Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Short and Sweet Things I am Dankful for.....

This blog will be short and sweet. I know many of the readers out there are busy making pies and roasting Turkeys. So here is a quick report of things I am dankful for this Danksgiving!

I am thankful that I did not kill that lady next to me while on my bike yesterday. If anyone hears an older Dutch Woman with short hair telling an angry story of a stupid American suddenly veering over and causing her to swerve into oncoming traffic tell her I am sorry. I am thankful she is alive.

I am thankful I found Carnation evaporated milk at the Asian Market. I can make pumpkin pie.

I am thankful for Ollieballen. Fried balls of dough with dried cherries and powdered sugar. They are good

I am thankful for the Winkel cause I buy food there and it makes me giggle to say "I am going to the winkel"

I am thankful that I passed my first person on my bike. Granted he was biking with three large trash bags, but still I did it!

I am thankful Jur is excited about our Thanksgiving dinner even though his contribution is the Dutch Cheese Course which seems to be the only thing I smell in the kitchen and pretty much the whole house. That is some strong ass smelling Dutch cheese. It smells like something died in there. I am sure it will be delicious.

I am thankful for the Turkey we found (not easy to do in Holland) and for the aroma it will create (hopefully and quickly) to overtake the stinky cheese

I am thankful for vitamin D. I have never been this long without exposure to sun. I have no pigment. I am Albino now and vitamin D is essential.

I am thankful for Bitterballen. Fried balls of dough with creamed beef and mustard. They are good

I am thankful for my Mom sending pecans and Rob sending Corn syrup all which are essential for.. PECAN PIE!

I am thankful when I am on my bike and the torrential, howling, gail force winds of Holland are at my back! I feel like a speedster AND I do not have to peddle! Wheeeeeeeeee......!

I am thankful for the sun! Oh Sun, I love you. Where are you? Have I offended thee? I will honor you all the rest of my days. I shall never curse your heat again. I vow that it is now clouds, rain and cold that I despise!

I am thankful that I have learned to identify the symptoms of S.A.D (Seasonal Activity Disorder) Yes, Dutch people close to me, I realize I have a few of the symptoms. I just wish people would LEAVE ME ALONE, I am FINE!!!! I's... so YES!  I cry a lot. Sometimes spontaneously. Who cares? I'm an emotional person! And No! I do NOT think it is bad or depressing to spend most of my day curled up in a ball under the covers? I am tired! I am FINNEEEE!

I am thankful for sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats.....enough said

I am thankful for you reading

I wish you Happy Thanksgiving (now go out and cook eat and enjoy!)
(My Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner for ten Dutch first time Turkey eaters is tomorrow at 3:30! Aye! I will let you know what they think of it! Now I have to go cover the toilet paper rolls in corn kernels for napkin rings and cut out the hands I traced to make turkey place cards! Busy little American here in Holland. Gobble Gobble!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Introducing........CAGA TIO!

This is Caga Tio. I first heard of Caga Tio when I visited the Catalonia region of Spain about two years ago! Caga (pronounced Caca) means poop and Tio means tree trunk or Uncle. In Spain, I met some friends of Jur's who had children and we discussed life in Spain. I always like to ask about local holidays and traditions. I kept hearing them refer to Caga Tio. I finally had to ask "who is this pooping Uncle you keep talking about?"

Apparently Caga Tio appears on the Feast of The Immaculate Conception (December 8th).  He is generally a small piece of wood with a face painted on it and two front legs. He is kept like a pet for the next month. He is fed and kept warm by the children. If they do this he will grow! Every few days he gets bigger.

(Top Secret info here.... Rudy and Manon (Jur's friends in Spain) say THEY actually replace the Caga Tio every few days. (I was a bit disappointed to find out Spain does not actually have logs that grow if you feed them.)

Rudy says "Yesth it is easy, I justth go outthside and find a piecth of wood and paint anothther faceth on it."

Although it is easy for Manon and Rudy because they live out in the country. The poor Catalonian urban parents have to trek out to the woods to find larger and larger Caga Tios or secretly buy them from Caga Tio shops and hide them around the house.

By the time Christmas Eve or Christmas day has arrived Caga Tio is full grown (full being the important word here). The tradition was you would put part of Caga Tio in the fire to get him ready to do his thing but NOW since many people do not have fireplaces he is usually put in the center of the living room covered in his large red blanket and ready for the festivities to begin. Children gather around the Caga Tio with sticks and hit him. They hit him over and over and sing wonderful classic holiday songs (that we all know and love) such as

caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. caga tió!"...translated it means...poop log, poop Spanish Candy, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't poop well, I'll hit you with a stick, poop log!

Perhaps those of you in Church choirs or who are annual Carolers' would like to try this song out this year!

I also learned that getting children to sing songs and hit a log until it poops gifts is a great way to keep them busy and exhaust them. Once the Caga Tio has been tortured enough he is ready to "relieve" himself! Traditionally he poops small gifts like candies, trinkets, coins and such but apparently over the years he has become more "regular" or "capable" and all kinds of gifts poop out! I couldn't help but a Plasma Screen TV? Or an Easy Bake Oven? My goodness..... He used to traditionally poop fruit. A favorite was dried figs which would be shared with all those present. That tradition has faded and I assume it is because they realized that it my opinion they realized it is a bit too realistic.

(More TOP SECRET Info: Apparently a parent stands behind the Caga Tio and as the children sing it is announced that Caga Tio is pooping and slides a gift from under the blanket. (so he does not ACTUALLY poop!) Or another way is the blanket is lifted to reveal all that Caga Tio has pooped.

You know Caga Tio is all "pooped" out when he poops a salted herring or urinates. I never found out how that is done exactly but I feel I know enough already. The herring was the inspiration for the Classic Christmas song.....

caga tió, tió de Nadal, no caguis arengades, que són massa salades caga torrons que són més bons!" .....translated......poop log, log of Christmas, don't poop herrings, which are too salty, poop Spanish candy which is much better!

Then while everyone plays with Caga Tio's poop gifts you burn him for warmth!

I became instantly fascinated with Caga Tio! I felt the need to celebrate the Caga Tio. He was my new Christmas theme that year. I decided to send out to all my friends and loved ones Christmas Cards of the Caga Tio. I probably should have thought this out more. Apparently people receiving a picture of children beating a log as it poops gifts is not very traditional and rather unexpected in the United States for the holidays. I think I may have upset or offended a few more spiritual friends and family. That year, in return, I received, by far, the most "spiritual" holiday cards I have ever received. Reminders that "Jesus is the reason for the Season" and all kinds of Nativity scene prints. Despite this I was too filled with my excitement of the Caga Tio! I still wanted to do more to share him with all.

My dear friend Rob provided me with the way to do this. He was in Spain with me during the Caga Tio discovery. He, too, was fascinated with Caga Tio (he has always been a bit to fascinated with poo in my opinion). Rob, being as crafty as he is, made me an entire basket of Caga Tio ornaments. I was thrilled. Guess what everyone I loved was getting for Christmas this year? Caga Tio Ornaments! Hopefully they will be better received then the year I gave out German traditional lucky Pickle ornaments as gifts. Another of my favorites. Apparently I was mostly alone in my enthusiasm for both of these. I know this because this past Christmas I went from house to house of friends and family to find my Caga Tio ornament on their trees. I often would find my rejected Caga Tio hung low and to the back and "coincidently" often next to my Pickle!

I still celebrate the Caga Tio (and the Pickle) and I encourage you and yours to consider adding him to your Christmas traditions!

P.S . you can find youTube videos of people celebrating the Caga Tio!  Catalonian Children even get to do Caga Tio at school! I am kind of bitter that I never got to do the Caga Tio at school!

P.P.S.  there is also the tradition of adding a pooping figure of a Man to the VERY back of a Nativity sets (I do not mean to offend I am just reporting.)  This began when there was a "small" feud between Spain and the Italian Church.  I guess this was their way of showing some slight disdain to the Church.
Well.... at least they put up the Nativity Set.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ken's Holiday Blog #1 Sint Nicolaas arrived (YEAH!!! Well, I don't know!)

Sint Nicolaas arrived yesterday. I had heard he was coming and kind of forgot until driving to the cheese shop with Jur. I just started to notice lots of colorful kids out and about and was just about to say something when Jur began to shout "Oh Sint Nicolaas arrived! Sint Nicolaas arrived!"

"From where?" I asked and "When?" but before he was able to calm down and answer it was I who then became hysterical....."Oh MY SWEET JESUS!!!! What the hell? Oh My God!" I began turning my head in all kinds of directions looking at Dutch children everywhere..... "What in the hell are they doing?"


All the children are in black face, well not ALL of them but a bunch! Little kids walking around with dark make-up on and little Spanish Renaissance capes, dresses and all wearing Spanish style berets with a big feather sticking out, running around the city looking for this Sint Nicolaas It was the strangest thing I had ever seen. Everyone was so happy except of course me who was frightened, shocked, concerned, confused.

After I began to calm down from another of Holland's many MANY MAAANNNYYYY unusual customs (I do not think it will ever end), I began to ask questions.

"Okay wait, what the hell is this about?"

Jur explained that Sint Nicolaas comes from Spain every year on this date. He is a Spanish Bishop and he brings his Moorish helpers known as Zwarte Pieten (black helpers). They are "dark" people.

"MmmmHmmmm" I moaned.

"He arrives by boat with a giant book of the year long report of all the children in Holland and then goes down the chimney of every childs house. You know he has been to your house because you leave a shoe (or clog) by the fire place and he will "hopefully" leave you a treat like a chocolate gold coin. Then on December 5th he comes back (he is VERY busy) and leaves the children gifts, but ONLY if you deserve them. But if the report he got is not good it is very frightening because the children are told that Sint Nicolaas' Zwarte Pieten will put them in a sack and take them back to Spain!

"Mmmmhmmmm" I moaned

I had so many questions. What the hell is the problem with Spain? I began to defend Spain. I am so cold here in Holland I could go for some Spain right now and I love tapas and I love Sangria. Send me to Spain. I LOVE SPAIN!

"How the hell does he get here by boat? Is there even a river that flows from Spain to Holland? I don't get it? That's not possible" I was trying to discredit this "holiday" in anyway.

"Uh, no, he sails the ocean. It is much quicker. You know the ocean? The ocean that runs along Spain up here to Holland?" was the response fired back at me.

I lost credibility on that one.

Oh and I happen to be a brown haired person of partial Latino heritage. All of a sudden I became very ethnic and latino in Holland on St. Nicolaas day, I slowly started speaking with this Spanish accent. Which is not easy to do. You try being an English speaking American who speaks bad Dutch with a Spanish accent.

"Por que do they have to be dark skinned, huh, que, wat, why?" (sort of swaying my head back and forth)

I became paranoid that little children were looking at me as if I was going to club them on the head and put them in a sack. I seriously thought about walking around and giving the evil eye to little children wearing "the make up." I would point to myself, then point to my eyes and then point at the kid... I see you.... sign language is international. I see you...... Then if I got their attention I would quickly mimic having a bat in my hand and "pop" right on their head! Scare the little buggers.

No NO NO NO NOOOOOO. Then I would be perpetuating the stereotype. Maybe next year I could go in white face and club all the heads of parents with children in black face. Then give chocolate coins to only the children NOT in black face.

I shared my thoughts and plans with Jur and he said, "Where did hitting children on the head with a baseball bat come from?" I lost credibility on that one too. Okay I realize this WHOLE St. Nicolaas thing is having a BIG BIG affect on me. The Dutch are very accepting people, they are not violent and I think I was getting a bit carried away. This is a holiday with a long tradition. It goes way back. Besides Santa Claus breaks into peoples house too and he has thousands of Elves forced to make gifts for children that he keeps in some cold factory. Are they really happy? And why are they "little" people?

Oh! AND apparently you leave a carrot for the "white" horse of St. Nicolaas. So I asked, "What about his black helpers? Huh, what about them?" Apparently you CAN leave them something but they don't seem to eat so people generally don't leave them anything.

"Mmmmhmmmmm" I moaned as I listened

So in summary, apparently there is a man (A Saint) from Spain running around Holland for the next few weeks, with his "Ethnic" helpers, breaking into peoples homes, to "get to know" the children AND if they have been bad they kidnap the child back to Spain! This is WAY stranger then Caga Tio! The Pooping Uncle that comes at Christmas in Castellan Spain region. Okay I will write about him in a day or so. My next few blogs will be dedicated to all the Holidays. Lots to report about such as St. Nicholas Dec 5th Day, Ken's Introducing the Dutch to Thanksgiving, some Christmas time in Texas (always a surprise) then my first actual Christmas Day in Holland, and New Years......

Bye for now, I gotta go find pumpkins to make Pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. There is no canned Pumpkin here soooooo it looks like Ken is going to have to carve up pumpkins to make real pumpkin puree for pumpkin pies that Dutch people probably won't eat anyway! I will MAKE them eat my damn pie if I have to shove it down their........

Holidays in Holland seem to be making me aggressive.
All will be lovely.

Someone send me Libby's canned pumpkin!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Deserve A Little Taste of America!

My most recent class in Dutch was tough for so many reasons. First of, I am not sure what is tougher learning Dutch or biking to Dutch Class. I left the house at 6:15 giving me 45 minutes to get to class. (which should only take about 15 minutes) But I had to make a stop...

I have developed a ritual of rewarding myself for making it to my Dutch class with what I call an American treat. I buy myself something American to eat. I have to eat Dutch all week, then study Dutch and see Dutch and then bike through Dutch hell to get to Dutch class then 3 hours of hearing Dutch and write Dutch, Dammit! I AT LEAST deserve an American reward or something as close as I can find. For my first class I rewarded myself with a bag of "COOL AMERICAN" (what they call Ranch flavored chips here)Doritos and a Kit Kat Bar. Class two it was a frozen Pizza called the BIG TEXAN American pepperoni pizza. Class three was Sloppy Joe's from a packet of sloppy joe seasoning I had kept hidden in my sock drawer that I smuggled back with me from my last visit to the States (class three was tough and I rewarded myself with this special luxury). So this last class I decided I am going to splurge and bike to Kentucky Fried Chicken. I NEVER eat there in the States. It seems my rewards are getting more and more extravagant. I was going to buy me a KFC chicken sandwich for after class. Good ole American fast food.

My bike was going to be a problem today. I had asked Jur to raise the seat for me after a few people commented that I was sitting to low on my bike. Jur had told me a few days ago he did it but I did not check it out because I generally try to avoid the bike until class. (I control the bike the bike does not control me.) I knew that I should have checked the seat height before I left for KFC and my class. The seat was a few inches two high and I really had to jump to get on my seat and when I needed to stop I would have to stretch with all my might to just get my toes to scrap the pavement. Painful at times on the crotch and not good for my dress shoes which I was really regretting wearing. This was going to be an experience.

Now to get to KFC is not as easy as it sounds. I would have to bike through the middle of the busiest section of The Hague! I was willing to risk it. I wanted that damn American tasting Chicken sandwich with special KFC seasoning. I don't care if the sandwich gets cold in the next three and half hours. It's American and it is mine! Plus the idea of biking home after class and eating KFC while watching clips of Desperate Housewives on you tube was now my mission!

I arrive at KFC and, of course, the menu is completely different. A Mexi-Kip Broodje Wrap? What the hell is that? A Spicy Kip and Colonel Burger? What? I debated to maybe just get the popcorn chicken bucket but that did not seem good cold three hours from now and I was not ready to bike with a bucket much less show up to calss with a KFC bucket. So I ordered ...."Alsjeblieft ein niet spicy Kip and Colonel Kip Burger bij Kass" Which was my very bad Dutch way of saying "please a not spicy Colonel Chicken Burger with cheese." This was not making me feel very American.

I got my sandwich and headed out only to find it was pouring rain all of the sudden. Ahhhh Holland! What can I do? I have to get to class.

Now for the first time ever I had difficulty finding my bike. They all look the same. They do. They are all old, rusty, pieces of medal and I could not find my bike in the heap of bikes chained together in front of KFC. There I was getting drenched, shivering (because this time, for the first time, I underdressed so I could avoid sweating to much from my vigorous bike ride(bad idea)), grasping my chicken sandwich reward whose plastic bag is getting destroyed amongst this heap of bikes. I know, as usual, people are staring at me. I finally locate my bike. I was so angry at it. Then I have to unlock my bike. Which is not as easy as it seems due to this medal, rolled up, difficult to uncoil, long awkward lock and this other lock built into the bike to jam the back tire. The problem is you can't move the bike if the back tire is jammed but to unjam the tire the key needs to STAY in the lock but I need to other key on the chain to unlock the hellish coil ...oh never mind, the POINT is it is difficult and annoying to locate and unlock my damn bike. Especially in the rain holding a KFC bag!

After several attempts at leaping on to my bike seat in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken I wobble off, wet, with my ripped up KFC bag, trying desperately to reach my bike pedals and then...... THE DETOUR!..... A detour!..... A freakin bike Detour. I get caught up in a mass herd of bicyclist coming from all different directions because of some damn construction detour and we are all having to make quick last minute changes to our routes. It was terrifying. At one pint we ended up going though these muddy hilly trails. I felt like I was in some sort of BMX cross country motor race. Mud flung up on my pants and oh my poor poor dress shoes! Every once in a while they put these thick medal sheets over the larger pot holes and.... I saw it.....I saw it coming....I was just hoping to cross it with out disturbing the others bikers....please just let me make it across the metal sheet.... but no. Not for Ken. It was like slow motion. The second my front tire got on the metal, wet, muddy sheet it started sliding to the right. There was nothing I could do. My feet can't reach the ground. Thank god there were no other bikers to my right. I just slid right off the sheet vertically in to the mud. I was able to jump of my bike in time. I then waited for everyone to pass, lifted my bike and carried it passed the medal sheet, which is when I noticed my sandwich was missing. I saw it a few feet back and ran to grab it. I was slightly hysterical. My plastic sandwich handle broke. I grapped it and was relieved to see no one had run over it. I decided is was best to carry my bike until the detour was over and I was back on solid ground. I made an attempt to repair my plastic bag handle and hoped it would last till I got home that night.

The rest of the ride to class was fine. I arrived drenched and went to the bathroom to dry myself off with toilet paper. My KFC sandwich bag looked horrible. All shredded, wet and muddy. I cleaned it off with toilet paper too. I was almost too embarrassed to bring in into class, but was not about to abandon him. We had been though to much and we had big plans later.

Class was hard. We are learning about past tense verbs. Everyone is lost and confused. As usual. At one point I laughed out loud because I looked up and Mrs Wytske was standing in front of here projector. She had just written a question on the screen in red marker when one of my classmates asked a question, when Mrs Wytske stopped to figure out what my class mate was asking she stood between the projector and the screen and she had a big red question mark on the middle of her forehead! I thought it was hilarious. Class was worth it just for that! Oh Poor Mrs Wytske! She brings me such joy sometimes.

After class, it had stopped raining, I re-secured my plastic KFC bag and pedaled home. I took a completely different route as to avoid the cursed detour. I got home exhausted, got undressed put on my favorite American clothes, turned on my computer and went on youtube. Dammit no one downloaded the recent Desperate Housewives yet! I unwrapped my Colonel Kip Burger with cheese (which they forgot to give me cheese but charged me for it and made it spicy even though I specifically asked for not spicy)(this was the most familiar American part of the whole experience)! The sandwich was soggy, cold, and gross. But I ate it! It was my well earned American treat!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Starship Ken-Boldly going.....

Holland, the final frontier.  These are the voyages of Starship Ken. My 8 month mission (so far) to explore Nederland. To seek out new Dutch Lifestyles and Dutch Civilization, to boldly go where only brave and those looking for a challenge have gone before.

Log 1- I have lost track but if my estimates are correct it is day 4,382 of rain

Log 2- My guide (Mrs. Wytske-Dutch Teacher) has bravely embarked on teaching me to tell time.  This simple earthling task of saying 9:20 is not so easy in the Nederland.  It is said "tien voor half tien" translated that means it is ten minutes till half way till 10. (That is 9:20)  I have found it is better to say "I don't know the time"

Log 3- The Dutch do not stand in line. This is important to know for your survival. If you ever hope to get to an ATM Machine or buy groceries you must be aggressive and know there is no semblance of order. (This just drives me crazy!) Each ATM, each registrar, each bathroom stall has its own sort of line.  People do not wait on a first come first served basis.  This scenario has been the cause of the few negative "altercations" I have encountered with the Dutch Natives.

Log 4- I have been adapting to the Dutch customs.  I have all but given up on my version of breakfast. A typical Dutch breakfast (if it occurs at all) is coffee, bread and butter, with Gouda cheese and chocolate sprinkles. In fact recently there was an event I saw on the news to encourage Dutch children the importance of breakfast. Several famous Dutch Ice Speed Skaters had chocolate sprinkles with children at schools. I have fantasized about bringing the International House of Pancakes or a Dennys franchise to Nederland people but I know it would go out of business.

Log 5- It is still raining

Log 6 - The Dutch love animals.  I am doing my best to be aware of eating organic, free ranged animal product.  I am learning that pigs are smart. I am learning to not have the instinct to kill a fly, or spider. I have mastered the catch and release (with the use of a cup) of any bug that I find in my Dutch dwelling. EXCEPT I have set my foot  (or clog) down when it comes to Mosquitoes.  Dutch Mosquitoes are a very aggressive and durable species. They must breed in all those canals.  Winter does not seem to phase them. I am an American who kills Dutch Mosquitoes.  I vow I will do this anywhere I live.  

Log 7- My bike training (the Dutch required mode of transportation). I have gotten better.  I have had good bike days and then have I have had some bad ones. I now know to never bike on a street parallel to the trolley car tracks.  Bike wheels are just small enough to fall into the track.  When this happens you come to a screeching halt.  And if by chance only your front tire gets caught you get jack knifed forward and fly into the air and fall head first onto the street.  I sustained no visual injuries (mainly due to the fact that, at present, I am the slowest bicyclist in Holland (out of fear)) but it was a frightening experience that I only needed to have once and I guarantee I will never NEVER do that again. I only wish I had been warned.

Log 8- Other than this blog one other form of communication back to Mother America is the post. In Nederland it is known as TNT.  My first visit to a TNT office was amazing.  It was beautiful, like going to a new Starbucks but for mail. They were so friendly and full of smiles.  Everything was orange and there were fresh flowers and Dutch TNT employees walking around to assist you!  Now as time has progressed I have found that a letter leaving Holland generally takes about 3- 45 days to make its destination. A package with a tracking number for the US Postal Services is traceable UNTIL it reaches Holland. Then TNT says Customs has it, but Customs says no TNT handles that and then when I call TNT back they say well we do not know right now because we have a computer glitch with our connection to Customs, and when I inquire how long it will take to fix that glitch they said it has been a glitch since last December. I say well that is not a glitch that is a permanent error, then the TNT representative suddenly does not speak good English.  When I confronted my TNT "mailman" he says he knows nothing about packages but he is sooooo sorry and he has a lovely friendly smile.  The next day when I ask him more questions that I had prepared for himall night in hopes of trapping him into giving me ANY info he again just smiles, says is very sorry, he knows nothing and then hands me our mail. When I close the door in frustration I look at the mail HE GAVE ME THE MAIL FOR A HOUSE DOWN THE STREET!  I was officially going postal!  No not postal ... TNT was making me want to explode. That is why they call it TNT they want to make you explosively angry!  I get it now.... so I may have written some of you a letter and it could be there in a few days or sometime in the next few months.  

Log 9- I find myself eating more and more Chocolate Sprinkles. They are good comfort food when you are angry, on a rainy day or when you are recovering from a bike injury.