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.  

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.