Tag Archives: Fiona

First Easter in the Netherlands, an act in Three Parts

  1. Alex is fevered for the second day today, and has added barfing to his repertoire. I know he’ll be better soon, but it’s hard watching him suffer.
  2. My first thoughts on waking this morning and looking out at the snow:

    I’m waking to a white Easter
    Staring out at falling snow
    The church bell’s ringing
    Under thick clouds bringing
    More flakes to fall on us below.

    I’m waking to a white Easter
    Where every egg we dyed so bright
    Will not stay hidden
    But will show, unbidden
    We should just have left them white.

    I’m waking to a white Easter
    And feel that something isn’t right
    The leaves that shrivel with blight
    Put all my dreams of sun to flight.

  3. A dialogue between Martin and me:

    A: So what are we going to do with that bacon in the fridge?
    M: Ummmm…eat it?
    A: That sounds like a good idea.
    M: So should go downstairs and put the bacon on?
    A: (looks him up and down) Do you think it’ll cover enough? I don’t want you to be cold.

New dress for Mistress Pink, or, Package tracking as entertainment

Last year, my mother made a [jumper / pinafore] (depending on dialect) dress for Fiona. It was every pink-obsessed little girl’s dream garment, with tier on tier of floral ruffles. From a parental point of view, it’s also very good – corduroy, washable, looks good unironed, long and loose enough that she can wear it for some time before it is too small. Fiona loves it, and has to be wrestled from it when it’s time for a wash.

So in the tail end of the year, with the sewing machine and serger throwing inviting glances her way, Mom asked me if I wanted her to make another one. I thought about it, but Fiona only really needs one obsessive dress, or we’ll run out of shirts and tights to go under it. But I had an idea for the leftover fabric from the first dress. Why not make a matching one for Fiona’s favorite doll, Holly?

Measurements were taken in the dead of night. Guesses were made and rechecked. More measurements were required. Christmas threatened to squat like a toad on the postal services, so the decision was to wait till after New Year’s to send the package. Federal Express then required a crash course in Dutch postcodes (hint: looking at them on the US ZIP code database gets you nowhere). Finally, the thing was sent and all we could do was watch the tracking.

And watch it we did, with versification to keep it entertaining.

On January 3 it arrived in Memphis. Mom commented,

Give me Memphis, Tennessee!
Hep me find the party tried to get in touch with me.
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
Cause m’uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall!

I replied with a mangling of Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis:

Warehoused in Memphis
Would that I could see the sights outside
Warehoused in Memphis
Waiting for my transfer. Where’s my ride?

Then it was sighted leaving Memphis, destination unknown. I found myself humming:

I’m leaving on a jet plane
At last I’m on my way again.
Fedex can ascertain
Where next I’m set to go.

Paris, as it turned out, was the next step. Mom announced this with:

The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café

The last time I saw Paris, her trees were dressed for spring,
And lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.

I dodged the same old taxicabs that I had dodged for years.
The chorus of their squeaky horns was music to my ears.

Holly’s dress arrived in that most magic of all cities at 8 pm today, January 3.

The first time I saw Paris I was 19 years old. We took a train into town, and we got there at about 6 am. (“We” being Mike Thacker and me.) I walked out onto a bridge over the Seine, and the city was misty and quiet still….the cathedral had been there forever. At that moment I fell in love, as one does at 19, unthinkingly. And forever. I can’t see the real city now, when I go back. All I can see is what I saw in 1965.

The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.

I Googled for Paris poetry, and settled on one that starts:

First, London, for its myriads; for its height,
Manhattan heaped in towering stalagmite;
But Paris for the smoothness of the paths
That lead the heart unto the heart’s delight. . . .

It swiftly became:

First, Piedmont, for the artistry that creates,
Flat Memphis that still Elvis elevates;
But Paris for its far-flung motorways
That bear the dress to where the dresser waits…

Before any more versification or doggerel could be committed, the Fed Ex van arrived here in Oostzaan. Fiona was delighted.


Thanks, Mom, for the dress and the entertainment.

Them’s the breaks, unfortunately

Just when we thought life was stressful enough…


I was giving Fiona a shower last night when she slipped and fell. When she got up, the little finger of her right hand was at a funny angle. It clearly hurt a lot.

I shouted for Martin, who called…someone (not sure who) in Dutch while I got her dried and redressed. M took her to the emergency room, where after some waiting, she got an X-ray that confirmed that she had a small break in the inner side of the lowest long bone of the little finger. The doctor adjusted it (which she did not like) and put a plaster cast on it. Martin brought our brave and solemn girl home at about midnight.

Fiona showed a lot of courage and class throughout this incident. She stopped crying very quickly, and started to look for upsides almost immediately. “At least I can wiggle the other hand.” “At least I can wiggle the other fingers on this hand.” “At least Alex can wiggle his fingers.” “At least the stars look lovely tonight.”

Alex, too, did a lot of good. He fetched and carried things to get her out the door (socks, things like that). He was then very comforting and amusing when we were alone in the house, and went to bed very easily when it was time.

Fiona is very tired today – she fell asleep just before we had to go get Alex, and I fully expect she will nap at least once more. But she’s being a good sport about asking for help, and eventually took the prohibition on riding her bike in her stride. (Eventually. After some argument.) She will be going to the hospital again on Tuesday to get the break checked and the cast replaced with something smaller and longer term.

I’m exhausted and pretty stressed about the whole thing (as is Martin), but she is doing well. And that’s what really counts.


(at home, in Dutch)

It’s taken us so many months to get to this point that sometimes I don’t believe we’re here. But we’re in our rented house in Oostzaan, with our possessions around us (many of them not even in boxes; some of them even in plausible locations).

One thing we still don’t have is internet connectivity. I’m typing this on my laptop to save on a data key and post from work. If you’re trying to email us, be mindful of this. I can read emails during the day, but my replies will be either short or composed offline. Martin has no net access at all, poor thing.

The move was an enormous effort, but what has really been hard is how much of it we have had to do separately. It started when I went off to work in Amsterdam for the month of July. Though that was pleasant in many ways, it was also profoundy disorienting for both Martin and me. We’re used to having one another as backstop in so many ways. When things went wrong last month, each of us felt so deeply isolated.

The week of the actual removal was more of the same. The schedule was as complex as a ballet:

  • I returned home on Thursday 26 July, and was (as usual for the commuter lifestyle) fried on Friday the 27th. Nonetheless, we packed our possessions into boxes all weekend.
  • Monday 30 July the kids went to their childcare places. I packed, and ran errands in town.
  • Tuesday 31 July started with Martin going to the van hire place to get a van for the move. Although he had arranged it well in advance, it took him longer than we had hoped to get it home, because the paperwork was not in order. Then he helped me with two items I couldn’t manage on my own and went to work, taking the kids for their last days at their childcare places. And I started packing boxes into the van. I had it most of the way packed when it was time to take the kids for a final farewell to Mother Goose, the nursery they’ve been at since Alex was 9 months old.
  • The morning of Wednesday 1 August, we put the last items into the van. Then Martin’s family came over and we had a last lunch together. And in the early afternoon, Martin drove the van away with all of our things in it. That night, he took the ferry across from Newcastle to Ijmuiden. In the meantime, I cleaned the house, packed our suitcases, and played that we were camping out with the kids.
  • It was very early on Thursday 2 August when I got the kids up and into a taxi to the airport. We flew to Schiphol, touching down just about when Martin arrived at the new house from his ferry. So by the time the jet set had had lunch, taken the train to Zaandam, and taken a taxi from there to Oostzaan, he’d done the checkout with house owners. The kids explored their new home, and we started unloading boxes from the van. It was a quick turnaround – three hours later, he was gone, and I was alone with the kids in a strange house, in a strange country. Not that they were discontent – I put the pedals back on Fiona’s bike, and she and Alex spent the entire afternoon playing with bike and scooter in the garden.
  • Friday 3 August was setlling in time. I unpacked many, many boxes, put lots of things away. The kids and I went out to the grocery store (on foot), then they persuaded me to go for a bike ride. We rode for about an hour all told (well, Fiona and I rode. Alex rode his scooter). In the meantime, Martin arrived in Newcastle on the ferry, drove north to Edinburgh, met up with his parents, tidied a few more things in the Scotland house, and flew across to Schiphol.
  • Saturday 4 August was much more relaxing, apart from the two hour bike and scooter ride in search of a bike shop (we were going in the wrong direction entirely!

And what details should I tell you about?

About the house, which is beautiful, but huge? The space is good, but I worry that we will become too accustomed to it; barring a lottery win we can’t afford to buy something this size next year.

I could talk about Fiona, who thinks she’s died and gone to heaven. Instead of only riding her beloved bike when (a) the weather is good, and (b) there’s a parent to keep an eye out for her so she can travel the 30 meters to the letterbox and back, she can step out into the sunshine and ride it all the time, back and forth from the front garden to the back. Alex comes out too, and the two of them play long elaborate secret agent games on their vehicles.

Alex is mostly absorbed in Pokemon Diamond version (at which he is very good, though too hard on himself), but he’s been taking time out to ride his scooter, eat Dutch cheese, and watch Sonic the Hedgehog DVDs (it’s comforting when he’s tired).

I could mention the kindness I encountered from Dutch people throughout the difficult day’s travel to Oostzaan, from the friendly immigration officer to the forgiving train conductor (turns out you need a discount card to get a reduced fare for a child…I didn’t know) and the charming and funny taxi driver. The lady at the Albert Heijn meat counter who started giving the kids lunchmeat (which they loved), and the fellow customer who chuckled at Fiona’s earnest explanation of how “lekker” is “yummy” and “heerlijk” is “scrumptious”, and the meat was “lekker heerlijk” – yummy scrumptious.

I could talk about riding on the road with Fiona, who is remarkably brave for someone whose previous riding experience was all helmets and sidewalks. I keep myself between her and the traffic, of course, and Dutch drivers are very careful of cyclists (I also only allow her to ride on very quiet roads). But she is in transports about cycling next to me on the road, which is a layer of maturity and togetherness she can’t get over.

I could describe my trial of my commute on Saturday evening, when I discovered it takes about twenty minutes to bike to the office and about an hour to walk back with a bike with a flat tyre.

I could talk about our attempt at a Sunday drive, which ended at the side of a road with two children throwing up (carsickness and dehydration, in ascending order of age). We abandoned the trip, but went cycling and scootering instead in the afternoon, and found a little beach on the local lake. It was about 20 minutes’ ride from the house, and the kids gleefully threw off clothes and went in (Alex in his shorts, Fiona in her underwear – there were plenty of little girls there in just bikini bottoms). Then we rode home to where Martin was setting up the office space, all but glowing from the fun of it all.

Or I could describe what life is like in a country where I don’t speak the language – how much it is like being deaf, in that I am excluded from verbal communication. Indeed, I don’t always even hear when people speak to me, since I won’t be able to understand it even if I do hear it. Not everything is easy.

For good or ill, we’re in the house, and this is the new home.

Alarming sounds from upstairs

Martin was running the bath.

Fiona said, “I need to poo!”, and the upstairs reverberated with her footsteps in the hall.

And then it came. A heart-rending howl of horror and despair from Martin, followed by Fiona’s bitter weeping. And I realised instantly that Fiona’s low spirits had been due to digestive difficulties, and that these problems had suddenly become much worse. And Martin hates that kind of thing.

Those of you, dear readers, who have or have had a three year old know what sort of a scene I walked into in the bathroom upstairs. You need no description.

And those of you who do not know, from bitter experience, do not want to know. Please trust me on this.

Fridays with the Kids

Every Friday, the kids and I get to spend the day together. We have some very good times, and I’ve taken some fun shots. Now I have the time to post some!

16 June 2006

Waiting for the bus


They made a sand castle, sort of. (The little one with the sticks. The other one was someone else’s work)


All fall down.


2 June 2006

Portrait of Fiona and me, by Alex


Portrait of Alex, by Fiona


“We’re best friends”


Watch out, Fiona! There’s a cow!


Fiona meets a cow she likes in the Cow Parade


Alex and Fiona meet Robocow


The Camera is Back

My phonecam developed a spot about a week ago. Ugly, in the way, and depressing. It ruined a number of photos that I really wanted to take.


Taken 1 April 2006

Occasionally, I could get a shot in that it didn’t ruin, but that was rare.


Taken 29 March 2006

Fortunately, my phone insurance covers the functionality of the whole instrument, including the camera. I called Vodafone, and they sent a new phone to replace the old one. So now I have my camera back!

I tried it out on Fiona this morning.


Taken 4 April 2006

Then I was back to taking the pictures I’ve been missing.

Leaf growing through a fence, Newington


Taken 4 April 2006

Shadow of a doorknob, looking like a warmer day


Taken 4 April 2006

Cut-off fence post.


Taken 4 April 2006

Framing the world, one tree at a time (this photo has been cropped)


Taken 4 April 2006

Yay new phone!