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

Last year’s Easter eggs hunt

The little ones and their Easter eggs find

Time flies, it’s almost Easter time again! Where did the year go? Memories of last year’s Easter egg hunt are still fresh in my thoughts but it is time for the next egg hunt again. To my daughter, life is moving forward and wanting the years to roll by so quickly while I am hanging on to every bit of her childhood — carefree days under the sun hunting for Easter eggs, blowing dandelion seeds away, climbing trees, going back and forth at the slide, running around with the other kids and many more.

One of my little girl’s favorite time of the year is Easter and the delightful event of Easter egg hunt. It is something that has become a tradition with us having started this on the first Easter when she could walk. At that time, the eggs were hidden in the confines of our small back garden.

Last year, we organized the Easter egg hunt with the involvement of children in our neighborhood. We were blessed with the perfect Easter weather — warm and sunny and the kids really had so much fun searching for the eggs hidden in the grass and other not so obvious places. I baked cupcakes while the other moms brought in the refreshments.

One more week to go and it will be the same frenzied activity again. My daughter can hardly wait…

On to the egg hunt

Searching the grass and weeds for the hidden eggs

Feeling fulfilled with every find

Happy with every sighting of an egg hidden in the grass

Weather couldn't be any better than this for the egg hunt

Maybe there are more eggs here...

Counting the egg finds

"Could we eat first?"

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Vanilla and chocolate cupcakes

Eating time after the hard work

More egg search

The parents minus me the photographer

Posing for mom

Childhood friendship

Flowers everywhere

Flowers everywhere

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 ;-)

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,639 other followers