29 January, 2007

But it was such a lovely parting gift...

Today I had (yet) another strange experience. S has met a boy his age that he gets along really well with, and the mother invited us over for coffee.

I suppose I should preface this whole story by saying that this boy is very sweet and calm and polite. He likes to do puzzles and play quietly in his room with his much older sister.

(You see where this is going, don't you?) On their own S and B can be sweet and quiet as well. But they are boys, and if you put them in the room with another boy they all somehow morph into maniacs. They wrestle and get all sweaty and slam each other into furniture.

Today was, unfortunately, no exception. Despite my best efforts the entire two hours was like having front row seats at a WWF Smackdown. But then without the prize money or the limo waiting outside afterwards.

The boys all had a fabulous time, but the mother sat there with a very strained smile on her face. And I could read her mind as she wondered if I have to chain my children in the basement in the evenings just to get some peace.

Finally it was time to leave. I was tired, hungry and completely frazzled. Made my way to the door, wrestling S and B to get their jackets and boots on. Was struggling to stay polite and keep a semblance of control. I just wanted to be home!

As I was cramming one of B's feet into the WRONG boot the mother came up to me with a bag and said: Do you like this children's book?

I actually don't, but my head was already halfway home and I was struggling with B's other boot. So I said "Oh yes, yes, of course!"

And she smiled and said "Oh, well, great, because I have two of them and thought you might like this one!"

Which was so nice! Especially considering the fact that my kids had just spent the last two hours training her son in subversive martial arts. I think we have two copies mouldering down in the basement, but hey, never look a gift horse in the mouth! Plus, she might be offended if I refuse. So I said: "Wow, that is so nice of you! Thank you! I'm sure the boys will really enjoy it!"

And she handed it to me and said: "Great, then I will sell it to you. I paid 15 Euros for it."


Believe it or not, I actually paid her. It was worth it just to get back out to my car and finally drive home.

So watch out, if any of you have birthdays coming up. You might just get an unexpected gift...

27 January, 2007

Losing the will to live

I've started giving weekly English lessons at the kindergarten, which is a total blast. I spend a lot of time cooking up wacky ways to pass on English words-- last week I brought a bag full of stuffed animals and the kids had to shout out to B in English what kind of animal was about to bite him.

Although I've said I'm doing this on a volunteer basis the kindergarten insists on a barter deal. And unfortunately their currency of choice is viruses. Big hairy, cloven-hoofed viruses. Viruses so powerful and destructive they should be named. Just like hurricanes.

I have been in bed since Tuesday. (At least during the moments when I haven't been shoveling snow, running errands, cooking, driving the kids to and from school or helping S with his homework.) Luckily M is at home this weekend-- I've burrowed down in bed and plan on staying here for a while.

Any funny links, videos, anecdotes would be appreciated! You got anything to cheer me up?

26 January, 2007


I find mornings to be-- well, shall we say... challenging. I'm not a morning person under the best of circumstances, and trying to get us all dressed and out the door on time demands patience and skill.

B is sick this morning. Not sick enough to stay home from school, but sick enough to fight against every single aspect of his morning routine. He groaned his way through breakfast, flailed around wildly trying to jam his arms into his sleeves and put on his pants BEFORE his underwear. It was that kind of morning.

I'm not feeling so hot myself, and as I was running around after S and B my head was full of eeevil thoughts. (which were bad enough that that word can only be spelled using three e's.) It came time to leave and we trudged out into the snow-- 5 minutes late, but hey, at least we were on our way.

Turned the key to open the garage. nothing happened. Tried again-- no dice. The door was frozen shut. Ran back through the house, past M and into the garage to push the door from the inside. It wouldn't budge.

By this time there's steam coming out of my ears and I'm swearing under my breath. I was so mad I had to will myself not to start kicking the door. I am, after all, an adult, and have to set a good example for the kids. Plus, I reasoned, kicking furiously at a garage door might be immensely satisfying, but it wouldn't get us to school any faster.

M walked calmly into the garage. Can I help?

I think I hissed something like "Frick frack friggen garage door frockt!"

So he raised his foot serenely and gave the door a swift, hard kick.

And it slid open as if it had spent its entire life waiting for that moment.

Every now and then I feel like I'm trapped in a Bugs Bunny cartoon...

25 January, 2007

The devil is in the details...

The snow has suddenly piled up here and the temperatures have dropped to -6C. Which means a mother has to be extra vigilent. Not only to ensure that her children stay warm and dry, but also so that the teachers and other parents don't start clucking furiously over naked ears or exposed throats.

This morning I was a whirlwind of activity.

I checked that S had an undershirt on under his shirt and warm fleece.
I made sure that he put on snow boots and his winter jacket.
I personally pulled on his hood and mittens.

I felt competent. I felt confident.

Then we walked to school.

I was trudging along behind him daydreaming, thinking that his socks probably didn't match his fleece sweater and... HOLD ON! (*grinding noises and brain going click. click. click. as disparate thoughts start to come together*) Why is it that I can see his socks?

The one thing I did NOT think to check was to see if S had put on his own pants. He'd pulled a pair of B's on by mistake. They are two sizes too small. And he looked like he had on a pair of Michael Jackson's highwaters from circa 1982.

I'll let you know if the school lets me have him back when I go to pick him up this afternoon. Otherwise he'll probably be placed into foster care and you can send him cards and well wishes there...

24 January, 2007

6+ ultra cool things about Betsy

Uh oh. I've been tagged. Astrid has asked me to post 6 extremely cool facts about myself. Actually I think the term she used was "wierd" but I'm thinking that these eccentricities help keep me on the cutting edge of cool! Want to know why?

1. My normal body temperature is 36.5 C (97.7 F), which is a half degree lower than a human should be. According to Goldennumber.com this is a healthy temperature for elephants.

2. I eat all kinds of really weird things. I actually enjoy brown bread. and carrot sticks. and oatmeal. My mouth starts to water when I think of tangerines or tomatoes.

3. I grew up in Florida, so the I reached the ripe old age of 22 1/2 before I ever saw snow! Which is when I moved to Moscow. (I'm telling you, when I do something I do it RIGHT!)

4. I don't burp. I mean I physically cannot do it. Which put a huge dent in my social skills in grade school. My biggest hero could burp almost the whole alphabet without stopping, and I was stuck gagging at A. I think it's left me with some deep-seated emotional trauma that I need to work through.

5. I look for excuses to read Dr. Suess books out loud to my children. I do it even when they're lying on the floor beating the carpet with their fists and are begging me to stop. Which means I'm continuing a tradition I started with my dad when I was six. I think that to this day he gets facial tics when he thinks about Green Eggs and Ham.

6. S and B have asked me to tell you that I eat cockroaches. Not that this is true, mind you, but they think that would be a cool way to end out this weird list.

*7. And an extra special bonus "Ultra Kool Factoid about Betsy": CC said I should add that one time I actually hung out with Snap back in the day. Never mind that they were the most obnoxious bunch of people I've ever met. How many people can say they've met the "lyrical Jesse James"??!! So to end this list off on an ultra kool note:

So now it's time to pass on the torch! Lisa, Ellen and Laurie- YOU'RE IT! Please tell us six wierd things about yourselves!

23 January, 2007

Another German Twilight Zone experience

We visited an antique store a few years ago looking for a dining room table and we walked out with a grandfather clock. Or staggered out, actually, because this thing is heavy. It is one of the few big impulse purchases we've ever made and we've never regretted it.

Its chime is large and grand-- my mother remarked once when I was pregnant that it would be a sound that B would remember from the womb.

Up until now it has weathered our moves remarkably well. At one point it even travelled from the US back to Belgium in its own custom-built wooden coffin. The irony is that it came out of that casket alive and ticking, and then, sadly did not survive a mere 500 km move to Stuttgart. This time, careless movers disemboweled it needlessly and silenced its century-old voice.

Enter the witchdoctor. I got a reference from a local antique dealer for a watchmaker. We've been playing phone tag for more than a month now. Today I got a call saying that he would be by in 1/2 hour to look at the damage.

A short time later I opened the door to find a neatly dressed elderly man smiling at me. He came in, took a quick look and nodded his head sagely. "The gears are too dry, this piece has been broken off and the pendulum should be repaired."

I asked how much it would cost and we agreed upon the price. Then, to my amazement, he pulled the mechanics out of the clock body, picked up the pendulum and the weights and walked out the door. The last thing I heard as he hopped into his car was: "I'll call you in a couple of weeks."

And then he drove off.

What a strange interaction! I have no idea where his workshop is, received no receipt and don't even know exactly how to spell his last name! I stood at the window musing that the police are just going to laugh at me when I call to report a stolen clock next month.

When I came back into the living room S said: "He sure was nice!" And I laughed and said, "Well he could have been a thief for all we know." S smiled and said "Well, at least he was a nice thief!"

22 January, 2007

Surrealism at its best

On Saturdays we eat a leisurely pancake breakfast and then go out for a 2+ hour hike in the woods near our house. We've been exploring different trails, sometimes we cover a lot of ground, sometimes relatively little.

The exercise and fresh air are great. But another main motivation is to escape the pulls of the Blackberry, household chores and the Internet. And to be really present for life with the kids.

They'll run up ahead, jump over logs, race along with the dog and then eventually come back to chat-- it's a rare opportunity to gain insight into what's really going on in their minds.

Last weekend we were working our way through some thick brush when we stopped to watch a buzzard circling above a field next to us. Unlike the standard buzzard /vulture creatures from cartoons, these birds are gorgeous; graceful and majestic.

This prompted a whole new flood of ideas to come bubbling out. Sometimes participating in these conversations with the boys is like stepping into one of Picasso's artworks-- it's very surreal because their thought patterns jut out at foreign angles, but the composite usually makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it.

B: What do you think he's hunting for?
Me: Maybe mice?
S: Maybe hares?
B: Hares don't exist!
S: Yes they do! They're like big rabbits!
B: Maybe, but dinosaurs don't exist anymore.
Me: You're right, B, they died out-- they're extinct.
S: I hope you don't die, Mom.
Me: Well, hopefully it won't be for a long time, but someday I will, you know. It's just part of life: everything that lives eventually dies.
S: Yeah, except for three people: Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and some witch in Italy who brings presents to children who have been good.

(Image courtesy of the Online Picasso Project)

20 January, 2007

Faux pas? Oder nicht?

The mother of one of S's friends called yesterday to invite us all over for coffee this weekend. She suggested that we get together Sunday afternoon, but we've got plans, so I said Sunday morning would work out better for us.

Not wanting to add the extra responsibility for lunch, I suggested that we might come over at 10am. She quickly upped it to 10:30 with a note of desperation in her voice-- I wouldn't have been surprised if on the other end of the line she'd fallen to her knees and was mouthing "OH PLEASE GOD! NOOOOOOO! WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?"

When I relayed the story to M later he laughed and said: I'd say 10:00 is on the early side for a Sunday. ???? I'm sensing a major cultural difference here.

So now I'm wondering: What in your culture is considered too early to have people over for coffee on a Sunday? (if you've got small kids who are up early anyway.)

And here's a bonus question: What is the latest time that you would dare call non-family members in the evenings?

18 January, 2007

Our budding wordsmith

For his homework yesterday S had a list of 12 letters and had to think up three adjectives that began with each letter. We started brainstorming all of the words we knew and his eyes lit right up. He was coming up with them faster than I was-- and we're not talking about simple ones, but adjectives like gigantisch, ungeheuer and turquoise.

I can't even describe how fantastic the experience was-- I've always loved language but wasn't sure if either of my sons would share that passion with me. But it looks like S has been bitten by the bug. He's reading everything that's not nailed down and now looks forward to our trips to the library.

And the way his eyes sparkled yesterday while playing our word game? It was pure magic!

17 January, 2007

Ready to turn myself in to the authorities

"Mom, there's something sharp in my mouth."

I assumed S was procrastinating going to bed and didn't take it very seriously.

Until I looked inside his mouth and everything ground to a halt: he'd broken a pretty sizeable chunk off of one of his molars!

Luckily one of our neighbors is a children's dentist and we dropped by the next evening. He took one look and said: "This is a major cavity that started between his teeth and weakened the molar enough that it just broke off."

I just stood there stupidly with my own mouth hanging open. "How could this have happened? He doesn't drink cola, eats very little sweets and we brush his teeth twice a day!"

Apparently S's new molars are too close together for the toothbrush bristles to reach between them. Plus he's got some form of more aggressive bacteria in his mouth. Put these two together and you've got a dental disaster just waiting to happen!

We had our official appointment with the dentist yesterday-- S has got three different cavities that need to be filled and two more that we will have to watch closely. On the way home we stopped at the pharmacy and loaded up on dental floss and heavy duty mouth rinse.

I know it's a bit illogical but I feel kind of ashamed that this has happened. Just hang my mug shot right up there alongside other mothers who neglect their children. Because S says he's ALWAYS hungry and this afternoon I let him play outside without a jacket. He had on a sweater but that is still tantamount to child abuse in this area...

Wait until social services gets a good look in his mouth!

12 January, 2007

Blog addicts of the world: Delurk!

Uh oh. Delurking week is almost over and although I've been delurking right and left on other people's blogs I've forgotten to post anything about it here! To those of you who pop by but never leave a comment: I would love to have the chance to finally meet you! (and to read your blogs-- Runaway Rubber Duckie chose to reveal herself to Mausi and SwissMiss earlier this week and I have really enjoyed her travel photos!) So please drop me a comment if you have a minute and tell me who you are!

So Ollie Ollie Oxenfree! Come out, come out where ever you are! :-)

Sometimes a wurst is just a wurst.

It was cooking day at the kindergarten and the kids made sausages, french fries and yoghurt with fruit slices. B was asked to bring a sausage (wiener wuerstchen) to contribute to the meal.

So yesterday we went to the butcher for the first time. While waiting in line my stomach was flip-flopping at the sight of all that meat.

It came our turn and I asked for one wuerstchen. The butcher smiled, pulled it out of the case, handed it to me and asked: "Is this for the children?"

Uhhh, yes.

"OK, then it's on the house. Have a nice day!" and he turned to the next customer.

And there I stood, completely perplexed, holding my dubious gift.

We walked outside and I just started cracking up. S was skipping along beside me and said "What's so funny?"

"God, where do I start? OK, so number one, as a vegetarian I don't find this thing even remotely appetising. And number two: why is there no wrapper or bag of any kind? Here I am holding my backpack, my keys and a sausage!?"

And then S sang out "And number three: it looks like you're walking along holding a giant penis!"

11 January, 2007

Need a diversion?

This one made me laugh and cry!

Prayer: Once a Last Resort, Now a Habit

All Things Considered, January 10, 2007
Storyteller Kevin Kling has often used prayer to try to get himself out of the dumb trouble he finds himself in. But after a life-changing motorcycle accident in 2001, Kling's prayers have changed.

Yet another slice of humble pie

Learning a language is the perfect antidote for an inflated ego. Because, really, how often under normal circumstances does one get a chance to make a complete buffoon of oneself?

OK, so some of us seem to have more of a knack for stupidity than others, but studying a language is kind of like carrying your groceries around in a wet paper bag. Your luck might hold out for a while, but it only takes one swipe from a badly conujugated verb and the bottom falls out, spilling your shit all over your shoes!

After many years and many languages you would think I would be more conscious of this, but I guess I'll never learn. I'll have a couple of good days and will start thinking I'm Miss German Student America. And then inevitably I'll make a mistake that sends me spiralling in a tailspin back down to earth. I guess it's one of nature's many checks and balances.

S had a friend over to play on Tuesday, and when the father came to pick him up he stayed a while to chat. I asked how their holiday had been-- he said that he'd had to work a lot, but that it was starting to slow down, and as of next week he will have four days off every week.

So I said brightly: "Wow, that's great! Are you looking forward to your upcoming vacation and some free time?"

And he blinked and stared at me and switched over to English and said: "Um, no, not actually. Like I just said, I've been fired and now have to look for another job."


Pffffffffffttttttttttttttttt! That was the sound of my ego deflating down to a wrinkled, soggy heap on the floor...

10 January, 2007

Artistic interpretation

I have been torturing my children with this video this afternoon. The first time S heard the keyboard intro he asked if it was an ambulance going past. And B keeps wrinkling his nose and shaking his head with disgust and saying: "They're singing it WRONG!!!".

(CC rated it as "superb" so it gets 5 stars in my book...)

08 January, 2007

Venturing into the world of petty crime

I just got back from the grocery store. For the second time today.

The first time I got there and realized I'd forgotten my list. And with M away I need to shop for the whole week because I can't handle more than one trip with the kids in tow. That ranks right up there with all sorts of cruel and unusual punishment which were banned by the Geneva Convention.

So I had no choice but to drive home and back. I guess I left my brain at home the second trip as well because I was totally spacey-- had to visit some aisles three times before I got everything I needed.

Finally made it to the cash register and started unloading everything-- only to realize that I'd forgotten milk, which we really can't live without. AARRGGG! Hastily piled the stuff back into my cart, pushed through the line and raced to the dairy section and back.

Unloaded the cart for a second time and while I was waiting for the cashier I slipped my hands into my jacket pockets. And pulled out TWO PACKS OF GUM which I'd apparently stuffed in there in my haste to go back and get the milk I'd forgotten. !!!???

How pathetic would that have been if I'd been busted for shoplifting gum!? No telling how many people behind me in line saw me do it-- I can just see me trying to explain it to store management: "I SWEAR I have no idea how that got in my pockets!" or maybe "I was just keeping it warm until I paid for it."

Let's hope that the next time I'm being ditzy and stealing stuff that I do it with high-ticket items, like flat screen televisions...

07 January, 2007

Knee-high to a...

I think our boys might be turning into locusts. They're developing long spindly legs, they hop everywhere they go and have appetites of biblical proportions; they're eating everything that's not nailed down!

Unlike normal locusts, though, they can be quite cute, and I like to cuddle them. (if I can catch them...)

M is in the States on business this week so it's just me, the dog and the grasshoppers. We went out for a long hike this morning and shattered the tranquility of the nature reserve near our house.

Got back and I cooked a big pot of hearty lentil stew and baked lemon blueberry muffins and strawberry oatmeal bars. I doubt even this stock of food will satisfy their gargantuan appetites this week but at least it's a start...

They're upstairs playing right now and I'm taking advantage of the quiet moment to have a cup of coffee and put my feet up. Any minute, though, they're going to swarm back downstairs and swear that they are STARVING. (a word that's always in capital letters in our house lately)

This kind of behavior usually precedes a growth spurt-- I'm thinking that by next week S and B might be as tall as I am. Which is fine as long as they eventually morph back into boys. They're much easier to squeeze that way...

06 January, 2007

Happy Three Kings' Day!

Only just now realized that it's a holiday today when I failed in my attempts to do grocery shopping and hit the bakery. Everything is closed!?

We cleaned up the Christmas tree today, which, coincidentally, is a Three Kings' tradition. (The only other custom I can think of is to get sloppy drunk and canvas the neighbors' houses for spare change while singing Drie Koningen songs. I haven't completely ruled that one out yet either.)

Pulled out the box to pack away our nativity scene and an errant plastic sheep fell out and clattered to the floor. Without missing a beat S quipped: "These shepherds weren't doing a very good job, were they?" That kid cracks me up!

The weather is moody and I'm feeling thoughtful. Stumbled across this video and it really spoke to me...

04 January, 2007

No I didn't yes you did oh no I didn't oh yes you did!

4 days until school starts up again and after a week of too few rules and too much attention the boys are indulging in their favorite new hobby: bickering.

Neither threats nor pleas nor shameless acts of bribery will deter them. They argue about everything from hotwheels to the finer points of German grammar. And the more I try to intervene the worse it gets. So I'm ignoring them. Just like I do with those voices in my head that tell me to burn things.

I've banished them upstairs while I keep busy down here; cleaning, cooking, blogging. And counting down the minutes until I can send them back to the daily routines of school. Or sell them to the next passing circus troupe-- whichever comes first.

03 January, 2007

Thenk ju!

He may eventually learn to spell better but it will never be this charming again! :-)

02 January, 2007

Helllooooooooo 2007!

We're back from a week in the Netherlands. We had a great holiday but it's also nice to be back home and sleep in our own beds!

Sorry for the blogging blackout-- my parents'-in-law have a dialup connection so I have only limited time (and limited patience) for Internet activities. Which, for a WWW addict like myself, is like an enforced stay at the Betty Ford clinic. It's not exactly easy but is probably a good thing to take some time every now and then to dry out.

We had an eventful week-- barforama excluded. The only bright side of that misery was that I erased any excess holiday pounds in about 9 (not-so) easy steps! (and ensuing two day I'll-puke-if-I-even-think-about-food-diet). I might be one of the few people who started off January lighter than I was in December!

So, let's see- V family holiday in bullet points:
  • First and foremost: I have a new nephew! Max Willem Leonard was born on December 26th. Blogger is being cranky this morning so I'll have to post a picture later.
  • We visited a couple of different friends whom we haven't seen for years. It was fun to catch up!
  • E and I did some major damage at the sales in Rotterdam. I don't go clothes shopping very often so it was fun to go out and do it right! :-)
  • We stayed home and had a quiet New Years' Eve with my parents-in-law. Watched all the Dutch oud jaars avond shows on TV and then got the kids up for a spectacular fireworks display at midnight. It was raining so we enjoyed a panoramic view through the window. B made a running commentary the whole time: "That one looked like a spider! Oh, and that one reminds me of broccoli!" With anyone else it might have been annoying, but he's just so enthusiastic and cute it just cracked me up.
  • We've got this week off and I plan to spend it reading Wicked and going through all of our closets and taking down the Christmas tree.
Oh, yeah, and a quick observation about Dutch television: Where else on earth would they show a huge closeup of an anus on a primetime New Years' eve countdown show?! And I don't mean a quick flash and then cutaway, I'm talking about a 1 1/2 meter (5 foot) photo hanging from the ceiling above the emcee's head along with some other decorations. Did anyone else see this on Paul de Leeuw?! :-O

And I guess I'll end on that extremely tasteful note. Happy New Year, everyone!