Saturday, June 28, 2008


Happy wedding anniversary to Marty and lisa, married sixteen years today!!!

lisa and I made a pact before we left that we would not celebrate events the way we did in the States. First, there was the tougher preparation of trying to arrange things in a strange place, a strange kitchen, etc. Also we wanted to join other cultures in their celebrations vs. holding on to ours. We passed on Father's Day only to find out that it was Father's Day in Holland as well. Oh well, the best laid plans...

I jokingly asked the girls what they were getting us for our anniversary. Siena or Avocet asked what day it occurred and after I said Saturday, I didn't hear much else until Si asked to borrow some money when we were in our favorite cheese shop. More plans and hints and Saturday morning arrived. We were told to stay in our room until they were ready. We followed a trail of love notes with sayings on them, mainly Beatles standards such as "I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah" or "I want to hold your hand" etc., down to the dining room. Then to a wonderful breakfast of croissants, sausage, cheese, strawberries, yogurt, fresh bread with butter, pinda kaas (peanut butter) and chocolate pasta (paste). YUMMY ! It was topped off with a quarter of a small pink cake that they like from the bakery that they refer to as the "Tasty pink morsel".

This was followed up by a recital of dances to the tunes of various international travel songs. Afterwards we were presented the homemade gifts, cards, and purchased Stroopwafles, two tiny waffles pressed together with honey and cinnamon.

I have never doubted the creativity of Avocet and Siena. They outdid themselves one more time!! Thank you guys, we love you both!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, June 27, 2008


Holland is the world's largest exporter of cheese. After you see the amount of cheese consumed in this country, it's hard to believe that they would have anything left to export but apparently they do -- and a lot of it. For hundreds of years, cheese was made on individual farms and then brought to market to be inspected, evaluated, weighed and sold. While things aren't done quite that way anymore, Alkmaar, the oldest cheese market in the world, still holds a cheese market every Friday so that you can see how it was all done. Pictured to the right is the weighing house of the cheese market.

Large wheels of cheese are laid out on the square carried by special "Cheese Carriers". These carriers are part of the Cheese Carrier Guild and the color of the scarf in their hat signifies which veem (like a team) in the guild they belong to. Here the cheeses are offered for sale. Once they find a buyer and a price is agreed upon, the cheese is taken to the scales. The cheese is then once again carried by the Cheese Carriers to the trucks (wagons in the past) to be taken away. It's all very ritualistic, colorful and full of local culture.

In it's heyday, the Alkmaar Cheese Market sold an average of 300 tons of cheese every market day. Now most cheese is sold commercially and the amount sold at the market is substantially less. Since 1939, Alkmaar has the only remaining cheese market in The Netherlands.

After the morning market, we spent time in the Cheese Museum (yes, there really is a museum just for cheese), browsing the artisan market, and dining in a very picturesque restaurant.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Linnaeushof; Europe's Largest Playground

Yes, Europe has a huge, excuse me, gigantic playground right here in The Netherlands. Linnaeushof, the name of the playground, is situated a little less than a 15 minute bus ride from the bus station in Haarlem. Actually, we never would have gone there if we hadn't been meeting some people that day. We were thinking about meeting them in Delft, but my mom thought there would be nothing to do there so she started going through my large collection of brouchures that I had picked up at the tourist office during a visit to the train station. I had seen the brochure for Linnaeushof and picked it up because of the words stating "Europe's Largest Playground". Even in Dutch I can translate that much! So my mom found the brochure and didn't think anything of it until Carol,(a cousin of our family's friend Eric) suggested Linnaeushof as a place to go for the day. She had 2 kids and there was Siena and I so she thought it a perfect place for the kids to play and the adults to do boring parent talk. When we got there, we were amazed. I don't know what the rest of my family expected by I thought it would be like a European Coney Island. No, it was like a normal playground, except oversized with a waterpark addition. Like for an example, there was a Merry-Go-Round but someone had to hold onto a yellow bar and push it around. A Ferris Wheel powered by the most famous thing in The Netherlands, a bike. So you get the point. Even the Bumper Cars strung to the ceiling by a track were powered by the bike pedals at the front of the car! Almost nothing was mechanical, except for the Bumper Cars on the ground and the Zipline over the water. Anyway, enjoy the pics!


That's the question most people will ask if you tell them you have been to the North Sea. On Tuesday June 24,2008 we rode our bikes on a trail to the beach because it was a beautiful, sunny day. The trail is not what people would imagine Holland to be like; wildflowers, sand, dunes, and trees, -- it looks a bit like Wyoming! As you probably know people ride bikes in Holland because it's so flat. Unfortunately we met some pretty nasty un-Dutch terrain when on the trail. I decided that my stuffed Seal, Seelia, should come along to get some air, but since she rode on the back of my bike all the way there, I had to have someone ride behind me at all times to make sure she wouldn't fall off. When we finally got to the beach we all took off our shoes, put our stuff on the sand and ran into the waves. As I said earlier it's the North Sea so it took a while getting used to the cold water. After a short time, Avocet and I were jumping waves and collecting sea shells. We found tons of shells that were long and pale that turned out to be Mussel shells!!! I mostly think of Mussel shells as black not pale! After lunch (which we had on the "strand") we went back and made a sand castle. You can see pictures of our great day down below. Now whenever someone asks you, "Does Holland have a beach?" You can say, "Yes,of course!".

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


On Saturday, June 21st, we were visited by our friends Sean and Dianna and their kids, Quinn and Maggie. Even though its been less than two weeks out of the country, it was GREAT to see close friends from home. Even though over these two weeks, lisa, Siena, Avocet and I have gotten used to each other, have bonded well and love each other and are having a great time...well, you get the point!!!!
We began our visit by meeting them in Amsterdam and simply catching up while the kids played on the "I AMSTERDAM" sign. We (the adults) even got up on it and didn't have to test out our international health plan.

We all stayed at our place in Haarlem on Saturday night through Monday, thankful for all the beds that our place has. We stayed up past midnight both nights talking. Sean and I got to male bond while lisa and Dianna did the "girl" thing, plus nice all around conversations about everything. The kids had a wonderful time playing in the garden, watching misc. things on YouTube and doing basic kid stuff. On Sunday we visited Zaanse Schans, a sort of Dutch living history museum replicating life from the 17th century. In addition to several museums we got to see authentic windmills in action. Wow, those blades turn fast. It's scary when you get near the top.

Best of all was seeing them for the first time since Christmas when they came home to Cincinnati to visit for awhile. They have been living in Paris since August 2007 and only have another 40 days before they leave for the States. We will be gone until June, 2009, so we could have had an almost two year gap. We caught up on Clifton goings on and they elaborated on Paris events and how things are different when you are gone for a year.

The visit was a short reminder of how much we value all of our friends and how much we will miss all of you.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I promise, this will be the last you hear about bikes (or not). It's just that when you think that you have seen it all in terms of bikes, along comes the epitome of bikes -- The Party Bike. Fiets is bike and well, party is party, ergo Partyfiets. This is a bike that seats about 12-14 people (estimated) in what almost looks like a trolley. There are two rows of pedals, 6-7 sets on one side and 6-7 sets on the other. Down the middle is, you guessed it, a bar. (Well it is called a Party Bike after all). So now you have to picture it all together. You have this trolly looking bike with 12-14 people on it. Everyone is sitting on a seat and pedalling away. While they are pedalling, they are sitting forward facing the bar and drinking away. And while they are pedalling away and drinking away this trolley looking bike is moving down the street. The trolley is moving foward but the people are sitting sideways. The picture is for those who can't seem to put this all together.

Maybe this will be our next business when we return to the states. We could have a kids bike and serve pizza and soft drinks and adult bikes that either do beer and snacks or cappacino and dessert. It could be the next big thing in Cincinnati!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Welcome soccer lovers to the soccer universe of the world, Europe! Here all of Europe is in the midst of EURO 2008! The people of The Netherlands are very excited that The Holland team has made it to the semi-finals. Since we have been here, they have beat Romania and France(so ha!Sean and Diana!). If you are curious why I said FOOTBALL A.K.A SOCCER it was because here in Europe they don't have our football, so they call soccer football(I think it makes sense, I mean you use your foot in soccer, why not call it football!). Holland's colors are blue and orange so you'll see a lot of orange(not as much blue). Here are some crazy pics to look at. Enjoy!


On the 17th of June, we took a day trip to the city of Den Haag or The Hague. We went to the museum of M.C. Escher and then took tram #9 to Madurodam. Madurodam is a small but large 'town' in Den Haag. Let me explain. The city of Madurodam is miniature, an average toddler is the size of one of the houses in Madurodam. Everything is mini, but it is huge as it stretches a looong way from one end to another.

It isn't just for fun, its suposed to be a war memorial for George Maduro. One of the first buildings you see as you walk in is the 8 inch birthplace of George Maduro. When he died in World War II, his parents had a mini city build in his honor. They have continued to add buildings since.

Also, The city isn't the whole of The Netherlands, Holland or even Amsterdam! The buildings are in a random mixed up order, with buildings from Roterdam, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Utrech and many others. The older (style) buildings are at the tip, the farmland to the upper right, the harbor to the left of the farmland and the new and recreational area to the left of the harbor, similar to the development of a typical Dutch town.

They can also hold a reception, wedding or party in the main Foyer of the building. Below are some interesting facts on Madurodam.

The Smallest Town In Big Peoples Figures




Cars And Trucks=4,542



Lights in Miniature Town=50,000

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


OK. By now you may think that I am obsessing about bikes. I am. But you can't help it, they are everywhere. There are more bikes in this country than there are people. Many people don't own cars but only bikes. It is the number one form of transportion. But it's more than that. Coming from a country where bikes are only a hobby or sport, it's hard not to be amazed by what has been created here for bikes. Sure, we have "bike trails" in the US but here they have bike lanes EVERYWHERE! And the bike lanes even have their own traffic lights.

If you take your bike on the train (which they do charge extra for) or need to walk it across a bridge that has stairs, they have "bike rails" where you can put your tires into and walk your bike up or down the stairs.

Where we have parking lots, they have bike parking lots -- sometimes levels and levels of them like at the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station. Not that people always park in a parking lot; there's just not enough parking lots. People will leave their bikes anywhere but they always lock them. Bike theft is a big problem! Everytime we have left our bikes somewhere, I am surprisingly pleased that they are still there when we get back. Remembering where we park them is also a challenge. When I saw all those bikes, one of my first thoughts was, "How do you know which one is yours?" So far we have always managed to find them!


I love the places we have gone and the things we have seen. But I also like doing less and blending into the scene here in Haarlem. "Tis nobler to visit the places we "should" see or just relax"?

On Sunday we went to Amsterdam and saw both the Van Gogh Museum and the Annefrankhuis ( that's the way they spell it here ) and went on a canal boat ride. They were all fun and tiring for the adults. Mall crawl through museums, even one as neat as the Van Gogh is tiring on old feet. Avocet and Siena were totally ( did I say TOTALLY ) bored with it. We were not allowed to take any photos so you can't see any evidence of our visit.

The canal boat ride was better. However, it was passive just watching the mansions and houseboats on the sides of the canals. Si and Av were also a bit bored with this as well. Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Old, HUGE buildings, and a people with a vibrancy that is on par with the big cities of Chicage and New York. The people are more rushed than in Haarlem. We can only take public transportation so we have the analytical enjoyment of getting used to trying to figure out something of which you don't understand the language and don't know the format of the numbers. But, this is easy. Wait until we get to New Delhi or Bangkok. Compared to some future places, Amsterdam and the Netherlands are "trip-light".

What do you do when a case of boredom strikes the kids ( and is starting to hit us, too )? YOU EAT!!! We had french fries with mayonnaise. They have stands here which specialize in this treat. Messy but good. The french fries alone were better than ours and the mayonnaise tasted different, but good.

Anne Frank's House was "historic" from a terrible time in our history. Her diary is published in more languages than any other manuscript than the Bible. Even though the house was bare of furniture, you got a real sense of a "place of hiding". lisa was co-volunteer coordinator of the Anne Frank exhibit when it came to Cinti in the early nineties so this place means more than just a "museum".

On Monday, we chose to relax. I think our plan will be to have one "on" day and one "off" day. We caught up on e-mails and downloaded pics into, our final safe resting spot for photos. This takes more time than you think. When you take the pic you think you are done but NOOOOOOOO! Transferring from the camera is easy but sending to Kodak is slow. We have figured out that this should be started before we go to bed and you wake up in the morning with saved data. You then have to edit the pics, which is taking more time than we thought. Wasn't this trip supposed to be relaxing and restorative to the spirit?

Speaking of restorative,I have had some time to just sit on the rooftop veranda. Very relaxing and with the beautiful temps ( a high of almost 70 degrees...jealous are you, fellow Americans????) it is easy to just "be". We are not yet trip shape yet so relaxation time and individual time will have to be figured out. I like just walking down to the market and trying to buy something without making a fool out of myself. To buy yogurt was not easy the first time as it could be yogurt or a creamy cheese. I'm also better at buying beer ( the first time I bought what we call "little seven ounce bottles" ). I find myself constantly converting to US $$$ vs. accepting the amount in euros. This too shall pass.

We went on a bike ride to a park and had a great time. If I haven't said it before, I think my best time so far has been from the seat of my thirty five year old bike. Just meandering around the streets is relaxing and makes you feel much less of a tourist and more of a resident. The girls have turned their bikes into "trick bikes" but I will let them describe that in their own blog posts. We sometimes just talk to people who come up to us and its neat to see how they think about things here vs. America. More about that later in a separate blog post.

Going to the butcher ( schlachter ) today. They sell horse meat here. The butcher says we have it all wrong, as the animal has had a good life, not like a chicken or pig, and finally he gets to arrive at someone's table. Someone else said they raise some horses for their meat. Do I or don't I?

Saturday, June 14, 2008


This is Haarlem, our home away from home for the next three weeks. It's old, it's quaint, it's picturesque and it's very Dutch. We are renting a three bedroom house in a residential district, about a five minute walk from the center of town. The house is lovely with a rooftop terrace and a garden out back -- today it was warm and sunny and we had lunch out there.

Today (Saturday) was market day so I did food shopping for the next week. They have supermarkets as well but it's much nicer to buy food in the open air market in the main square than in a "big box store." I was expecting outrageous prices but overall, it wasn't that bad. Not much more than what we pay in the US for a lot of things. If the exchange rate were better, it would actually be cheaper than at home.

Today we also bought bikes. Biking is a way of life here in The Netherlands. No, that is not a picture of a bike shop you see but a side walk. In fact, that is what many sidewalks look like around here. Biking is not a sport but instead the major mode of transportation. We have seen as many as three people on one bike and if you have a "cart" in front, it's like having a mini van. We have seen a mother with her three children and groceries in one of those models. You definitely take your life in your hands when you go down the street be it on foot or on bike. The multitude of bikers and pedestrians combined with the few cars creates chaos. What's amazing is that so far, we have yet to see any accidents or crashes!

Written by lisa

No crashing is amazing but to top that, no one wears helmets! It is hard to dodge cars and pedestrians, but every one is careful. We tried renting bikes but no one had children's bikes to rent! We had to go to a thousand bike shops to see if they rented children's bikes. No luck. Then once Avocet and Daddy found some children's bikes. We thought we were going to rent them but the man in BIKE PLANET said there was a place where we could buy bikes and then just sell them back when we were done with them. It took a loooooooooooooooooong time to get to the place, FIETSCO ( We did buy bikes there, and now we can feel like normal people who live in Holland!!

Written by Siena

The bikes here are different from American bikes. I mean they have 2 handles, 2 wheels and Etc. Etc. Etc. but they're built differently. It's like these bikes are made for comfort and American bikes are all vroom vroom vroom for racing!!! So they are nice to ride but after a while, they give your rear end a hard time! Today we rode bikes around town after we got them and to get Gelato as an after dinner treat and oh my, your butt hurts!! Not THAT much but after a couple of days, its got to be awfull!! Maybe we should just buy those bike seats with 2 pads on the back for comfort, mostly mom needs those. (But don't tell her I said that!!!)

Written by Avocet

We arrived here not knowing how our first stop would turn out. This one is important. If it was lousy or uncomfortable, our sense of space would be shattered. We needed a "good( not perfect )place" here in Haarlem to get out of the blocks well. IT DIDN'T DISAPPOINT US!!!!

Our place is like lisa described above and very homey. The girls have their nook to decorate. I have a place at 3:30 AM to go to and read when I can't sleep. The beds are comfortable. We have had nice meals in our kitchen and have bought the ingredients in interesting places. You know, not being able to read Dutch causes you to buy pudding instead of yogurt. If the person who is waiting on you at the market doesn't know at least some English, you're not 100% sure what you are going to bring home. It really makes the standard things we take for granted back home much more special. At the market this afternnon, lisa bought some fish and had no idea what it was but add some olive oil and garlic as you prepare it and it can't turn out bad.

As for the bikes, mine must be forty years old but runs like a champ. If you are ever in Haarlem, look up Fietsco and buy some used bikes. It saves a bunch of euros (I calculate about $500 US) by buying and selling back vs. renting from one of the rental places. We also had the "adventure" of discovering how to do it vs. taking the easy (and expensive) way. It wouldn't work for everyone, but it works for me.

Written by Marty

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


They say that inanimate objects don't have a soul. I beg to differ. Our home knows we are leaving.

Case in point. We have had no problems for awhile with our 118 year old home in terms of breakdowns or needed repairs. Great, the place is ready for the "house watcher" (Javier) and the renters starting September 1. Oops, I believe she heard we were "abandoning" her for a year. In the past seven days, the lawnmower broke (fixed with a stair tread and self locking nuts from Camp Washington Hardware...thanks Kevin) and another usual incident occurred.

If there are any illusions of control, such as that we will be able to control the trains in India or the ability to see the Southern Lights in Hobart, this will prove me WRONG!

The person helping us clean the house yelled HELP!!! when I was upstairs on the computer. I came down to find her standing on top of the dining room table. She was dusting the light and in the process it fell from the ceiling and hit her on the head. I held the light as she crawled down and rubbed her head. No blood, no foul. I was able to rig up a ladder with an inverted basement chair to hold the light high enough to take the pressure off the electric cord. The light still worked. YAY!!!

NOT TO WORRY. A handyman was coming over at 4:00 to fix two windows with broken cords. He has done electric work for years so after we got the cords replaced, he tackled the reestablishment of the art lamp pendant on the ceiling. After some scraping of wires we were ready. I turned on the light only to see sparks come out of the switch. Oops, I guess that was the wrong wire. OK, no deaths, so we are alright.

NOT TO WORRY. We had arranged for an electrician to be over the next morning to fix some other issues. While "we" (Dan, the qualified and me, the unqualified) worked on the light, everything was great. He needed more slack so I replaced the inverted chair with a flexible vinyl bucket. The top of the bucket was now about eight foot off the ground. Dan went to the basement and I held the bucket which held the light. I started to fall backwards, grabbed for the light, and watched it as the one day project finally died. The light broke into at least twenty pieces.

NOT TO WORRY. lisa (yes, she spells it with a lower case L) and I went to Lowes, bought three pendant lamps and had Dan install them the next day.

Moral: 1) You can't control when poopies happen, 2) This is not the way to redecorate, 3) Never clean your dining room light and 4) I NEVER DID LIKE THE ORIGINAL LIGHT!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Hello everyone back in Cincinnati! Right now we are enjoying the luxuries of The Quality Inn, in Dallas/Fort Worth. We are lucky that the plane ride went smoothly and no luggage was lost. Although tired, we arrived at the hotel with both arms and legs. We miss all who are reading this entry very much. Luckily and unluckily we will be flying to The Netherlands tomorrow. Luckily, because we will be able to escape from a normal life, and unluckily because we will be farther from home. We hope to be seeing you very soon! Well, not that soon.

The Peanut Butter Incident

Peanut Butter is very important to me. You see, I am a very picky eater and Peanut Butter is my main source of protein. One of the things I was worried about on the trip was food. I don't try new foods very easily and usually, I don't like the foods I do try. So I was bringing a jar of Trader Joes Creamy Peanut Butter. We were going to see how far I could go without opening the Peanut Butter. I thought I would start using it in Tanzania. When we went through security at the airport to get to our plane to Dallas Fort Worth, the evil security man didn't give me back my backpack right away even though I told him it was mine. When my mom came over, he asked if the backpack was mine. I said it was. Then he said something about having liquids in there. He started digging around in my backpack and soon discovered the jar of Peanut Butter. He said I couldn't take it and I could only take it if it was in my suitcase which for your information, was already checked in. So he took away the jar and put it behind the counter. I was sad the whole plane ride. When we got to Dallas Fort Worth, we ate lunch at Denny's and then stopped in at the Shell gas station convenience store and picked up a jar of Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter. It wasn't quite the same but then again, I have Peanut Butter again!!! (And this time, it goes in my suitcase!!!)

Sunday, June 8, 2008


A small Farewell Soiree was thrown by several friends giving the Shusterman/Greenwell family an opportunity to say good-bye to some of our friends. It was a lovely event with the most befitting cake. Thank you Irene, Sarah and Valerie for all your work. While we said good-bye to many people that night, it still had not quite felt real -- that was over a week ago. Now this weekend, with only two days before departure, as we say good-bye to friends who were not at the party, it all seems too real. Tears well up in our eyes with each farewell as we know that we will miss our friends greatly. We love you all. Know that we will be back, as we already have the tickets, and we will pick up just where we left off.

I figured we should publish this nice "before" picture from the party. It will be good for looking back after a year of traveling to see how we have physically changed. I imagine that Marty will have a little less hair (or no hair at all if he lets the monks shave it all off in India). I will be grayer but sporting my chic haircut from Buenos Aires. Both Avocet and Siena will be taller and wearing the new clothes and shoes that we had to buy them after they grew out of what we had brought for them. (Please let that occur in a country where the dollar is stronger!). And all of us will be looking a little more worldly.