Chilly Easter egg hunt

The Easter egg hunters

The Easter egg hunters

The chill was unmistakable and the forecast was true to the dot that the temperature will not rise beyond 3 degrees Celsius but to the kids, that was no excuse to enjoy this year’s Easter egg hunt.

The whole adventure started with the egg painting that I organized at home last Saturday and punctually at 3pm, I have them at the door ringing the bell. It was fun to have all six of them — my Francesca, brothers Evan and Ilyaz, brothers Luuk and Job plus their soon to be three-year old sister Vera. Together at the table, they all took to the work at hand, painting the 40 hard boiled white eggs and showing off their creativity and artistry.

The Easter egg hunt was agreed to be at the same place as the previous year…at Soesterduinen. We love this place which is just a few kilometers away but is simply perfect for very energetic kids to run around as it is a wide expanse of sand dunes with sparse islands of pine trees that are perfect for climbing and also for hiding the Easter eggs.

We stayed in the usual place, a perfectly shaded area of several pine trees with branches that spread far and wide. The grown ups enjoyed the usual catch up conversations over everything — family, career, holidays, etc. while the little ones were crazily looking out for the eggs hidden all over.

It was a lot of fun save for the chilly wind that made the 3 degrees Celsius felt even far colder.

The egg painters

The egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

Soon to be three -- now officially joining in the fun.

Soon to be three — now officially joining in the fun.

Francesca at work

Francesca at work

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

Eggs!

Eggs!

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids' energy were boundless

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids’ energy were boundless

Egg hunters

Egg hunters

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Francesca in search for eggs

Francesca in search for eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Easter bunny

Easter bunny

Delight at every egg find

Delight at every egg find

Soesterduinen -- such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Soesterduinen — such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Sands and trees -- perfect spot for kids to play

Sands and trees — perfect spot for kids to play

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

One happy family

One happy family

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Francesca with her friends

Francesca with her friends

Our family

Our family

Another happy couple -- their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

Another happy couple — their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

Heading home -- tired Francesca on her father's back

Heading home — tired Francesca on her father’s back

Queen’s Day at the tulip fields

Our little queen on Queen’s Day at the tulip fields

“Never let an opportunity pass by without giving it due consideration.” Weather-wise, this is my standing motto these days because in the whole month of April, we’ve hardly seen the sun and the temperature has been for the most part, chilly.

In yesterday’s Queen’s Day celebration, the weather did an unusual turn-around. Less than 24 hours before, I was still in my winter coat and then it was off to temperature soaring to as high as 28 degrees Celsius during the day. The party mode was on fever-pitch for the Dutch.

Not wanting to waste such a lovely day, I managed to persuade the Mr. to also do a side trip to the flower fields in nearby Flevo polder where we saw the tulips already in full bloom when driving through last weekend. We normally go to the Noordoost polder for our annual foray into the flower fields and our original plan to do that is still next weekend but seeing the blue skies, I just can’t wait for almost a week for that. Besides, there is no guarantee about a nice weather either and who knows, most tulips would already be gone by then when the farmer cuts the flowers to enable the bulbs to grow further. These fields are just a short drive of 20 minutes from our place so I see no reason why we can’t spare some time on this day.

Under sweltering heat at the height of the day, we were at the tulips fields in the polder. My little girl changed outfit to something close to the Dutch royal color and reigned over the fields in her faux jewelry ensemble which were hard won from throwing balls to a stack of tin cans from a distance in the fancy fair we went to the other weekend.

Year after year, I remain amazed by this staggering vista of tulips in various colors and varieties. I try not to give this sight a miss and why not, it is all for free, gratis et amore.

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Our family

Our family

Easter egg hunt in the dunes

My little girl and her basket of Easter eggs

My blog stood silent in the last couple of days as the frenzied activities during the Easter holidays left me with hardly any time to sit in front of the PC.

We sure had a great time doing this year’s Easter egg hunt though the temperature was not as warm as it was the year before. Thanks to the suggestion of our neighbor, we did the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen, a lovely nature reserve area which is pretty close to our place. The kids had a great time being let loose in a seemingly endless sand box. There were also trees that were just perfect for climbing and before long, all of them were up in the tree.

This place is one perfect paradise for kids and one cannot help but be charmed by everything it has on offer. To us parents, we could enjoy moments of lively conversation without worrying about our kids who are safe in all the games that they can think about in this place.

We will surely be back again when the weather warms up and all of us have a free Sunday to spare. The kids can hardly wait…

The sand dunes of Soesterduinen look like an endless sand box

Pine trees sparsely populate the sand dunes

These low lying pine trees with outstretched branches are perfect for climbing

Under the tree, we could have that perfect picnic

The kids cannot resist the lure of tree climbing

Such a huge area to run around and look for the Easter eggs

More eggs!!!

Too many eggs to hunt

Eggs were everywhere...even up in the tree

There is always that look of wonder and amazement with every egg find

Easter eggs ... both real eggs and chocolate ones

Seeking for more eggs

Tree climbing

Playing in the sand

Sand rolling

Friendly banters

Picnic fare

Easter bread

Orange chiffon cake

Pistolet with smoked salmon

Pistolet with Nutella

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Sometimes it is easy to climb but difficult to get down

My husband comes to the rescue

The rescuer

Our family

Family picture

The kids

The egg hunters minus one

My little girl’s fourth foray into the flower fields (Spring 2011)

Ask a typical Dutchman if he/she have pictures in the flower fields and you will get that bewildered look. It is also against their “principle” to go to Keukenhof which they say is just meant for tourists.

My husband never really cared about the flower fields nor ever been to Keukenhof before we met. It was like, “Why would I go to Keukenhof or why would I have my pictures taken in the midst of the flower fields?”. Being in the midst of flower fields or standing in front of the windmills are simply the most uncool things to the Dutch, especially the younger generations. They prefer to travel abroad and have their pictures taken in the most exotic locations. Don’t get me wrong there. I was the same, wondering when I was still in the Philippines and my husband (then still the boyfriend) wanted to have our pictures in the middle of rice fields or his pictures on top of the jeepney or among coconut trees.

Human nature I should say… We take for granted those things or places which are familiar and ordinary and we give more importance to those which we do not have or are unusual.

These days, we appreciate what is within reach, what is right before our very eyes. Our daughter provides us with a different perspective in looking at things through her young eyes. She shows appreciation and enthusiasm in everything around her. We hope that she will continue appreciating nature and its beauty and the many simple things in life.

These pictures were taken last year in the area around Zeewolde. We were on our way home after spending a lovely weekend with my parents-in-law in Dronten when we took a different road (a secondary road as opposed to the usual highway that we take) and saw these fields of tulips. It was already late in the afternoon but with the nice weather, we were seduced to have this photo session with our little girl.

Our family

Afternoon sun

Father and daughter playing the statue game

Pink tulips

Papa's girl

Among the red tulips

Me and my little girl

Among the white tulips

Playful pose

I got the odd one out!

Playful pose

Tulip fields

My little girl and me

Our family

Hurrah!

White tulips in the afternoon sun

Can I pick some flowers????

Let's hide from Mama!!!

The afternoon sun

White tulips

The apple did not fall off far from the tree -- A picture of us taken by Francesca

Setting sun

Mama, can you see me????

Our family

My little girl’s third foray into the flower fields (Spring 2010)

Another spring, another foray into the flower fields. Unfortunately, this was one weekend when the weather was not on our side. It has been raining for days so the tulip fields were very muddy. Still, we were not dissuaded to get our feet into the ground and have this photo shoot.

As I am going through my posts this week, it is a funny realization that I had been unintentionally documenting my little girl’s development through the years through these springtime pictures. Before her, I have been going to the flower fields and to Keukenhof almost on a yearly basis but hardly realizing what is different year after year.

Honestly, these forays into the flower fields are our family’s cheapest form of entertainment in spring as getting to these fields does not cost a single cent.

One afternoon at the children’s animal farm

This goat found her smelling nicely ;-)

My husband and I try our best to raise our little girl with awareness and respect for the natural world. On weekends, we can be found taking strolls in the forest or some park.

Three Sundays ago, we went for an afternoon visit to the city’s animal farm for kids which is actually run by volunteers. It is a very simple farm with goats, sheeps, peacocks, rabbits, chicken, calf, horses, etc. The nice thing is that children can come up close and pet these animals. The other time that we were at this farm was 3 years ago, also in early spring. At that time, Francesca enjoyed picking up the goat’s poop balls. She knew better this time and just had a great time chasing the small goats and trying to lift them up. At some point, she managed to have one of them to stay by her. They forged a lovely and friendly bond.

It was a cloudy afternoon till the sun started to break through the clouds

The sun breaking through the clouds

Showing how to approach a little goat


Be sweet not naughty ;-)


Showing the little girl how to treat a little goat - gentle is the word.

Running after a little goat

our family

Goats

Guinea fowls

Sheeps

Proud to share her story on how she befriended this little goat

Chasing the goats

Meeting a rabbit

We are friends

Sheep

Peacock

Playground inside the animal farm

"Wip kip" is how this stationary ride is called

Goat

With the Guinea fowls

Together we will explore the world ;-)

One unreachable castle on one fine day

Kasteel Biljoen

Being a big castle freak, I always plan our usual Sunday stroll to be in some castle grounds. We’re lucky to have several castles and palaces nearby but I also want to discover new ones. Two Sundays ago, the weather was so nice that it was a perfect time to go about castle hunting. I checked on the Dutch castles website and saw one which looked pretty in picture and so off we were to the town of Velp to check on Biljoen Castle (Kasteel Biljoen).

Unfortunately, the castle is off-limits to visitors as its previous owner, a baron who died in 2006 has willed that the castle will not be turned into a museum or open to the public. Instead, it will be kept as a private residence by anyone who acquires the castle. Disappointed at first, we found other ways to enjoy the day by going around the castle grounds and at some point, my husband and daughter devised a game of throwing stones to circular targets that they have drawn on the ground. My little girl just loved being out, being able to play with twigs and pretend fishing. I enjoyed savoring the early signs of spring…from the lone crocus coming out of the ground, to the cheerful pigeon up the tree, to the blue sky that reminded me that there will be more days like this.

Life can be fun even when our best laid plans do not work out as we want them to be. Beyond this castle, we discovered a lovely nature reserve area nearby and another castle… Will tell you more in my next posts.

Ducks swimming in the moat

The mound is the ice cellar which in olden times was used to store the ice blocks gathered in winter to chill food in summer

The moat

Chasing royal footprints at Paleis Soestdijk (Soestdijk Palace)

Paleis Soestdijk

The palace from the other side of the lake

Last Friday at noontime, we waited in bated breath for the news conference by the surgeons of the University Hospital Innsbruck to learn about the condition of Prince Johan Friso, the second of the three sons of Queen Beatrix. A week before the news conference, Prince Friso has been buried in an avalanche while skiing off-piste in Lech together with a childhood friend (the son of the owner of the posh Gasthof Post where the royal family has been staying for about 50 years of skiing in Austria). It was said in the news that he was not wearing the safety vest and that it took about 20 minutes to find and dug him out of the snow. From that time onwards, we did not have any news except that he is in critical but stable condition.

The news conference brought out the most feared prognosis on everyone’s mind. The prince who lay in coma may never regain consciousness again. The brain damage was just so severe due to lack of oxygen from the 20 minutes that he was buried in the snow and the further 50 minutes it took to resuscitate him. The doctors hoped that the mild hypothermia might have prevented that brain damage but that was not the case. A grim news to everyone and extremely much more to his mother, his wife, 2 little daughters and his brothers and their families.

Life is so fragile and happiness can be clipped in an instant. Here is a young and smart guy (he’s got MSc in Aerospace Engineering from TU Delft, who has the world at his feet and in an instant, everything has been transformed in such a nightmarish tragedy. I feel so sorry for his mother who I actually met in person last November at an affair in my former school. She attended the conference where President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali gave a lecture on the democratization process in his country and in Africa. I was standing close to the queen in the ensuing cocktail reception and much to my surprise, we were sipping the same wine and eating the same snacks. She was not a snob, much to my amazement as she listened patiently and chatted animately with the MA students who were also in attendance.

So much for my sad news, I bring you one lovely place where we normally go for our Sunday walks especially in spring. We happen to live a mere 15-minutes away from this simple royal palace with a lovely garden.

A royal palace that used to be the residence of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernard (parents of the reigning monarch, Queen Beatrix), Soestdijk reverted to state ownership and was transformed into a museum after the death of Prince Bernard a few years ago (Princess Juliana died a few years before him).

This is a very simple palace (we’ve made a tour of its interior in 2009), testament to the simple taste of Princess Juliana in her lifetime. A place full of happy memories as this was the place where she raised her 4 daughters, received foreign heads of states as well as the Dutch people who came in droves to greet her on her birthday on the 30th of April with her husband, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Happy occasions in the family were also celebrated here like the engagement of her daughters.

Late spring is the best time to be here at Soestdijk. On this visit almost 2 springtimes ago (May 2010), the weather was fantastic and the various types of rhododendrons were in full bloom.

Francesca had a great time today running around, doing her imaginary fishing and simply smelling the flowers. I love the sight of the lake lined by those rhododendrons of various colors. After a good walk through the palace grounds, I always enjoy a cup of cappuccino and some piece of cake at the Orangerie.

the lake

The enthusiastic little fisher and her father

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons

Ferns

The bridge

Red birch tree

Father and daughter

The chasing game

The little girl and the big tree

Orange rhododendron

Nature coming back to life

The fountain

One of the few sculptures inside the palace grounds

Trees coming back to life in spring

Father and daughter

Palace grounds

The little girl can be happy with just twigs

Father and daughter

The little girl and the palace

Palace grounds

Rhododendrons

Lilac rhododendrons

The Orangerie

An insect at work

The patient fisher

Yellow rhododendrons

Rhododendrons in full bloom

The little flower picker

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Me and my little girl

Paleis Soestdijk

Disneyland and a side trip to the Chateau de Fonteinbleau

The upside of a trip to Disneyland Paris is that it is possible to combine other activities in the visit which we did. No, it is not a sightseeing of Paris itself because that deserves a separate and dedicated trip but some shopping and a castle visit can be on the itinerary. We took a side trip to Chateau de Fontainebleau which was just a half hour’s drive and then we also went to La Vallee Village, a chic outlet shopping complex just a mere 5-minute drive from Disney park.

Our little princess in Chateau de Fonteinebleau

Our family

Trees in full bloom

The little princess inside the chateau (we just went to the loo)


Being not such big theme park enthusiasts, we were soon bored by Disneyland. The little girl was also intimidated by most of the rides and the park started to become very busy as the day progressed. Long queues to the rides were also very discouraging. Thus, we opted to drive to Fonteinebleau to see the castle which I have read about in Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda. I’m very curious of the Renaissance French chateaus and palaces.

The town of Fonteinebleau was very charming especially in spring when the trees are in bloom and so are the many spring flowers. The weather was pretty pleasant when we arrived in the afternoon though later it became a bit chilly and cloudy.

We went to the chateau but debated whether to take the guided tour or just explore the castle grounds. Guided castle tours were of no interest to a 3-year old girl so we opted to just explore the castle grounds. Our little girl in her princess outfit was just so happy to run around, feeling ever bit the princess of this former royal haunt. We will definitely be back to this place another time and will explore every nook and corner of this castle.

Inner courtyard

She's fond of picking flowers

The horse-drawn carriage

The driver of the horse-drawn carriage has this well-groomed moustache

Inside the carriage while waiting for more passengers

The little princess fell asleep during the carriage ride

The garden looks pretty bare but this must be spectacular in late spring to summer

The chateau was huge and it has a garden which must be spectacular in late spring and summer and a lovely lake. We rode in a horse-drawn carriage that took us around the sprawling estate that also leads to a adjoining forest. My daughter loved the ride (but eventually fell asleep). Later we just went around the castle and viewed it from across the lake. It was a picture-perfect sight!

The chateau from across the lake

Found this sight of the boat with the chateau in the background so enchanting

The Dutch and ice-skating: Why the passion?

The Netherlands is at the moment in an ice skating frenzy. Every canal, shallow lake and river which has frozen from days of sustained sub-zero temperature are venues for ice skating. Some places are holding ice skating races and a colleague of mine told me that there was even an ice disco at her parents’ place in Almere. We even came close to having the almost mythical “Elfstedentoch”, that almost 200 kms. ice skating tour/race that spans 11 cities up north in the province of Friesland. The whole country waited in bated breath for the decision of the Vereniging Elfstedentoch (Eleven Cities’ Tour Committee) last Wednesday if the tour will push through (the 16th in its history which dates back to 1909 and the first this century). Even foreign members of the press descended in Friesland to cover this event and were also betting for a GO on the Elfstedentoch which is hailed as the creme de la creme, the tour of all tours and the race of all races in outdoor skating event not just in The Netherlands but in the whole of Europe.

Frozen canal across the road from our home

The little girl getting her beginner's skates on

Baby steps to mastering the ice

The country got caught up in maelstorm of emotions that it will have its 16th Elfstedentoch this winter when the oftentimes very reserved and sceptical Vereniging Elfstendentoch had its first meeting earlier in the week. Then a contingent of 50-man army members were sent to Friesland to prepare part of the route, clearing the ice of snow so that the sub-zero freeze will still enable the ice cover to further grow especially at night. The Friesians also rallied to the challenge, mobilizing everyone to do their share in clearing up the ice of snow cover either by hand or with the aid of some ice-clearing machine. The committee requires that the average ice thickness to be a minimum of 15 cm. in the entire route in order to be safe to accommodate 16,000 skaters (not including the enthusiastic public who also step into the ice to cheer the participants). With all the news focused on economic troubles across Europe these days, the idea of Elfstedentoch was a much welcomed diversion. Hotel rooms in Friesland suddenly became overbooked and overpriced. The Dutch Railways (Nationale Spoor) was offering special tickets to Leeuwarden (the capital of Friesland) with 40% discount. In every nook and corner of the country the talk was only about the Elfstedentoch.

I was one of the millions who waited in bated breath for the press conference of the committee last Wednesday. And I was one of the millions who felt disappointment and sadness afterwards. The committee after consulting all the ice masters (Rayonhoofden) decided against holding the Elfstedentoch due to weak spots in some areas where the ice thickness did not meet the minimum standard. Some places have just around 10-12 cm. which was deemed to be not sufficient enough for a large contingent of skaters. The weather forecast also showed that the worst of freezing is over and the coming days were not going to result in more ice growth. The ever enthusiastic skaters asked that the minimum standard of 15 cm. be lowered (ice skating is already OK at 8 cm.) but the committee was adamant to keep it, justifying that it was already a reduced one from the original 18 cm. in the earlier races in. Again, this shows the Dutch pragmatism who will not be swayed by emotions that were hitting the roof for a go on Elfstedentoch for no one want to have on their plates the blame in case something untoward happens.

Never mind if the Elfstedentoch is not pushing through, the Dutch en masse are still off with their skating shoes and that will stay till the ice start melting. The training and passion start early and that is for my daughter as well who actually surprised us this Friday when on her third time on the ice (2 other times were in the ice skating rink after Christmas), she just took off walking quite some distance without falling. She has conquered her fear and found her balance on the ice. I know that just like with walking and other phases in her life, it will only go from strength to strength from here onwards.

Finding her balance and conquering her fear...this little girl is catching the ice skating fever

Finding her balance on ice

Baby steps to mastering the ice...papa still in the background

Baby steps to mastering the ice

Start-up lesson in ice skating

There were other kids also getting their introductory lessons on ice

Start-up lesson in ice skating

Learning the tricks of ice skating


Falling on ice is part of the learning process

Baby steps

Teens hit the ice right after school

Birds contend with a very small unfrozen area under the bridge

This bird with its spread-out wings caught my attention


To explain the Dutch passion for ice skating is to take a deeper look at the country’s geography, geology and history. Two-thirds of The Netherlands lie below sea level. I remember that as a child when I was presented this fact, I found it extremely difficult to imagine. How can the country not be overwhelmed by water when the sea water level is higher? In the Philippines, the land is never below sea level but we still get inundated by flood waters on almost a regular basis. Why is it different in The Netherlands. Then came the story about the dike that protect a village against the water and how this one little boy stuck his finger in a small leak in the dike which made him a hero.

The Dutch can be considered as among the most ingenious of people in the world for having mastered living in this condition of most of its land being below sea level. They created dikes and levees. They even reclaimed land from the sea. How did they do it? The Dutch since centuries ago learned to pump the water from low-lying areas with the use of windmills and channel them to a series of canals. The canals then channel the water to the rivers which would eventually empty into the North Sea. That’s the reason why The Netherlands has many canals and how swampy places like Amsterdam for instance, became a habitable place and was used as inspiration by Peter the Great of Russia to create St. Petersburg.

These canals would get frozen in winter especially when the sub-zero freeze goes on for a sustained period of time. I guess it is because of these conditions that the Dutch became very passionate with ice skating and the history goes to as far as the 14th century when they started using wooden platform skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater’s shoes with leader straps. Poles were attached to propel the skater. Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow metal double edge blade, making the poles a thing of the past as the skater could now push and glide with his feet (called the “Dutch Roll”).

While the Elfstedentoch is a “No Go” for now, the hope that it can still push through has not completely waned. THe temperature will warm up beginning end of Sunday till most of the week but by end of next week, there is a second freeze expected. Who knows, it might still happen…let’s keep our fingers crossed for now.

More pictures here:

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The magic of winter


After the generous snow fall of the previous day (Friday), we woke up to an amazing Saturday morning. The initial temperature was icy cold at -15 degrees Celsius which eventually warmed up to around -5 degrees Celsius. The sky was blue with not a speck of cloud in it and the snow covered trees looked like they were decked in diamonds and glittered spectacularly from the sun rays.




Too bad that my husband had to leave very early in the morning and missed all the fun, off to tropical Jakarta where the temperature difference that would greet him was around 45 degrees Celsius. He was so sorry to leave and to be missing the much awaited snow but work commitment calls.

My daughter’s friend was by the door at 9am, ringing the door bell for the continuation of the fun in the snow from the previous day. There is no better day than this to enjoy the snow with the sun and blue sky altogether. This is cheap fun too! With the crisis that is currently besetting Europe these days, many have foregone the usual winter skiing holidays in the alps or in Scandinavia. Getting this generous heaping of snow brought that winter fun right at our doorstep so why not enjoy this wonderful days of snow and ice.












Nothing is more precious than to see pure happiness in my daughter’s face as she glided downhill on her sled over and over again. She hardly noticed the passing of the time till she was exhausted and ravenous from hunger.

More pictures here:

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The Dutch Approach to Sex Education

I’ve been toying for sometime to write about this topic because I know that this is one relevant issue that confronts parents, children and the society as a whole. With population growth exploding especially in developing countries and the pressure on precarious natural resources mounting, there is a big need to address the issues on sex, population growth, and the dire economic consequences if we keep on with the status quo.

I come from the Philippines, the only Catholic country in the far east where the view on sex compared to The Netherlands where I now live is like night and day. Sex is something that is talked about in hush-hush tones and contraceptives are such a no-no especially if the very influential Catholic Church will have its way. They even threatened to excommunicate the president of the country for showing favor to the pending bill in Congress on Reproductive Health which will promote responsible sex and use of contraceptives.

Condoms and the pill


The Dutch approach is completely the opposite. Sex is a non-issue and is tackled just like any normal physiological activity of the human body. It is not sensationalized or attached with malice like the way it would be in the Philippines so it does not become a “forbidden fruit” for which everyone then becomes tempted to pick.

Sometime ago, I remember a conversation I had with an aunt of my husband. Being from the old school, she was peeved to learn that her 10-year old granddaughter (as well as the classmates) were to bring bananas to school because the lesson will be a demonstration on how to apply the condom. Such a generation gap! Her daughter (my husband’s cousin) found it funny that her mother was overreacting. In the Dutch academic curricular, lessons on the human body and its parts are given at six. Kids are being made aware of their body and how to take care of themselves at such a young age and what other people can or cannot do with them. That awareness also helps them from not being abused or taken advantaged of. I see nothing wrong here. Information and knowledge are power. Most cases of child abuse happen because children being innocent, are not aware of what are acceptable and not acceptable to behaviors of adults around them so abuses can oftentimes go on for years because adults with moral ascendancy over them perpetuate ignorance and fear.

Awareness of sex and contraceptives do not make children promiscous as contrary to the arguments put forward by people who oppose the idea of introducing sex education. The opposite is even true where repression of any talks about sex and educating the youth about this all but natural human physiological activity make them more curious to experiment which oftentimes lead to unfavorable outcome. In this day and age where access to internet is a common thing, it is so easy to just google the subject of sex. The thing is that if we do a search on the topic of sex, internet leads us to unsavory porn sites and that is where all the problems start. Doing self education on this subject rather than getting a proper lesson in school leads to the wrong ideas and expectations.

Growing up in the Philippines and being educated in a school run by nuns, this topic has been such a huge taboo. We were made to believe that even just sitting in a place where a male classmate has sat down will cause pregnancy. You can just imagine us with fans or magazines that we would put over any place where we would sit. Extremely ridiculous!

The Dutch approach is just the opposite. When children of maybe around seven begin asking their parents about how babies are made, parents will not tell them of the stories of storks bringing them or of bees and birds. The subject will be approached with a very truthful and clinical explanation which to be honest, makes sex the least interesting topic in the world in the eyes of children.

Bees and birds approach to discussing the issue is ridiculous to the Dutch. Issue is approached with all honesty.


Here in The Netherlands, children are given all the opportunities to be children and to savor childhood innocence. This is especially true when you see the lengths that parents would go to perpetuate the concept of Sinterklaas, the bishop who comes to the country from Spain every year on a steam boat aided by the Zwarte Piets (Black Peters) with presents for the children. The children are told that their behavior the whole year through is being noted by Sinterklaas in his big book and depending if they are naughty or nice, will get the kind of presents they deserve. The naughty ones only get a bag of salt. The point I’m making here is that this moment in children’s life when they still believe in Sinterklaas is regarded as very sacred by the Dutch. Out here, there is a time for everything…to be a child and to grow up well-informed of the essentials in life.

There is always a time to be a child...to believe in Sinterklaas

and Zwarte Piets


Time flies. It will not be long that my daughter will be asking questions about this subject and many more. She will receive honest answers from us for I am sure that with the upbringing she has, she will be wise and discerning enough to follow the right path. This is my take on parenthood. What about you?

One of my enchanted moments…a picnic in the park

One enchanted corner in the park


Picnic by the water


Father and daughter - my favorite subject


Our happiness as a family consists of simple enchanted moments of togetherness… a walk in the forest, a picnic in the park, a visit to a nearby castle or simple flower picking and blowing bubbles by the little girl in the neighborhood.

One warm and sunny day in late spring last year, we went for a picnic in nearby Groeneveld Castle. The castle itself was under renovation but its sprawling wooded park has remained open to the public. I love it there in late spring because the park was by then very green and the decades-old rhododendrons of all colors everywhere were in full bloom.

My daughter and me


Simple pleasure like playing with grass


We found a nice spot close to the water and under the shade of tall trees which was just perfect for a picnic. We brought a thermo of hot coffee, sandwiches, cookies, cola and apples. Now, who says fun should be expensive?

My little girl was animated by the amazing setting. My husband and I couldn’t suppress the sudden rush of childhood memories as we watched her doing all the things that we did as kids.

Tree climbing


I can’t wait for the time when the weather will warm up again to go back to this same place and re-trace our steps from last year.

My little girl

One warm spring day in our neighborhood

My little girl and the red poppies


Butterfly


Spring is a wonderful time here in Holland. Towards the end of the season when the daffodils and tulips have bidden their curtain calls, it is the turn of the poppies, dandelions and daisies to take center stage.

The little flower picker


I love it in our neighborhood. We have this long stretch of green area which becomes blanketed by red poppies, yellow dandelions and white daisies beginning late spring and way into the summer. My daughter who loves picking flowers just enjoy the amazing spread in front of her.

Yellow dandelion


Father and daughter


My family


I love photography and in spring that passion is ignited to fever pitch. There are just so many subjects to indulge into…from flowers to insects and most of all, my lovely little girl ;-).

Red poppies


A green insect


Dandelion


Pink blooms

More pictures:

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My memories of a lovely Friesian home

The Friesian home in summer

The Friesian home in summer


Outdoor breakfast on a sunny summer day


Just like in a fairy tale, my parents-in-law once upon a time, lived in my idea of a dream home…a lovely and cozy farm house way up north in the province of Friesland. It was a home like no other for every nook and corner had my mom-in-law’s loving touch. Mementos that filled the house had stories to tell from their times in Tanzania (Africa) and Suriname (South America) to inherited small things from both sides of the family. Simple things that we would normally overlook just blended in the whole set-up to make this almost 200-year old home acquire a character of its own.

The Friesian home in winter


Christmas


The cozy living room


The fireplace


My memory remains vivid of summer barbeques, of cozy drinks by the fireplace on chilly autumn days and of happy Christmas dinners. When I was in that home, all my cares in the world simply vanished as the love and warmth of my loving husband and in-laws reassured me that everything was all right.

It’s almost four years ago since they left that home to move closer to us so that they can enjoy the time with their youngest grandchild. They also realized that in their advancing years, maintaining a home like that was becoming a drain financially and physically. They had almost 30 years of fond memories which will see them through in the coming years in a new place they will call home.

The vegetable garden


Flowers everywhere


It was me and my husband who had difficulties with letting go because our infrequent visits were all filled with amazing memories. Our busy lives in the west kept us away because of the two-hour drive, but our days there were well-spent. In summer, we would spend there a long weekend timed on Dad’s birthday which falls on the sunny month of July. I would normally be busy organizing the barbeque which was always fun to hold in the sprawling garden which burst with blooms that only someone with the magic touch like Mam Sil can do. I enjoyed harvesting produce from the garden…from potatoes to beans, raspberries and strawberries. We cycled a lot too, and thoroughly enjoyed countryside bliss such as the sights of quaint villages and pasture lands.

My husband cherishes his memories of that home with fondness. The space afforded him in his teens the privilege to indulge in his passion for raising rabbits and pigeons.

We now only have pictures and memories engraved in our hearts when we think of those idyllic times way up north. Friesland to those in the western part of the country seems like another country already but it is a lovely province with people who are proud of their distinct heritage. They speak their own language and take pride of everything that’s truly Friesian — Friesian horses, Friesian sugar bread, Friesian cows, etc. And there’s one Friesian who’s hit the international scene lately. Her name is Doutzen Kroes.

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My city (Amersfoort) in early spring

Crocuses everywhere


Crocuses in various colors


Enjoying the sun


The city gate


There is nothing more exciting than the coming of spring that I look forward to every year. The long drag of winter especially after the snow or ice is gone simply gets too much that everyone here can hardly wait for the herald of the new season. Spring to me starts when the crocuses wake up from their slumber, sprouting through the ground and blanketing open spaces in yellows, whites, purples and lilacs. The Dutch with their passion for flowers and organization, ensures that spring follows a synchronized order with the daffodils following the crocuses in the blooming game. Tulips cap the spring beauty pageant.

My little girl wasn't able to resist the flowers


My advice to would be visitors to Holland is to come in spring. This country is simply awesome and experiencing this season here is the dream of a lifetime come true. Everywhere is abloom and going out is just a pleasure. If you are a photography enthusiast, you’ll never run out of subjects.

Running around enjoying spring


One early springtime almost 2 years ago, we went to the city center for a little stroll. Although temperature-wise it was still very chilly, the sun was shining and the sky was blue…just the perfect spring day for a little stroll. We had a great time just sitting on the bench enjoying the sun rays and admiring the beauty around us. And like any typical Dutch, we brought our lunch with us which we ate at the city square.

Centuries-old buildings


Centuries-old buildings in the city centre


Lunch at the city square


One of the city canals

We live in Amersfoort, a municipality and the second largest city in the province of Utrecht. It is a city with a long history having celebrated its 750th birthday in 2009. This city is known too by a few names such as the “City with a heart” and “Boulder City”. The former is attributed to the heart-shape formation of the city centre which is visible from the air.

Old map of Amersfoort (taken from Wikipedia)

Amersfoort is not part of the usual tourist route but below is a list of places to see when in the city:

1. The Tower of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwentoren) – one of the tallest medieval church towers in the Netherlands at 98 meters. The construction of the tower was started in 1444. The church was destroyed by an explosion in 1787, but the tower survived.

The Tower of Our Lady (summer picture)

2. The inner city of Amersfoort has been preserved well since the Middle Ages. Apart from the Onze Lieve Vrouwentoren, the Koppelpoort and the Muurhuizen (Wall Houses), there is also the Sint Joris Church, the canal system with its bridges as well as medieval and other old buildings, many designed as national monuments.

A canal close to the home of Piet Mondriaan

If you want to see more of the Netherlands and want to get away from touristy Amsterdam, hop into an intercity train to Amersfoort. The train ride takes just a good half an hour and you are already in this lovely city. It is also very much possible to make a side trip to Spakenburg to see those women in traditional costume (see my earlier blog about them). That is just a bus ride away from the train station.

More pictures of Amersfoort:

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New Year’s day surprise at Hernen Castle

After all the indulgences of the past week, we just felt that today, a walk is warranted. Time to shake off the extra pounds from all those rich dishes that we feasted on.

We were feeling a bit sad after breakfast when hubby’s parents bade their goodbyes because little daughter was so distraught so see her Opa and Oma gone. They came yesterday for hubby’s birthday and for the first time, we welcomed the new year together. In the past years, they normally came for their son’s birthday but never stayed for the changing of the year. They used to have a dog which was scared of the fireworks so they stayed at home before those big bangs start.

I quickly checked the internet site for Dutch castles, www.kastelen.nl for some guidance and found this one in Hernen whose plus point is that in case the castle is closed, we can have a good walk because there are suggested hiking routes. It’s new year which is considered a holiday so normal establishments are closed for business.

While we were driving to Hernen, the rain started to pour. It did not help that on the radio the weather forecast was suddenly announced — rain to continue for the rest of the day. I started to rue the decision to visit a castle and do some walking. With bad weather it seemed like a waste of time and petrol as this castle was a good 52 minutes drive according to the car’s navigation system. We could have just stayed at home.

I love castles and on Sundays when we would normally go for a walk, I love doing that against this backdrop. Castles to me are repositories of history from where I get a glimpse of how life was some few hundred years back. We have several castles nearby but I love exploring new ones. This one in Hernen seemed to be a nice one from the pictures, Medieval and well-preserved.

We arrived in Hernen at around 2:30pm and because the weather was gloomy, it seemed even far later than that. Daylight here in winter is short and when the sky is overcast, it seemed even shorter than usual. We parked the car and headed to the castle, assuming already that it must be closed. To our amazement though, the main entrance was open. When we entered the main door, we were led into a small courtyard and suddenly, the castle’s door opened and this old lady at the castle told us that there is a special show for children which is about to start shortly and we are very much welcome to come in.

What a wonderful surprise! She led us into the library where seats were assembled for the children and parents. In front was a makeshift stage and there was the lady performer with her props of guitar, accordion, flute, drum and hats. She started the performance shortly after we came in. She narrated a story of a brother and sister who were always fighting and very difficult and how they were sent away by their parents for misbehaving. The performance involved a lot of singing, role-playing, dancing, and the use of the musical instruments. Little daughter was mesmerized.

The show was amazing! The lady was really engaging and the children enjoyed the very interactive performance. Little daughter lost her inhibition and at one time, even volunteered to play the flute.

The show lasted for an hour and afterwards, we were even treated to free coffee, juices and cookies. What a great way to spend a Sunday and we didn’t even have to spend a cent!

We did a bit of walk after we left the castle. The ground was quite muddy though but it was nice to just have a breath of fresh air and to feel the raindrops on our faces.

How about you? How was your first day of the year?

For more information on this castle, here are some of the links I found on the web:

http://www.castles.nl/hern/hern.html

http://www.mooigelderland.nl/index.php?pageID=3281&n=&categoryID=1895

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