Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I SWEAR This Is A Dutch Custom

The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas every December 5th, and in mid-November Sinterklaas (not to be confused with Santa Claus, his cousin who lives at the North Pole) comes to the Netherlands from Spain on his big steam ship with his crew, the zwarte Piets (Black Peter). (I was going to pluralize the translation, but read it and busted up laughing, and decided against it. I digress.) Soooo, this time of year you see ads for everything with a Sinterklaas theme, complete with Zwarte Piet, who is 99.9% of the time a white person painted in black face with a black afro wig. It is so unnerving, being raised in America, and particularly in the South (I was born in Alabama, and lived in Texas for 29 years before moving to the Netherlands).

(image courtesy of Downwind of Amsterdam )

In the holiday tradition, Megan's class put on a Sinterklaas program for the children in the school, and tonight for the families and friends of the students. It was adorable. And uncomfortable. But still adorable, in an "Are you sure this isn't racist?" kind of way.

I'd like to put some cute photos of it here, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I mean, what if she runs for president one day? But, if you have a Flickr account and you're in my "friends" or "family" group, you can see them here:


It really was cute. Honest. Just really, REALLY uncomfortable. For the Americans.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Little Downtime

Oh my goodness- the house feels so empty! The Nosers JUST left, about 5 minutes ago, and the silence is deafening. Well, save for the skittering of the neighbors on the other side of the wall behind me. That Michael- he is busy doing something fun, it sounds like.

The Visit: A Breif Essay, By Kari Noser (Grade 9)

To deliver a taste of Heemstede, nevermind the Netherlands in it's entirety, is a fairly complex undertaking. There were so many things we did not see that were on the agenda, but as the visit drew to an end we realized that we are all only human and cannot consume and digest everything in the area in just a few days. With Kip's family the guinea-pigs for our tour guide services, I hope that we accomplished our main objective- to instill the want to come back and visit, the sooner the better.

Of course, we dragged them to the woods- Heemstede would basically be another dot on the map if it weren't for the Wandelbos Groenendaal. It's current state, with leaves changing and falling, locals and their four-legged companions fogging the paths with warm breath in the crisp air, and the gentle smell of the earth, the ponds, and the decomposition of wood and leaves- the wandelbos IS autumn. We walked the woods twice- once with no real aim, just to see; the other with the pancake house as our layover until we could meander home with bulging stomachs in a pancake daze. Even if you were to fight, I think you still would not keep from becoming enchanted by these woods. I cannot wait to see how they transform in the next three seasons.


With only one bicycle to our name, we lead our guests about by foot a great deal, and the weather was very forgiving. There was only one day of rain, and that was this past Tuesday, and vacation-weary, we all decided to take a day of rest. What we deemed to far to walk we achieved by bus and rail, which expanded the visit outside the boundaries of Heemstede and into Haarlem and Amsterdam.

In Haarlem we took them to one of the grandest market days in the area and gorged ourselves on the fried deliciousness of oliebollen- a sphere of fried dough with something delicious in the middle, possibly rolled in sugar, and dusted with powdered sugar if you desire. Certainly messy. Absolutely lekker.

Ik ben een Berliner.


After oliebollen, we moved on to the marketplace and wandered for awhile amidst the vendors- marveling at the baker's variety, admiring the fashions available from the clothing vendors, gaping at the low price of lobster, shrugging our shoulders at the identity of several produce items, breaking down and getting some fresh and hot stroopwaffle to share, nibbling a wedge of cheese, and finally ordering a cone of fritijes (french fries, but better) to hold us over until dinner.



We hit a cute little tourist shop in search of Delft and souveniers, and then meandered back to the bus as the sun set at 4:30 pm.


In Amsterdam we meandered through the city and took in Anne Frank's house one afternoon, NEMO (a hands-on science museum aimed at the kid in all of us) the other. Anne Frank was heart-wrenchingly powerful and exquisitely presented, and I was able to take it in with two eyes- no photography allowed. I can't wait to go again and again with future visitors, to take in the subtle details and spend more time in the interactive computer-lab part of the museum.


NEMO was such a hit with all of us that we lamented only haivng 2 hours to play there, and not going there sooner- Megan's favorite was the bubble area, where you can put yourself in a bubble tube (with help from a friend) or blow a giant bubble from a window-pane of soap. So hard to describe, better with photos:




The jewel of the visit had to be Paris, in my opinion. I love Paris- understatement of the year, and cliche to boot- many people have a place where they walk taller, breathe easier, as if they had a belt about their ribcage that was released the moment they arrive. For me, that place is Paris. This being my fourth trip to the City of Lights, it was like the embrace of an old friend stepping out of the train station and into the night in Paris. Maybe because it was the first trip I ever made overseas, as myself on a class trip rather than with parents, or perhaps that I actually SPEAK THE LANGUAGE, that I hold the city with such fondness- I told Megan (one of the many times she was working through her excitement and anxiety of going to Paris the week of our trip) that because of who she is, when she is in Paris she will feel her heart open wide and the city will sneak in and take root; after she visits Paris, there will always be a part of her heart that belongs to the city, and she will feel whole when she goes back again and again. I hate to brag, but I was 100% right.

Seeing La Tour Eiffel For The First Time

In a whirlwind we saw the Pyramids of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower (of course), the Arc de Triumph, meals at cafes, the fountains at Georges Pompidou, and Sacre Coeur. All too quickly and too breifly, like a meal of appetizers. Kip and I celebrated our 11th anniversary in the city we honeymooned in, walking through Paris for hours and hours until fatigue and abused feet forced us to return to the hotel. Megan was angry, disappointed and broken-hearted to leave just 43 hours after arriving, and declared that she wants to move to Paris and leave the Netherlands. Me too, kid.


As long as two weeks sounds, they were over far too soon. (Granted, part of their time was spent in France, so it didn't really seem like we saw them for two weeks.) Now off to start the renewal process- laundry, dusting, folding and putting things in place for the next round of visitors next month. Three weeks until the next arrivals- our dear friends the Yoburns and Auntie Kathryn (who's absence was felt so many times over the last 2 weeks- we would board a train or gather for a meal and someone would say, "Who's missing?" and we would realize it was Kathryn). Wait- only three weeks? I may never get my office clean in time!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Off To Paris...

Well, we're finally getting to enjoy the benefit of living in Europe- we're going to Paris this weekend to meet-up with Kip's family who have been getting the city ready for our arrival. Or sightseeing- I'm unclear on what they're doing there, apparently.

BUT- to tide you over, I uploaded a zillion photos to Flickr this afternoon from our visit over last week, here are a few of my favorites:




My mother-in-law is so cute that it's gross.




Ok, I've got to try and pack all my hair products for the weekend- I'll be back with tons of new shots on Monday! Bon weekend!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Big Picture Upload - Update Coming Soon

I just sat down and plugged the camera in to upload, and wowzas- 425 images in the last 4 days! I'm sure I'll surpass that in Paris next weekend, and thankfully I have all this week to go through and pick out the good shots from this batch.

We've had a fun visit so far- we went to the woods, the farm, Haarlem, the pancake house, and back to the woods and farm for good measure. Company is packing up for their 6am cab to the airport, they're catching the train for France tomorrow at an ungodly hour, and we have a short week this week, as Megan has no school on Friday. PARIS! We are all so breathless with excitement, it seems like a dream that we're getting to go again, and to show the Megster JUST how big that Eiffel Tower really is.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Company, Round 1!

Kip and Megan are off to work and school, respectively, and now I am bustling around the house getting those final things taken care of (like washing the bath mats and sweeping the stairs ONE more time) because family is coming to visit us! Wahoo!!!!! To say we are excited is an obvious understatement- Megan hopped all the way into class this morning and told her teacher "Oma and Opa and Auntie come today!"

Flickr Upload Overload
I decided last night to take care of the odds and ends that I had photographed and neglected to upload so that if I put-off uploading photos while we had guests I wouldn't be too far behind. So there are a few shots of moving day, our trip to Haarlem last weekned, and our celebration of Megan's 5 1/2th birthday now up on my photostream, the link is over in the sidebar called "Flickr Photo Site" or you can click on that crazy changing photo-box thing there and it will take you directly to a photo page. Enjoy!

Ok. I'm off to buy a floor lamp so that our guests won't be sitting in the dark this afternoon at 5pm- the days are getting to be so short! I can't imagine what December 21st is going to be like- 5 hours of daylight, maybe? Six? It should be interesting for us sun-loving Texans. Tot ziens for now!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What a Day!

Today was Tuesday, so I did my usual Tuesday morning bit and rode my bike the 6.5 kilometers into Overveen to go to the Mom's group weekly get together. I took my camera, as it was misty and foggy, and stopped a dozen times along the way to try and capture the stillness and mist that had settled over Noord-Holland.




Mom's group was relatively uneventful- I was adopted by a totally adorable 1-year-old named Sophie, who is a complete scoundrel and is quite mad, according to her mom. No wonder we got along just fine!

After the gathering had disbanded, I rode back through the little wooded area near the path that takes me back towards Heemstede- Megan was staying at school through lunch so I had some time to take time going home. I had a nice long walk, and surprised myself by finding a more beautiful way back to the main road than the way I had gone that morning.




After I had emerged from the woods and thought, "You know? Lunch might be nice." I headed towards home, stopping at the Albert Hein (grocery store) that is on the way to grab a bottle of water and some ground beef for dinner. When I opened my purse before I went inside, I discovered my wallet was missing, and decided to head back to the house to see if it was sitting next to my bottle of water that I had left on the stairs.

Well, it wasn't. It wasn't anywhere in the house. So, after running around and swearing and muttering, "Ohhhh, this is NOT good" about a thousand times, I saw that the answering machine was blinking, and sure enough- there was a message in Dutch, with the very recognizable "Kah-ree Eee-lee-zabet Nosher", so even though I had no idea what the gentleman was saying, I knew he had my wallet.

Then, as I was standing there, the phone rang. "Do you know where your wallet is?" said Kip. "Uh, I'm guessing some man has it, from the message on the machine," I replied. We both chuckled at the fact that the message was completely in Dutch, even the phone number, and I had tried several times to extract the number from the message, but never came out with enough digits. Kip said he asked the gentleman to email me, and when I ran upstairs, he in fact had done so.

Dear ms noser,

A visitor of our estate reported your wallet, found without any money, but plenty of creditcards still in it.

You can collect the wallet at the address in my signature untill 18:30 hours today.


Met vriendelijke groet,

Tom van Spanje
Opzichter Kennemerland c.a

Beheer Noord-Holland zuid van Noordzeekanaal t/m Muiderberg.

Elswoutslaan 12a
2051 AE Overveen
T 023-5240360
F 023-5440128
M 06-51365964


Well, I quickly Google-Mapped the address and replied to the email that I would be there by 2pm. I downed a half-bag of Maltesers and chugged some water, grabbed an apple and hit the bike again. I then rode another 6.5 kilometers back to Overveen and found the most magnificent location I have seen in the Netherlands to date.





Every Family Has One.



For those of you who were wondering, I had about 4 Euros in change in my wallet, and it was all there when I retrieved it. I think there may have been a little divine intervention at play- I had ridden past this estate 5 times at LEAST and never knew, nor would I have any reason to know, that it was open to the public, and was one of the most popular locations for weddings and bridal portraiture near Haarlem. Was I panicked that I lost my wallet? Maybe for a few minutes. But the treasure at the end of that adventure was worth it 100%.