Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's a white world out there

Usually I struggle to get up in the morning - it's the winter weather. When Mitch is heading out to the gym in the morning, I'm still tucked under the doona, mostly because it's the warmest place in the house until the heaters in the living room kick in for the day. This morning though, I was SO excited when I woke up and had no trouble getting out of bed - I opened the curtains and was greeted by a white, wintry world!!! It snowed until about 8pm last night and started up again (lightly) this morning. I rugged up in my ski jacket and headed out to explore our little town in the snow (I must say, riding my bike in it isn't so fun. It's slippery and icy and I can't go really fast like usual :-( ), trying not to fall over on the icy paths. It's amusing seeing people out raking the snow off their steps and clearing the footpath... We even had a snowplow go down our street last night - these are such foreign things to me, winter usually means balmy 20deg days, not snow!!!

Our balcony is full of snow, a few cms deep now. Yesterday I was bouncing off the walls and couldn't sit still - I kept running outside to play in it... I did mention that I love snow, right???

I even built a teeny little snowman yesterday... With his marzipan carrot nose, he ended up looking more like a scary duck... He's still standing out there today although he's slightly buried and has lost his yummy nose :-(

All this snow already and it's still only November.... I'm loving it now but I wonder what the next few months of wintry weather will bring??? Here's hoping the canals freeze over so I can make use of my figure skates!!!!

Happy days :-)

When I woke up this morning, I really didn't think today was going to put such a smile on my face. It was dark and gloomy and well below zero when I said goodbye to Mitch as he rugged up (in so many layers it appears I'm married to a marshmallow - yes, it's cold!!!!) as he trudged off to the gym. After a few hours of procrastinating, enjoying the heaters and not wanting to go out to do the groceries, I discovered it only takes a few small things to turn a bitterly cold day (think -2deg at lunchtime with no sun in sight) into a day full of.... awesomeness :-)

At around 10am I noticed a few flakes flying past the dining room window... It wasn't quite enough to get me too hopeful but within a couple of hours, the flakes were steadily coming down and lightly dusting the outside world in a slight layer of white. Now, I love snow - and coming from Queensland, it doesn't take much snow at all to get me excited. These steadily appearing flakes were all it took to get me rugged up marshmallow style and riding my bike to the shops. By the time I reached the supermarket, I was covered in a layer of white - which on my black jacket, really just looked like an all over layer of dandruff - gross I know....

I walk into the supermarket and the first thing I saw was this:

I don't really know what it is but I'm assuming it's somehow Sinterklaas related as tradition has it that Dutch kids put their shoes out to be filled with sweets. It was really sweet seeing all these little shoes lined up in the supermarket, eagerly awaiting the culmination of Sinterklaas this coming Sunday, 5 December.

I was whipping around the supermarket in record time (wanting to get back into the freezing cold for once - it's amazing how snow makes you want to freeze) when I came across this:

Oh my goodness me, my mind was blown yet again. Like the Speculaas Stroopwafel, two of my favourite things have come together again - but this time, in loaf form. The outside was a speculaas biscuit (crunchy exterior, very moist interior) and was filled with marzipan. Oh how I love this country's sweetie treats! This one could be a new favourite - it almost puts the stroopwafel to shame...

After riding back home eating snowflakes, I cracked open the latest sweetie treat and settled in for a quiet afternoon. Since I started typing this post, the snow has started up again and gotten much heavier - the flakes are huge and flying through the air quickly.

It's starting to settle and I have to say, I'm just SO excited - I feel like a kid at Christmas. It's pretty darn awesome sitting in your home, sipping hot Milo and watching it snow out the window... And since I've taken these videos, the snow has gotten heavier and heavier - it's turning into a white world out there... Another hour of this and I reckon I could nearly build a miniature snowman!!!!

It's amazing how a little bit of snow makes the cold worthwhile... I love it!!!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I miss my Janome

I've been crafting away whenever I get the chance lately and I have to say, I miss my Janome. I bought my very first sewing machine last year, a fantastic Janome that was well worth every cent. Because of the obvious baggage restrictions, I decided not to bring my trusty softie making machine over to Holland and instead bought a little cheapie Toyota over here. Since buying my new machine, I've discovered how to pull apart sewing machines and put them back together as it regularly does all sorts of frustrating things like leaking oil on my material and skipping stitches - it does my head in and I really should make use of the warranty but seeing as that involves having to learn sewing jargon in Dutch, I think I'll just stick to making use of my handy man skills. Anyway, when I'm not arguing with my sewing machine, I've been using it to whip up a few crafty items here and there...

Although we have now have the radiators on 24/7, I still feel the cold in our apartment (I think it's the high ceilings). So, I decided to whip up a cosy throw rug for the couch - I picked up this big piece of warm fleece at the markets and machine appliqu├ęd the tree and leaves. It took about an hour to put together and is nice and toasty!!!!

Brightening up a dull wall in the sun room - I bought some tins at the second hand shop and covered the lids in this bright material. I saw the idea online and it was simple and cost effective to make.

My very first attempt at a Dutch classic - BUNTING!!!! My Mum sent over some squares of beautiful Moda fabric a few months ago and I've been putting it to good use (used in all 3 projects). This bunting was so simple to make and I put it together with some ribbon. It brightens up our very dark hallway!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The visit to Middellaan: it's almost a Gerritsen rite of passage

As I've mentioned before, I'm half Dutch - although he is now about as Aussie as they get, my Dad spent the early years of his life in Apeldoorn, roughly an hour from where I now live. I've been to this quiet town a handful of times over the past few years and on each visit, made the journey either by car or foot to where it all began: Middellaan, a pretty residential street only a short walk from Palace Het Loo. All 3 of my sisters, my brother-in-laws and niece and nephews (and a few other relatives I believe) have also visited the little Dutch house where my Dad was born and grew up in - it's almost a Gerritsen rite of passage.

The first time I went to Middellaan, I couldn't believe that the house had been my Grandparents - it really doesn't look that old, the entire street was pristine and looked like it could have been in a brand new estate. I guess this is just a testament to how clean & tidy the Dutch are - they really do take pride in their homes. Middellaan is also a great example of the Dutch window display, I remember Mitch and I being in awe of the perfectly arranged items on display in the window of each house.

While Dad was visiting over the summer, a visit to Apeldoorn was high on the priority list. I had such a lovely time with Dad here and it was really special to be the one with him when he was rediscovering his roots - especially while driving around Apeldoorn. We visited some cousins, saw my great-grandmothers house, Dad's school, the town hall where my great-uncle was married and so many other landmarks and streets that Dad had some story about. The following week when my sisters arrived, we trooped back to Apeldoorn in the torrential rain (on the news that night was images of people fishing from their front steps!) and posed for the necessary photo in front of the house.

I've never been inside but I'd love to see what it looks like - having heard stories about this place over the years, I need to work up the courage to knock on the door and ask to go in (my sister did this last year and was shown around by the owner). Perhaps on my next visit - we'll see though. For now, I'm content with the customary pose in front of the house shot...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

O Christmas Tree...

I love this time of year :-) I love all the decorations, going light looking, the FOOD, wrapping presents, being with family and just the general holiday atmosphere... But one of my favourite things about Christmas would have to be decorating the Christmas tree. Mitch and I have had a mix of both real and fake trees over the past few years but despite me finally getting over my intense dislike for plastic trees (a forced change of heart when the local scouts weren't selling real trees in 2008 and it was fake or nothing that year), this year we are definitely getting a real tree - a white Christmas deserves a proper tree!!!

Although we'll be spending the holidays in France with friends, we are still planning on having a tree here at home for as long as possible - although, I was informed last night that according to Dutch tradition, we shouldn't be putting up any decorations, lights or a tree until Sinterklaas is over on - this ends on 5th December. Apparently everyone goes mad and everything is up though by the morning of 6th December - efficiency is definitely a nationwide strength. I can't wait to see decorations appear (no doubt ever so perfectly laid out, the Dutch are so neat!) in people's windows!!!

Our big box of Christmas decorations wasn't exactly high on our packing priority list when we moved to Holland this year so we are starting out from scratch in terms of decorations. I've picked up a few here and there (most notably from an awesome Christmas shop in France that had new vintage style decorations - oh my goodness, it was amazing!!!!) to get us started and I'm already thinking about our tree. It's going to be very difficult to hold back until December 6 - perhaps I will break tradition and put ours up early??? Thinking about what this Christmas has in store has gotten me thinking about Christmases past - here are a few snapshots of some past tree beauties...

Ok, I have to admit I don't have a single photograph of our tree from this year - not on the computer anyway. Back in these days we just had a film SLR and all our photo memories from this time are safely stored away in albums in my parents attic. But, in 2004 we were both uni students, newly married and living in a teeny tiny flat in Hendra. We didn't have any Christmas decorations or a real tree - but a cute little wire one, not quite like this but you get the idea... Ours had holders for tealight candles and I think we covered it in tiny baubles that Brumbys was discarding (yes, this was wayyy back in the casual bakery job times!!!).

Once again, all our proper photos are on film - but I did dig up (well, sift through the external back up drive to  find the photo!) this photo of our tree - taken on my phone at the time so mind the bluriness. We were living in a townhouse in Albany Creek and bought a lovely, scraggly real tree from the Scouts.

This was still in our pre-digital camera days so once again, no proper photos - except another blurry mobile phone shot (not sure why I was taking photos of Christmas trees on my phone??? It must have been new and a novelty). We were living in a townhouse in Wooloowin (wow now it sounds like we move a lot!!!) and got yet another unique, scraggly tree from the Scouts.

This year we were living in France and experiencing our first white Christmas - holidaying in Switzerland. We didn't have a Christmas tree of our own this year, but we did see a lot for sale - do these trees in Geneva count as our tree for 2007???

Back from France and so back to another 40degree Qld Christmas - just the way Christmas should be, hot and sweaty and eating prawns!!!! We had a couple of trees this year. Firstly, our very first fake tree - which as I discovered, wasn't as depressing as I was expecting and a whole lot easier to dispose of and clean up.

Nibbler (our pet turtle) got into the Christmas spirit for the first time this year and ran around under our toes while we decorated, enjoyed a bottle of red, listened to Christmas carols and took turns sticking our heads in the freezer in an attempt to cool down.

We also had a tree - a real one! - in Noosa that year. We spent the holidays with family in a couple of apartments along the Noosa river and had the most lovely time, including when a couple of friends visited and we went into the forestry with a saw and came home with a tree which we all then gathered together to decorate.

Our last Christmas in Australia - we pulled out the fake tree, having decided that it wasn't so bad after all and perhaps a bit more appealing then the mess we would face on the carpet with a real tree rapidly wilting in the hot summer weather.

2010 - I wonder what this Christmas has in store... :-)

Wandering Wednesday - Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher are a well known natural attraction in Ireland and so when road tripping through this very green country earlier this year, we naturally had to take a look for ourselves. We arrived late in the afternoon after checking into our B&B just minutes down the road in Doolin. After taking a walk along the well paved and fenced section, we did what most others were doing and jumped the fence to take a walk further up on the cliffs - the perfect spot for sunset shots according to my photo mad husband.

It was a lovely viewpoint but we didn't last too long there - being a grand 120m above the sea, the wind was bitterly cold and our teeth were chattering away within minutes. After finding a slightly more sheltered spot to wait out the sunset, I can see the icy cold winds were actually worthwhile - the light on these huge cliffs at that time of day was magnificent and seeing the sun set over the sea is always a novelty.

The Cliffs of Moher were definitely worth a visit to while in Ireland, although I can't say I ever need to go again. Ireland was so green and beautiful, but I think that for me, once is enough in a lifetime... Too many other places to visit, too little time...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A quick tour of Alsace

France is one of my favourite countries - I might be slightly biased because we lived there a few years ago, but it truly is beautiful and I don't think I will ever tire of visiting there. The Alsace region, right on the French/German border is a part of France that we had never been to and so Mitch and I decided to take a quick tour en route to Switzerland. It took us about 5hrs to make it down to our stop for the night - the cute little medieval village of Obernai. I really had no idea what to see in this region so just randomly picked a few places recommended online. Obernai was, well, cute. It was tiny and the buildings were all the typical Alsace style I was expecting. There were lots of bakeries selling yummy treats (we enjoyed various flavoured coconut macaroons which seemed to be common in the area, although I was most disappointed not to find their similar sounding but dissimilar tasting counterpart - the macaron), a few shops and lots of nice little streets to wander around. We had fun trying out our French again and discovered that although we don't speak much Dutch, the little we know is well and truly ingrained in our brains - the second I hear a foreign language, I automatically respond in Dutch now so there were lots of ja and nee and alstublieft flying out of our mouths when we should have been saying s'il vous plait. Oopsies.

After a breakfast of some mouth watering croissants and pain au chocolat the next morning, we set off on our journey to Saint-Maurice in Switzerland - via a few more places of course. Not far from Obernai, Mont Sainte-Odile was a mountain top convent with lovely views over the vineyard filled region.

We then headed further down to a castle, one a little different in appearance to the other French chateaux we have seen in the Loire Valley - Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg. It closes over lunch and by the time we got there, we couldn't go in - but we still managed a nice walk around the castle walls through all the pretty autumn leaves.

Once we were off the motorways and on the quieter country roads, there were vineyards as far as the eye could see. Naturally, we stopped so Mitch could snap a photo or two - if only we had more time for some wine tasting though...

Riquewihr, another medieval village, was our final stop in Alsace before crossing back into Germany and then down to Switzerland (where I discovered that there really is border control over here - driving through customs was a whole new experience, one in which we narrowly avoided a 200 CHF fine for having our motorway sticker stuck up with stickytape - oops). Riquewihr was my favourite out of the villages - the buildings were gorgeous, there were heaps of wine caves for tastings and we enjoyed some delicious French food. I really enjoyed our brief getaway in Alsace - it's a region that I could have easily spent more time exploring and I'm sure that with all our trips to Switzerland over the next couple of years, we'll be back.


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