Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kaarsjesavond



On Tuesday we trekked out to Gouda to witness the annual kaarjesavond (candle evening). Gouda is a beautiful city that has been around since at least 1139. In the center of the main square is a gorgeous building that has served as the city hall since it was built in 1448. For kaarjesavond, candles get lit behind every window of the building, the surrounding stores on the square turn off their lights and the houses above the stores light their own candles in the windows.

Thousands of people were gathered around the city hall in the freezing cold. There were several choirs who led the crowd in singing Christmas carols and I was surprised to discover that I still know most of the lyrics in Dutch. Then the candles in the city hall got lit, we sang some more carols and Gouda’s mayor (who, in his official get-up looked remarkably like a mafia lord) made a speech. He reminded us that we were all gathered in the square exactly like it has been happening for centuries and he called for respect and tolerance in our society. Then the mayor of Gouda’s twin city in Norway lit the giant Christmas tree they had donated and we sang some more.

If I hadn’t been able to truly get into the Christmas spirit, even after my cousin confessed how glad she was we are here this year to share it, this ceremony surely did the trick. I got almost overwhelmed with a sense of history, community and belonging there, freezing my ass off on Gouda’s main square.

As we were all singing about Jesus’ birth, knowing that the vast majority of the crowd never attends a church, the thought of the separation of church and state did cross my mind. Obviously, we don’t have that rule in Holland – which is interesting because we are not a particularly religious society, especially in this point in time. I’m usually pretty sensitive to the issue; I feel strongly that the two should indeed be separated, but that night it didn’t bother me. In fact, I thought it was pretty marvelous, standing amidst the people of Gouda who, as the mayor pointed out are representative of 130 different countries, all singing the same carols – our Kyrie Elyson’s loud and clear because for many that was the one part we remembered – not because we all believe in the story of Christ’s birth, but because we enjoyed being part of the community; to celebrate an otherwise pretty bleak season. And because any more modern songs would have seemed entirely out of place at the over half a millennium old town square.

I’m not saying that Holland should not adopt a separation of church and state law, because I think they should. It’s just that at that particular night, belting out old hymns and carols amongst thousands of other people in the freezing cold in the candlelight, it seemed fitting.





Tuesday, December 15, 2009

more adventures

Sleep is steadily improving – at least for Joris, who mostly slept through the night the last two nights. Well, he still wakes up, but isn’t awake for long stretches of time anymore. I myself, on the other hand, will still lay awake for hours when woken up, unable to shut off my brain and so I entertain myself by worrying about everything, since that is what I seem to do best.
We’ve had a nice and busy time so far. On Friday we went to Madurodam, an outdoor park that features scale models of Dutch buildings. There are replicas of parts of cities and towns, industries and entertainment facilities, including the famous Red Light district with miniature prostitutes. Joris loved watching the trains, boats and other things that moved. It was freezing cold (literally) but it was still hard to tear him away when it was time to go.

That night we all were invited over for dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house in Sassenheim. We stopped by our former neighbors, Cees en Riet first who live next door. Cees had just come home from the hospital after suffering a minor stroke. He had already gone biking again. Riet is one of those special people that everyone immediately feels at ease with. Joris usually needs a good half hour to get used to people, but after five minutes with tante Riet he was ready to practically crawl onto her lap!

Dinner was a really nice time and Joris was just mr. charming pants throughout all of the visits (although it surely helped that everyone seemed to provide him with toy cars). Oma had come to dinner as well and afterwards we all skyped with my cousin Lydia in Cyprus which was kind of surreal. She and her son, Konstantinos will come to Holland next week as well. Joris kept asking to see Konstantinos, who is eight and was floating in and out of the screen and we managed to get the two boys talking to each other with the headsets on. Too much cute!

Saturday, Sietske and Daan picked us up to go to the Christmas market in Dordrecht together. Sietske and I met our first year of high school and immediately became best friends and we have stayed in touch ever since. Daan was one of my brother’s best friends, which is how Sietske and Daan met and got together. It was so nice to spend some time with them and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night when they and another friend, Sebastiaan, will come over for dinner and play board games. The Christmas market was fun, but rather crazy since it seemed like half the Dutch population had descended onto the downtown area of this little city. Joris particularly enjoyed watching the ice skating rink and announced that “someday I want to try that”.
Sunday my parents took us to a goat farm that is open to the public year round. Since it’s the Christmas season they had lots of activities set up and the place was buzzing with parents and kids. It was totally cute, well set up and run. We got to feed the goats, saw lots of other farm animals, including a newborn calf whose mother was still licking him clean. Jacob started to somewhat frantically look around for the hand sanitizer station after feeding the goats, but either everyone carries their own or we as a people are just less germophobic (I’ll let you guess which one is true). Joris painted a Christmas ornament and insisted on putting together a birdhouse – that boy really enjoys hammering nails! There also was an awesome little restaurant where we enjoyed Dutch pancakes with bacon and cheese.

After the farm we had a family get together at my aunt Coby’s house in Leiden. I hadn’t seen her, Piet (her husband) or my cousins yet. I always love get-togethers at their house; they’re comfortable, informal and always a lot of fun. I mostly chatted with my cousins Marieke and Irene who are both closest in age to me. Marieke’s daughter Charlotte is three weeks older than Joris and Irene’s daughter Emma is a year younger. It was so cute to see the three of them together, even though they didn’t really end up playing with each other that much. Marieke en Irene organized an impromptu cousin’s night out for this coming Saturday through the miracle of iphone. Within minutes my cousin in Cyprus and my cousin Mieke, who was sick in bed at home, had been informed and agreed to come. We’ll be meeting for dinner, a movie and drinks after. It will be the first time that I’ve been out with all four of my cousins at the same time. The only one missing will be my brother, but we consoled ourselves that he probably would not be interested in the tear jerker Dutch movie we’re going to see. In any case, the good company, good food and plenty of wine made for a memorably wonderful evening.

Yesterday we went for a shopping outing to Haarlem, one of the prettiest little cities in Holland. I picked up some videos and a book for Joris and we enjoyed some excellent hot cocoa. At night my parents had been invited out to a friends house and Jacob and I enjoyed a quiet night at our little rental house where we watched most of “Hook”.

In a little bit we’ll all drive out to Gouda (yes, of cheese fame) where there is a Christmas tree lighting with real candles (the other product besides stroopwafels that Gouda is famous for), choirs and other Christmas-y activities.

Dutch Efficiency Tally: (this is for my friend Joshua, who suffered through a highly inefficient hour at the Dutch consulate in Vancouver with me)
- A major highway ends in a traffic light.
- As unimaginative as American street names are, at least you can often times figure out where in town you need to be based on the numbers and wind directions. In Holland, if you don’t happen to know that you need to get through the van Gogh street in order to get to Bloemenplein, you’re SOL. Which is why everyone now seems to own a GPS.
- When you follow the free parking signs, you will NEVER get to an actual parking lot.

(Of course, as much as I defend and praise Holland when I am in the States, I am doing the same in reverse here. Yeah, you wouldn’t have guessed that, right? I guess I don’t fully belong in either place. Or maybe, more positively, I belong to both.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Trip

On Tuesday, we took off on a plane to Holland. Our preparations had been haphazard at best. Which, for me, means that there were only two incomplete packing lists and I left most of the actual packing to the two days before departure, instead of getting a head start a week earlier. In any case, we felt a little rushed and kept feeling like we had overlooked something major. (We recently (re)watched Home Alone – so we made sure that we had actually brought Joris.)

When we arrived at SeaTac it was validated once again, that I am usually right. Really, everyone should realize that they’d all be much better off if they would just listen to me. First, my negotiations in favor of bringing the stroller proved to be absolutely worthwhile since we could stash and hang a variety of bags on it while still being able to drag the car seat around and have hands available to whip out passports and boarding passes. Secondly, when we entered the doors under the Northwest Airlines sign, there was no Northwest airlines to be found. I suggested that since it merged with Delta and – hey – Delta was right there! – we probably had to check in there. Jacob went off to track down the phantom NW Airlines desk, but, of course, I was right. And lastly, when we had checked the one bag we were going to check it turned out that, indeed, there is no $20 per bag fee on international flights and we might as well have packed more than the frugal 3 pairs of underwear per person. So there. Ha… I guess.

Anyway, we had a half hour delay but an otherwise uneventful flight. Joris demonstrated his special hero ability of being able to stay awake for much longer than any two year old should legally be able to. Between (Seattle times) 7:00am Tuesday and 2:00am Wednesday he managed to nap for a grand total of 35 minutes. But, was totally cheerful for the waking hours, turning into rather insane giddiness the hour or so before he actually made it down for a nap (it was 11am in Holland then) so it wasn’t as you might imagine it to be. In fact, there was considerable less whining and contrary-ness compared to a normal day at home, so what do you know, maybe I should pack him pack on an intercontinental flight more often…
Oh, and I watched three movies! Finally got to see “Up” which made me seriously ponder my impending old age, “500 days of Summer” which managed to both question and confirm my belief in the meant-to-be and “The Time Traveler’s Wife” of which I sincerely hope that the book more thoroughly explained the holes in the story line.

My dad picked us up at the airport and drove us over to the rental house we are staying at. It is situated in a park outside a small town called Roelofarendsveen and is quite possibly the most quintessential Dutch setting. It’s in the middle of a polder, a pumped dry piece of grassland on which either sheep or cows graze, bordered by about 2 yard wide canals, occasionally lined by a single row of perfectly spaced and lined up trees. Also, there is a windmill. It looks hauntingly beautiful in the misty air; eerie and desolate, yet comfortingly familiar and serene.

We took a 3.5 hour nap and then went to visit Oma, my grandma, in Sassenheim in the afternoon. I was surprised and relieved to see her in as good a shape she is in for her 92 years; with some physical ailments, hard of hearing, yet with most of her wits still in tact. She loved seeing Joris (she had last seen him when he was 3 months old) and Joris warmed up to her pretty quickly as well.

Yesterday, we went to the market and grocery store in Sassenheim and took Oma out for coffee and gebak (pastries – the good kind, with lots of cream!). We’d had a bit of a rough night. Joris had been up from 12:45 – 4:00am and Jacob and I both weren’t able to get back to sleep until after 6:00am.

Random bits:
* Joris “I am so lucky to see so much mud!”
* “I want to go home to our green house”.
* You have to pay one Euro to dispose of your trash bag, yet recycling is free: brilliant!
* I got a cell phone to use here. I’ll put my number on my FaceBook in case you need to get in touch with me.






Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adorable

Honk! closed last weekend and we are now trying to get everything organized before we get on a plane to Holland on Tuesday.

I had a good time being crew for the show. It was low-stress and really basically just an excuse for me to get out of the house and hang out with some excellent people. I'm excited about the possibilities of both my involvement at the theatre and the future of the theatre.

Joris came to see Honk! two weekends ago. Although he asked for me throughout the first act, he made it through the entire show and seemed to have enjoyed it. He said the Cat was his favorite and even talked to the actor (despite the somewhat intimidating mustache he was sporting). He asks to listen to the soundtrack at least once or twice a day, which tickles me quite a bit. He has also started to sing along with some of the songs, which really is beyond adorable.

Below are some pictures from a recent photo shoot for our Christmas cards.

I'm looking forward to our trip to Holland, although, considering my digital addiction, the lack (or limited availability at least) of internet access will be quite the challenge...








Exasperation

"Mama, I want honey on my toast."

"O.K. sweetie."

"I want honey on my toast, Mama."

"Alright."

"I WANT honey ON my toast!"

"I am putting honey on your toast."

"I WANT HONEY ON MY TOAST"

"Joris. You do not yell at Mama. There is honey on your toast. I'm putting it on right now. Also, when Mama says, O.K., you can stop asking because it means you are already getting it."

"Mama? I want honey on my toast, please."

"Thank you for asking nicely. I am making your toast right now."

"With honey. I want honey on my toast."

"Yes, with honey. Here is your toast."

"Is there honey on it?"

"Yes. There is honey on your toast."

(3 minutes of solid toast munching)

"I want more toast. With honey on it. Is there more honey? I want more honey on my toast."


I don't mind the incessant chatter quite so much, but the repeated questions like this can just drive me up the wall. Especially since he seems to be doing it on purpose now, either repeatedly asking questions that he knows the answer to ("Is Poultry Tale in Honk!?") or purposely making untrue statements ("Koos is a dog!") I know it's all part of normal development, but man - does it ever make me want to reach for a bottle of liquor!