Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Carl

Today our youngest son Carl turned 3. It’s hard to believe that 36 months have passed since he was born on a sunny but freezing day at our home in Holland, our little blond tornado with the impish smile, endless giggles, and naughty streak a mile wide. At the moment his favourite sayings are “you’re my friend”, “chaaaaaaaarrrrrrge!” and “I like your boobies”.
He’s given up having daytime naps when he really needs them, preferring to fall asleep on days when he isn’t even all that tired and therefore guaranteed to keep us up for half the night. Typically he prefers to pass out on his floorboards in an expanding pool of drool that I get to step in and then clean up afterwards, rather than on his lovely soft airplane rug – or even bed.
Carl considers himself to be equal in size, speed, and noise making capacity to his older brother Niels, and figured out long ago exactly which pieces of Lego he needs to snatch away from under his brothers’ nose to drive him absolutely crazy.
His is very much a Mummy’s boy at the moment (probably because I’m the one with the coveted boobies) so after I’ve read his story, gone through his photo album of the extended family and then tucked him in for the night I’m usually called back into his room at least twice to give him another cuddle and kiss goodnight. As I kneel awkwardly on the floor boards, ignoring the stabs of pain from the pieces of lego, small plastic knights and Hot Wheels cars poking into my legs, I bend over him in the dark under his ceiling filled with luminescent stars, moons and planets. We can just see each other in the orange glow of the night-light, and he scrunches himself onto his right side, dummy firmly stuck in his mouth, and hooks his left arm up over my neck as I snuggle into that lovely baby-soft skin on his neck. We both sigh, first me; “aaaaahhhh”, and then him; “aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, then I kiss his neck and make as if to leave. At this point his arm tightens around my neck and he pulls me close so our cheeks are touching. I can feel his long eyelashes on my cheek as his body relaxes and he edges towards sleep. At that moment I swear I forget every sleepless night, every ear splitting yell, every toy hurled at my head in frustration or amusement, every pool of pee on the floor as we try to progress through toilet training. In that small warm moment the universe exists of nothing but the instinctive closeness of mother and child symbolised in our warm breaths on each others face. Finally Carl releases me and I give him a last kiss before leaving and he imparts his final comment, something like “I’m your friend Mummy”, or “It was good fun in the pool today Mummy”. Or sometimes even just “I like your boobies”.

I’ve included some photos of Carls' big day at pre-school (top), his dinosaur birthday cake and also his birthday party here at the condo (left, showing Carl with his best friend Noor, who he calls "My Noor").

Monday, February 12, 2007

One Of The Best Things In Life

Have you EVER seen anything as delicious as this? Admit it, you're as green as grass looking at that photo. If you aren’t, it means you have no idea just how spectacularly good New Zealand crayfish really tastes. Swimming in the clean blue waters of the Pacific, these shy rock dwellers may live sixty years before reaching this magnificent size…so perfect for the cooking pot!
So how did I land these two enormous, cooked, ready to be devoured specimens here in our steamy little paradise? It’s all thanks to my Dad, crayfish catcher extraordinaire. A bit of explanation is in order. My Dad has dived since he was in his early teens, which adds up to a few decades by now. In that time he has not only perfected his technique, but also identified lots of out of-the-way spots that no one else knows about where he can count on finding a few good size crayfish to bring home for the pot.
As kids, my sisters and I grew up on a regular diet of fresh crayfish, fish, scallops, occasionally paua (black gold!) and other seafood and believe me, we crave it like oxygen.
Dad’s first experiment with exporting fresh food from NZ happened three years ago, when he brought a whole grass-fed New Zealand fillet steak (that’s about 3 kilos of prime juicy melt-in-your-mouth beef to the uninitiated), vacuum packed and on-ice, to Holland. It turned out that nobody is bothered about stuff being brought out of NZ – being a little group of islands at the end of the world and hence disease-free turns out to have some advantages after all. So when he came to Singapore in November, he upped the ante by bringing two frozen crayfish and some huge lumps of beef in a chilly bin. When it came to customs, he went to the red ‘something to declare’ lane…only to find that there was no one there! Sure, there’s the skull-and-crossbones signs and warnings that the punishment for smuggling illegal substances is compulsory death penalty, but was he phased? Not at all! After all, what on earth would anyone smuggle OUT of New Zealand??
Giddy with success, the seeds were sown for further adventures. So when my sister Christine arrived last week, she was fully armed with not one, but two enormous crayfish (or bugs, as we affectionately call them in the McIntyre clan). Hubby, Chris and I duly sat down to eat one for dinner, the other being safely stored in the freezer until we’re ready to face another mountain of cray again. Weighing in at 2.126 kilos, we three adults physically couldn’t eat the entire thing for dinner (and belive me, we tried), sowe enjoyed it for lunch the next day as well. Now that was one HUGE crayfish!
So this blog is a big thank you to my Dad, who not only went out to sea, donned a wetsuit and scuba gear in rather chilly weather and dived to the oceans depths to find these crayfish, but also took them home, boiled them in fresh seawater, froze them, carefully brought them to my sisters house in a polyestyrene foam box, and made sure they were personally freighted to my doorstep. A taste of my native paradise land in this adopted tropical oasis we now call home.

Frankly, life just doesn’t get any better than this.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Talking turkey – or is it just fowl language?

One of the nice things about your spouse coming from a different culture is the funny little quirks they – and you – reveal when using the other’s language. When I met hubby he was already very fluent in English, having sailed on ships with a multitude of cultures where English was the common lingo. The Dutch are very keen on languages anyway, with all kids having to learn Dutch, English, German and French at school.
Still, everyday chatter requires a different level of fluency than a working environment. I’ll never forget the look on the face of my friend Marie (an American settling in Holland) when Holger told her that in Holland it was “important to get penetrated” as soon as possible. He meant to penetrate the system by registering to vote etc.
Then there was the time I was complaining about being too short to reach things in the top kitchen shelves. He assured me that he too could only reach things by “standing on the edges of the fingers on his feet”. He meant the tips of his toes!
I’m not immune to making faux pas myself of course, sometimes resulting in toe-curlingly embarrassing situations. There was the time when Holger and I were dating, and his mother was going to visit him in port when his ship docked Rotterdam. Because I couldn’t go I gave her a letter for him, addressed (I thought) “To my little hedgehog”, a private joke we had in reference to Holgers’ prickly whiskers. In fact what I wrote on the envelope, much to their amusement, was “To my little prick”. When I found out some weeks later I was so embarrassed I couldn’t look his mother in the eye for days, although she never referred to the incident and I’ve never had the courage to bring it up.
Alas, as we have both grown more fluent in each other’s language over the years the occurrence of funny mistakes has diminished. Until this week, when Holger produced a real gem. We were talking about how convenient is to have a regular babysitter on call. Fe, who cleans for us one day a week, also often babysits when we need someone. Speculating on how difficult it will be to adjust to life without her when we one day return home, he said: “It’s going to be cool chicken for you when we get back!”
What he meant of course was ‘cold turkey’, but on reflection I think I like his version better!