Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wise buy

The last time we were stateside, we purchased this glitzy glamorous double stroller in anticipation of Stephanie's arrival. European streets, shops and transportation make compact styling a requirement, so we splurged on this model because it was really the only one that fit the bill.

Of course, Ellie won't ride in it. She doesn't like it.
And baby Stephanie prefers to be held.
So...that was good money wasted, yes? No!
We do have two other small critters in the house who like it very much!

After all, there are two of them and it is a double stroller. Always good to know the cats appreciate expensive gear.

Here's a shot from this morning of the two meant to go in there. Ellie has some wild hair these days! (notice that sweet big sister arm around her baby)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baby Stephanie

Two months ago, our baby Stephanie Grace arrived in the comfort of our living room (still can't get over that one!). Since then, our lives have been filled with much less sleep but lots more love! Baby Stephanie is a baby marvel. She is so strong! She not only holds her head steady (for weeks now), but also sits upright with support and will even pull up to standing sometimes. She started smiling her gorgeous baby smile a couple of weeks ago, and she has added in some baby talking ("Ah-goo") for good measure. She loves being held, but she will have lengthy discussions with mobiles and dangling toys if left to her own devices for short periods. One blessing of a second chid is a de-sensitization to noise. She can sleep through her sister tearing through the house, merrily (or not) shouting and having a grand ol' time. The reverse also seems to be true (Ellie sleeping through Stephanie noise), which is great! If only we could get them to sleep at the same time...

Oma is here!

Oma arrived Saturday afternoon for her first visit with baby Stephanie. The two of them seemed to hit it off quite well! The weather is cooperating to give us all a lovely weekend, so today we went to the beach to play in the warm sun and sand. Stephanie slept the whole time (she's a morning napper), but she had fun when we came home!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Baby class reunion

Last week, Ellie, Stephanie and I attended the reunion of our Dutch childbirth class. Look at this cuteness!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tough times

The week hasn't gotten off to an auspicious start. In fact, it's been downright hard. Jennifer's version of Ellie's cold has turned nasty, and I have lost my voice. I'm all froggy and yuck, and I'm exhausted to boot. Yesterday, Ellie seemed to see this as a golden opportunity to go completely insane and be a typical 2 year old with wild and unacceptable behaviors. This is what I refer to as her "lion versus weakest gazelle" routine (the weakest gazelle being Mama). It was trying enough to make me want to compose a country-western song entitled "Out of Diapers, Out of Gas, and Out of my Mind". Then, it occurred to me that that could be the title of a whole parenting album about this oh-so-tough (but oh-so-worth-it) job. Life in Holland factors weren't helping much yesterday either. Just before dinner time, the smoke detector in the unoccupied house next door started going off. We called the realtor who is managing it, but they refused to come out to turn it off because there was no fire and it was after office hours. It beeped its incessant high-pitched beep ALL NIGHT LONG. Road construction near our house means the garbage truck won't collect on our street, so Markus has to walk the trash to the other side of the canal where the city has placed a temporary sign that says essentially "Put your trash here". Last night, we got a notice that vaguely indicated that we put our trash out on the wrong day or in the wrong place and would be fined for 3 bags, but of course there was no info as to what would have been correct. So, no trash pick-up at home, and no trash pick-up where the city says to dump it and a fine besides! ARGH. Trying to get Ellie to go to school this morning was like pulling teeth without novocaine. She ran away from me every time I approached with her jacket or shoes, despite the fact that she excitedly verbalized how badly she wanted to go to school. After school, we dealt once again (as we've been doing for several weeks now) with the parking nightmare that is our neighborhood under road construction. There was nowhere to park on the street, and someone had illegally parked in our private garage spot. I circled the neighborhood for over an hour, only finding a spot in time for Ellie to fall asleep in the car...which meant big tears when I had to get her into the house and into her own bed.
And I mentioned I'm sick, right?
This isn't fun.

So why am I writing this whining, complaining blogpost? I had to go through this mess, but you don't have to read about it. Who wants to read about complaining? I was just going to let this be another post-less day, but something else happened too that feels worth mentioning.

When I picked Ellie up from school today, she was sobbing huge, miserable, hurt tears...the kind of tears and crying that break a mama's heart. She stumbled tearily into my arms and clung to me as she rarely does these days. Her heart was broken. Something big must have happened, but what? I tried soothing her as I waited for her teacher to dismiss the other children so we could talk about it; Ellie cried into my hair the whole time. Finally, her teacher, Marie, came and gently told me that Ellie has been acting out in small ways ever since the baby came. Ellie has been jumping around during sit-quietly time, not following instructions, etc. (which is very un-Ellie-like) and smiling when she is asked to correct her behavior, though not correcting it without intervention. We have seen lots of these behaviors at home in the past few weeks too (deliberately coloring on the floor with markers, lots of happy defiance...), but since the timing didn't coincide with Stephanie's arrival, we thought she was picking these things up at school. Marie said she hadn't mentioned it because it's always small and it's not constant, so she accepted it as a normal, new-baby-at-home phase. Apparently, Ellie had a great day at school today, but just as they were lining up to leave, she dramatically held up her daily painting for all to see and tore it down the middle. Marie thinks Ellie must have shocked herself with what she had done, because (although the only reaction the teachers gave was surprise) she immediately dissolved into inconsolable tears, which is how I found her at pick-up. This story just broke my heart. My poor girl! We give her lots of love and attention, but a new baby (even an easy, sweet one) is a big adjustment. In the midst of my own exhaustion, I had lost sight of the fact that our dear Ellie is still a baby too. She's trying her best to be good and keep normal, but she is also having such a tough time sometimes.

I'm not beating myself up over this. Being a parent is HARD WORK, and even when I'm losing my nut, I am doing the best I can for my girls and my family. I'm not perfect and a lot falls through the cracks, but to do otherwise just isn't humanly possible most days. Still, today was a good reminder for me of Ellie's perspective. Being a big sister and a big girl and an obedient, polite girl and so many other adjectives is HARD WORK TOO. She's doing the best she can, even when she's losing her nut. Otherwise just isn't humanly possible most days.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Sorry about the lack of posting, but we are diseased. Ever since Ellie started school, she has had one cold after another, and the lessons in sharing seem to be taking hold. Ellie has shared this latest cold with us all, so the blog will be post-lite in the interim.

Unfortunately, this mess has coincided with Mary's visit! Mary is here visiting from Ocean Springs, and Ellie is so happy to see her! The weather has been lovely and sunny, so (aside from us having colds) Mary is getting the best of a Holland spring. Today, we went to Keukenhof to see the tulips. Keukenhof is one of the most photographed places in the world, and Mary really believes it! She kept her camera busy until the battery ran down. That's when I started with mine. Photographing tulips is like catching beads at Mardi Gras; I know I already have more than I could ever need or want, but I just gotta have more when I'm there!

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Since we've moved to Holland, Jennifer has been a fan of the bakfiets. A bakfiets is a bicycle with a box in front where you stow your kids and your shopping (or your dog). Getting around town by car is a major hassle, and cycling is the way to go. A bakfiets is the ultimate solution for families, and now that we have two kids, I'd really like to have one. We haven't gotten one yet because we have nowhere to store it when not in use, but we are thinking of getting one to bring along for the many bike paths in Perth. That led us to some internet research of different models, and just when you thought you'd seen everything...

This bakfiets holds up to 13 children. Yes, the image is photoshopped and not realistic, but the bike really does exist. It's a man-powered school bus on two wheels. This is insane.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Open confession

We’ve been keeping something from you. With total disregard to your loyalty as a blog reader, we have not been telling the whole truth for the past two months. Yes, we post updates and photos and have even resumed the food blog, but there has been an entire side-story missing. Today, you’re going to get the whole truth.

The white smoke has risen again.

Three times per year, the head honchos in Markus’s workplace cloister themselves away to decide the fates of the expats at their mercy. The question at stake is quite literally “Where in the world are we going next?” There is an element of self-determination involved. When an expat’s “window” comes up, he/she will search the internal jobsite and apply to those postings deemed most interesting and appropriate. Once the round is over, the head honchos come in, take a look at who applied where, and make the final decisions on where the expats will go. This means one can apply to three or four (or more) different jobs, interview, and wait…but not get the final say. Even if two or more places really want a particular person, that person may never know it. The head honchos make that choice and pass down the answers. The whole process takes well over a month, and it is only the start of an even bigger process of moving internationally, with visa applications and all kinds of wild rigamarole and bureaucratic red tape to enjoy.

Why would I blog about this now? After all, we are only just over a year into our four-year posting in The Hague. We’ve finally gotten over that yucky, first-year hump (the first year anywhere, even great places, is always tough). We have made good friends, found a great school for Ellie, discovered lots of fun places for kids, enjoyed many museum trips…generally hit our stride, found our groove, what-have-you. It’s true that we have a four-year contract but a two-year window, meaning we left ourselves open to the possibility of moving two years into the contract time (end of 2008). The Hague was a move we made to be closer to family during a difficult time, so Markus didn’t choose it for the job or his career. Just between ourselves, we had been talking of whether to stay or go. Markus is no fan of the climate here (as in “hates” with a capital M for “misery”), but there’s no denying the myriad benefits of living in The Hague despite the downsides. Besides, we’ve moved too often since that awful storm, and neither of us relished starting over somewhere new after finally settling in here. Heck, I can finally speak enough Dutch to complete my regular shopping (provided no one throws any unexpected dialogue my way)! I’ve really started enjoying life here (it’s that first year hump, I tell ya), so it was nice to have the choice of whether to stay or go, while knowing that we wouldn’t even have to make that choice until the end of the year. Right? Wrong.

As the birth of baby Stephanie approached, Markus’s boss noticed our 2008 window and casually mentioned that if he wanted to start looking for a new posting, he should feel free to look at the next round (opening in February) to see if anything was of interest. Within days, Markus’s name was on a list of expats set to move after the February round. So much for the casual look-around. Suddenly, our “openness to change” turned into a “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.” Bye-bye choice! Hello stress! At a time when all I wanted to do was nest and prepare for baby two, we faced the “Where in the world should we go next?” question. It wasn’t easy. It was downright unpleasant at times, not least because we both realized as soon as it wasn’t optional that neither of us wanted to move anytime soon. The head honchos were pushing us toward Sakhalin. We wanted something sweeter. Alas. We made some decisions, applied for four jobs (none of which was Sakhalin, which managed to stay in the running anyway), and waited for the agonizing process to run its course…except neither of us is very good at passively waiting. What would happen if we got none of the jobs we chose? Would they make us go to Sakhalin? Could we live with that? Such debates led to more investigations on our part, along with lengthy discussions on our short- and long-term goals. What do we really want? What will the company tell us we want? This week, we got the official word.

The white smoke has risen.
The word is Perth.
And the word is good.

Perth, Australia, is to be our home for the next four years. If we have to move against our will, this is really an excellent option. From all accounts, Perth is beautiful and a great place for families. It’s warm and outdoorsy (this should keep the big kid in the family just as happy as the little ones), and the lifestyle is laidback and open. The obvious downside is distance. Perth is very isolated on the west coast of Australia. It’s a 5+ hour flight just to get to somewhere else in the same country, so seeing friends and family in the US and Germany will suddenly be a bit more challenging. On the flip side, it’s a great jumping-off point for exploring a part of the world we wouldn’t otherwise see, and our home will always be open to visitors.

The requested start date is July 1st, so it looks like we’ll be trading summer for winter this year (a first for Jennifer). Although we haven’t started the planning process yet (there’s still quite a bit of paperwork to be done), we expect the movers will come the last week or so of June. We’ve already booked at trip to the US in May. Good thing baby Stephanie has her passport ready!

So now you know it: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We are moving. Again. But we’re looking forward to it and are hoping for the best!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I amsterdam

This morning, we trekked to Amsterdam for baby Stephanie's appointment at the consulate to register for citizenship and obtain a passport. Not knowing how long we'd be there, we packed Ellie's lunch and extra kiddo supplies. Lucky us! It turned out to be a gorgeous, sunny spring day! The consulate didn't keep us long at all, so we ate lunch in the sunshine and had a play on the Museumplein between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Ellie made particular use of a large sculpture...

look closely for a little pink-clad person (Rijksmuseum in background)

posing mid-hug in front of the Van Gogh Museum

As an update, Ellie's cold has passed, so no more wailing from her. Hooray!
(Now the wailing is all Jennifer's. Lack of sleep--currently four nights' debt--has never been her forte.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Just so you know

If you hear the distant sound of a child wailing in frustrated misery, it might be Ellie. Ellie has a wee cold. Alternating stuffiness and copious snot is not to be tolerated.

Or it might be us grown-up-types wailing pathetically. We haven't slept much in three days (having a cold makes Ellie wake up every hour or so).

Friday, April 04, 2008

One month check-up

On Monday, baby Stephanie had her first doctor's appointment at the Consultation Bureau. You may remember from Ellie's visits there that the Consultation Bureau is a well-baby clinic for children in The Netherlands. Given Ellie's complete immunizations when we arrived, we thus far haven't visited the Consultation Bureau often. We should start a whole new record of that with Stephanie, who will begin her immunizations next month. This particular visit was just a first meeting and check-up. She weighed in at just over 9 pounds, nearly a whole kilo gained since birth! Yes, I realize I've mixed measures there, but she's weighed in kilos which means little to the average American reader of this blog (and me, to be honest). She is right on Dutch average for weight, height and head circumference. I'm not sure how that relates to the American growth scale, but Dutch people are quite tall and their babies are a good size, so at least we know the breastfeeding is working out for her! Her feet, which curled toward each other at birth due to position in the womb, are straigtening out and she's very strong. She can lift up to standing when she grips our fingers; I guess she knows it's best to hit the ground running in this house!

As detected by my excellent nurse mother during her recent visit, baby Stephanie has a small umbilical hernia. The doctor looked unconcerned and told us to expect it to heal by 3 months. Given the stalwart Dutch medical profession, I did research of my own and it assured me that this is relatively normal and not to worry. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, an umbilical hernia is an opening in the abdominal wall around the belly button that was present before birth to allow blood flow through the umbilical cord; the hernia just indicates it didn't close right away. In Stephanie's case, the opening is very small, so unless it starts to bother her, the best course of treatment is no treatment; it should heal itself. Our sweet little baby is in the throes of baby acne right now (caused by maternal hormones in the breastmilk), but that should clear up soon too. All in all, she is a healthy, happy baby. That's how we like it!

Ellie continues to be a model big sister! She is very sweet to the little one she usually refers to in full as "baby Stephanie Grace." We are counting our blessings that there haven't been any jealousy issues to date. We suspect this is partly because there has been little disruption to Ellie's routine, which is very important to her. The only real disruption she's had lately has been daylight savings, which started in Europe this week. Now, Ellie has a hard time getting to sleep at night, particularly because it is still light out at bedtime. This seems a widespread problem among wee ones in her set. One of her classmates summed it up perfectly when she announced to her mother: "No dark, no sleep." Oh dear.