when you know a local. Some things I've learned/been reminded of over the past 2 days:

1) It's considered good manners to butter a slice of bread and give it to others at dinner (as opposed to having them butter their own bread).

2) I can almost figure out restaurant menus on my own even in if they're in Dutch

3) Not all restaurants take credit cards, and tips are always left in cash

4) Train ticket kiosks don't take credit cards unless you have a pin number

5) Grocery stores don't always take credit cards

6) To use the bathroom in a shopping mall, you'll need to pay 40 Euro cents (about $.60)

7) Grocery stores don't always have bags to carry your food - and you always bag your own

8) Stairs in apartments are often so steep it's like climbing a ladder

9) Soccer is HUGE here (everything is soccer themed, from special menus representing the countries playing to Babybel cheese wrapped to look like orange soccer balls).

10) The Dutch are incredibly friendly and welcoming

One other note from today: It's our 4th wedding anniversary. Some of you will know that we've had a strange history with our wedding anniversaries. The first one was my mom's funeral, and then last year we BOTH forgot our 3rd anniversary during the move to California! I'm happy to say that this year we remembered it without the reminder call from our in-laws, and we had a nice lunch at an Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam. We're back on track once again :-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Living at the airport

If Tom Hanks can live in the airport in the movie "The Terminal," so can I. The Sheraton at Schiphol airport is our home until we find an apartment that will take our dog. This particular airport hotel isn't so bad though. There's a lake out front that has lots of baby wildlife to look at, from ducklings to bunnies - and it's all I can do to keep Holly out of the water.

There's also a small supermarket on site - which we've been visiting daily to avoid the $5 cans of Diet Coke in the minibar and the $20 hamburgers with room service. I haven't however, been able to give up the $30 per day in-room hotel internet. Some things I just can't do without - though I'll be going into the office for my fix after this.

Holly is settling in to being a hotel dog, and the Sheraton even brought her a dog bed to use. She's about twice the size of the bed, but maybe she can use it as a pillow. Even so she's just happy to lie at our feet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We made it!

It wasn't easy - but we made it. Throughout this journey from San Francisco to Amsterdam I've felt like we were peeling back layers of an onion. On the surface, it was my dream job. All I had to do was convince my husband to go, and find a way to get my dog there. Simple enough, right?

As you sit there chuckling at my naivete you may appreciate what it really takes to make a life changing move like this. There are normal things like packing, lining up a job for your spouse and arranging mail forwarding - but then there are snags along the way that make things a bit more challenging...such as:

1) Being such a fan of your dog that you'll do almost anything to avoid putting her in cargo - from investigating charter flights (too expensive at $80k) to begging the new COO of your company to let your dog ride on the company jet (it was full), to ultimately resorting to shipping her in cargo. Then - in order to shorten the amount of time on the plane for your dog, you drive cross country in a rented Ford Expedition (the only car large enough to fit her crate) so she'll be used to traveling in it for extended periods. When you arrive at your departure airport you discover that there's a freak heat wave and it's too hot to fly, so you scramble and rebook from a city 5 hours north in order to make it out on time. Then you get delayed on the tarmac for 2 hours due to storms. Upon arrival, you discover that your dog is physically fine - though really nervous and thirsty and needing to find a spot of grass immediately. Upon check-in at your hotel you learn that they DO take dogs - just not ones over 25 lbs - but your pitiful look convinces them to make an exception. Next challenge: Permanent housing. The housing agent has just ONE apartment in the entire city that will take a dog - and then only for 6 months.

Did I bring a lot of stress upon myself just for my dog? You bet. Was it worth it? Yes, now that it's done and she's snuggled up by my feet :-) Even so - we're bringing her back to the US on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship!

2) Banking - Have you ever had a fraud hold on your account while traveling even after you've called the credit card company to tell them you'll be traveling? Have you ever tried to wire money internationally from your small local bank in the DC area? Apparently if you aren't there in person to request the transfer, you need to go to the local US Embassy in Amsterdam to have them put a consulate stamp on the request and it must be notarized. Then you need to overnight it and wait for the call from the bank verifying that you *really* want the money. OR you can go to a larger bank and get a new account so you can initiate transfers by phone. Thanks to Bank of America for their help in rushing this through.

3) Being a landlord - Have you ever walked into your house to re-sign your tenants for another year, only to discover water damage in the walls due to a leak in the roof? Not fun. Fixable, but not fun when you're leaving the country in 4 days.

4) Prescriptions - Did you know that some insurance plans a) don't ship internationally and b) won't let you get more than 2 months of a prescription at a time? Instead you are told to buy a year's worth of medicine up front at full retail value, wait a year and then submit the claim for payment. It's a silly insurance policy, but congrats to Target in Sterling, VA who was the lucky recipient of my full price order.

Don't get me wrong. We're going to have a great year abroad and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity. My one recommendation for anyone else plotting a similar move? Take a few vacation days before you leave and after you get there. I tried to save my vacation days and almost lost my mind in the process :-) Now that my venting is over, prepare yourselves for the fun pictures of carrot croquettes and the story behind the name of the blog "Mooi helm"