Thursday, March 27, 2014


I think I've gushed about Marktplaats a gazillion times on this blog.  It's how I found most of kidlet's baby clothes, some of kidlet's toys, and a lot of kidlet stuff, in general.  Yesterday's haul included a reiswiegje and an iPad (the original).

A reiswiegje is a compound word; like most compound words in the Germanic languages, once you figure out the parts, it's easy to come to a conclusion about the meaning.  Therefore, some of you might have already figured out that this is a little (-je) travel (reis) bassinet (wieg), and inferred that we're taking a trip shortly.  Except this is Dutch we're talking about, and things tend not to translate so nicely.  Because the actual object it refers to is what I've always known as a playpen.  Indeed, it was even listed on Marktplaats as a "Graco Pack 'n Play", although the one we ended up getting wasn't nearly this fancy, consisting only of the playpen area.

In my admittedly limted experience with Dutch babies, these things are used exclusively as folding cribs--if you have a visiting baby, you whip it out and voila, baby bed (whether or not the baby will actually sleep in it, as opposed to screaming bloody murder for 3 hours, is a different matter...not that I have any experience with a baby screaming bloody murder in a reiswiegje).  Or if you're going somewhere where baby beds aren't provided, you can fold it up and take it with you.  For its enormity--and the thing is pretty big, taking up almost 1/3 of our dining area when it's all set up--it does compact quite nicely, though it's still quite a big package.  

Playpens, on the other hand, are permanent fixtures, usually made of wood or something nice.  They do not have a nice mattress on the bottom, usually being lined with a blanket.  They might have some beads-on-a-stick built in to the walls.  And it is called a box.  Regardless of what it's called, though, unless you have a lid on it, the kid inside will invariably through all of his toys outside and then start whining about how bored he is.  
We therefore have a Pack 'n Play, but it is not a playpen, though don't tell that to kidlet, who had the time of his little life in it this morning when we tried it out to see what he thought of it.  We never had a box--we considered getting one for all of five minutes back in 2012 when I was going kidlet-shopping, but we quickly came to the conclusion that our apartment is tiny and there would be nowhere to put it.  As for where we're going...well, you'll just have to stay tuned.  And hope that I remember to bring my camera.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Where the F*ck is Doornenburg?

One of the best things about living in Europe is the fact that there are castles everywhere.  Literally.  Even in the middle of nowhere, which is where Doornenburg is.  At one time--1300 years ago--it might have been a relatively important city in the border area between the Netherlands and Germany.  Of course, back then there was no such thing as the Netherlands and Germany, which means that Doornenburg was in the middle of nowhere even back when everywhere was nowhere.  

I imagine that it must be a pleasant bike ride through the Ooijpolder to get to Doornenburg, but since they don't rent fietscars and I'm notoriously clumsy on a bike (plus the flaky weather) we elected to drive.  Over the river and through the woods--now replaced by new housing developments--it was, into and out of several villages that are well off the beaten path, and to Doornenburg.  We spotted the castle from a good 2 km away, but there was still some winding about to do before we reached the parking lot.  

The castle itself comes in two "pieces", both of them surrounded by a moat and accessible only via bridge.  The main entrance, pictured above, opens into a courtyard which used to house the tax office, the stables, a barn, and the chapel.  Now, as you might expect, the stables and chapel have been converted into a coffee shop (not "coffeeshop"). The barn is still a barn, but the tax office is completely closed, though they do have a pillory on display, in which you can stick your head and hands in and pretend to be a commoner who couldn't pay his taxes.  

We got there a bit early, before the tour of the castle--the actual castle, the place where the lord and his lady lived--began (13:30) so we took a walk around the moats.  It would have been nicer if the weather had cooperated, but of course this is the Netherlands and it always rains on the one day when you want to go out. There were, however, poems cut into giant iron tablets you could read all the way around, if poems are your thing.  The castle itself might have been interesting had it all been original, but most of it was destroyed during the Second World War.  Most of the building is therefore a reconstruction, and most of the furniture is a mishmash of antiques from other places, or reconstructions of medieval stuff.  Nevertheless, it is an impressive structure, full of "secret" stairways and impressive rooms and neat displays of medieval artifacts that may or may not have been found on the site (missed that part of the explanation.  

Parents here might be wondering whether it was wise to bring kidlet.  After all, it's a castle with a guided tour, meaning lots of standing still and being in one place.  Well, kidlet isn't walking just yet, so he's not able to get up to too much mischief.  There were, happily, several wide open rooms with no cordoned-off areas, so I let him crawl around on the floor, mumbling to himself, in those rooms.  For the most part, he was happy to do his own exploring, though I still had to devote one eye and ear to keeping him out of people's ways.  But by and large he was quiet, squawking only once.  By the time we reached the rooms with cordoned-off spaces and places one was not supposed to be in, he was thoroughly tuckered out and it was only with a well-timed biscuit that a meltdown was averted.  During the summer months, they have more child-friendly activities, but kidlet--being all of 16 months--is much too young for those. 

It is a nice castle, and I imagine that living in it--which the family did, until the 1800s--must have been exciting in its own way.  It makes for a nice day trip--something out-of-the-way and not something that tourists would necessarily be familiar with; while I'm sure the tour guides would be willing to try to accommodate you if you didn't understand Dutch, I'm not sure that the experience would be improved in English.  Because it is so out-of-the-way, then, the groups will probably be small (ours was about 10 people) so it's easy to ask questions.  Cost is €7.50 per adult, €5 for a child between 4 and 12, and free for children younger than 4.  The tour is not handicap-friendly.  We had to leave kidlet's stroller in the first room, and carry him around to all of the other spaces.  Somehow, despite that, he ended up more tired than we did.  Which was kind of the point of the whole thing.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I like to think that I'm a laid-back, pretty cool mom.  Kidlet falls down?  Give him a kiss if he's crying (usually not) and pack him off to play with his stuffed animals.  I took him to McDonald's today, for Pete's sake--we shared a meal of Chicken McNuggets and fries, though I did get milk instead of a soda. We're pretty relaxed about food and mealtimes--if he's not hungry, I don't make him eat; if he is, then I'll keep on feeding him as long as he'll eat it.  Dutch parenting, I'm told, is usually pretty hands-off, pretty relaxed, pretty go-with-the-flow. I don't know that many new parents, so I can't tell if it's actually true, but the new parents we recently visited actually looked as if they'd slept.  For a few hours, anyway.

There is only one area that I am rather strict about: how much sugar the kidlet gets.  This is in part because diabetes runs in my family, and horrific teeth in Karel's.  I don't want him developing a sweet tooth like Karel's--I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself, but I don't usually drink sweet things (juice, chocolate milk, or soda) and I prefer my sweet things a good deal less sweet than most people do.  But also, if he has a lot of sugar, he doesn't take naps, and it's hard enough to get him to nap as it is.

But I don't want him to develop a fixation for "forbidden fruits", as it were--this idea that sugar is bad and therefore he must have it all.  I had that same problem with ice cream and other sweet things when I first moved out--it was a few years before I finally was able to control myself  around things like cake and cookies. So I do let him have a bit--if the cashiers at the supermarket want to give him a cookie (and it's not too close to his mealtime) then yes, we accept a cookie.  Sometimes I make him a sandwich with hagelslag (don't ask me to explain why bread, butter, and sprinkles is so popular here) for a snack.  Sometimes I let him have juice for his dinner instead of milk.  Sometimes I let him have a cookie.  Sometimes.  But only a little bit.

I can't figure out if I'm being strict in order to be laid-back.  Or if I'm being laid back about sugar within strict boundaries.  Either way, I get the feeling that sh*t is going to hit the fan once the kidlet starts day care--especially if they provide snacks and juice.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Swing Baby Baby

I wish I could say that I came up with the idea of making a baby swing myself.  Well, actually, I did.  But the details for the project came from a certain sassy housewife who posted the directions on how to make a baby swing yourself for peanuts.  Literally--the wooden dowel, hanging hardware, and rope cost us a smidge less than €20; the one I made for the kidlet was made of an old bedsheet, doubled up, so I didn't even have to spring for the fabric.  We had a ton of fun with the swing, and we might still be having fun with it if the lashing holding the ropes tight hadn't come loose.  After that the swing threatened to toss the kidlet out every time he jiggled in it, so shortly after Christmas I took it down.

They don't do baby showers in the Netherlands, but kraambezoekers--mainly friends and family--usually bring something with them; either a treat for mom and dad or a present for the new arrival.  Maternity leave policies are generous in the Netherlands, so there's no pressure to visit the new family the minute the baby comes out.  So I had plenty of time to revamp the baby swing--cut out the bedsheet (now inexplicably stained by the kidlet), get new rope (i.e., tell Karel to get new rope) and hardware, and figure out how to sew a nice new seat. I'd bought the fabric last year, when I was feeling especially crafty, except I never got around to executing the craftiness I had planned for it.

And still, I waited until today--the day before our epic drive to Groningen--to do it.  As far as sewing projects go, it was a short one--two hours--but it still required that Karel deal with the kidlet, since sewing machines and kidlets are a terrible combination.  I keep meaning to get better about procrastinating on projects lie this.  But then I keep thinking, "I can always start tomorrow."  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My €228 Piece of Plastic

When you move to the Netherlands--assuming that you're not a "knowledge worker" or anything special like that--you might, if you're from the "right" country and have almost-€1000 euros saved up, start out with a 1-year verblijfsdocument, which allows you to stay in the country for 1 year.  If you manage to stay out of trouble with the law, then you graduate to a 5-year verblijfsdocument, which provides hassle-free identification for a long time.

But five years is not forever, and eventually the clock runs out and you get a letter from the Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst with a form you have to fill out in order to get a new verblijfsdocument.  Complete with an order to go in and get photographed and fingerprinted, because the €5 photobooth in the train station isn't good enough anymore.

As you might have guessed from the title, the total cost of this was €228, not including the train fare.  And in the end, the process did go smoothly, no major snafus or delays.  This was especially fortuitous since my US passport, required for identification at the IND office, is due to expire in 3 months.

But it was the minor snafu that made this little bit of immigration-tedium worth mentioning:  apparently I have no fingerprints.

I showed up at the IND loket with my papers and identification documents--being an old hand at dealing with Dutch bureaucracy, I also bought a book and availed myself of the sh*tty coffee.  The initial process went smoothly enough--my number came up, I went to the right balie, handed over the forms, made some small talk while they made sure all of the x's were crossed, the i's dotted.  The woman then waved me over to the biometrie room, where my photograph was taken.  And then she booted up the fingerprinting program, and told me to put my index finger on the scanner.

Cue music of doom.

The fingerprinting device allows for prints of all 10 fingers, although only the index finger prints are required.  They tried all ten fingers.  Then both index fingers.  And again with both index fingers.  And finally, after a dab of moisturizer, they were able to get acceptable prints.

Three weeks later, I got another letter from the IND telling me that my verblijfsdocument was ready, please come and get it.  So I went--again, with my identification and a book and the sh*tty coffee.  They looked at my passport, looked at me, got the card, looked at me, looked at the card--and just when I was sure that they were satisfied that I matched the picture and the information on the card, they said, "OK, we just need you to put your finger on the scanner to confirm the fingerprint."

They never got my fingerprints to match the ones on file.  In the end, they let me have the card, since everything else matched, but I'm not sure whether I feel peeved that I paid all that money for an ID card that doesn't even work, or triumphant in being able to keep my fingerprints to myself.  Suffice it to say that I am now in possession of a shiny new be renewed in 5 years.

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's all about the money

There's a big hullabaloo going around the Internet about raising your kids for free.  It started out as a blog about not spending money on kids' stuff, and now references to it keep invading my Internet space, so now I'm invading yours.

I have to say that the blog itself isn't quite as annoying as the hype surrounding it.  The blog itself is nice--a chatty, cheery synopsis of not spending money on a kidlet and a baby (though I think she cheated when it came to cloth diapering--they offered her a trial period, and she took it), and the rather clever ways she goes about swapping and and trading and making do.  It's what I would do if I thought people cared about raising our kidlet on a rather-tight-but-not-severely-crippling budget. But really, I don't do things all that differently from any of the other gazillion frugal-mom bloggers out there, and I just don't think that filching an abandoned bike is a postworthy event.  (We waited 4 days before we took it.  It needs new nozzles and a new seat, but otherwise, we have a kidlet bike!)

But what galls me to no end is the implication that you're a better parent if you don't buy your kids stuff--the idea that there is even such a thing as a "better" parent.  I think it's safe to say that, if you're not neglecting or beating your kid, if you're at least trying to put food in their mouths and a roof over their head, that makes you a decent parent, depending on how well you succeed.  But what about going above and beyond the call of duty?  Is there such a thing as being better than someone else?  If you work hard to keep your house in a good school district, does that make you better or worse than a parent who doesn't live in a good school district but is able to stay home and give her kids all the time they need?  If you have to put your kid in a playpen for an hour a day so that you can have a clean house, are you better or worse than someone who's okay with a couple dishes on the coffee table?

I don't think so.  I mean, sure, it's easy to look at a mom who's got her perfectly-behaved kids in spotless, coordinated outfits and say that she's a better mom than someone who's got her ill-behaved brat in mismatched and dirty clothes.  But can you really say that?  What is the magical point when spontaneity becomes impulsiveness, when order becomes confining?

I don't think I'm a better parent than someone who can just run out and buy everything they need.  I don't think I'm a better parent than someone who carefully imparts life lessons in every activity.  Our kidlet loves us.  That's all that really matters.