Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Cards and Bargain shopping

So it is holiday time again and time for the Christmas cards to go out! This year, since we are living in Amsterdam, I used technology to my full advantage. Using Shutterfly.com, I created our Christmas cards (thanks to help from www.ashleyallenphoto.net for some of the pics). Shutterfly was offering a cool "story card" which is really what we needed. Here's a pic of the front of the card. Inside the card is even more pics and writing (not pictured here).
Scarlet Red Story New Year's 5x7 folded card
Create custom new year's invitations with Shutterfly.
View the entire collection of cards.

The coolest part: Shutterfly will take the names and addresses I put in and address the envelopes, stamp and mail the cards for me! SWEEEEEEEET!

Christmas cards were so much easier this year. Time to use technology to your advantage!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The things to love

We had a great Thanksgiving here in Amsterdam. Scott made some deee-licious food. One of our American friends came over with her family and brought pecan pie and mashed potatoes. It was in fact a proper American Thanksgiving, right in the middle of Holland.

While we were eating, the question was posed, "What do you like about living here?" I have been giving it thought over the last several days. Because the real answer is EVERYTHING, I had to narrow it down to a few favorites. Here's a short list.

1. The food. Without doubt. The food is fantastic here! Everything is fresh and mostly small farm grown. No corporate farming over here and Sysco does not take all the food to all the restaurants. The results in food tasting different everywhere you go. Yummy. Of course the down side is that not too many items have preservatives in them, so it requires frequent trips to the grocery store. I'll take that deal every time.

2. The weather. It is really great weather. It is colder than Houston, but Houston is too hot. Since I had become acclimated to the weather in Houston, I had no idea how bad our weather was. Having been here, I appreciate how awfully hot it was in Houston. I may be fussing about the weather on month 6 of winter in the near future, but for now I am LOVING it!

3. The travel. Almost everything is within a 2 hour plane ride or a 3 hour high speed train ride. In a short three months, I have already been to Spain, Italy, France, England, Scotland, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, etc... What a great experience! KLM is my new found friend...

4. My job. What a cool job I have! Some travel is certainly required, but it has been a good trade for the experience for our entire family.

5. Let's not forget about the vino! We are slowly learning our European wines and branching away from the Californian wines. Delicious!

6. The pedestrian lifestyle. We walk or bike or take the tram (which is great and cheap!) almost everywhere. I think there are more bikes here than people. It's healthier and there seems to be much less pollution. That's pretty surprising since this is one of the most populated areas of Europe.

7. My fantastic fam! Scott is finally home from the extensive travels back and forth to the US. The kids are loving it here. They tell us all the time that they never want to go back to Houston (mostly because they say it is too hot). This has already been a wonderful experience and we still have 75% more to go! (This pic is one of them sitting by the river running through Paris by the Louvre.)

We are so lucky to have this opportunity. We appreciate it every day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Awww... Sweet Vacation

We moved to Amsterdam August 5, 2010. Scott traveled back and forth to the USA for one week on and one week off until mid-October. He then returned for just over four weeks. I stayed in Amsterdam, well, all over Europe considering my work, and did my best to hold down the fort. It made me truly appreciate what single mothers do. I have been so lucky to have a husband who was involved with the kids to such a great extent. His absence confirmed what I already knew, which was it would be extremely difficult to do it all by myself.

We made it. It was tough. Tougher than I expected. But we made it.

He returned, and five days later, Scott and I went on a four day vacation to Venice, Italy. It was fantastic. We were able to experience high tide. We were able to eat, drink, and sleep. We were able to simply hang out with no "to-do" lists hanging over our heads. It was much needed.

Here is a short video of our holiday together. I look forward to returning to Italy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Patience combined with enjoying...

So far, this sweet European adventure has been good. Now, don't get me wrong. It hasn't been perfect, and it has definitely had some serious downsides. The most obvious downer is that Scott has been in the States for three weeks now. We expect about one more week of him being there before he returns to Amsterdam. We are all so excited about him coming home! Hopefully his trial will be successful (either in damages or in learnings), but certainly him returning will be the highlight for the rest of the Hoopers.

If you can possibly take out of the equation his absence, we have had a good few weeks. In fact, I am currently writing this from Edinburgh, Scotland. We walked (and walked and walked and walked) all over the castle today. The kids, Alex (our friend and nanny), and I had a great time as soon as we arrived here from Amsterdam today. Funny enough, one of the kid's highlights was getting goldfish and an orange juice on the plane... Proof that for some small kids, the fun is simply in the journey.

Scotland has been great; and we've only been here less than 24 hours! Give us the next 3 days and I'll be able to write an entire book!

While Scott has been gone, I have assisted with a cadaver lab in Bristol, England. Cadaver labs are always extraordinarily fun as I learn something every time I attend. This one was especially great because I was able to meet a friend of a friend (Sara's friend Howard --- both of whom are narcissistic and will LOVE seeing their name in a blog! (-; Ha! Kidding, kind of! But really I feel like I have a new really good friend from it.) I have been to Italy for the second time, but truly fallen in love with a town called Padova. I can't wait to take Scott for a quick couple of days get-away upon his return. I was in Bilbao, Spain (northern coast of Spain) and was able to see some beautiful Spanish sights. I have traveled extensively through the Netherlands and had an opportunity to fully appreciate the beauty of the country. I have spent a great deal of time in the UK, although I have yet to go to Ireland...

Aside from the travels, I have had time to spend with some very cool new people. I had a great time hanging out with Stacy and Martin, et al. after a delicious dinner at their place, had a great dinner with Lauren and Eric and Lily, had a play date with Caden's classmate and his mom, and am generally feeling completely at home in terms of friends and people.

Another incredibly fun thing that has happened since Scott left is hunting. What kind of hunting, you may ask? Mouse. Amsterdam being overpopulated for the area has a high population of mice. I would guess that over 75% of homes have a cat. Not because everyone here loves cats either. Bad Cat (the selected name for our (initially) not loved cat that we got when we arrived here) has now caught at least four mice. I say "at least" because that is the number she has caught in the few hours we have spent downstairs in the late evening hours. I have to believe she has caught more... She is a good hunter! As I was petting her and telling her how good of a cat she was for catching so many mice, Caden asked last week, "If she keeps catching mice, we may have to change her name to Good Cat."

My opinion is that she will need to do more than catch mice: I'm thinking more along the lines of learning to do dishes, laundry, or simply clean out her own litter box. (If you look very close, you can make out the mouse just in front of Bad Cat in the pic.)

So times are good, and I don't take one moment for granted, but I sure will be happy when Scott comes back!
(pic of Keali, Caden and Scott sitting riverside in Paris just before he left.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Slowing down...

Well, based on the time span alone since the last blog, it is clear that there has been little time to do anything except the bare minimums. Since the last post, we have moved to Amsterdam as a family, traveled already much of Europe, been separated from one another due to work schedules, had wonderfully healthy kids that keep us running 100 mph, and have generally lived life to its fullest.

While I am generally not a hugely emotional person (just ask my kids!), I have recently been reflecting on how unbelievably lucky we are as a family. Scott and I are both gainfully employed and love our jobs. The kids are both very healthy and (genetically) stubborn. We have all that we could ask for, and more than we ever dreamed of.

Today I took the kids (almost 4 y/o and 5 y/o) to a theme park. We ran and walked for 4-5 hours as we completely ran ourselves silly all over the giant park. The only way it could have been better was if Scott had been able to go with us. As I watched the crowds and children, I happened to notice how many kids there were in wheel chairs, congenitally impaired, etc. I looked at their parents and caregivers and noticed almost all were smiling, happy, and generally excited to be where they were today.

I had to remind myself to not hurry the kids from one ride to another, but to rather let them (and myself) enjoy their explorations of things as simple as the trash can that sucks the trash out of your hands. (We spent a long time there, and virtually every piece of trash within about a 30 foot radius was cleaned up.) All in all, we only rode about 5 rides, many of which were a couple of times. The kids would have told you we did nothing but ride rides. A truly successful and happy day. We recounted which parts were our favorites several times over on our 1.5 hour drive home.

It was a good day to remember that they don't want to hurry the day, so why should I. Time to stop and smell the roses...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A painful adventure

Last week, I started the first of a minimum of two week workout that takes place every morning at 5:50am at Memorial Park. The leader of the "workout" is an ex-Navy Seal. Monday was the first day and approximately 40 other masochistic people showed up with me to begin an intense fitness routine. It was a difficult 1 hour 7 minutes, but it didn't seem that terrible. Tuesday, about 10 people fewer showed up, and those of us that did were visibly limping from the sore muscles. Little did we know what was in store for us on Tuesday. Too many squats, push-ups, and laps over the multi-million dollar bridge in Memorial to count, we all left physically broken.

Wednesday morning, with the crowd now getting much smaller, proved to be a difficult workout, but after Tuesday, we could clearly do anything! Of course we were all dreading Thursday (Tuesday and Thursday have the same instructor). About 10 minutes into it, I was trying to figure out how I was going to leave without being spotted. I am happy to say I couldn't figure out any good way to do it, so I pushed through the misery to complete the workout. Friday seemed much easier. It may have been due to the fact that was the first day I actually felt human again. With only a few excruciatingly sore muscles, as opposed to my entire body, I felt on top of the world! The other contributing factor was that I knew I had Saturday and Sunday off...

Of course the wonderful (?) workouts begin first thing again tomorrow morning. I am motivated to go only because I can actually see and feel the difference after only five days. I hope to continue this beyond one more week. However, life sort of gets in the way. Getting home at 7:07am doesn't allow much time to get dressed, lunches made, kids to school, and get to early morning cases. Maybe the adventure needs to include getting it all done before I leave at 5:30am, and then finding a place to get ready for work so as to be able to go directly to work from there. (I don't see it happening.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reality check

We have officially returned to reality. In no way would I want to deny or minimize we had some of the most amazing experiences while we were in Hawaii. We had the opportunity to bicycle down from the 10,000 foot Haleakala volcano, have dinner beach side at the Ritz, among other things. However, one thing that has been missing since we returned: gifts. Everyday we were surprised with a gift left in our hotel room, sometimes local art, sometimes clothing, sometimes complete random things (I had no idea what a puolos was until I received one!). The consistency was that there was always a gift and it was always nice. It may sound as if I am suffering from some kind of an entitlement syndrome, but you may be surprised how you yourself would respond to being completely spoiled like that! It is so easy to get used to that.

However as I write this, I am reminded of an incident that may disprove my complaint of not getting any gifts since we arrived back in Houston. It so happens that Caden (4 y/o) gave me a gift of unexpected proportions last night. Summoned upstairs by Keali (3 y/o), we found the gift: poop rubbed on the bathroom wall. Fortunately it wasn't much in quantity. Unfortunately, any quantity was more than I would have ever asked for. Truly disgusting.

This last story proves I should be careful what I ask for... Perhaps the law of unintended consequence is trying to tell me something...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The trip continues...

Whale watching off the coast of Maui - check. Snorkeling off the coast of Maui - check. Doing them both on a $3.5 million catamaran - priceless. So it's clear to me that we have been given opportunities and adventures of a lifetime while we are on this trip, but this exceeded my expectations ten-fold.

It is interesting to me that a couple would buy a boat worth $3.5 million and that it took 3 years to build the boat. More interesting to me is that they lease it out to select groups almost daily. I would be terrified that some tourist would mess up my boat! However, the other side of the coin is this: who would know and/or appreciate your investment if you don't share it with complete strangers?! I for one am glad they share.

Today was a beautiful day with wonderful weather. It even pales last night's dinner which was hosted at a $13 million home. (That's not a misprint.) The home is owned as a second home by a couple that vacation in Hawaii two weeks a year, so they felt that it was prudent to have a home here. They evidently didn't feel it was a good idea to be without EVERY amenity offered in today's world, including, but not limited to, an infinity edge swimming pool.

I believe that Hawaii is a beautiful place and a fabulous place to vacation, but this has certainly been the way to see it! What a great adventure so far, and more to come over the next 3 days. Aloha!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A trip to Hawaii...

Since Scott and I sat on a plane and tried to list all fifty states without consulting the Continental Magazine (hey, I never said I was good at geography), I have been tracking which of the fifty states I have been to and how I will get to mark the next one off the list. Honestly, I certainly never thought I would mark Hawaii off the list. After all, there are so many closer beaches to go to, and seemingly, if you have seen one, you've seen 'em all! Certainly I was pleased to learn I won a trip to Hawaii through my company and would be able to cross it off the list!

We arrived four days ago and have had a blast. Admittedly, the accommodations of a suite at the Ritz Carlton can drastically improve one's satisfaction level, but even beyond that, the island is beautiful. We are on Maui which I learned was created from two volcanoes. In learning (what little I did) about the island, I even learned that the two volcanoes are now connected by an isthmus. (Definitions from texting Google are yet one more reason I love Google!) While it is very windy, the scenery and waves crashing to the beach are fabulous. I personally love a good cold Miller Lite pretty much anytime, but it does seem to be even better when I am on "island time".

We have done many of items on the must do list, including attending a luau, driving the Hana highway, and eating at Momma's Fish House. Activities planned over the next few days include snorkeling, bicycling down the largest of the two volcanoes, and eating more good food. The trip has far exceeded my expectation of yet another beach vacation. I will excitedly cross Hawaii off of my list, but I am so happy I was able to visit this beautiful place.