Monday, February 25, 2008

and todays smurf is...



Gargamel! For smurfs sake.. there's a jinx on my smurfs I tell ya! Why do I get all the grumpy ones? What the @#$^@ #$%#%^ smurf! Can't a smurf get any decent smurf around here?!!

It's enough to make a smurf smurf smurfing smurf.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

free smurfs today



One of our bigger supermarket chains regularly has silly promo-pranks to attract attention and clients. This time it is free smurfs. With every 15 Euro spent, you get a free smurf. I got two, the first time I went. Guess what.. Gargamel's cat. But when I unwrapped the second one.. I could so relate to the look on his face. Boy, are they a pair. I just couldn't help but sympathize with the little buddy.

To top everything, the green raven kid announced that he has got spring holidays this coming week. Just now when my clients are sending in requests like a swarm of mosquitos. His dad was here yesterday and beforehand I had been looking forward to that, I had bought cookies and nice things. But it wasn't any fun with the work looming in the background. I kicked them out of the house.

I did get a third smurf when I was doing the shopping for the cookies. It was a very grumpy little one carrying two buckets of water. I gave it to the raven kid. It may remind him of me while he is gone.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Milk bottle or dragon





Spider of the Year 2008



... this morning between my dirty dishes. I guess she was thinking of spending the day tucked away there, nice and cool ... she must have thought she was hiding under a stone. She had a bit of a shock when I turned on the tap to do the dishes.. and so did I! I never kill spiders but this one I was afraid to touch even though I know our spiders are never dangerous to people. I cut an orange carton and shuffled her in with a sponge. I worried that the acid might bite her so I washed it out first. She tried to wriggle away and nearly succeeded but fortunately she was too big to fit in between the cracks. I had just made it to the outside door and turned the key when she decided she'd had enough and gave a violent burst of wriggling spider aggression pounding at the sides of the carton. The movement of all her eight stamping paws was amplified through the aluminum lining. In a fit I just threw open the door and flung her outside carton and all. With a perfect homing instinct she instantly came running back to the house! I was frantic, but I still didn't want to kill her, so I waved the sponge at her a few times. Lucky for both of us she got the hint that time and turned the other direction. I've never seen her again. I'd know. Man she was huge.

She must have been at least almost one quarter of the size my sister gets in her house. Maybe one fifth. Or sixth. Ok, huge for Netherlands standards. She still frightened me though. The whole time though breakfast I thought I was chewing spider.

Monday, February 11, 2008

the key



The key of my bicycle lock broke off. It was very strange, I had just finished doing some shopping and it was parked in front of a bike shop. I had it unlocked but my mind was wandering, it happens sometimes, I find myself standing besides the bike with the chain and the lock in my hands and I forget which way I am going with it, so instead of putting it away safe, I put it on again and before I knew it I had re-locked it. But what was worse.. this time, I felt the key going mushy and the half I was holding was in my hand while the other bit stayed stuck in the lock. I must have had it coming. It has been used a lot and it was two years old. When the superkid - sorry - green raven - saw it later at home (I did get home) he said "but this is copper!" It isn't, it is a sort of yellowy steel. But apparently soft enough to break off there and then.

I was lucky. If I had kept it unlocked and gone home as I had intended it would have come off later and I would not have been in front of a bicycle shop. As it happens the bicycle shop was closed and for a moment I was at a loss where to go and ask for help to get the lock open. Can you believe it.. I walked around the shopping mall to find a male shopkeeper to help me? I might have known better. The owner of the flower shop came to mind, because his hands are always dirty which lends his character an air of reliability and possible skills with tools. Although a shovel and a rake would be a bit out of place. Next to the bike shop is the drugstore and next to that the toystore. I opted for the last one. The lady at the counter said she'd call for someone, and inconspicuously pushed a little something stuck on the bottom of the counter shelf. That must be the bell they had installed after the postoffice, which is also in this block, was victim of an attempted robbery a few years ago. Another lady came from the back. I attempted to look harmless and not like a robber at all while quickly showing her my key and explaining myself, and she called a man. He was carrying two large pairs of pincers. Everything was going to be allright. Relieved, I asked the woman if they happened to sell bicycle locks, because if her husband was successfull, which he was bound to be with those pincers, I would need a new lock. They did! I followed the guy outside.

First, he walked the wrong way. Ok, he had a fifty fifty chance, he missed. So what? I called him back and after I pointed out my bike, he looked at the bit of steel sticking out the lock and asked me wich way to turn. Dammit man, it is a padlock, all padlocks turn the same way, don't they? I gestured. He sort of pointed at it and it stayed locked. He then concluded that this was not going to work. I guess he still wanted to make himself useful, so then he started to proceed to advice me to call somebody to get my bike (I live three blocks away and I have a car, idiot, why would I have to call someone? I just want my lock solved. Now.) to which I mutely shook my head, and to explain to me where to move my bike if it was going to be out here the whole night, because apparently I "had nobody" I could call. I sort of felt myself go numb and didn't look him in the face anymore, I just said "yes" a few times and wished he would go, which he then did.

I was alone. I had no-one.

I took another look at the lock. The key bit was all in, it only needed to turn. I didn't know if that guy had not tried or if it hadn't worked, but to me it hadn't looked as though he had even touched it. You would have thought he might have worked a little harder for the opportunity to sell me a whole new lock, but no. Apparently not. Maybe it is his wife who owns the store. I rummaged in my bag for a pin or a bit of wire to get a grip on the cylinder and turn. I found better.. a screwdriver. You can be refused access to airplanes for carrying a screwdriver. I wriggled it in the lock. It turned. It opened like a charm.

I did go back and buy that lock. After all, it wasn't that ladies fault. She'd had the same idea that I had.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

crack the code



He chose the avatar on the left, he thinks it looks like him. When I tell him he looks more like Ben, he snorts. Ben "must be about six years old. At the most."

He writes down all his moves. The DS has got several computer characters you can pick from as opponents. 'Ben' is the one with the lowest rating. Green Raven is horrified that he even loses to Ben. "But how is that possible?!!" I exclaim in feigned horror, and he grins and says: "I must not be very good at chess". But this kid is not a quitter, and he is determined to get better. He has discovered that the computer always responds with the same moves if he plays the same ones. However, since he loses every game, that knowledge alone does not advance him much. Nevertheless he is convinced that the key to beating the computer is knowing what it will play before it does, and so he writes down his moves. Exasperated: "one little change and the whole series is different!". I tell him that chess is not like an adventure game that you can memorize the codes and find cheats for, but he won't let himself be convinced.

He earned this DS by letting me "squeeze" a dried out two year old pimple that he had been cherishing on his chin for far too long. Initially he had refused to let me touch it, because:

His class mate had had a pimple on his nose.
He and his mother had squeezed it.
Now he had five. Big ones.

Whenever I so much as pointed a finger at the pimple immediately he cupped his chin in one hand and with the other held me at bay at a safe distance. In two years his reflexes to this effect had grown to act so fast and efficient that he would probably still have the pimple at forty-five if I could not think of another way to get at it. Since violence was not getting me anywhere, I resorted to bribery. He fell for the Nintendo DS. He kept his word and his chin is now pimple-free.

A Ds is a Double Screen. When the DS arrived, it turned out to be a pair of DSses; there were two. I was very surprised because I am very sure I didn't order two or pay for two, but the second one comes in handy because they can connect by wireless which is much more fun if there is a pair of then than just one alone, just try. We enjoy the picture chat and we can play chess together. They are equipped with a little pen to write on the touch screen. One pen each, and two to spare. Or rather, I should say: they were. Because after three days, out of the four, we have one left. We lost three, without even leaving the house. That must be a record.


Friday, February 8, 2008

green raven kid BN




The green raven kid BN (previously known as the superkid) (It is an anagram of his name) (um yes I know what you are thinking, but BN is an abbreviation for "well known dutch person" - like VIP) so .. where was this going.. oh yes... green raven kid BN had a series of IQ tests done, because he had to be reassessed for this school. The score came back ... 58. Not mind shattering, almost the exact same as three years ago. His verbal IQ is 77, his performance skills are 38. It is difficult to translate all the legal terms but in short there is a large "internal discrepancy" in the cognitive profile which could lead to overestimating. A few years ago this freaked me out. Now I know it is a fact, I can't deny it, and it is for the best that he is in a protected environment where he can be himself and where he will not be abused of or neglected.

On the positive side he has got very high self-esteem and is very outgoing in social situations. On the negative side, he hasn't got a clue how he ought to behave socially and he doesn't know how to entertain relationships. That could be something genetic. I think I am better at maintaining a relationship with my tax office, after my last letter they actually sent me a notice that I will probably get some money back over 2006. In other words not to worry about the incredibly monstrous amount they are taxing me for 2007 and 2008. It is their way of saying they recognize there is a very high probability that there has been a mistake. I understand that, it is allmost straightforward. But my relationship with them exists mainly because they force me to keep in regular contact, whereas real friends tend to have the more subtle approach, which is much easier to pass by.

Just now the green raven kid BN asked me if I had read his report card. I knew he could not be talking about the same thing, and my little memory gnome tugged at the corner of my mind to tell me that I had in fact removed it from his bag this morning together with clean swimgear that his dad put in yesterday but that he did not need to take to school today because - in his words - the swimmingpool is broken.

The report card was on the table. I leafed through it. All his markes are "good" and "sufficient" and he even had one "exellent". He was positively glowing with my admiration. but he told me that possibly he just had a much nicer teacher than last year. He has got an analytic mind, that boy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

AU



Just that.. AU. No fever, no snot, just shivery pain all over. My muscles hurt and I want hot hot baths. I couldn't get to sleep last night so I put on an extra t-shirt - that makes three.. - and woke up in a swool of pet.. damn.. pool of .. oh you know what I mean.

I still had to go to work today. Such is the fate of the freelancer. Fortunately everybody is too busy to check on me, they just think I'm being very independent. And I was almost done with the job last week already anyway. I am doing a translation of a generic book of load charts, and so I had the luxury of being able to spend the whole morning looking up the two or three missing words, because nobody else could tell me them either. I can now talk about cranes in four languages. Caterpillar crane. Grue a chenilles. Raupenkran. Rupskraan. There, you see? Mid suspension.

And then I spent the whole afternoon buried in a pile of manuals looking for two more words, (which were the German and the French terms for "mid suspension" and I never found them so I made something up) while listening to a radio play of Hercule Poirot on my ipod. And shivering a little eating throat pastilles untill my tongue felt numb.

I was able to print out all four copies just before I left which is always a nice point on the day. Nobody noticed that my muscles were aching all over. They will probably all have it by next week. I hope there will be some real work for me by then. What now, unfair competition? It's a tough world!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

oranges and lemons

I feel like a sick day. It is chilly outside and wet and grey, and I have stubbed my little toe.



Yesterday the superkid announced very proudly that in school they had been taught an English song: Oranges and Lemons.

He wanted me to look it up on limewire. I mistyped "anges and lemons" and got numerous hits on that, which I decided must be virii and refrained from downloading.

He recites:
"Oranges and lemons" say the Bells of St. Clement's
"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. ...

Does an expectant smile and an inviting hand gesture, as though he really believes that I am going to be able to complete the sentence. "Um" I venture wisely.

Jubilant "St. Martins!", his enthusiam undiminished, with the broadest of smiles.
Of course, it is not as though I know that many people. I might have thought of "Martin", it is the name of his grandfather, so practically my family. Still not at all discouraged by my dumbness he goes on and teaches me that in Cockney slang things are not designated by their real name, but by something that rhymes to their name. Ah, that one I know. Dog and Bone! I say. Now it is his time to pull a blank face. Telephone, I say. Oh.. and Marjolone.. telephone, he understands, and points at me.

Um.. no, I think it is just "dog & bone...". He doesn't get it. There is no connection, he says. Funny English people.

Maybe they meant with the old phones, the ear piece is like the bone and the phone itself is like the dog, with the bone in his mouth?

He looks doubtful.

And "trouble and strife" I say. Ah yes, that one he gets. Trouble and strife is "wife", and there he does see the connection.

I'm going out. I need some oranges and lemons.




Here's our weather:

Monday, February 4, 2008

found a leak

Leak - before



In front



Behind



After



these photos were sent to me by a coworker. Apparently they were taken in Dubai some time last year.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

5 Beaufort



The crystal belongs to Alex. I have seen it often at his house but I forgot if he ever told me where he got it. It has an amazing copper-green crust, and it is bigger than my two hands cupped together, and heavy. The purple looks better for real than through my phone camera but he really should dust it sometimes. I wonder what it actually consists of. I think it is Amethyst.

There's a stiff wind. It is a very stiff wind. I just got back from the city and I had to go against it all the way. I really felt sorry for myself, because it is not just strong, it is also coming from the east and it feels cold. The only thing that kept me going (apart from the fact that I had to get home) was that I was determined to look up the exact wind speed when I got home and pin it on my blog like a trophy butterfly. Except I never killed it or actually pinned it down, it is still going strong out there.



See the arrow and the 5 next to Rotterdam? I was going almost straight the other way, the whole 15 km. There's stars out, it promises to be a cold night.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

the cutest house in the Netherlands



I pass by this house often. It was already going dark when I took this photo, but if you look closely you may see the three big red hearts at the corners of the roof. I just love the look of this house.

big fish


Income taxes freak me out. I am a freelancer. I used to work full-time for a company, but when I became ill with Myasthenia Gravis, they laid me off. Myasthenia Gravis is caused by a defect in the system transferring signals from the nerves to the muscles, its effects are extreme fatigue and problems moving certain muscle groups. I had the most trouble in the neck and shoulders, I couldn't swallow my food, and could not lift my arms over my head and sometimes literally had problems keeping my head up straight. The doctors discovered the neurological problem when I started to be very cross-eyed. If not for that they might have taken very long to find it, because the effects are not that obvious to the outside world. I couln't eat and got dreadfully skinny, but I might have anorexia and been pretending about the tiredness of my upper limbs.

After it was diagnosed I got cured with high doses of Prednison for over a year. I really wanted to work and was working part-time with partial disability allowance. But at the end of that period there was a recession in the economy and the company used it as an excuse to get rid of me. They offered me three months wages as compensation. I sought legal advice with the Labour Union and got six months.

Fortunately at that time my cousins husband in America needed a draftsperson to mediate between the vendors and the sales agents. a chance in a million. I took it and started a "business", as a self employed draftsman/support engineer.

Immediately I had to file in my tax form. I got taxed for an amount of money that almost equaled the sum I had received when I was fired. I was shocked, but I paid up. I though this was all part of being self-employed. The next year I took care to note as many of my expenses as possible as business expenses. I reasoned, if this business is going to cost me, I am going to take something back out of it. The year after that I got a tax return over the first year amounting to the sum I had paid that year and some, plus interest. Apparently I had forgotten to indicate that a part of my income that year had been wages, not business profit, and taxes had already been taken out of them. Thus I had paid double. and in the end, they checked, they discovered my mistake, and they gave back my money. It was all good.

Now last year, in the summer I was sent a tax form on which I had to make an estimate about my profits for that same year. I have been working a lot so I thought my profits might turn out a little higher than the previous year. It is always best to pay taxes up front, because if you pay them late, they charge very high interest percentages. If you get a tax return, they pay you back with the same interest percentages. It isn't always even possible to find a bank that will give the same interest as the tax man does. This changed my view on income tax officials a bit. It eased my fear. I reasoned I can trust them with my money, maybe I best pay a bit extra up front and use the tax office as a high-interest savings bank. Confidently I filled in the form.

Three weeks later I received an adjusted tax levy. After recovering from my initial confoundedness and making a series of panicked calls to the income tax 'help desk' number I reasoned this is what happened: The computer - apparently they can not get enough real people to work at the tax bureau - the computer misread my "3" for an "8". The amount that I had to pay now roughly equalled my complete earnings over the whole year. I was told I had to ask for a postponement of payment for the part of the sum that I didn't want to/could not pay. I did and got a postponement of payment for part of the sum, but I'm afraid it has still badly dented my new-found trust in the tax man.

I had trouble sleeping. I couldn't think of anything but income taxes. I refiled my tax for over 2006 twenty times online. I didn't really want to work any more, the whole time I was thinking: I am sitting here while my bum gets lazy only to pay taxes while I could be outside enjoying the weather. (Um.. well, you know what I mean..). It got me thinking if a sum like that was deemed reasonable by those people, that they would not blink twice before changing my pretty modest old tax levy to this new outrageous one the next year.. like maybe this is the amount of money that I should be earning if I only charged the right rates...

Last week I got my tax levy over the coming year. It was the same as the previous one and roughly amounted to the entire sum I hope to be earning this year. I filed for a delay. I wrote several letters containing little prickly sentences like "you would not oblige me to take a second mortgage to pay my taxes" and asking them why they assume I make so much money, what line of business do they think I am in and does it begin with "p" and end with "rostitution"? Tore them all up. I managed to send them a letter in just mildly shaky handwriting containing nothing but factual sentences asking them for a postponement of payment, but even rather than that, a new and corrected tax levy for a somewhat more reasonable amount. I posted the letter Saturday.

Every day of this week, (except Monday because I know I have to make some allowance for delivery time) the first thing I did when I got home was watch the door mat. Nothing. Untill today. The dreaded and feared, awed and hoped for blue letter was there on the mat. With prickly palms I opened it and read. They have temporarily postponed my obligation of payment for the entire sum. in attendance of. ehm. I'm not really sure... the expiring of the term of payment, on which term, if it appears that I do rightfully have to pay this amount, they will cancel the postponement. Or something.

So.. I am back to wholeheartedly distrusting Tax Men again. It isn't that I think they're evil or something, but I just can't understand them.