The Anne Frank House and more…

Our second day in Amsterdam included some rain but we didn’t let it stop us.

We began the day with a huge breakfast at a little breakfast spot we found online.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the rest of the morning walking around the Jordaan area, which is a really nice area for a morning walk. We stopped at a cheese shop and a chocolate shop, and both smelled amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were lots of little canals and side streets that were really cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We weren’t too hungry for lunch, but we decided to try some local street food, like pickled herring, waffles,  and french fries. We liked the french fries and waffles better, of course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of the trip for Felix was the cat boat. It is a sanctuary for cats and people can visit them during specific hours in the afternoon. There were so many cats and Felix and Anya loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we headed over to the Anne Frank house, which is something you should not miss, if you ever visit Amsterdam. I remember reading the book when I was younger, but until you’ve set foot in the house where Anne Frank and her family hid, it is hard to really understand how quiet they had to have been during the day, so as not to be heard. The saddest part of it is that they were found and sent to the camps on the very last train out. What’s even sadder is that Anne and her sister both passed away at the camp only weeks before they would have been liberated. Her father was the only one who survived. While it was heartbreaking to walk through and learn about her life, it is so important that we remember what happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening, we took a boat tour. It wasn’t much of a tour, but we enjoyed the ride down the canal and the drinks that were included. It was a busy day but we saw a lot of the city!

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Our flights to Amsterdam were pretty uneventful and we arrived in Amsterdam right before 6 am local time.

We were exhausted but excited to have landed in the Netherlands! Apparently our options for taxis were a van or a Tesla…we chose the Tesla and were on our way!

We were lucky that we could get into our apartment right away. Out of all 6 of our European trips, this is the first time we’ve been able to get right into our room/apartment. We took advantage of that and made ourselves lay down and sleep for a bit.

Once we got up, we went out and bought tram tickets, purchased SIM cards for our phones, and grabbed some sandwiches for lunch.

A word about SIM cards…our phone plan does not have an option for international use, though I know several plans do. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about a plan that is $10 a day, which is not a bad deal really. However, keep in mind that in Amsterdam, we spent $70 for 2 SIM cards with more GB than we could use in the entire 16 days we were there. So depending on how long you plan to be there and if you plan to use your phone for the internet, it might be worth it to just get a SIM card for while you’re there, assuming your phone is unlocked.

We then headed towards the center of the city to try to catch a tour. We didn’t realize that the tour began at a church in the middle of the Red Light District. Somehow we didn’t know we were actually in the Red Light District until we started seeing ladies in lingerie in the windows. We just kept walking!

Unfortunately the tour we wanted to take was full so we had an hour to kill before the next one started, but fortunately, there was a coffee shop right around the corner so we got coffee and hot chocolate while we waited.

The tour was definitely worth waiting for. It was one of those “free” tours that runs off tips, and the guide was pretty great. It was about 3 hours long and she took us around lots of areas in the city and talked about things that Amsterdam is known for, such as prostitution, marijuana, and tulips.

In regards to marijuana, it is technically illegal in Amsterdam, but it is tolerated. I believe she said you are allowed to have up to 5 grams on you, because it’s considered personal use, and you can supposedly have 4 marijuana plants in your home for personal use as well. However, you are not legally allowed to sell it or manufacture it. Also, coffee shops (where marijuana is sold legally in Amsterdam) are taxed something like 59% on marijuana sales, so they definitely pay for it…

Prostitution was legalized/tolerated because it was assumed that sailors would be coming into the city and messing with the women anyway, and the idea was that if there were women willing to do the job, it kept the sailors away from the women who didn’t want the attention. Nowadays, labor laws continue to protect women doing this work. It is not legal to work for someone, so at least pimps aren’t taking most of the money they make. Instead, women register with the local government as business owners and they pay to rent their windows. They also pay taxes, just like any other business. It is also required that the room have an emergency button and the owner of the property must be there within minutes if the button is pushed. This insures the safety of the women working.

We were assured that the toleration of prostitution and marijuana don’t really have anything to do with a moral high ground, but that it is more related to the fact that the Dutch, being good businessmen, have found a way to monetize these businesses. Whether you agree or disagree with the policies, it is certainly interesting to learn about!

After the tour, we decided on Indonesian food for dinner. Apparently, Indonesia was formerly a Dutch colony, so their food is still popular in Amsterdam. It was different from anything we’ve had, but we actually liked it!

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Amsterdam on our very first day!

Felix Is 5!

We have spent the last week or so celebrating my sweet little man. I just can’t believe that he is five years old.

On his actual birthday, we took him to Pizza Hut, at his request.

 

Then, on Friday night we celebrated with family and godparents with more pizza. As you can see, Felix chose Batman as his theme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, on Sunday, he invited a few of his friends to celebrate with laser tag, mini-golf, and cake.

Happy Birthday, Felix!

First Quarter Update on 2018 Intentions

I have not been doing a monthly recap and somehow it’s time for a recap of the first quarter of the year…

 

Reading:

  • Read 32 books. (6/32) – I’m really behind on this!

Writing:

 

  • Post in my blog at least 5 times a month or 60 blog posts. (15/60)
  • Work through a book about writing poetry. (7/22 chapters)
  • 500 Writing Prompts – 3 writing prompts a month (36 total) (9/36)
  • Writing prompts from one of my books (9/36)

Music:

 

  • Learn at least 5 new songs to use in groups (0/5)
  • Learn at least 3 new Classical pieces on the piano. (0/3)
  • Work on learning at least 3 of the modes. (0/3)
  • Listen to 5 classical pieces.  (0/5)
  • Earn at least 20 CMTE’s (continuing education). (0/20)
  • Write at least 3 new original songs. (0/3)

Travel Planning:

  • Complete at least 6 training programs (1/6)

Home and Organization:

  • Finish staining the deck.
  • Wash windows and glass doors in the house.
  • 8 areas to organize (1/8)

Family:

  • Game nights once a month (3/12)
  • Bowling
  • Mini-golf
  • Make a home video
  • Painting

Service:

  • Provide at least 3 meals at the Ronald McDonald house. (1/3)
  • Volunteer at the soup kitchen at least once

Food:

  • Eat at at least 8 new restaurants. (2/8)
  • Make at least 6 new international meals. (0/6)

As you can see, I’m really behind…It’s been awhile since I’ve been this unmotivated to work on any of my goals. The beginning of 2018 has not been great for me, but I’m hoping that the weather breaks soon and helps me move into better days…I have been focusing on doing more for myself and I have started working on my music more and this has helped some. Hopefully things turn around soon!

Things To Look Forward To

As we go through the week of spring break with endless days of rain and dreariness, I find that I need to remind myself of all the things coming up in the next few months that I can look forward to.

  1. The kids’ birthdays  – Felix will turn 5 next week and Anya will turn 8 right before we leave for Europe.
  2. Anya’s First Communion – How is she old enough for this?!
  3. Waverly – Eric and I get to investigate Waverly Hills with a group at the very end of May…we are super excited about that!
  4. Europe in June – I need to finish planning our trip but our international adventures are always a good time.
  5. Smashing Pumpkins Concert – We get to see the Smashing Pumpkins in July.
  6. Disney in September – So Disney is NOT the most magical place in the world for me, but I know I will enjoy watching the kids have a great time.

We are also hoping to get a camping weekend in sometime in May, but things are filling up fast, so we’ll see!

What are you looking forward to?

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Travel Agent

Yep. You read that right. The title of this post is “Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use a Travel Agent.” Being a travel agent, I believe that most people can benefit from using a travel agent when planning a trip. That being said, there are times when not using a travel agent is worth considering.

  1. If you don’t plan on actually booking with a travel agent, please don’t waste her time. As much as I love to book trips for people, I am almost always upset when I spend hours planning a trip for someone and that person books the exact same thing themselves. We aren’t paid to do research on a location only for that person to go out and book it themselves. I personally understand why someone would book a trip on their own if they are saving a significant amount of money, and that’s why I don’t usually mind to price check something for someone if it’s something I can do quickly, but if you are going to book on your own regardless, please don’t waste someone else’s time.
  2. If you are working with a travel agent already, it’s not a good idea to have another travel agent working on the same trip. This means that one of them is wasting their time. This kind of thing has happened to me before and it’s frustrating.
  3. If you’ve already booked your trip and want to know things like the cheapest way to get around the city or how to get the best deal on a tour. It’s ok to ask if an agent knows something about a certain city. I personally am always happy to help out if I know the answer to something, but I don’t feel like it’s my job to help someone figure out the cheapest way to get from one place to another when they haven’t let me book any part of their trip.
  4. If you are already on a trip that you have booked on your own and something goes wrong, there is probably not much a travel agent can do. It is not a travel agent’s job to dig someone out of a hole somewhere (figuratively speaking, of course) if the agent didn’t book your trip. If there is a hurricane, I’m going to be spending my time figuring out how to get my paying clients on a flight off the island and there won’t be much I can do for someone who needs help figuring out flights that they’ve booked on their own. At this point, you are better off calling whoever you booked your trip through.

So when is it a good idea to use a travel agent?

…When you legitimately want good value for your money. Travel agents are typically pretty great at finding the best deal for the money you are willing to spend on travel and sometimes it is cheaper than someone could find on her own. We have different places we can search for the best value and we often have a network of other agents with which to consult about options. If you want to be sure to find the best match for you, consider booking your next trip with a travel agent.

Summer Vacation Ideas That Are NOT the Beach

A lot of people like to go to the beach for summer vacation, but there are lots of options for people who aren’t into the beach and want to stay in the US. Here are some options that are not too far from us here in the midwest!

1. Savannah

Though there is a beach near Savannah, you could spend all your time in Savannah and not even miss the beach! Savannah has a lot of historic sites and you could spend hours just strolling through the historic district checking out gardens, mansions, and monuments from the Civil War era. Paula Deen’s restaurant is there and if you are into the supernatural, Savannah is said to be very haunted and has a lot of ghost walks and haunted tours for you to choose from. There are also some great pubs to check out in the evenings. Eric and I visited before we had kids and spent an entire week exploring the area…we loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. New York City

It’s not hard to find something to do in New York City. There are tons of sites to see, such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, and Central Park. Or you can check out the different neighborhoods or take in a Broadway musical or a play. We haven’t personally been there yet but it’s on our list of places to see sooner rather than later!

3. New Orleans

I visited New Orleans over spring break one year in college. Like Savannah, it is known for its hauntings, but there are also many more options here. Take a cemetery tour, check out the French Quarter or the Garden District, or stroll down Bourbon Street in the evenings. And don’t forget a late night stop at Cafe du Monde for your beignets!

4. Gatlinburg

 

Gatlinburg can be a little cheesy on the strip, but try breakfast at one of the many pancake houses and check out the oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Then, spend a few days hiking in the Smoky Mountains. You can even rent cabins nearby if you want something other than a typical hotel room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital is a great educational experience, especially if you have kids old enough to understand what they are seeing. Lots of things to do here are free, including the Smithsonian museums. I highly recommend the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but make sure you are emotionally prepared for it the day you go. I think it’s a must for everyone at least one in their lifetime, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you want a break from D.C., you could spend a day in nearby Alexandria (Virginia) and check out the historic district for something a little different.

 

Where in the Caribbean?

People are currently planning their summer vacations, and a common question I get has to do with where to go if you want to go to an all-inclusive, but you’re on a budget.

First, I want to say that all-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to relax, lay around, and not do much of anything. They are the ultimate haven for people just needing to get away from life for awhile. That being said, they are not all created equal. You do get what you pay for, but there are moderately-priced resort brands worth checking out if your budget has a limit.

All-inclusive resorts are generally found in the Caribbean. Contrary to popular belief, there are no true all-inclusive resorts in the United States. You do have to leave the country to get to what you are imagining when you are thinking of all-inclusive resorts. Many islands offer these kinds of resorts, including the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Aruba, and Antigua. However, the main three that are the most cost-effective and easiest to get to are Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. (For the record, I do know that Mexico is not an island, but they do have some great all-inclusive resorts!)

So how do you know which one to visit? Here are some ideas to get you started…

 

Mexico

Parts of Mexico do not have the best options for beaches. Some tend to have a lot of seaweed and rocks that impede the view, but there are some stretches of beach that are really beautiful, so be sure you know what to expect if you go.

Mexico is probably the most cost-effective and there are resorts both near and far from the airport, so you have a lot of options.

As far as sightseeing, Mexico has a lot of adventure parks (think Xcaret), snorkeling opportunities (Cozumel is supposed to be wonderful!), and lots of options to see amazing ruins like Chichen Itza and Tulum.

 

 

Jamaica

Jamaica has a special place in my heart, as it is where we spent our honeymoon. We visited for our 5th anniversary and then again over our 11th anniversary. The main area for resorts are Montego Bay (which is where most people would fly into), Negril, Ocho Rios, and the South Coast if you are staying at Sandals South Coast. Negril, Ocho Rios, and South Coast are approximately 90 minutes from the airport.

Those sound like long transfers, but they are worth it! Negril is known for it’s beautiful beaches and Sandals South Coast has a long beach that is not in the middle of town, so only guests from the resort are hanging out there.

I was recently in Montego Bay. We stayed at Secrets St. James, and while the beach there was small, they utilized the beach area they did have and there were some really beautiful spots to relax.

Excursions include Bob Marley sites, hikes and trips into the mountains, and Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. There is also the bio-luminescent bay near Montego Bay

 

Dominican Republic

Punta Cana has some beautiful beaches. Many water excursions are offered, such as snorkeling and swimming with dolphins. The food isn’t as great as resorts in other Caribbean countries, but there are some very affordable options in the Dominican Republic. We spent 7 glorious nights there a year and a half ago, and we were perfectly happy to just lay on the beach, drink in hand.

Another perk of Punta Cana is that there are several options near the airport, so you don’t have to wait long to start your vacation!

If you are still planning your summer vacation and would like some help, make sure to contact me!

 

What Music Therapy Is NOT

Most people have very self-explanatory careers, but my career in music therapy is not one of them. We celebrated World Music Therapy Day last week, so I thought I would write a short post about what it is I do, as it is one of the things in my life that I am most passionate about.

I find that people fall into one of the following categories:

1. They have never heard of music therapy and never even knew it was a “real” career.

2. They have heard of it and think they know what it is, but really don’t, and trying to convince them otherwise is like taking candy from a baby.

3. They think I am still in school (because this couldn’t possibly be a career) or that I volunteer my time (because, again, this couldn’t possibly be a career).

4. They actually know what music therapy is and how it works and they are actually correct in their thinking. (This doesn’t happen very often in my experience!)

One of the most common questions I get is “What is music therapy?” It’s actually a loaded question, because music therapy is so broad and there are so many populations we work with and settings in which we work. Someday, maybe I will write another post explaining exactly what it is I do, but for now, I thought I would tell you what music therapy is NOT.

1. Music therapy is NOT entertainment.

2. Music therapy is NOT just for musicians.

3. Music therapy is NOT a music activity facilitated by a volunteer.

4. Music therapy is NOT an opportunity for clients/consumers/patients to perform.

5. Music therapy is NOT about performance or the finished product.

6. Music therapy is NOT the same as music education. The person receiving music therapy may learn about music but that is not the primary goal.

7. Music therapy is NOT facilitated by just anyone with a musical background.

 

Stay tuned to find out more about what music therapy actually is!

 

Save Yourself

I’ve mentioned it before, but this time of year is really hard for me. For whatever reason, this particular year has been even moreso. I don’t know exactly why that is. I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that we missed our wellness weekend we had planned for January, and I am convinced that in previous years, this is what has kept all the negativity at bay for me. But it is what it is.

About a month ago, I heard about a song that is so relevant to me this time of year, as I’m sure it will be to many of you. Save Myself by Ed Sheeran is worth listening to at least once. It is a reminder to me that sometimes I do need to step back and think about my needs instead of putting everyone else first all the time. Being a mother, this is difficult, and of course, we cannot always take a break from our duties as mothers, but it is so important that we find a way to make some time to take care of ourselves.

It seems so easy at the time to cope in ways that are unhealthy; so many people turn to drugs or alcohol to try to help themselves deal with things. Or sometimes we don’t deal with them at all. Instead, we shove our feelings into a bottle or under a rug, thinking if we hide them they will go away. Unfortunately, they don’t go away and eventually they will resurface and we will still have to deal with them.

I know it is so hard to do…this making time for ourselves. But we are worth it.

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