Slow Cooker Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff

My kids love to help me in the kitchen. When it was just my son and I home all day we would bake all the time. I thought it was the perfect afternoon activity. We spent time together, he leaned a few things and at the end of it all we had muffins. When my daughter was born things got a little tricky and the kitchen fun stopped. Honestly almost all of the baking stopped. I started using my Slow Cooker every day because time in the kitchen was just to stressful.

IMG_0023

I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. My daughter is now (March 2016) just over 18 months old and is now more capable of following instructions. My son is very nearly 4 and is now more capable of taking turns and helping his sister instead of competing with her. They are both still very good at making messes. I fear this will never change.

Well, this brings me to my SlowCooker Mushroom Stroganoff recipe.

This is a perfect recipe for the kids to get involved in. There is minimal prep, no cutting, no fire (except boiling the noodles and I suggest you don’t let them help with that bit) and a blender is used. My kids LOVE the blender.

This recipe is vegan. I am lactose intolerant and I have a very bad reaction to cow milk so I always cook dairy free. I chose not to put any meat in this but that was a choice. We only eat meat about once a week and I found that this recipe doesn’t need it anyway.

My kids did most of the work with this one. I was just there to supervise and make sure everyone was holding the measuring spoons correctly. Oh, and clean up the mess. There is always the mess.

Start with the mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms: there will actually be a lot of sauce so you can use quite a bit. I used 1 pack (250 grams) but could easily have used 2 packs and it would have been fine.
  • Chopped onion: a big spoon full of pre-chopped onions if you hate cutting onion as much as I do or 1 onion if you don’t mind chopping.
  • Garlic: I used 3 big cloves because I really like garlic but use as much as you think you would like. I like fresh but I have used powdered in a pinch.
  • 1 tbsp dried Oregano
  • 1 bouillon cube. I totally cheat with these. I love them. They add so much flavor without adding a ton of salt.
  • Water: about 1/4 cup.

IMG_0002

Wash the mushrooms and put them in your slow cooker.

In a bowl, add everything else and stir it up.

Next add everything into your slow cooker and stir them up to coat.

For how long? This really depends on your slow cooker and the size of the mushrooms. For a normal one I would go with medium and you should be fine. It will take a minimum of 3 hours for them to get good but they can be left in longer. It wont hurt anything.

Now for the vegan “cheese sauce”

I have made this days before and kept it in the fridge till I needed it so feel free to prep ahead but don’t add it in until just before you are going to eat it.

Ingredients:

  •  Raw cashews: I use a 250 gram pack from the shop. This comes out to just about 1 1/2 cups
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast: you can find this at health food stores and most grocery stores
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp of mustard
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Nut milk: I don’t think it really matters what kind but it will effect the flavor slightly. I generally use almond milk but I have used full fat coconut milk from a can and it was delicious (slightly sweeter but not in a very noticeable way). Use enough to get a nice creamy texture. It generally takes me about 1/2 cup to get the thickness I want. Think pudding.

Put the first 7 ingredients in a blender and get it started. Add the milk slowly until it starts to spin nicely.

When you are ready to eat, put the sauce into the slow cooker with the mushrooms.

IMG_0035
This is what the mushrooms look like after they finish cooking

I add in the “cheese” just before I start the noodles. This gives it a chance to warm up so everything is done at the same time.

IMG_0036
This is the finished sauce. Pretty, right?

This recipe is very adaptable. You could put cubed chicken in the slow cooker at the beginning and I’m sure it would turn out great. Or bacon. MMMMmmmmm bacon. If you want more crispy bacon you could sprinkle it on top. I will sprinkle goat cheese on top of the kids. It’s amazing on it’s own though!

IMG_0040

 

I would like to thank my kids for helping me prepare this today. Half a package of cut onion dumped on the floor was the only casualty so I call it a win!

IMG_0021
My kids “cheese” face is hilarious!

 

Why Having a House Cleaner Put the Fun Back in My Marriage

House work has always been touchy subject between my husband and I. When we were young and first married the house never got cleaned. Seriously it was like a frat house. In all fairness, I was a waitress so I was working crazy hours at night and he was doing shift work and we were both tired and grumpy all the time. Then I had some medical issues that temporarily forced me to stop working and I took over the house work. Then we fought about money, but the house was clean. When I went back to work the same problems arose. Neither one of us honestly and truly felt like it was our responsibility. We stopped fighting about money but the house was always dirty so we fought about that instead.

fast forward a few years….

We had moved to The Netherlands and although I had worked a little my husband and I agreed that it was probably best that I just stayed home.  With all the “money making” pressure gone I embraced the stay at home life. The house was always clean and dinner was always on the table. I learned to knit. Married bliss, 1950’s style.

Then I had our son..

This was a hard transition but we managed for about a year. The house was messy but mostly clean. Meals were still healthy but fast and made without any effort.

Then I got pregnant again (or as my British friends say, “fell pregnant” which I absolutely love) and after a while I was put on “restrictive movement”, this is basically one step away from bed rest. This was because of some concerns for the baby. The idea is that I sit as much as possible and do no heavy lifting and limit going up and down the stairs. Impossible with a toddler running around the house.

My husband is great. He is very supportive. We are a team.

But…

It was the same fight. He had worked all day and didn’t want to come home and clean on the weekends. I wasn’t going to get on my hands and knees and clean a toilette, Dr’s orders. Both sides were completely understandable but that didn’t make it any easier. First I threatened to have someone come in and help with the cleaning. Honestly, we really couldn’t afford it so the threat generally worked for a short time. Then the fights would start again.

7c

The way I saw it, I had very limited time to rest during the day and I should spend it resting not scrubbing. My husband felt that he went away all day for work and when he was home he wanted to spend time with his family and not scrubbing. Again, both very reasonable.

Then one day I saw a FB post from a friend of mine saying that her cleaner was looking for more houses in our area. Honestly, I didn’t even talk to my husband about it. I called her and invited her over for a chat. I was weary because I have always made my own cleaning supplies and used only all natural ingredients. I was sitting at the table chatting with this lovely British woman and she told me that she had skin allergies and that she preferred to not use harsh chemicals in her cleaning. It was like a miracle. So I hired her. I was hugely pregnant with some health worries. I wasn’t going to scrub toilets!!!

We have had some trouble affording my lovely cleaning lady, to be honest. We don’t eat out anymore and I am very careful with our budget. She now comes 2X per month and cleans the house. She scrubs the bathrooms, cleans the floors, and generally cleans the house. It’s amazing. My husband and I no longer fight about the cleaning (we fight about other things but that’s just married life).

Whatever we have to do to afford this lovely woman is totally worth it. My husband and I no longer fight about the cleaning (he still doesn’t pick up his dirty clothes so we fight about that but I think that’s normal). I know that if I have an impromptu play-date I don’t have to worry about the state of the toilets and my husband doesn’t have to spend his valuable family time cleaning.

I still vacuum very regularly and wipe down the bathrooms. Honestly, I couldn’t leave things to be cleaned 2X per month but having this extra help relieves so much pressure. Plus I know that on the night before she comes we have to pick up the entire house. All the toys get put away, amazing!!

It feels extravagant and in a lot of ways I know it is, but it’s totally worth it. When both kids are in school I assume I will take over the job once again. For the time being I love the fact that I have the help. I love the fact that my husband is so understanding and really knows how hard I work. I love the fact that I know that 2X per month my entire house will be cleaned (except the dusting, the windows, the kitchen, the toys and the laundry. I still do all of that.)

To us, life is about choices. We choose to have more time and less money. We can take our kids to the park on the weekends instead of cleaning. Dinners out are rare but we spend lots of time together.

It’s amazing. I would highly recommend it.

IMAG1947

 

My Crockpot: I finally learned that dinners don’t have to be stressful

I love to cook. There are very few things in life that make me as happy as opening a new cookbook and looking at all those beautiful pictures. So many possibilities! And finding new ingredients. So exciting!!

Unfortunately with a hectic schedule and 2 kids under the age of 4 dinners had become the most stressful part of my day. Let me tell you, this is saying something. I used to manage bars and restaurants. I would check the kitchens before each shift to make sure everything was right. At one place I was trained at every cook station and expected to be able to step in and cook if the need ever arose, which it often did.  Stress in the kitchen is not new to me. Time tables and improvising are pretty standard. Still, cooking with 2 kids under the age of 4 in the house is a whole new ball game. Stress to a level that I didn’t know was possible. I don’t care how irate a room full of business men that are going to be late getting back to work after lunch because there was a fire in the kitchen are, it doesn’t hold a candle to a 3 year old screaming because he has the wrong color bowl and a 1 year old insisting to be held while you cook.

how many of these do you relate to?

  • home late and the kids are hungry.Scrambled eggs or sandwiches? Or even worse, take out on the way home.
  • Even these fabulous 15 minute meals that look so great won’t work. 15 minutes for a “normal person” person is at least 1 hour for me. My daughter periodically wants to be held, my son gets upset because my daughter has messed up his block castle and I have to intervene to prevent an all out war.
  • Both kids want to “help” st some point. This means 2 chairs pushed up to my already small space competing for the big spoon and who gets to stir.
  • A miracle happens and I can cook a meal. I won’t be able to clean up after. This means I spend the first hour after the kids are in bed cleaning the kitchen and getting annoyed that dinner has become so stressful.
  • Manage to get halfway through dinner and all hell breaks loose. You end up with the kids eating yogurt and a messy kitchen and tears.

This is why I embraced the slow cooker. At first I used it on days that we were going to be out in the afternoon but for the above reasons I soon started using it every day.

Yes. Every Day!!

I get interesting responses when I tell people this.

  • “I don’t really eat soup”   What? Is that all you think I cook?
  • “Sounds really boring” doesn’t have to be!!
  • “I used to use the crock pot a lot when I worked” And what do you think I’m doing all day?

I would like to clear up a few things and in the process, hopefully, inspire some people to embrace this amazing kitchen tool.

These are a few of the basic meals I make in the slow cooker. I love them because they are easy, delicious and vegetarian. As a family we are not vegetarian but I really want to eat a plant based diet as much as possible. I have never gotten a complaint with these meals!

 

IMAG2333
Basic vegetable soup. A staple in my house!
IMAG2445
Pumpkin Chili. This stuff is AMAZING!
img_20160303_221817.jpg
Black bean burritos. I make the stuffing in the slow cooker and then add some fresh veggies.

 

I started with this basic slow cooker. It’s still wonderful and I still use it regularly for apple sauce and broth. I also take this one with me when we take road trips.

IMG_0002

I was having trouble with overcooking chicken and some vegetables so recently I decided to upgrade to this model. I really love it. It has 3 setting, Low, high and warm. It has a timer that can be set and after that time is up the machine automatically switches to the “warm” setting.  I love this.  I make sure that the crock pot will be on the “warm”setting for at least an hour before dinner because the food is at the perfect temperature for my kids to eat. It is also huge! A friend of mine called it “the beast” and it stuck. I wanted to be able to do an entire chicken and veg at the same time.

IMAG1881

 

One complaint that I did get from my husband was that the entire meal tasted the same. It’s true that when you put potatoes, veg and honey mustard chicken in the slow cooker everything tastes like honey mustard chicken by the end of the day. This is why I have been experimenting lately with “pouch cooking” in my slow cooker. It helps if you think of the slow cooker as a little oven instead of a cooking pot.

This is one example.

Potatoes get washed and stuck with a fork and go into foil. I put green beans into a pouch of foil with a few teaspoons of water. Then a stacked them in one side. Then I put ribs coated in BBQ sauce in the other. When you are ready to eat all you have to do is mash the potatoes like normal.

Amazing, right?!?

This is another.

Meatloaf meatballs, green beans and mashed potatoes.

 

As you can tell we really like mashed potatoes and green beans. I probably need to branch out a little.

There are many occasions when I have both slow cookers going at the same time

IMG_0005
Duel slow cookers! One is filled with dinner and the other with apple sauce.

So I really love my slow cooker. I feel like it has enables me to enjoy my kids a little more, or at least scream a little less. I know this won’t last forever. Soon my son will be in school and my daughter will be able to play on her own a bit more. When this happens I will be able to spend a little more time in the kitchen. For now, the slow cooker ranks right up there in my “must have” list with the coffee machine and the dishwasher.

 

I will end this with my Slow Cooker Haiku, because I love my slow cooker so much I felt like it deserves a Haiku.

 

I love my crock pot

life with kids can be stressful

it helps me smile more

 

 

Speelbos De Kemmer

I love a good Speelbos ( translated to Play Forest) . These are bits of nature that have something to do for kids. Speelbos De Kemmer has animals carved into the wood around the place for the kids to find. There is also a fitness route with stops along the way to do different exercises. These are for grown ups but really fun for the kids as well. You can find the website here sorry it is in Dutch. It’s in Oirschot, about a 15 minute drive outside of Eindhoven.

IMG_0070

Basically it is a walking trail through a wooded area with scattered wooden carvings.

IMG_0026

The kids had a great time. I love my kids being in nature. Exploring and discovering. They mostly love getting really dirty. I know now to pack wet wipes, a towel and a complete change of clothes for both kids.

They will get muddy. They will get messy. If your lucky it will be warm outside and you can just strip them to their undies and put them in the car when you are ready to go. The nice thing about this is, however, that a bath is a requirement when we get home. This make the  total time spent on the outing another hour, This is a huge bonus for me because they are getting clean and having fun doing something other than making a mess or begging for TV time.

Negatives about De Kemmer is that it is so close to the highway. There isn’t even a proper fence. The area is pretty big and the highway is only along one side but it’s still the highway. I did feel the need to tell my son not to go near the cars at one point. Another slightly annoying thing about the place is the lack of picnic tables. This is a really small thing but it would have been nice to have a place to take a break about halfway through the route.  Lastly is the people out with their dogs. The speelbos near us has “no dog”signs posted everywhere but I didn’t see any here. People also ride horses through the paths. This is awsome for the kids who get really excited about horses but less so for the poop. How are people so annoyed with dog poop but OK with horse poop? I don’t like either in a place my kids play. Poop is poop.

All in all it was a great day out. I will go back with the kids when the weather is a bit warmer. It’s so nice that there are these nature reserves so many places in The Netherlands. It’s very important for kids to be outside and getting dirty.

IMG_0076

 

 

 

 

Raw Salsa (or 5 minute salsa that my 3 year old can make) Recipe

imag3075.jpg

I love salsa. As a native Texan I think that salsa and ranch dressing are just about the only condiments I will ever need. A few years ago I started a vegetable garden and quickly had more tomatoes than I could ever eat so I leaned to can vegetables and started making salsa. I swore I would never but store bought again. Last year there was a tiny disaster (I say tiny because there are very real disasters in the world). I planted my garden and during a trip home to see family, Eindhoven had a crazy random heat wave killing my entire garden.

no tomatoes! no salsa! no delicious breakfast burritos or “Mexican” salads!

But honestly the idea of buying tomatoes from the shop or market to can salsa wasn’t very appealing either. For a while I was buying salsa from the shop. GASP!

I was playing on the internet one day and came across “raw salsa”. This was an amazing revelation to me. Of course you don’t have to cook it!

I started playing with ingredients and soon we were making homemade raw salsa every week! My son loves to help in the kitchen and because there is minimal prep and no fire he is now “in charge” of the salsa. I only cut up the veg.

this is so easy!

imag2883.jpg

Ingredients:

  1. 1 bell pepper
  2. garlic ( I used 2 large cloves but use as much as you like)
  3. 1 onion (I used 2 small onions this time because that’s what I had)
  4. chilies ( I love these little Merza green peepers because they have a little heat to them but mostly just have a nice flavor)
  5. 2 tbs lime juice
  6. 1 tbs coriander
  7. 1 tbs cumin
  8. optional: chili powder.
  9. one can of cubed or chopped tomato

My kids don’t like anything very hot or spicy  so this isn’t hot at all. If you prefer yours hot, add some chili powder. Use as much chili powder as you like. Or fresh chilies. Really this is such a great recipe because it is so adaptable.

imag3067.jpg

Put the first 4 ingredients in a blender (you can use a food processor as well). Pulse till they are in little chunks then add everything else and blend it until it’s at the consistency you like.

imag3071.jpg

Done and Done. Easy right!?!

This salsa is  really light and fresh tasting. this will not preserve so don’t try to can it but it freezes really well. It will keep in the fridge for about a week and in the freezer for a really long time.

I use this salsa just about every day with my breakfast, It works so well on scrambled eggs or on a breakfast burrito. It not only tastes amazing but also adds a lot of veggies to any meal.

img_20160204_092248.jpg

Give it a try. Play with the ingredients and make something amazing!

 

 

Slow Cooker Pumpkin and Bean Chili Recipe

I love my slow cooker. I use it every night. It’s the only way I have found that I am able to handle everything I need to do during the day. This Slow Cooker Pumpkin and Bean Chili is one of my favorites. As soon as it starts to get even the slightest bit cool I run for the pumpkin and throw together a big batch (that never seems to be big enough). In case you are wondering about the pumpkin, no your chili will not taste like pumpkin. I had to argue with my Grandmother about this. I’m not exaggerating, it was an argument about whether I could or could not put pumpkin in my chili. It was like we were debating politics! But as a Southern Grandma she takes her chili very seriously. She has been converted BTW. The pumpkin adds an amazing creaminess to the dish. It is also probably a bit healthier, I don’t know the exact breakdown of vitamins in pumpkin but I always assume that the more veg in any dish the better.

This pumpkin chili checks all the boxes. Its rich and thick and filling. I know it’s very un-Texan to put  beans in my chili but considering I don’t eat meat I’m willing to break with tradition. I will occasionally  add shredded goat cheese for the kids (this make it no longer vegan) but they prefer it with cheese and if it helps them eat their dinner I’m fine with it. This chili is my daughters favorite meal so we have it often. I’m totally fine with that It is so comforting and warm. The perfect thing for a cold, rainy day. It’s also thick enough for a 1 1/2 year old to eat with a spoon on her own.

I prep all of the fresh ingredients ahead of time and add the canned or tinned food on the day.

IMAG2382

Ingredients:

  • pureed pumpkin: This was a really big one so I only used half but with a small one I would use the whole thing. If you live in a place where you can buy a tin of pureed pumpkin you can use this instead but fresh will always be better
  • 2 onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • beans. here I used about a cup of black beans but I have also used black eyed peas and it worked very well.
  • carrots. I love these bit winterpeen carrots for cooking. Probably because I hate peeling carrots and, therefor, the bigger the better.
  • zucchini or courgette (same vegetable but called different things depending on where you live)
  • garlic
  • 1 can tomato cubes or “blokjes”
  • 1 container of pureed tomato
  • 2 peppers (use whatever one will give you the “heat” you want)
  • 1 tbs Coriander
  • 1 tbs Cumin
  • 2 tbs soy sause
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • bullion cubes ( these are my “dirty little secret”. I put them in everything.) I use the Zonnatura brand because they are organic

 

Start by prepping your veg. I shredded 2 big carrots and 1 zucchini. I baked 1 pumpkin and used half. I cut the bell pepper and onion into chunks. I also cut up about 3 cloves of garlic and 2 chilli peppers but use as much as you like! If you prefer your chili more “chunky”cut up the carrots into chunks instead of shredding them.

IMAG2387

I also added 2 bullion cubes and the spices.

IMAG2388

This is half of the baked pumpkin.

Then it all goes into the slow cooker.

IMAG2396

Starting to look pretty!

Now add in the tomato blokjes, lime juice, soy sauce and puree.

IMAG2403

Give it a stir

IMAG2405

I set mine for 8 hours. This machine will automatically switch to “low”after that time.

IMAG2408

After it is done you will have the most amazing vegan chili EVER!

I will say that it is not spicy at all. My kids don’t like very spicy food so I keep it mild and add Tabasco to my bowl. It would be very easy to add chili powder and such if you want it hot.

I like to add avocado and grated goat cheese. No longer vegan so decide on toppings based on your own diet.

IMAG2445

This is my daughters favorite meal. When I put it in front of her I got a “hooray for chili”

IMAG2435

The really nice thing about this recipe is that it is truly adaptable. If you don’t have pumpkin, use a squash, or sweet potato puree. It’s for thickness and added nutrition so any thick puree would work. Like yours spicy? Add some chilli powder. Use whatever bean you have on hand. Or no bean. Or lentils. It’s a very forgiving recipe! Perfect for a “throw together” weeknight meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Least Favorite Toddler “Games”

I used to get very “sanctimomy” with people who would complain about their toddlers, or their kids in general really. I’m brave enough to admit it. I used to think things like “how can you say such things about your kids? They are a blessing!” “But they are so sweet.” “It can’t possibly be that bad. Maybe you should just learn to relax”.

Oh. Did. I. Learn.

Toddlers are hard. Very hard. It’s like they go from a sweet little baby to the exorcist child over night. People say “the terrible twos” but I think it starts much earlier. And lasts much longer.

Here is what I have learned:

Yes. It is a magical age when they are just discovering that they have opinions

Yes. They are trying to express themselves but don’t have the language skills yet

Yes. They are exploring the world

Yes. They are gaining independence but still need help, but don’t want help

Yes. They are trying to understand very big feelings that they really don’t understand

 

I know all of these things and I understand and agree with all of them.

But toddlers are frustrating and anyone who says they aren’t either doesn’t have kids or had them so long ago that they don’t remember. For all the reasons why this is such a magical and exciting age, this is also the most frustrating (My oldest is only 3 1/2 so I understand I still have allot to experience).

Because this needs to be written down, here are my least favorite toddler games.

  1. The “up and down the stairs game”. I swear they don’t want anything, they just want to go up and down. All Day
  2. The  “shoes on shoes off game”. This also works with socks. My toddler will cry holding one foot in the air insisting that I put her shoe on or take it off every few minutes until I hide all the shoes.
  3. The “lets go into the kitchen and point at things that I may want but actually don’t” game. Because what they actually want is a cookie, and there are no cookies because I got tired of all the tantrums over cookies and cut my family off.
  4. The “I’m starving but I don’t know what I want so we are going to try everything” game so I will take one bite out of everything you offer me and scream.
  5. The “I don’t want my diaper changed” game. This can also be called the “look how much poop I can get all over everything” game.
  6. The “I can take off my own diaper game”. This often has a very similar outcome to number 5.
  7. The “throw bunny (substitute any very special thing that the child can not live without) out of the stroller constantly” game.
  8. The “I don’t want this so I will put it down mommy’s shirt” game. It’s like a fruit salad in there by the end of the day.
  9. The “I will only eat if I am being held and wiping my hands and face on your shoulder” game.
  10. The “I want to press the button and god help you if you press it first” game.

 

Yes. This is a magical age. It really is. I loved watching my son learn and grow and I am loving watching my daughter do the same. I also know that with every 1 of these annoying games toddlers play there are a million other incredibly wonderful sweet and fun things that they do. But I’ll tell you, when you are exhausted and your toddler is playing at least one (good chance many) of these games it’s really hard.

I survive by trying to understand that if I’m this frustrated with the situation my child must be having an even harder time.

I survive by reminding myself that they aren’t making me crazy on purpose. They are trying to cope with a big, new and scary world.

I survive by holding them, taking a deep breath and looking forward to the biggest glass of wine ever after they are finally in bed.

I survive by knowing that I did the best I could that day.  If not that I will try harder tomorrow.

imag2311

 

What games do your toddlers play that makes you crazy? How do you/did you survive the toddler years?  I would love to hear some stories!!

Science Center Nemo, Amsterdam: A Grand Family Day Out

wp-1453578706934.jpeg

We recently spent a grand family day out at the Science Center Nemo in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This place is truly epic! The building itself is located in Amsterdams Eastern dockland just a short walk for Amsterdam Central (Central Station, this is where all the trains come into Amsterdam) and very close to the National Maritime Museum. The building itself is really spectacular. It was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and opened in 1997. The building houses 12 different exhibitions on 5 different floors. The museum is changing all the time as well. There are new activities, demonstrations, and exhibits all the time so it’s always a new and fun experience.

on it’s website, Science Center Nemo describes itself as:

a science center: an interactive, informal learning environment in which the general public comes into contact with science and technology

This sums it up pretty well but for my kids it was more a massive playground.

Nemo attracts an impressive 500,000 people per year. No wonder why, honestly.

At the end of the article I will give specifics about parking and transportation options as well some other things that I feel would have been nice to know before we got there.

wp-1453578724976.jpeg

 

My husband has been working allot of hours for the last few weeks so he decided to take a day off midweek to spend with us. We thought we would use this “extra” family day to do something fun and different. I had just gotten the Dutch Museum Pass so we thought that Nemo was the perfect place to spend the day.

We had a blast. It’s like a giant playground. It’s full of so many fun things to do. It’s all science based, but really fun and experimental.

There is a water play area where you learn about water purification by transferring buckets of water from one pump to the next.

There is a whole area dedicated to bubbles

 

I don’t know what this is but it took a picture of shadows and it was really fun

There was other water play

All kinds of fun stuff to do there!

Seriously. I had as much fun as the kids!

The really nice this about Nemo is that all age groups will have a great time there. My 1 1/2 year old really enjoyed running around and climbing on things. She loved that fact that she could touch everything and there wasn’t anything she could break. I also felt comfortable giving her a bit of space there. She is a very strong willed independent child and really wants to explore but she doesn’t often get to go all “free range” in such an interesting place. I was able to stay a few feet away and really let her explore. It was really fun watching her interact. My 3 1/2 year old is just starting to learn about science and he is just now becoming very curious about the world around him. It was a constant “what is this”,  “what does that do”, “what is that noise” from him. He loved it and is still talking about it a week later but in another year or so he will love it so much more. He will be able to figure things out on his own and he will really be able to explore the science behind the play. It will be very fun!

Added bonus: all the descriptions and instructions through the entire museum were in Dutch and English!

Also: There is staff everywhere! They are all so friendly and speak English. They will help the kids if they are having trouble and make sure everyone is safe. I felt really sure that my kids were safe there.

Transportation:

This is a link to the transportation section of the Nemo website. Honestly, I didn’t read this before we left. I just set the GPS to the address of the museum and expected there to be parking. I was very wrong, the building is surrounded by water and directly on top of a highway tunnel.

We ended up parking at the Oosterdok (Eastern Dock) Parking garage (This page is in Dutch), it’s the recommended parking garage on the museum info page. It’s a really short walk from the museum. My son could walk from the museum to the car in less time than it took for him to finish his “it’s the only way we could bribe him out of the door” ice cream. ( I know, bribes are bad but I have made my peace with it) The trick is to give the person at the front desk your parking ticket and you will get 30% off your parking. You can still pay at the machine as well. On the parking ticket there is a bar code that “stamps” the date and time. Nemo has a machine that adds another little section to the bar code that will automatically register the discount. It’s actually really cool. We were parked for around 4 hours and we payed 11 Euros and some change. For over 5 hours and, I think under 24, it is 12 Euros plus the 30% discount.

There are cheaper parking options depending on how far away you are willing to be. You can park at the Transferium  (sorry, this is also in Dutch). This is a parking garage located at Ajax Stadium just outside Amsterdam. You have to take a train into Central Station, bank on around 30 minutes from your car to central station. Under 10 hours will cost you 1 Euro to park and then you have to pay for the train. Prices for the train will depend on if you have an OV Chipcard or not, I think last time I parked there I payed a total of 5 Euros for parking and the train.

You can also get to Central Station by train from anywhere in The Netherlands. From Eindhoven it takes about 1 1/2 hours to get to Amsterdam Central by train. You can visit the Dutch Train Website to find information about times and prices from your area.

Walking:

When you leave Central Station (and have your back to the building) turn left and walk down the road. It’s really that easy. Follow the water until you see the big green building.

Food:

At the time of our visit there were 2 options. There is a coffee bar on the 1st floor that sells coffee and muffins and such. There is also a small cafeteria on the 2nd floor that sells actual food. They have drinks and a small selection of sandwiches or wraps and things that can be cooked in an oven. Sausage rolls, hot dogs, mini pizza things….. It says on the website that you can bring in your own food but you have to eat it in designated areas so I opted to just buy lunch there. I saw so many people unwrap their own food at the tables that I was a little annoyed. Honestly I don’t mind getting my kids that kind of food. It’s “special” to them because they don’t get it often but I would have brought myself a salad.

We were told that there is a permanent restaurant on the 5th floor that is currently under construction and that the 2nd floor place is only temporary. I don’t have a date that it’s expected to be done but I’m very excite. I’ll bet the view will be spectacular.

Update:

The 5th floor restaurant is now open and it is really lovely. They offer all kinds of food from hamburgers to salads and even have a fresh juice section. There is plenty of seating inside and it is a really good option for an easy lunch.

The New Outdoor Space!!

Even more exciting than the restaurant is the new outdoor patio and play space. There is plenty of seating and spectacular views.

You can bring a picnic and eat here while the kids play (that’s what we did). I love places that I can bring in my own food. Even if you aren’t trying to save a bit of money wherever possible (like me) I often find it easier bring a lunch. The only downside is that it’s basically one big staircase. The only reason that I mention it is that, while very cool, it could be a problem for younger kids.

The views are really great.

You can access the patio and restaurant from outside the museum via a staircase and an elevator.

Lockers:

There are lockers that you can rent for your coats and such. They require a 50 cent coin but you get it back at the end of the day.

Location:

If you are facing the entrance and walk to the right you will find a dock full of old a beautiful boats. Seriously, it’s like 10 steps. We didn’t explore much because it was raining but I think the kids would really enjoy walking up and down looking at the pretty boats. There is also a dock to the left that you have to pass as you walk back to the parking garage. This one is full of little hotel boats. Very cool place to stay if you find yourself wanting a small room for a very reasonable price in Amsterdam.

I’m so glad we went and I look forward to going back!

Mommy Away Time

I think mommy away time is invaluable for the entire family. I have been away over night 2 times since I have had kids. The first was on a 3 night trip to Lisbon with a friend. This was EPIC. So much fun but I must admit that it was a little much for the first time. I thought about my son constantly and probably talked about him more than my single bff really wanted! The second was really recent. I went on a 1 night trip with a mommy friend, only 1 1/2 hour away. At the time I thought that only one night was better but now I’m not so sure. It probably should have been 2 nights. It’s so important for a mom to get away over night.

I’m always shocked at the reaction I get when I tell moms that I go away for the night.

  • “and you don’t have family around to help”
  • “what will your husband do? “
  • “and your husband takes care of the kids?”
  • “does he cook?”
  • “I could never be away from my kids for even one night”
  • and my favorite: “Your husband lets you do that? “

 

Moms need to have at least one “away night”every year. Honestly I think it should be way more often but financially it’s not always possible.

Why?:

  1.  Mom gets away. This is important for 2 reasons. Moms need to get away! We need time to relax and refocus. It makes us better moms! It also allows moms to separate from their kids a little. My kids are the most important people in my life, they are my whole world, but this isn’t forever. They need to become independent beings able to function on their own and this needs to happen faster than any new parent wants to admit. Separating a bit or “cutting the apron strings” is important. Now before anyone calls me neglectful, all I’m saying is that it’s good to relinquish control for a little while.
  2. This also leads me to the next HUGE reason mommy’s need to get away: Dad. Again, there are few things that will happen. First, Dad will understand what a mommy does all day. They should know, but often they don’t. Or maybe they don’t fully grasp the fact that it’s very common for moms to  have not gone to the bathroom without a small child on their lap in years. I know that work is stressful ( I wasn’t always a stay at home) but taking care of kids all day is a different kind of stress and it’s really important that everyone can understand what Mom is handling on a daily basis.  Second, he will have some quality bonding time with his children. This is really important! My husband spends about an hour with the kids in between the time he gets home from work and their bedtime.  Multiply this by 5 days and It’s a very short amount of time.
  3. mommies need to understand that other people can handle things. I have seen to many women get themselves into this “I am the only one who can take care of the kids “mindset. All this leads to is burnout. Two years down the road mom is crying because she has to do everything and is getting no break and no support and dad is confused and frustrated because he was never aloud to help with anything and this is all taking him by surprise.
  4. The kids need to learn that there are other people who love them and can help them. If I had to identify myself with one parenting label it would be attachment parenting or gentle parenting. I am a co-sleeping, baby wearing, breastfeeding kinda mommy. That being said, I am not the only one my kids should turn to if they need help. I am with my kids all day, every day. It’s really easy for them to run to me for everything. Although I love feeling important and valued it is also important for them to know that there are other people in the world that love them and can care for them as much as I do.

 

So why is all this so difficult for a stay at home parent?

Our kids and house are our whole world. The parent who works outside the home has a way to be valued that is very tangible. You work. You get a pay check. Stay-at-homes don’t get this. It’s like our entire self worth is in the fact that we are needed by our kids. This is a very dangerous thing. If  a mom feels that her husband can’t cook, clean, take care of the kids it leaves mom with a huge job that at some point she will fail at. I’m sorry. I consider myself Super Mom, but I know that I can’t handle everything.

If parenting is a job, I deserve a break from time to time. I breast fed my daughter for about 15 months. I was attached to her at the boob, literally. My husband and I weaned her in Dec. (I say my husband and I, but honestly he did all the hard work) and I went away for a night with a friend 2 weeks later.

Now …

It was only 1 night and we were a 1 1/2 hour train ride away, but still. I was away!!

I was missing my kids like crazy by the time I got home but I thoroughly enjoyed my “away time”.

My kids learned that they could go to daddy with some of their problems. My husband learned that having 2 kids under the age of 4 is a very difficult but rewarding thing to experience every day. I learned that someone else could handle things if I am gone. I also learned that although I sometimes miss the calm and quiet life I had before I had kids I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

And I think that’s the most important part of mommy away time.

Cologne Christmas Markets: 2015

The Yearly Christmas Market in Cologne or Koln is our favorite, we go every year. There are actually many different markets in the city and they are all connected by a cute little “train”. I would have loved to ride around on it but there was no room for the stroller. Maybe next year.

We generally only go to the largest 2 of the markets. I don’t know why we never went to the others before we had kids, I suppose we spent so much time at these 2 that we never got around to the others. Now we only go to the 2 because we have kids.

My kids have about a 3 hour window where they are happy. After 3 hours everyone is tired and grumpy and wants to go home.We left the house a little later than I had planned, it’s hard getting out the door first thing but we made it to Cologne just before lunch time.

The parking garage we normally parked at moved the entrance because of construction so we had to find somewhere else to park. The garage we found was actually in a much better location because instead of being directly under one of the markets it was more centered between the 2. Unfortunately although it gained in location it  also gained in scary. It was a spiral that went directly up so it a series of left turns that people were taking a little to fast.  There was no elevator so my husband and I had to carry our giant stroller down the stairs with my 1 1/2 year old in it. The place also reeked of urine. At one point my 3 year old said “eeuuuww Mommy, someone peed in here” . Oh well. It was a good location!

First we went to the Market directly outside the Dom ( German for Cathedral). This market is small but really lovely. Stalls full of great food and lovely objects set against an amazing backdrop of the church. Here we started out food adventure.The food is absolutely the best part!

We started with deep fried potato pancakes served with apple sauce, these are my favorite

IMG_0380

then we moved on to French Fries, special request from my son. Honestly, they were the best fries I have ever had! Covered in mayo, of course.

Then we had pork on a stick. Because everything is better on a stick!

IMG_0413

There is also a cut little carousel that we had to ride!

Of course I got my Gluhwein and my souvenir cup!

IMG_0419

We went inside the cathedral because the kids were cold and I’m really glad we did. The kids really enjoyed exploring and I really enjoyed the warm. Plus it is a really beautiful church and I haven’t been inside in years.

Then we took a short walk to the next market. This one is my favorite. Its bigger and everything is carved in wood. It has a very rustic, old world feel and I love it.  It’s at the Stadthaus, In case anyone goes looking for it.

IMG_0458

In this market we drank gluhwein and ate the wonderful open faced cheese sandwiches. We ate and wondered. So many lovely things!

And there was a Ferris Wheel and another carousel! Great fun!

And then everyone was really tired and ready to go home. We were in Cologne a little longer than I thought we would be, it was pushing 4 hours when we left. The kids were exhausted and very ready for a break.

Luckily we brought our carrier so my son didn’t have to walk. He was able to ride in the carrier while my daughter was in the stroller. Or being carried.

It was a really good day. I really love the market here and look forward to going every year.

My tips for next year:

Bring more drinks for the kids. I brought 1 juice box (these are only given out on special occasions) for each kid and their water bottle and they still ran out. I was able to buy water for them in the market but it was served in a real glass. Not very good for kids

More snacks. My son is going through a picky eating phase. All he would eat all day were those french fries. He was a tired puddle of exhausted low blood sugar on the way back to the car.

Investigate parking before you go. If your anything like me, lack of planning will end up in a fight a fight with the hubby.

Get there early. This is always the plan but it rarely ever works out.

This was the only Christmas market we were able to visit this year and we almost didn’t go. I’m so glad we did!