Getting Chicken Pox After Being Vaccinated

Sometime ago, I had brought Petit-Homme to be vaccinated against the dreaded chicken pox. I learnt last week that the vaccine is not a complete shield. In a zealous frenzy, the virus took down at least 11 kids (at last count) in Petit-Homme’s class at crèche (including PH).  None of them had been vaccinated to my knowledge, and a few adults I spoke to were not aware the option to do it existed in the Netherlands. The last kid standing was unaffected as she had contracted it at 9 months, at another daycare (hurray communal child care!). Fortunately, he breezed through it easily with fewer than 20 spots on his body (only one on his face) and only mild itchiness and fever for a few hours. Crèche allows chicken pox victims to attend so I can attest to some very interesting sights and stories this week – a number of kids were blanketed in spots and some were forced to stay in bed with high fevers. Given that, I suppose even if the vaccine wasn’t 100% effective, it was better than nothing. (I had gotten a shot too, and so far no illness to remark upon..)

Funny how a £1 thingy can turn into your most hallowed possession

Funny how a £1 thingy can turn into your most hallowed possession

As most would know, calamine lotion is the chicken pox sufferer’s best friend for its instant itch-relieving powers. So I went scurrying around for a bottle. Guess what, the first pharmacy I went to said they “no longer sold it” for unknown reasons, and the second drugstore said “What’s that? How about some aloe vera?”  No one there had even heard of it. Bottomline, it seems to be almost impossible to purchase calamine in The Hague (though admittedly I didn’t search beyond those two stores as my British supplies mule was arriving in DH that same day with a precious bottle.)

I’m still very much a fan of immunizing kids against chicken pox. True, it’s only “one week of agony” but when life is already so full of unavoidable diseases, why not try to eliminate those we can?


Ketchup or Icing Sugar for Breakfast?

Ducks, the best friends of every toddler

Ducks, the best friends of every toddler

One of the clearest gourmet divides between the continent and the Anglo-American world, is the need for ketchup. I can’t have ketchup without fries, the same way butter with bread just makes the union all the more holy. No one is interested in ketchup around here. Its all about mayonnaise. If you pester your servers for some, you’ll get a miniscule amount and pay at least 50 cents for a serving. I guess I’m resigned to this now and have contemplated never leaving home without ketchup sachets. Only the fear of having to mop up a gooey mess in my handbag prevents me from such folly.

Shake it, baby

Shake it, baby

We were in Center Parcs Erperheide recently. (This is a forest getaway consisting of “cottages” in the midst of lush foliage, lakes and plenty of man-made structures to amuse kids of all ages.) In March, there wasn’t much verdure to speak of but the cold nullified any longing for it as it focused our attentions on the indoor entertainment.

The highlight of any place for me is often the buffet joint. It was interesting to see every table kitted out with a vat of icing sugar (poedersuiker) but not a ketchup bottle in sight. I had to cajole the staff into bringing me some, upon which one dish was whipped out with great ceremony. (The next day I remembered to ask for two dishes.) We didn’t touch the sugar as I am particularly susceptible to scaremongering articles about child obesity, diabetes, sugar addiction, hyperactivity, dodgy teeth, etc. Our neighbours however, were shaking that bottle like there was no tomorrow. Part of why kids around here are supposed to be the happiest in the world?

No winter in Europe for me

No winter in Europe for me

Anyway, this place was a cultural jolt in more than one way. Never mind the ketchup thing as I’ve totally scaled my expectations way down and am over-the-top friendly to staff throughout the continent just to finagle this. What really shocked me was the sight of smokers throughout the park. This is a place where hordes of babies and young children roam like hens in a coop, yet cigarettes are brandished freely right outside Baluba (an amusement centre) and “smoking areas”. I mean, smoking areas!

Don't you try to fleece me

Don’t you try to fleece me

Petit-Homme enjoyed himself to the max. He was howling with delight at the baby swimming class (best €5 euros I’ve ever spent in my life) and spun himself giddy on the carousel (most short-lived €20 euros I’ve seen to date!) despite tumbling once under the treacherous hooves of his spirited stallion.

Overall, an experience which taught me yet again, that what makes you happy, is what makes your kids happy. (So don’t get them hooked on ketchup if you intend to stay in Europe for the long haul. But too late for us as Petit-Homme eats ketchup even with dim sum.)

Toddler Seduction Tactics

I feel I kinda have a lot on my plate at the moment. But it’s pretty lame to complain when all sorts of mothers around the world experience the same type of grind. In fact, whether working/studying/full-time mommying, I reckon kids just somehow amp up the busy-ness factor amongst parents. It’s not the same type of “busy” that gives you cold solace in the [shallow] knowledge that you are advancing your career, developing your mind, gilding the piggybank, or bragging-under-the-guise-of-venting about all those “3 a.m. teleconferences with Tokyo”. Its a universal equalizer kinda busy, a glow-in-the-heart kinda busy, one that can never be postponed.

It’s sometimes a resentful sort of busy. I’m the sort who loves to plan pretty much everything out. And of course, timing is key. A dinner party the next day sans caterers means that the tables have to be set the night before and the family must nosh out of greasy cardboard boxes prior to the event. Timing is the most important thing in any endeavour involving food. This is why it is doubly challenging when you throw a young toddler’s precarious appetite and propensity for glazing the walls with meatball mash into the equation. Meaning, you whirl around like a dervish to make it for the set dinner schedule that all experts tell you is essential, only to find him gnawing on a box of raisins, and your hard work disintegrates in a black (plastic-bag lined) hole.


Honey-soy drumsticks… Less for Petit-Homme, More for Mommy

This Queen of the CrockPot recently realized that Petit-Homme intends to set the bar much higher. My one-dish “miracle stews” are too wet, unidentifiable, offensive when teething, and too hot when hungry. I thought I made some ingenious breakthroughs with Ikea meatballs and fish fingers, but apparently, that is so yesterday.

I discovered recently that the Dutch are the third largest consumers of sugar, per capita, behind only Germany and the US. However, kids here are also considered the “happiest” in the world. Never mind that this ranking says nothing about sugar. The fact that some mommies here reckon they’re all so happy because Dutch kids eat chocolate sprinkles for breakfast, is enough to make you pause and wonder.

Anyway, my latest offerings have been so dismal that I tried tonight to make a kid-friendly meal – an  offering for a deity. Honey-soy chicken drumsticks with baked sweet potatoes. My seduction attempts failed miserably. It seems raisins are more of a temptress than I am. (Looking forward to my octogenarian years then.)

Surrender to the Sugar Gods or strive on with home-made?

Vaccinating Against Chicken Pox

I hope I never have to know what chicken pox feels like. At any rate, I’m doing my best to save Petit-Homme from having to experience this unnecessary malady. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never had chicken pox despite my mother’s numerous attempts to expose me to the virus by hauling me to diseased relatives’ houses (she was a pioneer of the “pox party” before it became trendy.)

Today Petit-Homme watched the nurse stab him with the chicken pox vaccine with much curiosity but did not emit a single sound! He was rewarded with a Donald Duck plaster. Just FYI, the vaccination is not compulsory in the Netherlands (costs €55 if you insist on it). As the prescribing doctor explained it, the government conducted their cost-benefit analysis and figured that the “cost of vaccination would outweigh that of hospitalization”. Here, even measles vaccination is not mandatory and I have heard of some pitifully sick babies who went on to spread the love far and wide.

For myself, I had two options: (1) Undergo blood tests to see if I had already developed immunity to it – then return for a jab if the result was negative ; (2) Just get the vaccination. Since (1) would involve quite a few treks back and forth the clinic, only to possibly end up in the same boat, I opted for (2).

The Reams of Paper Needed to Process our Meds ...

The Reams of Paper Needed to Process our Meds …

Unfortunately, the provarivax gods were not cooperating and I was somehow unsurprised to learn that there was only one vaccine left in the entire international health clinic. (Sidebar – someone needs to do something about just-in-time delivery in NL: shops, grocery stores and pharmacies are always “out” of what you need! I’m not even kidding. Three days before our trip to Canada, Albert Heijn’s bakery was out of stroopwafel! That’s like Chinatown being out of soy sauce). I digress. I decided that Petit-Homme would get his today and I’d return later.

So, up to the second floor for the doctor’s prescription. Back down to the ground floor and a 20 minute wait for the vaccine to be dispensed. (see here for pharmacy grumbles). Then back up to the first floor for a nurse to stick it in.

Hopefully it will all go well. I’ll need to get mine ASAP as if PH does develop a mild case in 7-10 days (happens in 1-10% of people, how’s that for a vague statistic), he will be contagious and it would be unhumorously ironic if his immunization were to cause his mother to break out in spots. At any rate, I would thereafter be able to more graciously allow infested humans into my house – after having to deal with one awkward incident where a guest announced that she would be attending a party chez moi with her highly contagious baby ….

Lemon and Hot Water – Some Conclusions

Over a month ago, I was experimenting with drinking lemon juice and hot water first thing in the morning. I kept this up somewhat religiously for about three weeks, but stopped because I had a niggling flu for a little while. At that point, I experienced a painful tongue and wasn’t sure whether it was due to all that acid in the lemon! To be on the safe side, I took a short break. Since then, I have recovered and this has become more of a sporadic habit.

However, I will report that there have definitely been positive effects of this practice. I found that I snacked less capriciously in the morning and overall, it set a good tone for the day. As a result, the unforgiving second-skin skinnies are have been promoted the front of the closet again. (Best look for knee high winter boots, so it’s about time!)

Why I reckon it’s an effective habit:

  • It’s all about the ritualistic process. As Mireille Guiliano (author of French Women Don’t Get Fat) would say, “Il faut des rites”. We need our rituals to anchor the routine down for the day. Starting the morning off with a painless, effortless, delicious drink gets the motivation train running, and somehow we’re able to resist the bag of kruidnoten. (French women totally do get fat, by the way, but this does not detract from the advice).
  • Contrary to what I’d always thought about acidic food and drinks, it has an appetite-dampening effect.
  • Takes quite a bit of time to consume, so you end up saving the mocha latte for later in the day.
  • Breath ends up fresh as a daisy.

Love lemons!

Thumbs Up for BodyBalance

As a cardio junkie, it’s often hard for me to diversify into low-intensity workouts. After all, when I’ve peeled myself out of bed and the darkness outside promises only chilled fingertips and a runny nose, there’s got to be tangible results at the end of this ordeal. Results can manifest themselves in (1) calories burnt; (2) sweat puddles produced; (3) muscles throbbing with lactic acid; or, (4) adrenaline rush. (Back in my heyday, I used to burrow through -20 degree weather to attend 6:00 a.m. spinning classes. Nuts indeed.)

There’s a price to pay for everything. More and more lately, I’ve noticed aches and sores in my body, cymballing my ratcheting years. I’m negligent on the stretching front – often only throwing in a few token back and quad stretches after 10km runs. This, I fully acknowledge, is not commendable behaviour. Recently though, I’ve been quite surprised at the power of stretching in alleviating my chronic and recurrent muscle twangs – thanks to my mother’s daily proselytizing over the wonder of yoga.

Sashiko pants

Good enough justification? (Sashiko pants by Lululemon)

I’ve always liked the idea of yoga, mainly because of the outfits and the ‘toning’ illusion that is perpetuated by all the lean and wiry devotees. Upon further analysis however, I concluded that it is not yoga which leads to leanness, but rather that skinny folk gravitate towards yoga. Sort of how the more latitudinally-endowed usually like swimming, because well, you know, there are certain components of our bodies that float better than others …. (I like swimming. A lot.)

Lopa lole

From Yoga to the Wine Bar (Lopa by Lole)

I just can’t bear all the “umming” and “ahhing” and the sitting still for ages that yoga makes you go through. It’s dull and when a class costs €15, I reckon meditation should probably be saved for homework …

Due to some cardio fatigue, I checked out BodyBalance of LesMills fame today, for the first time. It’s a yoga-taichi-pilates mixey-uppy sorta thing with upbeat music (not just crashing waves or Yanni). It’s actually one of the few classes in my health club that require passes but I was forgiven for my ignorance and allowed to wedge myself into a pretty crowded room. The instructor, Katja, was super accommodating to the expats in the room and conducted the whole class in impeccable English. The poses transitioned into each other at a good pace without too much dwelling on any one theme and were hard enough to make me break quite a sweat but not too hard to send people toppling over each other. In short, I loved it. Especially when it came to the meditation bit, Katja did it wholly in Dutch, so I could phase out and concentrate better on my neighbour’s pedicure.

The Difference Between a Drugstore and a Pharmacy

In the Netherlands, there are two types of establishments purporting to sell you your pharmaceutical needs. Essentially, a pharmacy (apotheek) sells you drugs and some useful things. Conversely, a drugstore (drogisterij) sells you useful things (shampoos, vitamins, candies) and some drugs.

If you visit a doctor and need prescription medication, you need to get these at the apotheken readily identifiable by the shimmering green cross hanging on its outside wall. This green cross is a universal beacon throughout continental Europe signifying that help is close at hand. (But first, they will separate the wheat from the chaff by seeing how long you are able to wait before collapsing.)

In the several pharmacies I’ve had the privilege of huffing and sighing, I can promise you this behaviour was more than warranted. If you have three people in front of you, be prepared to wait at least half an hour. The pharmacists shuffle around, heads down, not acknowledging anyone, waving bits of paper in their hands – just going back and forth the pill cupboard and computers in anxious rumination.  When you do get to the front of the line, you’ll be amazed at the reams of paper and stickers that are required to dispense you a bottle of kids Vitamin D that doesn’t even need a prescription. By the way, things are out of stock very often, so if they have what you need, buy it in copious quantities.



My local pharmacy occupies a fair bit of space, thus requiring the employees to put in a lot of mileage to unearth a few bottles of skin cream. There are three cash registers but the staff use them interchangeably. What ends up happening is the queue sways to the right and left in rhythm to where the most alert staff is currently stationed. When I’m being served, I too do this “dance of the cash registers”. Two steps to the right (inventory check machine), two steps to the left, (typing out all my personal details), five steps to the extreme right (pointing out the Weleda oil), four steps back to the debit card machine, five steps to the left again (to continue conversing at the printer spitting out tomes). Instructions for usage are always in Dutch, but to their credit, the staff always take lots of time to translate it in English and to ensure you understand. (So, really, those aggravating non-Dutch speakers, like me, bear contributory responsibility for the growing lines)

To sum, if your request is somewhat benign and doesn’t require a prescription, try a drugstore for the basics like paracetemol, band-aids, and vitamins. They won’t have blood pressure medication, but if you can avoid the pharmacies, you may not need it.

Healthy Eating Habits at Crèche


Good thing I got my cake at home!

I’m happy to report that after two weeks at crèche, Petit-Homme seems to be settling in well. Morning goodbyes typically see 20 seconds of crying, and then he’s happy to play with his carers. I think what they say about not backtracking to comfort your child is true. I’m able to peek at him through glass panes after I exit the room, so I can assure myself that he has stopped crying. Going back in probably only reinforces the stress of separation.

Miraculously, Petit-Homme has been insisting on soothing himself to sleep now in his bed, instead of in our arms. Looks like he’s getting used to that independence at crèche – a really good thing as I was starting to wonder how to implement self-dozing!

He had a little birthday party the other day. The crèche has a low-sugar policy (really surprising given that many Dutch love their chocolate sprinkles on bread), so we were discouraged from bringing sweet treats. Health is a big deal at this place. For their meals, the kids get organic produce; quinoa, risotto, bulghur, free range chicken, salmon, fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.  The menus are posted weekly and there is an entire kitchen team dedicated to this endeavour. At Petit-Homme’s party, we were allowed to bring the teachers chocolate mousse cake, while kids tucked into yummy raisins. Petit-Homme even got a present from his teachers! As for his parents, we were forced to gobble down the two boxes of profiteroles we initially bought for the event. The sacrifices we make …

Lemon and Hot Water – Day 1


Can This Really Combat …

After two weeks of debauchery involving birthday cakes and All-You-Can-Eat Korean buffets, I reckoned Tuesday was a good day to jump back onto the health wagon. When I read the food journals of celebs, fitness gurus, anyone who made it on the cover of Shape, it seems they always start the day off with lemon and hot water. Though there’s much ado about cleansing and whatnot, I’m not at all interested in “detox” because all this “flushing out” business to me, is really just a business. (could always just down a couple of fresh guavas* …).

There are all sorts of reasons why we should. But I think for a healthy habit to stick, we need to find our own reasons for doing it. My reasons:

(1) It tastes darn good. Fresh lemon really rocks. Even as a confirmed lazy ingredient-substitutor, I won’t swap lemon concentrate for the real deal. Although I must admit, the seeds are a pain. Occasionally, I just swallow them**.


This and ….

(2) There’s a virtuous and spiritual feeling that comes after I finish my glass. Weird? Try it and tell me you don’t feel it.

And the zinger…

(3) Somehow it led to a total consumption of 1,425 calories today. Yes, yes, correlation is not causation. We’ll have to truck on with the trials and see.

*Not written by a health professional. Do not take as medical advice. In fact, don’t do this at home.

** Really, truly, don’t do this at home.