Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's Official; Spring Has Sprung

Yes, I'm finally going to stop whining about the weather and enjoy the incredible explosion of life that is spring in Europe. It's my favourite time of year here, when the ice and freezing winds finally subside and a balmier breeze teases the flowers out of the ground, the birds out of hiding and suddenly the world is a much better and brighter place.
It's also a busy time of year for rabbits. No, I'm not talking about THAT, mine are all happily desexed although would you believe it they do still get a bit frisky. However I'm talking about the joys of digging holes (preferably in the middle of the lawn), leaping and frolicking (and sneaking into the house every ten minutes so our day is interrupted by shouts of 'Mum, there's a rabbit under the table!) and moulting. Endless, endless moulting in clouds of fluffy bunny hair that drifts through the garden and sticks to my clothes.
Being smooth-haired, Punky Muffin is a very efficient moulter and doesn't really seem to need any help. However Rocco, with his dense 3-5cm long hair needs all the help he can get and we usually spend a few hours on the lawn together in spring and autumn while I try to brush/comb/trim the excess hair and any knots away.
The good news is, bunny hair is the perfect material for making birds nests. After a half hour session this week which resulted in a veritable mountain of white fluff on the lawn, I stood inside and watched as sparrows, blackbirds, wrens and finches dived down to fill their beaks before swooping off to their little construction sites. It's a nice feeling to imagine all the local baby birds hatching into cosy warm nests lined with velvety soft, white fur. Now that's recycling!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Breakfast with Oma

We have a little tradition in our house on the weekends when Holger is home (which have been rather few and far between recently). On a Saturday morning he gets up and goes to the baker to buy fresh bread for the weekend at about 8am, then stops and has breakfast with his Mum, who lives nearby, on the way back. The best part of this arrangement is not the fresh rolls we get to eat or the cosy chat he has with his's the fact that he takes the boys with him. Yes, for a whole 90 minutes or so I have the house to myself and I get to SLEEP IN. To those of you who don't have kids this may seem a rather petty luxury but believe me, it's worth gold. Carl was 18 months old before he slept through the night and even now he wakes me/us up at least every 3rd night. So an hour and a half of wallowing in my bed pretending the day hasn't started yet is pure bliss. Even if I can't go back to sleep I refuse to admit the day has begun; I've got a warm bed and an empty, quiet house, and by God, I'm going to enjoy it!
Of course for the rest of the family it's also a nice start to the day and I'm sure that for the rest of their lives the boys will look back fondly on breakfasts spent with Oma and Opa. Niels maintains that Oma's peanut butter tastes better than ours despite being the same brand, but I suspect it's the undivided attention and the chance to eat a leisurely breakfast - outside under the hazlenut tree in summer - that have a lot to do with it! As scouts starts at 9:30 for Niels he is in uniform for breakfast, as you can see in these photos. Looking at the smiles on his and Oma's faces, you know that these are the kind of experiences that our fondest memories are made of.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Onshore-Swimming for Kika

This week it seems the whole of Lochem has got behind the cause to raise money for the Kika Foundation. Kika stands for kids with cancer (which is called kanker in Dutch), and all of the primary schools in town have agreed to have fund raising activities. In addition lots of sports clubs, social clubs, music venues etc have gotten in on the act as well.
Niels and Carl's school decided to raise money by getting the kids to find sponsors for swimming. As Niels is of an age where he has school swimming once a week anyway this was fairly easy to organise. He was very proud of the 50 euros he found in sponsorship, and his whole class managed to raise 780 euros! For Carl who is in group 2, and the littlies in group 1, the teachers came up with the brilliant idea of 'dry swimming'. The marched in a parade out into the decorated playground, dressed in an assortment of swimming gear over their clothes. Accompanied by rousing music they took their places and each class then took turns to 'swim' around the playground with great enthusiasm.

Carl donned his tinted goggles and had a great time practising his back stroke, breast stroke, and treading water with his classmates and teacher.

At the end of the day the three group 1 and 2 classes together raised an astounding 945 euros! I don't know what the total for the whole school is yet, but it's certain to be a substantial sum for a worthy cause. Each kid was presented with a Dry Swimming Certificate to hang proudly on their wall - you can see Carl holding his up triumphantly above.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I'm Glad He's Not MY Man!

Every now and again we will be sitting in the garden, enjoying the sound of bird song when another noise will gradually edge its way into our consciousness. A kind of breathy honking noise...what could that be? Sometimes it's so loud that we can hear it in the kitchen...a mysterious regular tooting. It always cracks us up because we know it's the melodius tone of Rocco snoring - yes, our bunny snores. Loudly. No doubt it's due to him being a lop, a breed which has a flat nose. The other day as he snuggled up to Punky Muffin and was snoring away louder than ever I suddenly had the foresight to grab my camera. So for those of you who don't share your lives with somebunny special, I present you with Rocco's lop-eared lullaby.
He's the brown and white bunny at the back. Punky is the fed-up looking black and white one in the foreground. Funnily enough she doesn't seem all that impressed...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Hermitage, Amsterdam

This Easter I am enjoying the luxury of temporary Empty Nest Syndrome; hubby and the kids have gone to Sweden to visit his sister and her kids, leaving me to sleep in the the mornings, read in bed for hours before finally turning out the lights, and wallowing in luxious hot bubble baths for as long as I want. While I do like visiting the family in Sweden I'm not sad to avoid returning to snow and cold; it's at best 2 degrees there at the moment and after such a long, cold winter I don't feel the urge to revisit it.
Not that the weather is much better here. Making the most of a couple of free days meant it was the perfect time to visit the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam, which is currently hosting the exhibition Matisse to Malevich; Pioneers of modern art from the Hermitage. The top painting is Matisse's 'The Red Room' and it is truly stunning to see it on the wall. The painting above is The Dancers, depicting five women who seem to be almost struggling to burst out of the frame of canvas. Yet however wonderful Matisse is, it's the Kadinsky paintings which I love the most. The one below is rather unimaginatviely called Composition 6, but it was just breath-taking. If that's no your cup of tea, you surely couldn't fail to be amazed by his use of colour in the next one, titled simply Winter Landscape.

The story of how Russia's world famous Hermitage came to have a branch in Amsterdam is quite interesting. In the early 1990s Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, was exploring the possibility of having satellite museums in the West. The relationship between the Nieuwe Kerk (a catherdral in Amsterdam which hosts exhibitions) and the Hermitage had developed through the co-organisation of major exhibitions. As a result the director of the Nieuwe Kerk, Ernst Veen, had the idea of opening a branch of the Russian museum in Amsterdam, inspired in part by the tercentenary of the historic links between the two cities.
Around the same time, the Amstelhof nursing home decided that its buildings no longer met the standards required for modern care. For 324 years the building was a home for the elderly. The Parish of the Reformed Congregation, which owned the building, declared that the Amstelhof should have an exclusively cultural function. Veen came up with the idea of locating the Hermitage branch in Amstelhof. Since June 2009 the site has been home to Hermitage Amsterdam.
It's an impressive building with vast spaces flooded with light, pale wood floors and inimate rooms adjoining the main gallery. The scale of the huge old stone structure, which is a hollow square with a central green lawn, gives the exhibition the space it needs to be truly appreciated. And it's location on the banks of the Amstel is so quintessentially Dutch.
If you're in Amsterdam I really recommend the exhibition, although with the collection of the Hermitage St Petersburg as it's disposal, every exhibition is going to be a great one.
By the way you might think that a day in Amsterdam would turn out to be a long one - but in truth it was really cold and pouring with rain. I went into the Bijenkorf department store, remembering my last visit years ago with a frisson of antcipation, but was sorely let down. The layout of the floors was a mess, cheap SALE!SALE!ACTION! posters in lime green making me want to put on my sunglasses as hordes of people poured over sloppily constructed displays. The only good thing was they had an Apple shop, so I could get new skin for my iPhone to replace the original which was torn. So Bijenkorf was - ever so slightly - redeemed; aplace that has an Apple shop can't be all bad, right?.