Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rough week

Ever since Ellie brought home school germs, she's been a bit of a tantrumy monster, at least compared with her usual self. It's been exhausting in a "please-remind-me-that-this-was-easy-when-she's-a-teenager" kind of way. Some days, like today, our four story house acts as her co-conspirator in all attempts to unravel the thin shreds of sanity I have left. Since each floor has only two rooms, traversing floors to accomplish much of anything is required...and NOT traversing them as required (or stopping mid-way between or reversing direction) has become Ellie's forte. Tonight after Ellie went to bed, I can only suppose the house felt the need to make up for the lost mischief during this potential downtime by killing the furnace. No hot water. No heat. The wind outside is gusting to 45 mph and the wind chill is below zero. The earliest we can call for a repairman will be tomorrow morning after 9am. Excellent.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It was to be expected

Now that Ellie has happily settled into her new playgroup, she brought home new friends on Friday: germs. Like it or not, little kids are little disease mongers, and she's brought home a cold that someone thoughtfully shared at school this week. She was quite teary during the car ride home Friday, which gave me my suspicions. 24 hours later, she looks miserable and can't breathe through her nose. Of course, she wants the pacifier for comfort, which really makes breathing a challenge. This leads her to "snarking" (my word, because that's the noise she makes when she tries to suck up air through her nose and gets snot instead). I've said "poor little girl" so many times today that it has become her pity mantra (usually every time she snarks). Darn it if we don't think she's crazy adorable despite her germy state.


The past two years have been the first since preschool that Jennifer has not been enrolled in school of some kind, and frankly, it's driving me crazy. I am obsessed with learning, which I happen to think is a good thing. I always want to be learning something new or at least exposing myself to new ideas. One could easily argue that the past two years without school enrollment have actually been overly full of learning in the practical sense: these have been the first two years of Ellie's life, and what a learning curve that continues to be! Despite this, I have had the bug to start an online course for a while now (there are several intriguing options through Open University), though the timing is still not right. With most of those courses starting in February with moderate to high intensity workloads, the timing coincides with the arrival of Baby 2, which doesn't seem so smart. Instead, I have opted for an online Montessori teacher training program that covers birth to age 3 (right up my alley these days!) with a workload of approximately 2-3 hours per week (no sweat). As a parent of (soon-to-be) 2 kids in this age group, I figured this course could at least provide me with some practical ideas to add to the home repertoire. Add that to the company bonus of partially-funded spouse education, and I submitted my order just before Christmas.

Last night was the first night I sat down with my materials and looked over my first assignment (due in March). The first assignment covers materials from the "Classroom Manual: birth to 3", "Infants: Manual A" and "Infants: Manual B". Before opening any of the manuals, I decided to read over the assignment itself to get an idea of where I was headed with this. Consider it an understatement when I say that I am gravely disappointed. The work consists of three parts (one per manual), and it is all tedious busywork questions. Judging to harshly? The first question is "What is the purpose of this manual?" The second is "Summarize the section entitled 'Introduction'." You have got to be kidding me. The questions for the first manual alone number 123. I decided to answer these crappy questions as I read, and only five pages into the manual, I was already on question 6. This is ridiculous. By the time I complete the assignment, I will have a document almost as long as the manuals, repeating everything the manuals said but this time "in my own words." Spare me. Maria Montessori would be HORRIFIED!

At the end of this (this assignment, plus two others...assuming I can stomach it), I will receive a teacher certification for Montessori: Birth to Age 3. No wonder there is such variation in quality among Montessori-labeled schools! Parents beware! Montessori preschools can be amazing havens for young children, and I cannot understate my enthusiasm for a quality Montessori program under age 5...but quality is the key word! Methinks it is not to be found in the certification program available on a distance program. Alas.

At least I have my new piano lessons to fall back on for intellectual stimulation. Learning as an adult is a challenge, not least because of finger dexterity issues. Thanks to an English major as an undergrad and then tons of work at grad school, my hands know their way around a keyboard...a computer keyboard. Just getting my thumb to behave itself on a piano and stay up where the other fingers are (rather than flopping around looking for the space bar) takes some re-training. Add in that I have no musical background (except my career as a kazoo specialist), and I have some big obstacles. I love every minute, of course! I'm already working on pieces using both hands (though my hands don't seem to agree yet) and the sight reading is improving slowly. I keep telling Markus that I will be playing the classics in no time...I just need to start by understanding how to read sheet music. Better go practice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lost concept

This morning, I needed to pour excessive amounts of Euro into the gas tank of our car, so I drove out of my way to reach the only local gas station that offers "pay at the pump." For some reason, pay at the pump hasn't caught on here, but it is the best thing for parents. On a cold rainy day (or any day, really), I really don't want to take Ellie out of the car seat just to go inside to pay and rush back out, and there's no way I'm leaving her in the car while I go in alone. Pay at the pump is my friend, so to the one specific gas station I go. Out of their 10 pumps, only 2 have readers...and only one of those was working today. Wouldn't you know that the guy in front of me looks at 6 open pumps, drives up to the only pay at the pump...and then PARKS AND GOES INSIDE. Come ON, people!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Swimming "by self!"

We did make it to the pool this past (miserable rainy cold) Saturday, and Ellie was so proud to show off her swimming for Papa! The video clip is a bit dark and grainy (using an older camera in a room meant to be lit by absent sun), but you can still see her having great fun! We also managed to catch a blurry belly shot in this photo of the two swimmer girls. We're so happy that her confidence is back, and we hope to keep it up!

Friday, January 18, 2008


In the recent past when I've lapsed between posts, it's been largely because there hasn't been much going on. Not so these past two weeks! We have been busy busy busy (and tired tired tired), so the blog has fallen to the wayside. I thought I'd grab this opportunity to catch you up on the latest goings-on.

The biggest change we've seen in the past two weeks is Ellie has started playgroup. In Holland, it's common for children of preschool age to attend playgroup, which is a sort-of preschool program that only lasts 2.5 hours each day. I have been looking into playgroups for Ellie in The Hague, and she was/is on waiting lists for three. The waiting lists are atrocious here, and I wasn't expecting much to come of it, which didn't bother me much because I'm excessively picky about where she would go and wasn't overly excited about anything I'd seen. An added struggle is that playgroups in The Hague require children to be at least two and a half years old, which happens for Ellie in March...but playgroups follow the school year and start in September. It made placement awkward. Still, we felt it was important to try. We wanted Ellie to have playgroup three days a week in the morning, especially after the baby comes so she'll have opportunities to play with other children that she can look forward to and I don't have to arrange.
Last Monday, I decided to contact a highly recommended British model playgroup in Voorburg, the next town over. I sent an inquiry email and received a call-back that afternoon with an invite to visit the following day. On Tuesday morning we went for a visit, and Ellie joined right in! After learning about the curriculum design and daily routine and seeing the environment for myself, I felt this would be a great spot for her. As it turns out, they just resumed after the holiday break and had openings immediately, only requiring children to be age 2 (smaller towns don't seem to sweat that extra 6 months). Ellie started on Thursday, and she will attend every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday morning.
This has been a big adjustment for both Jennifer and Ellie. I had initial big Mama guilt about sending her straight off, since I've always planned on that happening in March or April. I wasn't ready! But she was, and that's what cinched it. This was the first school (I call it that instead of playgroup) that fit all my picky picky criteria, but even better was that it seemed to fit Ellie's. She was happy there during the visit, and we decided to keep the momentum. We're happy too that this can be an established routine before the baby comes, so it's not going to be one more change for her to accept.
The adjustment for Ellie has been a bit touchy. She has never expressed unwillingness to go or claimed to be unhappy there, but she has expressed unwillingness for me to leave. I have waited until she was distracted each day and literally run away back to the car before she notices. She has been teary through smiles each day when I've picked her up, partly because it's all so new and partly because it just wears her out! This morning, though, that all changed. As soon as I'd taken off her coat, she walked off into her classroom and didn't even look back to wave good-bye. Routine established; Mama is old news.

The timing of the playgroup has been great as I've entered third trimester exhaustion. Sleeping soundly just doesn't happen anymore, though thankfully insomnia has been minimal. I've been so tired most days that I nap when Ellie naps and am a useless lump on the couch after she goes to bed (a big reason why blog-posting has fallen to the wayside). Last Wednesday night I had an unscheduled trip to the midwife at 8pm to check on some vicious Braxton-Hicks contractions. They were too irregular to be labor, but boy were they strong enough! Luckily, they subsided again and haven't returned. Baby is very busy in the belly, and we are getting close! 34 weeks this week! We got a reminder at the scheduled midwife appointment that Markus has to come with me next time so they can share all the labor/birth information with him. I can't believe that's where we are! We even started a "childbirth in Holland" course last week (one more thing on the busy schedule pile).
Although it feels like this topic should be a post of its own, I'm going to keep plugging along while I'm on a roll here. A few weeks ago, we changed midwife clinics from Bronovo hospital to a small practice called Mundo. Why? The Bronovo midwives only do hospital births, and we wanted to give ourselves the option of birthing at home. Home births are still incredibly common in Holland, and we felt if we were to try it, this would be the place. It's very safe and they have very strict eligibility requirements. If they decide at any point in my labor that we need to go to the hospital, Bronovo is only 10 minutes away at most. The nice part is I can also decide right up until the last minute if I want to birth at home or in the hospital. The midwife will just come with me if I change my mind. I like the flexibility, but I really like the idea of a home birth. If we are expected to have a normal, natural birth anyway, why go to the hospital at all, especially when they typically send mom and newborn home again after only a few hours? Once labor starts, the first requirement we have to meet is being at least 37 weeks along. Even 36 weeks and 6 days is too early and they will make me go to the hospital. Of course, there's no way of knowing when this baby will decide to make an appearance, but it's amazing to me that in less than three weeks, we could have the baby here at home if it decided to come. Wow.

Last but not least on the news front is that our water baby has finally regained her confidence in the pool and started swimming on her own this week (with the help of floaties)! When we lived in Qatar, Ellie was in the pool every day and LOVED it! Unfortunately, one awful moment in a swim class here ended all that. The instructor wanted the children to swim unassisted (excepting the floaties) to the other side of the pool. Ellie was new to the group and had never done that before, so I walked right behind her with my arms outstretched so she could touch me for confidence. When the instructor saw what I was doing, she came over and told me to step back, and without any notice, she grabbed Ellie and pushed her away from me in the water. Naturally, Ellie was terrified and began to cry. The crying lasted all that visit to the pool...and has taken MONTHS to undo. Since that moment, Ellie has been timid about the water. She clung to me like velcro in the pool and has been very nervous when it was crowded with other children. I've tried taking her at least once a week to get her reacclimated at her own pace, letting her set the speed and depth we enter the water and the duration of our stay. Sometimes it was as short as 5 minutes; other times, she lasted up to 20.
This week, she spontaneously asked to "do it by self" and paddled happily next to me for a minute or two before clinging again, though the fear seemed to be gone. I was so excited that I brought her back to the pool again two days later, and she walked right in and didn't stop for nearly 25 minutes! She swam and swam and swam, only taking a few short breaks to rest at the side of the pool or on my arm. She was so happy and proud! I wish there had been some way for me to record it on video or with a photo, because her smile was incredible! She wasn't at all interested in me guiding her or holding onto her. She is a free water baby once more!

So, yes, that's it! Whew! What a full two weeks we've had! We have plans for every day this weekend as well, and then next week it all begins again. We hope to take Ellie to the pool on Saturday morning so she can show off her new skills for Papa. If we make it (it's supposed to be rainy so the pool may be too crowded for her), we will take some pictures to share. Hope all is well on your end! Please keep the comments flowing. We enjoy hearing from friends and family!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Putting life into perspective

Recently, Markus and Jennifer watched the movie "Blood Diamond" on DVD. Amazing movie. In addition to all the discussion it provoked, we couldn't help but be reminded that the destination for most of those diamonds is Antwerp, where we occasionally go on a 1.5 hour comfortable drive in our luxury car to buy expensive chocolate for kicks (quite a different experience than had by people at the other end of the diamond route). Each day, we read the International Herald Tribune, which is conveniently delivered to our door. Lately it has been filled with awful stories of Kenya (the deadly election outcome readily contrasted by the soap-opera-style campaigns in the US) and goings-on in various places around the globe where we are blessed by birth not to live. On the back page of the weekend paper is the art exhibition section, where we find information about the safe haven in which we live: there are shows at the Mauritshuis (a 5 minute walk from our home) and at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which we visited today on a whim. I'm not really sure what to say here or where I'm going with all this, except for the fact that every once in a while getting such a stunning reminder of how beautiful and doggone easy your life really is deserves at least a moment's pause, if not serious recognition.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

blitzpampers family weekend

This morning, we took advantage of the beautiful sunshine to explore Kaag on foot. Kaag is a water-centered community close to Amsterdam that Markus discovered recently. It's a hot spot for sailing in the summers, and he's been wanting us to take a look around. The area is truly beautiful and very peaceful this time of year. A small car ferry took us across to a residential area, and Jennifer liked it so much she wrote down the phone number for a house for sale (as if we could afford a weekend house in a community where all the cars were BMWs, Volvos and Porsches).

After Ellie's nap (and a bit of convincing), we all went to the playground to burn some energy before sundown (which we are now happy to report occurs around 5:30 instead of 5). Ellie was quite reluctant on the outset and could only be convinced to go once her hairstyle was updated. A girl has to accessorize.

And when planning her look, a girl really needs to consider her shoes. Markus purchased these cowgirl boots for Jennifer on our weekend trip to Austin during our post-Katrina Houston residence. There is a famous boot shop there, and I wanted to try some on for a laugh. Two years later, I had to get the boots resoled because I actually wore holes right through from such frequent use! These boots are sooooo comfortable...and fabulous too! Ellie was helping to condition the leather this evening when she remarked that the boots are "not too big" and proceded to try them on. These boots are made for walkin', after all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

Happy New Year, everyone!

We don't make resolutions here at blitzpampers headquarters, but we do enjoy the opportunity to start new projects. With that in mind, Jennifer is taking the Art Card Challenge. The idea is to commit yourself to creating small art every day. The card is just a format/size goal to get you started, and you can use any media you like (paint, pencil, digital, photography...whatever!). You can start with a week-long commitment and expand to a month or a year if you like. There's no sign-up, so no one keeps track of my participation but me. I just made my second card, and I'm really enjoying this! It hardly takes any time at all (depending on how elaborate you'd like to get), and it's very satisfying to get the creative juices flowing even for just a short while each evening. When I complete the challenge, I'm not sure if I'll keep the cards and use them myself or if I'll gift them to a friend. Either way, I'll take pics of the results and post them when I'm done. If you decide to take the challenge, please let me know! It would be fun to see your work if you'd like to share!

Another project we're starting is a second blog: "eating blitzpampers-style." By now you know about my obsession with food (healthy and otherwise), and I've really enjoyed the feedback I've gotten on my little "Cooking" sidebar. I thought I'd start a little food blog to share recipes and get more feedback from foodie and wanna-be-foodie friends out there. You'll have to be patient with me on the photography. I have become addicted to several food blogs on the web, and the food photography is gorgeous. I can't quite seem to take the pictures I want to of my food, but I will be working on technique as time goes on. Bear with me and please check it out over at