Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree...

At last, school has finished for the year. The frantic level of activity which bubbles along from mid-November in the build up to Sinterklas, followed by the ensuing hype for Christmas, leaves both kids and parents feeling a bit strung out by the end of the term, so it was bit of a relief on all sides that we had the final, festive goodbye last Thursday night. The school organized a Christmas dinner, with each class festooned with trees, decorations, and candles. Remember this is the darkest time of the year for us, with the sun disappearing by 4:30 in the afternoon, so with the lights turned off and candles lit in every room it made for a magical atmosphere. Each parent supplied some food and the kids quite frankly stuffed themselves on little bits of this and that.
Carl surprised all of us this year by volunteering to sing in the choir. In the central hall area of the school a small enclosure was created with live sheep, Mary & Joseph and a baby providing a touch of realism (the sheep had the best costumes). Behind that a cute choir of 8 Carl...sang carols to entertain everyone as the food was laid out and people arrived.
Afterwards the parents can back to enjoy mulled wine and more carols outside before we all headed home, to a well deserved two week break. Holger is away for Christmas so it's just the 3 of us again; last year we spent a month in New Zealand/Singapore so avoided the dark days of Christmas altogether. However we'll make our own fun and have plenty of friends and family to spend time with.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful Christmas!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Snow Dumpling, Icy Muffin

It's started snowing. At first it was just little crispy flakes that floated down only to melt as soon as they hit the ground. Then these were followed by larger fluffy crystals that settled and eventually covered everything in a fragile white blanket that crunched under our feet and stuck to the bunnies tails. This has been replaced by harder flakes, driven by a strong wind blowing in from the polar region, dropping temperatures and preventing any further melt. We've heard predictions of up to 20cm falling but so far it's nowhere near that much. 
The bunnies are making the best of it. Actually I don't think Dumpling knows what to make of it...he has only seen snow once before and seems to hate the feel of it clinging to his furry feet. He's sitting now in the garden, a puffed-up ball of disgruntled hair, looking for all the world like a grizzled cossack camping on the Siberian steppes.

Punky Muffin on the other hand is an old hand at dealing with snow, and having shorter hair doesn't become caked as much. You can see her here, fussily licking off the last few flakes that were impudent enough to land on her pristine white coat. How dare they.
As you can see I've put a range of snacks in the winter pavillion to keep them happy and dry but at the moment they prefer to sit in the snow and munch on a big branch I sawed off the apple tree this morning (I hold off pruning my apple trees until the winter to keep the bunnies in snacks throughout the long cold months...a bit unconventional but it doesn't seem to do the trees any harm).
They could always retreat to their hutch which is now winterised with perspex sheeting on all sides and a thick warm layer of soft bedding in which they have hollowed out a snug nest. However that would be like kids volunteering going to bed early and is NOT going to happen. Ever. So don't even suggest it. Just keep feeding us snacks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Fright Night!

Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in the Netherlands, although people are of course becoming more aware of it, largely through American t.v. shows. In general parents tend to pretend that they don't know what it is, largely I suspect because the idea of giving away handfuls of sweets to random kids goes against their inherently Calvanistic (aka tight) attitude. So how blessed they must feel to have foreigners in their midst who are willing to join the fun and have a laugh! hahaha....NOT!
Our boys have been crazy about Halloween since we lived in Singapore; the large ex-pat population of Americans meant there was plenty of activity there. And any reason to dress up in costume is a good one as far as I'm concerned.
Niels - our own Very Angry Bird
This year Carl decided to take matters into his own hands to get kids motivated, and typed out a letter inviting his class to join him in trick-or-treating between 18:30-19:30, in costume, at a prearranged starting point. About 20 kids turned up, in various types of costumes, all dying to get started. Strangely most of the parents seemed to assume I would personally supervise their precious offspring...wrong! If you can't trust your kid to be outside in groups for one hour in the early evening in their own, very safe neighbourhood, my only suggestion is that you supervise them yourself. For the record, we don't exactly live in Amsterdam: this is a very small village.
Carl in his gorilla suit
So after laying some quick ground polite, don't walk through gardens, be polite, stick together, be polite (did I mention that Dutch kids have no manners? Words like please and thank you don't feature in their vocabulary  I have LITERALLY heard kids in Carl's class say the Dutch equivalent of 'fuck' more often than hello or thank you. Hence the ear-bashing from me about using manners). Then off they went. Unfortunately they had to stick together in one huge noisy group because the other parents were HORRIFIED at the suggestion that their 8-10 year old children walk around in smaller groups unsupervised - see the previous paragraph for my views on that - but apart from that it went wonderfully, and the kids had a blast.
I downloaded a scary sound effect of a creaky door opening following by an evil laugh and set up speakers by the front door. With lights off and jack-o-lanterns flickering on the doorstep it created an eerie, just-scary-enough atmosphere that had the kids shrieking and coming back for more all night. I kept my large pumpkin-shaped soup tureen filled with treats and had fun slowly creaking open the door all night. Our house was unanimously voted the best Halloween address in the neighbourhood!
Personally, I will ensure we do it differently next year having seen some of the parents responses. Carl can invite as many friends as he wants but there will be no letter. The kill-joy attitude by many of the parents was striking...there were dark mutterings about it being 'too exciting' for kids (WTF?), and there were even some who pulled their curtains tightly closed and refused to answer the door to the kids, despite their own children taking part!! What took the cake for me was having one Mum give me the horrified 'oh my god how could you let children go trick & treating' spiel, then when I suggested she accompany her kid herself she turned on her heel, climbed into her car and drove off, leaving her precious offspring standing there!

So yes it was fun, the kids and I had a blast, and a couple of the parents got into the spirit of things and joined in, but it reminded me yet again that I'll never really be Dutch, and when it comes to being parents many of them are a long way from embracing the fun and spontaneity that some other cultures enjoy.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mia Bella...A True Story

A couple of weeks ago I spent a week in Stresa, on the shores of one of the largest lakes in Northern Italy, the magnificent Lago Maggiore. Although I was there for work it is a spectacular setting, with the deep blue water a stark contrast to the forested hills and soaring snow-capped Swiss Alps in the background. 

While there I was reminded of an incident that occurred a little while ago to two colleagues who were also in Italy – I think it was in Rome – on a business trip. They needed to visit several clients so she arranged a rental car for the trip. He’d heard that you have to be very careful when parking in Italy because there’s a good chance your car will be clamped or, even worse, towed away. So wherever they parked they made sure to buy a parking coupon from the vending machines that would more than cover the time there were there. On the second or third day when they parked in a large car park they had trouble finding the vending machine. She walked one way, he walked the other…but no machine was to be found. They could see that every car parked there had the usual piece of paper so there was a machine somewhere…but where? 

Finally she spotted it, and yelling to him to come over, started rummaging for coins. You know what it’s like, you never seem to have enough loose change at moments like this. He turned out his pockets but between them they didn’t have nearly enough for the rather steep price indicated on the vending machine. He asked some passersbys if they could help out – obviously they took pity on these two middle aged foreigners who didn’t speak a word of Italian, who were gesturing at the machine and clearly desperate to get to the contents. Eventually a small crowd of locals gathered around, all chatting animatedly, having a laugh and waving their hands as they all pitched in to find enough money. Those present called out to more people walking past to come and help these two desperate foreigners by donating some cash. My colleagues fixed smiles on their faces, sweating now not only from the heat but also from the discomfort of being the amusing center of attraction for an increasingly large crowd of spectators, all of whom were encouraging them on with gestures and loud words they couldn’t understand. The simple act of purchasing a parking coupon had turned into the best entertainment of the day; half the crowd were in hysterics, the other half seemed to be slapping him on the back in a gesture of solidarity and encouragement.

Finally, enough coins were gathered, and accompanied by cheers from the animated crowd, she shoved the last coin into the slot, he triumphantly pressed the big green button….and out popped a packet of condoms!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Judo Junkies

A couple of months ago our boys discovered the delights of martial arts. They both now attend the local judo school and delight in showing of their new found talents. I've never had anything to do with this type of sport and I have to admit I am impressed with the quality of the coaching and the respect every student is expected to show towards his fellow students.

And after the tough poses there is always time for a cuddle!

Friday, September 07, 2012


This year we had a new yet marvellous phenomenon in our house; both boys went on camp at the same time. The annual Scouts camps are always held during the first week of the summer holidays and this was the first year that Carl would be old enough to join in. If you're trying to spot Carl in the photo above, he's the one in the middle who appears to be blowing his nose onto the head of the scout in front of him. Lovely.

Niels moved up to the Land Scouts this year so headed into the forest in Germany for a week of 'real' camping; nothing provided except a tap for fresh water. Seriously, I think the highlight for all of the kids was digging 'Hudo',  a 2 metre deep poo pipe. I mean toilet. There's something about going a la natural that just appeals to boys.

Carl was off to the 'Welps' camp where he spent a week...ah what the heck, who cares really - he was away and having fun with a bunch of other kids, that's all that matters!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Wow, almost 3 months have gone by since I blogged...busy summer or WHAT??

I'm going to ease back into it gently with this awesome picture from Nasa's very cool 'picture of the day' site. which shows what would happen if all the water on earth were bunched up into a ball. Amazing, right? Because while 70% of the earth's surface is covered in water, it's only a shallow layer compared to the earth's radius. So next time you're watering the lawn remember that there isn't really that much to go around!

I know few of you are probably nerdy enough to actually visit this regularly but it is an awesome site. Go take a look. Now. Off you go...

Monday, June 18, 2012


Moulting Dumpling meets hair brush...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Northern Italy

For my work I'm helping to organize a conference in Northern Italy, in the lakeside town of Stresa. It's on the shores of lago Maggiore, one of the largest lakes in Italy, and is a stunning location; think deep blue waters with a backdrop of the snow-covered alps.

Although I haven't spent much time here it seems a great place to visit, although I suspect in mid-summer it will be heaving with milions of tourists. Last year I attended an event in Como, another lakeside town in Northern Italy, but I like Stresa a lot more.The locals are friendly, the food was fantastic, and the Prosecco wine delicious!

I'll be back in September and am looking forward to spending more than 24 hours there this time and hopefully seeing a little more of the town.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

China #4 - Holding On Tight

When I was up the Pearl Tower in Shanghai I found than observation area with a transparent floor. It was a fun place to spend some time because  as I discovered, you may not think you're afraid of heights, but stepping out onto a floor through which you can see the ground 350 meters below is a daunting prospect.
The best part was watching locals having their photos taken by photographers who charged a few bucks a photo. Every second person lost their nerve, but since they'd paid their money the photographer would grab them by the wrists and physically drag them - on their arse if necessary and sometimes screaming - out onto the glass floor to take their photo. Remarkably people seemed to think this was absolutely normal and despite their obvious terror submitted themselves to this treatment and bore no grudge after they had gratefully crawled back onto the 'solid' floor. Not a single photographer had to drag anyone back!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

China #3 - Giant Abroad

Foreground; the venue for the conference I'm organizing in 2013
Last time we talked, I was in China, and there are still some cool things I want to share about that experience. Once I arrived in Shanghai, I had a slew (I've always wanted to use that word!) of appointments/meetings, yet I still managed to find a a few hours to myself.
 I headed to the Pearl Tower, one of Shanghai's most obvious landmarks. Remember I mentioned that Shanghai was busy? Well it seemed that almost everybody had decided to visit the tower today too. Queues of tourist buses were disgorging people out front and I soon found myself in a shuffling line, waiting for one of four lifts to take us up to the first viewing platform. I was dubiously eyeing the lifts, wondering how many days we'd be waiting to catch a ride but the line moved surprisingly quickly. I soon found out why; when the doors opened we were physically shoved into the lift, squeezed in like sardines. I don't know about you but being pressed up against four total strangers, 1 on each side, from my boobs down to my toes is not my idea of a fun cultural exchange. The fact that I was a head taller than anybody else meant my nose was poking into the hair on the back of the guy's head in front of me. In an effort not to either breathe down his neck or inhale his dandruff the best option seemed to be to hold my breath until we reached the top. A smartly dressed attendant recited her touristy info first in Chinese, then in English for my sole benefit. She looked me square in the eyes the whole time which was very disconcerting, and by the time the doors slid open I was red in the face from both the undivided attention and lack of oxygen. Gratefully gasping in great lungfuls of air I resolved to find an emptier lift on the way back down.

The view was predictably impressive but remarkably I was the only foreigner up there. Being such a big city you'd think there would be thousands of foreigners in Shanghai but I was very obviously the only blond walking around. Some of the simpler folk up there apparently were visiting from way out in the country becuase they seriously looked at me like they'd never seen a white woman before. Eventually my worst fears were realized; a young man approached and in halting English asked if he could take my photo.
"Please, hello yes. I take your photo yes".
"No thanks.'
"Yes, I take photo"
"No, I don't want that thanks."
"Yes, please I take photo."
This guy was really persistant. We were starting to draw glances from people around me and I could feel my cheeks getting red again.
"No. Seriously. No photo".  I was having visions of a photo of my head being photoshopped onto some Chinese equivalent of Naked Facebook.
"Yes, please I take your for my mother."
He moved aside and there were his mum and dad, each about 4 feet tall and 180 years old. Oh.My.God. They were grinning and nodding their heads enthusiastically. What could I do?
As we posed, Ma snuggled up at eye level with my left boob, Pa with my right, I could just imagine what they would tell their friends back home, how they'd met a giant white woman with a huge red head on their trip to the big smoke.
After we said our goodbyes, them smiling so broadly I suspect they had decided their son and I were getting married, I decided I'd had enough for one day and headed back to the lift. Where I found my nose again buried in the hair of the same guy I'd travelled up wtih. At least he didn't want a photo.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

China 2 - off to Shanghai

After a few days in Beijing I needed to head south to Shanghai. Rather than flying I decided to take a train so that I'd get to see something of the country. I love train travel anyway; the fact that you just turn up a few minutes before you're scheduled to leave and literally walk on and walk off is so much more appealing than waiting around for hours at airports. Plus trains are usually more reliable and comfortable. The high speed train to Shanghai travels at up to 300 km/hour and reaches it's destination in less than five hours. The adventure started with the taxi ride to the station...if you've never been to China just imagine you are in one of those Bumper Car rides at a fun fair, with the only rules being you've got to stop just before you actually smack into the car in front and it's compulsory to keep one hand firmly pressed on the horn at all times. I eventually made a conscious decision to just not watch where we were going any more because I was convinced we would never arrive in one piece.
Once at Beijing South train station however I was hugely impressed. It's as big as an airport, super modern and easy to navigate. Check in is similar to an airport with all luggage x-rayed, and only ticket holders can access the gates to the platforms (Europe could learn from this!), where we were greeted by chic hostesses and stewards. The high speed trains are super modern and stylish, a first class ticket is still cheaper than flying and if I lived there, I'd never get on a plane again!

It seemed to take forever just to get out of Beijing...that city is truly enormous. In fact it's one of the most populous cities in the world with close to 20 MILLION people living there. Makes you feel a little claustrophobic just thinking about that many people in one place, right?
Gradually the dry brown planes and windswept subsistence farms of the province gave way to signs of spring. Green grass shoots started to appear as we headed south and about two hours out of Shanghai we started passing through hills and even some low mountains. Then suddenly we were passing through the outskirts of a city...and arriving.
Now I know it seems obvious to say it, but Shanghai is really, really big. I hadn't realized beforehand that it's the largest city in China with...wait for it....23 MILLION residents. In fact I'd kind of been looking forward to a slightly larger Singapore, I suppose. Wrong. Shanghai may have a reasonable ex-pat population but there the similarity more or less ends. This is hard-core Asia whereas Singapore is Asia-lite. One of the biggest hassles? You can't just jump in a taxi and go anywhere unless you speak Mandarin. Almost no-one speaks English except for tourist places. If you go anywhere, you have to make sure you get a friendly local to write down in Chinese characters the name and address of any place you need to visit including your hotel so you can get back again. It felt weird to climb in a taxi, say hello, then point to a piece of paper and hope like hell you arrived where you were hoping to go. However it was all part of the fun and I was determined to squeeze in as much as I could during my time there.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China - Part 1, Beijing

This has been a busy month for travel as I spent a week in China, recovered for a few days than popped down to Italy for a quick visit. It's all to do with work and I won't bore you with the details, but the good part is that I got to spend a little time being a tourist and having a look around.
I'd never been to China before so was really looking forward to the experience. I started off in Beijing, visiting a nuclear energy conference which was held at the National Conference Centre, inside Olympic Park. It was kind of strange seeing the famous Birds Nest Stadium, the torch  and the Water Cube, which were such iconic features of the last Olympics.
However the day I arrived I headed into Beijing city with my collague. Figuring we were going to be jetlagged anyway having missed a night of sleep we may as well just keep going and get to see something, we braved a Beijing taxi and walked around the Forbidden City, People's Palace and Tiananmen Square.

" I stand out here?"
My caption of choice for the photo above would be 'spot the tourist'.  Kay and I were literally the only pale skinned blonds in a crowd of thousands. It was the week of China's most important public holiday, Tomb Sweeping, kind of an All Souls day. Tens of thousands of locals take the opportunity to play at being the tourist and visit spots of national importance. The crowds were horrendous. Mao's tomb (above) was hugely popular and at one stage we found ourselves literally shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder through a long pedestrian tunnel which funnelled us into an ever-narrower press of humanity. Just when we felt things were starting to get a bit hairy the crowd in front of us suddenly turned around and started pressing back! The doors had been shut at the far end so we had to make our way out the way we'd come. Fortunately there was no panic and we all eventually spilled back out into the large square but it was an uncomfortable sensation accentuated by the fact that there were soliders and police everywhere, both among the crowd and watching from the edges. Apparently there had been talk of protests being staged on China's social networking sites the week before, so the government had shut down Facebook, Twitter, and all the Chinese equivalents. Locals later told me that as a result probably a fifth of the crowd in Beijing was undercover police/military but fortunately we didn't have any problems.

I was looking forward to seeing the famous Tiananmen Square (above), although it would have been more impressive if it didn't have six lanes of traffic whizzing over it! I never realized that it's used as a major thoroughfare in the city. 

Beijing is an unusual city, very business like and despite China now being relatively open to foreigners most of this capital city was surprisingly untouched by Western influence.It was only early spring so it was quite cold and bare of greenery, which exacerbated the problem the city has with dust being blown in from the Gobi desert. Deforestaton is making this problem worse every year, and as one fellow conference delegate said, it's the only city he's been to where he wants to shower three times a day. In the evening we found a small local restaurant and using sign language and a menu which thankfully included photos we ordered some delicious dishes of celery and lily buds, prawns, and garlic kai lan. It was great to be eating real Asian food again! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This has to be the ultimate recycling plan...I pull the weeds out of the garden, the bunnies eat them, then they fertilize the lawn! Punky Muffin and Dumpling are grateful for every bit of greenery at the moment as the lawn is practically a desert. This winter we had almost no snow so the grass was uncharacteristically exposed for the entire time. This meant the bunnies chewed it back down to the roots and beyond. Hence the wire netting in the background; I've put down grass seed and am trying to get it to grow, although the chilly nights aren't helping at all.

After a winter with no greenery they've become used to me going out several times a day with andive leaves, broccolli stems, apple, bits of banana...basically anything I can give them for a bit of variety to pellets and hay. It's reached the point where as soon as the kitchen door opens they line up and start demanding their snack. At least I can cultivate the dandilions for free!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Off To Camp...

With the weather warming up, the camping season has started for Scouts. Niels is away this week with the Land Scouts, last seen heading east this morning with 4 other boys clutching a GPS. Hopefully they'll find the rendevouz in time to be collected tomorrow!

Carl had a camp with his group recently - thankfully a father & son camp - with a military theme. Here's No. 2 and Proud Dad, ready to report for duty.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wind In The Willows..Without the Annoying Toad

Spring is definitely, almost certainly, practically here. The weather is warming up, the birds are singing up a storm, and it's the season to prune the willow trees, which means time to treat the bunnies to one of their favourite snacks. I usually to visit my friend in Vorden around this time of year and bring home a huge pile of willow and apple branches.
Bunnies LOVE to eat these, and since there is absolutely no grass or any sign of edible greenery left in the garden by now, they make a welcome snack, full of juicy sap and with the bark softened from the first weeks of spring growth. If I'm feeling really motivated and have the time I'll make something for the rabbits to play with while they eat, and since it was a quiet weekend they ended up with not one but TWO toys this year.

It keep me busy for a day and a half and my hands are aching, finger tips red and tender and popped blisters dripping gently onto my keyboard as I type. However it was all worth it once I was finished and Punky Muffin and Dumpling were happily munching inside their new toys. The round one was a new effort for me; I will admit that yes, I had something a bit more grandiose and well-porportioned in mind when I first planned it. What was going to be a large round beehive-shaped structure has ended up looking a bit like a pile of cow-poo, but Dumpling loves it neverthe less and is practically invisible once he's happily sitting inside, nibbling on the walls.

'I am ze Master of Disguize...only my muztache can be seen, yez?"

Punky immediately claimed the tunnel; this is the second time I've made one of the these and to be honest I had completely forgotten how much bloody hard work it was to make the first time! However it was nice to spend the day in the garden, endlessly snipping branches into shape while the rabbits stayed companionably close, interested in what I was doing. That's what I tell myself anyway; in reality they were probably circling me in a pissed off temper demanding "Get out of our garden you hairless bi-ped!!"

Get out of my garden or I eat your face!!!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sentayehu Teshale - an inspiration

If you think you've had a hard day at work, or that life just isn't fair/easy enough/is too complicated etc etc...take a look at this guy who has the inner strength to achieve something truly remarkable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seeing Double...Or Triple...Or....

Whilst trawling through my emails deleting old posts I came across these two photos from my friend Liesbeth who runs Opvang Franky, a rescue centre for rabbits in Eindhoven. At Christmas she saved 32 rabbits which were destined to be slaughtered for the cooking pot. It was a major operation involving several volunteers and lots of effort. I spent a day with Liesbeth helping to prepare enough hutches and organizing carry cages for them to be collected, and afterwards she sent these photos of the rescued buns. Sadly so far only 1 has been adopted as large, red eyed rabbits are not "in fashion" at the moment. Sixteen have been placed with other shelters, the rest remain in Eindhoven, waiting for a loving home and a new start.
If you are interested in giving these worthy creatures a second chance in life, contact Liesbeth today, by following this link.

And remember, don't ever buy any pets from shops or breeders; always contact you local rescue centres first! They are filled to bursting with every possible pet, from rabbits to chinchilla's, hamsters, cats, guinea pigs, mice, dogs... Buying animals only keeps breeders in business and makes this enormous problem even worse.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Places I'm Glad I Don't Live #2

Some of you may recall my earlier post which showed very clearly why I wouldn't want to live here . Today I've found a more than appropriate #2 location for what must be a very creepy place to live at the moment: parts of Australia. More specifically: Wagga Wagga, where localized flooding has apparently driven all the spiders to crowd into trees to escape the rising waters. The result is these incredibly scary looking trees...I seriously pity any birds who were nesting when this happened.
And if you really want to see another creepy spider posting, see this

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Don't get me wrong, I'm the first to admit I'm not a very patient person. I think I used to be, but maybe that's just my own delusional memory twisting my memories to suit myself. In any case, I can vividly remember in about 2004 when I worked for my former employer, a major publisher with a huge office in Doetinchem, and I passed a colleague on the stairs one day. I worked for the International Department, a relatively small group of about 30 people in a building containing more than 600.  My office was on the fifth floor but I never took the lift; too slow. One lunch time as I ascended a woman I didn't know passed me on the way up, and said something like "hi Joanne...yes I know who you are, you're the one who's always in a hurry!".
I was pondering my lack of patience last week, the day after hubby left for his first assignment for his new job. Exciting times, starting a new job. I'm thrilled for him that he's doing something new and so interesting, he's excited by the challenge. However he has spent the previous seven (yes SEVEN) weeks at home and to be frank, I was spoilt rotten by having a 'House Bitch' on hand 24/7. I'd become accustomed to going to work and having more or less everything domestic done by the time I'd arrive home. So there I was, taking down the washing in the attic and bemoaning the fact that he uses two (yes TWO!!) pegs for every item of clothes. The waste of time! It's not like there's any wind inside, why not just use one! I could save at least 30 seconds on each load of washing! I know, trivial stuff unless you've got a really busy day. And you're really impatient. Like me.
This was all brought into painful perspective for me yesterday when, rushing to get the kids ready for school and myself ready for work by 8:15, I asked Niels to hang up the washing for me while I took a shower. He's never done it before so I gave the briefest (time effcient!) explanation then left him to it. I had my usual 3 minute shower, dressed in 2 minutes, almost ready to go. I called up the stairs: "Niels, are you still up there?"
"Yeeeeeeees" was the drawn out answer.
I joined him in the attic to find him half way thru the wash. Facing me with a damp towel in his hands, he declared, in a style that clearly shows he's inheritied his mother's genes: "Now I know that being a parent SUCKS!!!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This is NOT a Valentine's Story...

Every now and then one of my colleagues, Jan, travels abroad and invariably something so awful it's funny happens to him. Fortunately, he is happy to share his experiences and I'm pleased to be able to give you his latest adventure. Enjoy! 

Hi lovely colleagues,
Just back in the office, want to thank you all for the really nice time I had in Shanghai, it was nice to see you all again. Now suffering jet lag. Let me tell u a small story that happened to me, I want to share something...

The flights were all on time, no delay and all went smoothly, unbelievable!!!
But one day in Xian I maybe ate something wrong but at the end of the day I told Gert and Hui, I need to go to my hotel and go to toilet. 
I jumped in a taxi and had to cross my legs hehe, soon as I arrived in the hotel I ran to my toilet and.....well u know sat there and the smell was really not like roses. I flushed the toilet and then the story began. My toilet could not handle it and water didn't flush away, oh my god....... I was thinking what to do, then called the house keeper that I had trouble with my toilet and needed someone to fix it. 
I felt sooo ashamed when looking at my cute toilet but anyway I need to go again but couldn't go otherwise it will flood on the floor, so after 10 minutes I called again, told them my room number, (I think it was not even not needed they only had to follow the smell hehe) then after another ten minutes they sent the cleaning lady. I pointed her at the toilet, she ran away and said she will send a guy to fix it. 
I couldn't wait that long but had to. I still didnt felt well and then Gert called me and asked how I felt, during our talk I could feel that I had to throw up too and that stupid toilet was still not fixed, what a hell. After I finished the  call I had to run to the bathroom again and the only choice I had was to throw up in hand basin. After I did I felt better again but then my sink was blocked too, so now toilet and sink were broken, I really felt sooo dirty. 
Then I put my hand in the sink and took out the thow up stuff because I didn't want the house keeper to see I damaged both toilet and sink. It was disgusting but I had to do it. Put everything in a plastic bag just before he rang the bell of my room, I scooped the last bits out of the sink with my hands and then I let him in.
He saw the mess in the toilet and started to unblock the toilet...he did it in such a fast time hehe, I think because he also didnt liked the smell of my roses. But at least he fixed it and he ran away from my room, 
I closed the door, even locked it and finally could sit on my toilet again, I stayed there for maybe 10 minutes and then felt better again. After taking a shower I jumped into bed and the next day I felt much better again.
The next day I saw the Terra Cota warriors and I felt happy for them that they are just terracotta clay and don't have stomach problems hahahaha.
Ok dear colleagues , welcome back in the dragon year
Bye for now,

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

...Where I Don't Complain About The Cold

No need to use the bridges over the canals...we can just walk over!
Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I'm not a fan of the winter. Give me heat, humidity, the sweaty damp extremes of the tropics any time...just don't give me winter. Problem with that obviously is that we live in Europe where the winters are getting more extreme and if climate change reaches its seemingly inevitable conclusion, we will eventually be chipping ice off the windscreens from November until March every year.
However...we didn't really have a winter over here until about 10 days ago. The weather wizards had predicted this would be a "severe winter" with temperatures dropping to an estimated -23C!! Bah humbug I declared, and then bugger me if Mother Nature didn't open that big fridge door in the sky, with the mercury dropping to a record low of -22.9C a couple of days ago!! It's never been so cold in the Netherlands before. The good news is that we only had one day of very light snow, meaning the outdoor ice skating rinks are enjoying perfect conditions. Dry and extremely cold, the ice is dense and uniform and ideal for skating. We bought the kids some new skates (they outgrow them every year) and even Holger decided to treat himself to a decent pair.
Beautiful blue skies and sunshine have tempted them out onto the ice almost every day, and we're lucky in that the rink is right behind our house. I tell you, nothing makes kids fall asleep more quickly at night than racing home from a busy day at school to skate in the freezing cold for 2 hours, followed by dinner and a hot bath.
And me? Well, despite the fact that it looks lovely outside the temp is regularly -10 to -15 in the mornings and only moves up a couple of degrees throughout the day, so I'm hiding inside as much as possible. Tomorrow I'm taking my slippers to work because the floors in the office are so cold that by lunch time I'm numb from the waist down, and gusts of wind force blasts of icy air in through the wall sockets!! But I am definitely not complaining.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Tunnel through the centre of the earth...

This is a very cool app that allows you to tunnel through the earth and see where you would come out. If I tunnel through from where I live in Holland, I come out just a little to the east of New Zealand! So it would save me time if I could just go through the centre of the earth. A little hot though.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


While Germany is patting itself on the back for its environmental and energy policies, it's worthwhile taking a moment to add up the costs both financially AND to the climate change issue. I can't help but wonder if its sustainable at all. Keep reading until you reach the bit about the extra 370 MILLION tons of CO2 they'll be belching out. 

Eye-watering cost of renewable revolution

23 January 2012
Germany's energy policy could cost some €1.4 trillion ($1.8 trillion) by 2030 even before the cost of the nuclear shutdown is taken into account.
Neckarwestheim (EnBW)
Germany is to forego 14 years of
low-cabon generation from Neckarwestheim 2 (Image: EnBW)
The figures were announced by the head of Siemens' energy division, Michael Suess, at the Energiewirtschaft 2012 event organised by the Handelsblatt newspaper in Berlin and later confirmed to World Nuclear Newsby Siemens spokesmen.
For several years the country has planned an 'energy revolution' designed to tackle climate change and establish renewable technologies at the centre of a new power supply system. Two years before nuclear generation ends in 2022, Germany wants to have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, doubled renewables to supply 35% of electricity and cut primary energy consumption by 20%.
Siemens' calculation of the total investment in generation and transmission to do this came to €1.418 trillion ($1.848 trillion) in the period from 2011 to 2030.
However, Germany's ambition were dramatically increased on the heels of the Fukushima accident in Japan by the shutdown, almost overnight, of eight nuclear power reactors. The operating lives of the remaining nine reactors were also reduced from the terms of a 2010 agreement, costing some as many as 14 years.
Siemens' costing of the nuclear shutdown was vague, ranging from €11 billion to €252 billion ($14 billion to $328 billion). But this comes on top of the general cost of the energy policy and takes the total to €1.670 trillion ($2.177 trillion). This incredible overall figure is equal to 68% of German GDP in 2010, or slightly more than the value of the Brazilian economy - the fifth biggest in the world that year.
In September 2011 research from the KfW Bankegruppe, which supports domestic development, put the total investment to achieve German policy goals at €239-262 billion ($321-352 billion) to 2020.
Two immediate effects of the nuclear shutdown have been a rush to finish building 10 GWe of fossil power plants, and short-term reliance on an oil-fuelled plant in Austria. A Deutsche Bank report estimated that the carbon dioxide increase from the permanent shutdown of the seven reactors and the early phase-out of the rest would result in the emission of 370 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020. Before the shutdown, Germany's nuclear sector had been the biggest source of low-carbon power.