Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kitten's Adventures In the Big Outdoors

Window Watching

We've let Antje run free in the big wide world.  From the time she was just this little fur ball she's been begging to enter that big beautiful world.  We've held off as long as we can so she'll be big enough to defend herself from all those other territorial cats in the neighborhood.  Even our neighbors have let us know that their cat will gladly shred any other feline to pieces if it steps in their yard.  I figured once she learned how to hop on the counters she was headed out the door.  You know, let her burn off her energy out there instead of digging through the remnants of dinner in the kitchen sink while we put the kids to bed.  As it turns out this new freedom seems to have loosened her previously held beliefs regarding our cat rules.  She runs in from outside and instantly goes for the table or the counters.   All it takes is one wrong look from "mom" and she's finding a hiding spot, but she still seems to think nothing of the rules each time she comes back home. 

It began the other day after I'd come home from jogging in the park with Lilly I opened the backdoor to start unloading some groceries I'd picked up along the way and Antje timidly came outside to greet us.  I knew we were going to be putting her outdoors and this beautiful blue day was one which called to all species so I let her roam the back garden while I unpacked and put everything away.  She didn't wander far and eventually begged to come back inside.  But after picking up the girls from school we opened the door once again she bolted past each of us and out the still open back gate.  Amara, not knowing Antje had already had an experience in the big world, began screaming and crying out after her.  She chased the loosed animal down the back alleyway and around the corner with tears streaming down her eyes and a look of terror that her precious` kitten would never return home.  By the time I had caught up to them the kitten was being chased to and fro between two gates and another bewildered cat.  Who should that cat have been but our little friend who started this whole fiasco.  He's a big fat cat now and full of mischief.  We've watched him walk along the second story eves and pop through the open windows of the houses.  In one window out another and who knows what he's knocked over or eaten while he visited.  Hopefully Antje will stay out of his presence and remain a good girl while she's out. 

As it is she's already met with resistance.  After the girls learned she was free to roam they gladly joined her, but there remained a few places they couldn't follow.  Like under the gates of our neighbors.  They came home reporting that one woman, upon spotting our small cat in her garden began throwing things out the door at her and yelling at her.  So, my ever so spicy girls, took it upon themselves to defend their kitten and began yelling back.  They entered the back yard and shooed their kitten out of the offended persons yard and into another.

I know that if you read anything on the internet about how/when to let your cat outside their is always some cat fanatic telling you that cats should never be let outside.  Yes, they'll run into dogs with big teeth, cats with bad tempers, and crazy housewives that will throw things at them, but that's just part of a cats life.  That and running after mice or climbing trees in pursuit of the birds.  I am not so mean as to keep my cat cooped up inside and miss out on the good life just for fear she won't be able to handle the normal issues in it.  She is equipped with a new collar, a bell (for scaring away those birdies), and a little metal pill containing our number and address.  I haven't owned a pet in the states since I was kid, but I'd never have guesses that these little pills where a place to store the pets information.  If I hadn't been in the market for something of this nature I would never had guessed and probably would have overlooked it on a lost animal.

You're finally free to roam, Antje.  Now behave yourself!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Winter Ball Outcome

Three in Red

This year the ball (disco) turned out much better than the last.  I have to admit that we succumbed to Amara's pleading and let her go.  She'd gotten a good nap and seemed quite chipper, but like last year she didn't make it off the floor without a relapse.  The parents were allowed to come in and watch the final 10 minutes of the dance and just as I walked in I watched my little flower wilt.  Suddenly her knees went week and she dragged down the rest of the "ring around the posie" dancers.  She searched the crowd of faces until she found her familiar one and lifted her little arms out to me.  As her teacher picked her up off the dance floor she begged for "Mama" and I gladly reached over the railing, wrapped her in my coat, and walked her home in a bundle.  Obviously, this photo taken just shortly after we walked through the door, she was none the worse for the wear but I have to admit I was a little nervous. 

Catherine on the other hand was all thrills to be the best dressed in her class.  As soon as she walked in the room the crowd gasped in awe and she received compliments from anyone close enough to whisper it in her ear.  I don't know if we started an "American trend" last year or not because I was shocked to see so many children (even the girls) dressed in jeans.  Last year my child was the only on the dance floor without pearls and diamonds and this year I'm afraid I may have ruined the beautiful tradition.  I know I'm being vain in this assumption, but it is obvious the other children have a tendency to look to "the American sisters" with some sort of reverent admiration. 

It was so fun to watch the boys swoon over my girls in the beginning.  Naturally, the novelty wore off, but there must be something in the back of their minds that is still attracted to the foreign girls.   Just this week two boys were fighting over who got to take Amara home for lunch with him.  I had a fleeting laugh as I looked up into the faces of their parents and we settled the argument for them.  Tomorrow she has another date with one of the boys who missed her birthday party after school.  I know that she is not interested in these boys in any romantic sort of way, but it did shock me to realize that she'd already received her "first kiss".  I hadn't thought of the playful kiss at her birthday party in that light until my husband who had witnessed it aimed the light a little closer to the spot.  The heart throb of her class and her favorite crush had gladly adorned the roll of Prince Charming and kissed the Sleeping Beauty awake in the most romantic setting of our winter garden.  Latter we'd all laughed as he announced to his mother that he'd given out a lot of kisses at the party.  We laughed again when two of the other mothers asked their girls if they'd been the recipient of any of these kisses and we watched them bow their head in a blush and shake their heads.  No, I believe that my own daughter who's part time job is living out the daily life of Sleeping Beauty took as many as she could feign needing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Too Many Titles

Lately I've been busy setting up my new SparkPeople page and getting myself on track to loose those creeping pounds.  I had joined SparkPeople shortly after it was started while I was trying to loose weight after giving birth to Lillian.  It was inspiring and easy to use.  I soon learned how to manage my calories and get an idea how many calories I was burning by entering in daily exercise and food eaten in the online trackers.  Even though the move and all it's preparations took over my life and I had to drop the program I was still able to keep in mind the things I had learned from the experience.  Little as I would like to admit I need a swift kick of a reminder on how to do this, I signed up for it again anyway.  No, I will not bore you with the details of my weight loss program (SparkPeople gave me my own extra blog for that; just what I need right: another blog), but I am going to advocate this program here for any of you who feel like getting that bikini bod by summer or who want to loose those 50 lbs that crept up on you over the last several years.  I know you're out there.  Did you realize that America has reached a startling new milestone?  For the first time in decades the life expectancy of our new generation is shorter than the last.  It scares me to think that my children may live a shorter life than I.  With a few changes instilled in our routine it has become my goal to ensure my children a long life and a proper outlook on health and habits.

Amara has been ill since yesterday and in her delirious mutterings she has come back to her favorite fear: that her mommy and daddy might die before her.  I have explained to her that with all likelihood we will die before her, but it won't be until she is old and gray herself.  She is still not fond of the idea and so at the same time I encourage her wishes for a simultaneous family death.  Morbid, I know, but sweet at the same time.  I feel fortunate to have a daughter who thinks ahead and wishes never to be permanently separated from her family.  Maybe she won't be the kid who runs off to Europe with our grandchildren ;)

This morning a construction crew in the process of putting up a new building dug into an unexploded bomb and had to evacuate 100-150 people from the surrounding area while they carefully removed it.  It is strange to think that we are living in an area which is still unearthing relics of the World Wars from their very own soil.  We've been watching Season 6 of the 24 series (yes, we've always been a bit behind on these things) and the thought of a nuclear bomb exploding on US soil has been haunting my dreams.  To awake this morning and realize we're living in a country which still carries not only the earthly scars of the wars, but also the emotional scars, I can now comprehend how fortunate the United States citizens have been.  The Twin Towers was our first real taste of destruction on our soil. Now I even more sincerely hope we will not see more destruction on either a greater or lesser scale.

Speaking of watching the tube, we can't seem to watch anything anymore without the kitten attacking gesticulating hands or dangling earrings.  The second she hears the TV warming up she runs over and, standing on her hind legs, puts her paws up on the ledge to nose the screen.  When it's just too interesting to resist she'll wander around the edges to try and get a better advantage of whatever it is tantalizing her from behind the screen.  When that fails to produce she hops on top of the TV and haunches over the edge of it determined to catch whichever target may present itself.  What is most fun to watch though is when she finds a particularly interesting pray which walks off stage left or stage right and she follows it off the screen only to discover thin air.

Tonight is the "disco"!  If you remember what happened last year I assure you I will not let the incident happen again.  Unfortunately, I am unsure if Amara will be in a dancing mood by tonight.  I didn't think her teacher would be too excited to see her walk through the classroom threshold this morning after she'd thrown up all over the playground at recess and several more times all over the classroom yesterday afternoon, but was surprised to find she expected to see the little one walking with me when I came to report her current status.  Amazingly, her teacher has encouraged me to bring her this evening if she's feeling up to it.  Last year she had an illness at this time as well.   The morning of the dance she went to school, but her teacher had called me back to the classroom to pick her up (the first of the only two calls I've received) because she was feeling ill.  We both looked at her and didn't know what to think because she went from healthy to unhappy in a matter of minutes.  By the time of the dance she was doing back flips so I sent her anyway.  That time her teacher gave me a look like I was one of the most irresponsible parents she'd ever laid eyes on.  I suppose she was probably right because Amara only lasted through the dance and on the way home practically collapsed in my arms.  Upon returning home I discovered she'd developed a fever and was laid to rest for the entire following weekend.  Last night she continually woke up crying and so was not in happy mood this morning, still taking comfort in having her puke bucket follow her down the stairs.  Maybe if she gets some real sleep we'll let her go to her school dance, but at the moment she's still listless on the couch beside me. 

Signing out . . . I've got a dance to prepare for and kid to take care of.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cussing Critter

Our little one has started creating disturbances with her latest vocabulary ventures.  With every new word that she forms out comes one more profanity.  At first we thought it was cute.  Like the time she learned from her sisters that yelling out the name "Lilly!" in frustrated tones was how they cursed every time something was broken, stepped on, or had been abused beyond repair in their absence.  For weeks we giggled every time she'd yell out her own name when her toy stopped working or the puzzle piece just wouldn't fit.  Then it moved on to the Fork incident.  This was funny for a while too until we were so embarrassed by the mispronunciation that we decided not to provide any utensils at the last birthday party for fear we'd have serious cases of irresponsible parenting brought against us after the other children went home and started telling their parents what a fork is called in the Jungle household.

Lately she's taken an interest in Sleeping Beauty.  This is no wonder to us as her older sister seems to live in the fantasy at least 8 hours of every day, so much so that Lilly no longer calls for Amara by her given name but by "Beauty".  Again, very cute, but the fascination took on a whole new dimension when she began pointing out the finer points of a favorite Sleeping Beauty puzzle to one of our friends the other day.  She enthusiastically pointed out each of the puzzles finer points including a "rinse", a "whore", and an "assole".  The "rinse" could easily be interpreted as the prince, but the "whore" could likely have been the hussy holding a basket of berries and selling herself out to the man who only likes her for her voice, and the "assole" . . . well, maybe that's the name Daddy gives the guy who thinks he can come back the very same evening and marry the child of 16 who hasn't spent a day with her real family ever.  I don't know . . . maybe she wasn't really thinking along such simple terms such as the horse hiding behind the tree or the castle looming over the distant horizon.  What do you think?

Whatever the case may be I'm thinking we may need to have a bar of soap handy in the coming years if this keeps up.  I know learning two languages at once can create a few extra learning errors, but this is getting ridiculous.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Same Ol' Resolution For the First Time

When I spoke of making changes for the new year, I was not only talking about moving my blog to a better format or finally getting rid of that old, junk mail cluttered e-mail address.  I know my resolution will not sound surprising as it is probably the most common of them all: lose weight.  For me it is not so common, as I have regularly exercised for many years and felt no need to put any extra pressure on myself except to go a higher level or remind myself to push myself a little harder through those crunches.  But since moving and losing my position in our cooperative as the fitness facilitator I have completely slacked on the practice of exercise.  Bluntly, I don't even have the will to lift an exercise DVD out of it's box and slip it into the player.  It has been sad feeling this way.  Normally I have more will than is probably good for me, so for me not to have the will to do something sends alarms ringing in all quadrants of my brain.  But there was a wee bit of will left in me still, enough to ignore those alarms as long as I possibly could.  What made those bells ring loud enough earplugs couldn't shut out the din, you ask?

My daughter.   My dear, precious Catherine Girl.  She has lately been consumed with fears of being overweight.  Okay, again very bluntly: FAT!  My daughters are the farthest thing from fat, even though the two smallest of them are sitting along or below the 0th percentile for height and somewhere between the 50th & 75th percentile for weight.  (The doctors took one look at them, shook their head and claimed they'd never seen the like of it before, but they certainly didn't have a weight problem.)  I, on the other hand, have dealt with weight issues since I was a child.  Exercise has been a part of my living routine since the first time my father and step-mother bought me a cute little tennis outfit, took me a sunny California tennis court, and taught me how to play a game which would burn off those little round areas beginning to develop on my pre-teen body, leaving me amazed.

Over the last year I've attempted to establish a routine . . . NOT!  I've put on my cloths, pulled out the mat, and gotten about 3/4's of the way through one of my favorite DVD's . . . once.   I began training to run through the big park near here by walking everyday the route I would run by pushing my jogger with screaming toddler inside.  You'd think just that would push me into a brisk jog, but instead I put the jogger back in the shed and the kid back into her morning nap routines.

I'd discussed with Catherine going jogging with her on the weekends because it would give her a sense that she's also doing something to control her weight (not that I'd put it that way because she should not feel the need to do something about it at this age, especially when it is not an issue), but have yet to implement it.  Today it was a drizzly day threatening to downpour so the DVD came out, in front of my girls. 

The first thing they noticed was, "It's all girls.  Why is it all girls?"

Jungle Mama ~ "Well, it's an exercise routine made specially for women."

Jungle Girls ~ "They're all so skinny and pretty.  Why are they all so skinny and pretty?"

Jungle Mama ~ "Because they exercise several times every day and it's their job to look toned and beautiful so that you'll feel like you can look as good as them when you do the same exercise as them."

Jungle Girls ~ "Why are they all smiling?"

Jungle Mama (reminding herself to put a smile on her face) ~ "Because they need to make it look like they're having a really great time so you'll remember you're having a really great time and you'll keep coming back to exercise with them."

Catherine Girl ~ "Mom, if you exercise with them will you also look like them," not hesitating in the least, "even if you look like that?" (pointing a straight finger towards my jiggling belly)

By this point I was breathing hard enough I could almost feign being too out of breath to respond, but I managed to put on my best poker face and say, ". . . Possibly."  It's settled, I'm dusting off all those DVD's, polishing my jogging shoes, and pulling out the exercise cloths.  This year I'm working on those big jiggly areas developing around my middle-aged middle . . . minus the cute little tennis outfit.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Disastrous Christmas

When you think of Christmas morning visions of twinkling Christmas lights, freshly wrapped presents under the tree, and the pitter patter of smiling little children tromping into the room.  Instead ours began with the clatter of a sleep-deprived mother bouncing down the stairs at 6am.  In too much pain to breath I lay on the bottom step in silence, only it wasn't the silence of the regular Christmas night.  My husband arose with shouts of fear and visions of twisted and unconscious wife laying crumpled at the bottom of the stairs.  Battered and bruised he helped me back up the stairs to see if we could get another wink or two in, but the children were awoken by the noise and the day began.

The presents were opened with eagerness and the kitten delighted in all the tossed aside ribbons and bows while the children played with each new gift.  The Christmas frittata I had planned for breakfast decided to wait and instead we had a quick breakfast so we could get back to our second round of unwrapping.  Somewhere in the midst of this I began dinner preparations.  Do you know how hard it is to find a turkey in the Netherlands?  Well, I had to go to a German store to find it and was grateful that I had, though it was rather small in comparison to the ones we find in America.  Still, we had no extra family members to feed but ourselves, so size really didn't matter.  I had a special stuffing I had made from the English Christmas magazine given by Sinterklaas and though I don't normally stuff the turkey, this year would be an exception.  When pulling out the package of innards a thought of inspiration came to mind.  I knew we were not going to use them for gravy as I had something else planned, but we now had a cat who loved fresh meat.  We'd read up on what was acceptable to give to your cat so knew a little liver couldn't hurt.  I took a small portion of the already small liver and put it in her bowl, much to her excitement.  The kitten ceased to leave the bowl for the length of time it took me to stuff and insert the turkey into the oven.

The kids were now playing with the next round of toys and I began my own next round of preparations for Christmas dinner.  I was so proud of myself for having made ahead almost everything that could be.  Still, things needed to be thawed, reheated, or topped off.  In the midst of preparations I heard the cat give a sudden cry of help which isn't uncommon when the poor thing has three little girls who love to smother it with love at even the most inopportune of times (imagine loves in a litter box - not the Aerosmith version either).  I quickly stuck my head out of the kitchen to scold whichever child was once again torturing the unfortunate cat, only to see three pairs of innocent eyes peering up at me amidst the piles of toys and wrapping paper.  The cats crying plea soon turned into a yowl of garbled torture and I began to assume the worst.  Did one of the children have the cat trapped in a box, were they sitting on the poor thing without so much as a single look of guilt on their face, or did it find a way to strangle itself with the Christmas ribbons and bows?  Gargling yowls and pitiful cries soon intermingled with my own stern motherly voice demanding to know, "WHAT have you done with the cat!?"  It didn't take long before my ears began to detect the location of the resounding feline moans and deduce that it was nowhere near the three sets of bewildered faces peering up at me.  Instead I found it shivering in the corner behind the curtains huddled over a pile of freshly digested turkey liver.  Yup, my bad.  Sorry girls.  Still, you'd think the cat would have learned.  She still begged endlessly for a scrap of that turkey when it came out of the oven.  I suppose it wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that it had feasted on the discarded carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey in France unbeknownst to us could it?  I am sure it will never beg for liver again though . . . right?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Year Brings New Changes

Our Christmas vacation was full of fun and good times.  We were busy baking and partying from start to finish.  The girls were tickled pink that Santa again made a stop in the Netherlands just for them.  The stockings were filled with goodies from both lands which did slightly confuse them, but they soon understood that Santa knew a good thing when he saw them and collected the best of both worlds when choosing the items for their stockings.  We did not have a white Christmas as we'd thought we might.  The ice soon began to melt, but not before the girls could get out and walk on some ice.  I wish it had been thick enough to get out our skates, but it was just too risky.  Besides, there was a deadline to meet: Christmas.  As you may have already read, our finances were stretched to the last thread during the most critical month of the year and so when the paycheck finally came in we made a last and final mad rush along with the rest of the last minute shoppers in Amsterdam. 

To put a little rest into our busy shopping day we took the girls to the English Reformed church in the middle of the begijnhof just to the north of the Spui for their Christmas Choir service.  Sitting in the middle of this sanctuary sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the streets and crowds we were welcomed into the English speaking church and enjoyed an hour of Christmas songs and a simple Christmas service.  The girls did remarkably well for not having attended a church service for over a year and we left with warm hearts and general feeling of Christmas cheer.  It didn't take long to finish our Christmas shopping and we were headed home to our lonely kitten and sparkling tree.

I had meal upon meal planned so we feasted all Christmas on this recipe or that with a few Christmas cocktails thrown in for a little extra warmth during the cold nights.  Luckily the liquor lasted to ease our nerves after the frenzied birthday party with 14 children running through our house as well as to help us sleep through the neighbors drunken New Years Eve party.  Though, I am glad we have run low as it is now time to say farewell to the holidays and approach the New Year.  It is always hardest to say goodbye to this particular holiday.   Summer vacation is shrugged off with knowledge that you'll still have several remaining weekends with sun and beaches before the cold fall winds began to blow, but the Christmas/New Year vacation ends abruptly leaving you with only cold and dreary weather to look forward to for the next several months.  Still, it has left us with many a happy memory. 

Amara turned 5 in a blur of all things pink and princess and has chosen to stay just as cute as she ever was with a little extra sparkle.  As tradition would have it we gave her the choice to get her ears pierced or not and she braved the many stores which rejected to pierce a child so young and the many clerks who tried to scare her into thinking it was "too much pain" to finally find a store and clerk willing to give the child what she so desired.  (More on this Dutch attitude later.)  She walked out with beautiful red earrings and huge smile on her face.  We did go ice skating, though not on the canals it was just as fun as we were in the company with friends who we hadn't spent enough time with over the last several months.  Friends and fun have filled our holidays this year and we will remember each event with happiness.

Though I feel like we walk out of those happy holidays into an empty year, I am also looking forward to a new year.  I have never been one to put much stock into New Year's resolutions, but this year I have a few things in mind for the betterment of my soul and my family.  There will be some changes in our routine and the way we live from day to day.  Things have gotten a bit slack in the last couple of years due to so many changes and we seem to have lost our focus or headed in the wrong direction here or there.  While change can be a stimulating experience I prefer not too much to change, so I'm on a mission to redirect our path to find some of those treasured walks we miss to much in little family.