Fourier Analysis is a mathematical tool which can do a number of things: separate out signals from noise; help identify patterns or trends in data; filter out all unwanted data and focus on a single signal; use approximations to make generalizations; make approximations of real world signals (think electronic music); combine harmonics to get a stronger signal. That's what I'll be trying to do here!! Won't you join me with your comments?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

In Search of my Inner Elf...

I am really not ready for Christmas this year. Oh the presents have been bought and mostly wrapped. The tree is decorated and we have a few lights up in the kitchen and decorations placed around. I have put Christmas cards through the mailbox, and survived the various holiday events at the kids' schools. Christmas music has been on the stereo since Thanksgiving. But still I am feeling like the Grinch.

I look at my list and realise that yet again the Christmas newsletter to friends and family has not been written to go into the cards. And though I got away with the joke of "Merry Christmas, er...oops!" in the Easter greetings once, really it is not even funny anymore. And when so much of the news is bad you don't even feel like talking about it for fear that it will be such a depressing missive that no one wants to read this time of year. So how do I explain all this in the short note included in the Christmas greetings? (sigh) Go to the next item on the list.

Christmas baking has never been my forte. Okay, baking and cooking are not skills I brag about. I am great at chemistry, which generally prevents any major disasters in the kitchen. But it is not something I do for fun. However, my children love it and I have made the preparations, but still the spirit has not moved me. Besides, I insist that the house be thoroughly cleaned prior to taking on a task which itself will require a major clean-up. So that's what I have been working on all day. Now I am to tired to take on such a major task so maybe it will be something for tomorrow. Back to the list.

Christmas crafts. This was started at the beginning of December, and some cards and decorations were made. But it hardly puts a dent in supplied I have collected and really the kids got on with it by themselves without me having to do more than referee and nag about clearing up. However, since then they have hardly touched the stuff and now I am making the "Tired Mommy" decision and relegating all the supplied back to the storage from whence they came. Finally, something I can check off the list! But of course not without some twinge from a guilty conscience.

Delivering presents round to friends. Now this is something I can get into a bit. Unfortunately as I must drive, I don't get to partake of the wine/eggnog/gluhwein etc. But I can share in the fellowship and I find this does start to thaw the winter chill that seems to have taken over my mood. For some reason this year everyone seems to be tired and run-down. We all joke and moan and commiserate. And I get fussed at for breaking the promises we made not to do any gifts. But I had to do one basket for a friend and it was just easy to go ahead and do 5. And yes, I got a bit carried away and seemed to find the perfect little something that made each gift personalized. But it was the only fun I had in terms of buying for Christmas so all the recipients laugh and grudgingly accept that this was "therapy" of the retail nature and all is forgiven.

There it is. The spirit of giving. That's what has begun to revive the memories of merriment. The thaw in my heart has begun and I am starting to relax. Now may be the time to get out the DVD of "A Christmas Carol" and gather the family round. I might even get a few cards written while settled on the couch in front of the TV.

It won't be a big family holiday, but a small one with hubby and the kids. And in the evening of the 25th we will get together with friends and their kids and the accompanying chaos. On the 26th we will travel to Germany for a visit with in-laws, returning in time to celebrate the New Year with other friends and of course fireworks. The weather has thus far co-operated with some lovely cold days and spectacular frosting of trees and plants, although very little snow has covered the ground and the roads have not been too bad for driving.

I shouldn't complain but I do. It has been a hard year. And the coming one promises to start with further difficulties. Still I have good friends and good blog-friends and that is really what Christmas is all about.

Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you too can find your "Inner Elf" and enjoy the holiday as it is really meant to be celebrated, in the love and warmth of good company, friendship and affection. And here's hoping that the New Year brings joys to temper the sorrows, warmth to ease the coldness that seeps in from the dark corners of the world and hope that somehow in some small way we can all help to make things better.

Peace

Friday, December 14, 2007

Trouble Comes in Threes...(Update)

I know, I seem to have disappeared from the blogsphere. I have hardly been near my computer lately except to e-mail the school about DD1's absence. You see, the third "crisis" finally showed up. What started out as a cold and developed over a week or so into the "crud" has finally manifested as full-blown pneumonia. And as this is my first experience with an almost-teen being ill, I am afraid I have not handled it very well. She vacillates from not wanting to be talked to or touched to crawling into my bed or lap and needing to be held and rocked just as she did when she was 3 years old and sick. And of course we have the battles about trying to get her to eat/drink/take medicine/measure fever/dress warmly/take a bath/cough hard/ blow her nose/go to the doctor/etc. (sigh)!

So finally when she felt bad enough to let me take her to the doctor it was of course in the evening and we had to get to the night-clinic. I felt so guilty when describing her symptoms to the doctor because she obviously thought I had waited too long to come. How do you tell someone who has obviously never had kids, much less a prickly pre-teen, that in between bouts of fever and really feeling sick, she was complaining about being bored, working her way through all the computer games and DVDs, asking if she could ride her bike outside, talking on the phone to friends about being at school the next day, and so on? And even when her fever was so high that she was shivering under the covers and I had to hold her for almost an hour, she was absolutely insistent that she did not need a doctor. Unfortunately DH was traveling, so there was no way I could man-handle her into the car by myself if she did not want to come voluntarily. So I sat sheepishly in front of the doctor who informed me that a virus or flu usually starts out with a fever that goes away after 3 days or so, but as she had already had a cold for more than a week before she got the fever, this was obviously an infection and that it was very important that she take all her medicine, drink fluids, rest, stay warm, and try to cough to clear her lungs. As if I had not been trying to do these things for the past week. Nonetheless, my own feelings of inadequacy have now been supported by a medical authority. I am officially now a "Bad Mommy". Maybe I need to design a button for my blog...

I have to laugh or I would just collapse in tears. The other news is also not so good.

My FIL has now had the second surgery in this round of his bladder cancer and the news is not good. They are recommending that he have his bladder removed. This is a hard operation on anyone at any age, but for man of 81 it comes with ominous overtones. It is especially disheartening for him as shortly after he was diagnosed over 2 years ago, his own Brother-in-Law, who is younger than him, got the same diagnosis. But his BIL's course of treatment involved the immediate removal of his bladder. He went downhill from that point on and died 6 months ago. So for my FIL, in his mind removing his bladder is basically a death sentence. But his doctors are telling him that not doing so is just as bad. So my DH is under a lot of stress trying to cope with our homefront issues and support his parents as well.

And the progress in diagnosing DD1 is going so slow, as is the case wherever there is socialized medicine. We have now completed the psychological evaluation, which only confirmed what I already knew about her. First of all, the mental evaluation shows she is "gifted" and very intelligent, almost off the scales for the tests they were using for her. However, emotionally she is behind girls her age. But that is not an unusual combination. All the other evaluations show she is not ADD or ADHD, though she has some concentration problems. And while she has often expressed she "wants to be a boy", she has no body issues which would indicated some sort of trans-gender issues. If there are other sexual issues that contribute to her stress level, it is still to soon to tell. Because of the pattern of behaviour, hormones definitely have some contribution. But clearly there is a chemical imbalance and as the stress builds up she gets more hostile and irritated until we have a meltdown complete with the kind of temper tantrum she used to have as a 2-year old. The trouble is it comes with the ugly back-talk and threats of a teenager as well as the physical strength and violent temper. At times I think instead of a psychiatrist we need an exorcist.

But we have now the preliminary diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder showing a number of symptoms including the self-harming behaviour of pulling out her hair. She now has pulled out almost one-third and my biggest fear is that this will progress to an even more severe pattern. So we now have our first appointment with a child psychiatrist on 17.January. I am hoping that the holidays don't bring any more stress. I am not sure if I can handle it.

But at least I know what number 3 was and am not so worried about any more bad surprises. I know it is a silly superstition, but for me it does seem to have a pattern and somehow I am comforted by this. And I call myself a scientist...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part VII)

Hij komt, hij komt, de lieve goede Sint...

This is the last in my series about the tradition surrounding SinterKlaas here in the Netherlands. For more information, please look for my posts under the same title over the past month: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI.

Tomorrow is the big day here, and preparations are well underway in most places. At school they have already had visits by the Piets, many of whom left a big mess behind. One of the things that some classes get to do, if their school has access to an oven, is to make their own "kruidenoten". Kruidnoten are a sweeter, harder version of the pepernoten and I actually find them tastier. Kruidnoten are crispier like Spekulaas or ginger snaps, whereas pepernoten are more like gingerbread. Pepernoten have a more bread-like texture and are more complicated to make. This is an easy, fun recipe for Kruidnoten and I have used it when I helped out many classes through the years. So if you are curious, or just want a fun activity for the kids, I have translated it to ingredients more familiar to the US:

Kruidnoten
50 grams (1 3/4 oz) butter
100 grams (1/2 cup) brown sugar
100 grams (1/2 cup) white sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
250 grams (1 cup) self-rising flour
Spices:
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinamon
1 teaspoon ground aniseed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Mix all these spices together until well blended before adding to the rest of the mix.
NOTE: If you have access to commercially mixed "Speculaas kruiden" (spices) then you could use 2 3/4 teaspoons of that instead of the individual spices listed. Allspice can be substituded for ground cloves/aniseed/ginger.

1. Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the spice mix (or spices).
2. Add the flour and milk, mix together until well blended. Sometimes, this means you need to get in there with your hands!!
3. Make very very small marble sized balls of dough and place them on a flat baking sheet with enough room to allow them to spread out and rise a little.
4. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 160 C (320 F) until golden.
5. Let cool until they harden. Eat and enjoy!!

Now I admit to having a weakness for kruidnoten. And especially as they are on sale very cheap after 5.December, I have a tendency to go overboard. Thus I often find myself around Christmas with more than I can eat and the days of throwing at children have already passed. Thus it was great fortune for me to find this recipe that goes well for SinterKlaas, but is also perfect for Christmas get-togethers.

Sint-Tiramisu
I usually double this recipe as it goes very quickly! But you may want to try it first and some portions may need adjusting depending on the ingredients.
250 g (8-10 ounces) kruidnootjes (Instead you can use ginger snaps, German spekulatius, Swedish "pepper-cookies" or similarly spiced hard cookies spiced with cinammon, ginger, nutmeg or allspice.)
100ml (1/2 cup) strong espresso coffee -cooled
3 egg yolks
100g (1/2 cup) sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (1 tsp vanilla extract)
250 g ( 8oz) ) mascarpone cheese (This may be difficult to find in some areas and may also be rather expensive so one of the following substitutions can be made: 1. 8 oz of softened cream cheese combined with 1/4 cup whipping cream, whipped until smooth or 2. ricotta or cottage cheese combined with 3 tablespoons sour cream, and 2 tablespoons sweet cream, whipped until smooth.)

Beat together yolks, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Beat in mascarpone until just combined. Lightly butter a large flat-bottomed glass serving or baking dish and line the bottom with about half of the kruidnoten. Pour half of the espresso coffee and let it soak into the cookies. Add about half of the mixture, spread evenly over the cookies. Distribute the remaining kruidnoten over the mix and pour the remaining coffee over the cookies. Add the rest of the mix, spreading evenly until all the cookies are covered. Cover the dish with cling-film and let it sit in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours. Before serving, I like to sprinkle cocoa powder over the top.

Now while I love-love-love the original Italian tiramisu, I find this as an acceptable substitute during the holiday season!!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part VI)

The songs that are sung to welcome SinterKlaas and Zwarte Piet into our celebrations are a big part of the Dutch tradition. On Jenn's blog you can see a video of one of the songs. There are sometimes different versions of the old standards with some rap versions making the rounds the last couple of years. Whenever you see Sint or if he is coming, or maybe you'll see one of his Piet-bands making the rounds, it doesn't matter, you will always hear singing! And the tunes are kind of catchy so they are not hard to learn! But of course if you don't speak Dutch, then these don't mean a lot. Therefore I give you some of the translations I have found of some of the most popular songs. But please note, these are not literal translations, but rhyming songs that have a similar meaning to the Dutch songs. This makes it easy for the ex-pats to take part in the celebration with their own English versions (Sint of course understands English, unlike many of the Piets).

Click on the titles of the songs to hear a recording of the music only and try to sing along yourself! And with this I make my first entry into:

Wanna hear more tunes? Check out Soccer Mom in Denial. In fact, have a good look around 'cuz Allison's always coming up with cool stuff like this!

Enjoy!! Only 3 more days until SinterKlaas!

Source: "Saint Nicholas in Holland", Het Parool, Theo Ramaker

Sinterklaas Kapoentje

Sinterklaas Kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje,
gooi wat in mijn laarsje
dank u, Sinterklaasje.

Nicholas I beg of You

Nicholas I beg of you
Drop into my little shoe
Something sweet or sweeter,
Thank you, Saint and Peter.

Sinterklaasje kom maar binnen

Sinterklaasje kom maar binnen met je knecht.
want we zitten allemaal even recht.
Misschien heeft u wel even tijd,
voordat u weer naar Spanje rijdt.
Sinterklaasje kom maar even bij ons aan
en laat uw paardje maar buiten staan.

En we zingen en we springen en we zijn zo blij,
want er zijn geen stoute kinderen bij.
En we zingen en we springen en we zijn zo blij,
want er zijn geen stoute kinderen bij.

Good Saint Nich'las

Good Saint Nich'las is in Holland once again
With his horse and Peter from sunny Spain.
And even if he can't stay long,
We hope he'll stop to hear our song
Dear Saint Nicholas the door is open wide,
For you and Pete to step inside.


And we're singing, voices ringing, and our hearts rejoice.
'Cause the Saint loves all good girls and boys.
And we're singing, voices ringing, and our hearts rejoice.
'Cause the Saint loves all good girls and boys.

O, kom er eens kijken...

Meisjes:
O, kom er eens kijken,
wat ik in mijn schoentje vind.
Alles gekregen van die beste Sint.
Een pop met vlechtjes in het haar,
een snoezig jurkje kant en klaar,
drie kaatseballen in een net en een letter van banket.
O, kom er eens kijken,
wat ik in mijn schoentje vind.
Alles gekregen van die beste Sint.

Jongens:
O, kom er eens kijken,
wat ik in mijn schoentje vind.
Alles gekregen van die beste Sint.
Een bromtol met een zweep erbij,
een doos met blokken ook voor mij,
en schaatsen en een nieuwe pet
en een letter van banket.
O, kom er eens kijken,
wat ik in mijn schoentje vind.
Alles gekregen van die beste Sint.

O, come have a look at...

Girls:
O, come have a look,
at what I'm finding in my boot
Dropped through the chimney,
Yet no speck of soot!
A doll with pigtails in her hair,
Her dress as white as Saint's own mare,
A sugar bunny sweet and quaint.
We thank you, dear old Saint.



Boys:
O, come have a look,
at what I'm finding in my boot
Dropped through the chimney,
Yet no speck of soot!
A jumping jack with woolly head,
My name in letters of gingerbread,
A book with pictures and some paint.
We thank you, dear old Saint

Zie de maan schijnt...

Zie de maan schijnt door de bomen,
makkers staakt uw wild geraas.
't Heerlijk avondje is gekomen,
't avondje van Sinterklaas.

Vol verwachting klopt ons hart,
wie de koek krijgt, wie de gard
Vol verwachting klopt ons hart,
wie de koek krijgt, wie de gard

Bright December moon...

Bright December moon is beaming,
Boys and girls now stop your play!
For tonight's the wondrous evening,
Eve of good Saint Nicholas Day.
O'er the roofs his horse unshod
Brings us gifts or else the rod.
O'er the roofs his horse unshod,
Brings us gifts or else the rod.

Zie ginds komt de stoomboot

Zie ginds komt de stoomboot
uit Spanje weer aan.
Hij brengt ons Sint-Nicolaas
ik zie hem al staan.
Hoe huppelt zijn paardje
op het dek op en neer,
hoe waaien de wimpels
al heen en al weer.

Zijn knecht staat te lachen en roept ons reeds toe:
"Wie zoet is krijgt lekkers,
wie stout is de roe!"
Och lieve Sint Niklaas, kom ook eens bij mij,
en rijd toch ons huisje niet stil voorbij.

Look here comes the steamer

Look, there is the steamer from far a-way lands.
It brings us St. Nich'las, he's waving his hands.
His horse is aprancing on deck, up and down,
The banners are waving in village and town.

Black Peter is laughing and tells ev'ry one,
'The good kids get candy, the bad ones get none!'
Oh, please dear St. Nich'las, if Pete and you would
just visit our house for we all have been good.


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I hope you are enjoying this series and learning a bit about Dutch culture. Tomorrow is the last one and I will be sharing my favorite recipe for using leftover "pepernoten" (but don't worry, it also works with ginger snaps, and "Spekulasius". Or if all else fails, I include a simple recipe to make your own Pepernoten!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part V)

This post probably doesn't really qualify as being a true "Soap Opera", but as I truly hate to miss the fun at "Soap Opera Sunday", I beg the indulgence of our fearless and brilliant leader 'Twas Brillig and her partner in crime fun Walking Kateastrophe.


For real soapy stories, be sure and read the posts of the other players in our on-going Sunday series by visiting this week's hostess Kimberly of Temporary? Insanity and seeing who else has joined the fun!

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This is one of the last in a series of posts I have been writing about the December traditions found in the Netherlands as they compare to Christmas in the US as well as UK and Germany. Look here for Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

With my multi-cultural family I have an "unusual" perspective which has come with its own challenges! My daughters started out in a Dutch daycare and later began in a Dutch public school. But of course we visit DH's family in Germany regularly and occasionally also make the trek back to the US, even managing a couple of Christmas visits. And of course our social circle includes not only Dutch, but many UK, Italian and other ex-pats from different countries.

So how do you explain to curious and intelligent children the differences in all the traditions and still keep the magic and wonderment of Christmas and the local traditions alive? How do you as a family teach some of your native culture to children when their friends are raised with a totally different tradition? The choices are sometimes hard and even heart-breaking. As a parent you don't want your children to be left out of the fun and you don't want to spoil things for them or their friends by debunking the whole drama. And surely SinterKlaas/Santa would not leave someone out just because they are from a different country/culture? But how do you explain that Sint comes on 5.December in the Netherlands, St. Nikolaus on 6.December in Germany, and Father Christmas and Santa Claus on 25.December in the UK and US? And what about their French and Italian friends, who comes to see them? Or is there a different one in every country? So why can't we celebrate 3 times with 3 times as many presents? Or if it's the same person, then why does he talk and dress so differently? And where is Zwarte Piet in the US?

In the Netherlands and in Germany, where exposure to US and UK culture has brought the man in the bright red suit with white fur trim to these countries, they refer to the visitor on 25.December as the "Christmas man" (Kerstman in Dutch, Weinachtsmann in German). He is not generally referred to as St. Nicholas or Santa Claus as these names are so obviously similar to Sankt Nikolaus and SinterKlaas. In the Netherlands they have gone so far as to pretend that Sint and Santa are competing against one another in some television commercials. In some families the story is that they are brothers, with Santa working in different countries and at times coming to visit Sint. This also explains why they look so much alike!

But neither of these explanations would completely satisfy my tri-lingual offspring who are tuned into the differences in the cultures. So in order to keep the myth and magic alive as long as possible in all the cultures they were exposed to, I thought up the following story, adding details as more questions came up through the years. It proved to be very effective as DD1 embellished some of the explanations as she tried to show off her knowledge of the whole affair to her less-informed younger sister! Any ex-pat families facing a similar dilemma are more than welcome to adopt this story into their family traditions.

Here is the story I have told my daughters through the years:

"You see SinterKlaas started coming over to the Netherlands from Spain a long, long time ago when he heard how good the Dutch children were from the sailors who visited his land. He brought along oranges and his faithful servant Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) and his wonderful white horse Amerigo. SinterKlaas saw that the Dutch children were so much fun, that he stayed to celebrate his birthday with them on 6.December. But instead of wanting presents, because he was such a generous and kind man, Sint wanted to give presents to the children. And thus the tradition was started of bringing presents to the Dutch children, riding around on his horse with Piet, and letting Piet climb down the chimney to put the presents beside the hearth. The soot from the chimneys made Piet even darker than he was, which is why he is now so black.

However, Sint learned quickly that not all the children in the Netherlands are nice, and some of them are quite naughty and don't deserve presents. For these children, Sint leaves a reminder that if they don't behave they will not get any presents. But how does he know which children are naughty and which ones are nice? Well, he comes with Piet to the Netherlands a couple of weeks early and starts to update his list. And Piet goes around peeking into windows and listening down chimneys to see if the children are behaving or if they are being rude to their parents or fighting with their brothers and sisters.

And the children through the years started leaving notes for Sint outside the door where they left their wooden shoes at night. They would ask for something special and thank Sint for their presents from the previous year. And sometimes they would leave him drawings and pictures because they know Sint really like such things and took them back to Spain with him to decorate his home there. And as thank you for the drawings Sint started leaving oranges and sweets for the children in their shoes.

However that was long ago, and since then there are a lot more children in the Netherlands, Sint started having to come the night before on 5.December so that by 6th December all the children in the Netherlands would have presents. And because he is magical, Sint made his horse and Zwarte Piet magical too, so that they are able to get into the smallest chimneys and fly up to the tallest roofs. But of course that is a lot of work, so the children started leaving carrots and hay for Amerigo, and sometimes even cookies or a cup of chocolate for Sint and Piet. And after a while it got to be too much for just one Piet, so Sint started to get more and more Piets to help out so that now each Piet has one special job and sometimes more than one Piet are tasked to do the same thing, like go around the markets and schools and see how the children are behaving. At some schools, the children even leave breakfast for the Piets who look into the teacher's records to see what they are saying about how the kids behave at school.

Now the children in some of the other countries also heard about Sint, and asked him to come to their country. So Sint and Piet also started visiting in Belgium. But the Piets did not know how to speak German and got lost on their first visit to Germany and had to ask a poor old farmer for help. This man, Ruprecht, was dressed in rags and a dark cloak and was a bit scary looking, but he was a good and honest man, and he helped Sint out in Germany. So ever since, Sint leaves the Piets to go back to Spain when he is through in the Netherlands, and on 6th December he comes to Germany and goes around with Knecht Ruprecht as his helper there. Knecht Ruprecht looks out in December for Sint to see which children have been naughty and nice in Germany. So the children in Germany should be aware when they see someone on the street in December who looks kind of raggedy and scary, as it might be Knecht Ruprecht who is taking notes! In Germany, they are a little more formal and maybe they don't know him so well, so they call him Sankt Nickolaus instead of his nickname Klaas.

After he finishes in Germany, Sint goes to some other countries in Europe bringing toys there. In each country he has a different helper because he needs someone who knows his way around and who speaks the language to help him out. And other countries also have different names for him and of course Sint speaks the language of each country he visits because he is a very clever man.

After Amerigo has jumped up to all the steep roofs in the Netherlands, he is pretty tired, so Sint lets him return to Spain with the Piets. But Sint uses a sleigh in Germany, which is especially useful in the places where there is lots of snow this time of year. In some other countries he gets around other ways, using a Vespa motorbike in the narrow streets of Rome and other cities in Italy and a donkey in the steep, winding village roads out in the countryside. And sometimes Sint has to change clothes because of the weather and because he wants to be recognized by the people there.

Of course the children in the UK and US also heard about Sint and wanted to celebrate as well. But by then Sint was so busy that even with all his magic he could not be everywhere at once for his birthday. So instead he decided to treat the children when they celebrate the birthday of Jesus on 25.December. So after he finishes his rounds in Europe, you start seeing him in the US and UK where he is making his lists of the naughty and nice children there. Because these are very big countries, Sint enlisted the help of some magical elves who have a workshop at the North Pole. There they make the toys that Sint then brings to the children. Only in the US they call him Santa which is "Sint" in English. And in the UK, they call him "Father Christmas", not because he was Jesus' father, but because he helped to make the Christmas holiday so special as it is today.

Because there are so many children in the US and UK, Santa or Father Christmas needs a magical sleigh to help him get around. And this is pulled by the flying reindeer that we have heard about. And even though there is a time difference between various parts of the US, Santa has to work very hard in order to get all the toys delivered by the morning of 25.December. So he wears more of a working uniform instead of the fancy clothes he usually wears in the Netherlands and Germany. And in some places like Florida and Arizona where it is so warm, he might even wear shorts and sandals!

So even though sometimes in the Netherlands they don't recognize Santa is Sint because he is dressed so different and they might hear him speaking English, we know he is the same person. And he of course knows you and that is why wherever you are, he will bring you presents. So if we are in Germany on 6th December, then Sankt Nikolaus will visit. And if we go to America for Christmas, then Santa will leave you a present there. Now it might night be very big, because he has already left you something on 5.December at your home in the Netherlands. But even if you have already gotten a present, you will still get something so that you know that Sint looks out for you wherever you are."
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Only 3 more days until Sint comes!!

Look for two more entries to come under this same title, including my first "Music Monday"!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part IV)

While SinterKlass celebrations at Dutch schools, as well as at the sporting and activity clubs the kids may be part of, are rowdy, rambunctious, active affairs, on 5 December, "Pakjesavond", the celebration at home in most Dutch families is more of a family gathering, similar to what we celebrate with Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US. Often times there is a fancy meal, everyone is dressed up, and it is one of the few times that a whole family, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., get together. Businesses usually let out a couple of hours early, shops are closed, and schools get out at lunch time (usually after a morning-long celebration with Sint and Piet). And while Sint may bring presents for the younger kids, the adults and older children are not by any means left out.

A big part of the SinterKlaas tradition involves poems. These accompany the presents and are usually slightly teasing in nature. The presentation of the gift is also important. After Sint or Piet knocks on the door to leave the sack of presents, it is taken inside and opened, usually by the host or hostess. Then presents are handed round and everyone admires the wrapped gift and often makes an attempt to guess what is in it. Then in a specified order, either older to youngest or vice versa, everyone reads the poem that he has received aloud before opening the present. For the younger children these are simple and are usually admonishments to do better at school or not fight with their siblings or pick up their rooms better. It is amazing how SinterKlaas just seems to know about their naughty behaviour! But of course he also knows about their heart's desire and sometimes includes special presents that may not have even been on their wishlists! The adults and older children also get gifts. Sometimes these are exchanged with one another, sometimes they also come from Sint. But in any case there will be a poem, and it is likely to have some hidden or even obvious meaning, often related to the present itself.

As much work goes into the writing of these poems and the jokes and comments that accompany the presents than goes into the presents themselves. In fact, often the presents are not really very big or expensive. But the appreciation of it goes into the effort that was put into its presentation. This is the true nature of the holiday. And at school the children are trained early in this understanding. From 3rd grade on in most dutch schools, the children draw names of someone in their class and are charged with getting a "surprise" present, to cost not more than around $5.00. But they are asked to keep the identity of the person they are making the present for a secret. And more important, they are asked to wrap the present up in a special way. Sometimes it is wrapped to represent the recipient's favorite hobby, for instance a microphone for someone who likes to sing, sometimes it looks like a toy (this year we saw a hockey stick and several Lego bricks), or maybe it looks like something to do with the holiday (a candy or a shoe).

DD2 made her Surprise this year into a replica of Sint's steamboot, complete with a funnel with cotton wool steam coming out and little flags. I should have taken a picture, but forgot. The teacher promised to do it next week before they open the presents, and I'll try and include it then. DD1 is still in the process of wrapping her Surprise present. She is giving a book on secret codes, and is putting it in a "safe" complete with a combination lock. But that is not all. Older children (5th grade and above) are required to make up poems to go with their presents. DD1's includes a riddle with the answer giving the combination to the safe. Other poems may be in the form of limericks. And in Dutch language classes, the poems themselves are required to be in Dutch! This sounds like a lot of work. And it is!! Therefore many large department stores have in-house poetry writers to help their customers come up with suitable rhymes to go with the presents they have purchased in-store. And there are books and guides and even computer programs to help with generating the poems. And of course websites!! Don't believe me? See for yourself: here, or here, or here, or here, or...

The point I want to make is that this holiday is not just fun, but it something very special and treasured by the Dutch and others in neighboring countries that share in this celebration. The SinterKlass holiday represents the best qualities of caring for one another and spending not just money but time and thought in selecting a gift. The real difference in this holiday from many other celebrations, at least one that many families try and uphold, is that it is not about the materialism that seems to be taking over our societies these days. But it is about the thought and energy we put into it ourselves. I have been complimented in comments on my blog about my efforts in making this holiday special for my kids. Really it is very little as compared to what other Dutch moms do. My rhymes are clumsy and our celebrations have not been very fancy as we continue to make Christmas our big holiday. Nonetheless, I felt and still feel it is important that my kids understand the culture they are growing up in, and so I have tried to capture some of the spirit of this holiday.

When I hear DD1 wistfully longing for another visit from Sint, joined by DD2 who then goes on to say "Remember when..." I know that I have had some success in this endeavor!

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Please join me for my next blog on our "Soap Opera Sunday" when I tell the story I have told my children for years about how Sint and Santa are the same person!! How can this be you ask? Stay tuned...

5 more Days to SinterKlaas!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part III)

This post is part of a series I am writing to help my readers understand the difference between what is normally celebrated in the US during December vs the traditions one finds in the Netherlands and surrounding countries. Here you can find Part I and here Part II. And of course, there will be more stories in this blog leading up to 5.December, under the same title.

Warning! This post reflects the culture found in the Netherlands and may therefore be a bit shocking to the "politically correct" culture found in the US! That's just how it is here folks!!

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While I have given you the background on SinterKlaas, whose persona is not unfamiliar to American culture, and yes, ostensibly he is the "star" of the show, the show itself and all the build-up to Sint's arrival is done by the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters). In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Zwarte Piet is Sint's helper or companion. We don't have elves here! The history behind this is that he was a servant or squire who helped Bishop Nicholas on his travels. The early legend is that he was a young, black slave named Peter that Nicholas had rescued and freed. He chose to stay with Nicholas rather than go out on his own. Other versions have it that he was a young page who got a black face because he was the one to climb down the chimneys and so he got covered in soot!

In other cultures, the figure of Nicholas has different helpers. In many parts of Germany, this is a dark figure called "Knecht Ruprecht" which translates as Servant or Farmhand Ruprecht. In some instances the Saint and the Knecht play "good & bad" roles with Nickolas handing out treats while Ruprecht threatens to beat the children with switches if they don't behave! My DH grew up with the tradition that on 6.December, along with a small present from Sankt Nickolas, the children received a bundle of switches that are tied together with ribbon and hung with various chocolates and candies. Children were often admonished that if they did not behave, then all they would get is the bundle of switches! In the US you can hear this reflected in some of the tales about Santa Claus.

In other European countries, this helper has a similar role but different names: Krampus (in Austria, Hungary, Solvenia, Croatia and some surrounding reagions), Klaubauf (in southern Germany), Pelzebock, Pelznickel, Belzeniggl, Buzebergt, Rumpelklas, Bellzebub, Hans Muff, Hanstrapp or Drapp (in various regions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy, eastern France and countries bordering Germany), and Le Pere Fouettard (Northern France). In most instances these companions are portrayed as ugly or comical figures, some even having horns and resembling a demon or devil. They often carry a rod or staff, sometimes a scythe or sword, or a whip or bundle of switches. And they all carry the sack for Saint Nicholas. In some incarnations, the companion is dressed in rags or all in black, while in others he is dressed like Nicholas, but has a darker complexion and dark hair and is unkempt compared to Nicholas. In some regions, however, Nicholas is accompanied by a young angel, a blond sweet-looking child or young woman. In the Czech Republic this is Anděl (Angel).

Depending on the region, "Nicholas Day" is celebrated on the 5th or the 6th. In some areas, he arrives at the door and the children are summoned to perform a poem or song before they are given their presents. It may be that the companion reads a list of the things naught children have done or is angry and mean and telling the children they deserve no presents. But while this can be scary, it is also fun for many children and they look forward to the show every year, practicing what they will say to convince the visitors that they deserve a present (which they always get in the end!).

But the Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg (Benelux) region is unique in its tradition of Zwarte Piet and this character is cherished as the biggest part of the Nicholas celebration. Through the years, especially since WWII, the legend developed to include more than one companion. Thus we have "Zwarte Pieten" (plural). All of them are named "Piet", and wear a colorful costume reminiscent of a Renaissance European page including pantaloons, ruffled collar, feathered cap, long stockings, buckled shoes (although nowadays replaced by sport shoes) and black gloves. But each has a different function and role to play in the ever-expanding drama that is the feast of SinterKlaas. Of course you have the main helper Piet (HoofdPiet), but also one in charge of the presents (PakjesPiet), one in charge of the poems (GedichtePiet), Piets in charge of Sint's horse Amerigo (PaardePieten), and of course dancing Piets, singing Piets, the Piets in charge of handing out/throwing the candy and cookies (StrooigoedPieten), etc. One of my favorite characters is MuziekPiet who is the lead singer and in charge of making up new songs for Sint. Funny, but instead of the usual Piet costume, he has a hairstyle
and outfit resembling Elvis in his Las Vegas years!

But all of the Zwarte Piets are black! No, not African-American! No these are black-faced characters and even those actors of darker complexion wear the black make-up! While there has been some controversy over the usage of blackface, and every year you can find discussion forums on the political correctness of this character, all efforts to change this have not been accepted. In 2006, one of the main TV stations in the Netherlands tried to introduce rainbow-colored Piets in an effort to get away from this stereotype. Viewers stayed away in droves and a parade hosted by the TV station with all different colored characters was booed by the public. The whole idea was dropped very quickly.



Whereas in the US you may have someone dressed as Santa Claus collecting on a street corner, or even a street band of Santa Claus musicians, in the Benelux this is a role for Zwarte Piet. As Sint can't be everywhere at once, oftentimes you will only see Piets who then will collect the drawings and lists and be sure and bring them to Sint. One year DD1 was not at all impressed with the SinterKlaas we had met on the market. She informed me very knowingly that he was not the "real Sint", but just a helper dressed up like Sint as she was aware that SinterKlaas could not be everywhere at once. But, she informed me, the Piets were real. Thus she was not at all concerned that her drawing would not make it to the real SinterKlaas. Many schools have a day when Piets comes to visit and collect the drawings and wishlists from the children, leaving behind treats and small presents. Funny enough, though, these Piets often get a bit rowdy playing with the children's things and leaving behind a big mess at school. My daughters were outraged at these RommelPieten (messy Piets)!. And of course before the children were allowed to eat their treats they had to clean up the mess! At many schools every year there is some sort of theme around SinterKlaas and company. One year, one of the Piets had fallen in love with one of the teachers. Everyday the school received a love note with a clue as to which teacher it was. There were internal polls taken amongst the children as to who they thought it was. One class even made a bar graph showing the results. The speculation grew every day. One of the younger classes was very upset as they were sure it was their teacher and were afraid that she would go back to Spain with Piet and they did not want her to leave. They wrote a special letter to Sint and were relieved to learn with a personal letter from him that is was not their beloved teacher.

Dutch television has a special program each year with news about SinterKlaas and reports about all the various activities and dramas around his visit to the Netherlands. My daughters still insist on watching this every evening, though they really have outgrown SinterKlaas now. My blogfriend in Belgium,
Goofball, reports that they have a different story there with Sint arriving in their country at a different location.

Now you have to understand the characters of ZwartePieten. Many of them are young and rather naughty. This stems from the original legend where they were naughty children who were put in Sint's sack and taken back to Spain! And they are very acrobatic (for the most part) as they are the ones who climb down the chimney and carry the sack of toys and treats. So of course almost every school gym lesson in November at some point has an obstacle course for the children to follow in order to earn the PietenDiploma!
In the street parades and at the markets you will see a number of Piets handing out candy and pepernoten. But in some places they actually throw the candy, hence the term "Strooigoed" (stuff you throw). Especially at the school visits where the children perform for SinterKlaas, the Piets can be quite rambunctious and at times Sint has to calm them down. But it is all in good fun and the kids are usually quite happy to let the Piets join in their dances and throw candy at them. And whenever they see one on the street, the call to him by name yelling "Piet! Piet!" and are guaranteed a smile and a wave as if they are personally recognized. I have heard funny tales of Dutch children on summer vacation in Spain who, upon seeing a black person on the beach or street, have called out "Piet! Piet!". And in areas familiar with Dutch vacationeers, the child was usually rewarded with the same big smile and wave, thus confirming their identity!


And while in the US you find Santa hats and outfits, for the most part in the Netherlands the children all want to dress up as Piet. Well of course! You get a really colorful costume, and you can choose whatever color you want. Oftentimes it is satin or some soft material, though the fancier ones include velvet. The ruffled collar is not always pleasant, but simpler costumes leave that out. And you get a great cap with a feather. Many schools have craft activities where the kids make their own feather cap. But best of all you get to put on black makeup! Some kids are content to just a few smudges on their cheeks, but others go all out with their entire face and neck covered in black. Topped off with a curly black wig and a cap, the sight of the white eyes and bright smiles (sometimes with missing teeth!) from such shiny black faces is comical and touching at the same time. And of course there are one or two who will dress up at Sint. But you get to have a lot more fun as Piet! No wonder the parents no longer threaten their children about getting put into the sack and sent off to Spain. Kids in the Netherlands love ZwartePiet and many would jump at the chance without hesitation! I know of several teenagers who relish their role every year as a "helper", spending money of their own to embellish their costumes.

So while he may be a bit outdated, and definitely on the naughty side with some of his antics, and he is certainly not politically correct and is definitely a stereotype, I can't help myself,
I love ZwartePiet! I would definitely go off to Spain with him!!

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So there you have the tradition as celebrated in the Netherlands, but I'm not done yet! Look for future blogs with this title to see how I combined the traditions of the Netherlands, Germany and the US into one story for my girls. And I will be posting a recipe (not something I often do) that includes what to do with all those extra pepernoten!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part II)

This post is part of a series I am writing to help my readers understand the difference between what is normally celebrated in the US during December vs the traditions one finds in the Netherlands and surrounding countries. But today is also ...
For more information and links about this great blogfun, visit 'Twas Brillig and company and have fun reading all their great stories. In keeping with the theme I am currently writing about, today I give you tales from my family's experience with SinterKlaas and his helpers.
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As I reported earlier, SinterKlaas is now in the Netherlands, and this legendary figure is also the source of the character we know in the US as "Santa Claus". Like the Saint Nicholas we know in the US, SinterKlaas is a benevolent old man who loves children and even though he wears the clothes of a bishop including the mitre and cape, his festival is celebrated all over the country by people of all religions, ages and backgrounds.

Although based on a real Archbishop of Myra, Turkey, who lived from 271 AD to December 6, 342 AD, part of the legend of today's SinterKlaas is that he is alive today and visits the Netherlands to celebrate his birthday! The other 11 months of the year he lives in Spain. So when he arrives in the Netherlands, you suddenly start seeing in the shops the "apples from Spain" which are actually oranges or mandarines. These are also popular treats given to children in their shoes which they place by the chimney or door along with a carrot or apple or hay for Sint's faithful steed Amerigo. Children also place their wishlists and drawings for SinterKlaas in their shoes. At times you will see Sint in the market in the center of town, accompanied by his faithful helpers (more about them in a later post). Children often line up to shake his hand and give him one of their drawings. And as SinterKlaas is a big fan of music and dancing, there is always a lot of that going on. I think there may be as many SinterKlaas songs as there are Christmas caroles! And every year there seems to be a new one added to the repertoire!

From the moment Sint and company arrive in the Netherlands, children have the opportunity to place their shoes every night by the door in the hopes of getting something (in some families he only comes on the weekends) Often this is a small treat, candy, sweet, piece of fruit, or toy. Sometimes it is something more useful such as school supplies, socks, a warm hat or gloves. But of course very special "SinterKlaas treats" are the pepernoten which are small, hard, round spice cookies (about the size of a large cherry). In flavor they are reminiscent of Gingersnaps or cinnamon cookies. Other treats are various marzipan sweets that come in all different shapes representing luck and various objects associated with this festival. And of course...chocolate. Remember the Dutch were the merchants who brought chocolate to the world, so of course this is an important part of the festival. Tradition has it that every child received a sweetbread that was shaped into the first letter of his or her name. But through the years this has slowly been replaced by chocolate letters in various manifestations. We have not only the typical milk chocolate, but also dark, white, hazelnut, mint, crispy, etc. And in families where the first names often have the same letters, the children often write to Sint to ask that their whole name be spelled out in chocolate letters (Sint doesn't usually go for this!)

In addition to the nightly visits to leave the smaller presents, on the day/afternoon/evening of 5.December, SinterKlaas often makes a personal visit to the children. Sometimes this occurs at school at a big party, sometimes at home in the presence of the assembled family. Of course to arrange such a visit, parents have to book months in advance! Most usually get a neighbor to put the sack of toys in front of the door and knock very loudly. For years we did this with our neighbors who had children older than ours.

One December 5th, when DD1 was 6 and DD2 3&1/2, I had my DH put them in the bath while I got the sack of toys out of the car and arranged for a neighbor to come and knock on our door. While I was outside, who should be walking down our street but SinterKlaas and one of his helpers! They had just finished a visit with one of our neighbors and were on their way to their next appointment. But as they saw me putting the sack by the door, they very kindly asked if they should knock for us!! Well of course! So I quickly got the kids out of the bath and into their robes in time to answer the door. And Sint and Piet brought in the sack and stayed for 5 minutes to take photos. Both girls were very reserved and shy, as I would expect them to be around any stranger. But what an impression! The whole experience was greatly expanded upon and embellished in the telling the next day at school. And of course especially as the presents they found in the sack were somehow exactly what they had wanted and asked Sint for and included some things they had not asked for but quickly fell in love with. The next year they were so excited during this period that every dark figure on the street must have been a Zwarte Piet.

But by the time DD1 was 8, she was starting to already have doubts about SinterKlaas. I had a very good and convincing story to cover the differences between SinterKlaas and Santa Claus (upcoming post), but some classmates at school and older children were telling her there was no such person and that it was the parents that brought the toys. That year I happened to be class Mom and therefore on the morning of 5.December I brought the girls to school and helped out at the party. Therefore I was at school the entire time.

So imagine their surprise when we returned home in the afternoon to find pepernoten and candy strewn throughout the hall, leading to a sack of toys in the living room! In fact, the trail went all the way up both sets of stairs into the top bedroom where I have my office. There were even candies on top of my desk in front of the window which was slightly open! The only possible explanation was that Sint and Piet had visited while we were out because there was no way anyone else could get onto the roof on the third floor and in through the window. And no one else would leave such a mess behind! And since my DH was traveling and did not return home until the evening, and the girls had seen me at school the entire day, the knew it could not have been their parents! So DD1 became a firm believer having hard evidence that she shared with anyone trying to convince her otherwise.

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Future blogs with this title will include more information about Sint vs Santa, Zwarte Pieten, my cover story for the cultural contradictions and my favorite recipe containing pepernoten!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Who is Coming to Your House? (Part I)

As my good friend Jenn has already told you, the Netherlands and surrounding regions are in full swing to prepare for the upcoming family holiday, the "Feast of Saint Nicholas". "What is this?", you may ask, if you are not familiar with Dutch culture. And how does this compare to Santa Claus? And as a parent with multi-cultural children, how do you reconcile your own traditions, with those of your adopted home? In other words,"Who comes to your house?" For the answer to these very good questions, gentle readers, I provide you in the coming weeks various historical tidbits and trivia, along with stories from my own experiences here and how I dealt with the cultural clash/crisis. I hope, in any case, that it allows you to appreciate your own traditions and to celebrate along with us!

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The tradition of "SinterKlaas" in the Netherlands actually pre-dates the Anglicized version of Santa Claus. In fact Dutch settlers brought the tradition with them in the early 17th century and it morphed through the years into the version most Americans know today. Clement Moore's poem " A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (you know, the one that starts out 'Twas the night before Christmas...) was first published in 1823. Christmas wasn't even a holiday in the US until 1870! Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper's Weekly magazine, was inspired by Moore's poem and did a number of drawings that helped establish the image we have of the current "jolly old elf". And of course, you've probably heard about Coca Cola's contribution to the popular culture with its advertisement campaigns starting in 1931.

But the Dutch have remained faithful to the original "Sanct Herr Nicholaas" tradition that developed slowly from the 11th century, and today's Sinter Klaas wears the Bishop's clothes, miter, ruby ring and staff that are appropriate to the saint around which the legend has arisen. In the Netherlands, as in Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of Germany, the celebration is on eve of the feast-day and is therefore celebrated on 5.December. However, the actual feast-day is 6.December (Catholics may know this as the feast-day or name-day for Nickolas), which is the anniversary of his death. So while many protestant parts of Germany celebrate on the 5th, the predominant Catholic regions celebrate on the 6th of December.

While Father Christmas in England and Santa Claus in the US have helpers who are elves and a workshop in the North Pole, in Holland SinterKlaas arrives by boat. And just as in the US you see Santa Claus and his helpers in various locations prior to Christmas day, in the Netherlands he arrives usually the second weekend in November, on a steam-boat from Spain! Harbor towns all along the coast of the Netherlands compete for the honor of receiving the much revered holy-man, and every year the celebration of his arrival is accompanied by a big party with television coverage avidly watched by children all over the county. In the weeks following his arrival all the other cities in the Netherlands welcome him into their locale with their own celebration. If they happen to have a canal in their town, then he may arrive on one of the smaller boats. Various elementary schools also welcome him and he has been known to arrive on various modes of transport including rowboat, coach, motorcycle, limousine, bicycle, horseback, and even with the friendly help of a local policecar or fire truck.

While in the US Santa Claus visits the children at their homes with the aid of a sleigh and eight magic reindeer, SinterKlaas makes due in the smaller country of the Netherlands on a magical white, grey-spotted horse named "Amerigo". This sure-footed beast is capable of jumping to the highest of roofs to carry the packages that are magically transported down the chimney by Sint's helpers. And for those who are not blessed with a fireplace, simply leaving your shoes by the door will guarantee that you will not be forgotten!

And while children in the US receive presents only on the 25th of December, Dutch children can actually receive a small gift or treat in their shoes every day from the time SinterKlaas and his helpers arrive in the Netherlands, and then the larger presents in a sack on 5.December! No wonder the kids love him so much!! And believe me when I tell you many a parent has used the threat of SinterKlaas and his helpers possibly peeking in the windows to help modify a child's behavior, especially in the evenings when any shadowy figure on the street could potentially be a "Zwarte Piet"...!

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More on Santa Claus vs. SinterKlaas, the helpers in various countries, my own childrens' experiences with "de goede Sint", and my own story to explain these various cultural contradictions in the upcoming blogs of with this same title!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What We're Doing Today...

maintenance.



Computer, lawn, desk, house, etc...

Wanna play? Just ask Jenn!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Me, me, meme! (III)

I am not very good at the "Meme" games that you find on many blogs. In fact I still owe Robin of Around the Island one from way back in August (I didn't forget!). But as I have been struggling with so much drama on the homefront that I've already blogged about, and I am a bit at a loss for my usual enthusiasm and inspiration, this meme from The Real Life Drama Queen hit me at just the right moment, so here goes:

A. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning.

B. Each player lists 6 facts/habits/secrets about themselves.

C. At the end of the post, the player then tags people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

My Facts:

1. I have trouble accepting compliments. My first reaction is to deny whatever nice thing is being said about me and provide ample evidence to the contrary. In fact that was originally what this blog was going to be about. You see Jen in MI of A2eatwrite awarded me this lovely blog-bling:


with the comment "...for her comforting words and loving demeanor and her use of "Darling" in her comments! And also for her courage in sharing difficult times with us through her blog and showing us that there are many routes in life and we can overcome adversity."

I wanted to tell her how wrong she is and what a true b**ch I can be. But then I know also how hard I am on myself and that the best thing to do when you get a compliment is to beam and blush and say "Thank You". So I am doing my best to beam and blush and overcome my dig-my-toe-in-the-ground, "Aw shucks" reaction. Thanks so much Darlin' Jen! It does make me feel a wee bit special to get such lovely bling and I will do my best to live up to it. And also a "Thank You" to Anno as I just know she was thinking of me for this award as well! I can only say "back at'cha " ladies!

And now the good part where I get to name some of my nicest blogging buddies, only...most of them have already been named by someone else. Fortunately, a few could stand to be named again so I award:

Rebecca James, my lovely Ozzie blogbuddy who is so nice that she can't even be rude when it is absolutely called for (see this post)!

Robin of Around the Island, a blogbuddy in Israel who is so nice about all her frustrations as a Mom that she puts my rants to shame. She is a wonderful example of what I try (but often fail) to live up to. She has great suggestions and links as well and is a truly fun read.

And my lovely "southern" neighbour at Goofballsworld as she is always leaving such funny, encouraging comments and I am dying to meet her in person someday!

2. While I pride myself on being a bit of an egghead intellectual with respect to my sense of humour, I have a very silly weakness for ... "light bulb" jokes! I collect them! I think they are hysterical. For instance: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but it takes her a lot of money and a long time and the light bulb really has to want to change. How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb? Two, one to change the bulb and one not to change the bulb! Oh I could go on, and I probably will in another post!

3. I have small feet. I wear size 5 1/2 shoes. In Europe this is size 35-36. Problem is adult shoe sizes over here start at size 36-37. I have to look for shoes in the children's departments. Last year I found a great pair of boots that were very reasonably priced and comfortable and fit me well. I almost bought them, until I realized that just above the ankle was an emblem of a bunny! (sigh)

4. I (almost) have "absolute pitch". Almost, because to have true absolute pitch you need to start training very early on to be able to determine whether a note is a half tone sharp or flat and be able to sing any note that is requested on command. I started training in high school when my choir teacher discovered this. But at age 15-16 I found this really boring and did not continue. While this ability is great when you are in the musical world and can make some use of it, it is at times a pain in the "real" world. You cannot imagine the number of times I have had to run from the room or hit the off/mute button on the Radio/TV. There are some pop songs and singers that I just cannot stand to listen to, and unfortunately they seem to be some of the more popular ones. And it took me a long time to understand why the London Philharmonic Orchestra version of a classical piece appeals to me less than the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra version. Turns out the British tune their orchestra (you know when the first chair violinist plays a note that everyone then plays on their instrument when they are first starting) to a different note (A4 = 440 Hz) from the Germans (A4 = 446 Hz). While either tuning system is perfectly acceptable, and the musical performances are both equally good, the British orchestra just sounds "wrong", not flat or sharp, but not "right". And it bugged me for years before I learned what the difference is. Now I can listen to their recordings and know that it is "okay" and still enjoy the music (After all, we're talking about only 6 Hz difference here!). But I still prefer performances by the German orchestra and other orchestras that have the same tuning. Weird I know, picky, nonsensical. Just one of the little quirks in my life.

5. I have a "somewhat" photographic memory. I can't tell you verbatim what is written on a page or what page it is on, but I can tell you about where something is in a book or magazine (front, middle, back) and on a page (top, bottom, middle) and if there is a photograph or drawing nearby. It has never really helped me in school as I don't have the true recall that will tell me exactly what information is written. Just a vague collection of content and where it is located. It does at times help when I am searching for something I have read, but otherwise is basically a useless ability. Like number 4 above. Weird, and somehow gives me the impression that I am second- or third-best in a category but not really good at anything!

6. I am lousy at names and worse a remembering numbers. At least in terms of brain-vocal connection. However, I can remember a phone number by how it sounds when I dial it and sometimes my hand knows it even when my "brain" doesn't. For instance, I can dial some frequent numbers on the phone without looking. But I cannot possibly tell you what number I have just dialed. And I can hear when I have mis-dialed a number. Another almost useless ability. (sigh)


Now this actually not the first time I have played this kind of game. So if you really are interested in knowing more about my "strangeness", hop on over to this early post from my very first meme, or this one where I do 8 more "interesting" things! I do think the first one has some of my best answers! (Snort Warning! Do not eat or drink around the computer while reading this post!!) And that's it guys. I'm telling you I'm not that interesting!! Don't ask me to do this again!! But I do know a couple of folks who are very interesting and as they are also playing "NaBloPoMo" they might can use this as a(n) substitute excuse for inspiration:

My great friend Jenn-In-Holland at Something to Say... who is welcome to substitute interesting photos for facts if she wants!! Same challenge to her partner-in-blog (check out their Looking Into photoblog) Allison at Soccer Mom In Denial. And another of my favorite writers, who doesn't usually do memes but could use the excuse as a personal favor to me, is our lovely SOS originator 'Twas Brillig.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

And yet another installment of ....


I have been a bit heavy with my last story and I apologize here for this. But this time I flashback for another funny (true) tale from my past.

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While I have used this blog in the past to write about my wedding, I did not mention the adventure that involved the preparations for said day. And yes, this deserves its own SOS!

As I had mentioned, we got married in a civil ceremony in the city where my husband was born and where his family still lives. As neither of us is really into organized religion, we did not opt for the additional church wedding which is where the bride gets really decked out. However, since this was to be the only ceremony we planned, I wanted to wear something special for the day and as suits were a fairly common attire for me at work, I decided to wear a pretty dress. Great compromise, until I just could not find anything that really worked for me. Either too formal or too flashy or too casual. I decided I would wait until I got back to Texas to look for something there. As part of the planning, however, I indulged myself and picked up a German bridal magazine. While looking through it I found the perfect dress! A simple A-line, sleeveless shift with a lace cape overlay. And the magazine included the pattern for the dress!

Now I am not a seamstress, but knew that my Mom would help out and so this was the plan. The next good fortune came when I was walking over the local market and came across a stand selling the most beautiful bolts of lace. I fell in love with a simple cream-colored soft lace and bought the fabric on the spot. Back in Texas 3 weeks prior to the wedding I found matching cream-colored crepe for the dress and satin-like material for the lining and I was off. Now the comedy of errors that represents my sewing skills began. But I did not do too bad and only had about 3 meltdowns and tearful tantrums that required my mother's skills to rescue me. I am sure she rues the day she ever taught me to sew. But in the end it worked out fabulous.

How hard could it have been, you ask? Well, for you novices, crepe and satin are very hard to keep in place when cutting and sewing and tend to slip and slide all over the place. And both materials unravel like crazy so you have to be careful with the strings or else end up with bunches and pulls in the fabric (which I did on numerous occasions). And the pattern, while simple, had an elegant trick to it. The skirt had a "lily hem" which was shorter in the front, hitting just above my knee, and long in the back, dipping down to mid-calf. Trying to get both sides symmetrical was harder than it sounds. Oh, and of course the instructions were all in German!

The cape was also harder than it appeared to be initially. We're talking a circle with a cut on one side and a hole in the middle right? Wrong. It too was shorter in the front than in the back, which made it asymmetrical and called for very great care in cutting. I think I pinned the pattern six times before I started cutting. I even made a newspaper version that I tried on and adjusted before I took scissors to fabric. The cutting of lace is a nightmare in itself. And it had only two seams along the shoulders, but in order to sew it I had to use a layer of tissue paper in between and sew it together, then carefully tear out the tissue paper! AARRRGGGHH!! What had I gotten myself into? It finally got done and all that remained was to hand sew a thin satin ribbon around the neckline and add buttons and ribbon loops up the back. It was optional to add satin ribbon around the cut edges of the lace and so I left out that option. Dress finished!

Fast forward to the night before the wedding. When I looked at the dress hanging there I was not happy with the edges of the lace where it had been cut. So I decided to hand sew the ribbon along the edge. Now figuring that the radius of the cape was about 2 feet, that means 2piR is the length of the hem I would need. That's over 12 feet! In very poor light. The night before my wedding. I obviously had lost my mind!! But in fact it helped to calm the pre-wedding nerves and I actually finished by about 2AM.

As if that wasn't enough drama. My parents and I were staying in a hotel downtown while DH was with his family. As I was only in town for 2 nights and we were to return to Holland the day after the wedding, I only had a small suitcase with the basic necessities with me. And of course what I needed for the wedding. Following the tradition, I had "Something old" - a monogrammed lace handkerchief from my paternal grandmother who shares my first initial, "something new" - pretty new pearl earrings, "something borrowed" - I was going to wear my mother's fancy watch, "something blue" - a hand-sewn blue garter from my best friend back in Texas, "and a lucky penny for my shoe" - actually I had two, a US penny from the year I was born from my Dad and a new German pfennig from the year I got married provided by my future father-in.law.

I was all set...until the next morning. As I was packing light, I had thought to wear the bra I had been wearing the night before. Only when I got dressed for dinner I had decided that the black bra looked better under the dark outfit I was wearing. And I didn't pack a white one for under my wedding dress! Granted I was wearing a slip and the dress was lined, but still there was a shadow that I could see and I was afraid a strap might show as the dress was sleeveless. CRISIS!!

My Mom to the rescue. She had an extra white bra with her and while I am shaped very differently, it still worked well enough! And in the rush I forgot to put on her watch. So guess what my "something borrowed" was!!!

I don't usually do pictures, but this result deserves to be seen!

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For more lovely SOS Tales, please check out our hostess this week Jenn-In-Holland at Something to Say:About Life in the Netherlands. And for previous and future installments, be sure and look at 'Twas Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe who surely deserve the blame credit for starting this addictive fun!