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?  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Flow: Going With It

Confession time:  I love paper products.  Moleskine notebooks, nice pens (rollerballs and fountain pens), that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, aside from being on a rather tight budget, I can't usually justify buying another notebook just to let it sit and gather dust.  I mean, I love trees, too.  I do 90% of my writing on a device with a keyboard these days--the other 10% is reserved for making lists and keeping track of expenses--so it's not as if I actually use a full notebook.  And even if I did need all that paper, well, I've already got several notepads that are sufficiently empty that I can just use.

But the desire for good, quality paper products continues to haunt me every time I pass the Moleskine rack at the Dekker van de Vegt.  I love the way Moleskine products feel, how nicely they fit in my purse.  It's like an itch that simply can't be reached.

But lately (just to overextend the simile) I've gotten a backscratcher:  The Flow:  Book for Paper Lovers book, a huge, fat book full of cards and crafty paper and paper dolls and stickers and DIY envelopes and flags and did I mention stickers?  It's got wrapping paper and paper bags and posters and banners, thank-you notes and gift tags (one problem solved for next year) and postcards.

It wasn't cheap, but that's partly why I always ask for boekenbon, gift certificates that can be used almost every bookstore when people start pestering me for wish lists for my birthday and Christmas (well, that and I never know what to ask for).  And strangely, it has been immensely gratifying to have the book with me.  Rediscovering the thrill of paper dolls is the last of it.  Having cards to send to friends for different occasions is a huge bonus for me, at least--that's a major reason why we don't send out birthday cards, actually (I know, bad Dutchie):  the first is that I rarely remember to, the second is that I never remember to buy cards.

I started this year in a dangerously optimistic mood.  Who knows, maybe we'll finally get into a sort of groove this year, maybe I'll finally learn to go with the flow.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Life with a Chromebook

A few months ago, the laptop I was using died.  It just refused to see any network connections at all, and insisted on being connected through broadband, which we don't have.  But I didn't panic.  I had a netbook, and while I knew it was slow and pokey it was at least enough to get stuff done, right?  Except it wasn't.  Maybe a 1.3 GHz processor is fast enough for most things, but for some reason every single page took at least one minute to load (even Facebook), and as for typing...You know how sometimes you type something on a website and the words show up a minute later?  Yeah.  Except all the time.  And it would freeze every 10 minutes.  And tell me so only 2 minutes after I noticed it had frozen.

One of the best things about social media, I've decided, is being able to solicit opinions about stuff.  Most of my friends recommended that I purchase a Chromebook rather than an all-out laptop, and thus far, I must confess I am rather impressed.  I mean, I already spend most of my time online using Google products--Chrome, Drive, I even have a G+ account, Gmail, etc--and the only thing I was using Office for was to write stuff for clients, and occasionally update my spreadsheets of expenses for my accountant.  

Even so, I had a hard time believing that a Chromebook, with all of its shortcomings, could possibly be sufficient for me. Maybe it's just because I grew up in a day and age when more was always better--more storage, more RAM, more power, and the latest OS--but it felt like a dare to order the pretty blue thing (yes, I got the blue one, just because I could).  It helped that I had a tax deadline--in order to have the VAT count towards my 2014 expenses, I needed to order it before 1 January--so on the very last day of 2014, I just sat down and clicked "order", without thinking about the pros and cons any more.  

Getting Chrome to work at first was a little sticky:  when you get your Chromebook, you are asked to enter in your Gmail account and your password, and then it sort of processes and thinks....and in my case, it processed and thought for a long time until finally, thinking that it couldn't possibly take this long, I shut it down and started it back up.  I suppose that's the nice thing about Chrome--even if you do botch up the setup process, Chrome is such a light program that there simply isn't very much to botch up, and after entering my password again everything just worked.  I was delighted to find that all of my work on Google Drive was already there, that my bookmarks were still there, that all of the passwords I'd had saved were already there.  Basically, it just transposed my entire Internet history from the dinky netbook to the Chromebook.  

By and large it's been a wonderful experience with the Chromebook; at least some of it also has to do with the Bluetooth headphones that I bought along with it.  Being able to talk on Skype without having to hold the phone is certainly a plus; being able to listen to podcasts or whatever while I'm away from the laptop is positively delightful.  No, it may not be able to run 90% of all the programs that are out there, but then again, I don't use 90% of the programs that are out there.  It does what I need it to do, and that's enough.  

The main downside, as I see it, is the very limited hard drive space.  I know, I know--Drive offers 10 GB for free, and that'll be sufficient for most of my documents--but I also want to have all of my pictures at my fingertips.  I am debating whether to get an external hard drive, but that would kind of defeat the point of having a wireless system.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dangerously Optimistic

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas/holiday season.  It was a bit hectic around here, because Karel was working on Christmas so we had to reschedule the holiday.  Procrastination bit me in the ass, to put it mildly--I may have been in a slight funk these past couple weeks.  

But now, with the impending start of a new year, I have decided that parenting the kidlet and taking care of business are no longer mutually exclusive.  Kidlet is a good kidlet.  There are no more excuses.   Time to take the bull by its horns, start taking photographs again, writing more blog posts, re-doing another (much smaller) blog (the one about food) and just starting to care again, in general.  

I don't know if I can do it.  But I have cooked venison this year, and did an epic round of baking, while managing to keep the apartment in some semblance of order and kidlet more-or-less happy. Maybe it's that I've finally managed to shake myself of the lethargy of these past few weeks.  But for whatever reason, 2015 is going to be a good year.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oh, so those are poffertjes

If learning the rules of the bike lane is beginner-level expat, and being able to discern which part of the country someone is from by their accent is advanced-level expat, then poffertjes probably fall somewhere in the middle.   Not eating them--anybody who doesn't have a gluten allergy, a milk allergy, an egg allergy, and is capable of willfully ignoring everything you ever learned about butter can eat them.  But making them yourself--that takes a little skill.  Knowing where to find everything you need to make them is something a newbie could do, but the effort expended might not be worthwhile.  But if you've been around the block a few times it shouldn't bee too difficult.  Ignoring everything you ever learned about butter--you're on your own.  

It's worth noting, though, that unless you're a connoisseur of poffertjes, you probably ought to just stick with getting them from the kramen whenever there's a kermis, or else pony up the cash to sit down at a restaurant that specializes in discs of batter fried in butter.  Poffertjes are tasty, but healthy they ain't:  flour, butter, powdered sugar, stroop if that's your thing--everything anybody ever taught you about healthy eating, gone wrong.  Even if you can make them at home, it's probably better for your coronaries if you don't.  

Most of the time, they're sold as little pancakes--adorable little things that soak up the melted butter that they're served with (melted butter and powdered sugar are the traditional toppings) so that you have no visual reference for how much fat is going down your gullet.  But unlike pancakes, traditionally they are leavened by yeast, although if you get a mix from the supermarket it will have chemical leaveners (baking soda and/or baking powder).  You make up a batter following any one of the recipes available (this one is my personal fave); typically the proportion is approximately 1:2 flour:water, BUT that's by weight, and if you're using yeast there's a bit more flour.  Also, the flour is a mixture of buckwheat and reguar wheat flour; I've heard that you can get buckwheat flour at the Albert Heijn, but the only place I've been able to find it is at The Windmill, which sells specialty products for home bakers, so YMMV. 

Now, the website with the recipe uses a cast iron poffertjes pan, which is something we recently acquired as a birthday present.  Cast iron isn't too difficult to work with, actually, once you get some rules down:  season it well, NEVER wash it with dish detergent (I've heard that properly seasoned cast iron can be washed with detergent, and my own cast iron skillet managed to make it through an accident swipe with a soapy sponge unscathed, but seasoning cast iron is sufficiently pain-in-the-ass-ish that I wouldn't risk it unless I had to), don't let it soak, and perhaps most important of all:  use plenty of fat.  In other words, in between every batch of butter-soaked-buckwheat-pancake-y goodness, you need to re-coat your pan with butter.  Doing so will ensure that the puffed side of the poffer is mottled golden-brown, a la the professionals, and that the crust is the right combination  of crispy and tender.  If your cast iron is seasoned well, forgetting the butter isn't the end of the world--the poffertjes will stick a little more, but the biggest difference will be that the outside becomes downright crunchy, which is not ieal.  

Mastering the art of flipping the damn things, though, takes practice.  I am in awe of the people who do this professionally, flipping row after row of these dang things with just a quick flick of their wrist.  There is--as only the Dutch can do--such a thing as a fork specifically used for flipping poffertjes.  Ours is a wooden one--a simple little Y-shaped piece of wood, ever so slightly curved on one side--so that it won't damage Teflon.  Theoretically, it is possible to flip them so that they make a ball--i.e., that the batter thtat used to be on top bellies into the dimple while the cooked side is firm enough to hold its shape while you're cooking the bottom.  I haven't gotten that good at this, yet, but when my husband and Kidlet are both whining for the next batch, aesthetics can be put on hold.  . 

There is a difference between homemade and elsehow-procured poffertjes.  The homemade ones have slightly more bite to them, and (at least when I made them) aren't as salty.  Plus you can fry them to that perfect, rich golden-brown color--you don't have to settle for "done" because you've got sixty more orders.  Worth the hassle?  Absolutely--if someone else is making them.