Sunday, May 30, 2010

Europe Day 4

Sunday, a day of rest in the Netherlands.  Funny, it is the country that does not go to church that saves this day for relxation.  But with all things that `modernize´ a couple stores are now open on Sundays. 

We discovered that the Albert Heijn, a supermarket, was open.  We jumped at the chance to stock up on all the food items we miss in the U.S.  In fact, we more than made up for the 3 years we haven´t been here.  Chocolate, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate spread, various spices, mixes, cheese, biscuits, cheese, beer, etc.  Three heaping bags full.  Just hope it fits into our suitcase!  Nancy enjoyed browsing with us, purchasing a few Dutch items and some Special K cereal.  One note, it seems there are many more American brands of food in the store this time around.  We bought tacos and burritos to fix Mexican for the family for dinner.

We came back to the house and the kids arrived.  I should note that during this trip, the kids have stayed in an apartment/type place of the Dumoulins.  They are staying there with Jay´s mother, Oma. Not only does this provide me with a vacation, but it gives her time with them alone.  They call the place the Play House. The kids have never been happier, in my opinion.  I don´t know if they are just jacked up on sugar or if this is what happens when kids get whatever they want!  We are calling it Oma Crack.  Anyway, they arrived, thrilled with their day´s adventures which included a fesitval in a park, pancakes made by their great uncle, Jan, and a visit to their great/great aunt Riet.  Oma also bought them a new Dsi game a piece.  Thrilled they were.  Thrilled.

Later in the day, word came back that the shops in town were open in conjunction with a gypsy festival going on. My original plan was to shop on Monday, but given the opportunity, I grabbed Jay´s mom and Nancy and away we went.  It wasn´t long before I realized that we were limited on time and we needed to separate in order to achieve our goals.  So, off I went and off Riet and Nancy went.  I closed the shops down at 5 and headed back to the house.  Fashion / wise, I can say I hope a few trends do not make it to America, but for the most part, it all seemed in line with what I have seen at home.  Note to self...start shopping for flat, tall boots for the fall.

After dinner Jay drove Jimmy and Nancy around Tilburg, showing the houses he lived in in his early years, the schools he went to, etc. We then stopped and had coffee with his uncle and aunt.  His aunt has the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.  What a lot of work! But beautiful.

Back home and now to bed.  Tomorrow is our last day in the Netherlands.

Europe, Day 3, part 2

I am already getting behind in my blogging.  Ack.  So, yesterday we had plans to go to Volendam, a touristy historic village and then head to Amsterdam where we would go on a canal tour and then to the Van Gogh museum.  As with most well-organized plans, things go a little awry.  However, it turned out to be a great day.

We encountered a bit of construction detour that basically made our trip about twice as long as it should have been.  One neat thing we saw off to the left of the car was that biblical/sized model of Noah´s ark that everyone sent me in some circulating email a while back.  We didn´t stop, like I would have liked, but honestly, it was HUGE, even from a distance.

However, we finally parked and walked to the water front of the village of Volendam. Old, it is.  Touristy - YES!  Think a bit of Myrtle Beach on steroids, but in historic buildings.  It was maybe not what I was thinking, but still, a nice place to get souvenirs, watch the Dutch eat their national treat - raw herring with onions, and get a cup of coffee on a terrace.  The kids were happy because they got ice cream - 3 cones for Sadie alone (thank you, Oma).

The van we rented is quite large so it made for interesting and ultimately prohibitive travel throughout the streets of Volendam.  Therefore it took a bit to get to the car to head to Amsterdam.

We arrived in Amsterdam by doing the one thing Jay said he didn't want to through the city center.  We lucked out, however, and found a parking spot.  It was just south of the Central Station which is also near where you pick up the canal tour.  When we got out of the van we realized (rather Jay and I' that the red light district had expanded just a little bit and we had parked in an area that included a couple of window ladies.  We walked the opposite direction with our heads down to the canal tour.  Along the way, we also encounter quite a few interesting smells.  Those that know Amstersam know that marijuana is legal.  Consequencly, it is a haven, in some parts, for those that enjoy this. I was waiting on the street with Lily for the others to catch up and Lily and I had move where we stood, less we get a contact high!

We boarded the boat and away we went learning all about the architecture and history of Amsterdam.  It was a beautiful weather day and people were out all along the streets, the terraces and the canals.  Frankly, it was overwhelming at times to see the throngs of people, the activity and bicycles which were locked to every surface possible.  It was a 50 minute tour which gave us a thorough view of the beautiful buildings and historic canals and bridges of the city.  It proved to be a little too long for the kids, but they hung in well in the end.

At that point, we realized the Van Gogh museum would have to wait for another day.  We had walked the Tuckers and the kids to death.  One bonus...Jimmy and I got our spanking white tennis shoes a little dirty.  Actually, if I had to say, Amsterdam is much dirtier city, much more populated city than I remembered.  Not so much my cup of tea any more. 

On the way back to the car, we could not avoid the ladies in the windows so I just implored Ethan to star straight ahead, to not look left or right.  He obliged me, but has not stopped asking me why ever since.  We headed back to Tilburg for dinner and bed.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Europe, Day 3, part 1

We are at the end of day 3 and before I type too much more let me just mention that I do not have time to edit my entries.  Additionally, I can not spell check these post as the language is set for Dutch.  The writing is what it is - errors and all.

I asked Jimmy and Nancy what they thought so far and this is what they said:

Nancy:  I am in awe. I am amazed by the people, the bicycles.  I am in awe of the architectural history and the water sitatuion- how they have reclaimed the land, the canals they use for transportation. It is educational. Favorite part so far: Heusden and canal tour today

Jimmy: It has been interesting and old. It is historical. Favorite part so far:  Canal tour in Amsterdam

I'll write more in the morning.  Time to hit the hay.

Europe, Day 2

Day 2 has brought some insights. 

One, Jay's host father, Jimmy speaks loudly to Jay's parents.  Normally, this would be a little funny as that using a loud does not equate to a better understanding of English when spoken.  However, Jay's father is slightly hard of hearing, so well, it works.  Sometimes, though it does seem like he is yelling.

I have forgotten what this country looks like to "outsiders."  So, I am not truly Dutch, but after 10 or so trips here and a year spent living here, I think I am not such a newbie.  I don't see the architecture as so ancient, the cars so small, the bikes everywhere, the ways of the Dutch so different.  Having Jay's host parents here bring the uniqueness of this country to the light again.  It is fun having them with us.

Day 2 has also brought a lot of eating.  I tend to stock up on all of my favorite foods while I am here...en masse.  Today we ate lunch at a "snack bar" where I ate fries met mayonaise (not really mayo, but a derviative of the sauce) and a kaas souffle (cheese souffle). I ate some appel taart.  That is an apple pie, but make no mistake, it is not your grandmother's goopy sugar concoction.  Jimmy and Nancy were great sports at trying new things.  I think Jimmy was even fond of a kroqueten which even I don't like - think fried potted meat.  Who knew? 

We toured a very old fishing village - Heusden.  There were two windmills there so there were lots of photo opportunities.  Then we went to Den Bosch where we took a canal boat tour.  It was a bit long, but the weather could not have been better.  We topped off our visit in Den Bosch with bossen bollen which is a softball-sized puff pastry filled with light whipped cream covered in dark chocolate.  Yes, it is every bit as good as it sounds. 

We left Den Bosch to rendezvous with the kids and Jay's parents at the Efteling, a large Dutch amusement park along the lines of Carowinds, but much better in its execution.  I would say it is like Disney, but of course it is not on such a grand scale.  The trip was given for Ethan's 10th birthday.  It was a wonderful way for Jay's parents to spend time alone with the kids.  When we arrived to picked them up, the kids shouted, ""It was awesome!" Jay's mom said to me, Ït was a dream day for me.  The best day of my life." That brought tears to my eyes.  How blessed I am to have such wonderful in-laws who feel such love for my children.  Lily's favorite ride was the teapot ride.  Ethan's was the and Sadie's was the Cobra, a heavy duty roller coaster.

We headed back to Tilburg for dinner which was Dutch Chinese take-out.  Yum!  Yum!  Then we celebrated Ethan's 10th brithday and Marique's 35th birthday with Appel Taart and drinks.  Ethan was here for his 1st birthday so I made sure to get his picture in the same spot in the garden where he celebrated it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Added note to Day 1

We went shopping last night into the city center.  Thankfully, the house is only blocks from the main shopping district so it is easy to make a quick run.  I took the kids into Jamin, a candy store.  They were blown away.  I love how the Dutch package their candy.  This time, I saw the candy made into smiley faces and flower bouquets.  Large bins of make your own bags of candy were overwhelming for even Sadie.  The kids kept asking me to take their picture with the candy!

The World Cup for soccer is this year in South Africa.  As usual, the Dutch have high hopes and national pride runs high.  This makes for easy souvenir buying as they turn everything orange (the national color) and throw Dutch flags on everything. 

At Hema (think smaller Target) I bought a couple of dresses for the girls, some stroopwaffles (round waffle cones with caramel in between the two wafers) and a neat little sweater vest for me.  The shopping was a little too easy and I am a bit concerned at this point about my will power. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trip Day 1

We made it safely to the Netherlands.  We had several delays, but managed to walk onto our connecting flight here.  The kids were well-behaved for the most part.  I sat with Lily for the long leg who slept in my lap, basically, for the last half of the flight.  Everytime I woke her up to leave the plane, she would fall back asleep, her little head just nodding back and forth.  I didn't get much sleep as I was in the row in front of the lavatories.  I think people take all of the angst out on those lavatory doors - slamming them, rocking that lock with brutal force.  The ensured my limited rest time.  Well, that and the fact that I promise our flight attendant was a shorter Johnny Depp who was doing research for his up and coming movie.  Thankfully, it was not his Edward Scissorhands or Pirates movies, but more his Willy Wonka role.  Either way, a little creepy. Actually, I just found out, Sadie loudly called him the man-woman.  Thankfully, Jay got to deal with that one!

We picked up our very large rental van - a volkswagon caravan.  We are pleased with the size, expecially for American standards.  However, cobbled stone streets of quaint Europe will require some manuvering.  Jay already let out a little "ack" noise on the highway when the lanes were tight and a large truck was beside us.  I think this will be interesting.

My first stop at Jay's house was at the dinner table.  I consummed large volumes of bread and cheese.  The kids gobbled up their chocolate sprinkle sandwiches, but who wouldn't.  The little plate of Dutch chocolates has almost all been consummed.  I will be lucky if I don't weigh a ton before we leave.  A nap has rounded out the day.  After dinner, we plan on walking into the city center.  It is the shopping night in Tilburg, which means the stores stay open late tonight.  Just my luck!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ok, so it is May. The overscheduled month of all months.  I need to learn not to schedule hair, doctor or dentist appointments in this month unless absolutely necessary.  It is ridiculous enough as it is.  This month does not allow me to ponder about what is going on in life and how it all weaves together into lessons and moments to remember.  Rather, it tends to be just about facts and events.  Doesn't make for such interesting blogging.

Nevertheless, some highlights and lowlights include:

Lowlights:  Silly bandz. Sometimes I think I have crept into the underworld and decided from that perch I should make decisions regarding how to best rear my brood.  What mother wouldn't want to spend $3 on a packet of the thinest pieces of plastic every created by man, molded into some barely discernable shape that you wear like a bumpy bracelet?  All the sane ones, I suppose.  I knew we couldn't keep them all organized to their rightful owners with all of the trading amongst their peers.  The inevitable squabbles, physical entanglements, broken silly bandz and crying meltdowns have occured, usually in that order.  Over it.

Highlights:  An unplanned mini-conference with Lily's teacher which made me feel quite hopeful for Lily's academic future.  Seems she has made quite the transition this year, growing up in her school work and her social prowess.  We made the right choice to send her on this year, early as it may have been.  Whew!

Low or Highlight?: You can be the judge on this one.  A couple of birds have made a nest in our birdhouse in the back yard.  They spend most of their time hovering around the windows - possibly because they see their reflection and get in protective mode.  Anyway, this has attracted the attention of our resident Dr. Dolittle, Sadie.  She has been quite observant of the birds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Someone throw me a lifeline.  I am drowning.

My cup runneth over

For the first time in my life, at least that I can recall or realize, someone who I once considered one of my closest and dearest friends, doesn't want that title any longer. It sounds so juvenile to write that, doesn't it?  Yet, my heart is a bit sad.  Over the last year, I have left multiple messages on her phone, sent a few emails, contacted her through facebook and even mailed a nice card.  All of which have yielded nothing, not even a one word response.  I let this nearly impact my Mother's Day weekend.  Why is it that we are magnetically pulled to what we don't have?  Gravitating to what seems to be missing, rather than the abundant blessings God has given us.

That realization hit me yesterday morning as I woke to the sounds of "Happy Mother's Day!!!!" at exactly 6:24 AM. In came my three blessings with a tray of breakfast they made for me. On the plate were two pancakes, two sausage biscuits, two slices of toasted cinnamon toast and a pat of butter. They also brought in a cup of coffee which they made themselves. Quickly, they scampered out of the room to retrieve their homemade creations and presents.  My heart was quickly filled with their unconditional adoration and appreciation. 

Here is a poem, one of a handful of Sadie's written declarations of love for me:

Exactly the mom I want
so cool
everlasting love
She is my journal of secrets
My mom is loving, kind, giving, cool, amazing, she tells awesome stories, the best, patient, a good mom.  I love my mom!

The line that made my heart swoon and brought tears to my eyes was, "She is my journal of secrets."  I have been working on developing a level of trust between the two of us that has been absent in earlier years.  There, in that little line, is the fruit of my labor.  She gets it. 
It is nice to have that type of affirmation from the ones you pour your life into.  But, is it necessary?  Not biblically, I know.  We are to give ourselves fully to His service without the guarantee of thanks, without the guarantee of seeing the fruits of our labors.  We should toil, perservering to the end, finding fulfillment in our work for Him, not the pat on the back that boosts our ego.  Even when relationships are failing, we honor God by walking in His ways.
As I am writing this blog, let me tell you how God was working to soothe my soul.  I had just ordered new swim bags for the kids to carry all their gear in for practice and meets.  I had been holding off on this purchase because it is not a cheap one and I wanted to be sure the kids were in this for at least another year or so.  Friday was the first day the kids used them.  Friday was also the day of our swim site cookout at our house.  I left practice early in order to have the house ready for the 30 or so guests that would descend directly after practice.  Another swim mom brought my kids, along with 3 others, to the house in what must have been one majorly chaotic ride.  
Fast forward to Sunday night when I asked the kids to get their swim gear together.  I saw a look on Sadie's face that made me a little uncomfortable.  She did not know where her brand new bag filled with clothes, bathing suit, etc. was.  This was very, very unlike her as she is usually so responsible.  I chatted with two of the swim moms on facebook and neither had seen it.  I was quickly growing tense over the situation, trying to remain calm until I knew for sure that it was gone.  Was it left at the YWCA, never to be seen again? 
My phone rang while I was typing this post.  It was one of those swim moms who had already gone to the YWCA this Monday morning, before 9 AM, to search for Sadie's bag. Sadie's bag - not even one of her own children, not her responsibility. I was blown away by her concern, her generosity of her time, her willingness to help me.  Unfortunately, the bag is not there.  Instead, I mytseriously found it in the trunk of my van which Sadie must have hurriedly thrown in there when she arrived home for the cookout.  Case solved.
And, so, here is God gently reminding me of His truths:  1) Focus on what He has given you because no matter the circumstance, there are blessings. 2) He always provides for you. Always. 3) Listening to God's voice offers opportunities to serve and grow and finally 4) We should never, ever be driven by the reaction and response of this world, particularly in our definition of self.  God's ability to fill our cups will always outshine the limited possibilities of this world.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day 2010

I woke to the sounds of "Happy Mother's Day" at exactly 6:24 AM.  In came my three blessings with a tray of breakfast they made fo rme.  On the plate were two pancakes, two sausage biscuits, two slices of toasted cinnamon toast and a pat of butter.  They also brought in a cup of coffee which they made themselves.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Random musings

I have a multitude of events, issues and thoughts that have occurred over the past several weeks.  I kept a running list of them in this post and have been waiting for a time to add in the details.  Time hasn't made itself available until today and even now, the trash is overflowing out of the toters in driveway.  Writing is the perfect procrastinator to tackling my least favorite chore...bundling and taking the trash to the dump.

We keep swimming along.  Literally.  Today, Lily will attempt to swim her first 25 yard freestyle.  Monday, at the pool, she overheard another mom offer to fix her daughter a grilled cheese.  Lily became fixated.  However, I am militant about not being a short-order cook.  I already had dinner planned for that evening and was not going to add to my work load to whip out a grilled cheese.  I know, harsh.  So, I threw out the idea that I would be thrilled to fix her a grilled cheese if she swam that 25 on Wednesday (which is today).  She seems quite pleased with the idea.  I don't have the heart to tell her that we have dinner plans out and therefore, the grilled cheese won't actually be fixed by me.  Hopefully, she won't drown and won't care where it originates.

Sadie is on her own little rewards obsession.  She is consumed with getting her ears pierced.  I was not allowed this treat until I was in junior high and buy into that old school of thought.  Not to be deterred, Sadie has offered up what I consider a quite amazing goal.  If she gets her A time, she gets her ears pierced.  Mind you, an A time in swimming is somewhere around a junior olympic time.  I told her a BB time would suffice (which is slower).  She wouldn't hear it, insisting on it being an A time.  Time will tell.

Ethan has reached another teenage plateau.  This time, it is not a bad thing.  He realizes that he likes taking a shower in the morning before school and here is the kicker...he likes taking a shower every day!  Wow!  Hip hip hooray for personal hygiene!  He also likes topping it off with a little dab of cologne, which nearly caused my olfactory sense to revolt to my own child.  Thankfully, we have worked our way through "Pepe Le Pew," to "I bathed in it," to "My prescence is known," to now "subtle and appropriate." 

Yesterday, I found an empty cling wrap carton in my driveway.  For several weeks now, I have uncovered some bizarre uses of the wrap by none other than...Sadie.  First I discovered that she wrapped the base of a small pine tree, multiple times.  I am not sure if she thought this would protect the tree? Yesterday, I noticed she made a "wrap" for Lily that served as a wedding gown.  Then she used the wrap like duct tape and attached a glass jar to her scooter into which she deposited a bunch of rose petals.  While Lily walked the driveway, Sadie rode along on her scooter scattering the rose petals.  Later the saran wrap was used to create a sling for Sadie's imaginary broken arm along with some scotch tape.  I guess it is time to start creating a box with all kinds of materials - cardboard, wrap, tin foil, tape, bits and baubles from the office to spur this "creativity?"  The one thing that definitely needs to be included is a pair of scissors as those never seem to be handy when I am in "clean-up and repair mode."

Speaking of Sadie, God has revealed great insight into Sadie over the past several weeks. In all of my praying about her academic future, along with a very odd and difficult circumstance I cannot write about on here, I have discovered this:  Sadie does not have an inherently trustful heart.  The only way that she believes something to be true is if she experiences it.  When I talk about consequences for certain actions to her, I realize those don't resonate with her, until it happens.  When she would climb trees at age 3, I would warn her not to do it because she would fall and hurt herself.  Her response, "I not fall, Mommy.  I not fall."  The tricky issue with all of this is that Sadie does not often "fall," in the literal and figurative sense.  She is good at most everything she tries and therefore, does not encounter many situations that she either has to deal with or can't solve on her own.  Let me clarify.  She makes a LOT of poor decisions, but has become a master of making sure no one knows.  However, this recent difficult situation provided me the opportunity to "save" her from major embarrassment, thereby building a new level of trust.  I am confident that one of the reasons why I am to homsechool next year is to provide more opportunities to grow our relationship. 

I think everyone has heard the phrase, "God has such a sense of humor."  I'll mark this entire homeschool decision into that column.  I mean, Sadie has been my child that I have never shed a tear over when it has come to separation.  First days of preschool, school, camps, etc. I might have appeared to ever so slightly push her through the door, turn and walk very quickly away.  I know, that sounds terrible, doesn't it?  This is no indication of my love for her, but is a statement on my patience and understanding of her.  A year ago, she would have been the LAST one I would ever have considered homeschooling - my most head-strong, strong-willed, challenging, curious, intelligent, tenacious, and crazy child.  God must have howled when I announced that I would never homeschool her. Now, here I sit, just as calm and peace-filled about this decision.  I am excited about it...with Sadie

I love my little Lily's inquisitiveness.  I don't recall either of my other two asking so many questions about reading.  Ethan struggled a bit more in the beginning and Sadie just always seemed to know how to read.  However, Lily wants to know why behind everything she doesn't know. Last night it was, "What is that?" as she points to a quotation mark.  "Why do you not sound the "e" on the word gate?" " Why is "want" pronounced "want." Obviously, she wants to push forward with reading.  Looks like I will try to come up with some sort of enrichment for her this summer, too.

So, this is random, but worth mentioning.  I had a complete impulse buy yesterday at Wal-Mart.  I find it fascinating how they package food these days.  Choosing to tout some new health benefit, enticing you to buy a product...and I am Gussy Gullible.  This time around...Ann's House Chocolate Nut Antioxidant.  The label says, "trans fat free, cholesterol free, very low sodium, good source of Antioxidant Vitamin E."  I am sure all of this is true, but not when you consume half the bag in one sitting resulting in 30 g of fat and nearly 800 calories.  Sigh. 

I could continue this post by writing about my ire for these new silly bandz, but time is ticking on the garbage. Yes, I purposely wrote silly bandz and garbage in the same sentence.