Rainy days, screen time and play dough.

The Dutch have *many* weather words… Motregen is one. It’s not quite rain, but it’s thicker than mist. It doesn’t look too bad, but it gets you soaked really fast. I’m normally quite firmly in the “No bad weather; only the wrong clothes” camp (I should read that book everyone’s been talking about). However. Motregen + strong headwind on the bike definitely counts as bad weather. It was miserable. Instead of my planned park outing we decided to go home and have hot chocolate and wait for the weather to change. It didn’t.

We don’t do a ton of screen time with the kids, but short inspiring videos can really feed their imagination. We watched this short documentary on a traditional bread baker and Sirocco was enthralled. Of course, as soon as it was over he wanted to watch more, of anything. But if I’ve learnt one thing in the last few years of mothering it’s how to redirect attention! “How about we pull out the play dough and YOU can be a baker!” He was sold. Both kids rushed to the play kitchen and pulled out play dough, rolling pins, cookie cutter, plastic knives and carefully brought them back to the table. I brought out some extra flour for extra realism (and partly because of slightly sticky play dough – cream of tartar is not the same here I think…)

Mistral went straight to her usual  game of bashing the dough with her hands and rolling pin with loud exclamations, but Sirocco tried some new things. His play reflected the attention he paid. Trying a new role, imitating the careful motions he had seen. Still-chubby small hands trying to move like the rough but skillful ones he’d watched a few minutes ago. Furrowed brows as he selected from his little tools the one that most reminded him of what he had seen. Observing. Learning. And of course commenting…

“Maman. That is NOT how we make bread at home!” But maybe it will be how he does, someday.

Love,
Belligerence&Chocolate

 

{SQT} Nature study notes – Wet Winter

1- The Plan

In an attempt to get more intentional about heading outside and observing nature (in spite of the damp and cold) I got myself a copy of Exploring Nature with Children. It’s a really lovely year-round nature study curriculum and so, with excellent intentions, I wrote in space for it in our weekly schedule (which I vaguely follow). Of course, Nature has her own plans… Wild windstorms on the day we were planning to head out. No problem, I thought, we’ll go tomorrow. Then Sirocco was sick. The next, next day, he seemed better in the morning and a rare Dutch Winter sun was shining!! We would eat lunch and head out. But then he didn’t eat lunch. He went to bed and fell asleep immediately…

2 – Sunshine

Thankfully, my mother in law was visiting and volunteered to stay with him while I took Mistral out for a much needed airing. As I mentioned, it was sunny.

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3 – At the park

We got to the park across the street, it was lovely, sunny. We spotted birds – crows, seagulls, blackbirds, black-capped chickadees. And of course, various dogs with their owners.

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4 – No bad weather, only bad clothes

We made our way to the swings and felt the first raindrops. But it was windy, and had rained earlier, so it was *probably* just coming off the trees. And the big black clouds over there a bit further than our house were *probably* getting farther, not closer. It was, in short *probably* not about to pour on us. And it didn’t. Not exactly. It hailed. Out of a sunny sky. Mistral’s expression summarizes my feelings. We were wearing the wrong clothes for this.

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5,6,7 – Low key street-nature study

So, until we are over this bout of illness, we will talk and read and watch documentaries about the weekly theme and just keep an eye open when we are outside anyway… With the strange weather we’ve had here there are quite a few early signs of spring cropping up, and it’s a joy to watch the kids notice them (and insist I take pictures).

 

Hope you are keeping warm and dry and make sure to check out the others at This Ain’t the Lyceum! Happy weekend.

Love,

Belligerence&Chocolate

One of those days…

{This post contains random unrelated photos from a hike we took this summer, because sick kids and existential questions are not especially photogenic}

It’s been a long one and a tough one. The kids are sick, which is never a good start. Well, actually it’s slightly worse than that. One is sick and sleepy and the other is a fiery bouncy ball of wild toddlerness who can’t understand why I won’t take her to the park… Oh, did I give away which is which?

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Sleep has been scarce for the last week or so, mainly due to a cold featuring yo-yo fevers that go away and spring back at you unexpectedly. You never know when someone is going to wake up dripping with sweat, or suddenly feeling better and hungry for a snack.

Of course, this is always the prime setting for an existential crisis. That and the two-day migraine at the start of last week, before the kids got sick. I think that the basic culture shock is starting to wear off, and now I’m just struggling with where I fit in here. I was adamantly against putting our children in the International School, because I didn’t want our life here to be in a little “expat bubble”. I had lofty ambitions of picking up Dutch effortlessly and quickly and fitting right into the local community.

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I guess I forgot that “fitting right in” has never really been what I do. Anywhere. Ever.* Even my best and tightest knit groups of friends have come together because we were misfits in some way. A bit dreamier, but with varied dreams. A bit too loud about a few of the wrong things, not the same things, but close enough that we could talk about them. Writers, but not in the same genres. Artists or artisans, in different media.

If I’m honest, with myself and with you, there’s really something to be said for the expat community. If only because there’s that shared understanding that our situations are very different but, as the Queens of the Stone Age so eloquently put it, “Sometimes the same is different / But mostly, it’s the same.” The same waves of homesickness, the same confusion, the same uncertainty, the same difference.

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Maybe this relocation isn’t about adapting to my environment. Maybe it’s about creating it. Without the pressure of conforming. Because I have an out, I’m not from here. What would I do, if I didn’t know any better? How would I dress, eat, work, play, live, if I didn’t have cultural expectations ground into me? Where would I be, if I were wild and free?

I’m not from here. Perhaps now is the time to embrace that.

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Love,
Belligerence&Chocolate

*Excepting my own family of origin and the one we’re currently building, but even then, we’re a pretty odd and assorted bunch.

Sounds and smells.

The explosions started on the 28th and I think we only heard one or two today, so I feel like it’s over. The first ones on “Old Year’s day” started around 10. 10am. That’s right. Nearby and faraway, all over town, firecrackers, and later fireworks, fusing. For 4 days straight. Explosions in the street, crackling fires of old furniture, broken down bikes and dried out Christmas trees, shouts of joy, peals of laughter, car alarms, emergency sirens – to no one’s surprise.

The smells mingled oddly. Sulfur from spent fireworks, grease then delicious fried dough and sugar from the oliebollen carts scattered on every square, and through it all or enveloping it, the distinct smell of cool misty air that seems a bit too thick and too wet to breathe.

But the sights you ask? Not much to be honest. Until. Until the year was spent. And then – only then, magic. The sky lit up in all directions. You couldn’t turn and not see flashes. Gold and silver, red and green, purple and blue, bursting, twinkling, falling away. Starting back up, over and over, a minute, then two, then ten and twenty, for an hour, unstopping and another then fading, slowly into the now dark again night.

The New Year came in, with a bang. I hope it finds you well.

Love,

Belligerence and Chocolate.

And then Spring went straight on into Autumn…

Well here we are, it’s the end of November, my big boy is 4, my little girl is 2, and there’s another one on the way! We’ve moved half way across the world and are starting to settle in, but still don’t have the boxes we shipped over 3 months ago. I’ve concluded from these last few months that strict or even lax Minimalism is NOT for us. I’ve signed up kids for school and daycare – things that even a year ago I had not even considered actual possibilities for our family. (Someone used the term Recovering SanctiMommy in a Facebook group the other day and I’m adopting it!) As I look outside, I see that the patchy blue sky has clouded over and opened up with a downpour in the 10 minutes between getting home and writing these lines. This means that I’ll have to wake up  Mistral, stick her in some raingear and on a bike to go get her brother from school and pedal back home as fast as possible to try and keep from being totally soaked. So much for my brilliant plan of going to the park since it’s actually quite warm out today.

To say we’re having an adjustment period would be an understatement. I am happy though. There’s a big ol’ pool of peaceful water beneath the very choppy surface. And I’m here blogging again, so the storm must be passing…

Oatmeal (and a book recommendation)

I’m currently reading Balanced & Barefoot by Angela Hanscom (usually while out at the playground with the kids) and while it’s an excellent book, it’s a frustrating experience because her critique of current play and parenting trends rings a little too true (maybe I should stop reading it at the playground). I don’t have coherent thoughts to share yet, but hopefully I will be able to write them out soon. So for now, read it! It’s good! But read it with coffee, in your yard, away from people who might give you dirty looks for reading a book while your kids explore.

Now, important things in life: oats. (Books and play are important too, but those things don’t happen if there’s no breakfast!) For your entertainment and edification (and to see if I could ever hope to make it as a food blogger!) I took elaborate process pictures of our morning oatmeal routine. Excited yet?

In all seriousness though, oatmeal is great. I had always been more of a sugary cereal kind of girl growing up, and then I moved out and had very little money. Enter: oatmeal. Back then I just scooped out some oats from a big bag into a bowl, poured an approximate amount of water straight from the tap and microwaved it until edible. With molasses and a splash of milk it was enough to get me through my mornings of mostly boring lectures on Education in Ontario. After that, I gave up real breakfasts in favour of a wake up routine of espresso, chocolate and dried mango (with a side of literature), followed by a smoothie mid-morning. Somehow I doubt that particular paradigm would work with the small humans… This does though.

SUPER TASTY OATMEAL FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!!

  1. Toast your oats on medium heat in some kind of delicious fat. Pictured is coconut oil, but butter or bacon fat work nicely too. I make 1 cup of oats for our family (2 adults, 2 children 3.5yo and 18mo) but I think that will need to increase soon, as the small ones seem to be eating more every day.
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  2. Pour over twice as much water as you had oats (by volume). So here we used 2 cups of water (in my favourite measuring cup that we got from Kyle’s grandma’s kitchen things). Let this simmer away with occasional attention while fending off toddlers loudly requesting bananas.
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  3. While the oats simmer (and if you can distract the screaming toddler with a wooden spoon and a bowl so she forgets about the bananas) prep your add-ins. THIS ladies and gents, is where things get real. I am fond of desserts, and like to make fruity, spicy and even chocolaty (I mean, it’s in the name…) breakfasts. Today we’re chopping some nice dried coconut chunks, some maple syrup and (not pictured) some raw cacao nibs.IMG_0326
  4. Once your oats are looking almost cooked (or a bit earlier if you’re using dried fruit and want it to plump up) throw in those add ins, including the sweetener of choice if you’d rather avoid the 3 year old in your life adding his own preferred dosage of maple syrup… Not that I’m speaking from experience here. Look at that lovely pool of maple goodness! This is the point in the game where you actually give the toddler that banana and tell her to go put it on the table with some spoons, she can carry spoons! And wrangle any helpful older child(ren) into putting yogurt and fruit compote and bowls on the table.  IMG_0327
  5. And now! Into the bowl it all goes! The basic idea is Oats + Yogurt + Fruit. Today we’re lucky and we pulled out the last of the roasted strawberries from last spring, more often than not it’s applesauce (which is tasty but not quite as photogenic) or just chopped fruit of some sort. IMG_0328

So there you go. Oatmeal. SUPER SIMPLE. But also complicated. BUT! Delicious. Other than the “Banana Split” version pictured here, house favourites include:

  • Gingerbread (Golden raisins, ginger, nutmeg, molasses, pecans)
  • Camping special (Dates, almonds, cinnamon, brown sugar, powdered milk)
  • Swedish pastry (Cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, hagelzucker)
  • Apple cinnamon (Apple chunks, cinnamon, nuts)
  • Plain (Maple syrup, served with plain yogurt and apple sauce)

So, what’s your favourite breakfast? And what are you reading lately? And do you read at breakfast? 

Love.
Belligerence&Chocolate

Easter Eats.

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The candle is from Easter Vigil in Germany last year. I love it. We try and remember to light it during the Easter season.

Happy Easter! Holy week and Easter week have been rather bustling with activity, even though we did try to keep it rather quiet…

It turns out we really do like having people over and feeding them so in spite of having decided to just have a family Easter we changed our minds on Holy Thursday and ended up with 3 guests, a prime rib roast, rainbow salad, tiny roasted yams, carrot cake shaped like a bunny and friends bringing delicious Persian food and bakery bread and fancy petit-fours. Truly fancy local beers, red wine and “race-car cola” rounded things off nicely.

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Bunny cake! It’s a carrot cake because the rabbit ate the carrots so they’re inside him now.

We skipped my family tradition of making bunny-shaped orange bread for breakfast with excellent intentions of just moving it over to the 2nd Sunday of Easter, but that ended up not happening, so we’ll just try and get around to it sometime between now and Pentecost. Easter is a season, may as well take advantage of it!

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All the eggs in one basket!

We did manage to make time to dye eggs on Holy Saturday though (between getting Sirocco and Kyle new Easter hats and trying to get people to nap before the vigil). Neon-food colouring on hard-boiled eggs, with elastic bands and wildflowers as resists. Nothing too fussy, the kids are young. It was pretty fun and they thought it was absolutely magical. Mistral just stared and said WOOOOW!

We ate those and fancy rhubarb yogurt for breakfast before sending the kids out to hunt for candy filled eggs in the yard.

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She was more excited about the Easter grass in her basket than finding eggs…

Dinner was simple cooking, but tasty ingredients.Prime rib with salt and pepper, seared in the cast iron pan before going on the BBQ for a nice low and slow cooking. The key here is really to get the nicest meat you can afford. We don’t get this cut often, but when we do there’s no fancy rubs, no marinating, just making sure not to overcook it. Yams small and smooth, brushed with oil and tossed in a hot oven until tender. Rainbow salad (Sirocco’s favourite) red cabbage, baby spinach, yellow bell peppers, crated carrots, radishes and red peppers, carefully arrayed in a baking pan by your handy household 3 year old, sweet maple-poppy seed dressing drizzled at the table. It’s easy. It’s good food.

The bunny cake was this recipe more or less exactly decorated like a lovely spread we saw in the latest issue of Marie Claire Idées, my absolute favourite magazine. The round we used was a bit too shallow, even with two layers to give enough height to the bunny’s face, so I cut them in half and had four half-circle layers. The kid was satisfied and it looked quite nice from the front, if a little odd from the back.

Easter Monday we took a cooking break, walked over to the neighbouring bakery for chocolate hot cross buns, grabbed the leftover boiled eggs and let the kids play in the park. It was all in all a lovely and delicious weekend.

How was your Easter meal? Do you have strong food traditions?