Monday, December 31, 2007

Burger's Zoo

In search of a new activity, we drove to a nature preserve in the north of Holland and visited the Burger's Zoo. The drive took about an hour each way, but the zoo made the trek worthwhile. What a great zoo! The weather was crap (cold grey drizzle with wind), but the great part of this zoo is the major exhibits are all indoors and are connected by the weather didn't matter! What is special about this particular zoo is that it is designed to allow the animals to move as freely as possible in their natural habitats. The animals there aren't too spectacular (they have to be small and harmless for this to work), but the environments they've set up for them (especially the rainforest-like Safari section) are incredible! The three main zones/exhibits are Desert, Safari, and Ocean. Desert and Safari are connected by underground tunnels that look like they've been mined, with small exhibits on various stones and a climbing area inside the walls for kids. Ellie just had fun running through and listening to her voice echo. The Ocean exhibit was of course an aquarium, but the tanks were set up in the most natural, realistic ways we've seen. The largest tank (containing sharks and other fish) contained half a sunken boat with sea life all over it. The stingrays swam around in shallow tanks beneath docks and among large boulders. We had a great time!

Ellie also now has a new friend. She is a HUGE fan of Sesame Street podcasts on iTunes (if you have a toddler, I can't recommend these free video podcasts more highly). Each week features a new word-as-subject, and one of her favorite podcasts is "Squid." Well, at the gift shop, Mama found a small stuffed-animal squid made by the World Wildlife Federation. Ellie LOVES it!!! She has been named Sally the Squid, and Ellie has not let her go since her purchase. Sally is up there in status with Monkey and Lolo. Ellie carried her all around the rest of the zoo, holding Sally up high so she could see the animals. She also made sure to make quick and proper introductions to Monkey and Lolo, who were in the stroller. Sally loves to dance and twirl her tentacles. Doing the Hokey Pokey with Sally is a very involved business. I hope to catch a picture of them soon, and I will post it when I do.

Happy New Year's to all you revelers out there! We will be celebrating at home, probably happily sacked out on the couch wearing earplugs to drown out the firecrackers that have been going off here since 10 this morning.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Plodding along

Hi there! No new posts from us because there isn't much going on. Things are very slow during the time between Christmas and New Year's, and we are just plodding along through the days. I wanted to post anyway, because I keep checking various other blogs I like and coming up dry. Now, technically those who check on us can't say the same thing...though we know in reality we're giving you nothing new to chew on. Next week should bring some news. We have a few appointments and some big phone calls (waiting for businesses to reopen after the holidays), so keep an eye out for new things on our end. For now, we'll just keep doing our thing and counting the days until New Year is past. Why so? The locals have an affection for small-scale fireworks that they have indulged in for days already. Intermittent loud explosions through the evening and night hours do get a bit old after a while, though it's nothing compared with New Year's Eve itself when we've been warned to tape our doorslot mailbox shut so revelers can't toss small firecrackers into our house to have them explode in our entryway. Excellent.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Prettige Kerstdagen!

Merry Christmas and a joyful new year to you!

From the dipe squad here in Holland, we wish you happy holidays!

Of course, just because it's a holiday doesn't mean there aren't chores to be done...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Heat Wave

The temperature was sunny at a whopping 8 degrees Celsius today, which felt mighty fine after a week of below freezing temps. We took the opportunity to do some playing outdoors, first at the Scheveningen beach this morning, then the Rosarium park this afternoon, and then at the Kijkduin beach this evening, where 140 lighted globes are scattered in the dunes for the months of December and January in an annual "LightArt Kijkduin" display. Because the sunshine was so pretty and the weather made us happy, Jennifer will be forced to share lots of photos now...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Winter Wonderland and other happenings

Today the trees remained beautifully frosted all day, as the sun never quite made it through the clouds/light fog. It was too grey to capture a good photo, but all around we could see a lovely winter wonderland. Every branch, every blade of grass...lightly frosted and purely white. Beautiful.

Of course, Ellie's crazy mama decided we would go to the zoo on a playdate this morning, despite the fact that it was -4 degrees Celsius and snowing intermittently. At least it wasn't crowded! The kiddos had a blast! They don't care that it's cold, and we stayed in the indoor Oceanarium most of the time anyway.
We also had our first appointment with our dentist here this afternoon. We had been seeing the dentist back in New Orleans since we were making such frequent trips, but one has to admit that gets silly when one lives on a different continent. The new dentist here is very nice and sweet with Ellie too. Markus and Jennifer had check-ups and cleanings, and Ellie had her first experience of sitting in the dentist chair, reclining and seeing some of the equipment. The dentist wants to acclimate her slowly, so today she just gave Ellie a handmirror to look at while reclining and showed her the small dentist's mirror she uses to look at teeth. Not surprisingly, Ellie was not in the chair alone. She was in Papa's lap and none too thrilled about the process...but she did enjoy the little mirror and she got to turn off the exam lamp when she was all done. Our dentist even had a little treat box, from which she procured a ring that somehow exactly fits Ellie's finger. What a proud girl she was wearing that!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas cookies

Jennifer has been baking again. As if I needed one more reason to love this time of year...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Family Photo

Our Christmas cards are out and about in the world's postal systems, and as usual, we like to include a family photo. Unfortunately, we've lost quite a few addresses over the past two years as more friends have moved to far-flung locales, so we thought we'd post the latest picture here for you to see. We took it during our last trip to Ocean Springs on one of the many gorgeous beach days the weather afforded. Can you believe we were in short sleeves and no shoes during the last week of November? We didn't even get that mid-summer in the Netherlands this year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The House

It's done at last. As of the last day of our Ocean Springs stay, the errrant contractor is gone! He is out of our lives! Now we just have minor things to attend to from a distance, which would be true even of a brand-new house. Setting all nasty commentary aside, the errant contractor did do good work when he worked. The house is beautiful. It has gone from being an eyesore to the crown jewel of the neighborhood. Seeing the house finished was an emotionally overwhelming experience which left Jennifer in tears much of the day. Part of it was the release of two years of stress and aggravation. Most of it was knowing the house now looks better than my dad ever dreamed it could, and he isn't here to see it. While we know he would have been more fired up about the contractor woes than even we were (and we were pretty darn fired up), we also know the house would make him swell with pride...and it makes us feel his absence in a way we hadn't felt as yet.
Thank you to all who have offered and given moral support during this ridiculous process, not least to Mary who has repeatedly housed and fed us and listened to the griping throughout. Without further emotional ado, here it is:

We hope to settle in for a good hiatus from Ocean Springs now, planning to return by fall next year to visit friends only (and not deal with any house issues, inshallah!). In January, the house will be on the market for renters (no good trying to sell in this market, even if we wanted to), so please keep your fingers crossed we get some good ones. Of course, if you have a hankering for small town life with good community and a family-friendly atmosphere where the weather is lovely this time of year, you know who to call. There could be a brand-new, fully inspected and certified four bedroom house on the bayou with an amazingly huge back porch with your name on it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

We're Back!

Back in The Hague.
Markus has a bad cold and we all have severe jetlag ("severe" because Ellie has it and therefore no one sleeps).
Will write more once things normalize!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Latest Antics

With one more stateside day to go, I thought I'd post some pictorial highlights of the visit.

Is there anything better than a Tatonut doughnut? The answer is yes: a Tatonut DOUGHNUT with CHOCOLATE and SPRINKLES eaten as part of a PICNIC at the PLAYGROUND (words in caps are Ellie's emphasis and must be said with a tone of joyful reverence).

Just in case you were wondering what the start of month seven looks like:

And tonight's entry to the history books: Crazy women crash a Christmas party. The Muses had their annual pre-ride get-together tonight. Most ladies were dressed in smart casual holiday party attire, but nothing so simple for the ladies of the title float. Oh no. We had wigs (white girls in afros, black girls in Farrah), glasses, disco ball earrings, and beware the tie-dye. See if you can spot Jennifer "Where's Waldo" style hiding amongst the 'fros.

Bald Eagle or Ostrich?

Yesterday while I was at the local post office, I had yet another opportunity to marvel at the way people in this country are happy to keep their heads stuck in the sand. My fellow Christmas card fiends out there know that every year the US post office produces a choice of holiday stamp designs. There is a religious Christmas stamp, a generic holiday stamp, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and yesterday I also noted they sell stamps for Eid. While a beautiful stamp (blue background with gold Arabic writing), the Eid stamp leaves me a little puzzled since the timing is off by a couple of months, but is an important religious holiday so I suppose they threw that in for good measure. Before we go any further, you may be asking yourself, "What is Eid?" It's not a surprising question, and if you're interested, you're already one step ahead of the ostrich crowd that prompted me to write today.

As I waited at the counter, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between the postal worker and the customer next to me. The customer wanted some Christmas stamps and had asked to see the designs. From those, she instantly selected a sheet of the religious Christmas stamps and, much to my initial surprise, a sheet of Eid stamps. She held up the Eid stamps to get a better look and was remarking on how pretty they were, what is it supposed to be, etc. The postal worker was happily joining in with "Aren't those nice 'Ed' stamps? I think they're so beautiful..." The customer started looking even more closely and asked again what the image is supposed to be. Candles? No, Arabic. That was it. She put them down as if they were infectious and said she didn't want them. The postal worker, trying to make good, reassured her loudly and repeatedly that while she didn't exactly know what "Ed" is, the stamps "have nothing to do with those terrorists"...but all was already lost.

Just the night before, Markus and I had been lamenting the absence of education in major world religions. World religions shape not only cultures but also actively shape world events, and a little understanding of the drivers behind these political, cultural and personal interactions could be awfully beneficial. The American media portrays whatever they can sell, and by the time it is edited and filtered down for the public, most "news" is far more opinion than fact. This results in a great deal of misinformation and even solid beliefs based on shaky ground. Not long ago, we had the opportunity to live in a (very tolerant, highly Westernized) Muslim country for several months, and it was an eye-opening experience for which I am very grateful. I suppose this is why I couldn't resist chiming in to the conversation next to me at that point.

I explained that "Eid" (not "Ed") is a major celebration at the end of Ramadan. It is a joyful, thankful, family-oriented celebration in the Muslim faith. While I wasn't sure why the stamps are available now since Eid has long passed for this year, it really is a lovely holiday. The customer was not interested and clearly wasn't listening; she took her two sheets of Christmas stamps and walked away, an ostrich exercising her rights. The postal employee was very intrigued and asked a few questions, since she didn't know what Eid was until then. She told me that they can't get anyone to take the stamps, even though she's sure to tell everyone that they "have nothing to do with those terrorists."
Important point, to be sure.

I don't write this post to advocate the purchase of Eid stamps or Hannukah stamps or any stamps at all. I am not suggesting the customer should have bought Eid stamps instead of her two Christmas sheets just to prove her worldliness; after all, she clearly doesn't celebrate Eid and wouldn't buy any religious stamps other than those that represent her own faith. The problem here is the ostrich factor. The dumbing down of our nation occurs across the board, and I find information on world religions a serious omission in social studies. When it comes to world events and the effects on everyday life for millions of people (more specifically, America's policies affecting global events and people around the world), people in this country don't know, but what's worse is they don't seem to care. Should we really be so content with our heads buried deeply in the sand? Even if that position seems peaceful and secure for the ostrich, keep in mind the image. An awful lot remains exposed that way.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Up Down Baby

One of Ellie's all-time favorite pasttimes is a game she calls "Up Down Baby", which involves Markus tossing her into the air and catching her over and over and over again. I was lucky enough to catch this sunset shot today.

Ellie has been soaking up every second of having Papa on holiday with us, and she is a happy critter all day long. It's obvious someone feels this is a vacation, and that adorable laughter is awfully contagious.

In the time since I originally posted this photo, it has been viewed by hundreds of people all over the world, who enter the blog directly onto this page. Somehow, this photo is circulating the internet. Is it a mass, generic email? What does it say? Please take a moment to leave a comment as to what brought you here. I'm very curious. Thank you!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mystery Solved

The week we gave the contractor is up, and yesterday we went to the house to meet, preparing to let him go. I let Markus do the talking while I chased Ellie, and the ultimate result of his conversation was that the contractor now has until Monday morning for another evaluation. The contractor had crews hired for Saturday and Sunday, as well as a load of supplies freshly purchased. Our new contractor couldn't start til next week anyway, so Markus gave him more time. He swears he can finish everything completely by Wednesday, which cuts it fine for my liking so we are meeting Monday to evaluate. He has accomplished more in the past four days than he's done in months. It's very odd, though appreciated.
Last night, we learned the truth behind why our contractor is working harder than ever to finish this project. While I'm under orders not to reveal details, let's just say it's good to know people who know the right people in a small town...and having a belly on in a Southern gentleman's world doesn't hurt either. There is still a lot to be done, and we have many little meetings and appointments to attend to before we can go. However, at the risk of jinxing it, this house might actually be completely finished by the time we leave. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why We Do This

In case you are wondering why we haven't jumped ship on this house ordeal ages ago (a question we often ask ourselves), know that during the last week of November, we've gone to the beach or playground or both every day...and today we played at the beach in short sleeves. It was a gorgeous, warm and sunny day, and look at the day's beautiful conclusion:

That alone is worth the flight.

Head Scratching

First thing Monday morning, we met with our contractor. We did a walk through, and without really nit-picking, we still came up with four hand-written, letter-size pages of items that needed to be finished. He walked through with us and agreed to all items. It was a very polite and relaxed exchange. Then we sat down to talk, and we told him point-blank that we had no confidence that he would finish the job. Given all the delays, he is owed no further money at this point, and there will be no more coming from us. If he wants to try to finish, he has until Friday morning, at which point we will hire a new contractor. If he wants to walk now, the end result is still the same, since we will pay him nothing more whether he does more work or not. I've never seen him so quiet and pale. He clearly wasn't angry; he was stunned. After months of abusing his position with us, he just didn't see this coming. We weren't angry or rude, but we were united and firm...and he knows he doesn't have a leg to stand on. In his shock, he even signed an agreement I wrote up on the spot setting our terms in writing. Now here's where the head scratching begins: he still wants to keep working. He doesn't think he can finish by Friday morning, but he does think he can finish by Monday. He wants us to meet with him Friday to evaluate his progress and consider allowing him to finish completely, even though he acknowledged he wouldn't be paid either way. This is most puzzling. The best we can come up with is he wants to somehow preserve his reputation and avoid being reported to the state as an unscrupulous contractor (thereby risking loss of his license and insurance). Honestly, we want him to walk so we can get another, more reliable crew in there ASAP, but we'll give him the week. Our back-up, highly recommended contractor (who was not available for over a year after Katrina because he was too in-demand) can't start until next week anyway. Still, it is all very strange. He is working. He even has a crew over there, doing detailed paint touch-ups and who knows what else. There's no sabotage. He really seems to be trying. I don't get it, but there it is. We'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Once more with feeling

Tomorrow, we head back to Ocean Springs for another two weeks of trying to finish the house. This time, Markus will come along to physically restrain Jennifer from throttling the contractor with her bare hands. Of all the times we've said this will be the last trip, this one really has to be. It's silly how close but how far the house is from being done. If someone would actually do his job, it would be ready to go in a week or less. It's insane. But we have to go back to police the work (or get the police involved, either one). On the upside, it is a treat in itself to have Markus with us for two weeks, so we're trying to focus on that. Ellie will be thrilled. She's such a seasoned traveler at this point that as soon as I started setting out clothes, she said, "Packing. Airplane."
Right-o, kiddo.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

While I am most sulky about missing the big meal (not cooking it here until mid-December), I am trying to remember that giving thanks is what it should be all about (though giving thanks over copius amounts of really delicious food helps). We, the members of the dipe squad, have a great deal to be thankful for, and we remember that each and every day. I could write up a big sappy list for ya, but the posting would be awfully long and it's mostly for ourselves anyway. The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year because it makes us all remember to appreciate what we have and what we can share. We hope you will enjoy this day and share it with friends and family you love! And, if you can squeeze it in, have an extra slice of pie for me!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New arrival

Our dear friends Laura, Peter and Cy welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby boy into their family this past Sunday afternoon. We are so happy for them and wish them all the best!

These friends close out the 2007 bumper crop o' babies among those we know. We will kick off the 2008 marathon but will be closely followed by four others we know of within a month or two. Whew! Must be something in the water. Drink it filtered, people!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not just for babies

These popular infant videos don't limit their appeal to humans...

Saturday, November 17, 2007


This morning, Sinterklaas arrived in The Netherlands from Spain on his steamboat, the S.S. Madrid. The dipe squad, along with thousands of other families and the Spanish ambassador, was in Scheveningen harbor to greet him. Sinterklaas lives in Spain, but he makes the boat journey to the Netherlands and Belgium with his helper, Swarte Piet, to deliver presents and goodies to all the good little children on his feast day, December 6th (except in Holland, the 5th has evolved as the big present day).

Once he disembarks and greets the crowds of singing children, Sinterklaas parades through town on his white horse and alongside his helpers dressed as Swarte Piet, who are already passing out special cookies and treats.

For the next few weeks, Sinterklaas will ride his white horse over the rooftops, listening in at chimneys to check children's behavior. Children leave their shoes by the fireplace, usually with carrots for his horse. Swarte Piet climbs down the chimney (gets covered in soot, to explain his blackness in a PC way) and leaves presents in the shoes, usually chocolates or marzipan shaped like Sinterklaas or large chocolate initials for the children's names. On December 5th, children receive their big presents from Sinterklaas. Tradition has it that the gift should be wrapped in an ingenious way, and there should be an accompanying poem written specially for the recipient.
In the meantime, Sinterklaas keeps very busy, visiting hospitals, offices, businesses, and even both houses of Parliament. Since we'll be out of the country for most of his special season, we were happy to see him twice today, once in the harbor and once during his ride through town. The children's excitement on both occasions was electric, and it was fun for us to take part in a different cultural holiday tradition.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Process of elimination

Ellie looked outside this morning, turned to me with a very serious expression and said,

"Not raining.
Not dark.
Not windy."

She paused.
Then, her expression brightened into a big grin as she declared, "Sun is out!"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Must be a squeaky mat...

There is a distinct disadvantage to being the only pregnant person in a regular yoga class.
I am a human whoopie cushion.
And everyone knows it's me.

Having a baby in Holland*

*apologies to our Dutch friends for treating this as an odd topic, but it's just different over here and people want to know

Since we've announced our pregnancy, I've heard questions and concerns from many of you about where we plan to have the baby and what the process is like in The Netherlands. From what I gather, most of you are apprehensive about (if not outright opposed to) our having the baby here versus back in the States, so I thought I'd lay it all out in a post for those who are interested in the hows and whys of birthing in Holland.

First off, yes, we plan to have the baby here. Bronovo hospital is a fairly new hospital in The Hague, and if it makes you feel good to know this, the royal family uses it for their births too (in fact, they celebrated the arrival of princess #3 earlier this year). The system here is set up for women with normal, healthy pregnancies (no obvious risks) to see midwives. Only those with obvious medical concerns see gynocologists during their pregnancies, but even then, their doctors are usually not present at deliveries; those deliveries are generally attended by whichever resident is on duty, with a specialized OB on call in case of emergency. Thankfully, I am in the former category. I had a great pregnancy with Ellie, and things are going very well this time around too. That means we see midwives. I use the plural on that, because we don't actually have a particular midwife we see. Bronovo has a midwifery practice right in the hospital, and there are seven midwives on staff. Appointments are set up with the goal of the pregnant woman seeing a different midwife each visit, so you can get to know each face and therefore not greet a total stranger while in labor (since you get whomever is on call that day/night; there's no picking favorites).

At the first visit to the midwife, I was asked if I preferred to have the birth at home or in hospital, and I went with option B. After all, who needs the mess? Since that first visit, I've been seen fairly infrequently (once every 4-6 weeks). The appointments rarely last more than 10 minutes. They take my blood pressure and measure my weight, and the midwife feels my belly and listens to the baby's heartbeat. That's it! We had an ultrasound at 10 weeks to determine due date (Feb 27) and another at 20 weeks to check organs, spine, etc. No more ultrasounds are expected. I had a blood test last week to check for gestational diabetes. No nasty sugary drink beforehand. No peeing in a cup each visit to the midwife to check sugars. The big key to birthing in Holland is their approach: pregnancy is not a medical condition. You are not sick; you are pregnant. This is a normal, healthy process for most women, and they strongly believe in being hands-off. This is actually something I really like, but this is also the scary part for most expats, particularly those who come from the US and are accustomed to birth plans and calling the shots as much as possible. I'm thinking specifically about pain medication, and how we Americans (and many other foreigners) clamour to get our hands on it.

Rumor has it that in the not-too-distant past, the Dutch system barred women from pain relief (specifically epidurals, which are common in the US). We have friends (who are not Dutch) who gave birth in Holland within the past few years, and they report being denied any form of pain medication, even when repeatedly requested during labor. While I personally am all for going with a natural process, I am a fan of knowing there is help if I need it. The idea that they would tell me I couldn't have it just because of a cultural boundary made me a little nervous too...initially. Since then, my fears have been put to rest. At least in The Hague, the expectations have changed. There are so many international people here that the cultural belief in being hands-off and the expat desire for pain assistance have found some common ground. Although the midwives prefer for women to do their best on their own with the labor, pain medication is now available if needed. Other more mild forms of assistance are tried before epidurals, which (though available) transform the birth into a very medical process requiring catheters, IV drips, monitoring, etc. as well as transfer into the hands of a doctor (no longer birthing with a midwife).

Last night, I attended the first-ever in English presentation of "Birthing at Bronovo", for which there was an apparent need given the size of the audience. I swear, I've never lived in such a pregnant place as The Hague. There are bellies everywhere! But I digress...
The presentation was given by a midwife, a doctor, and an obstetrical nurse. They combined efforts to let everyone know what to expect for the birth and labor process, as well as the time after the birth. It was a very useful evening, particularly when (like me) you just like knowing what to expect.

This leads me to another point that has worried some of you: going home soon after the birth. If all goes well, it is common here that mommies and new babies go home within a few hours. "WHAT??!!!" you say. Actually, they have thought this through beautifully. When you have a baby in the US, you are in the hospital for at least 24 hours afterwards, during which time nurses come in and bug you miserable every few hours taking your temperature and blood pressure and generally keeping you from what little sleep your newborn allows. In my case with Ellie, add to that a FREEZING COLD room with no temperature controls, a shared room where papa couldn't stay, and fights with the nursery staff about breastfeeding and no bottles or pacifiers. It was crazy. In Holland, they believe you will recover best at home, so they send a nurse there. This nurse is a "kraamzorg", and she comes to your home (often is there when you arrive from the hospital) to care for the mother and newborn for a few hours every day of the first week. She will often help with household chores as well. Some even take care of grocery shopping and meals! Of course, the level of service is up to you and your insurance company. We're just going for maternal and baby care. The kraamzorg we have works independently of an agency and she works almost exclusively with expats. The upside to this is the fact that she speaks English, knows what people tend to expect, and also knows how to allay fears or concerns following the Dutch system. In addition to the kraamzorg, a midwife will check in on mama's recovery three or four times to make sure all is well.

Just as in the US, there is a follow-up appointment at six weeks to make sure everything is okay. You can always call and ask questions (before or after the birth), and you can come in to see them if there are any big concerns. All in all, the system seems excellent. Perhaps this is why Holland has a stellar health record for moms and babies (higher than the US, I might add). We feel confident about staying here for baby #2, and we'll be sure to let you know how it goes! Of course, you'll have to give us a few more months for that posting.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thoughts of winter

Today, the temperature is the coldest it has been thus far (around 7 Celsius) with a strong wind (according to, it "feels like 38 Fahrenheit"). The kicker has been the alternating bright sunshine and heavy downpours of hail. This has been going on for hours, and it's the craziest thing. Literally from one minute to the next, the sky goes from beautiful clear blue to near black and hailing...and back again. When it does come down, the hail comes down so hard that at times half an inch builds up from a single shower in our garden. Then it melts in the sun, and the process is repeated. At least the hail is tiny.
All this cold weather has me thinking wintry thoughts, and I've started addressing our Christmas cards. Those of you who know me well know I am a big believer in cards and non-bill or junk mail by post. I love birthdays. I try to get anniversaries when I know them. And I am a big sender of Christmas cards. However, that's not always easy in these days of email and internet, where most correspondence is done electronically and I lack postal addresses on a number of people. This is your notice! If receiving Christmas cards (and birthday cards and whatnot) gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, be sure I have your address! Unless you're sure I already have it, just send your address to my email (which I'm not going to post here for my own privacy; if this message is meant for you, you should have my email already). Before too long, we'll be sure to send some holiday cheer (and a new family photo!) your way.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

An update in pictures

It's been a long week of not much newsworthy to report. Typical Dutch weather has settled in, making our short days cool, windy, grey and often drizzly. The skies seem to magically clear up after dark (alas), which sets in at around 5pm now. Markus goes to work and comes home again in the dark, which leaves him longing for a vacation in Maui (Gail, do you have room for visitors?). Ellie and I try to keep our days as busy as possible, which really isn't too hard with a 2 year old. She's busy all on her own, and she has definite ideas about what should be done and when. We're thinking of having T-shirts made regarding Ellie's CEO status as soon as we can take dictation on the corporate logo.

The most newsworthy item is that Ellie has started potty training. Notice how I wrote "Ellie started" not "we started." This is all her idea, as everything must be. Ellie first showed interest in using the potty at around 18 months, so I took her to the shop and bought her a little which point the idea became mine and not hers, and she lost all interest. About two weeks ago, Ellie spontaneously asked to sit on her potty...with results! Every time she asks to sit, she has success, which makes her bubble over with pride and excitement! Of course, since we are doing potty-training her way, it is not for anyone else to dictate (or even suggest) when she sits on the potty. When she wants to sit, she does; when she doesn't, forget it. So she's still in diapers for now. We'll see how much longer they last. I have a feeling that someday she will just tell me she's done with them, and that will be that.

Our week has been filled with happy Ellie routine. As particular as she can be, she is a true joy and we have lots of fun! We go to the playground, the zoo, music class, and even the pool (where she is the cutest girl in a swimsuit hands down!). I brought my camera along to the zoo today, which made me realize I have a small backlog of photos to share, starting with Halloween. Here's a brief update in pictures of our past week or so:

Contemplating the jack o'lantern

Clingendael playground and fall colors

If I were a penguin, which one would I be?

The most common view of Ellie these days

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tradition revived

This past Sunday, we started our morning right with some hot-from-the-oven, dripping-with-butter sweet potato biscuits. The recipe is from Jennifer's great grandmother on her dad's side, and the biscuits are a tradition for guests and lazy weekends. We don't often find sweet potatoes in the store here, so I had put the recipe out of my mind. Our hot weekend breakfast of late has been yogurt pancakes, and while I stand by those, they just don't hold a candle to the buttery goodness that is a well-made sweet potato biscuit. Hooray for tradition!

My great grandmother didn't have an actual "recipe" for these, so she just told someone in the family what she did, they wrote it down, and that's now what I have. Without actually having eaten any from this recipe before you try to make them, it might be hard to gauge if you are making them right, but give it a whirl anyway. I promise it's worth it! We have yet to meet someone who doesn't love them.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Bake 3-4 large sweet potatoes until soft.
Peel (no strings!).
Put some flour* in a bowl.
Add sweet potato mash, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup shortening**.
Mix together with wooden spoon or rubber spatula, adding more flour as needed until the mixture becomes tacky, but NOT dry.
Sprinkle dough lightly with flour and pull off a chunk. Roll it lightly in your palms to make a smooth ball (you'll probably need a little extra flour for this), and then press it onto a greased cooking tray or cookie sheet. Repeat until tray/sheet is full.
Bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes or until tops are nicely browned.
Set rack at lowest position in oven if you want crispy brown biscuit bottoms.

*The old "recipe" calls for bread flour/self-rising flour and then letting the dough sit in the fridge overnight. We have skipped the overnight or used all-purpose flour and haven't found any difference, so do what works best for you. I can't give you a measurement on how much because I eyeball it as taught, but I guestimate around 1 cup (maybe?).
**We use real butter, not Crisco or margarine, but that's personal preference
As for the extra browned bottoms, that's all personal preference. Members of my extended family are settled into firm camps on this, but there is no consensus. I just set the rack in the middle and go with simple.

I bake the sweet potatoes the day before. Otherwise, you'll be looking at almost 3 hours from start to finish on a lazy morning...not so nice for the cook or those hungry people waiting. As it is, give yourself a good hour for preparation and baking. With a recipe so imprecise, it's hard to say how long the baking will actually take until you master the technique and ratio of flour to mash. In case your biscuits remain gooey in the center the first few times, take heart. They aren't "biscuits" as such, but they are still REALLY tasty and there's no reason why you can't eat them gooey. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007


Yesterday afternoon, we went for a stroll in the dunes of Wassenaar. At first, it seemed the walk would be a failed venture, because Ellie (in proper 2 year old fashion) stopped every two steps to collect or examine something for long periods of time. The walk was saved when Papa had the brilliant idea of getting her to chase him, which she loves! Of course, no idea is a good idea until she makes it her own, so soon she was calling the shots. Markus would run, Ellie would chase him, and he would scoop her up in a hug. Then, she would push away and order him, "Zurueck!" (German for "Back!") and he would have to "move back" (run again) on command. The process was repeated for the entirety of our dune venture, a loop walk that was possibly for a mile or so. For your viewing pleasure, we have a snippet on video:

There were also mandatory "Up Down!" breaks for baby tossing.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pics of the Week

Just when I thought life with a 2 year old couldn't get any more challenging, Ellie caught a cold. We had a little micromanager with a situation she couldn't control. She found the copius snot beyond comprehension, and the last-day chest-clearing coughing just made her mad. Ellie seems to agree with her papa that being sick is a complete waste of time and energy, and being germ-ridden is no good. Thankfully, it was just a little cold, and she is (nearly) back to full steam after a trying four days.

Ellie is becoming more and more 2-year-old-y every day. She completely runs the household. I say that you always wish for your children to be really smart until they are. She is a CEO, and she manages her two staffers like you wouldn't believe. When baby #2 comes, I'm sure baby will be managed as well. There will be none of this conform-to-the-newborn's-schedule foolishness!

Speaking of baby #2, the pregnancy is going really well! The exhaustion of the first trimester is behind us, and the heavy sluggishness (and insomnia) of the third trimester has yet to begin. The second trimester is the place to be, and I'm very comfortable here!

Settling back into routine has felt wonderful. Children thrive on a schedule, and so does this full-time mom. Ellie resumed music class this week. While we were away, the teacher changed locations to accommodate for the larger group size. She also was able to add a closed session for regulars, and we got into that one. Hooray! Now the group is not too big, the songs are all new, and Ellie is so happy to be back! This week, we celebrated Halloween a little early in music class and the kids dressed up. Ellie wore her new princess dress for the first time. The dress is a birthday present from Mimi (thank you, Mimi!) that Ellie picked out herself (see her carrying it daintily out to the car).

Until this week, she hasn't wanted to put it on, but instead has been fully contented with stroking the big glittery skirt in appreciation. Of course, once she had it on, she didn't want to take it off. Ellie was far too interested in all the new songs and sights of her music class this week to stop and pose for mama paparazzi, but I will try to get more pics of her on Halloween.

Being home again has also meant visits with friends. Ellie had a playdate with her friend Hannah, and Mama had a playdate with her friend Katja (whom Ellie loves). Mama and Katja met up for kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake), and Ellie enjoyed her "baby-chino" (steamed and frothy milk sans coffee).

Yesterday morning, we even made a trip to the zoo. It had been a long time since Ellie had visited her favorite animals, and she was anxious to check in on the giraffes, elephants, "kitties" (AKA tigers), and butterflies. Unbeknownst to us, right now is school holidays for Dutch kids, and the zoo was indeed a zoo. We opted for visiting our favorites and running away home, which wasn't such a tough call on a cold foggy Dutch day.

One more tidbit of new activities to report: Jennifer has started piano lessons. I have wanted to learn since I was in grade school, and I figured it was time to stop saying, "I wish I knew how to play" and just do it! My lessons are only 30 minutes each week and no recitals (HOORAY!), and I'm very excited! I also resumed yoga class after three months' hiatus and was made to regret my lack of discipline in not practicing on my own while I was away (so sore the next day!). I'm very lucky to have such a supportive partner who not only encourages me to take time for myself, but also takes such good care of Ellie while I do that I can really enjoy it (she doesn't miss me at all).

That's about it for us. What's new with you?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Spontaneous Monday fun

This afternoon as Ellie and I were taking a leisurely stroll across the way to play ball on the Malieveld (that's Dutch for the big grassy field near our house), who should we run into but Papa returning home from work on his bicycle! He had a day of training that ended early, so he hot-footed it home to see his girls. Although we had gone to the Malieveld to kick around a little pink ball, there was no neglecting the huge red circus tent that has been there for over a week. The Circus Hermann Renz is in town, and we have been debating catching a show (would there be Disney-level trauma or would Ellie really enjoy it?). Well, it just so happened that a show was starting in less than 30 minutes, so Papa raced home to stow his bike and change clothes, and we went to the circus!

The first moment we stepped into the big tent, our hearts were gripped with Ellie's panic as, you guessed it, Disney-level trauma set in. Oh the trauma! The drama! The woe! The...popcorn. Hmmm...they have popcorn. And a carousel. Hm...this needs reevaluation. So the panic ceased, the interest was piqued and to our seats we went. It was just a small traveling circus, so no big animals to report (though there were some impressively trained white horses, three goofy white geese, two sea lions and a couple of penguins). Markus and Jennifer were wowed by the trapeze artists (their athleticism was truly amazing!). Ellie quickly decided that the circus was almost as good as music class because they play music all the time, and everyone claps along. She took almost as much interest in the other kids in the audience as she did in the show. Close to intermission, we noticed that our little party girl was pooping out. The circus can be a very overstimulating place, and she was getting tired. As fate would have it, a clown came along and picked Markus and three other grown-ups out of the audience to "help" with the next act. This caused Ellie no undue amount of apprehension (though no tears of woe); she decided as long as she could see him, she could allow it. Yes, Markus joined the circus today, just for one act. Where are the pictures, you ask? Don't we wish we'd had the camera, but as the subject line reads, it was spontaneous Monday fun. We thought we were going ball-kicking, so the camera was at home. Incidentally, Markus was instructed to play a gong as part of a musical act. He was supposed to beat his chest and yell like Tarzan first, but a day of software training must have made him too reserved. We'll have to work on that.

When the lights came up for intermission, we headed home with a worn-out toddler for some hot chili and homemade biscuits, a perfect ending to a very fun, very COLD day (around 40 degrees by nightfall!). If only every Monday could be this fun!

Friday, October 19, 2007

How To Win Friends and Influence People

Call and announce you have made pecan pie.
I'm expecting a pie-eating guest within the hour.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not just doughnuts

You may be looking at this photo thinking Jennifer has gone overboard on desserts of late (not an unsafe assumption if you know me at all).

Nonetheless, we figured it's time to come right out with the truth and tell you we are half-way to being a family of four! Baby #2 should be joining us toward the end of February (due on the 27th, but who knows?). The 20-week ultrasound gave us a great profile shot (head on the left with a wee fist near baby's mouth), so for those of you who, like Ellie, want to "SEE!!!!", here you go:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Back to our regularly scheduled programming

Apologies for the long absence! We appreciate our devoted blog readers, and I hope our absence hasn't deterred you from checking in on us. It's been a bit of a whirlwind. As I wrote in the last entry, adjusting to jet lag on the return to Holland took us nearly a week. Ellie really struggled with it, which meant everyone else did too. She's always a good and happy child (hallelujah!), but nights were a real challenge for a bit longer than was comfortable. That left us mostly hanging around the house with little to blog for several days (unless a chronicle of Jennifer's exhaustion is thrilling reading for you, count yourself lucky for being spared). We did make it to Delft for a glorious fall afternoon on Thursday, where we visited the cathedral but were far more enthralled with our warm soup, bread, and dessert waffles at a cafe later in the day. On Saturday morning, Jennifer and Mary took the train to Paris for a four day weekend. We were cultural fiends (Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle...), and of course Mary had to visit Disneyland Paris, being the huge Disney fan that she is! Meanwhile, Markus and Ellie held down the fort in Holland. They visited a nature reserve, did a lot of cycling, partied on a few playgrounds, and made sure the duck and geese populations of The Hague were well fed. They also visited with Andrea and our friend Tony, who was back in town for the week on business. Wednesday was another attempt to return to normal, with Jennifer and Mary still battling aching feet from our Parisian marathon weekend and Ellie readjusting to our return/Papa's return to work. Yesterday, we took the train to Amsterdam for yet another glorious fall afternoon and visited the Anne Frank House (not for those disinclined towards stairs or traumatic subjects).

Today was a day's visit to Antwerp, made necessary by Jennifer's incessant rhapsodizing about the chocolate (of which we obtained much). Tomorrow, Mary heads home again to catch her breath (three countries in two weeks!), and we are excited to welcome our friends Meghan and Eric on Sunday! Whew! Now you are all caught up. What have you been doing these past two weeks?

For those interested in Paris pics, these are a few of my favorite things:

Cupid and Psyche

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

the sparkling Eiffel Tower (10 minutes at the start of every hour; green for the Rugby Cup finals)