Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In the past few weeks, our precious happy little monkey has become a one-baby threat to my sanity. No, not all the time. Not even most of the time. But when she blows...whew! The tantrum volcano is ever present. She's at that challenging (probably more for her than for me) phase when she acknowledges that she has LOTS of big emotions and reactions to things, but is horribly at a loss as how to express herself. Often, the slightest (and most unsuspected) provocation results in an explosion equivalent of Mount St. Helens on the baby scale. While her fits of sheer misery seldom last for more than, say, 5 seconds, the increasing frequency has put a tremendous drain on my reserves. Still, at the end of it all, she is our loving happy little monkey, just as she always was. She gives hugs and kisses and now there's also this amazing, joyous ringing laughter she shares every single day. We still don't know how we ever got by without her.
Last month, I subscribed to Wondertime, a new parenting magazine, largely due to this article: Anatomy of a Tantrum
I laughed so hard when I read it that I had to read it again...and again. I read it aloud to my mom and to Markus. I've quoted it to friends. We've even dubbed Ellie's more inexplicable meltdowns as "Fingahs off!" moments (as in, "How is Ellie?" "She's wonderful, but we seem to be having a "Fingahs off!" kind of day."). If you parent a toddler, I consider this article a must-read. If you don't, you'll probably still get a laugh. At least it can give you a new term for when you yourself are having a "Fingahs off!" kind of day.

Note: this link works inconsistently, so if you have trouble, just go to the Wondertime homepage and enter "anatomy of a tantrum" in the search bar. it's worth it!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Daytrippin' in Antwerpen

This past Saturday, we took a daytrip to Antwerp, Belgium. We had been considering an overnight to Brugges, but hotel prices and choices were getting us down until we realized Antwerp (where we hadn't been before) was close enough for an easy daytrip. Hooray! Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer...all within easy reach!
We arrived relatively early in the day and made the magnificent Our Lady's Cathedral (named for Mary, its patroness) our first stop. Markus and Jennifer enjoy visiting old cathedrals for the art and the architecture; Ellie enjoys them for the running space. She took particular pleasure in running up and down the main aisle for at least 15 laps. Fortunately, there were few other visitors that morning, so no one seemed to mind.

Our Lady's Cathedral has suffered repeated damage and plundering throughout its history, leaving relatively little of its glorious art intact. A careful restoration has been underway, but there seems to be little to restore. Most of the frescoes are gone, though small patches remain in odd places. The damaged walls have been scraped smooth and whitewashed in efforts at beautification. While it made us sad to realize how much has clearly been lost, modern efforts have provided a bright, airy space in what would otherwise be a dark grey interior.

When we left the cathedral an hour or so later, we went in search of a cafe on the main square. Before you say it, we know this was in error. Anyone who has traveled much in tourist Europe can tell you that the most beautiful spots for people watching and view-admiring are often claimed by high-price, low-quality venues. Having never been to Antwerp and relishing some rare winter sunshine, we nonetheless opted for a cafe with a view...and some of the nastiest coffee and sorriest excuses for Belgian waffles you can imagine. At least we had a warm, dry spot to feed Ellie her snack. She didn't mind at all. This stop was also the first of the day where we would pay to use the toilets. The collector in this establishment was an old woman who held open my stall door for me to enter and then stood outside the door and hummed tunes, presumably for my enjoyment. At least I got my 35 cents worth, right?
The cafe was across the square from the city hall. While there, we witnessed two wedding parties enter and exit. They really had a beautiful morning for photos!

As we walked around the old parts of town, we saw many Madonna and Child sculptures on the sides of buildings. I only took this one picture, but it would make an interesting project to collect photos of all the different sculptures around. We wonder how many there are. Bonus points to anyone who finds this out!

Our next cultural stop was the Rubenshuis, home of artist Peter Paul Rubens. The house is amazing! Ellie had opted for a nap in her stroller by this point, so Markus and I took turns viewing the interior while the other wandered with the stroller in the garden.

The circumstances caused us to make only a quick run-through of the buildings, but both of us agree that the Rubenshuis is a fabulous museum and well-worth another visit! If you discount the paintings and artwork, it is worth viewing the architecture and interior alone in such a well-preserved old Flemmish home. Of course, you really shouldn't discount the paintings, as they are all fantastic and worth a thorough perusal.

Not much left remains to report. After a delicious lunch at a nearby bistro (recommended by the cashier in the museum shop) and some tasty De Konnick beers, we wandered the city on foot in the afternoon drizzle (thus no photos). We wandered down to the Diamond District, which wasn't much to get excited about (very touristy, unattractive shops; most were closed anyway for Sabbath). Surely there must be a more attractive area for jewelry in the Diamond Center of the World! We just didn't find it. We DID, however, find the most fabulous chocolate shop in town! If this blog were scratch and sniff, you would understand Jennifer's joy (and peril) over this find.

We also found a nice little cafe for tea before we headed out, which was most appreciated given the cold, wet turn of the weather. Yes, the weather turned foul indeed, but we can't complain. All in all, we had a lovely day and it felt so great to get out and see something new!

Monday, January 29, 2007


With a little over two weeks away from the parade, some of you are still scratching your heads wondering "What the heck is Muses, anyway, and why is Jennifer so excited about it?" The New Orleans Magazine published a story on Muses as their cover article this month, and you can check it out at March of the Muses if you're truly curious. Who knows? Some of you curious ladies out there may even want to join yourselves!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This past Sunday, our dear friends from Qatar arrived for a visit as they made their way home from a trip to the US, and we enjoyed a brief though fabulous time with them! The weather didn't encourage us to get out much, but we had lots of fun indoors or simply strolling through town...and, of course, sampling different cafes' offerings of hot chocolate. When it was time for them to leave Wednesday morning, Jennifer seriously considered hiding their passports.
Since we've moved here, we have had quite a few wonderful houseguests, but this was the first time Ellie had a visitor of her own. Her buddy Cy is about 6 months younger than she is, making them a perfect pair for all manner of baby fun and joint exploration of the house. They dined side by side at meals, encouraging each other to try new things. They played together in the bath. They danced and chewed and explored their way through the toys and miscellaneous items in the playroom and kitchen. Having another baby in the house was so much fun!

During their visit, the temperatures ranged from fairly mild to freezing cold. On the morning of their departure, we awoke to a beautiful dusting of pure white snow. This was Ellie's first exposure to snow on the ground, and she was eager to tromp around in it and seemed appalled to find it so cold to the touch.

She seems to have turned 2 several months ahead of schedule, and she lets us know when things are not as they should be (observe the look in the photo above).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Yesterday, a severe winter wind storm tore through Western Europe. The gusts in Holland were in the neighborhood of 120km per hour! An article in this morning's International Herald Tribune reports this as the worst storm since 2002. The craziest thing about it (from my perspective, anyway) was the temperature. A severe winter storm in January in Europe and the temperatures were in the low 50s (Fahrenheit)! If it weren't for the wind (and yes, I know the wind was the issue), we wouldn't have needed coats. Amazing.
Apparently, the storm caused significant damage in this part of the world. A tree fell on some parked cars in Amsterdam, and two people were killed. From Germany to the UK, reports run from 10 to 27 deaths, and thousands were stranded as flights and trains were disrupted. We noticed that the winds even affected tram travel yesterday when Markus tried leaving the office. The company had advised employees to leave early to avoid heaviest traffic, anticipating serious trouble with the evening commute. It was incredible to hear the wind tearing through the city at intervals (more gusty than constant). Our friend Tony, visiting for the week, accused us of bringing hurricanes with us wherever we go and seemed surprised we hadn't managed to bring one to Qatar. Maybe we didn't stay long enough.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

There is something magical about witnessing a sunset. Watching the sun until the last glorious moment as it disappears completely below the! This evening, we were treated to a beautiful display of color and light when we took a short trip to the dunes near Wassenar (sorry, no pics; didn't bring the camera). Of course, Markus has any number of comments on how magical it is to see the sun at all these days...(welcome to Holland!)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

This morning's adventures led us to Kinderdijk, a small town with 19 windmills dating back to the 1700s. The windmills were used to pump water from the peat-bogs into the river and prevent the settlement from flooding. These days, the pumping system has been fully modernized, but the windmills are still there and apparently still work! Kinderdijk has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trail through the bogs past the windmills is a lovely walk, even when the weather unexpectedly clouded over on us and the wind kicked up. Jennifer had fun playing with the camera's sepia filter (just seemed appropriate!).

classic image of The Netherlands: windmill and swans

Sunday, January 07, 2007

European winters aren't known for being especially fabulous, and Dutch weather has a particularly poor (and well-founded!) reputation in that department. The nights have been remarkably clear, giving way to drizzle or rain by morning. Sigh. Yesterday, we caught a break! Saturday morning offered sunny skies, so we ignored the cold and cycled to the playground on the Mother Ship. What is that, you ask? My new bike, of course! The Dutch are serious cyclists! Someone told me there are more bikes in this country than any other but China, and I believe it (almost). I'm actually really amazed and impressed with the bikes for parents. I've seen people cycling with three kiddie seats on a bike (with three kiddies in those seats)--wow! My bike is called "the Mother Bike." It has specially designed handlebars to extend well around a front-mounted child seat. I had to change the name to "the Mother Ship", and off we went!

("stock photo" of the Mother Ship on its maiden voyage)

Jennifer and Ellie on Saturday, whizzing through the woods

Although I'm sure there are many playgrounds in The Hague, there is a small one near our first, temporary apartment that is sized well for toddlers. The steps leading up the slide are perfectly Ellie-sized, and she loves it there. We've even met a few new friends. Although we don't speak the same language, the kids don't seem to care. A 2 year-old boy named Maurits was VERY excited to meet Ellie and talked to her incessantly in baby Dutch while Ellie just stared in wide-eyed wonder.

At the recommendation of an American friend, we went out to lunch on Saturday at an Italian-Greek restaurant in town. Dining out, though a favorite with us, has been a bit tricky here. We find Dutch restaurants are not overwhelmingly receptive to children, and Dutch restaurant patrons often less so. Ellie is (blessedly!) well-behaved when we're out, but no one knows that when we step in the door and we often feel (and are) unwelcome. This has resulted in our repeated patronage of two family-friendly spots. In search of variety, we tried a new place this weekend, one that our friend had said was not only open to families, but also where the owners brought their own little boy from time to time. We couldn't have been more pleased with the place! It was a nice setting, the food was delicious, and our server, Sanem, LOVED Ellie so much that she took her to see the fish tank and a movie and Ellie felt no need to return to us and the table. Sanem even said we should have the owner call her if she's not working the next time we come, and she will come play with Ellie. Hooray!

Other than that, we don't have much else to report. We have enjoyed relaxing more into a family routine. Ellie's sleep patterns have finally settled down after the move, and things are returning to normal around least for another month. In the second week of February, we will head back to the US for Ocean Springs, New Orleans, and Mardi Gras! Muses rolls February 15th, everyone!

Monday, January 01, 2007

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Wishing you and yours a beautiful, happy 2007!

(after the photo, our intrepid little explorer gets back to business)