Thursday, February 26, 2009

That's, er, entertainment?

Now that we have these museum cards, we're gonna get our money's worth, darn it all, so I'm going through their website and trying to see what entertainment might lay in the immediate vicinity. I can read Dutch well enough now to get at least the gist of an article, but there are always a few words I don't know without looking up so I do still plug things into Babel from time to time to see what I might be missing. There is this neat-looking castle in a neighboring town that I was thinking of taking the kids to see this weekend and, lo, there was something in the blurb about a special children's activity, but I couldn't quite figure out what it might mean. Here's what Babel says we can expect:

Also children can itself by them to knight or let maid beat.
Hmm... to be knighted or beaten by a maid? Sounds like an authentic medieval experience for sure.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now, what exactly are we doing with spoor?

The best part about attending European schools is the vacation schedule. Since coming back in January we've already had eleven days off school, and I have to say that it tends to break up the bleak midwinter a bit more effectively than the American approach of expecting an unrelenting puritan work ethic out of the kids from New Year's to Easter. I could get used to having a Crocus Break followed by Easter break, then Spring Holiday, not to mention the Ascension Break, Pentecost, and assorted study days...

Anyway, faced with ten days off school and finally in possession of a discretionary pittance after a year and a half of scrimping, we decided to take the plunge and purchase the museum cards we've been contemplating for a year. They let us into something like 440 museums around the country for a year, which should actually motivate us to do a little more weekend exploration of our immediate environs than we've managed as yet. We started with the Spoorwegmuseum -- the railway museum -- in our own downtown, something we expected to be about two rooms filled with some dusty Dutch train memorabilia. Wrongo. They took an old train station and converted it into a museum for antique trains. Then they added a kids' area with assorted potentially lethal amusements and, voila, the perfect place to spend a couple of vacation days. Aisie and Dylan especially liked the boats over to the lighthouse. This picture shows them immediately before Dylan toppled backward and nearly sent his sister plunging into the lovely azure (not) waters. Her threats of retribution were audible nearly as far away as the old steam whistles...

The best part was that after three hours of running around like maniacs among the machinery, I got the ultimate kindergartener seal of approval:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A fowl day on which to valentine

Having all but forgotten that today was a holiday, Jeff offered to work down at the castle today with some visitors who were less than successful yesterday. As he contemplated leaving this morning, I decided that it might be beneficial for the rest of us to tag along so as to induce a bit of guilt in the scientists dragging my husband away from his family during an unseasonably lovely weekend day. Nothing promotes guilt quite like kids asking when daddy will be able to come home. Especially when you play "Cat's in the Cradle" in the background at the same time on your iPod speakers.

I managed to remember to bring along some bread to feed the assorted poultry populating the castle grounds since this tends to keep the kids busy for many, many minutes and keeping the kids busy for many, many minutes is a priority (although I've finally backed off of my practice of deciding which children's DVD to purchase based on the playing time per dollar since even I have my standards). As always, they enjoyed amassing a flock of jogging roosters by the big canal. The weather today was great, nearly 40 degrees and sunny, but the canals were still iced over ever so slightly.

The chicken commotion eventually attracted the ducks in the area, which flew in for a landing on the canal and appeared to be a bit taken aback by the unexpected ice. They took the landing in the same way they would on water, but sort of slid awkwardly sideways along the ice rather than easing smoothly into the water. Ducks always seem to need to maintain the appearance of composure, so they sort of shook it off in the tail and came waddling up to the kids with a cocky little, "what, you lookin' at ME?" kind of strut. After tossing the bits of bread among the crocuses for a few moments and watching the birds attack it, one of the kids accidentally threw one bit onto the ice. I think we all expected them to consider it a wash like they do when a piece of bread goes out of sight.

Au contraire.

Every duck -- and one especially stupid rooster -- went sprinting onto the ice after the wayward crumb, which was still sliding. As each duck hit the ice, its feet would skitter off in an unexpected direction although each little head would stay cocked toward the moving prize. Two dozen webbed feet scrabbled for purchase, found it, and then were propelled in another unexpected direction... often straight into another duck, which would try to bite at the colliding offender as they slid in opposite directions. It was like dogs after a ball on a hardwood floor. It was like my ice skating performances in elementary school. It was horizontal duck Plinko.

The kids and I howled to the point of collapse and then squatted on the moss until we could see and breathe again. I'm telling you, you've never seen anything this funny. Ever.

The winner of this particular contest was the duck who figured out that he just had to flap his wings and fly over to the bread. Let's hear it for natural selection. As for the rooster, his first step onto the canal took him immediately through the thin ice up to his beak; he barely managed to scrabble his way back out. I hear he's up for a Darwin Award honorable mention. Suffice it to say that the rest of our bread went to the ice dancing ducks. The chickens are just going to have to take it up a notch.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Of enviable lineage

At the lunch table yesterday I was boring the kids with some tale or another about how something they were doing or had done was something I'd enjoyed doing as a child myself. This prompted Aislin to observe:

"Isn't it interesting how you're basically becoming Grammy, and I'm becoming you, and Grammy's becoming her mom, and so on?"

Then Dylan, not wanting to be left out, piped up:

"Yes, and I'm becoming Daddy, and Daddy's becoming Santa Claus..."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

9-1-1? Sorry, but our offices are currently closed...

Aislin spent about an hour this afternoon captive inside our downstairs bathroom. Something was wrong with the latch on the door and no matter how hard she or I pushed down on the handle, it wasn't enough to open the door. I slipped her a credit card, but try verbally explaining to a nine-year-old how to jimmy a lock ("no, it's really okay to destroy my Borders bookstore card, jam it in there harder, really, I won't be mad..."). I tried disassembling the door handle, but I ended up with several loose screws and an otherwise intact handle assembly. The hinges are engineered in some new space-age fashion that renders them utterly impenetrable to me, at least. So what do I do? I'm renting, so I call the maintenance guy, right?

We-ell, in this country you need to schedule your maintenance issues. Make sure your pipes burst or children get locked in rooms between the hours of 10 and 11 on Monday, Wednesday or Friday because that's the only time the maintenance guy will be accepting appointments. In the interim, find some flat food to shove under the door to your trapped child, or see if you can find protective clothing that'll fit under the door so you can take the blowtorch to it.

Realizing I might not even have a person in the office a few minutes from now, I called at 4:40. The lady on the last five minutes of her shift made sure I understood that I'm SOOOOOOOO lucky that she was willing to call him and see if he was willing to come over. She started out:

"Well, have you tried pushing really hard on the handle?"

[What, does she think I'm a complete moron??] "Yes, ma'am, I have."

"I mean really put your weight on it."

"Yes, ma'am, I have my weight on one side and my daughter's on the other. I have to say that you have installed some very heavy duty handles on these doors, but it's not opening."

"Are you sure it's not locked?"

[Deep breath, Amy.] "Yes, ma'am, I'm quite sure."

"Well can't you take a very large screwdriver and try to push the door?"

[I have no idea where she's going with this, so I lie:] "Oh yes, I've tried that too."

"Well, what shall we do?"

"Ehm, I think I need a maintenance person to come fix the door (!?!!)."

"But Caspar is now working in another building and will be off duty in a few minutes."
So I repeat to her s-l-o-w-l-y:
"My. Daughter. Is. LOCKED. In. A. Room."
Her response:
"Don't you have a husband or something who can help out?"

AAAAAUGGGHH!! Where does one even start here? Clearly not with egalitarianism...

[Deep breath.] "No, my husband is working until midnight."

"Oh, okay then. I'll try to get Caspar, but I can't promise anything. He'll come over if I reach him."

"What if you don't reach him?"

"I don't know. I'm sure I'll reach him, but I am leaving here in about five minutes, so you won't be able to reach anyone."


"Right, so when do I need to call the police to come let her out?"


"When do I know if he will or will not show up?"

"Oh, in an hour or two."

Thankfully, quittin' time being what it is, Caspar miraculously finished the other job and appeared at our door by 4:58. He disassembled the mysterious hinges, removed the door, and was speeding off by 5:01, our "dank u wel"s trailing in his wake.

Sanguine Aislin, in the meantime, enjoyed having a few minutes unburdened by her brother's attentions to pore over her American Girls catalog. I've informed her that she'd better not get any ideas about making this a habit...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009