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About all the things that make up the difference between a neatly ordered pile of bricks and a place we call home.

A primary example of such a difference is the small group of people I refer to as my family.

2006 01 19

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Steven Smulders enters world

I am very pleased to be able to announce the birth of another family expansion unit, specifically a son. He was born January 19, 2006 at 04:53am, weighing in at 3350g. (I don't know why, but many people seem oddly focused on these statistics).

Steven can be reached via his email address: He'll not be able to read his own email for some time, but his parents will happily read any congratulations to him.

At this time, I would like to disclose a decision that his mother and I made years ago already, but have never been able to implement, which is the reasoning behind his name.

Whereas his two older sisters have names that we picked on the sole basis that we liked them, Steven's name has a story behind it and this is it:

In my life, there have been a number of people that (especially in hindsight) have been very influential on me and my life in a way that I still cherish to this day. It is safe to say that neither of the two that I'm about to highlight did so with that precise intention, but that does not diminish the value of the end result. Coincidentally, they share (more or less) the same name. (about which smarter readers can safely hazard a guess)

In no particular order, they are Stephen Shanks and Steve Clover. (note to Mr. Cotton: lucky coincidence, mate. ;)

Mr. Shanks was the person who decided to hire me for my first job in London. Had he not done that, it would be fairly safe to say that I would probably have hit financial rock bottom some weeks after that, which would have meant the end of my London adventure. The total impact of those four and a bit years on who I am as a person and as a professional is difficult to overestimate.

The thing is, Stephen never hired me on the basis of my skills, because to be honest, I had just about no relevant ones. He hired me on what I guess is gut feeling alone. Sure, someone probably signed off on it, but he put my name forward as the guy to get. Furthermore, he has been best manager that I could have ever wanted, just as much as I could wish on any technology-infected worker. Along the way he taught me everything I know about (office) politics, although it took me years more to actually take his lessons to heart. When we parted professional ways, I said I would really enjoy working with him again, which I actually did at a later time. The sentiment still stands.

Mr. Clover taught me drumming through the Music School in Tilburg, Holland. I reckon I can pass for a halfway decent drummer still, although I never did even a fraction of the amount of practice that he insisted I do and I haven't played in almost 8 years. The drumming part of his lesson is not what got him on this honour roll of sorts. (although he is rightfully considered a guru by many very scary drummers)

What got him here is the fact that he turned me on to Blues and Jazz. I don't even remember the kind of music I was into before, but it most likely wasn't worth remembering. My current music taste spans a stupendously wide range and I like to think that it all started with this man opening my (previously glued shut) eyes and ears.

I could try to describe the amount of enjoyment I get from music in general, but it would be a waste of words as I could not even do justice to the sheer scale of it, let alone to anything specific.

Between the two of them, they have had an influence on a very large part of who I am today; a part for which I am thankful on a daily basis in one way or another. Thankful enough to name my firstborn son after it.

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Fast progress

About an hour ago, shortly after concluding that the contractions were not quite doing their job, the midwife was called away to another birth in progress. She left us, secure in the knowledge that it would be some hours before the going got rough anyway.

When Audrey and her mother concluded that things were in fact very much heating up and thus called the midwife, she was actually doing paperwork in her car parked out front. At the same time, I had finally managed to get Nikki to sleep. I emerged from Nikki's room at more or less the same time as the midwfie was rushing up the stairs--just in time, as it turned out.

A quick check (I won't go into unnecessary detail about these checks, but there are only a limited number of ways in which one can gauge dialation, so I will leave that to the readers imagination) showed that the contractions, unproven yet possibly spurred on by a subconcious motivation to not end up in hospital today had resulted in full dialation and we were ready to go.

At that point, things suddenly went reallly fast: blankets, towlets various equipment and rubber gloves appeared and Audrey went to work. Minutes later, she was holding a small human.

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Too little, too slow

The midwife punctured the embryoid membrane (someone who knows what I mean please send me a correction in terminology) about an hour ago. This is common procedure to increase the uterus' attempts at opening up through contractions. However, at this time, the level of opening up (dialation?) was rather below the expected curve.

Nothing to worry about at this precise moment, but unless the uterus decided to considerably pick up the pace, it would become a problem in two hours time. The kind of problem that meant relocating to a hospital mid-delivery. Besides the fact that Audrey very much values giving birth at home, getting into a car halfway dialated is nobody's idea of fun.

Audrey is visibly upset, but we agree that we'll have to take it as it comes. Besides, if there is medical indication that we ought to be in a hospital, cultural preferences do not hold much truck with yours truly. I'm not saying I relish the thought, but we would be getting in a car and that's that.

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Professional help is here

The professional in question (i.e. the midwife) is here and has done some checking. The good news is that yes, there is going to be a birth today. The bad-ish news is that dialation is only 20-30% at most. Meaning: several hours of contractions to go at the very least.

The midwife settles in downstairs with some paperwork (these people must be used to killing time in spades) whilst I take on the unenviable task of getting Nikki back to sleep.

She usually wakes up somewhere between 23:00 and 02:00, at which time a small bottle, a little light massage of het bowels, some cuddling and rocking tends to be enough to put her right back to sleep. Except, off course, this time.

I have tried the usual routine without avail; she's just too awake to slide back into blissful sleep. Being only slightly awake means that she'll fight the feeling of drifting off (the same feeling most parents miss dearly... :). The normal next step up in measures in our household is to take her into our bed, so that she is able to maintain physical contact with daddy whilst lying down. Dunno why, but it is a sure-fire recipe for deep serene sleep in minutes.

Alas, at this time, that option was blocked by the fact that there was a woman in labour in said bed. Not a shred of serenity in sight. So I took her downstairs to pull off the same trick in a darkened room with a couch. Again, no luck. All the while, hours were passing by when I really had wanted to be with Audrey.

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Start counting

Audrey wakes me up, so that by the time she needs me, I'll actually be able to help out. This is not a factor of laziness on my part; I am diabetic and the artificially regulated blood glucose levels during the night make for a really, really deep sleep. Don't ask me why, but it started when I started using insuling furing the night; I used to be a very light sleeper before. Anyway, it takes me a few minutes between waking up and getting up, lest I like to fall off my own legs.

We start (or resume, rather) taking note of the time between contractions and their duration. This 'measurement' is used as a criterium for when to call the midwife.

Untypical in countries outside of The Netherlands, most babies are delivered in the comfort of one's home. This implies that at some point, you have to call in professional help. Given that (in my limited experience at least) most babies are born in the dead of night, it is at least civil to not call the pros before you actually need them.

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And waking up again

I'm still asleep (this record has obvioulsy been backdated--no-one in their sane mind tells a wife in labour that 'I'm just quickly going to blog this'). Audrey dozed off at best, until just now, when more powerful contractions started.

2006 01 18

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Going to bed

We decided undemocratically that the better option is to go to bed and hope for the best.

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Feeling ill

A rather overwhelming feeling of illness is not uncommon for women in labour (I'm told by one) but Audrey has been suffering more than a fair share of it and it's not getting any better over time. Also, the contractions are not coming in a steady frequency (which would indicate a countdown of sorts).

By now, the mother-in-law support backup has been summoned, despite her stomach flu.

We are trying to decide whether to stick it out to the end or go to bed (and to sleep), risking that the contractions whittle down to nothing, implying that the whole process will have to regain momentum tomorrow. (at least we think that it might just work that way)

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Ready to rumble

It looks like things are on the move, albeit in the same sense as global tectonic shift: over time, the results are (literally) earth moving, but within a limited time frame you wouldn't notice it.

In any case, I thought it best to cancel my appointments and attend to Audrey's needs.

To complicate matters, our support backup (mother-in-law) is currently suffering a rare bout of stomach flu and really should not be out and about.

2004 11 17

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And another one: Nikki

This post is really just a placeholder. I always meant for my blog to be a place where I would record in more-or-less realtime the major events in my life. Alas, at the time Nikki was born, this site had more or less fallen into disrepair. In any case, there was no blogging done that night, nor a long time after.

Real Soon Now, I'll make it up by adding a bunch of backdated entries based on pictures and notes and whatnot.

2004 07 08

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For some time, I have had a side interest in the mechanical aspects of cooking. More specifically: I just like to cut stuff. Preferably with a big blade.

I will not falsely claim any proper cooking skill, but I can at the very least handle a large knife.

When we moved into this house, we bought (along with all the other kitchen stuff) a knife set which included a large chef's knife. That does the job sort of OK, but I decided that I wanted to take a step up and get me a proper one, so I put it on my (rather short) birthday wishlist.

Here are two images of the knife that I bought from the money and gift certificate I got. Thanks to all who contributed!

2004 07 02

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Happy 31st, dear me!

Today is my 31st birthday. Last year's was rather snowed under by the fact that I had become a father less than two weeks before that, but this year I actually had the time to realise that it happened.

The thought I would like to record for posterity here is that I am now as old as I can first remember my father being. In other words: the earliest (though obviously vague) memory I have concerning my father's age was when he was as old as I am now. The strange thing is that I can't say that I feel like I'm on the other side of the gap now.

2004 06 21

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Britt's 1st birthday

Today, our daughter has her first birthday.

We actually celebrated it yesterday, because Sundays are just that much easier for family visits. For the both of us it was the first children's birthday party, although my wife has all the more professional experience.

Britt had a blast: all that attention and all those packages to unwrap; she must have been unwrapping for an hour straight, after which she moved on to discarding the toys and playing with the wrapping paper. That's kids for you...

We made a good call on giving (almost) all guests the same item off the wich list: megabloks: they're a sort of Duplo, with, similar to Lego several more or less compatible product lines for older children.

We bought a big box (~200 pieces) of the stuff some weeks back and having visited the web site, we decided that this would be the only item on her birthday wish list. Result: a whole crate of the stuff, with only one double set (which can go to Gran's house, since there will need to be toys there as well).

As a parent concerned with my child's development, I'm plenty happy. Lucky for us: so is Britt.

2004 03 16

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Finally got my driver's license

Here's how it works in The Netherlands: there are a fairly large number of private (i.e. non-government) companies that provide driving instructions. People 18 and over are free to choose any of those and make their own arrangements for any number of lessons they seem fit, on a schedule of their own choosing.

Candidates have to pass a theoretical, multiple choice examination, by which they obtain a license, valid for one year, to take the practical exam. This examination is done with a government-regulated organisation called CBR. One applies for an exam and passing it gets one the paperwork one can exchange for an actual driver's license, at one's local town hall.

It is often said that CBR staff are mostly ex-Foreign Legion commanders who changed career because they were tired of being nice to people all day. With the exception of one of the ones I met, I can confirm this suspicion.

After not passing this exam four times, one is automatically referred to the BNOR, which take the same exam, but in a less intimidating surrounding and with considerably more attention to the mental state of the candidate---the assumption is that once someone has not passed the same exam four times (and at some EUR160 a time, these are not usually taken too lightly) nerves must play a big part.

I know all this from first hand experience, because nerves got the better of me four times in a row. I can't say I would completely discount poor judgement by the first (of two) driving school I dealt with, but in the end I was the one doing the driving; nobody else.

I started driving lessons when my wife was pregnant about a month; our daughter is a almost nine months old now. The intention was to do a quick track, by which I was supposed to have it all wrapped up inside of two months. This has been a somewhat burdensome experience.

Until today, that is: I took the exam with the BNOR and I passed it. No big deal for the thousands of people who do this every year, most even about a decade earlier in their life, but a very big deal for me.

Other than the fact that repeated failure in performing a task that 8 million people in this country alone have managed to complete is not very good for one's self esteem, it means that in our family, my wife isn't the only one anymore allowed to drive. That means we will be much more able to fairly share such mundane tasks as doing the shopping. Oh, and it means that I can take on business that is not conveniently located right next to train stations.

Party time -- cake's on me.

2003 11 26

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Why I love Ikea

I just realised this evening why I love Ikea (we recently made some sizeable deposits towards the Royal Bank of Ikea): it aides enourmously in maintaining the illusion that I actually know how to work a screwdriver and end up with useable, nay, even nice-looking stuff.

In reality, the stuff is so cleverly designed and instructions are written (or drawn, rather) for an audience so incredibly handicraftically challenged that it would be an achievement in itself not to be able to put together this furniture. That has never stopped me from claiming some of credit before, though, and I ain't about to start today.

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A new office

I just finished putting together the last drawer in my new office, as shown on the picture here. my office

Before this, I had a permanent claim on the dining room table. I got that at the time I got my ADSL and wireless networking setup installed, because before that, it was dial-up only, hooked on the only phone wire in the house, which is in the attic. There is a bigger office up there, which will remain in use for storage of books, computer gear and assorted junk which I plainly refuse to throw away.

demonstration of the desk units on wheels Anyway, this is the new setup. Note the ergonomic setup of desk and laptop. Plus ample storage space. Not much in it at the moment, but I will be filling up those cabinets quickly enough, I suspect.

Those two smaller cabinets are on wheels, so they can be arranged for extra desk space. One of them has a seating cover on it, so it could even be used by a visitor.

2003 06 21

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The most beautiful sight imagineable

Our daughter is about an hour into this world and has found peace with it already. World leaders take note: this is the sight of innocence and peace.

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Letting the world know

A non-edited (besides translation) transcript of the phone conversation between me and my brother-in-law:

- What's the gender?
- A girl.
- I'll be right there--CLICK.

He must have seen from caller ID that it was a call from our house; the exchange of words literally took less than ten seconds. Sure enough (he lives pretty much around the corner); within five minutes he was at the door. Let in, he barged right through, only to be diverted at the bedroom door, because my wife was still being stitched back up. (and no brother, no matter how close they are with their sisters, should be subjected to that image. :)

I called my parents, the other brother-in-law, my brother and let the grapevine take care of the rest for the time being.

Base | Home | Britt



Unbelievable. Overwhelming. Fantastic. Majestic. Beatiful. Exhausting.

Just a few words that are almost by definition a feeble attempt to describe what just happened to my wife and me: we became parents.

The feeling is impossible to describe to non-parents and pointless to describe to the rest of the human population, because they know exactly what I am talking about.

In the confusion (trust me, there is always enough of that around at times like this), my wife completely forgot to ask about the gender. I had determined it at first visual contact, but I had not spoken out because I wanted her to see for herself. Only, she never did and just hugged the baby. It took a full 20 seconds (it can't have been much longer, but it easily felt as two days' worth of emotions) before she realised this herself.

It is a girl and we are calling her Britt. (derived, I believe, from Brittany, but in our case not short for anything.) We are not religious in any organised way, so this will be her only name. (Come to think of it, I never did figure out why God can't refer to His creations by singular nomenclature :).

Base | Home | Britt


Final stretch

The final stretch is here: it has been over 40 minutes of bearing down, which is only ten-odd minutes away from the default limit at which the ambulance is called for a late transition to the hospital.

Sitting beside my wife, I leave her immediate side to move closer to the actual drop zone. At this point, more with every push, I can see the top of a head, covered in black hair.

Minutes creep by, our only-just unborn baby is advancing millimeters at a time towards the exit and I am watching it from up close. Really up close.

There is a relative lull in the proceedings and then the big push comes. The midwife edges some skin under high tension out of the way and it is all a free fall from here: T minus seconds until we are parents.

Base | Home | Britt


More help is here

In addition to the midwife, there is another assistive person involved.

I am not sure if this is normal in other places in the world, but here it works like this: when you choose to deliver your baby at home (given that there are no medical reasons why you should not), part of the social services framework provides you with 7 or 8 days of home care, if at all possible provided by one and the same nurse.

Such a nurse will come to your house 8 hours per day and take care of the household (whatever needs to be done, within reasonable limits) so that the new parents are able to recover from what just happened to them. She (the profession is 99.9% a female one) is also an invaluable resource for practical advice. I personally do not think any amount of books or other written information is worth the help these people provide in that first week. The time they stay can, depending on health insurance particulars, be extended to 10 days. We do that, hence I am not sure if the normal term is 7 or 8 days.

Our nurse has arrived around 06:00 and has been busy preparing for the baby's arrival (hot water, towels, etc). Good thing too, because although I rate myself capable of working of a detailed instruction list (in the case we would have such a thing) I am nearly out of my mind from the heat, sleep deprivation and sheer emotional exhaustion. Also, having someone knowledgeable and experienced running around, taking care of the necessary things leaves me free to stay with my wife and hold her hand.

Gran (now officially given the title) is sitting at the end of the bed, which is easily the best seat in the house if you want to catch this show sitting upright.

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Make the ^&*( call!

The midwife has not returned yet. It has been a few more hours. The pain is getting on towards the unbearable point. The dam does not feel too far away from bursting. My wife instructs me to go and make the call. Let hassle be hassle; we need assistance.

I make the call, only to find out to our collective relief that the midwife is just now pulling up to the house. Not a moment too soon, as far as my wife is concerned.

From this point on, things start happening faster and faster. The membranes are manually broken and the final stage of labour (delivery) sets in. Pretty soon now, she will have to start bearing down, which is supposed to be the final 30 minutes.

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To break or not to break

The midwife visited again. The dillemma is that near-mom's cervix is fully dilated, but her water hasn't broken yet. The midwife could break it, but she would then have to stay around to assist in the delivery, which might still be some hours. At the same time, she is assisting another delivery, where she has to visit next and where she might need to do the delivery first. She makes the call that rupturing the membrane manually is too much of a risk now, because it would mean that the other delivery going on in the next few hours might require calling out a second midwife to back up the shift of the one on duty: a lot of hassle worth avoiding.

So she goes away, but we can and should call if anything drastic happens.

So we bed down to more waiting. I should probably point out that we are experiencing a heat wave of sorts: it is past 03:00 in the morning and I would happily walk outside in my underwear. Normal in Florida Summer, but not in The Netherlands. Where normal people are allowed to open all windows and doors and utilise some sort of airflow device, we can not, because she might very well wind up with breast infections.

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Call for help

The contractions and associated pain have become worse. This is enough of a signal for us to call in the professional help. Doing things this way is normal procedure: except in medically exceptional cases, the midwife only visits about an hour before the ETA of the baby, with one or more short check-ups at several hours' interval before that.

She came around and told us plainly that all was well and she would be back around 03:00. Oh, er ... ok. So far for any lingering notions of getting any sleep that night.

By this time, only my wife's mother is still with us; the youngest brother has left us less than an hour ago, slightly swaying on his feet dus to the pre-festive consumption of a respectable number of beers.

I decided to take the opportunity now to catch a few hours' sleep while I still can. Other than the fact that I have to do this on willpower, while my wife only has to ride out what her body does to her, I am very sensitive to my biorythm, on account of my Diabetes. And my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that it expects to be asleep. Right now, please.

2003 06 20

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The real work starts

This has been an unusual day. My wife has been having contractions that are getting closer, but only ever so slightly. I know, because being an utter geek and staying close to form, I sat down and whipped up a spreadsheet on which the times of the contractions could be recorded, for the intervals to be calculated and plotted on a graph. I even did some statistically unholy modelling to predict when our child would be born. We were looking at 21:00-ish tonight for some time, but over the last hour the projection has shifted well into the night.

Where we thought that it had all started this morning, we now know that that was really only the prelude. Much fiercer contractions started around 20:00. They are roughly 5 to 10 minutes apart, but they last for several minutes and the expectant mother is increasingly incapable of doing anything other than lying on the couch and trying to keep herself together. From what we have learned from the numerous sources available to young, informed parents-to-be, it is going to get a lot worse before the job is done.

To illustrate that women in labour are not necessarily immediately turned into helpless basket cases, her mother and her joined forces to go out, buy and put up some shelving in the nursery. Late in the afternoon, I might add in admirational tones.

Where we live, delivering a baby at home is fairly normal and from what I have read, it is done in a growing majority of births. That includes ours. What makes ours probably just that bit more special than most, is that her mother will be present during the birth. By local culture standards, that is not unheard of, but definitely not common either. In fact, a generation ago it would just not have happened. But that goes for my presence as well.

My wife's mother and two brothers have come over and seem to be planning to stay until we kick them out. It is a good feeling to be surrounded by family at this sort of time.

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The first contractions

My wife woke up in intermittent pain: the prelude to the first contractions. Support troops were called in and the waiting starts now.