Friday, September 28, 2007

Last day

Today was our last full day in Ocean Springs. It felt a bit like the last day to get things done on the house, because you know once I leave, the work usually stops...but we won't go there. I've been feeling a bit Milton-esque about the house of late ("abandon hope, all ye who enter here"), but the fact is whatever work has actually been done looks really good. As of today, the carpet and tile are finished, so the remaining work is screening the back porch, all the finishing (repainting dings, spots,etc.) and trim. If the work were to progress in any realistic fashion, there's no way it could take any more than two weeks to finish from here out...but we know reality has had little impact on this work as yet. We shall see. The landscaper is set to begin in mid-October, and I have stressed to my contractor that under no circumstances will I be amused if he is still working on the house then and drives his truck on my brand-new lawn. He will be paying for the landscaping in that event, and I think he may actually understand that I mean business.

Other than that, we're just trying to wrap up. Ellie has been incredibly patient with all the to-ing and fro-ing and dragging around I've had to do with her on this trip. I've been so lucky! I'm very happy to be taking her home to a normal routine, so she can go back to car-free days, music class and playtime in the pool. She has been starting to ask about the latter two recently, so I'm particularly glad I won't have to deny her much longer. And of course, the best part will be being with Papa again! We have really missed him! Although most of the time Ellie readily accepts his absence (she'll tell anyone who asks that he's "arbeit"...at work), she also knows this excuse wears thin at nighttime and on weekends.

Wish us luck for smooth and pleasant flights tomorrow! We'll be back in Holland on Sunday morning!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A great day off

Today was Jennifer's birthday, so we celebrated in a happy, low-key way. The first treat of the day was sleeping in late a la Mary (thank you again!), a birthday wake-up call from Markus in Dubai and then (a few hours later) lunch out with Mary, Ellie, my friend Becky and her son.



After lunch, we decided to maximize Ellie's naptime with a drive to New Orleans. Being in the city would have the built-in bonus of keeping Jennifer from the house and its related stress, and who wants stress on her birthday? It was a lovely day in the city. Although I couldn't reach anyone I knew while there (it was a spontaneous trip, after all), Ellie and I had a great time running around in Audubon Park, chasing squirrels and geese, meeting doggies and other children, and generally getting nice and dirty. We ate a simple dinner of ready-made stuff at Whole Foods before trekking back to Mississippi. It almost felt like we were home again...almost.



Ellie was an excellent birthday companion, and we had a very fun, relaxing day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stop the presses!

I've been meaning to pull out my soapbox to report several serious infractions of spelling and grammar of late (to the owners of "You Niquely U Weight Loss": you should be ashamed of yourselves!), but that will have to wait for another day because I have new and even better material! One of the three cover stories of today's Sun Herald newspaper must be shared. No, there are no serious infractions as such to report, though one has to admit it must be a very slow news day indeed to print a headline that proclaims:

"Catty teens pitch a hissy"

I am not making this up, people (I've attached a photo for proof)! My favorite line from the (two page) story reads:

"Witnesses said the fight erupted with two potty-mouth girls exchanging wild haymakers near the front entrance and ended with several of the bunch tangled in a hair-yanking, face-scratching nest of rage."

I don't know what "wild haymakers" are, but this is journalism at its best! Presidential campaigning, politics, war in Iraq, Afganistan, Iran...please, step aside! I now know all I need to know for the day. I am done. Please excuse me while I dissolve into dismay (and giggles).



p.s. for those of you who notice the prime headline of little boy hero with a bit of dismay, try to keep in mind Southern values and realize that is to be considered valid top story material here and is not to be mocked

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The House (continues)

Some of you regular readers out there have been asking (and rightly so) what is the deal with the house. As it is, after all, the big reason why Ellie and I are stateside at the moment, I figured it was time for an update.

The good news is when you've abandoned all hopes and expectations, things are a lot less stressful. On previous visits, I arrived expecting progress. After all, the house has been a couple of months away from completion since February! Only two or three weeks away from completion in May! I had intended to come back in July to see it finished. But more delays and more excuses were reported, and I began to realize (and accept) that nothing was EVER going to be done without my being here. So, here I am again, this time without hopes or expectations and therefore slightly more sane than could be imagined. Thank goodness I arrived with these thoughts, because (surprise surprise) nothing much had been done since I left in May. I'm happy to report that now, however, we are much closer to the (apparently unattainable) goal of a finished house. The tile for the downstairs arrived last week and installation began. Once the downstairs is done, the kitchen cabinets and countertops will be installed (the cabinets are ready and waiting), and the bathrooms should be finished off (though I haven't seen any supplies for that as yet). Carpets are scheduled for installation upstairs tomorrow (but as rain has moved in, my faith in that has moved out).

On my end, I've had six trees felled (one VERY fortunate choice there; I had one relatively small one taken out because I didn't like its proximity to the roof, only to discover upon removal that it was completely rotten on the inside and could have fallen at any time). I found and paid for a landscaper for the front yard, and that work will happen at the end of October (by which time one could reasonably assume the house could be finished at long last!). The house has been treated for termites and pests, and yesterday I ordered a houseful of appliances that should be delivered and installed on Tuesday. We're getting there, people. Now all that's left is to show you some pictures, so here they are.




Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Hokey Pokey

Our little one has been giving directions and commanding an audience since before she could talk. This morning, Mary's sister and friend stopped by for a visit, and it wasn't long before they were enlisted in providing some world class entertainment! Ellie has been a bit stuck on the hokey pokey of late, and she was thrilled to have two new singers/performers (and a few stuffed animals) to add to the ranks!

video

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Size does matter

Today, Ellie convinced herself (and therefore everyone else) that she needed to be accompanied in the day's work by a very large stuffed doggie of Mary's. I tried to dissuade her as she could barely walk and hold it, but she soon proved why this was important.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Little Shedheds

Last night, Ellie, Mary and I met friends for dinner and "got fed at The Shed." If you know us, you know we are big fans of Shed BBQ, a dedication that brings us under the fan club of "Shedheds." Now we have matching t-shirts to prove our loyalty that proudly proclaim: "I'm a little Shedhed. I only look sweet and innocent."


For some added cuteness, here's a shot of our wee one in her very colorful new shoes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Way down South

Here we are once again in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The fact that we were in Paris a week ago seems a bit surreal from here, but whatcha gonna do? There are things I have to love about being here: the small-town,community feel; the genuinely warm and friendly people; the manners; the peacefulness of the bayou and the waters of the Mississippi Sound; still being treated a regular at a favorite lunch spot despite the fact that I live an ocean away most of the time; the kid-friendly environment; of course, eating at The Shed BBQ...

But it is all a bit of a trade-off when at age 30, I'm called "ma'am" because I really am that old. Alas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Paris

Last Thursday, the dipe squad boarded a train in The Hague bound for Brussels, where we changed over to another train headed directly to Disneyland Paris. Yes, there is a train station right at the entrance to the park. As our hotel room wouldn't be ready for another few hours, we stowed our bag and headed into Disney. Ellie was soooo excited! She'd been talking about Mickey Mouse for a few days already, and she knew something interesting was bound to happen in the park. We entered on Main Street USA (just like in Florida, though much smaller I'm sure) and grabbed a bite to eat (having been starved on the train). Before we could even get to lunch, Ellie was a proud owner of a large mylar Winnie the Pooh balloon and was watching a parade of characters through town. Of course, it only got better from there, because after lunch, we got ice cream with sprinkles. We probably could have given it all up and gone home at this point and still have called it a great trip, because if you know Ellie, you know that a balloon AND ice cream with sprinkles is just about as close to Paradise as any of us will ever get. But oh...it got better. Disneyland Paris also has a carousel. With a short line. YIPPEE!!!!! AND the Dumbo ride (AKA "the elephant carousel")! AND the teacup ride! AND we can ride on the carousel more than once! WHY HAVEN'T WE BEEN HERE BEFORE??!!!




Markus and I had naively presupposed that Ellie would only last two or three hours in the park before she was completely exhausted and overstimulated, but really that applied more to us. She LOVED it! She was so happy and excited! In fact, the only way we bought ourselves a little rest was taking a break for kettle corn (or as Ellie called it, "pop-maize"). I haven't been to Disneyworld since I was 9, but I believe it must be much bigger than Disneyland Paris. This was actually okay for us, because Ellie's realm of enthusiasm encompassed the three above-mentioned rides that were all conveniently located right next to each other. When we finally saw her wearing down, we plunked her in the stroller and wandered to a different section to see what we could see. We decided to risk one more ride and go on the Pirates of the Caribbean, because I had liked that the most when I was a kid in Disneyworld and Markus had never been. Despite the fact that it was pitch black most of the time, had all kinds of animatronics and included more than one small dip in the dark, Ellie was completely mellow in her exhaustion until the end of the ride, when an animated skull and crossbones gives instructions for disembarking. She was having none of that!!!! Luckily, we were at the end, so we left the trauma behind and headed out to Frontierland, where we wanted to take the steamboat ride before going to the hotel. We nearly made it too. Mama spotted Mickey Mouse posing for photos with almost no line, so we gave it a go. Ellie had been talking about him for days, after all. She would be happy, right? WRONG! Mickey Mouse is a fun, loveable character friend who is most safely admired at a distance. He is not to be trusted, this Mouse. He has big shoes. We know this, because approaching him resulted in SEVERE trauma and Ellie is still days later recounting the tale of "Mickey Mouse. Big. Shoes. Sad. Ellie. Go."


The next day, Ellie took a late morning nap, so we decided to eat lunch at the Disney Village before heading into Paris. Disney Village is just outside the park, and it's a collection of chain restaurants (McDonalds, Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe...), movie theaters and shops. We opted to eat at Cafe Mickey because the menu looked the most acceptable. We had been told that on birthdays, you can request a special cake and the characters will bring it out and sing and dance and take pictures with you. It was indeed Ellie's birthday, so we asked about this and the hostess agreed we could just let them know closer to the end of our meal whether or not we wanted it, since we were a bit afraid of the trauma returning. So we settled down happily in our booth. Ellie started coloring with the set they gave her. We ordered lunch. All was happy and well. UNTIL. What they had neglected to tell us was birthday or no birthday, the characters come out anyway at Cafe Disney. They mingle through all the tables, pose for photos and TOUCH PEOPLE (horrors!). It was all over before our food even came. Ellie was climbing me like she wanted to hide under my skin and her misery was so extreme that we had to leave (and maintain at least a 100 meter distance from the door). Markus quickly ate his meal, and then he took his turn outside while I rushed through mine. Ellie refused to return. At least I didn't have to eat all alone. Goofy came and sat with me for a while, but given the level of trauma in our little one, I opted not to pose for a photo with him. I'm sure you understand. At this point, it was fairly clear that it was time to leave Disney behind and head into the city. Ellie really did have fun in the park, and we can understand her trepidation about the characters. They are pretty big and strange and intimidating. And, as we have been repeatedly informed, they wear big shoes.


Our Paris hotel was just off of the Royal Palace Gardens, and despite its central location, the room was blissfully quiet. We checked in, wandered through the gardens, and made our way to the Louvre and the adjoining Jardin de Tuileries.


Ellie was a huge fan of running along the Louvre fountains, watching the boats in the Tuileries fountain, and of course the "piece de resistance": ice cream in the gardens. We were on a mission for some cake and coffee, and we headed to the recommended locale only to get caught up in rush hour madness (even on foot, the manic panic was stressful). Markus managed to find a restaurant in a little out of the way alley in a seriously upscale shopping district. This made for some very interesting people-watching (boy, were we sore thumbs there!), and Ellie was all about helping Mama consume the molten chocolate cake.


We headed back to the hotel and cleaned up a bit for dinner. Our concierge had recommended a little spot around the corner. He said our (very) casual dress was fine and they were okay with children. The restaurant was "Le Grand Colbert" on the Rue de Vivienne. If you have seen the Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson movie "Something's Gotta Give", yes, this is the restaurant where they meet in the end. And it's good! The staff were so welcoming and friendly that we were amazed to still be in Paris. The food was fresh and well-prepared, and the atmosphere was charming (you've seen it if you've seen the movie). Markus had the foresight to pack our portable DVD player, which also helped make for an enjoyable meal.

We woke up on Saturday to a gorgeous summery day. We used the morning to take a boat tour of Paris, something we hadn't done before and truly recommend, especially with a small child. It was a great way to see the beautiful architectural highlights of a huge city. It was also a great way to enjoy the sunshine.


We walked back to the hotel via Ile de la Cite and discovered a peaceful little square near the point with some nice bistros. Based on menu, we wanted to eat at the Cafe George, but they were full so we kept moving (we did return to it for dinner, though, and we HIGHLY recommend it!!). We ended up eating lunch in a restaurant off of the Royal Palace Gardens, and that was a great choice. Ellie ran around in the dirt while we ate and kept herself more than happy. Afterwards, we headed across town on a mission for "the best chocolate cake in Paris" at Pierre Herme and on to the Jardin du Luxembourg so Ellie could play. At Pierre Herme, the line was out the door and down the corner, and let me tell you people, THERE IS A GOOD REASON FOR THIS. All of the pastries looked beautiful and amazing, and the chocolate cake is out of this world! But I digress...
Ellie had good fun in the gardens. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a great spot for families, with lots of open playspace and some big playgrounds. Being such a gorgeous day, the playground was completely overrun, so we put Ellie on the carousel (another carousel! hooray!). We watched the boats in the fountain. We ran on the paths. And we went back for dinner and bed.

By Sunday morning, we were all partied out, but we had a few hours to kill before our train so we headed to the Musee d'Orsay for some beautiful Impressionist paintings and impressive sculptures on the ground level. Even the building itself is nearly worth the entry fee. What foresight to transform a huge old trainstation into a fabulous museum!

All in all, we had an amazing fun trip! We were all happy and relaxed, which is the only way to survive Paris. There is far too much to see and do to try to do it all. Visiting the city with Ellie forced us to slow down and just take it as it comes, which made for the most enjoyable Paris visit to date. So, Happy Birthday, Ellie! We're sure you'll wonder when you're 16 why we took you to Paris for your birthday when you were 2, but trust us: you had fun.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back from Paris

Yesterday evening, we returned from our four day birthday weekend in Paris. We had SUCH A GREAT TRIP!!! We have a bit of work to do getting caught up with chores and the to-do list before Jennifer and Ellie head stateside on Wednesday, but be on the lookout for a new post with photos. One will be coming soon!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Parenthood

We're not quite to this point yet, but we can already identify...and benefit from the giggles and commiseration!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

September

Today is yet another gorgeous fall day in The Hague. Somehow it feels a lot more sane to say that now that it's September instead of July. The trees must agree. Yesterday, we noticed the leaves are starting to turn. They've been waiting all summer 'til now so they don't look too confused, but September 1st was the kick-off. Not that we're complaining. After almost 5 years of summer year 'round, our shorts have earned a rest. And although it's been rather cool, the weather has been relatively good to us with lots of sun and little rain by Dutch standards. Between England's flooding and Greece's heat and fires, we are most content with our fall weather (even when it was July).