26 September 2012

Spinnen: Dutch Spiders

On Saturday, we made a trip to Breda, the next big city to the west of Tilburg, but as the pictures and post related to that trip are coming along slowly, please enjoy the following example of slight mental instability:

In Chicago, we didn't come across too many creepy-crawlies. Occasionally, some rather tiny spider or a small centipede-y thing would make its way through our apartment, and every spring we had ants tread through the kitchen when the rains started. As an arachnophobe, I never cared for any of these "visitors" but had at least trained myself to muster the courage to vanquish the occasional 1cm, 8-legged foe. Though I would continue to call on Poppa for anything bigger and regularly tried to satisfy myself with the thought that we never saw a cockroach.

Now we live on the edge of town rather than someplace urban - our neighborhood has only been developed in the last 20 years as a type of suburb - and we are surrounded by farms/rural area and neighborhood livestock. Needless to say, I was unprepared for the size of the "average" spin (spider) in Tilburg nor the extent of the visible population.

While exploring the neighborhood one day, I saw a spin so big (about 5cm) that I would likely pass out if I saw it in the house. A few days later I found a much bigger spin (about 7cm) that would probably cause me to drop dead on sight if I found it inside. You cannot go anywhere outside without finding one in a very obvious spot, which only leads you to wonder how many more are hiding out of plain sight. When you do find a vacant spinneweb (spiderweb) and decide to clean it off, it is astounding to see how strong the silk actually is as it makes a gross little popping noise when you pull it off (using a stick or something else to give you a bit of distance, of course).

This spin was happily perched in our garden before a big storm blew it away. Little Man and I watched it eat a bumble bee three times it size. It was a little cool, a little gross, and a little terrifying all at the same time.

Clearly, I am not a good candidate for any kind of adventure to the Amazon or anything closer to the equator than Florida.

This has led to the interesting internal delima when considering how to react to spinnen in front of the Little Man. Not wanting to pass on a fear, especially when he is already at an age likely to develop fears on their own, I try not to react negatively. If he finds a spin on a hedge and smacks at it, I tell him "it's a good bug" and to "be nice" and "respect its home" while I keep a mental image of it leaping off the web and onto his body with angry, flaring pincers to myself. And I can do my best to direct our walks so we don't go past the hedgerow that I like to call "the colony."  We'll see how well this strategy holds together the day I find "the big one" in the house.

19 September 2012

Baking Out of a Box in Dutch (Kind of)

Like any good business, our local Albert Heijn grocery store does an excellent job of putting things to catch a toddler's attention at toddler level. That is how we were led to one of our first experiences baking out of a box with Dutch directions.

A little back story to our baking story: Now that we have our televisie and cable set up, the Little Man very happily watches morning cartoons. We purposely choose shows recprded/dubbed in Dutch figuring he'll pick up some of the language by watching. His new favorite show, Sprookjesboom (The Fairy Tree), takes characters from several popular sprookjes (fairytales) and tells versions of the tales based on the characters' interactions in their village and the sprookjesboom narrates the tales. This is the first kids' show we have purposely recorded on the DVR.

Like any good show for kids, there is merchandise to ensure your child's continued interest in the show. While wandering down the aisle in the Albert Heijn with the baking products, Little Man found several boxes of Sprookjesboom themed baking snacks conveniently located at his eye level. Since we've been driving "May I..." into his head anytime he asks for something, Little Man quickly determined that he should put on a very sweet voice and puppy eyes while asking, "May I have Sprookjesboom?" I cave, and we pick out a box with paddestoelen cakjes (toadstool cupcakes) and a box with character koekjes (cookies).

Friday morning, we made the cakjes. I decided to go without Google Translate while "following" the directions on the back of the box. I know roomboter (butter), eieren (eggs), and water (I'll let you guess) - all the additional ingredients - and I know how to set the convection oven. Easy enough.

One thing to know about the European cooking: Just about everything is done by weight rather than volume measurement. Our recipe called for 50 grams of roomboter, but I hadn't yet bought a cooking scale. Our boter block came in 250 grams, so I figured I would just eyeball 1/5 of the block - not exactly a scientific solution but for box cakjes made by a Little Man it's good enough. Everything mixes together and the batter looks like it should.


One issue that I've run into before is that we have a convection oven - it forces hot air in by fan so there is no preheating. On the box, there is a separate temperature listing for elektrische oven (electric oven), heteluchtoven (convection oven), and gasoven (gas oven). Most homes in Holland either have a heteluchtoven which is generally a little smaller and can be installed in with the cabinets or can sit separately and also functions as a microwave. Homes with what I would call a "proper" oven will usually have an elecktrische oven, though some will use gas. The couple of times I've used the heteluchtoven, things don't cook through. If you take a look here, behind Little Man adding water to the glazuur (icing) mix, you can see that the cakjes have sunk in the middle. Only the one that was sitting closest to two vents, the bottom right corner of the pan, actually cooked through and rose all the way. I think that from now on, we default to the elektrische oven settings.

Adding the glazuur and the dots to complete our paddestoelen was easy enough.

See if you can find the paddestoel Little Man decorated exclusively. Really, only a couple of these - mainly the only one that rose properly in the oven - kind of resemble paddestoelen. I'd also like to point out that for an area of the world that operates using the metric system to the point that even the eggs are sold in cartons of 10... the box makes a baker's dozen... purposely... I can't figure out why.

But despite our trials and confusion, we enjoyed our hard work.


16 September 2012

Day Trip: Rotterdam (01.09.2012)

We took a brief hiatus from the blog - several factors contributed: our things finally arrived from the States Wednesday 5 September (yay!) so there was much to unpack and plenty to still organize, Little Man and Mama each getting knocked down by a head cold, and Poppa's workload jumping up with a new project. We've been busy/laid up, but before all this happened, we were able to make a day trip the first weekend in September!

We've been living in the Netherlands for over a month now. We're at the point where we feel relatively settled we can start wandering a little further from home. For our first excursion, we decided to take a day trip to Rotterdam, about a 50 minute train ride away. Rotterdam is one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, but it's particularly known for 2 things: being the world's 3rd largest port and having some pretty awesome architecture.

Disclaimer: The following was written by a former Social Studies teacher who is conscious enough of sounding like a class lecture to try and "dial it down" but simultaneously doesn't care much about "dialing it down."

The importance of Rotterdam as a port city is rather impressive - Shanghai and Singapore are the only larger ports in the world. When you consider that Shanghai's population is about 7 million more people than the entire country of the Netherlands and Singapore's population is roughly 1/4 of the Netherlands' population, it's a little staggering to think that Rotterdam even appears as a blip on the global scale. But geography plays an awesome hand for the city: It's situated on the Rotte and Nieuwe Maas rivers and connects to the Rhine and Muese rivers, allowing water travel from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Switzerland. We took a port tour by boat that let us see just a small portion of the port - and our minds were blown. The title of "World's 3rd Largest Port" seemed a little more real after just 75 minutes on the water. We joked that we would look for our shipping container with our things from the States - but there are so many shipping containers, we're not actually sure how anyone finds anything. And now for your enjoyment: a slideshow of our tour of the Port of Rotterdam.

The architecture in Rotterdam is equally amazing as the port. The city came into its architectural fame as a result of the legacy of World War II. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 hoping to gain a surrender after a day. The Dutch were tougher than the Nazis expected, so the German Luftwaffe bombed  Rotterdam on 14 May 1940 and leveled most of the city, as you can see from this picture taken a few days after the attack:

Rotterdam City Center, 23 May 1940. Taken from: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Subsites/Timeline

The devastation forced the Dutch army to surrender 15 May under the Nazi threat to blitz more cities. With plenty to rebuild after the war, Rotterdam accepted and encouraged architects that helped the city embody its perception of a phoenix rising from the flame, the result of which has been a lasting tradition of using architecture as art and identity. And as our grand finale, another slideshow - of our pictures walking around Rotterdam.

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