Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's been an adventure

It certainly has been one hell of a year.  I've started my own (very small) business.  Had a child.  Made new friends.  Passed the NT2.  Rijntje celebrated his first Christmas; in the meantime, I celebrated running my first mile since I got pregnant.

Last year, as Karel was scaling a ladder and dangling precariously from our balcony (I thought he had the key, he though I had the key, and neither of us did, so we borrowed a ladder from our neighbor and he got to play burglar), we assumed that that little episode of breaking-and-entering was the adventure we'd both wished for as the clock struck 12 and the fireworks exploded.  Needless to say, we did not foresee...well, any of it.  The one thing I did foresee was that 21 December, 2012, would be abysmally non-apocalyptic, although I must confess that had it been sunny that day, rather than the usual Dutch winter dreariness, I'd have considered that show-stopping, if not end-of-the-world worthy.

And it's strange:  until I wrote this post I didn't think all that much had happened this year, not even with having a child.  I mean, I know that having a child is a life-changer.  It just doesn't feel that way--it feels like he's always been here, and that I've always been "mommy". All of the big things just seemed part and parcel of life at the time, while the little things seemed like monumental events.  When I was trying to figure out how not to pay a €4000 fine for filing my sales taxes late, for instance, that seemed like the most important thing thing in the world.  But it didn't change me, in any way--not nearly as much as meeting new people using Meetup.  We humans seem to have a hard time differentiating between what's important and what's big.  I guess that's what we need hindsight for.  

So who knows what 2013 will bring?  One thing is for sure--it's going to be an adventure.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Me and My Moby

Kids are a bit of a learning curve, to say the least, and at 3:00, all good intentions go out the window when your primary goal (only goal) is to get the little whiner to shut up and sleep already.  Cloth diapers ended up being a no-go for Rijntje--they were too bulky and he couldn't bend his legs at the hips properly, bringing on a screaming fit for the ages.

The Moby Wrap  was one of those things that I honestly never really thought I'd use.  It's basically a long sheet of fabric that you tie around yourself and somehow stick a baby into.  Somehow the baby doesn't fall out.  Advantages of baby-wearing?  Well, supposedly it's what's "in" these days--what with the whole attachment parenting thing and what-all.  The Moby Wrap website provides a bunch of other reasons why wearing your baby is a good thing--note the prominent placement of the "43% less crying" graphic.

If I must be completely honest, the whole thing stank of an au-naturel-hippie-love vibe that I really don't have the patience to indulge.  Still, when Karel saw the Moby Wrap videos and websites, he was instantly smitten with the idea of wearing Rijntje and getting groceries and cooking (the one thing they say not to do when wearing your baby) and just generally bonding with the little guy.  And so, in our Amazon-binge, we purchased one. just sat in our baby-supplies closet for a while.  I'd occasionally take it out to try to get Rijntje used to being cradled in it, but he hated it--most probably because I hadn't quite mastered the art of getting a squirmy baby into a confined space--and for the first few weeks it seemed like the biggest waste of €50 we'd ever run up.  Karel, who had been so enthusiastic about wearing Rijntje, could hardly figure out how to tie the thing (and, needless to say, never did quite get the hang of putting the baby into it).  

Until one day, it clicked: One especially fussy afternoon, the kind where I was dreading spending the entire 5 hours coddling a little screaming beast and not getting anything done, I put him into it and started doing the stuff that I needed to get done--and he passed right out, barely bothering to open an eye when a pot clanged to the floor (I was unloading the dishwasher, not cooking).  Not only did he sleep, but it was a quiet sleep, uninterrupted by the occasional yelps that for some reason he's prone to make.

I don't use it all the time, but in the afternoons, when he tends to be especially difficult, the Moby has been a godsend:  I can do laundry!  Run a short errand across the street! Make myself a sandwich!  Type up a post using both hands!  Which I'm doing right now!  I can get stuff done and make sure he sleeps!

Despite the 1000% increase in my ability to get stuff done in the afternoons, though, I have to confess that I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea of babywearing:  my mother's voice in the back of my head keeps insisting that babies should sleep in their bassinet (in our case), and that carrying him around with me all the time is going to somehow irreparably spoil him.  I still haven't found a device or method that shuts that voice up.

Monday, December 10, 2012


In some ways, the ownership of a car is more monumental than the arrival of Rijntje (sorry, little guy). In order to understand why, you have to realize that while Rijntje was merely biology at work, Karel obtaining his driver's license was an act in defiance of the natural order of things.  It may sound melodramatic, but one does not nearly reach 40 withou a driver's license without questioning whether such things were meant to be obtained.

Karel, after almost 9 months' worth of lessons (an appropriate number) and God-only-knows how many thousands of euros, finally passed his driver's exam.  The driver's exam in the Netherlands is notoriously difficult, not necessarily because driving in the Netherlands is all that difficult, but because the proctors get paid to be anal-retentive.  It must be said, though, that driving in the traffic circle of the Keizer Karelplein in Nijmegen (5 imaginary "lanes" wide) probably warrants a lesson or six.  First-time pass rates are a shade below 50%--and many people need more than 3 tries.  Most of Karel's friends who drive had to take their exam 5 times, and ironically enough, they are some of the better drivers out there.   Karel, happily, passed on his third try, and two weeks later bought a car.

The NS is a great system (at least, compared to SEPTA), but it has its limits:  as long as you're trying to get from one "major" city (in quotes because what counts as a large city here is kinda piddly compared to large cities in the US) to another, it's fine, but the moment you start factoring in stopovers and bus rides and transfers, it becomes infinitely more complicated and there is invariably at least one f*ck-up that causes you to arrive 30 minutes late.  And the schedules at the hours that Karel is most likely to commute (midnight, 6:00 am) suck.  Plus if you're travelling with a baby, you either find yourself obligated to grow another arm, or learn to juggle really fast.  There's just no easy way to manhandle a stroller onto any form of public transit.   And if you're on a long trip, you also have the to-survive-a-nuclear-holocaust-diaper-bag that also needs wrangling.  And that doesn't include a fussing baby.

So a car is a vast improvement in our situation.  Whereas before, it was possible to make trips to Kleve or further abroad by train, now it's easy.  OK, there's still the fussy-baby-issue to deal with, but at least nobody's going to glower at you for (not) doing (any-) something about it.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Kweeperen and kaki in the markt

Have you ever read about something interesting, and then decided to see it for yourself, only to find your expectations totally obliterated?  A dinosaur that was smaller than it seemed in the book, for instance, or meeting a Maine Coon cat that looks as big as a small lion--things that were much more or less impressive than your research had led to believe?  Meet quince fruit:

Kweeperen, or quinces, are great for jamming.  So I've heard, anyway.  I have never had a quince before, much less tasted quince jam.  Supposedly it's a marvellous accompaniment to game, but it also works great as, well, just a jam.  But since I'd never seen them around before, kweeperen had always occupied the same mythical food space that foie gras does:  conceptual, theoretical food.  Certainly, not something that was this big. For some reason, I was always under the impression that quince fruits were the size of a large-ish apple.  These suckers, though, are the size of a small watermelon.  And, given how heavy the shopper was to haul up to our apartment, they must have weighed just as much.

It was through pure luck that I ran into them at the markt one Saturday.  Karel had mentioned raiding some old estate he knew about and filching their kweeperen off the trees to make quince jellies, but I don't think he'd actually do such a thing, and he never thought he'd actually get a chance to make it.  These are not things that are regularly sold, not even at the greengrocer's.  Still, even though most people probably wouldn't know what to do with a kweepeer if grandma beat them over the head with a jamming jar, they don't count as "exotic".   They may be delicacies, like gooseberries (kruisbessen) and red currants, but they're not truly strange and the Dutch don't do a "WTF" when they see them, unlike, say, with kaki fruit.

Kaki (persimmons) have been around for a few years--one Allerhande recipe goes back to 2006--but they just started making their appearance in the Nijmegen markt this year.  One of the reasons for such a long intro period is that I--and, if Karel is indeed typically Dutch in this respect, most Dutchies--find their ripened state to be unpalatable.  They are soft, and indeed almost gooey.  The fruit tastes a bit like a very sweet papaya, which is not my favorite fruit to begin with, and coupled with that slimey texture, it renders itself inedible.  So why did I get 5 of these?

Because if you get them before they are ripened, they are crunchy, almost like a good apple or a crisp pear, and the papaya flavor is quite mild.  Karel likes them pre-ripened, so I keep them in the fridge to prevent unwanted changes in the fruit.  Still, I wonder:  Karel can remember the introduction of kiwi fruit to the Dutch supermarkets, and now they are inescapable (kiwi being the one fruit that is always on sale at one supermarket or another).  Will kaki suffer the same fate?