Farewell Blogger

In utter disgust I am leaving Blogger and joining the Typepad family.

My new blog site is http://debbiebrenner.typepad.com/.

See you there!

Catch Up

I have received a few harassing comments about my lack of posting. I have been a little bit busy. Doubling your household seriously cuts back on your free time for blogging. In many ways blogging is a Catch 22. When you are busy enough to have something interesting to blog about, you are too busy to sit down and actually blog.

Christmas went off without a hitch. The boys got great new bikes which they promptly rode to school and back in seven minutes flat. Sam got an easel and a plethora of art supplies. She also got an Easy Bake oven that her grandparents brought all the way from America. She made a cake all by herself and then ate it all by herself. She was so proud. Helmut got me a cool cable so I can play my iPod over the car stereo.

We spent Boxing Day at the MauritsHuis Museum admiring all the Vermeer paintings. It was a thrill to see “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” in real life. It is truly beautiful. We tried to go to the mall and the grocery store, but we could only find one store open in the whole city. In my opinion, Boxing Day isn’t even a real holiday.

On Thursday we took a short train ride to Delft. Helmut had visited Delft when he came for his job interview and loved it. We were not disappointed. The town square was all decked out for a weekly market full of all kinds of local fare…everything from cheese, sausage, bike repair supplies and fruit. After a quick shopping spree, we decided to climb the church tower of one of the churches on the square. What were we thinking? It was a LONG 384 feet climb on 8-inch stairs straight up a narrow spiral staircase. I knew we were crazy when we got half way up and realized the stairway was two way and we had to squeeze to one side to let some other tourists by (a little too close for comfort). We finally did make it to the top, but Helmut refused to set foot outside when he realized how high up we were. It was a beautiful view of the city and probably worth all the trouble.

Friday we left for Dusseldorf, Germany. We got there and started our trek to the hotel. I then realized why our hotel room was still available (when every other Best Western in the city was booked solid) and it was such a great price. We were in the heart of the gay part of town. Let’s just say the kids were forced to watch the sidewalk very closely while walking by many of the shops. On the positive side, the hotel was very nice and the rooms actually seemed to be “non-smoking” rooms. We took a walk down the shopping street which was full of every designer name you can think of. We had the best German food for dinner and then turned in for an early evening.

The next morning we took the train to Koln (Cologne) to see the famous Koln Dom. It is the hugest cathedral I have every seen and the largest Gothic structure in Germany. I am not much for touring churches, but this one was worth the trip. We had some more yummy German food for lunch, hit The Lego Store and then headed home.

My family left this morning at 4:30 AM. I am sure they were ready to head home and sleep in their own beds. We made sure we packed their two week visit completely full. It was great to have them and we will miss them being here.


Paris, France

On Thursday we decided to take it easy and get all our ducks in a row for Christmas. I took the family to the mall. I use the term mall very loosely. It is essentially a row of stores that are covered so if it rains you don’t get soaked until you try to get back to your car. Don’t get me wrong…I am grateful for the opportunity to shop even if it isn’t a mall by US standards. Trust me, I still found a way to spend my money.

Thursday was our big trip to Paris. When Matt and I went to buy the tickets at the train station she had a few special tickets left. Since we were taking kids on the train, it was cheaper for us the buy kinderspecial tickets for 1st class than it was for us the travel 2nd class. We had great seats all together (except for Helmut who was fogged in at the London airport and couldn’t buy his ticket until the last minute for fear he would never make it back to Holland). We made a few stops along the way, but we never had to change trains which made the whole trip hassle free.

We arrived at the train station and had to figure out how to buy a Metro ticket to our hotel. Nothing was in English and we could not find our Metro stop on the map (I am pretty sure Helmut thought I had made the stop up and was not happy about it). Matt, Helmut and I were walking all over the train station trying to figure it out while Mom, Dad and Maria were trying to keep the kids from going crazy. The train station was full of people and I had my first rude Frenchie experience. I accidentally walked right into a guy and he just stood there and stared (about three inches from my face) at me as if it was my entire fault. I did not back down, I held his stare until he walked away and then tripped his roller bag for good measure.

We did find our Metro stop with the help of a nicer French woman and arrived at our hotel after a quick tram ride. We set out for the Eiffel Tower. Due to a political protest of some sort, the line to go up the tower was relatively short. We waited in line about half an hour and then took the elevator up to the top. It was SO COLD! I could not stand the motion of the tower swaying back and forth and could only stay at the top for a few minutes. We went down to the 2nd level and looked around some more before we went back down. By the time we came down the sun had set and the tower was lit up. As we walked away from the tower, the small lights started to flash. It was one of the prettiest sights I have seen.

The next morning we woke up and ate at a delicious bakery for breakfast. We walked down to the Champs Elyse and the Arc de Triumphe. Maria and I went into the Louis Vuitton store but when I couldn’t find a purse for less than 600 euros, I realized I am more of a Coach Outlet kind of girl. Sadly the only shops we bought anything at were the Disney Store and the Gap. I know, how pathetic. There are no Gaps here in Holland and it was a sight for sore eyes. Judge if you want, I don’t care.

After a quick lunch, we headed for The Louvre. I did not realize what an enormous museum it is. There is no way you can see the whole thing in one day. I would venture to say you would need at least four days to be able to see it all. Sam was not into it and that hindered my perusing quite a bit. I hit the high points…Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo, Napoleon apartment, etc. It was pretty amazing and I would like to go back some time.

We had a great time and Paris ended up being all that I expected it to be. I wouldn’t say that traveling there with all the kids in tow made it feel like the “city of love” but I loved it all the same.

Brussels, Belgium

Today we had the adventure of a life time. We woke up early and headed for the train station. We had no prior arrangements or plans, just the idea that we would spend the day in Brussels, Belgium. After transferring to a larger train station we bought our tickets for Brussels and set out on our way. Much to our dismay, the train was packed and it looked impossible for our party of nine to sit together. We walked through train car after train car and then finally gave up hope and sat in various seats. Sam was sitting in my lap and I was not happy about the prospects of holding a five year old in my lap the whole two hours. Each time the train stopped a few passengers got off and we would jockey for better seats closer together. I almost had to smack down with two Old Dutch ladies trying to squeeze Josh and Helmut out of the seats they had OBVIOUSLY been waiting for. By the time we reached The Netherlands border we were all sitting together and enjoying our train ride to Belgium.

We arrived in Brussels with no map, just a Europe travel book with a very small Brussels section and the name of a location for the “famous” Christmas market. No problem…we are grown people and can figure things out. We marched ourselves out of the Brussels Central Train Station (which is horribly disgusting and dirty by the way) and found a map of downtown Brussels. I couldn’t help thinking, “this is what it would be like if I was ever on The Amazing Race” (minus all the kids).

We wandered into a hotel gallerie of shops and looked around at all the upscale shops and chocolateirs. The kids were starving so we started to search for a place to eat. We passed a charming alley lined on both sides with restaurants, French, Asian and otherwise. A man dressed in a chef’s smock approached us to explain a fabulous three course lunch menu they were offering for just 12 euros a person. I resisted the urge to carry on until we found a McDonald’s (I wasn’t sure I could face Helmut’s ridicule) and the group agreed to eat at the Lobster House. The roaring fire was toasty and the food ended up being super tasty.

The Christmas Market was located near the Grand Place which is the town square surrounded by an old cathedral and beautiful buildings built in the 1600’s. At this point we realized it was freezing outside and none of the kids had gloves, scarves or hats. Perhaps I tried to pack a little too light for this trip. Sadly, the Christmas Market was not all I had imagined. There were a few stalls with European Christmas decorations, but the rest were mostly cheap crafts and trinkets. There was a few that sold yummy smelling local cuisine, but we were full from our stop at the Lobster House. Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun to look around and the kids had no problem finding something to spend their money on. We bought a few interesting chocolate desserts and then gorged ourselves on hot homemade Belgium waffles.

No trip to Brussels is complete without the purchase of some authentic Belgium chocolates. We headed back to the hotel gallerie and chose Corne chocolates to buy from. The shop was full of delicious looking chocolates…with no labels. The grumpy looking shop owner walks up to the counter and asks, “Wha wooood you liiiike (must be said in your best snooty French accent)?” Ummm…we didn’t know because we weren’t sure what they had. “Do you have lemon truffles?” NON! “Do you have caramels?” NON! We muddled through selecting 500 grams of chocolate and walked out of the shop less than satisfied. Even worse the chocolate doesn’t even taste that good. URGH!

Sam’s hands were close to frozen off, so we decided to head home an hour early. We all trudged down into the train station and patiently waited for our train to appear on the board. No problem…we were certain the train to Amsterdam would leave from platform 5 at 4:44. The trains were running late, but we sat and waited. 4:44 came and went. We finally asked a man if he knew when the train to Holland would be coming, “it left four minutes ago.” Evidently all that French gibberish over the loudspeaker was more important than we realized. We trudged back upstairs to the information booth and we were assured the next train did not leave for another hour, but would say Amsterdam on the board (yeah right). We boarded a train headed for Antwerp Central at 5:39 and crossed our fingers we were on the right train. This train was new, nice and clean and we settled in for a comfy ride home…until the train stopped and then turned off a few stops later. What??? Evidently we were supposed to switch trains at the previous station. Clearly we did not ask enough questions or the right questions at the ticket booth. We waited for the train to power back up, rode it back a station, disembarked and waited for our next train. Long story short (or not so short) we arrived home six hours and eight trains later.


More Photos from Day 2

Scroll down for mores pictures of yesterday and all about yesterday.

Day 2

Yesterday we started out the day at the Clara Maria Farm. We powered up the TomTom and followed his every word until we arrived in Amstelveen 30 minutes later. The Clara Maria Farm is a working cheese farm. The nice lady there told us all about how they make the Gouda cheese and showed us around the small factory. Then she showed us how the wooden clogs are made. Once you got over the smell, it was a really fun time. After the tour and many exciting purchases at the gift shop (including some really delicious wheels of cheese) the kids headed out to the barn to play in the hay maze and swing from the barn rope. Matt and Grandpa even joined in the festivities and helped Sam and Lucas swing. Maria couldn’t resist getting into the action and joined the group at the top of the hay stack. I turned around just in time to see here making her way down from about 15 feet up. She took a step down and the hay gave way and she fell head over heels completing at least three somersaults before landing with her feet in the air and bumping her head on a wall board. She was a little dazed and confused but not seriously injured.

Next we made our way to the Kastle De Haar about 30 minutes away. Imagine the trip around the English countryside Jane Bennett took in Pride and Prejudice with her aunt and uncle. It was beautiful. Once again the TomTom saved our lives. I would have turned back long before getting there thinking for sure we were lost and had ventured too far into the country. The castle was closed for the low season, but we were able to take a walk around the gardens and see the outside. I will be sure to go back in the spring! It was so amazing and the gardens (mostly roses) must be spectacular when in bloom.

We finished off the night with the season finale of Survivor that I downloaded off of iTunes. Perfect end to a perfect day.


Serve All Love All

Today was day one of what promises to be many days of wild and crazy site-seeing. We started off by taking the two trains and one tram to the Anne Frank House. This was my second time to this museum and it is one of my favorites. The kids and I had read a version of her book written for younger children earlier in the week. They seemed to like it and more fully understand what they were seeing. Sam even kept it together. Next we walked to the Hard Rock Café for lunch. We finished up the day at the Van Gogh Museum. By that point the kids had reached their limit. Lucas fell asleep and Sam was grumpy and bored. She got in trouble from the security guard and calmed down for a while. She was sure the ropes in front of the paintings were to “keep people from touching the paintings because they were still wet.” Our trip home of a tram and two trains was relaxing and pretty quick.



Just a few pictures from our weekend. It was full of basketball, birthdays and IKEA furniture. Helmut and I put together a total of ten pieces of IKEA furniture over the weekend. Amazingly, we did not get into one fight. I was his dutiful “getter” (which is how he likes it) and I was glad to do it. I would do anything to get those boxes off my floor and assembled into something I can store my “stuff” in. Many of the houses here lack any sort of built in storage space (closets, cabinets, etc.), so since we have moved in we have been to IKEA many times looking for various storage solutions. We have one more bookshelf in Sam’s room to assemble and a wardrobe in Helmut’s room as well. I started putting the wardrobe in Helmut’s room together on Monday as a surprise to Big Helmut. I think when he gets home from London on Friday night he will be glad to see a portion of his IKEA chores (which I need him to finish before my family arrives at noon on Saturday) are already done. I am praying he doesn’t think I did a sub par job. Sadly, it will not be 100% complete as it weighs about two tons and the boys and I are unable to lift it off the ground to stand it upright. I feel pretty proud of myself for finishing it this far. I never thought of myself as a handy person, but I guess I was wrong.



i fought the law and the law won

Today was the dreaded meeting with Helmut’s Science Teacher. For those of you who don’t know the whole story, here is a quick catch up. I was checking Helmut’s grade on-line the other day and to my utterly horrified dismay discovered Little Helmut is getting a 70 in Science. This is the boy who loves Science and has never gotten below a 98 in the class. I looked through the meager four grades he had so far this quarter and realized the teacher had given him a 60 for “Materials for Science Project.” We had only been in this school for about 10 days on the due date and where still living in the hotel. I stewed about it for a day and then wrote her an email explaining my concern and frustration over his low score. She replied that she had “looked at him disapprovingly when he told her about his project, but that he insisted he could do it.” (Hmmm…I can’t imagine an eleven year old not picking up on your non-verbal communication).

So today I met with her and I did not achieve complete satisfaction on the subject. She refused to discuss the specific grade with me because it was not my grade. I disagree since it is impossible for an eleven year old to hop in the car and drive down to the hardware, electrical and stationery stores to buy his supplies. She told me, “We will have to agree to disagree.” I don’t like being told that. She did tell me his project is going well and she thought he was a bright boy. Blah, blah, blah. I really just wanted her to tell me he would not fail his class and get kicked off the basketball team; in fact she is sure he can raise his grade to a B by the end of the quarter. No such satisfaction granted.


Christmas Program

Yesterday was the Christmas program at church. Each of the kids had a part and the Primary sang the majority of the music. Helmut had a short duet with a seven-year-old girl from the ward. On the way home I complimented him on how well he sang and he tartly replied, “I know, my beautiful voice totally drowned out her squeaky little voice.” I like to teach my kids confidence, but perhaps I need to work on their confidence to humility ratio a little more. Josh also got up and recited his part perfectly and sang the words to every song despite momentous distraction. What momentous distraction you ask. I am sure in an effort to keep a five-year-old’s stage fright at bay; they seated Samantha next to Josh during the program. Although their intentions were genuine, they could not have made a bigger mistake. She poked, pinched, prodded, punched, pestered and spit at him for most of the program. After a few minutes of this horseplay, Helmut marched up to the front of our VERY small chapel and sat on the front row in an effort to deter her horrible behavior. It didn’t work. He finally was forced to walk up on stage and whisper a very stern talkin’ to in her ear. I am not sure what he said, but it worked. For the rest of the program she stood in front of her seat with her arms folded, eyes squinted in anger and her lips pursed in utter disgust. Of course her turn to speak came and she reluctantly walked up to the podium and stood the exact same way while the leader said her part for her. That girl really knows how to make her parents proud! Once the program was over and the kids were allowed to return to sit with their parents, Helmut asked her why she was being so naughty up on the stage. At that point, she just broke down and sobbed for the next ten minutes.

She spent the rest of the day at home nicely singing all the songs she missed and perfectly reciting her part. Oh well, there is always next year.