Saturday, May 29, 2010

Around the house

I had such good intentions of catching up here.  I was going to do one post a day till I'd caught up.  But then my house was invaded by bats.  Yes, bats.  Don't ask.  I'm not quite ready to talk about it yet but I'll be back at some point with the full story and photos of the invaders -- or at least the one we managed to trap.

In the meantime, let me catch you up on what we've been doing the last couple of weeks.  The weather has been intermittently beautiful, so we've been taking advantage of it do some work around the house and garden.  The kids love working in the garden nearly as much as I do.

One of the first things I did -- right after buying a lawn mower and putting it to use -- was setting up the infamous mother-in-law-maiming hammock.  It's really quite gentle as long as you don't let the kids talk you into playing Pirate Ship in the Stormy Seas.  I've been spending hours contemplating the beauty of the forest from this position.  So nice.

How did I get so much time to enjoy the hammock?  By setting up an outdoor art center for the kids:

And a splash pool:

And a swing (it was actually there already but I did put some padding down, which means I have to leap out of the hammock less often to kiss injuries):

And a sandbox.  Probably the kids' favorite thing ever.

The sandbox was already there too but it was pretty gross.  We had to evict a family of frogs and scoop out a few dead lizards before the kids could play in it.  And put in fresh sand, of course.  I then rigged up a cover to keep out the neighbors' cats and all the creepy crawlies.

It worked great till the first big rain.  Then all the water pooled on the top and made the cover fall in.  So then I built this:

It's basically a simple frame with screen stapled to it.  This way water can go through and evaporate so it doesn't get moldy but cats and other critters (I hope) won't be able to get in.  It's also light enough that the kids can put it off and on by themselves.  We'll see how it works!

I also finally put up my clothesline.

Nothing says summer like clothes dried in the sunshine!

Unless maybe it's eating dinner outside while enjoying the views of the forest.  

We've also been enjoying all the wildlife around (except the bats.  I don't think anyone enjoys bats.  But, again, that's another story).  One day, the kids and I were lying in the hammock, with me telling stories from my childhood -- their favorite thing ever...

...when this adorable little baby bird fluttered down and landed on the hammock right next to us!

He just sat there, completely fearless, cheeping and opening his mouth as if he wanted us to feed him.  A few seconds later, he fluttered off.  We watched for a while and saw another little baby bird hopping around.  Just then, the mother bird swooped down with something in her mouth, fed the little babies and flew away!  They must have just left the nest.  I had no idea mother birds would follow their babies around for a while and feed them!  So cute...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In the news!

This is a newspaper article that appeared in today's edition of the Republicain Lorrain, a French newspaper.  When we were at the Village des Vieux Métiers in Azannes, France, on Sunday, a reporter approached me and asked if she could take Kate's photo and interview me for the paper.  I said yes, and here's the result.

I'll post about the whole day sometime soon.  Just wanted to post the link before I lose it. :)

Holland -- Part II

We spent most of Saturday at Keukenhoff and, wanting to avoid the dangers of too much sightseeing with small children, we decided to save Amsterdam for another trip, even though it was only 40 minutes away.  So, after getting our fill of flowers, we headed back to the hotel to relax a little.  For everyone else, that meant watching some much-missed televison (remember, we've had five months with no TV) but I decided to take a long walk and explore the small village in which we were staying, Nordwijk aan Zee.

It's a picturesque little town with cute houses like this:

And this:

Most with bicycles parked out front, of course:

There was also a cute little pond with baby ducks swimming by:

And even this darling hat shop (closed unfortunately, not that I'd know what to do with fancy hats like these):

After resting a while, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant.   Did I mention we stayed at the cutest hotel ever?  With a fantastic restaurant? It was so nice.  They had exquisite grown up food but also your basic kid food:  nuggets and fries, mac and cheese.  Kate ordered a kids' meal but then ate most of my dinner, even the "salad" I unwittingly ordered.  The waiter described it as couscous with beef, but it turned out to be a layer of beef tartare on a bed of couscous, surrounded by chunks of raw salmon.  Not much of a raw meat eater, I was having my doubts.  But then Kate started devouring it and I thought I better try it before she inhaled the whole thing.  It was delicious, just not what I expected.  Kate definitely does not have your typical three-year-old palate!

The next morning we got up and headed right out to the car.  After our hellish journey there (the four-hour-trip somehow took us seven, thanks to horrible traffic through Brussels and Antwerp.  And we got lost once or twice.  Or three or four times.  Yes, we will be getting that GPS very, very soon), we decided on a leisurely trip home, punctuated by interesting stops that would allow us to get out of the car, stretch our legs, and break up the long trip somewhat.

First on the agenda:  Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site boasting not one, not two, not even three, but NINETEEN windmills!  All in one place!  How convenient.  When I heard about it, I thought why drive all over Holland to see a random windmill or two when we could go right to Windmill Central?  So to speak.  And, fortunately, it was just a small detour from the route home.  Armed with detailed directions and maps from Google, we set off and found it without difficulty.  It was fantastic:

So the kids don't look too thrilled.  Could've been because it was cold and windy -- or maybe because the path was absolutely covered in goose poop -- or maybe they feared Mom was about to ask them to walk to each windmill and pose for more pictures (I really wasn't!)

But they cheered up when I offered them stickers to look happy in the picture.

Ah, much better.  Bribery.  It works every time.

Next on our agenda, the Tin Tin Museum just outside of Brussels.  If you know Will, you know how much he loves Tin Tin, and you might remember that this museum was the only thing that got him excited to move to Luxembourg.  It also was conveniently on our way home, so it seemed like a good idea.

I don't think Will was disappointed:

Most of the biographic info about the author, Hergé, wasn't of much interest but he loved looking at the book excerpts and drawings.  This room was particularly exciting:

On the walls were posted all the Tin Tin books in various languages.  Look at that expression! Once again, a boy who knows he's in the presence of greatness.

Kate and I didn't find the museum all that fascinating, but for any Tin Tin fans, it's a must-see.

And that was it.  This trip was probably my favorite since we got here and I know we'll be heading back next spring!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Holland -- Part I

I'm skipping over several chapters here but I wanted to post about the trip we took to Holland a few weeks ago before I forget it.

We visited Keukenhof Gardens just outside of Amsterdam at what I think was close to if not the peak of the tulip season.  Truly breathtaking.

Even Will, who's often a reluctant traveler, had a good time.  Keukenhof also has fantastic playgrounds and a petting zoo, so that helped.  A 6-year-old boy can only handle so many beautiful tulips.

I told the kids to pose in front of their favorite flowers so I could take their pictures.  Here's Will with his:

Don't let the dismal expression fool you.  He was having a great time.  Really.

Kate had many favorites.  These:

And these:

And these:

And these:

It was kind of like Will in the Egyptian section of the Louvre.  Again, I won't be posting all the photos here.  Maybe just one more of her "favoritest flowers ever!!"

These were some of my favorites:

Will liked the flowers more than I expected, but the stepping stones crossing a lake proved to be the most exciting part of our visit.  He fearlessly leapt from one "stone" to another, while I cringed and yelled from the shore to be careful.

And there were swans. 

Will loved that.  I've got lots of pictures like this:

Swans make him happy.

There was also a big windmill:

And traditional dancers:

And a petting zoo with cute baby sheep:

Bunnies with red eyes (or is it just the photo?):
Ponies in desperate need of haircuts:
Chickens that loved to hide in wheelbarrows:
And drink from old-fashioned pumps:
And this giant turkey.  Kate's comment:  "I bet he's delicious!  Poor turkey."  My little empathetic carnivore...

There was also a cute Russian doll photo op:

And a snake that fascinated Will:

But even better was the playground.  It had a zip line:

A great rope climbing structure:

And a tire swing for spinning till you're just about to lose your lunch:

Every child's dream.  

Next up:  How I dragged the family all over Holland in search of windmills, lots of windmills.  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


We recently visited Clervaux, an amazing little town in the north of Luxembourg with -- what else? -- a beautiful castle, and a fantastic photography exhibit to boot.

Here's the castle:

Here's the American tank in front of the castle:

Bit of history:  this is the tank that protected the castle from the Nazis.  Unfortunately, it didn't defend it very effectively and the chateau was badly damaged.  It has, however, been thoroughly restored.

The thoroughly puzzling tourist office sign:

The tourist office was closed or else I would've been compelled to go in and ask why on earth their sign was adorned by a witch on a broomstick.  Any ideas??

The photo exhibit, The Family of Man by Edward Steichen, was phenomenal.  Seriously, it was amazing.  It's a collection of 503 photographs from 273 different photographers, representing life in the 1950s.  The photos are arranged by themes (birth, childhood, work, music, etc.) and demonstrate how all mankind is one big family.  You should go see it!  I plan to go back -- without children.  They were more interested in hiding behind the giant photographs than in appreciating their content.  Go figure.

The kids were slightly more interested in another museum housed in the chateau -- miniature models of the best castles in Luxembourg.  Kate thought they were adorable, and Will thought it was a good way to see a lot of castles without actually having to go there.

Clervaux also has a Battle of the Bulge Museum and a Toy Museum, but we skipped those.  Don't ask me why we skipped the toy museum, I really don't remember.  Maybe next time!