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?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sinter Klaasje kom maar binnen...

For who are not familiar with the Dutch tradition of SinterKlass, I refer you to some of my earlier posts where I went into much detail to explain some of the background of this very important family festival here in the Netherlands (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI). As part of the tradition, starting in October you already can find the small cookies that the Zwarte Piets throw and/or pass out by the handfuls. These little cookies are also found in small bowls at the checkout counters of all the shops and stores as part of their otherwise non-existent customer service!

But the real fun comes not just in eating these little crunchies, but in making them yourself. For many years I was a volunteer at school helping youngsters measure out and make their own treats. As requested by a former ex-pat who got addicted to these yummies, I share here a recipe for Pepernoten. But my peronal favorite is not the traditional peppernoten, but the spicier, sweeter Kruidenoten which I already blogged about. And when you are tired of the cookies, but have a lot of leftovers still to use, there is the ever popular Kruidenoten Tiramisu that I also included!

  • 60 GRAM/2 OZ. BUTTER
  • 1 TBSP Kruidenoten Spices *
Melt the butter and dissolve the sugar and pancake syrup. Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the other ingredients. Mix well, put the dough in the fridge for two hours. Roll it out en cut out small squares or circles, using not more than a teaspoon size of dough. Bake 15 minutes at 175 degrees Celsius/350 degrees Farenheit.

Pepernoten are the original Sinterklaas-related cookies, though they have been replaced by Kruidenoten in popularity. They look the similar but taste blander. Kruidnoten are crispy like
Speculaas, whereas pepernoten have more or less the same consistency as gingerbread.

This spice mixture can be varied if you do not have all the ingredients, 20 grams/4 TSP of allspice can be substituted for cloves/white pepper/anis/coriander.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Clean...

Having been raised on a farm in Texas, I grew up thinking that dirt was a good thing, as the quality of the soil directly affected the crops and therefore the family income! I played with mud instead of Playdough. Sweat was natural and odors were common. And dust was a fact of life and we just never got too bothered about it. Only as I got "citified" did things change somewhat, to the point where I was advised by my children's doctor to NOT bathe them more than 2-3 times a week or less as they both had very sensitive skins and were better off with their natural protection. However, as my husband will testify, I still don't get too bothered by dust...*sigh* I will never make a good German "hausfrau".

But while I am not the cleanest of housekeepers, I do know a lot about cleanliness, indeed some things I wish I didn't know... (keep reading at your own peril!!)

  • The human body is home to over 1000 different kinds of bacteria. In fact, there are more germs on your body than the population of the United States. We actually have more bacteria living on us than there are cells in our bodies!
  • Housedust is composed of fibers from carpets and textiles, mold and plant spores, food and plant fibers, dander and skin flakes from people and animals, insect and spider parts, pollen, small bits of paper, household insulation and foam backing from carpets, and other minute particles. Dust mites feed off of dead skin cells and of course their excrement also makes up a component of dust. It is this substance that is one of the most common sources of allergens and what people refer to when they say they are allergic to "dust".
  • Sorry to disillusion some of you, but there is no "5-second rule" when it comes to dropping food on the ground. Bacteria need no time at all to contaminate something, all they need is contact!
  • And yes, in theory you can catch some diseases by sitting on a public toilet seat. Such locations have been found to have both common and unfamiliar strains of bacteria such as E.coli, hepatitis A, streptococcus, staphylococcus, and shigella, as well as strains of common cold and flu viruses and sexually transmitted organisms. But if your immune system is healthy and you always wash your hands afterwards, then you are at very little risk. Most disease-causing organisms cannot live long on the surface of a toilet seat and the chances of contamination to your buttocks or thighs could only occur if you have an open wound when sitting on one, and even then it is very unlikely.
  • Killing all bacteria, however, is actually less healthy as most of the over 1000 species of bacteria that make their home on the human body are beneficial to us in a mutual relationship -- we keep them alive and they keep us healthy. Despite some advertisements to the contrary, the more bacteria free you are, the more vulnerable you are to disease.
  • Another reason not to invest in anti-bacteria soaps, is that they have been found to be no more effective at preventing infection than regular soaps. In fact, those products containing triclosan actually can alter hormone levels and reduce libido.
  • Recent studies of children have shown that those who had an "overly hygienic environment" during their early years (up to age 10) were more at risk to develop asthma and eczema as well as more prone to allergies as they got older. One of the theories behind these results is that the young immature immune systems need to be challenged on a broad scale in order to build up a flexible pathogen resistance.
  • The origin of soap was actually a waste product of wood ash and animal fat that was polluting the Tiber river coming down from Mount Sapo. Women found it aided in getting their clothes clean when they did the laundry on the river's banks.
  • And early anti-bacterial substance that was used by Egyptians as well as Aztecs was urine. The key chemical in it, urea, was actually effective in treating cuts and burns as it kills bacteria and fungi which are the major sources of infection.
  • The founder of the Methodist church in the 1700's, John Wesley, is the author of the famous quote "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." but he was actually referring to clothes, not personal hygiene.
  • Society was not always so picky about personal hygiene. In Roman times, the sweat, dirt and oil that a famous athlete or gladiator scraped off himself was sold to their fans in small vials. Roman women reportedly used it as a face cream.
  • The medieval saint, St. Lutgard's saliva was believed to heal the sick, as were the crumbs chewed by another saint, St. Colette. A man sent from England to the Netherlands for St. Lidwina's washing water, to apply to his afflicted leg. The water from St. Eustadiola's face- and hand-washing was reported to have cured blindness and other illnesses.
  • Austrian men would place a handkerchief under their armpits while dancing and when it had soaked up their sweat and scent, they would use it to wipe the face of the woman they were courting, believing she would be aroused by the odor and fall in love.
  • King Henry IV was one of the first royal monarch's to try and move his society towards more cleanliness as he insisted that his knights bathe at least once in their lives during the ritual of knighthood. The rest of society, however, remained firm in their beliefs that bathing was unhealthy. Queen Elizabeth I was regarded as a model of cleanliness in her time. She declared that she bathed once every 3 months, whether she needed it or not. Actually the custom of daily bathing is something that has become common only after the 1950's.
  • Monks of an offshoot of the Hindu religion in India, the Jain Dharma, are forbidden to bathe any part of their bodies besides their hands and feet. Their belief is the act of bathing might jeopardize the lives of millions of microorganisms.
  • If you eat a lot at fast food restaurants, you might want to skip this factoid! Recent investigations have shown that the ice machines in fast food restaurants have more bacteria and higher concentrations of harmful bacteria than the water in your toilet bowl (assuming you keep your toilet reasonably clean). Fresh toilet bowl water is not necessarily contaminated and pets drinking from the toilet bowl may know more than their owners about clean water!
  • Most infections are transmitted by people handling something with germs on it and then rubbing their eyes or putting their fingers in their mouths or touching food that then goes in their mouths. Actually the mouth has a lot of natural defenses against germ attack. "Mother's spit" is not as unsanitary as it might seem as saliva is a natural anti-baterial fluid!But our eyes have very little natural protection.
  • One of the most contaminated objects in hospitals are TV remote controls! They are worse than toilet handles and are believed to be a major contributor to the estimated 90,000 annual deaths from infections acquired in hospitals.
  • Sufficiently grossed out now? Thought so! I will therefore refrain from the various facts about dental hygiene and lavatory practices except to refer back to back to last week's Tidbits: NASA spent over $23 million dollars designing the toilet for the Space Shuttle which uses suction technology of 860 liters per minute so that it will work in zero gravity (part of the reason why positioning oneself on the seat is so important). Still, I think that is an awful lot of money for a toilet that sucks...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yes, NASA is bombing the Moon, no, they are not after Osama Ben Laden...

This week, Friday, 9 October, 2009, NASA will send a missile into the Moon at twice the speed of a bullet. As part of the LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite) mission, scientists have selected a target close to the Moon's south pole. At this time the plan is to target crater Cabeus A, but the exact location is still being determined based on data and information that scientists and mission controllers are gathering as the satellite approaches the moon.

This mission was launched back in June and is part of an ongoing program that NASA has to try and find any water ice that might be trapped in crater shadows. The Moon is primarily an airless, dusty/rocky desert and about the only place where water could be trapped is in areas that do not receive any sunlight. Water is a critical component in making any manned moonbase project a success. Transporting water and other goods from Earth to the moon's surface is expensive. Finding natural resources, such as water ice, on the moon could help expedite lunar exploration.

The missile impact is expected to be so powerful that a huge plume of debris will be ejected. Just as the impact of the Shoemaker-Levy comet fragments into Jupiter revealed a lot of information on the compostion of Jupiter's atmosphere, scientists hope hope that water ice or water vapour will be ejected in the cloud that is thrown up from the impact. As the ejecta rises above the target crater’s rim and is exposed to sunlight, any water-ice, hydrocarbons or organics will vaporize and break down into their basic components.

Following the missile, another part of the spacecraft will be taking pictures and analyzing the ejecta for evidence of water. The instruments include two near-infrared spectrometers, a visible light spectrometer, two mid-infrared cameras, two near-infrared cameras, a visible camera and a visible radiometer. The spectrometers analyze the breakdown of the ejecta materials into their basic components. The infrared cameras will help determine the amount and distribution of the water vapor and the visible camera will tract the location of the impact and the debris plume.

All this will take place in just four minutes and then this craft itself will crash into the Moon itself, producing an even more spectacular explosion. What is interesting about this is that this second explosion should be visible in the 10-12 inch and larger telescopes of amateur astronomers! The projected impact at the lunar South Pole is currently: Oct 9, 2009 at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Savings Time, which is 9 hours behind Central European Daylight Savings Time of 1:30 PM. So we in Europe won't get much chance to have a peak, but if you get up early enough in the US, depending on where you are, you might be able to see it.

Otherwise, NASA will be providing a live broadcast of this event starting at 3:15 AM PDT which can be seen online: Additional information on the LCROSS mission can be found here:

No, this is not an attack on an alien base on the moon. Nor is it a misguided attempt of Obama's administration to root out a new Al-Qaeda hiding place. It is not vandalism or scientist's frustration with the lack of funding for space science. It is a valid and useful experiment and a good way to find information without the expense and hazards of a moon landing to bring back samples to Earth.

And while there is some controversy about such an experiment, it should be noted that this is not the first impact by spacecraft on the moon. This past June, the Japan space agency, JAXA, sent its robotic probe, the Kaguya spacecraft, on a controlled impact into the moon after the completion of its mission and the exhaustion of its fuel supply. As this happened on the dark side of the moon, there was not a reach chance to view the ejecta from the impact, but there was a brilliant explosion that was caused purely by the energy of the impact and it was viewed by a number of astronomers with some spectacular images captured by the Anglo-Australian Telescope in New South Wales.

And in 2006, ESA's SMART-1 concluded its scientific observations of the Moon through a small impact on the lunar surface. This kind of conclusion to a lunar mission has actually been common through the years and scientists have watched them closely, gleaning what additional data they could from the debris of such impacts. Observatories around the world have conducted fast imaging of impacts and of the associated ejected material, and spectroscopic analysis, to try and find hints about the mineralogy of the impact areas.

However, this "accepted practice" has not caused the controversy in the past that this week's mission has raised, with some folks exaggerating the impact crater size as being up to 5 miles, others stating that it " contrary to space law prohibiting environmental modification of celestial bodies." And even some folks worried about it triggering potential "...conflict with known extraterrestrial civilizations on the moon as reported on the moon in witnessed statements by U.S. astronauts." *sigh*

In truth, there is no actual explosives on board, and the impact vehicle is just the upper stage of the rocket that launched the mission in the first place. It is estimated that it will excavate a crater approximately 20 meters wide and almost 3 meters deep and more than 250 metric tons of lunar dust will be lofted above the surface of the moon. It is not expected to be a spectacular explosion. Though at this time it is unknown about the kind of response we can expect to get from the lunar aliens... (this last sentence is just a joke!!!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why I Should Be Glad I'm NOT an Astronaut...

OK, I admit it, I am an ├╝ber-geek. However, for most of my adult life I have been in a position to explain very technical things to non-technical persons (laypeople). Thru the years I have acquired a broad base of factual knowledge that I constantly add to. This comes in very handy at social occasions when stimulating "small talk" is appropriate, and also makes me very good at playing Trivial Pursuit.

As I kind of use this blog as a conversation with yawl, my "Dear Readers...", I decided to start a little project I am calling "Tuesday Tidbits" in which I will be posting a collection of what I consider are interesting facts on various subjects. If you also want to play along, drop me a line and I will mention it here. And if I can get inspired, I might even come up with a cool button to go along with this.

Today, I give you some of the facts that I use to help me overcome that twinge of regret at "the road not taken", namely "Why I should be glad I'm NOT an astronaut..."

  • It stinks. Literally. And we are talking nausea-inducing smells sometimes. While the current ISS is not nearly as bad as the old Russian MIR space station, and after an hour or two the sensation wears off, those first few hours can be very hard. Where do the smells come from? Well along with the outgassing from plastics and synthetic materials, you of course have a mixture of various body odors from astronauts who have not really had a good shower during their entire tour of duty and who have only one set of clothes. And of course various lingering food odors, and the residue odors after the food has been "processed" by the bodies of the various ISS personnel. (See below where I talk about the toilet). Oh yes, there are fans and scrubbers and additional oxygen is added, but just ask any sailor who has served on a submarine...these devices are far from perfect! Yes, the human nose is adaptable and very few visitors to the ISS will really complain about the small inconvenience this poses, but the fact stinks!
  • At some point in time, everyone who travels to space gets space-sickness. The space docs know this is caused by the inner ears being confused by the lack of gravity and the visual cues also being mixed up. Sometimes it is not only nausea, but also headaches and loss of body and limb sense. Can you imagine not knowing where your arm is? Seriously, it doesn't sound like fun. I mean I've been on dates in college where the guy claimed to not know where his hand was, but I think this is a bit different...
  • Weightlessness may make the scales go to zero, but it makes you look fat. We are talking serious bloating here. Fluids shift upwards and towards your extremities, sinuses congest, faces get puffy, we are talking some of the worst symptoms of PMS here. Not attractive!
  • In addition, weightlessness causes bones to lose calcium and increases the chances of forming kidney stones. Here I am already fighting osteoporosis on the ground, and outerspace would do even more damage in a very short period of time. Not only that, it causes muscles to atrophy and the heart to shrink. Can you imagine how much extra exercise those astronauts have to do to combat those problems. (I hate exercise by the way, so this really is a negative for me!!) The fact that one gets taller (up to 2 inches or 5 cm!) is some compensation, but it only lasts while you are in space.
  • Sleeping arrangements are kind of odd. Most astronauts attach their sleeping bags to the wall of their little cubicle. Except there are only 2 cubicles and usually a minimum of 3 crew members. The odd astronaut(s) out are allowed to attach their sleeping bags anywhere inside the space station. Astronaut Susan Helms slept in the huge Destiny Laboratory Module by herself while she was living aboard the International Space Station. Some of the shorter astronauts, who of course do not suffer from claustrophobia (something astronauts are screened against), have even made a nice little nest for themselves in the larger storage drawers.
  • While the astronauts are scheduled for 8-hours sleep periods, their circadian rhythms are often thrown off by the 16 sunrises per day. Shuttles command crews have even more difficulty when they try and sleep in the cockpit with bright sunlight and warmth entering the cockpit every 90 minutes, though sleeping masks do help. The good news is that most snorers are reported to stop snoring while they are sleeping in space.
  • It is a good thing that most astronauts don't snore in space, as all noises are heard while living in such cramped quarters. At least those that are above the ambient noise level which has slowly been rising as more and more experiments and equipment is installed on the ISS, although some improvements have been made. All ISS astronauts used to have to wear earplugs all day, but now are only required to wear them 2-4 hours per day. That did not stop two ISS crewmen from suffering permanent hearing loss during their 6-month stay that ended in April.2006, as reported by Russian authorities, though NASA refuses to comment on the health of individual astronauts. The living quarters of the ISS is the noisiest module, with current goals in the sleeping cubicles at a maximum of 50 decibels (dB) and in the work area of 60 dB. Decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, meaning 60 dB is 10 times louder than 50dB. For comparison, most window air conditioning units or washing machines or your electric toothbrush operate at noise levels of around 50 dB, while phones, alarm clocks and vacuum cleaners operate at around 60dB.
  • While there are some funny videos of ISS crew members eating in space, in truth it is more of a chore than a pleasure. While swallowing in zero gravity is not really a problem, getting some flavor into what astronauts swallow has been. Salt and pepper spices in liquid form have been included. All food is canned dehydrqted or otherwise packaged so it doesn't need to be refrigerated. In fact, there isn't anything served cold on the ISS, it is either heated or served at room temperature, nor is their any fresh fruits, vegetables, etc. Most things have some sort of sauce on them so that they will stick to a spoon, a fork is not needed. And of course the antics of squeezing things from plastic pouches and maneuvering food from containers to mouths requires a lot of concentration. It is not a good idea to have bits of dinner floating about in the space station...
  • Which brings us to the next topic...going to the bathroom in space. NASA did make an attempt a building some sort of waste elimination facility into its space suits, which meant a fitted condom attached to a waste packet for men and a molded gynecological insert for women...but it gave up and passed out diapers to all. Both the shuttle commode and the ISS have bathrooms, but using the toilet requires that crew members precisely align themselves in the dead center of the seat. A mock-up of the toilets is used during astronaut training, complete with a built-in camera and personal technician to aid in viewing the video to assist in training all the crew members on how to position themselves. One would definitely have to lose one's modesty in order to become an astronaut... Oh, and I guess I should also mention that just recently, while the ISS was boasting of its largest complement of crew members, 13 in total, one of the two toilets failed. It came close to being a real crisis before they got it repaired.
  • While zero gravity may at times be fun, returning astronauts report extreme difficulty in moving and controlling their arms and legs after touchdown. But the biggest adjustment comes for crew members who have spent longer terms in outerspace who say they have to remember that when they let go of objects, they fall!
  • And of course there are the dangers no one wants to talk about, like radiation. Radiation inside the ISS, as on the former Russian space station Mir and the Space Shuttle, is actually released by the materials that make up the vehicles and is caused by the cosmic rays colliding with the hulls, releasing secondary particles. While the exposure of a crew member spending around 3 months time in this environment amounts to the equivalent risk of someone on Earth getting radiation from natural sources in one year, it is therefore deemed an " acceptable risk". The problem is, that the effects of this kind of radiation on the body are not well understood. And there is not clear way to translate the estimated radiation exposure into the increased risk of cancer. One study puts an estimate of a 20% higher risk of dying of some kind of cancer, and a number of crew members who have spent 6 months or more in this kind of environment have already shown chromosomal abnormalities. It is therefore impossible for authorities or even the crew members themselves to make an informed decision about the potential damage their job may be doing to their health. Sounds pretty risky to me...
  • And then the biggie, the vacuum of space. Now science fiction movies like to show people exploding. Actually, you wouldn't explode, unless you were holding your breath, in which case the sudden depressurization would cause your lungs to rupture. But lack of oxygen in your blood would be what kills you, and that would take about 2 minutes, and you would probably be conscious the whole time. Of course it wouldn't be pleasant, as water on your tongue and eyeballs would boil away (not from heat, but from the lack of pressure). Scientists know this from and experiment where a space suit failed and the tester was exposed to near vacuum for 15 seconds. Thus far there have not been any ruptures to the ISS and it has had a number of hits from micro-meteors which have damaged several systems, but nothing critical...thus far.

So, once again I have talked myself out of any regrets about not following that career path. I'm glad I wrote this down, as sometimes I do have to go back and read it to remind myself, especially about the camera in the practice toilet...!

Tune in next week for "It's Not Easy Being Clean..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Way It Goes...

OK, I guess it is about time I "come clean" and admit that behind all the geekiness, buried beneath all the layers of "Domestic Goddess", prior to the addition of DDs and DH to my life, even before my "Excellent European Adventure", I was....a rock chick. I will give you minute to digest this and allow you to form your own mental images of this as, thankfully, there are very few pictures of this time. Oh, there are a few polaroids that show the purple streaks in the long blonde hair, and the leopard-print jacket (that I still own BTW, though it has been used as a Halloween costume a couple of times by the kids). And no, I did not wear a dog collar and did not go in for piercings. I was more New Wave techno-rock than hardrock or metal (think Devo rather than Rolling Stones). But I was very much a part of Dallas's Deep Ellum alternative culture scene in the late 80's, going as far as being not only a groupie to a number of bands, but even worked as a roadie and a back-up singer! In fact, one evening at the 500 Cafe, I was onstage for a couple of sets after Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. If I ever figure out the the connection between Paul Simon and Kevin Bacon, I will have my 6 degrees!

While I am sure there is some bad video in which I can be seen, I am not in possession of it, and most of the photos I have are ones where I was holding the camera, so I can't even show you me onstage. And the one album I was on only came out only on vinyl, and I am listed as an "Executive Producer" rather than back-up singer (meaning I loaned my electronic keyboard and was a go-fur, critic, adviser, cheerleader, tamborine player AND back-up singer!). And even if I could show you such a video clip, I am not sure I am as brave as fellow geek/blogger Jeff. I'm sure at some point my DDs will take a look at this blog and I am not sure if I am ready to endure their peals of laughter at their Mom's wilder days. And so I chicken out and provide you with this link, showing T-4-2 in their post FA days when they actually had a contract with Columbia and made a couple of CDs and went on tour and everything.

So as my contribution to Soccer Mom in Denial's

I give you T-4-2 performing "The Way It Goes". I used to sing and play in this one, but not in this video. I let your imagination run wild! Now I will go skulk away in embarrassment...

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The world did not end yesterday, despite what predictions you may have seen on YouTube. I waited until it was "today" all over the world before announcing this, just in case. While I have never bought into numerology or astrology, the significance of this calendrical anomaly has caused me to stop and think a minute.

It represents the last set of repeating, single-digit dates that we'll see for almost a century(next one is January 1, 2101).

No matter how your culture writes the date, in the Gregorian calendar, it is the same all over the world. (In Europe for example we write date-month-year, in the US we write month-date-year, in some computer programs, data is sorted year-month-date.

Lots of folks got married yesterday. I mean LOTS of folks, all over the world. No excuses for those husbands to forget their anniversaries!

A few lucky children in the world turned 9 years old yesterday. Some of them even got their pictures in the paper because of it. How cool is that!

Apple iTunes 9 was launched yesterday. This new version supports Blue-ray technology. I know a number of technogeeks are celebrating.

All 13 albums of the Beatles were digitally remastered and released yesterday. Anyone got €200 to spare (about US$ 300) ? Now for me, this is reason to celebrate! And the video game the Beatles Rock Band was also released, for those who want to try and imitate these legends.

The significance of the number nine should also be examined. It is known that if 9 is multiplied by any other number, from 2 to 9, the two digits of the answer will add up to nine. For instance, 2 x 9 = 18. 18, made up of 1 and 8. (OK, yes, I am a math geek.)

Tim Burton released his new film "9," an animated tale about the apocalypse, yesterday. It is supposed to be the next cult hit.

In some cultures 9 is lucky, but in some it is just the opposite. For instance, in China, nine is associated with long life due to its similarity in pronunciation to the local word for long-lasting. While in Japan, the word for nine is a homophone of the word for suffering, so the number is considered highly unlucky.

One thing you couldn't do yesterday is look for LOLcats. It was declared A Day Without Cats. But you can find them again today!

Numerologists (please note, these are not scientists!) believe that mystical significance or vibrations can be assigned to each numeral one through nine, and different combinations of the digits produce tangible results in life depending on their application. As the final numeral, the number nine holds special rank. It is associated with forgiveness, compassion and success on the positive side as well as arrogance and self-righteousness on the negative. I have not yet heard their self-congratulations on how right they were...

Google, in its new tradition of creating logos for various occasions, marked the event at 9:09 in the US with a special logo . Some folks consider this further proof that Google is run by aliens.

Some biblical mystics also weighed in on this date as being very auspicious, as it is the upside-down number of "the beast" - satan = 666.

Internet marketing got a "boost" yesterday. Not sure if this is a good thing, but Stompernet has reduced its membership fee from $800 to $1.99 per month.

There was nothing significant that I noticed in my life yesterday. but if you had something in yours, please let me know.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Dark Side...

OK, I guess it is time to share one of my dark secrets. I am a closet goth-metal fan. Well kind of. At least I am a fan of one band of this genre, Evanescence and their lead singer Amy Lee.

So, as one of my long-missed entries into Soccer Mom in Denial's

I give you "Broken", which she does with Seether. Gloomy I know, but like singing the blues, it somehow makes me feel better... (sorry you have to go to the link yourself, I still have figured out how to embed a video!)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Letting Go...

Summer is over. Maybe not officially. Maybe not according to the weather in your area. But here, the rains and winds have arrived, and the only soft fruits available on the markets are some pale, imported strawberries and hard but not very sweet nectarines. We are fortunate with our blackberry bush in the backyard that will keep giving my DDs their daily snacks until November. But they ripen more slowly as there is less sunlight on a daily basis now.

The change in this part of the world is very noticeable. Already there is a chill in the air and leaves have started turning and falling in anticipation. I am cold already! For a little while longer it will still be light in the mornings when we get up, but that will not last. We get a short reprieve with the change from the Daylight Savings Time, but as it doesn't occur until the last Sunday in October, (25th October this year) it almost seems like too little too late. By the end of this month it will get darker and darker in the mornings, dawn arriving almost an hour later than it does now.

And as if the weather, the length of days, the lack of soft fruit selections and my aching bones were not enough to indicate that summer is gone, the kids have started back to school! While I have actually thought I looked forward to this (as do so many Moms!), somehow this year I am a bit melancholy. You see this year DD2 started in middle school. She was so excited and has taken the change in venue and routine as a new adventure. Unlike with DD1, she was not at all afraid and not lacking in confidence in any way. In some ways she is a lot more mature than her older sister.

And that, I guess, is my source of anguish. I have lost "my baby". She appears to be wiser and smarter than I think of her. Her favorite phrase lately is "I know Mom!" And she does. And I knew this day would come and have tried to prepare myself. But I find myself mourning for the loss of her childhood just as much as I do the end of the long, warm, lazy summer days...

My Granny, my mother's mother, used to say, "Raising kids is a series of little deaths and letting-go's". I guess she knew what she was talking about.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Can she bake a cherry pie...

Well I now consider it official, summer is on its way. Despite the fact that I still need a sweater because the Dutch weather is basically cold! And despite the fact that my allergies tell me it is still in the middle of spring. Today I found the sign that tells me that warmer, sunnier days are definitely on their way...cherries! Beautiful, dark and bright, rich, florid-, scarlet-, crimson-, claret-, magenta-, vermilion-, titian-, maroon-, garnet-, wine-, cardinal-, burgandy-, ruby- and camine- red-colored fruits, fresh from the orchards. It used to be that strawberries were my heralds of summer. But nowadays it seems with the innovations of greenhouses and artificial environments, those berries can be found almost year-round. And something is lost in them. Rarely these days do you find a container of strawberries that exude the essence of the sun they have captured.

But cherries are still grown on trees, in orchards and still need sunlight to ripen. And that sun, even though it may shine in a different time zone (the ones I found today I think are from Israel) not only turns them those luscious colors, and sweetens them with a natural taste that can't compare to any chemical flavorings that science can come up with, but it also sends a promise...warmer days are coming!

I did think about baking a pie, but a kilo doesn't seem to last very long around here. Maybe I need to go to the market again tomorrow...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Home is Where the Heart Is

There come times in the life of every ex-pat when you get so "homesick" that it could almost be diagnosed as depression. I use the plural here, because it happens more than once, and each time is different and calls for a different "cure".

For new arrivals who are just settling in, the first bout hits about 6 weeks into their new adventure. That's about when the "new" wears off and the supplies from home start to run out and suddenly there are the cravings for familiar favorite foods or TV programs or toiletries or even toilet paper! Kids are whiny and cranky but usually easily distracted by a special treat or outing and they will usually recover within 24 hours. Adults generally need a good "moan" (to use the British term) where they can bend a friend's ear about how ridiculous they find the rules/food/TV programs/prices/traffic/weather/etc. in their new home. With this remedy allowing them to vent their frustrations, they too can recover in a day or so. If, however, their friend happens to be back "home", the the remedy will only prolong the suffering as they will not really get the release they need and often will end up feeling even worse after such a conversation. So the tip here is: If you are feeling homesick during the first 3 months of your ex-pat status, DO NOT CALL HOME!! Instead find another ex-pat who has been here a bit longer and pour out your heart. I promise, you will feel better for it.

Subsequent bouts of homesickness will occur over the next 18 months, but generally none will be as severe and during these times it will often help to touch base with the folks back home to find out that you are not missing as much as you thought you were. Some families even return for a visit during this time and find out that they have already adapted to their new ex-pat lives so well that they have things they really like about living in their new country. In fact, this can be a fairly idyllic phase, allowing the ex-pat to appreciate the things about the new life while still cherishing a lot about "home". If departure for home occurs at this time, it will be with a small amount of relief, few regrets, and a lot of good memories. Most of the frustrations will get lost in the mist of time and chaos of new adventures and there will generally be no lasting bad impressions.

However, after about 2 years in a foreign land, an ex-pat starts to find that things they have been a bit irritated about or disliked slowly become true annoyances and points of contention. It usually starts out slow, with a build-up of frustration over a number of small things, but at some point it becomes a real rage accompanied by tears, curses, angry tirades and outbursts often at some undeserving target and it is not really as recognizable as "homesickness" until one gets down to the real root cause of the anger and discovers the pain. In the depths of one of the meltdowns, the sufferer will inevitably utter the phrase "I want to go home..." at which point it becomes clear: Phase 2 Homesickness is in full manifestation.

For those ex-pats who can see the end of their exile coming within a year or so, such an interlude can usually be suffered through with the promise of relief circled in red on a calendar. Kids can be helped by getting to actually count down the days until they know they will be back on familiar territory. Adults can be ameliorated by mass quantities of alcohol and/or chocolate, and phone calls to friends and family where they make plans for when they have returned to the fold.

But there are those ex-pats who face a longer term of re-location, possibly with no definable end in sight. For these poor suffering souls, the "homesickness" can take on new depths and can last for up to a month. While the standard remedies mentioned above do provide some relief, they are not sufficient. A higher level of intervention is required, namely: "Find home where you are." By this I mean that those cravings that have been suppressed, those longings and the feelings that you are missing out on "life", those deep urges for your "native culture" need to be met in some fashion. I have a few suggestions for this:

  1. Find other ex-pats from your home country, preferably some familiar with where you were living, and spend some time with them.
  2. Eat comfort foods you grew up with. This may mean paying the high prices for ingredients that you find in ex-pat shops (I mean $3.50 for Kraft macaroni and cheese?!!) but consider it as medicine rather than food.
  3. Have your family and friends back home send you care packages including the local newspaper, Sunday comics, books, magazines, favorite cereals and candy, special treats that you have been missing.
  4. Put together photo albums of your ex-pat life including pictures of things that are so different and unusual that the folks back home would not believe it without seeing it. As an alternative, you can blog about it some of your experiences or write in a journal or newsletter home. Taking yourself out of the experience to look at it as an observer will help to relieve some of the tension that has built up from living it.
  5. Watch TV programs from your home country. Search them out on the internet, or rent video compilations. Even if all you can find is local news programs online, get yourself a good dose of your home culture and daily life. If you can't find TV, then read newspapers from home or magazines or watch an old movie you saw originally when you were home. Indulge yourself, get immersed in it, recall the feelings of being "home". And if all else fails,
  6. Go somewhere else for a while. Take a long weekend or a week vacation in a different country. Experience anew the uncertainty and frustrations of a foreign country and you will come back to appreciate how well you have adapted to your adopted home.
A word of caution here: Despite how tempted you may feel to run back "home" to try and relieve your symptoms, this solution usually will only backfire and cause your misery on returning to your ex-pat life to be compounded. So while a trip to a different country can help, a trip to the home country will usually only make things worse and cause the homesick period to last a lot longer.

After more than three years as an ex-pat, the bouts of homesickness come at random and sometimes unexpected intervals, but primarily they are mild and can be headed off with one or more of the suggestions above. But...

Every once in a while, something will happen to trigger a very serious episode where thoughts of just chucking everything and running back to your "old familiar life" become almost overwhelming. And even after living overseas for over 23 years now, I find myself succumbing to this sickness and thinking totally irrational thoughts. And the really ridiculous part is I have lived as an adult overseas now for longer than I have lived as an adult in what I still somehow consider "home". But there is no explaining that to one's heart.

The trigger for this, ironically, was our quick trip back home to visit family during the May break. We only had 13 days, and that was already taking DD1 out of school for 3 days. But after traveling time and jet lag there were only about 10 days and despite cramming in an activity or visit almost every day, it wasn't enough. I barely got to gab with my best girlfriend, I didn't get to visit more than 15 mins total with my sister-in-law, I was limited to a lunch visit with my best guyfriend and his family and a quick overnight trip to see my favorite cousin. I feel like I hardly had any time with my Mom. And of course because I was traveling with my family, I did not get to overindulge (like 3 or 4 times) in eating my favorite foods, or have a chance to just gab and gossip without being constantly interrupted, or do any real shopping (the trips to Walmart to stock up on necessities and groceries with family in tow DO NOT COUNT!!). And it rained almost every day so I did not even get to experience the usually warm Texas weather. In short, despite being "home" I did not get to feel "at home". It was, like all vacations for mothers accompanied by their families, a short period of intense stress and chaos and with very little downtime.

And instead of feeling like I was recharged by my visit, I came back uneasy and irritated and mad at all the daily life irritations that I usually just ignore. I hate the traffic. I can't find anything that I want to cook or eat. I absolutely despise the weather and can't seem to get warm enough, despite it already being June. There is nothing I want to see on TV. I can't even stand the songs on the radio. And I am so tired of speaking a danged foreign language I cannot tell you. I find myself becoming stubborn and critical of everything and almost paralyzed at starting anything. I don't sleep well at night, and I am tired and cranky during the day, and I am generally just a miserable person to be around these days.

So I find myself following all my best advice, indulging in moan-fests, eating comfort foods, catching up on American sitcoms on the internet (including programs I don't really follow regularly but have heard about), pouring over US magazines that I rarely even glance at on the newsstands, and still I find myself angry and depressed and frustrated and generally just hating my life.

Therefore I have finally "broken the emergency glass" and booked a trip back home, alone, for 3 weeks, did I mention by myself? Now if I can only hold out until 10.July without driving everyone around me crazy, maybe I will recover enough to come back and I won't have made everyone so mad here that they will actually be glad to have me come back.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"...If you’re traveling with a child, place your mask on your face first, then assist your child.”

"...put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help those around you." If you have ever travelled on an airplane, you have heard those words or other similar emergency instructions. And if you are like me, you have listened to them and known they made sense. And Oprah has had various shows counseling the wisdom of such advice in other situations, the message being "Look after yourself first so that you can be in better shape to take care of others."

But whoever wrote those words obviously was not a mother. Sorry Oprah, I know you mean well, but until you have been a parent, you don't know what you are talking about. Or maybe you do, as I don't know the sacrifices you would be willing to make for your 4-footed babies.

It isn't just the daily interruptions: answering questions while we are on a phone call, missing our favorite TV programs in order to calm last-minute homework meltdowns, interrupting our bath ritual to stop a squabble between siblings, letting our kids have the last cookie or finish the ice cream telling ourselves we don't really need the dessert, forgoing that pair of shoes for ourselves so that we can afford to give our offspring that wardrobe item that would break our budget.

But tell me what mother, what parent for that matter would deny their child blood, bone marrow, kidney, lung liver, skin.... anything that could be given that would help their child in need. The costs in money, health, emotional distress, job security or anything else be damned.

We all do it. We consider it part of the job as a parent. You give yourself to your children and pay no attention to the toll it takes. And even when you do know, when you realize that you are on your last nerve, you are draining your batteries, that what you are doing or what your child is putting you through is raising your blood pressure, aging your body, greying your hair, making you a nervous wreck, driving you you stop?

I don't know how you answer that question for yourself. I know that everyone has their own limits. But for me, as long as I hold out hope that whatever I am doing, all that I am going through, all the frustration and stress and worries and tantrums and breakdowns will eventually lead to a better life for my child and a light at the end of the tunnel (even if I can't see it), means that I will sacrifice myself, my health, my sanity, my self esteem, my happiness whatever it takes.

And make no mistake, dealing with a teenager means you sacrifice a lot. Dealing with a troubled teen means the cost can be very dear. Which is to say that my health is suffering. Weight problems, blood pressure issues, fatigue, listlessness, mood swings, low resistance to every germ and virus that comes around, etc. And while I know what causes it, and what I need to do about it, I have not yet gotten to the point where I can "put on my own mask first".

I know I need to. I plan to. One of these days I will. Soon. I promise. But right now I just don't come first. I blame Mother Nature.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Getting back on the horse...

I know. I've been gone. A while. Sorry. It was a lot longer than I expected. But tbh I just have not had the energy to do more than hold my life together with chewing gum and baling wire (at least that's how we fix things in Texas and that's how I feel like I've been surviving so far).

But if a life crisis has drawn me away from blogging, a mini-crisis has drawn me back. You see, I am losing one of my best mates here. And while we have not had the almost daily interaction that we once had as she already left me once to move a 40+ min drive away, I did get to see her on a regular basis and now I face the prospect that this will no longer be the case. And believe me I am kicking myself that I did not make more of the time in the past year to avail myself of her physical presence. Most of you readers know her just from the virtual world. I was blessed to play with her IRL. And believe me, you come away with your face hurting from smiling, your sides hurting from laughing, and your perspective on the world slightly askew just because she has made you see things in a different way.

One of the things she has opened my eyes to since I have known her is just how much my life here as an ex-pat is different from what it would be in the US. Her blog has basically been about her own experiences here and I identified with her a lot and also saw so much more of how I have adapted to my surroundings after 20+ years overseas. Some things are very frustrating and are part of the usual rants that ex-pats share when they get together. Others are very unique and enriching experiences that add so much to our lives.

So while I can in no way follow in the footsteps of my dear Jenn, one of the things she has taught me is that maybe I too have "Something to Say...".

So if you are here my dear readers.... "she's back!!"

Out of the mouths of babes....

During our recent visit to Texas, my Netherlands-born children made some very astute observations about how different it is to the country they live in.

  • DD2 said, "Mom, in Holland they have their flowers in the fields but in Texas they have them on the sides of the road and in the middle." For those of you who have not experienced Texas in the springtime, you don't know what you are missing!

  • DD1 observed, "In the Netherlands and Germany you can always tell which buildings are the churches, they are always decorated and built different. But in Texas they all look like the Walmart." While she is not completely correct in her observation, her comment is a lot closer to the truth than I had realized. I didn't point out to her that Walmart is often where families go on Sunday instead of church...

  • DD2 asked, "Mom, how come the cows in Texas are only one color?" Tbh, this is something I would have never noticed!