Fourier Analysis is a mathematical tool which can do a number of things: separate out signals from noise; help identify patterns or trends in data; filter out all unwanted data and focus on a single signal; use approximations to make generalizations; make approximations of real world signals (think electronic music); combine harmonics to get a stronger signal. That's what I'll be trying to do here!! Won't you join me with your comments?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trouble comes in Threes...

I know I have been AWOL this past week. There's just been so much going on and I am only now getting around to posting about it. I hope to be more regular in posting, and I have been lurking and commenting occasionally, but as you will see, I have been otherwise occupied...

I have never really been superstitious. I don't believe in astrology or any other mystical ideas, although the idea of karma for bad acts coming back and biting you does quite appeal to me. But one thing I have noticed in my life is the "action of 3". For instance, whenever we go on a trip, I will usually forget 3 things. Often they are small things, but once I have realized I have forgotten something, then I won't rest until I remember what the other 2 things are.

Trouble also comes in threes it seems, at least in my life. And this past month has hit us with two major things, so far...

My father-in-law was diagnosed two years ago with bladder cancer. He had two surgeries and chemo and has been in remission ever since. Until his check up a couple of weeks ago. So he's had another bout of surgery and will undergo a second session again in a couple of weeks. It has understandably caused some major stress in our family.

But the second crisis is what has me most concerned. About a year ago, DD1 pulled out all her eyelashes. It occurred in a couple of hours while she was reading a book and I was cooking in the kitchen. Needless to say we were horrified and started the round of doctors and ophthalmologists to come up with a vague conclusion that she had allergies and they caused her to rub her eyes and pick at her eyelashes. Only trouble is, the lashes never seemed to grow back

I knew that there was something more going on, so started the process to get a referral to a child psychologist. We finally got the referral but it took 3 weeks before we got the first appointment. And then 2 weeks ago I noticed a spot on DD1's head. She said that some hair had been pulled out when she was climbing a tree. Yeah, right. And then the spot got bigger and we found wads of hair she had been pulling out. Pulling out herself!! After confronting her with the evidence she finally could not lie anymore. And that was just the beginning.

Trichotillomania. That's the name for the condition. It affects between 3-5% of the population, usually female. And it is not uncommon that it starts in adolescence. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. And there are various forms of treatment. But no guarantee of success.

The past week the kids have been home for vacation, and DD1 has been working on a project for school that is due next week. Instead of being a break from stress, we have had some major "flare-ups" and now DD1 is missing about 20% of her hair. It looks terrible and there is no hiding it. And since her school does not allow for hats or hoods to be worn during class, she is going to have to deal with the attention from her classmates. Wednesday, when we have the appointment with the psychologist, cannot come soon enough.

So those are the two crises. And while I'm not superstitious and I don't want to be pessimistic, I am just dreading what comes next...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fully Booked...

I truly believe that you should not judge a book by its cover, but you can find out a lot about a person by learning what they read.

I have a confession to make. I don't read very many books. That's not to say I don't own over 1000 on my very own, and not counting the shelves of my husband's and both daughters' private stashes. Books fill the shelves in almost every room in our house. Books "To Read" are stacked dresser-high in two piles beside my bed. I scour second-hand bookstores and go overboard on on-line ordering when they have free-shipping to my neck-of-the-woods. My suitcases push the maximum allowed luggage limits when we return from the US because of the books I am bringing with me. Books are my favorite thing to give and receive. Instead of stickers, as soon as they were old enough to read, my girls started earning books for good marks on tests and extra-good behavior. And I read voraciously. But for the last several years my reading has been more focused on periodicals. I read all the periodicals that come into my house cover-to-cover. So every month my reading includes Texas Highways, Smithsonian, Discover, Scientific American, National Geographic, 4-5 Time magazines, and 3-4 telecom/datacom/computer periodicals. Plus the weekly Dutch national newspaper on the weekend and the 4 local free newspapers that come through the door every week. And of course the advertisements, which is the only way to know what to shop for as there is a limited supply of the specials and you need to be there the first day for a really good deal! And on occasion I treat myself to an O Magazine, and/or Good Housekeeping, and/or Ladies Home Journal, just to appease my domestic instincts. Some months I indulge in a magazine swap with other English-speaking ex-pats and I get British versions of domestic magazines as well as tabloids from the UK (which I generally just skim through). And some months I get behind. (I am still on the July issue of NatGeo!) Some are appropriate for reading while on the elliptical trainer so they suffer a bit from being stuffed in the gym bag. But I absolutely cannot do more than 5 minutes on the walking or biking machines without something to read!

And while I have been surfing the web since before it was world-wide (I was on the DARPA-net back in 1979!), I only discovered blogging this summer and now I read dozens on an almost daily basis. Seriously, I have over 70 blog sites under various bookmark folders!

So, I really have (convinced myself I have) a legitimate excuse for not reading books. So why do I feel so embarrassed when I have been picked (honored?) by Anno for the Book Meme? Because I love books and I want to be able to play and contribute to this wonderful list. I want to sound witty and erudite and insightful. I want to wax poetic and appear sophisticated and deep. I want to hint at my witty sense of humor and intrigue at the depths of my philosophical mind. But instead, as I answered these questions I feel I come off dull and snobby and much too academic and one-sided (sigh). I guess we cannot always live our best life. So here, dear readers, is the unvarnished F.A. as given to you by the Book Meme....

Total Number of Books
Over 1000. If I took time to actually count I would a) get caught up in reading one I had forgotten I had or meant to read a long time ago, b) be depressed at how many we have and berate myself (again) for not being able to part with them and therefore c) not get around to writing this blog!!

Last Book Read
Actually I am not quite finished, but it is one book I have actually picked up to read in the last year: Planet Earth, the book companion to the BBC series. Gorgeous, breathtaking photos, inspiring text that stirs up my travel lust, and heartbreaking facts that really bring home the loss we would face if we don't get the current environmental disasters under control.

Last Book Bought
Ha! It wasn't for me, it was for my Mom. And it isn't even out in print yet! But it sounds great and will be a late Christmas/birthday present for her when it comes out in the US in April. It is Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer.

Oh, you wanted to know the book I bought for myself? That was Present at the Future: from Evolution to Nanotechnology, Candid and Controversial Conversations on Science and Nature by Ira Flatow (the voice on NPR's "Science Friday". It has some great essays based on his interviews with various scientists through the years (the one on why the bubbles sink in a newly poured pint of Guinness, even as the head goes up and why champagne quickly goes flat when there is lipstick on the glass makes for great party small talk!). It is being published this month and I can't wait to read it (I just hope it doesn't end up on the "To Read" pile for too long ...).

Five Meaningful Books
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (Uncommon thoughts on Common Things) by Robert Fulghum. If ever I get too stressed and caught up in the fast pace of life and think I just can't cope, I read one of the essays in this book or the others he has written. I am guaranteed a laugh and perspective. What more can you ask from a book?

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Guaranteed to twist my mind into thinking about the world in a different way. I can literally feel the neural pathways stretching to reach further in my brain as I try to fathom how such geniuses came up with their brilliant insights. It makes me feel very small and at the same time expands my mind and opens my consciousness. Can't get more meaningful than that!

A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking. This slim volume addresses some of the largest concepts in science - the fundamental questions about the origin and end of the universe around us. He reviews and explains in relatively simple language the theories and discoveries that shape the current scientific thought. And the book became a bestseller which is a real achievement in the realm of physics!

The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra. Another physics book that made the international bestseller list. Instead of exploring the very large concepts, this one looks at the puzzles of quantum theory and the smallest known particles and was one of the first to make a link with Eastern mysticism. While it is a bit difficult to read for the layperson, its influence on the scientific community was profound to say the least. It sparked a number of controversies and criticisms but also opened up new ways of thinking and talking about science that has made these topics more accessible to many young people.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. I originally purchase this for DD1 but of course wanted to screen it first. I became so engrossed in the journey this book took me on that I determined to fill in the large gaps in my education and read up on the philosophers I had previously only heard of. (That was the plan anyway, and explains a number of the books in my "To Read" pile). The book takes a 14-year-old girl on a journey of discovery through the history of Western philosophy. It is accessible and interesting for young teens and should be required reading in all schools!

I know, a somewhat cerebral list that leaves me appearing rather one-dimensional. I'm afraid that is kind of how things are in my life right now. Too many books, too little time... But I do know a few other players who might have much more interesting lists. The shelves I want a peek at include Jenn-in-Holland (who somehow seems to manage to read more in one month than I do in a year), Gunfighter (who also reads extensively and does great book reviews, so I know he will have something interesting), Leslie (who has such a great sense of humor that I just know she has something fun on her list), and Robin (who has such a different life from mine but so many similarities that I just want a peek at more!). Anyone else want to play? Consider yourself tagged!!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green...

Today is Soap Opera Sunday, and Monday when a lot of us do our blog reading is Blog Action Day, so I thought I would take advantage of the regular readership and combine my post for these two great actions (and maybe generate some new S.O.S. readers in the process!). For those of you unfamiliar with S.O.S., please check out the blog of 'Twas Brillig for the rules and other links (our other hostess Walking Kateastrophe is sitting out this week). They are (in)famous for the "recycling" of various tales of romance, drama, heartbreak, mayhem, and various (environmentally friendly) sudsy tales and provide all the links on their blogs. And for those of you unaware of Blog Action Day, this action co-ordinates bloggers around the world to think and write about a single important topic. In this, its inaugural year, the topic is the environment. And what, dear S.O.S. readers, could be so dramatic about the environment that it would generate such a soapy tale? Just read on...

Several years ago when DD1 was in the Dutch equivalent of first grade, her class got involved in a project to help "Save the Environment" and each child came home with a contract that they were to sign that committed them and their family to doing one extra thing for a whole month to reduce the amount of waste that their family contributes to the environment. While this sounds like a great principle, it created a major dilemma for us as we were already doing almost everything we could to reduce the amount of waste we generate. The contract came with a few simple examples that we had already been following for years:
  • Paper recycling - including the brochures and free newspapers, old envelopes, receipts and financial papers that have been shredded, etc. We even took this a step further and re-used gift wrap at least once before putting it in the old-paper bin for recycling. And already for 2 years we had been supplying the school with "scrap paper" for drawing, etc. as my husband collected the cover-sheets from computer printouts at work which had only 3 lines on one side of the paper!
  • Glass recycling - food jars, wine bottles, cosmetics containers, etc. Again, we had been doing that for years. And taken it even further by re-using glass jars for leftover sauces and condiments in the fridge. And I had the previous month supplied the school with 2 dozen small jars of similar size and shape for use in one of their art projects!
  • Composting - putting coffee grounds, potato peels, banana skins, with leaves and grass cuttings to be decomposed and used on the garden. In our village, every other week the "brown bin" is collected where all the decomposable waste can be put in. And every summer there is an announcement telling the families when they can pick up their 2 free bags of fully decomposed compost mulch for use in their gardens. We have always been very conscious about what we put in the compost bin and this container is usually fuller than the regular trash bin collected on the alternate weeks.
But the idea of the project was to do something more. I wrote a nice letter to her teacher explaining how we were already doing all that we knew how to do and the next afternoon received an even nicer note with a few suggestions of additional things that she thought we could do:
  • Clothes and textile recycling - at various locations there are containers that accept clothes, shoes, linens, etc that are re-used, recycled or turned into rags. First of all, our family is a big proponent of hand-me-downs. My kids grew up loving to get clothes their cousin or older friends had worn. And when they were small, I shopped the second-hand stores for many of their jeans, jackets and playtime wear. And I have never thrown any item of clothing away if it could potentially be re-used by someone. Even old sheets and dishtowels become rags and floor clothes. And I have a pile of jeans and T-shirts that are used for patching knees and will eventually become a quilt (following my grandmother's tradition). The final stop for any clothes that cannot really be re-used is the recycle container where they can be turned into rags or filler.
  • Books - Holland has a number of second-hand stores that accept books. Books that are damaged can also be put in the old paper recycling containers. You should realize I have trouble parting with any of my books and my children have inherited this pack-rat tendency. And I am very familiar with the local second-hand bookstores as I shop there regularly and have on occasion also sold them books. In other words, we do not throw away books. We even pass magazines on to friends and others we share with the school for use in their crafts.
  • Toys - Many playthings are that are still in good condition can be donated to charity organizations for re-sale. Again, been there, done that. In fact, I am greeted by name at the local toy re-sale shop. The love getting the US toys and English language books as it offers something different they can sell in their shop!
We were at a loss for an additional idea. We already recycled the water we used for boiling eggs and used it for watering plants. We save our dish washing and clothes washing for evenings and weekends when the electricity and water burden on the networks are less and costs are lower. We have always used environmentally friendly cleaning products. We carpool and bike when possible. And we even took recycling a step further. I have always been known at school as the "Mom to go to for help with crafts". I have collected small bottles and plastic lids, glass containers, toilet and paper towel rolls, photo film canisters, CD's, wooden popsicle sticks, plastic shopping bags, buttons, fabric scraps, even an old mosquito net that has been cut up and used for several different costumes. We rarely use plastic or aluminum foil and almost never buy canned soft drinks or tins of vegetables. We even collect the plastic covers that our magazines come in and use them for storing small items such as toys, rubber bands, etc. A couple kept in the pocket or purse are handy for use at the market when buying vegetables and the standholders are happy to not have to provide them. And plate of leftovers can be stored in the fridge overnight inside one of these bags. I have two collapsible bags with handles in my purse that I use when shopping. I have given a number of them as birthday and Christmas gifts. My kids take their own drink containers to school and I buy fruit juice in larger bottles that are returnable.

And we have always been very careful about chemical waste. Used batteries are stored for when the "Chemical Car" comes to collect about once every two months. This vehicle, operated by the village, also collects any old household rest products such as paint, cleaning fluid, insecticides, aerosol spay cans, old medicines, and small electrical appliances and disposes of them responsibly. We have always used re-chargeable batteries or used an adapter instead of disposable batteries. And vinegar is one of my favorite cleaning products for cleaning glass and removing grease! Where possible we use CFC light bulbs and we turn off lights and electrical appliances when not in use. We use cloth hand towels instead of paper and coffee mugs instead of disposable cups (even at work!).

We have even adapted our gift-giving as often times there is really nothing we need or want and it is difficult to find something to send overseas friends and family. So instead we have a number of websites (listed here) where we can give to a charity in someone's name and they will receive a card describing their gift and how it helps. DD1 loved "adopting" a dolphin one year. One of my favorite gifts from my last birthday was a goat!

In other words, we have always been a very ecologically conscious family and have adapted our lifestyle as far as possible to try and live what we believe in. So when this project came along, it created a major drama (appropriate for S.O.S.) in our family to try and come up with something more we could do to meet the requirements of the contract our daughter wanted to sign and set a good example for her. She was in floods of tears at the thought of being the only one who could not put down something on the contract and my explanation that we were probably the most ecologically-minded family at the entire school did nothing to comfort her! Finally a search on the internet turned up a new (old) idea: re-using eggshells! My husband then remembered his grandmother used to do this!

Almost every Sunday, we each have one or two eggs. And until then we had been putting the eggshells in the brown bin with the other compost. But I read that eggshells were a good way of adding a natural calcium fertilizer to the soil, and this was a good way to help prevent the moss from growing in the garden. All you need to do is dry the eggshells and grind them down to a fairly fine powder...

So this was our solution. We bought a small metal mortar and pestle and it became DD1's task to grind up the shells for use in the garden. Our solution was well-received by her teacher and classmates and in later years when she was in the throes of the "Harry Potter" craze she referred to this task as her "Potions" homework! And we have noticed a significant reduction of moss in our garden!

It's not a big thing, but it is one more small thing that allowed us to need less fertilizer for the grass and still have a nice lawn. And it made my daughter happy! But Kermit did know what he was talking about with the song "It's Not Easy Being Green..."!

I hope I have in some small way helped you to think about the environment and ways you too can "Reduce your footprint"! And I wish you all a great S.O.S. and Blog Action Day!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Laying on of Hands

For my birthday, which was way back in April, birthday blog coming soon.... Anyway, one of the presents I received was for a facial from a lady I had not heard of. Apparently she is a well-kept secret in our little village and her location is something you would pass by without looking into. Now I know why she is such a secret! No one wants to share for fear that they may not be able to get an appointment! I booked at the end of summer and was a bit surprised that I had to wait 2 months, but figured she might be taking vacation or something and was not bothered.

So this afternoon, I went along expecting the usual treatment routine. Now you should know that I am not really into make-up and skin care and the whole beauty regimen. I do scrub-up pretty good on special occasions, but other than moisturizer and lip gloss, I do not go to much trouble on a daily basis. I have given myself the occasional mask and scrub and overnight cream, and yes I have started noticing the laugh lines are deeper and there is a crease in my brow demonstrating how often I use raised eyebrows as part of my expression. And every couple of years I go to a beauty salon and get a deluxe treatment.

So today I was expecting the usual round of steaming, scrubbing, cleansing, mask, moisturizing, hot-towels and cool eye pads and that I would come out shiny and polished and fresh. But today was different.

It started with the usual steam and light scrub. Then a nice smelling facial cream was smoothed on my skin. And then was heaven. I have had, on occasion, massages where I did not want the end to come. But for the most part, treatments I have had have come nowhere near the Biblical description of the healing power associated with the "laying on of hands". Until today. I cannot begin to describe the various techniques of small circles of light pressure and butterfly-light finger taps combined with strokes along the small muscles and gentle contact on accupressure points. Time did not fly by, it seemed to stand still. I think I forgot to breathe, though the automatic nervous system kicked in and I didn't pass out. For a good 40 minutes or so I experienced the ever-changing variety of techniques developed by Elaine in her 27 years of experience. She has treated burn victims and people with various scars and skin problems and developed her own method of stress relief via massage and she definitely knows what she is doing.

I could feel the tension releasing in my brow and the crows-feet starting to develop around my eyes have been shooed away for a while at least. I not only look younger after her treatment, I feel younger. I had my eyes closed during the massage and when I opened them it was as if I was seeing a new world.

And then she started the cleansing regimen. After cleansing the massage lotion off with the usual steamed towel and a light astringent, she applied a moisturizing cream using large make-up brushes! The feeling of the brushes over my skin with its heightened awareness was a delicious sensation. After a cup of tea and a chat, she finished the treatment with a scalp and shoulder massage to get the blood circulating. I left after 90 minutes feeling more relaxed and energized that I have felt in months. And I thought of 3 people I was dying to tell about this wonderful treat, knowing they would love it as much as I do.

And then I thought of how long I have had to wait to get this first appointment, and I'm now going to have to battle some very selfish instincts before I can share...!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Newbie Parents' First Night

There has been various talk of children, babies, diapers, etc. on some of the blogs I regularly read, so I was inspired this week to tell one of my favorite diaper experiences. And yes, as are all my Soap Opera Sunday stories, this is very true. New to this blog and don't know what an S.O.S. story is? Well you are in for a treat if you will just hop over to either 'Twas Brillig or Walking Kateastrophe, and follow their links to all the other players and their sudsy tales! Other of my tales are found under the S.O.S label on this page.


Prior to the birth of DD1, I did what every professional woman does I am sure, and bought a number of baby books and read up on the experience. I also visited the new Moms in my neighborhood, oohed and aahed over their offspring, and listened to stories of deliveries and doctors visits. I talked to girlfriends with children and heard how their lives had changed, and knew it would be the same for me. I was as prepared as was theoretically possible.

I entered into my final month of pregnancy feeling strong and confident and looking forward to the remaining 3-4 weeks, knowing that the "due date" was not an exact science and fully expecting my firstborn to procrastinate coming into the hard, cold world as long as possible. After all, her father was a world champion procrastinator and had not yet set up the baby bed and rest of the furniture.

So of course, our little bundle of joy/frustration/surprise set the pattern of contrariness which she continues to follow (her 12th birthday was Friday), and was born 3 weeks early! I don't really have a horror story so cannot really participate in the great Gyno-Fest "From Behind the Stir-Ups" that is currently being hosted by our lovely 'Twas Brillig and Amy from the Butrfly Garden. Childbirth in the Netherlands is considered a natural experience and over half of all births are in the home. I read one year the percentage was a high as 77%! And the Netherlands ranks as one of the countries with the lowest infant mortality in the world. So while you may see your OB/GYN for pre-natal care and check-ups, you can also book with a mid-wife and see her at the same time. And insurance will cover the costs for both! The theory is that if something goes wrong with the home birth, you would have a back-up and your records would be in the hospital system in case you had to deliver there. And encouraging home births is cheaper for the insurance companies and they are no fools! As an alternative, you can choose to deliver in the hospital but you are not required to stay for any longer than is medically indicated! (Flash to the future, DD2 was born around 3 AM and I was home with her be 10 AM. It would have been sooner but I had to call and wake up hubby to come back and get me!). But I digress...

DD1 was a "complete breach" birth, which means she was born butt first with her feet up by her ears. (I told you she was contrary!) She was a vaginal birth, no Cesearean, which horrified my mother to learn about, but I was very pleased. (Again, the Netherlands has a fairly low rate of C-sections as they are used only when deemed medically necessary!) Due to a potential lung infection and the fact that she was a breach birth and "early", not premature, but not a good birthweight, they kept us both in the hospital for 2 nights.

Finally we were released home on a Saturday morning and were visited shortly afterwards by the "kraamhulp". This is a home nurse who comes everyday for up to 10 days after the baby's birth. Her duties are to look after the mother and child, taking temperature and blood pressure, monitoring how much they both sleep and eat, and excrete and noting this in the charts. She also does light housekeeping and cleaning, prepares meals for the mother and any young children, changes and bathes the baby, helps teach these skills and aids with nursing and feeding the baby and getting both mother and child settled into their new routine. She is present for the first doctor's home visit and reports on any problems she has noticed. And in general helps give new parents the information and training they need in caring for their newborn.

After our helper, Jenny, had visited and helped us change the diaper, we were left to the first afternoon and evening at home as a "family". As DD1 had been a bit jaundiced and was still a rather low birth weight, we were cautioned to notice and make sure that she was nursing enough and urinating regularly. So after the first time of nursing her by myself (success!) we both went upstairs to change her diaper. And we found that it was completely dry. No worries, so we put her to bed and a couple of hours later she was crying again to be fed (we started on a 3-4 hour schedule). Everything went smoothly, but again, the diaper was completely dry. Now the inexperienced motherly concern is coming on. But I did not let myself panic until after the next time I nursed her. Still the diaper was dry. By now it is midnight and I am not about to sleep through the night without getting her checked out by a doctor. My husband's cooler head prevailed and instead of rushing us off to the hospital, he had me call the night service of our family doctor. The doctor on the phone listened to my rundown of DD1's birth and history, and the list of the complications including the jaundice, and concerns and my description of the problem as my voice cracked from the barely controlled rising hysteria I felt.

The doctor listened patiently and then asked me what kind of diaper we were using, cloth or disposable? "Disposable." I replied. "Well," he said," In my experience, these new disposable diapers are so efficient that they may seem to be perfectly dry when in fact, they have absorbed quite a bit of fluid. Take a fresh diaper and put it on the baby scale and weigh it. Then weigh the diaper you have just taken off the baby. If there is more than 100 grams of difference, you can be assured that your baby's kidneys are functioning as they should be. If not, call me back and I will make a house call."

Of course, there was no house call necessary. Funny, how all the books and preparations still did not cover this "emergency"! I don't think I have ever felt more stupid!

Happy Weekend and enjoy the rest of the S.O.S. stories!

Monday, October 1, 2007

To Hell in a Handbasket...

One of the things that Jenn-in-Holland and I unfortunately share is our attitude towards the lack of respect and out-of-control behavior of the youth that are in the urban communities in Holland. I cannot tar all Dutch youth with the same brush, and I suspect that behavior in the more rural areas of Holland is more observed and therefore more controlled. But in the area known as the "Randstad", which is a triangle of communities bounded by Amsterdam-the Hague-Rotterdam, the behavior and total disrespect for people, property, environment, etc. is appalling to the point of being shocking. And what is even worse is the attitude of adults, teachers, parents, and even the local law enforcement. It is more than just a "les affaire" attitude, as when confronted with the mischief of children/youths the adults responsible shrug it off with a "let kids be kids, why make a big deal of it, there's nothing you can do so just accept it" mentality that is pervasive across the social spectrum.

It is evident on Dutch school campuses, where children are left to their rough physical games and bullying has become such a social problem that educational classes are held that require parents and students to attend. But part of the responsibility should also lie with the teachers who do not interfere with the games and set rules and boundaries that the students are held to. At the Primary school where my kids attend, the International Stream is a department encompassing slightly less than half the school population. Dutch and International kids mix during recesses and lunch times. And there have been confrontations and cultural issues as well as personal space problems. But the attitude of the Dutch teachers is to "let the kids work it out", with no guidance or example being given by the adults.

It seems that the bigger the city, the bigger the problem. The graffiti and trash in the city centers is simply disgusting. And it cannot be blamed on the population density alone as there are comparable size cities in neighboring countries of Belgium and Germany and the differences are quite striking (and almost nauseating). The Dutch like to label themselves as being tolerant, with lenient attitudes about prostitution, smoking and soft drugs. But this "toleration" is taken several steps too far when the communities turn such a blind eye to the beginnings of real anti-social behavior. And the blame here lies with the parents who do not supervise where their children are after dark or question why they have spray paint on their hands and clothes. I guess it would interfere with the "freedom of expression" that kids are encouraged to have.

Possibly we have experienced more problems in my family because we are foreign and especially with my husband being German. But it makes my blood boil when I hear 7- and 8-year old children yelling at my girls in Dutch "I hate Germans! Filthy Germans go back to your own country." and other such things. I guess I should have realized how it would be already 20 years ago when we booked a vacation via a Dutch tourist agency. We of course ended up in a hotel and on bus tours with Dutch nationals. With our limited language skills, it was obvious that we were foreigners and my husband has an unmistakable German accent. He was confronted by a man in his 60's who demanded of him "Ik wil mijn fiets terug", which translates as "I want my bicycle back" It seems taht during the Nazi occupation, the soldiers limited the mobility of the Dutch population by confiscating all modes of transportation, including and especially bicycles. This man's anger at this outrage was directed 40+ years later at my husband simply because he was German. I guess the infamous Dutch toleration extends only to Dutch citizens. How can we blame the younger generation for their attitudes when this is the example they have from their grandparents?

Tonight my anger is stirred up by the regular neighborhood terrorists. I know that is a strong word in this day and age, but it defines how I feel. We live in a fairly "upscale" neighborhood in one of the "wealthiest" villages in the Netherlands (which basically means that the housing prices are over-the-top outrageous). Our house is an end house in a row of 4 connected houses. We live on a corner and have an exposed brick wall at the side of our house. Unlike some of our neighbors, we did not choose to put a fence around our house and front yard. Instead we have a kid-friendly lawn with grass in front and on the side of the house. It makes it easy to park next to the house where the sidewalk is only 1.5 feet wide. You are able to fully open your car door and get in and out without banging your car door on a fence or into some bushes. And our front lawn provides no barrier to the door and there is no wall in front of our kitchen windows.

All of these apparently make our house an irresistible target to the neighborhood children who love to ring doorbells and run away. A rather "harmless" game, except that often I have to descend 2 flights of stairs to answer the door, and it doesn't happen occasionally, and the kids don't stop at doing it once. No, they keep on doing it until you come out and chase them or contact their parents. We have tried the strategy of ignoring the bell, going so far as to disconnect the doorbell one time. This led to the escalation whereby apples, tomatoes and eggs were thrown at our house. We even had to gall to go away on vacation therefore leaving the door unanswered, only to come back to find that eggs and dog excrement had been thrown on our front walls and left to dry in the summer heat. Despite high-pressure steam cleaning, the evidence of this calling card is still visible years later.

There's one teenager who lives a block away around the corner. He is serious trouble-in-the-making. Whenever his parents have a party, and he has friends over, their favorite activity is to come and disturb our peace. My kids are in bed usually by 9PM. This kid is usually just getting started. So the doorbell rings, and rings. Trash cans are knocked over. Balls are kicked and thrown against the side of the house. Bushes and plants are tramped on in their effort to run away when we do come to the door. It happened again last week in broad daylight. After the third ring on the door, I got my keys and ignored the teenagers who were running away. I went, for the 10th (or more) time, to call upon this boy's mother. I make a big show of coming up her sidewalk, slamming the gate to the fence she has in front of her windows, ringing her doorbell loudly several times in order to be sure she would have to interrupt her conversation with her friends. When she answered the door, I asked her if she knew where her son was. Her reply was "I guess he's at your house again." When I assured her he was, she said she would call his mobile and get him to come home. No apology. No outrage or shame on her part. Just matter-of-fact why-are-you-bothering-me irritation. Unfortunately, she did not reach him before he and his buddies had started writing obscenities on the side wall of our house. This time it was chalk. Next time it will likely be spray paint. As I returned home, the teen, who is already taller than me, got in my face (as in two inches away) and started yelling that I was going to be sorry for bothering him (obviously his mother had called). I yelled even louder, causing some of my neighbors to look out of their windows. I wanted witnesses. As my husband was out of town that week, I did not take it any further, but simply took pictures and added them to the documentation we have of these kinds of events.

Why do I bother documenting it? Why have I not called the local police right away? Well I used to, whenever things were getting out of hand. One of the last times, the operator I spoke to was obviously looking at her computer and she said "Well, it seems you have made a number of complaints and called us on several occasions. Is this really necessary?" Since then I have only called once and that was to alert the police and fire department about the boys setting fire to the old Christmas trees on the sidewalk in front of our house at 2AM. I now have a list of phone numbers of most of the parents of the offending kids. I call the Moms when the nonsense starts up. If they are not home, I am sure to call during dinner time and keep calling until I get an answer to let the parents know that their child is again disturbing my family.

Last week a new family moved onto the block, with a little boy between the ages of my 2 girls. This afternoon he was playing with some of the other kids and they of course got him to be the one to ring the bell. I did not see him clearly the first time. But I did the second time. I immediately confronted his mother who called him home. He showed up later with his big sister and denied ever doing it. But I had seen him from my kitchen, when I was standing where he could not see me. His sister defended him. I told them both that he was lying and that this was not acceptable. I had seen him clearly. I saw the label on the back of his jacket when he ran away. But he still denied it. And his sister did not believe me. And I am sure his mother, who could not be bothered to come and speak to me with him, also does not believe me. So there's another new little terrorist what has made us a target.

And yes, terrorist is the right word. Here's a common definition: "One who systematically utilizes violence and intimidation to achieve personal, religious or political objectives, while disguised as a civilian non-combatant." I think that
describes very well the situation we are finding ourselves in with these hooligans. And I know it will only escalate. The cars have been vandalized with scratches, broken antennas and mirrors. But it is only a matter of time before it gets worse. We lock our bicycles inside the garage, a luxury Jenn doesn't have. But when the girls have been riding outside and left their bikes on the playground, they have been stolen and ridden off right in front of them. The mother of one of the two boys responsible said "It was only a joke, he didn't mean anything." The other one wasn't home. He son was left to play on his own. What can you expect from children if this is how the parents are?

I am angry. I am frustrated. I feel helpless and isolated. My husband travels often and I have young children. I refuse to be so intimidated that I cannot leave my house. But at the same time, the doorbell ringing 6 times at 2 AM gets my heart beating fast and I can't get back to sleep. Firecrackers thrown under the car and in the trashcans make me stay alert to any night noises in the vicinity of my home. As much as I don't like to admit it, at times I am afraid.

We are getting a fence. I have told my husband we need to add the "Texas touch" to it and include barbed wire. I am only half-joking about this.