Friday, March 29, 2013

Float On

 Unfortunately, I have discovered that the correct answer to the question:  Which scenario results in a piercing-scream and panicked-stricken, OMG-I-don’t-think-I-can-do-this-anymore, frantic calling of your husband’s cell phone five times in the middle of his business meeting until he freakin’ answers his phone?  Options:

A. Seeing two mice running around your foyer while being perched like a statue at the top of the stairs, or

B. While cleaning up the dog’s water bowl your 17-month-old spilled all over the floor, you pull the dog bowls from the wall and come face-to-face with a dead mouse while on your hands and knees holding a wet dish towel.

Well, as you may have guessed, the correct answer is B. 

I know.  I know.  There are mice all over the world.  This could happen anywhere, as my Facebook post after Incident A told me.    But I’ve never actually had to deal with mice in my house in Dallas.  Sure, we had a rodent man – he had a trap outside our house.  He proactively baited it, and after that, I don’t know what happened.  At all.  Ignorance is bliss. 
 I’ve said it before, but I love our house here in The Netherlands.  It’s over 100 years old, adorned with lovely chandeliers and hardwood floors.  It’s elegant, but like anything or anyone who seems a little too good to be true, it didn’t take long to uncover its few, dark secrets.  Last fall I discovered mouse droppings in my kitchen.  I freaked, like any good American would.  We called the owner of the house.  He said good luck with that, and gave us the number of a mouse exterminator to call and pay for ourselves.  Fine.  Cool.  Whatever.  Mouse Man came out and put boxes of poison all around our house.  As I watched him investigate the corners of our home – were they in this room or were they not. . . I communicated with him in broken English.  “Oh yes, there are a few mice here,” he says.  “MICE!  As in MORE than ONE?” I asked, panic and dread seeping through my veins.  I clutched my squirming 1-year old in my arms.  “Oh yes,” he reassures me.  “There are more mice in the world than people.  They are everywhere.”  How did I miss this fabulous, fun fact?  “It will be a week or so until they leave.  It takes a while for the poison to work,” he says.  Weary of the little boxes all over my house, I began to wonder – what is worse, a live mouse or a dead mouse?  “So. . . they eat the poison.  And then what?  Where do they die?”  I ask.  He smiles with a bit of a crazed look in his eye, like the Wizard of Oz or Willy Wonka, “No one knows!” and his gaze lingers on the imaginary horizon for a beat, then he goes back to his work, filling his boxes.  In my naiveté, I’m satisfied with his answer.  I imagine the little mice going out into the field to die or simply evaporating.  In retrospect, there was something severely lost in translation – Mouse Man really meant – they could die “Anywhere.”   
   We had a peaceful few months and then we started to hear it (them?) again.  They’re nocturnal, which amazes me how anything can sleep in this house during the day – I mean, really??  I have two screaming, crying toddlers.  But my husband and I would hear scurrying starting in the evening.  He’d play it off like they were running on the balcony.  It wasn’t until we went out for a date in Amsterdam one night and came home to our (brand new) babysitter, telling us that she had seen the mouse.  If there’s anything more mortifying, it’s an American mother being embarrassed that the babysitter saw a mouse in your house.  Cue: Death Look to Husband.  Luckily, she’s Greek and apparently used to mice, played along saying “mice are a problem in this country” and stuffed her 50 Euros in her pocket and went home. 
  Instead of calling Mouse Man and paying the dude 70 Euros to put poison around our house, we decided to do it ourselves.  V Google translated the directions and found that mice, if so inclined, would eat through the bags of plastic poison.  After a few weeks and seeing two mice running around our foyer one night while he was at Dutch class, I went through the house, opening the plastic packages and emptying the poison contents into the boxes like the determined woman I was.  Clearly, these mice were not motivated enough.  Thus. . . it worked. . . and thus. . . the dead mouse in the kitchen incident. 
  Panicked and terror stricken, I walked my kids around the neighborhood and train station until V got home that night.  The trash is picked up every two weeks and had just come that morning.  Instead of putting the poor sap in our bin for two weeks, it has been properly buried in an unmarked grave in the back yard.  My husband, the caretaker, I’m sure said a prayer for the mouse’s elimination and a hope for the return of my sanity.   In the meantime, I hope that my negative feelings towards my daughter’s Minnie Mouse doll fade soon.   

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Who'll Stop the Rain

Antwerp Central Station
    It’s taken until I had two kids and endured exhaustion for years to really appreciate winter.  And that’s a good thing, because we have a lot of it here.  It’s cloudy and cold, a majority of the time: winter, spring, and even half of summer.  People joke about how depressing Seattle is in America, but little did we know that there are entire countries which could prescribe Prozac.  But they don’t.  The strongest thing they prescribe is Paracetamol.  For anything.   Don’t even bother calling a doctor until you have a fever for four days straight.  But I digress.   It’s cold.  It’s rainy.  I like it.  For about two days it’s lazy and comforting.  You cuddle with your kids, gaze into the fire, clean your house from top to bottom, organize the mail, catch up on your Facebook and e-mail messages, and then. . . as you open your bedroom curtains to another lazy, grey morning. . . you slowly start to lose your mind.  It’s a surprisingly sneaky process.  You don’t really realize you’ve lost your marbles until your claustrophobia leads to one-sided shouting matches of frustration with the dogs because you’re tripping over them while trying to feed bite-sized hot dog pieces to your children.  The sixth morning produces yet another shade of pale, and your subconscious craving for sunlight culminates into a distressed plan of escape.   You sit to check Facebook mid-afternoon but instead, your fingers are attracted to an intensely spiritual and powerful energy. . .  the result is Ouija-board like Google searches for flights – any flight -  to a warmer destination.
  It’s not that we can’t get out of the house when it’s cold and rainy.  We have all the equipment now: stroller, stroller covers, umbrellas, boots, gloves, scarves, mittens, etc. etc.  But sometimes, you just do not feel like pushing a double stroller in the icy, cold rain.  You just.  Don’t.  On the flip side, we are much more zealous than a year ago.  Which is progress I am proud of – and I’m pretty sure my kids and dogs have appreciated the efforts as well. 
   V and I have learned to create Rainy Day Plans and Decent Weather Plans.  Decent Weather is defined as: Any weekend where you wake up and it’s above 40 degrees F (3 degrees C) and NOT raining/snowing.  The weather is so variable here, it almost makes it fun! Think about if it dropped to 80 degrees F in the middle of July in Texas.  People would go crazy-happy and head to The Ballpark in Arlington just to tailgate or actually enjoy a cocktail sweat-free on the patios of Uptown.  So.  This is the perspective we’ve taken.  Last weekend was a crap weekend and thus resulted in uber-exciting/stressful journeys to the two super-stores in The Netherlands: Ikea and Albert Heijn XL (basically. . . a grocery store the size of a typical one in America WITH a parking garage - WHOA).  Both visits resulted in productive shopping experiences, Walmart-on-Christmas-Eve-type-crowds, and an almost comical rearrangement of goods in our tiny European car. . . “If we squeeze the rug into the space between the car seats. . .”
  But there have been a few Decent Weather weekends as well during the past few months.  So we’ve been offsetting the potty-training, teething, cleaning house top-to-bottom, cleaning-out-the-fridge, organizing-the-children’s-books, painting-that-piece-of-furniture-I’ve-always-wanted-to, replacing-every-lightbulb-in-the-house-because-it’s-so-dark-all-the-time, with exploring The Netherlands and Belgium with a few day trips.  It’s fun.  Even if the clouds loom menacingly above us. 
    1.  Den Haag (The Hague) V and I had visited years ago and I had loved the city.  It’s only a 20-minute train ride from Leiden and was comfortingly easy to get around with a double stroller.  We found a fabulous bookstore (American Book Center) which was like walking into a Barnes and Nobel (okay – so not really like a B&N, but after months of searching fruitlessly in the Engels sections of even the largest bookstores in Leiden for the next book club requirements, it was nice to find the next months’ selections.  Yes, I know you can just order them on-line an/or download them on an Ipad.  I like browsing, okay?  I’m a sucker to marketing like that.)   We perused the shopping areas and purchased some nice linens (which questionably fit our American sized mattress – uh, what’s a Queen in Centimeters?) at Zara Home.  We picked up the pace to pass Iranian protesters we did not understand, marveled at the Binnenhof, and thus satisfied with our productive and happy day, headed back home.
Spoorweg Museum
  2.  Utrecht:  V had read on-line “Het Spoorwegmuseum” was a train museum in Utrecht which had been decorated for Christmas.  We headed out to Utrecht and found a shopping mall (OMG – an indoor shopping mall!!!! – I almost cried, because it was there. . . because all the shops were closed. . . and because, well – ‘home’ tugs on you in funny ways when overseas) Our dramatics shifted from excitement to confusion after searching for an escape route from the shopping mall which would accommodate the double stroller, but that’s just a sub-note.   We explored and snapped photos at the Domkerk (Cathedral) on the way to the train museum.  We marveled at the subterranean homes and restaurants along the Oudegracht and canal below.  We were confused. . . and spent our time hypothesizing about the purpose of the cells below – “they housed prisoners or the poor during medieval times?” our imaginations stretched to fill in the blanks. . . but after searching the internet –  I discovered that the very rare wharf system had been implemented in the early 1100s in which the warehouses and cellars were built at water level, with stairs and ladders extending up to street level.   So yeah – no prisoners were stored in the jail-like cells, just stuff; so much for our fairytale drama. . .
Oude Gracht in Utrecht
  We toured the train museum and after perusing the antique train graveyard, snapping photos of Baby Girl riding the kiddie train all by herself, our family two-stepped to questionably authentic Dutch Country Music singers (the rotation included a shout-out to Texans – they clearly did not realize there were ACTUAL Texans in the audience – and the lyrics included something along the lines of smoking pot in the country.  That’s some good ol’ fashioned family fun, for ya. . . )  All in all, it was a fantastic and fun day trip from Leiden.     
  3.  Antwerp:  I love the fact that Belgium is so close to us.  Beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries are all things that Belgium is known for (I know – I told this story to my British hairdresser and he turned his nose up at the reference to Belgian beer. . . I don’t know what the dynamic is between the English and the Belgians, but I’m afraid Duvel has the upper hand on Bud Light.)  We decided to drive.  (I feel like Aunt Bethany from Christmas Vacation every time we agree to drive: “I just LOVE riding in cars!”)  The kids were comfortable and took turns sleeping in their ridiculous lazy-boy imported car seats while I snuggled in my heated chair and flipped between radio, CD, and V’s playlists on his phone.  Riding in cars IS fun if you don’t do it very often.  We easily parked in a garage near the Grote Markt and headed out to explore the town. 
Antwerp Grote Markt
   We passed through the Grote Markt admiring the ancient architecture.  After wandering through cobblestoned lanes and storefronts, we found a bric-a-brac market and purchased 6 questionably antique wine glasses for 15 Euros.  V instantly broke one while trying to stuff the bag into the double stroller basket, but I (eventually) forgave him.  I don’t really need six matching wine glasses since there are only two of us, and I must admit that I have felt like Audrey Hepburn sipping from my wide-brimmed, short bowled wine glass for the past few weeks.
  One of the things I was most excited about when becoming a parent was to view the world through my children’s eyes.  Baby Girl does not disappoint.  We walked into the train station in Antwerp (#1 on Trip Advisor’s list) and she was just as impressed as I was.  “Oh!  Wow!  Look, Mama!” she exclaimed.  (Baby Girl, by the way, can identify the Eiffel Tower and country music – this makes me one proud Mama.)  Together, we marveled at the beauty and vastness of the station.  “This is like Grand Central Station,” V said outloud.  I continued to stare with awe, craning my neck to look at the architecture above - “I’m sorry, V.  But no, it’s not. . . this is better than Grand Central,” I had to admit. 
Cogels-Osylei Avenue in Antwerp
  We feasted on fresh waffles with obscene amounts of chocolate and cream while the kids (conservatively?) ate their waffles soaked with raisins, apples and syrup.  We read on Trip Advisor about the Cogels-Osylei avenue outside of town and stopped by for a few photo ops before heading back to The Netherlands. 
Little Man and Baby Girl Chasing Bunnies
  Our family has enjoyed a few great months.  Winter, the time for self-reflection and internal pursuits, has delivered.  Last Tuesday the thermometer rose to nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 15 C) and the kids and I celebrated by cycling up to the Merenwijk Kinderboerderij (Children’s Farm) and gleefully welcomed the arrival of cuddly baby sheep and I laughed as they chased large rabbits around an enclosure.  We picnicked and smiled at the other parents, grandparents, and children dancing in the warm sunlight, but I knew the festival was temporary.  Like an insincere, apologetic boyfriend who rocks up on your porch step taunting gifts of purple crocuses and proclaiming promises of change, I accept the gifts with appreciation, but apprehension.  The winter and cold is far from gone.  He will, without doubt, stray again and break my spirit if I do not hold it close to me.  But in the meantime, I’ll accept kisses of apology and promises of better days ahead and know that it is up to me to make the most of the time I have, in this sometimes challenging, but beautiful relationship.                      
Promises of Spring at Merenwijk