Monthly Archives: January 2016

A world of books (Or: A new library card)

It is time to renew my library card. Over here in the Netherlands, library card fees are not part your property taxes so you have to pay for one separately. On the plus side, it is pretty inexpensive to get a library card – children’s passes are free, with additional discounts based on age (it’s cheaper if you are 18 to 25 or over 65, for instance).

I’ve always been in love with libraries. I can still remember as a kid checking out 15-20 Hardy Boys mystery books at a time (I never got into the Nancy Drew mystery books, unfortunately). And amazingly, not having that many late books. After that I moved on to the Science fiction / fantasy books section for adults, so my time in the children’s department was over.

Here in the Netherlands I’ve had a basic pass for the last three years – I remember feeling antsy waiting for enough identification proof to come in to be able to get one (like in the US, you need to prove you live where you say you live, so I needed to wait for something to be mailed to me with my name and address on it).

This year, I decided to go with one of the options above the basic one. I went with a Sterpas (Star pass):

Sterpas library card (The Hague)

The main difference is how many books you can check out at a time (12 books versus 18) and how long you can have them (3 weeks versus 4, with two renewals regardless of your card type). To be honest, it’s not like I ever expect to need more than 12 books at a time – I’m not a kid anymore – but the four weeks lending period is nice. There’s a few other benefits, like maximum 18 free reservations (yes, it’s not free in this country like it might be in parts of the US) and free movies/games/etc, rather than paying a euro and a half per piece.

Sterpas library card (The Hague) and website

Library card with the library website behind it

If you’re living in the Netherlands and looking to learn Dutch, keep in mind the Central Library of The Hague has a pretty big collection to help you out. It’s now on the 2nd floor, by the escalators. I’ve previously written about the “Leer Nederlands” collection.

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Kiss the tax goodbye (Or: Media Markt’s 2016 BTW actie)

For a few days at least…

Tomorrow (from 6pm Wednesday the 27th through Sunday the 31st) begins Media Markt’s “btw-vrij actie” for 2016. Media Markt is one of the larger electronics stores in the Netherlands. In this country, tax is included in the price listed, rather than added on at the register. During this sale, most items will be tax-free. There are of course some notable exceptions like Apple products, gaming consoles, movies, computer software… but if you are looking for big ticket appliances like fridges or microwaves, this weekend is your best bet.

Media Markt btw vrij actie

Except of course it still pays to do research beforehand. For one, Media Markt is both an online website and franchise stores, and availability and prices can vary a bit between each franchise. The other reason to do research is that the price you pay at Media Markt without tax might just be the same you would pay at another store with tax.

Oh, and except HUGE crowds that make it all but impossible to navigate through the store. Sort of like America’s Black Friday shopping day, but only at one retailer and marginally more manageable.

Happy shopping!

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A different way to relax (Or: Adult coloring books)

You heard me. Coloring books… for adults! You thought coloring was only for kids? Think again. I asked (and received) one as a Christmas present, along with a nice set of coloring pencils. I decided to start coloring it in while waiting for the SpaceX launch this past Sunday (Spoiler: the overall mission was successful but the attempt to land the rocket on a barge in the ocean failed).

Of course, the designs are more intricate in an adult coloring book than one for a kid:

Adult coloring book with colored pencils

This one took me two and a half days (though, being an adult I can’t spend the entire day coloring. Sadly.) But it’s about as relaxing as putting a jigsaw puzzle together, something I used to do last year. Actually, I need to start doing that again…

Even libraries have started to notice this new hit, offering “social coloring groups”.

Here is the coloring book I have (which Dutchies can buy at bol.com):

Adult coloring book in the Netherlands

And a few looks at the pages inside:

Adult coloring book (more blank pages)

The only thing I wish was that the format was a spiral book. The pictures go right to the edge of the page, which makes it hard to color. Another type of coloring book is the mandala coloring book. A mandala is a sacred symbol in both Hinduism and Buddhism made from squares and circles. The original research about coloring mandalas as an anxiety reducer can be found in the Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association (pdf available through ERIC).

Adult coloring book (blank pages)

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Beautiful lamps (Or: A light burns deep inside)

Recently I attended an after New Years party. Here is a look at one very pretty lamp, shrouded in darkness:

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Unfortunately no one knows where it was purchased.

Categories: The Hague | 3 Comments

Stir frys (Or: Garlic, chili and broccoli)

Marco surprised me tonight with a stir fry for dinner. He altered the receipe slightly, adding rice and a bit of chicken to change it from a side dish to a full meal:

Garlic, chili and broccoli stir fry

Garlic, chili and broccoli stir fry

Yum!

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Souvenirs (Or: Way more Delft blauw then a person ever needs)

I recently went to Xenos to look for chocolate chips for baking. I didn’t find any, but M&Ms from Albert Heijn did just as well in the end. While wandering around I came across what I call the souvenirs/Delft blauw section:

Souvenir items at Xenos in The Hague

It is of course much cheaper to buy these items here than in a souvenir shop. I try to keep that in mind when we visit other countries. Always try and find the discount stores as it is possible the same souvenirs are there.

Some items are pretty cool too. At the bottom left there are some The Hague mugs with drawings of some of the more famous spots in the city. We gave one to my sister-in-law when we visited for Thanksgiving.

Categories: Shopping | 4 Comments

Saving up for luxury knives (Or: Albert Heijn action)

The weather is absolutely, positively cruddy today. It’s been raining all day — even pouring during the evening commute. Yuck!

On another note, it is my 4 year anniversary by WordPress today. Hard to believe.

Albert Heijn (a grocery store) has been running a promotion the last few months. Save up 50 stamps and you can exchange them (for a bit of money as well) for luxury silverware. You can get one stamp for every €10 you spend. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an expensive way to get the silverware. But if you don’t change your buying habits just to get more stamps it works out. Marco and I have about two cards full (with help from Roger and others). Marco is specifically saving up for a few of the knives.

An Albert Heijn stamp booklet

An Albert Heijn stamp booklet

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A look at the knives on offer

Some of the knives are so sharp they even come with instructions on how to get them out of the packaging safely.

If you are also saving stamps — happy (future) slicing!

 

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New rule in the Netherlands (Or: No more free plastic bags)

As of January 1st, Dutch stores are required to charge for plastic bags. Here is an advertisement at the tram stop:

Advertisement in the Netherlands for "no more free plastic bags"

Advertisement in the Netherlands for “no more free plastic bags”

It basically says “You (will now) pay for your own plastic bag” and underneath in small letters “your own bag, better for the environment”.

I think it is a good law change. Marco and I almost always have extra bags with us (I have one at work in my drawer and one permanently stored in my backpack) so there isn’t much effect on us. I did find it funny to go to Action (a “dollar” type store) as the sign said the charge for one bag was 3 cents. We don’t even have pennies in the Netherlands — thankfully! I wish I had taken a picture of that sign.

Most stores have had signs up for a few months now, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

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Lebkuchen (Or: A German Christmas cookie)

Over the weekend Marco and I visited the Fred, a shopping area close to (but not quite in) Scheveningen. The name comes from the Main Street it is on, or Frederik Hendriklaan.

One of the stores we visited was Simon Lévelt. We were able to pick up a package of lebkuchen, a traditional Christmas cookie in Germany.

Package of Lebkuchen

Yum! Made with lots of tasty spices (cardamom, aniseed, ginger, etc.).

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Gather round to bake your own pizzas (Or: Pizzaretta oven)

Marco and I received a pizzarette oven as a Christmas gift from his father and his father’s wife. How awesome! It is similar in concept to the gourmet sets that I wrote about a few days ago. This particular set was a four person set (4 mini pizzas can be cooked at the same time). On Saturday Marco and I used it for the first time.

Pizzarette oven, 4 persons

A look at the tables – complete with the mini oven and the toppings ready to go

You assemble the pizza on the provided spatulas and then set it in the device to allow it to bake.

 

Pizzarette oven, 4 persons close up

A close-up look (no tools needed for assembly)

Small pizza with jalapenos paprika and onions

Small pizza with jalapenos, paprika, onions, and cheese

 

Small pizza with bacon ham and chili rings

Small pizza with paprika, ham, bacon, cheese and chili rings

 

Small pizza with sun-dried tomatos and cheese

Small pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and cheese

We made more than enough mini pizzas on purpose, so now we can also enjoy the pizzas again tonight!

Categories: Food | 5 Comments

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