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.