Wednesday, March 28, 2007

TOMS shoes

This is not an advertisement. You haven't checked up on spam. I heard about TOMS shoes this summer, and I signed up for their e-newsletter. Today, the company sent a link to the video clip below, as well as the latest blog entry: 4th Grade. Before you get any further, you might be wondering what this is all about. TOMS is a small shoemaking company with an international development idea at heart. They make incredibly basic canvas shoes based on a traditional Argentine shoe, which they sell at quite high prices...but the special part is that they donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. The video clip is from their 2006 shoe drop, and it's very moving. Of course, the big downside to giving shoes is that the children in need will outgrow the shoes and want/need more. On the other hand, it's a beautiful, simple idea, and couldn't we all use more of those? I just wanted to share.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Visit to the Consultation Bureau

This morning, Ellie had her first visit to the Consultation Bureau. The Consultation Bureau is an institution here in Holland that looks after children's development and well-being from birth to age four. It is not the same as a pediatrician's office. If the child is sick, he or she visits the family doctor and may be referred on to a specialist at the children's hospital from there. The Consultation Bureau is a well-baby clinic (of sorts). Being a foreign concept to me, I admit that I lived in moderate dread of it until recently. Today's visit wiped out any remaining reservations I might have had. It is truly impressive! Recently, The Netherlands topped a UNICEF list for best countries for children, and I am starting to understand why. I find it amazing that there is a state institution in place to follow infant and toddler development and well-being. Wow.
A little over a week ago, the Consultation Bureau sent a nurse to our home (by appointment beforehand). She came to set up all the initial administrative hoopla (shot records, developmental milestones, etc.). They say this initial visit is done in the home for the convenience of the parents and comfort of the children, but we also suspect it is a good way for them to check out the home environment for red flags. The idea of being inspected had me in a frenzy, but when you think about it, what a brilliant thing! It's not as if the nurse really inspected my home, but you know yourself that you can get a feel for how people live when you enter their homes, even briefly. That home visit is a good way for the state to check the welfare of the child at the start.
Today's visit to the local office was for a well-baby check-up and (alas) immunizations. When we arrived, we were told that one other family was waiting ahead of us, so when we saw them go in, I was asked to strip Ellie down to a clean diaper. The rooms were nice and warm for that purpose. Ellie didn't mind at all. She ran around like a monkey in her nappy, playing in a toy house they had set up and dancing with a doll she found. A staff person took her height and weight measurements, and then Ellie went back to running around naked and free.

When it was our turn, we went into the office and Ellie sat on the large desk, which was heavily padded on one end for a sitting space. The doctor (?--she introduced herself by name not title and she wasn't wearing a lab coat...on the other hand, neither does our family doctor, so I just don't know) handed her some small colored wooden blocks, and then she watched to see what Ellie would do with them. She explained to me that she was going to check Ellie's development through observation. After a few minutes of playing, the doctor (?) offered Ellie a tiny wadded up piece of paper in her open palm. She asked Ellie to take it and put it back; then she moved her palm closer to Ellie's other hand and repeated the process (checking pincer grasp, ability to use both hands equally well, hand-eye coordination, ability to follow simple commands). Then, she put a block back in front of Ellie and handed her another one, asking her to stack it on top. She repeated this one on the other side as well, and then she checked to see if Ellie would lift blocks in both hands at the same time. After that, she got out a soft, colored ball and placed Ellie on the floor. She wanted to check her balance and steadiness while walking and standing. Ellie carried the ball all around. She wasn't interested in throwing it as requested (easy way to check how steady she is when she throws the ball), but she seemed more than steady enough to satisfy. All in all, it was fascinating to me. In the US, I take Ellie to a pediatrician's office that I rave about, and they don't check these things at all. They may ask how she does, but they don't observe it. Ellie just enjoyed playing, so the little tests didn't phase her a bit! Unfortunately, the immunizations at the end did upset her quite a bit, but that's understandable. We may be done with those now until she's four. Hooray!

Finally, since this is labeled a "life in Holland" post, I have to tack on a photo of Ellie at the end of our journey. The Consultation Bureau we will use is about 10 minutes away by bike. We were happy to have beautiful sunny weather for our trip!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blijdorp (aka the Rotterdam Zoo)

In the past few weeks, we seem to have developed a new little family tradition of visiting Blijdorp, the Rotterdam Zoo, every Sunday morning. By car, Rotterdam is pretty convenient (only about 15 minutes down the road), and the zoo is quite nice. Near the entrance is a large oceanarium, which is separated into zones (North Sea, Caribbean, etc.). On rainy days, we pretty much stick to that, since it's all indoors and Ellie loves watching the fish.

On the sunny days, we walk throughout the zoo and see what we can see before the Little Monkey who lives with us gets tired. Blijdorp is a lovely zoo. It was designed all in one go and (more importantly) with active children in mind. There are lots of fun little passageways in and around exhibits. Taller kids can poke their heads up through a tunnel right in the middle of the groundhogs. Most creeks can be crossed via a bridge or by hopping across large stones for the more adventurous tikes.

Of course, the animals are a great bonus, and we feel so lucky to be in a place where Ellie can go see the animals that we show her in books. The elephants seem to top her list of favorites (she cries a bit when we leave them), and on this visit she was fascinated by the indoor butterfly garden. Jennifer always favors the big cats, and Markus just dreams of South Africa where the animals aren't caged at all. At least we can enjoy the beautiful spring sunshine together, and watching Ellie discover new things is always rewarding!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Oh joy!

Living in New Orleans has the potential (and probability) of turning a person into a complete food snob. This, alas, has happened to me. I admit it. I am a food snob. The upside of this is the seventh level of heaven attained by eating good food! Tonight, I prepared New Orleans-style barbeque shrimp from the biggest prawns I have ever seen (I called them "mini-lobsters"), fresh from the North Sea. Oooooooo...let me just say, "yum!" (as I am too blissed out for a more intelligent comment). When you come visit us, insist I make these. This shrimp dish is amazing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ellie's new wheels

It's called a Wheely Bug, and I have been excited about it since before Ellie could even sit up on her own. Now, she's just gotten to the age where she can figure out ride-on toys, and she loves this thing! She wanted to ride it all the way home from the store, but at a toddler pace of in scoot, scoot, "oh look, a rock!", observe for lengthy periods to be sure rock doesn't initiate spontaneous movement of its own, scoot, scoot, jiggle the antennae, scoot, "another rock!", scoot...
(the tongue sticking out is a teething by-product)

Monday, March 05, 2007

True Love

Ladies, you know you have a loving, supportive man when, at the end of your very tough day, he suggests you watch BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" together.
The fact that he refers to it as "the torture" isn't important.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Day of Cuteness

Time for some cuteness. If you can't stand it, just pass this blog by this time around. We are completely enamoured with our little one. She has had a growth spurt lately, is cutting four teeth, and seems to be on the verge of a vocabulary explosion. She also seems to be wanting to cut out her morning nap (even though she's still tired enough to take one), so that explains the pacifier (and the ear pulling) you see in this morning's photo.

This morning, we decided to take Ellie to the zoo in Rotterdam. We became members of the Artis zoo in Amsterdam shortly after our arrival, but Markus suggested we try Rotterdam today. I'm so happy he did! Rotterdam has a great zoo! It was designed with active kids in mind, with tunnels in and around some animal exhibits and an amazing playground! The zoo also includes an Oceanarium. Ellie loves watching the fish! In the shark diver's pen, she even sang a little song...

We had so much wondedrful family time today! Markus and I were both happy recipients of multiple nosebites.

And finally, one more shot of the crocuses. So beautiful!

Okay, so one more photo. This was a couple of days ago when Ellie and I met a friend in a cafe. My coffee was served with a chocolate biscuit. Guess who spotted it first!