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.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Real Food"

For all that I'm a decent home cook, I'm not really a foodie--I don't own a sous vide machine--but the only way I can get things like bagels and General Tso's Chicken without paying and arm and a leg is frequently to make them myself.  A truly buttery brioche is not to be found; a quality risotto is even further out of the question--unless I am the one standing at the stove, stirring a giant pot of rice.  And my biggest, biggest pet peeve of all:  when you order take-away from one of the faux-Chinese places (faux-Chinese, but real Indonesian, inasmuch as Dutch-ified Indonesian take-away can be considered "real") they always send you home with nasi, a stir-fried rice pocked with little bits of egg and ham and peas, rather than properly cooked rice.  

In our house, nine meals out of ten are cooked according to the following rubric:  Does it contain meat and two veg?  Will it make good leftovers?  If the answer to both questions is "yes", then it goes on our meal plan.  But every now and then, along comes an image, a fleeting impression, a smell, perhaps--and I find myself craving dishes that I never really appreciated before I moved here.  It's not about the taste, or the quality of the food, or the nutritional value.  It's about the emotions that are connected to food--and the fond memories of old friends whom I haven't seen for a long time, and am unlikely to ever see again.  It's about that curious nostalgia for things so terrible for your health you swore you'd never eat them when you found out what their nutrition label looked like, yet they taste so good every now and then--every once in a while--you can admit that you really liked it.

Thus it is with General Tso's Chicken.  I honestly can't remember ever eating this when I lived in Philly, but seeing the trailer for the documentary did a dam good job of tickling the memories of the food trucks at UPenn, taking Karel for Real Chinese food, dim sum with Rebecca, and long heart-to-hearts with Mordecai (though I can't remember that we ever actually got Chinese food).  So making this wasn't so much about feeding my family something nutritious and delicious as it was about a selfish endeavor to recreate something of my past, to spread the joy that I felt around to Karel and the kidlet.  And it did just that.  Karel wolfed down his portion with a big smile on his face--and then promptly told me to make more--and I got to have a meal with properly-cooked rice and things that weren't drowned in sauce, for once.  

Recipes for GTC abound on YouTube and the Internet, all of them claiming to be more real than the next one, but basically what it is is pieces of chicken, floured and then deep-fried to get that crispy crust, which then soaks up the sauce.  I didn't dare make mine too spicy--kidlet has going through a quasi-picky stage, where somedays he'll eat everything and some days he'll eat nothing, and every day it's something different, so I didn't want to risk him being scared off by the bite of a chili pepper.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Fine Print

Kidlet recently had his first day at peuterspeelzaal.  The picture shows his "welkom" postcard that he received in the mail a while ago, with a reminder of when to drop him off.  According to the teacher, it went great.  I suppose this means that he didn't cry when he realized that I'd ghosted, and was willing to wait his turn when it came to their morning fruit snack.  (Every child brings an apple, orange, banana, pear, etc--something to share with everybody else)

I know a lot of parents are filled with anxiety at the thought of leaving their precious in the care of other people, and I suppose I should be more traumatized.  But really, it was a relief--just drop him off, make sure he was settled, and poof, I was gone.  Keep in mind that, despite all of Karel's good intentions of giving me a little time to myself, his work schedule doesn't always cooperate, so I don't really get any time alone at an hour that I'm awake enough to enjoy it.

It's always about the fine print.  I have my evenings free, for instance, but most people don't realize how knackered I am after a day of running errands, running after kidlet, amusing kidlet, making kidelt eat, cleaning the messes that kidlet makes while he's making new ones, cooking, and more running after kidlet.  Any time after he goes to bed is basically time that I reserve to recover from the day, but what I need is time alone.  To think, to write, to browse books, and yes, to play Kingdom Rush (you'd be surprised how on-your-game you have to be for that kind of game).

Which is essentially what I did today:  I went to Mugs & Muffins, in the city center, ordered a coffee-that-I-didn't-have-to-worry-about spilling and a slice of pie-that-I-didn't-have-to-share, and worked on a terrible story (it's a good story, but it's about terrible things).  I went to the bookstore, where I was able to browse-without-worrying-about-kidlet-getting-bored books, and then went to the Euroland, where I was able to consider getting hair curlers without repercussions.  It was wonderful. Relaxing, even.  

More wonderful, though?  Cycling back to the peuterspeelzaal and picking him up again.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Preschool as it should be

Kidlet recently started learning to recognize letters:  I suspect he recognizes a lot more than he's capable of saying, but he's pretty good about "M", "B", and "D", and it's 50/50 whether he says "O" and recognizes "P".  Yeah, we're going a bit out of order, but you have to realize that most of the letters he recognizes come from his environment, so it's whatever's on a sign at any given moment.  But basically, while I'm encouraging him to identify letter (and soon, numbers), I'm not actively pushing him to do so.  He'll learn to read when he's ready for it, just as he'll be completely potty-trained when he's ready for it.  

In other words, I am not being a tiger-mom and using flashcards and getting him to spit back sounds that he might not realize actually mean anything except an excited squeal and hand-clapping from Mom.  I am taking my cues from him, and doing things that he's either ready for, or will be ready for soon.  

This morning, then, when we went to see the peuterspeelzaal we'd be sending him to, I was pleasantly surprised by how laid-back and relaxed everything was.  According to the teacher, the daily schedule, such as it was, consisted of having fruit, reading a book or two, and maybe doing some crafts.  Otherwise it was largely free play for everybody, with relatively minimal supervision.  They did some potty-training, but it was okay if your kidlet wasn't 100% potty-trained just yet.  The "teacher" (she might have been an actual teacher, but that morning she had a largely supervisory role) even left the kids alone in the classroom to give us a grand tour of the facilities.  No havoc ensued, no kids fell off the slide, no kids pushed other kids, and there were no tears.  

It was indeed, as the literal translation of peuterspeelzaal goes, a "toddler play space", where the primary goal was not to make sure toddlers could count and learn their shapes and colors (which kidlet is in the process of doing, but as I said above, when he's ready for it, and on his own time), but to teach them to play together, to follow directions, to follow a kind of structure to their day.  And I think it's wonderful that there's little emphasis on literacy or testing, a la the insanity that makes the US media.  They're letting kids be kids, and that's as it should be.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Chromebook love

OK, so I said before I liked my Chromebook.

I'm sorry, I lied.  I love my Chromebook.  Even if it doesn't have a caps lock key, and even if it doesn't have a delete key (I'm pretty sure this can be hacked, I just haven't had the time to look up how).  Even if it can't run gaming programs or photoshopping programs.  Even if I can't access Guitarbots (which is funny, because it's a web-based program, so theoretically it should run) and even if I can't take on hourly work through oDesk.

Because, despite all of these disadvantages, there are some pretty major upsides to using a Chromebook.  For starters, I can turn it on and be online within 10 seconds.  In fact, the major bottleneck in getting online is having to enter in my (randomly-generated) passwords.  For another, the battery, which in my model (Asus c300) has been touted as "all day", actually does run for the entire day.  Now, granted, I'm actually away from the computer all day, stopping in only to check on Facebook, or send a quick email, but in the evenings, well, let's just say that even when running YouTube, I've yet to drain the battery below 45%.  And I typically work from 7-12 am.  And lastly, well, it comes in blue.  For a €329 computer, it's really quite nice.

I think Apple made a big mistake when it took colors out of the picture.  Apple does make awesome products, so it doesn't really matter, but on the other hand, well, I like colors.  I guess what I'm saying is that, given similar product specs, I'd most likely pick the product that's available in the color I want.  And since I can't seem to discern any differences between the performance of Karel's iPhone and my Samsung SIII--and likewise, since my Chromebook easily outperforms every PC in this house, times two--well, give me a blue thing any day.

And as for the missing programs, well, there are some pretty nice online sites.  You can also use the Google Play store to download apps, the same as you would with your phone--this might not work for everything, but I've found a pretty nice chess program.  Photobucket offers an array of photo manipulating tools, and Office Online offers an abbreviated version of Office products.  Gdocs is capable of saving as Office-compatible documents (as well as PDF--I cannot tell you how pleased I am that Google's developers considered this detail), and converting Office documents into the relevant G-product.  And the fact that the OS updates automatically, without requiring your authorization, is quite nice as well. The only downside that's been relevant for me is the flimsy 32 GB hard drive, but external hard drives are dirt cheap these days.

So that's my take on the Chromebook.  For a thrifty computer that does web-based stuff really well--i.e., what most people do with their computers--it really can't be beat.

Disclaimer:  I was not compensated in any way by Google or Asus (though if you'd like to send me a check, I wouldn't be opposed to cashing it).   This is a review based solely on my opinion of the product I have used.  Your mileage may vary.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting Away With It

Some would say that I'm overly strict with kidlet, making him put his own dirty dishes in the sink and expecting him to help out with the housekeeping when and where he can.  I don't let him eat much sugar--I consider myself fortunate that he loves having fruit and does not object overly much to vegetables.  I make him pick up his blocks when he makes a mess of them (I do help gather them together).  He's well-behaved in public, accepting "No, we're not getting that" with nary more than a shrug.  

So it might come as a surprise when I say that I let him sleep in our bed.  I didn't, early on.  I did co-sleep/bedshare with him--just me and him--when he was very small, but once he "graduated" to waking up only once a night I moved back to our bed and he slept in his room.  And since then, he's had his own bed in one form or another.  Which he usually stays in. 

But sometimes, about 2-3 times a week, he'll wake up in the middle of the night, come to our bedroom, and crawl under the covers with us.  And I'll let him stay.  Firstly, experience has taught me that if I do send him back to his room, he won't sleep and he'll come in just about every hour, waking us up in the process.  And that, to me, is far worse than having a kidlet smooshed between us, with his foot in my ribs and taking over my pillow.  We've slept with our cats for five years--we're used to being dislplaced.  You can get used to sleeping in a funny position.  You never get used to being awakened 4-5 times a night.  

Secondly:  it's not as if he refuses to sleep in his own bed.  He loves the bedtime ritual, and is actually quite amenable to going to bed.  But he's also at that age where he's starting to become independent, pulling his pants on and off for the potty all by himself, voicing requests and having them respected (or not), being allowed to run around the Garage for Fun all by himself.  I am told that so much independence can be a little scary for a kidlet.  If he needs a night of cuddles to make sure that we still love him, I'd be cruel to turn him away.  

And thirdly, well, it's just ridiculously cute to wake up together, to see him snuggled up between the pillows and sleepily open his eyes, and then realize that Mommy's awake, too.  And that means that he's allowed to get up.  And the ensuing bouncing on the bed that waking up invariably entails.  

In short, there's nothing to be gained by making him sleep in his own bed.  He's always been a good sleepr and quite good at falling asleep on his own, and it's not like he's pathologically attached to us, either.  He just needs a little extra cuddle every now and again.  What kid doesn't?