Friday, July 17, 2015

Accomplishments and confessions

This year, as I did for most years, started with a planner and the best of intentions to:  map out my week, keep track of what I was doing, and make sure I was on top of all my deadlines.  But something happened along the way...and I've actually stuck with it for the entire year so far, and I doubt I'm going to stop, because it's actually been really useful to keep track of freelancing  assignments that have a tendency to overlap one another and bunch up.

(Also--Scrivener rules and if you're a serious writer you should just shell out $40 because it's just that awesome and incredibly powerful.  I've been finding that the "word count target" feature is really useful when writing fiction.)

It's a simple, cheap planner (read:  the only one I could afford as of last year) but it does the trick:  the vertical week layout is nice, and my handwriting isn't that big, so even though the columns are only about an inch wide it's pretty okay in terms of the amount of space I have to work with.  I have an addiction to Moleskine products, as I've mentioned before, and since they sell vertical planners, I'd already set aside some money for buying their planner for 2016 next year and that would have been the end of that.  

Except.

I clicked on a video on decorating planners on YouTube, and have become entirely obsessed with the idea of purchasing an Erin Condren planner.  It is, as far as I can tell, the Cadillac planner of people who decorate their planners--with washi tape, fancy Post-It notes, stickers, arrays of markers and stamps.   And this from someone who has, to date, owned exactly two rolls of washi tape.  I don't quite know what it is about watching people decorate their planners that is so hypnotic.  I do know that I've already put in an order for two different sets of fancy sticky notes (from Japan) with the idea of making a 2016 planner totally glam-worthy.  (My personal style tends to be more understated, actually, and it's hard not to feel a little ridiculous about all the stickers and stuff when your main writing implement is a Parker fountain pen).


The main thing is the vertical weekly layout over two pages.  I've been trying to find another planner (yeah, I know it's early) that has this feature and I've been coming up short.  Yeah, there's the Moleskine Dashboard  and that's probably what I'll end up ordering, but, well, it's black.  The pages are pedestrian--boring, even.  At the very least, they could have a bit of color, right?  But that's not Moleskine's style, and frankly, it's not really mine, either.  I mean, I do use sticky notes in my planner and I do have a set of markers that I use to highlight things and block out days, but the kind of insanity that prompts people to spend that much time planning out their weeks is a little much, even for me.  

And at the end of the day, well, it's a planner.  It doesn't really matter how pretty it looks if you never get done what you planned.  On the level that matters, I realize this, just as I realize that spending $70 (the actual planner is "only" $50, but international shipping is an extra $20) on a planner borders on the insane and ridiculous.  But still, there's a part of me that wants to try...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Squeeze: Camping trip


Against all odds, we somehow managed to squeeze in a camping trip this past weekend.  Somehow my freelancing assignments all ended right before (and picked up again right afterwards) so the entire weekend could be completely devoted to:  flying kites with kidlet, reading and finishing a book, babysittig kidlet while he zooomed around on his loopfiets, letting Karel do all of the camping stuff (I figure that, if he wanted my help, he's a man and can ask for it), and eating too much barbecue.

Camping is the national Dutch pastime--like baseball in the US, but far more interesting.  For starters, it's a very regimented process, almost like booking a hotel:  you go online and tell people what you're bringing (tent or trailer) and how long you're staying.  There is no (or very little) random driving around the country and staking out a tent wherever looks good--mostly because pastures have been fenced off, the woodlands are engineered to be utterly inhospitable to this sort of impromptu overnighting, and the campgrounds are always, always, PACKED.  (At least on the weekends)

One of the nicknames the Dutch have acquired is the rather unflattering "snails"--as a reference to the very Dutch habit of packing a trailer (Brits: caravan) with all the comforts of home--especially the Douwe Egberts Rode koffie--and clogging up the highways in some other country, and in NL for the less adventurous.  The Germans retaliate by taking over the beaches around Scheveningen and Leiden.  Campgrounds typically have shower, bathroom, and laundry facilities; you can rent a bike for lekker fietsen and seeing the sights; the one we went to had a pool and playground and a riverside beach, along with boat rentals from a nearby company.  Some of them offer free Wi-Fi.  So really, all you really need is a tent and a sleeping bag and some coffee.

Our tent was not a sheet tossed over some lawn chairs, happily  That was kidlet's little play space that I'd set up to keep him out of the sun while the tent was still being set up.  Karel had acquired an uber-delux tent that allowed us to fit a full-sized air mattress and still have plenty of room to store all of our things in.  One handy feature was that you could detach the floor from the roof, which was a good thing to do with the weather being as hot as it was.  At night, we put the walls back down.  It was not the kind of TARDIS-like contraption that starts out the size of a pencil case and ends up being a comfy suite when unfolded--the tent is heavy, made of canvas and heavy-duty plastic, and requires no less than 24 spikes in the ground to set up. But it is nice; and with the bed, it wasn't all that different from sleeping at home, which is probably the only reason why kidlet slept at all the entire time we were there.

The one thing about camping that I really appreciated, from a practical point of view, was that there was zero pressure to dress kidlet.  I mean, yeah--if we'd left the campground I would've put him in his shorts, but as long as you're on the campground, clothing is "nearly optional":  people of all ages and physiques walk around wearing whatever they want, and on a day that's 34 C (that's 95 F) in the shade, that translates into a whole lotta bathing suits, even if the only moisture on your skin is sweat.  Kidlet spent a lot of time running around in his underwear--and he was still more-dressed than a lot of the kids we saw.  I myself went three days without shoes--tan lines around my feet and ankles have always bugged the living daylights out of me.

The campground we went to was situated on the Waal, so we almost had a riverside view; were it not for the row of caravans that remained steadfastly parked in front of our tent. Kidlet, being a transportation fanatic, still thought it was the best thing in the whole world--waking up in the morning and seeing a boat go steaming by.  By and large, it was a relaxing two days, not worrying about clients or deadlines and just being able to sit back and watch kidlet enjoy himself running around without shoes.

My inbox, when I came back, though...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Honor amongst bike thieves?

It goes without saying that if you live in the Netherlands, your bike will be stolen at some point.  It doesn't matter how many locks you have on it, how vigilant you are about storing it at a bewaakte (guarded) bike lot or keeping it inside.  At some point, your bike will be stolen.   You may as well resign yourself to the fate now, and save up for the expense of getting another one now.

Bike thievery is rampant here:  A few years ago the Telegraaf claimed that there were 450,000 bikes stolen, but bike theft is only reported if you have a bike worth more than a couple hundred euros.  A few hundred?  Well, yeah--a good secondhand bike that doesn't sound like a dying cat and actually stops will cost ya at least 150 euros,if not more.   And since most bikes here are second- or third- (or more) -hand, they're rarely insured, even if they are pricey, and if they're not insured, then the theft doesn't get reported, because let's face it, the odds of ever seeing the bike again are between zero and zilch.

And it doesn't matter if you've got the latest, shiniest new bike on the street or a clunker--if the pedals work and you leave it unlocked, don't expect to come back and find it where you left it.  This is especially the case in cities like Nijmegen, which can be really strict about bike parking--your bike must be in a rack, otherwise it'll be held hostage, er, impounded.  They'll look askance if you're next to a rack on a marktdag, but leaving it next to a store while you pop in will attract someone's notice.  The procedure for ticketing an illegally parked bike is to first slap a sticker on it.  If, 15 minutes later, the bike is still there, it gets dragged off.  Unlike most ransoms, though, the fee to release your bike is relatively modest (30 euros).

But there is one class of bike that seems to be oddly immune to bike thieves:  kids' bikes.  Up to a certain size, you'll see them leaning against the wall of the supermarket, with nary a lock or a watcher in sight.  I don't know of it's just because they're practically useless to anybody bigger than a toddler, or if there really is a sense of righteousness amongst would-be thieves.  But I'm still nervous about leaving kidlet's loopfiets in the foyer of the Albert Heijn.  Maybe I'm just overly paranoid. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Free Fun in NIjmegen: The Glider Airport


One of Nijmegen's lesser-known secrets is that there's a glider airfield about 5 km south of the city border.  Technically, that puts it in Malden, but they still call it the Nijmeegse Aeroclub.  On nice days, if you remember to look up, you'll see the gliders circling the thermals in the skies towards the south.  There will usually be 3 or 4 of them at the same time, just lazily winging through the skies.

It's relatively easy to get to by car and bike.  On the weekends, an ice-cream truck stops and sells ice cream out the back.  But the main attraction is that, at one end of the airport, there are benches and tables, and you're allowed to watch the gliders take off and land.  Watching them take off is a real treat:  the winch truck revs up its engine, and at the other end of the field, you can watch the glider rocket into the air and, on a good day, catch a thermal.

Kidlet loves planes, cars, trucks, trains--anything motorized, essentially--so a lazy afternoon watching the gliders take off and land, while riding his "new" loopfiets (it was a present when he was born, but he only just started riding it this week) up and down the dirt paths, being a kid and every now and then yelling "PLANE!"  was about as perfect a day as it could be.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

My Kid is Warping My English

So in our household, kidlet hears two languages:  Mostly English, some Dutch.  Dutch comes from his dad, English comes from me--the occasional conversation in Chinese that I have with my mom doesn't really count.  And since he's at home with me most of the time, that means he hears mostly English.

So you might think that he speaks mostly English, but somehow, against all odds, his first sentences are very clearly Dutch.  Kom, we gaan naar de auto and Papa is thuis and such-like simple sentences.  He understands English just fine and when he learns new words he usually learns the English word first.  We have both Cars and Planes (and their sequels) in English, and he loves all of the movies.  When we go places, I make a point of speaking English to him, except it doesn't always work out that way.

Like most people who learn Dutch as a second language, I often mix words up.  It usually means I insert a Dutch word where I'd typically say an English one, but I sometimes spit out English words when I'm speaking Dutch, too.  I write both "coffee" and "koffie" on the shopping list.  But worst of all is when I catch myself using Dutch sentence structures to speak English:  i.e., "I want to order for him a keyboard".  This doesn't seem so bad, but for the fact that one of my freelancing hats is copy editor.  And then there is the fact that sometimes he seems to listen to me better when I speak Dutch than when I speak English.

So linguistically, we're definitely entering an interesting era.  It'll be interesting to see where we go.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wait and See


A lot of Dutch culture just is, and nobody really knows why,  but it's always been that way and therefore it always will be that way.  Sort of like the legendary "one-cookie" thing--it's so embedded in Dutch culture that even if you never actually encounter someone who offers you one (stale--it has to be stale, or else it doesn't really count) and only one cookie, that mentality follows you around like a shadow on a cloudy day, real enough but too vague to make much sense.

Thus it is with gardening.  This year, I bought these kweekkisten, little prepackaged containers complete with soil and seeds, just add water.  The idea was to infect kidlet with the excitement of growing things, but truth be told I don't think he quite realizes that the seeds are supposed to grow into things. He just had fun playing with the dirt.   The Intratuin we went to was giving away little packets of seeds (we got sunflower) with every purchase--or maybe it was just to cute kids--so we'll also be planting those, but later, outside.

It's anybody's guess whether the seeds will actually grow, and if they do grow, whether they'll actually look anything like the green, lush plants that were on the pictures.  In my experience, plants in pots rarely do, but you never know.  And who knows, maybe kidlet will have a green thumb.  Two euros per set is a fair price to pay to find out, right?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Strange Bedfellows

Kidlet has, as most kidlets do, a coterie of stuffed animals and loveys.  They range from the enormous pillow pet we were obligated to get him because by the time I was able to pry him away from it he'd already soaked it in drool, to the little tiny ornamental loveys that came with the pregnant-lady swag box that I got from the midwife.  But there are 4 that he's emotionally invested in to the point that it might be "love", and one more so than any of the others.

It is not, oddly, the Original Lovey, the LubWubs, as it is called.  It's a little, white sheet with a bunny head at one corner, sweet and innocent enough.  This was the one lovey I started giving to him at around 6 months as a sleep cue, the one that he takes to bed and nuzzles at night.  It is a source of comfort--or rather, it was, until my husband forgot to bring it back from an overnight stay with a friend (and yes, I am laying the blame squarely on the poor man, as I was at home sick for the entire time).  But luckily it seems to have been more of a habit at this point than a true need; since he got back bedtimes haven't been all that much different.

Nor is it the monkey pillow pet, of the aforementioned drooling episode.  And it's not the misnamed Panda, either--a toy leopard with deformed, enormous eyes.  We called it Fugly for a while, but he insisted that its name was Panda, and as with all things thus named by kidlet, its name is now Panda.

No, The One, the Only, the True Toy of the kidlet, is the ugliest teddy bear I have ever had the shame of buying.  It has no nose.  Texture-wise, it's hard and bristly, and there's a cold metal chain around its neck.  It's not soft.  And did I mention it's ugly?  I bought it at the thrift store, against all of my personal rules about buying stuffed things at thrift stores, because when he saw it, he wanted it, and had an all-out tantrum when I told him "no".  You might think it was bad parenting for me to give in, but you have to keep in mind that this kidlet almost never has a tantrum.  He gets whiny and cries for stuff, sure, but tantrums of the epic, fists-to-the-floor level that supposedly mark the Terrible Twos are almost unheard of.  (Before you get too jealous, though, let me assure you, he is plenty terrible, but in other ways)

This itchy, scratchy, bristly, hard, vaguely-stinky teddy bear is what he asks for before he goes to bed, even when we still had LubWubs.  It is what gets dragged around our apartment during the day.  It is the one that he tries to "potty train" and the one that gets to "eat" dinner.  It is the one that he occasionally tries to "dress" with varying degrees of success, the one that comes with him when he comes into our bed in the middle of the night.

I wish I could understand why, of all the stuffed animals he has, he's chosen to give his affection to the one toy that neither my husband nor I can stand.   I wish I could understand why, of all the stuffed animals in the thrift store, he chose that one--and why, of all the things he could have asked for, he insisted on getting it.

I suppose there is a moral in here somewhere about not getting invested too much in what your kids' toys are, or maybe the lesson is not to spend too much money on your kids' toys because they'll invariably fall in love with the cheapest, most God-awful things.  Or maybe there's a moral in here about letting kids be kids and letting them pick and choose which toys make them happy, even if you can't stand them.  And I suppose, if you want to read a lesson into this and pick and choose a moral, you could.

But I prefer to think that this is what the magic of childhood is all about:  doing things that your parents just don't understand, according to a logic that makes sense in your own little world where bedtimes are always a little too early and everybody always wants you to take nap even though you're not tired.  In a world where you have so little control over what goes on in your life, having a little something all to yourself must be precious.