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?

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!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hand Me Downs...

I was waiting on the school playground to pick up DD2 when I noticed a little girl playing who was wearing a sweater just like one of DD2's. I was about to tell her that and let her know that it was one of DD2's and my favorites and that it was really pretty. Then she ran to her mother who was in the circle of moms I was chatting with and I realized it wasn't like DD2's sweter, it was her sweater that I had passed on to my girlfriend a few months ago. It was shocking to realize that indeed, DD2 was much too big for that lovely sweater and it was getting some good wear on my friend's daughter. I complimented her and she said, "Yes, I got it from DD2. It's my favorite!"

In the next minute I noticed out of the corner of my eye a little blonde head wearing a T-shirt I had seen many times on Jenn-In-Holland's daughter. In my mind's eye I flashed on her and then realized I was looking at my own DD2 who had grown into Jenn's daughter's clothes. How could it be that my little one was now such a big girl? (sigh)

I love hand-me-downs. Not only do they appeal to the "ecology nut" side of my nature, but seeing familiar clothes brings back such lovely memories of other young bodies doing similar or different things. For me, there is no sigma attached to hand-me-downs, only love.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pitiful Parents Anonymous


Yes the SOS players now have button! 'Twas Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe have outdone themselves in their efforts to provide us a place to play on Sundays. Need to know more? You can visit them or this week visit our Soapy Hostess Thalia's Child. Don't miss out on the fun!!

My post this week is about a real-time Soap Opera. This might end up being an on-going story for some time, but I hope it won't have weekly updates!!

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"Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome you all to Pitiful Parent Anonymous. Our first speaker today is Fourier.Analyst."

"Hi, my moniker is FA and I'm the parent of an OCD child. It has been about 12 hours since my last meltdown with her."

"Hi FA", the group responds.

"It is so hard watching your child struggling with something you don't understand and can't imagine. You can't protect them. You can't make it better. No amount of tears or hugs, no amount of understanding or patience, no amount of long, calm (as possible) discussions, nothing leads to any answers, solutions, or relief. And even when you finally acknowledge this is out of your hands and needs to be dealt with by a professional, you are given the information that it might never be really fixed. And that the process to discover what might work will be long and full of dead ends and solutions that don't work.

And so you go on with daily life, trying to get back to some sort of normalcy. But then that unfortunately includes the everyday nagging that seems to cause so much stress. Still, you maintain the requirements of clean clothes everyday, some semblance of body hygiene, regular semi-healthy meals, rudimentary efforts at keeping the chaos out of the living room and the rest of the house, a daily effort at doing homework and an occasional stab at clearing a space in your child's bedroom. And with these come the expected adolescent temper tantrums and vocal responses that grate on nerves and stretch parental patience.

Moans and complaining sessions over coffee with other Moms tell you that this is typical behaviour, but you know that there is a difference. The level of hysteria that comes from a simple question or request is beyond a "normal" response. The escalation into screaming fits, and destruction of property, followed by sullen silences and hiding and the discovery of more wads of hair from an already brutalized head, no, this is not normal. But I'm tired of crying every day, and am sure to do so if I talk about it any further. And so I just nod and sigh and drink my tea without going into further details.

My close friends know the gory details. We hug and cry together, laugh when possible and change the subject when it all just gets to be too much. I'm smart enough to know this is not all my fault, despite how much she tries to tell me it is. I know she doesn't really hate me, though this is very hard to believe when she is screaming it with such conviction. I know she doesn't want to leave home, though I fully expect running away from home to be one of the next escalations of the pattern of behaviour. And I know she doesn't want me to leave and would be sorry if I suddenly died and regret forever her last words to me.

It is taking its toll on the whole family, but most of all on me. My own Fibromyalgia illness makes my body very ill-suited to handling the stress chemicals that are released so often. I am in physical pain for so much of the time that I don't even notice anymore unless it steps up a level. Everyday tasks leave me exhausted and while exercise is the best medicine for me, I can hardly get the strength to get the kids where they need to be and can't even face the prospect of a workout. I am on the verge of tears so much of the time I don't dare face gym buddies I have not seen for a while who would certainly ask how I am and where I've been. And I have been known to have to leave in the middle of yoga class, on days when things were going fairly well, to cry in the bathroom just from the release of tension from holding myself together that I was not even aware of.

So it is a daily struggle that I am resigned will result in more of the same. We are currently on the merry-go-round of specialists who can advise on the treatment that is needed. But it is a slow process in an already over-burdened medical system. She's not yet considered a real danger to herself, though she is clearly on that path if we don't intervene soon. So we have another appointment next week to be followed by a course therapy and very likely a referral and another period of waiting before we finally get on the pharmaceutical roller-coaster and hopefully eventually find some stability.

The hardest part for me as a parent is not the current reality, though I am struggling with that burden. But knowing that this is an ongoing problem that my beautiful child will struggle with for the rest of her life. It is not how I imagined her future and while I know that for the most part she will have a normal, happy life, I worry about the periods of torment. These are the thoughts that keep me from sleep. These are the fears that tear at my heart. These are the struggles that make me shake my fist at fortune and curse the gods who have placed such a trial on one so innocent and full of promise. And at the times when I have exhausted myself with of these thoughts and finally manage quieten my mind, the small "I told you so" voice comes out reminding me of the doubts I had about my ability to be a good mother.

I know I am in the middle of the "grief process". I have battled through the denial of the problem and acknowledged that this is out of my hands and needs professional help. I have raged the "Why me?/Why her?/What did we do wrong?" theme to until it no longer needs asking and I know that there are no answers. I have negotiated all the various efforts to make things better and tried to let things go on without any parental intervention until I realized that this was only leading to more chaos in her life and more stress in mine. There is no bargaining with this condition. It will not wait until after test week or take a break during family vacations. It is here and now. I guess I've reached the stage of depression. It all looks bleak and scary ahead and I am just very, very sad.

But on the other side of this will be acceptance and I'm working towards this. There are worse problems in the world. And I am amazed to hear from other women I admire and believe are living examples of "SuperMom" that they too have been down this path and there is hope and help on the way. So I tell you this tale of my struggle to cope one day at a time and more than ever how fiercely I say the prayer that closes every PPA meeting:"

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

"The Serenity Prayer" by Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, November 3, 2007