Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Too quick on the draw

I'm now wishing I had named (or at least subtitled) this blog "A Moveable Fiets." Yes, I'm still a hopeless literature dork, but I'm too bound by inertia to change it now, all of 48 hours in. Shame, really.


So the baby is four. Birthdays aren't quite the same when you can't run to the store and get a Betty Crocker devil's food cake mix and a tub o' frosting with rainbow chips, but we managed. I had to buy a springform pan and puzzle through a cake mix with instructions in Dutch that included adding 2/3 -- yes, 2/3 -- of a beaten egg to the mix. I was sufficiently confounded by that instruction that I decided I'd misunderstood something and would have to head to Babelfish to try to translate the instructions. After entering the step in question and asking it to translate, I realized I'd be on my own when the translation engine returned the following:

Rudder butter the egg beaten in a seizure bowl gentle and joint the mix and 2/3 of.

(Seriously. I just copied and pasted that line. Would someone please work on translation technology?) So what else to do? I whipped out my rudder, seized the bowl, and gently jointed. An hour later, we had something approximating a cake which, when covered in whipped cream, satisfied the birthday boy. We didn't have birthday candles, so we had to light four tea lights and set them around the cake, an arrangement which I'm sure made it look to any passersby as if we were about to engage in some Wiccan ceremony... an effect certainly not mitigated by the fact that it is Halloween, after all. That's probably why we got the only two trick-or-treaters in the Netherlands at our door tonight after seeing no mention of Halloween since we've been here. We had no candy, so we tossed them a couple of muesli bars. They seemed reasonably satisfied, but we'll have to see if our door is covered with eggs in the morning.

But I digress. Again, thank god for four-year-olds who have little consciousness of propriety; Dylan didn't care if his weird cake and candles hearkened to ancient pagan rituals (oh wait, they all do...digressing again), he just loved blowing out the candles. He spent half of "Happy Birthday" looking shocked that we were singing to him and the other half poised to blow.

He'd opened most of his presents earlier today (thanks a million to those of you who sent stuff -- he loves the Thomas tent and his stuffed dinos, and A. loved her presents, too!), but last of all we let him open the aptly named "Thomas Giant Set" that Grandma Barbara and Grandpa Bill gave us to carry over here. Then we spent two hours putting it together. Then D. played with it so intently for so long that he forgot all else with the world. Here's our last video of the evening, taken after he had been playing with trains for well over an hour...

Ah, the birthday accident. No fourth birthday is complete without it.

With birthday celebrations out of the way, D. is cleared for his first day of Montessori school tomorrow. Kids here start public school right after their fourth birthdays, so we're off to catch some Dutch germs right after we pack the obligatory cheese sandwich that comprises lunch for every man, woman, and child over age 2 in this country. As one of the myriad expat guides tossed at us said, put more than one slice of lunchmeat (much less lettuce or tomato) on your cheese sandwich at your peril, as your coworkers will look on in horrified fascination at your grotesquely overwrought lunchtime indulgence. We can't have horrified four-year-old coworkers, so conformity it is. Let the indoctrin-- er, assimilation begin.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The first thing to learn before you get on a train in a foreign country... how to read the train schedule, or perhaps more accurately, to overcome the hubris that tells you, oh, you've traveled on enough European trains in your life that this is no big deal, just go see which train heads to your stop next. But be sure to pay particular attention to that pesky little asterisk that means that the crammed-full train you're getting on with your two tired kids doesn't stop at your stop but rather goes sailing right on through it toward one of four or five towns named after cheeses (begging the age-old question: which came first, the cheeses or the burg?).

I told D. before we left this morning that he'd get to ride on four trains: two on the way to the international schools we were looking at, and two on the way home. Well, he got more than he bargained for when we hopped the wrong train and ended up having to take four trains to get home. Oh, the joy. Somehow the intrigue didn't wear off for him, though, and A. plowed through several chapters of her history book and livened up the ride(s) with anecdotes and little known facts about Peter the Great. It only rained on us once -- a good day in the Netherlands -- and we got to see two really cool schools, either of which would be great for both kids. A's voting for the one with the 2-story rock climbing wall, I think.

Both of them are international wings of Dutch schools which is cool because they teach in English, but their private-school tuition is subsidized substantially by the Dutch government because they teach the kids Dutch and integrate them to a certain extent with the kids in the Dutch-speaking stream of the school. I wish there was something like this in Utrecht, but Hilversum is a pretty town -- this duck pond to the right where the kids busied themselves chasing geese is most of the walk to the two schools -- and the commute doesn't seem bad (all together now: as long as you hop the right train). Now if we can just get them to find spots for both kids at one of the schools...

Tomorrow is D's fourth birthday. I had considered taking him on a train ride somewhere, but I feel pretty comfortable ruling that out now. (Isn't this a great picture? A. snapped it on the first train.)

And if you can't tell, I'm getting link happy today. Girl's gotta have a little fun after a day like today...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Les Enfants in the 'hood

All told, we're adjusting to life here in gloomy Holland, land of the 8:30 sunrise. One of the kids' favorite pastimes (fortunately, in light of prevailing cultural conditions) is biking. Here they are in front of the homestead with A's bike, but we'll have to post one with D. tearing around our street on his training-wheeled bike. He'll be riding to school in no time. We also have a fantastic little playground and sandbox on our little triangle where they love to play, their English shouts ringing out over all the little Dutch neighbor kids' demure voices (ha). The Dutch most certainly appreciate a good playground, and our minimal explorations have yielded at least a dozen good play areas within biking distance... and nary a McDonald's. (Thank god for the small favors.)

Up like a rocket...

I decided that one of the better things I could impart to my kids now that I have some extra time on my hands is a little of the violining that consumed such a huge chunk of my own childhood. I've played a lot in my life, but I've never taught anyone else so I've been attempting to dredge from distant memory all the cool games my violin teachers used to do when my siblings and I were learning to play now decades (gasp!) ago. "Up Like a Rocket" was one that I actually remembered the words to, and D. has, er, taken off with it as a means of practicing his bowhold. Here he is this morning; you have to picture the "up like a rocket" part that didn't make it onto the video...

And note, of course, that we always enjoy violin more in our jammies...