Friday, December 21, 2007

Mission Accomplished

Several of you said you wanted to see the Christmas trees when they were done, so I will oblige.

BUT FIRST, Donica decided to give me her main Christmas present tonight at suppertime: we're flying to Michigan for my family's holiday reunion at the cottage the weekend of the 29th! I'm still in shock because Donica has been making a big deal about having this holiday totally free with nowhere to go. Just lots of sleep and R&R here at home before the New Year.

Wow! Color me surprised...and delighted. And maybe I'll see snow after all! We'll be gone December 27th - 31st.

Okay then. Having gotten that off my chest! :) Here's what's been accomplished since I last wrote about the holiday rush. Once the Christmas cards were put in the mail on Monday (yes!), I started in on the living room Disney tree.

I told you that this tree is for the woods to see...and any mail carrier who might come to the front door with a large package. WE see it, of course, when we go up and down the stairs to bed.

My favorite Disney ornaments year after year are Buzz Lightyear...

...and his buddy, Woody, who always get hung side by side. I LOVE those fellas. Their friendship endures through thick and thin, no matter what!

Before I could finish the slim tree in the family room, next on the agenda, I had a delightful visit at Nicholas' school for his class party yesterday, during which time the kids got to read stories they had written, in front of everyone. He is so serious about his stories and his teacher says he writes good ones. G'ma agrees and popped her buttons, of course.

Then back home to restring new sets of lights on the slim tree. Today I finished all the ornaments...the ones we have collected these past 10 years, everywhere we go.

Every single one means something and holds a memory dear.

I LOVE Christmas trees. Every year I say the same thing: "They're so quiet!" Midst all the hustle and bustle, I love to turn out all the other lights and sit still in their presence. They calm me down!

And, yes, the presents were then able to go under the trees. The living room tree is where Donica's and my gifts to each other go. The gifts to the kids go here under the slim tree.

Donica did her thing and stuffed the stockings, as you see. (Yes, Mark, there's the one for Dennis in the middle!)

The good news about the UNMOWED lawn is that it's been gently raining off-n-on for the last few days and will continue to do so, they say, until after we celebrate Christmas with the kids on Sunday! WE ARE NOT COMPLAINING! We need the rain much more than a mowed lawn. So thank God for that mission UNaccomplished.

That leaves Friday and Saturday to clean the house! HA! Wanna come help me?? :)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rush Hour

Midst the loud cacophony of tootin' my own horn (last post), I totally neglected to tell you that WE'RE BACK in Atlanta! I flew back on Friday and Donica flew back yesterday. No amount of convincing or haggling at this holiday time of the year could get us back on the same flight or the same day. But we're back safe-n-sound, and that's all that matters.

Now, the holiday rush is on! We celebrate Christmas with the kids here at our house a week from today, the 23rd: Amy, Dennis (yes, flying in from LA), Mark and Nicholas.

This afternoon we'll bring up the two trees from the basement dungeon. The slim tree that you can see goes between the family room and breakfast nook/kitchen; the covered, bigger tree goes in the living room in front of the window, for the woods to see.
I love trimming the trees, year after year. The slim tree holds all our ornaments collected from everywhere. Memories. The big tree is the Walt Disney tree.

In the meantime, I'm working on our Holiday cards! God willing and the creek don't rise, they'll be done for the mail tomorrow. I enjoy that as well, thinking about all the people, one by one, whose names go on the envelopes. Christmas for me is a time of remembering!

Donica's job will be to stuff the stockings! Our kids know Donica as the Queen of hors-d'oeuvres AND the Queen of Christmas Stockings. And that's the truth, because she is! I didn't grow up with them so I didn't have a clue until she came into my life 10 years ago. But it's still her job. No one does it better!

Thankfully, I wrapped almost all the presents a month ago, so they're 95% done. Some still need their bows, but once the trees are up, they can go underneath and out of the upstairs hallways! They, too, are a reminder of the memories we have and why we give gifts in the first place. God was the one who thought up the idea of gifts, so I have no problem giving them. Neither does Donica...and in that regard again, she's the Queen!

Oh, yeah. Don't forget to mow the lawn and mulch in the leaves, Ginnie! I'll probably do that on Wednesday. Donica says that'll make everything look so nice for just before the kids come.

When I pace it like this, suddenly it doesn't feel so rushed any more! Good job, Ginnie and Donica. It'll be easier than you think. Donica will work only Monday and Tuesday this week before being OFF OFF OFF till she flies to Europe on January 6th (I'll be joining her on the 10th). That's a HOLIDAY, Folks! Almost 3 weeks of R&R for her. YAAAAAY!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tootin' My Own Horn

If we don't toot our own horn, who will, right??? (HAHAHA)

So this starts all the way back to when I was telling you about all those gable stones I was taking photos of, remember! I had 346 of them back then in June (out of the 850 there are reported to be in Amsterdam) and now have around 650! (My old album was switched to SnapFish here, and I still have a few more to add.)

Anyway, on August 24 (Astrid! That's your birthday!), Ina came over to our apartment here in Amsterdam to do an interview with me about how I got into all this craziness. It was all official and big stuff.

It so happens that Ina is the editor of the gevelstenen (gable stones) newsletter (in Dutch, of course) that goes out to approximately 200 subscribers here in Holland every 2-3 months. She wanted to do an article on ME and my excitement about this part of their culture.

And there I am on the inside of the September issue. A professional photographer named Wim Ruigrok actually came out to the apartment to take that photo of me. Whoo Hoo. Talk about feeling important standing there with his photo of a Clark Gable stone (get it?!) .

THEN, as frosting on the cake, one of the gable stone carvers (Hans 't Mannetje) whose many stones around town I had captured, just came out with a 128-page book on his life's work as a carver, with wonderful color photos of all his stones (photographed by the same Wim). I just picked up my copy this past Sunday.

AND, because I pre-ordered the deluxe, hardback edition, my name is printed on this list (click to enlarge but that's me *). I'm the only one from the USA! Don't you love it! :)

So, go ahead and pop your buttons with me. I think after 650+ photos of my own, walking up and down the many streets of Amsterdam, dragging my tired butt home day after day, I DESERVE IT! (Don't you??)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Seasonal Dutch

First of all, there ARE tulips in Holland in the wintertime! Donica always stops at the corner flower stand when we arrive in Amsterdam and buys flowers for the apartment. You can imagine my delight when she brought home these tulips. They didn't last long and we're already on our second batch, but, HEY, WHO CARES!

Last Saturday when we were out-n-about (and saw Sinterklaas, remember?), we were down on the main shopping street in the Centruum. Yup, that's what it looks like right now.

And closer to our apartment, at the Leidseplein, everything is lit up just gorgeously. The Bulldog cafe is so appropriate for us Georgia girls, you know. Son Mark graduated from the U. of Georgia, the Bulldog school! I think of him every time I see this place.

Turn around from the last photo (Bulldog, remember?) and this is what you see across the tram tracks. Amy, remember when you and Angie sat at that outdoor cafe with all those tables and chairs and had a drink while people-watching? It's been turned into this ice-skating rink. How cool is that!

I pretend I'm that lady waving! It takes me back to high school days when we did all that ice-skating down by the river where they flooded our baseball diamond each winter. Talk about memories!

Then, to put frosting on the cake, just yesterday afternoon, just before 5p when it was almost dark, I heard the organ grinder! MY organ grinder! I couldn't believe my ears. This time it was Christmas music and yes, he stopped right outside our windows, as always. I did not throw open the sash to see what was the matter, but I did tear down the stairs with camera and Euro coin in hand. I was not disappointed.
BTW, if you squint, you can see the stand of Christmas trees there at the end of our street under the lights.

So you see, what we're missing in Atlanta right now we're NOT missing here. This is MY first December/winter in Holland (Donica has been here at this time of year many times on business the last 12 years), and I'm like a Child. Full of wonder and delight.

This is our last weekend here before we fly home for the end of this year, but more on that later....

Hope you're all enjoying this season wherever you are! PLEASE.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Tomorrow, December 5th, is Sinterklaas day here in Holland, or Saint Nicholas Eve, when traditionally presents are given to all good children, large or small. Typically presents are wrapped ingeniously and are therefore called "surprises," accompanied by a poem that has to be read aloud before the gift is opened. You can read more about it here.

Astrid, the "Dutch girl" from my last post, was pretty insistent in saying we needed to go see Sinterklaas last weekend while he was in Amsterdam's posh department store, De Bijenkorf. It would show us a bit more about the tradition, from which our American Santa Claus comes.
So we went on Saturday afternoon and Astrid was right!
222 photos later, I had to synthesize this post down to the few I thought most accurately depicted this fabled man who came to Holland from Spain on his white horse (there in the background).

Part of the tradition is the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) who are the mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful outfits, modelled after 16th century Spanish clothing, who assist Sinterklaas.

Why does he remind me of the Pope! (Hold that thought.)

I watched him reach out to every child who came to see him.

Ones who stood in line with awe (and weren't too old to disbelieve!).

He looked intently and very seriously into the eyes of each and every child.

I wished I could have heard what he said. And once hearing, translated it!

This was the wee-est child I saw...

...and look how she eventually clung to his fingers!

This little fella clung to his Papa's fingers! Which was just as good, I'm sure.

Now you will think this very strange when I say this, but I have tears in my eyes after this experience. I can't explain it but Santa Claus will never be the same to me any more. There's a bit of a holy mystery that will now surround our mutual "myths."

There's a bit of a holiness that surrounds our traditions, period, and why suddenly I am very thankful for them, in spite of how they've become corrupted over time. Maybe, just maybe, this could be a Holiday Season for us all to get reacquainted with what's important...and what's not?!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Another Blogger Meet-Up

In my last post I told you that I was gonna meet up with a new Shutterchance blogger yesterday! I DID!

I took the train(s) from Amsterdam to Arkel, 1-1/2 hours and 3 trains south, to meet Astrid, another real Dutch Girl.

Doesn't she look Dutch! :)

Does her Dutchness rub off on me, I wonder? I sure wish her Dutch language did! Her English totally puts my lack of Dutch to shame, so immediately, on the spot, I committed myself to buckle down and get serious about learning this new language, which happens to be MUCH HARDER than German (IMHO = in my humble opinion).

It was a drizzly, rainy sort of Holland day. So even though I had taken my camera, expecting to take an untold number of photos, we both just stayed inside and used the time to get to know each other. Yakkity-yak, yakkity-yak!

And because it was a 6-1/2 hour stretch, we had to eat, of course, so Astrid decided to choose "a room with a view," which happened to be the town's best restaurant, I'm sure. It sits on the Merwede River where barges (background) take their wares to and from Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe.

And was it ever fabulous! Decadent is more like it. But in that moment, we both decided the occasion deserved it. It was a very special, serendipitous, eternalized moment, when you don't care how decadent something is!
What you see above is two different presentations of pheasant. The balled part reminded me of rich turkey!

I was halfway through the white fish course before I remembered I hadn't taken a photo yet (sorry about that), but you at least see the green "vegetable" that looked like a cross between very skinny asparagus and French green beans. WRONG! I don't know the name in Dutch or English but it's a reed-like substance from the sea and it was WONDERFUL.

How's that for dessert! OMG! See what I mean about decadent! On the back of the plate, that's crème without the brûlée. And a cinnamon liquoer drink in the tall glass; I can't remember what in the smaller glass. And a cafe latte that reminded me of my German latte macchiatos!

Then, from our table, we watched the kids going home from school via the ferry boats. How cool is that!

Sometimes I feel like I'm in heaven on earth! Do you have those times? Then you know exactly how I felt yesterday, meeting a kindred spirit whom I felt I had known forever.

Now we'll have to figure out how we can get Donica and a couple other blogger ladies all hooked up for one hoot of a time together. Maybe sometime in the spring. :)