Monday, November 15, 2010

On Sense and Sensibility

It's my turn again today at Vision and Verb where I spend a few minutes talking about being sensible. Have you noticed how easy it is to see how others should be sensible but...when it comes to ourselves, it's another story altogether.

In our household these days, both of us are being sensible, after hitting each other over the head with a baseball bat! First, Astrid:

ASTRID: After 2 years working at JEWE, the area's wood factory that makes cabinets and doors, Astrid has had enough. It's hot in the summer, cold in the winter. They wear earplugs all day because the machinery is LOUD. And while she has great camaraderie with the guys, the work is too darn heavy for her body and age. If she only did the controling, which is her job, she'd be fine. But as a team player, she's always willing and ready to pick up the slack whenever someone is off...which is often.

The good news is that the 7-day job she had before JEWE, 2 years ago, was at SystemFarma, a pharmaceutical company that packages medications for patients...the only one of its kind here in The Netherlands. Her manager told her to contact him if her new job at JEWE didn't work out. Astrid never forgot that and wrote him when she got to the end of her rope a couple weeks ago. They basically hired her on the spot! The longer story is quite amazing...and the fact that she got a 6-month contract starting 1 December is even more so. In today's economy here, you're lucky if you get a 3-month contract. So we are top-of-the-world excited. She'll be controling again but in an environment that is totally the opposite of JEWE. I am soooo happy and excited for her.

Ginnie: My story is similar, in that I quit one am hoping now for a more productive Dutch-learning situation. It's a longer story than this but after a good foundational first half of the course, learning a lot of Dutch, the curriculum started veering into a different direction altogether: how to do job interviews, preparing for the workplace, learning about Dutch culture (e.g. how and where to register a newborn baby, filing a police report), politics, etc., etc. The more restless I became, the more unhappy I was...especially as we started entering the cold and rainy months of the year (on my bike!). I was too often saying "I'm too old for this!" Whenever that happens, stop and listen, Ginnie.

So I did. I stopped. My advisor told me the direction wasn't right for me and my age but they had nothing else to offer me. It quickly became a no-brainer. Just quit, Ginnie, and stop spinning your wheels. What I have here at De Lindeborg where we live is a community of men and women who will LOVE to teach me Dutch while joining them in their activities. Conversational Dutch. THAT'S what I've wanted all along.

So as you see, this part of the post is simply informative, telling you about two big changes in our lives that will hopefully bring some "easy listening" in the days to come.


Now switch gears. Can you believe I've been here almost a year? I arrived here 5 December last year...on Sinterklaas day, the Dutch traditional day for the giving and receiving of gifts, NOT on Christmas day, which is one of the most sensible things I've ever heard. Separation of Santa Claus and BabyJesus!

Add to that another sensibility: Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat in The Netherlands 2 Saturdays before Sinterklaas day so that the kids will see him and know he's here and is watching and not forgetting them. That was this past Saturday this year! And because Gorinchem is a harbor city, I got to see it with mine own eyes.

This is the drill: Sinterklaas has been coming by steamboat from Spain to The Netherlands for the past 600 years. Sinterklaas is Saint Nicholas, a bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Thus the garb that looks a bit different from our Santa Claus.

He was scheduled to arrive at our Gorinchem locks at 10 a.m. from our Merwede River. So Astrid and I high-tailed it to the river first to catch the steamboat coming in before it entered the locks. At both places we had prime spots for viewing and taking pictures. In fact, at the locks, in between the opening and closing of the gates, we stood dead center to get some of these up-close-and-personal images.
Astrid said we'd never get better pictures ever again. That's how close we were.

Once Sinterklaas hits land, he then proceeds on horseback to greet all the children (big and small) who are waiting impatiently, cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. Traditionally, the white horse named Amerigo comes with Sinterklaas on the steamboat. But since the littlest kids ask no questions, we bigger kids notice when one of the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) rides the horse into town to meet up with Sinterklaas at the harbor. In this case, the Black Peter (above top left) attending Amerigo all day happened to be a female version, which I quite enjoyed. :)

Speaking of the Zwarte Pieten, the Black Peters, who are the Moorish equivalent of Santa's helpers/elves in the States, here they are in all their festive glory. All along the route, as Sinterklaas walks through the crowds from the harbor to City Hall, they greet the kids, blow up balloons for them and hand out pepernoten. How can you not LOVE anything that tastes just like windmill cookies (same ingredients for speculaas)!

As Black Peters go, there's one for just about any duty you can imagine from being mischievious, fat and lazy, to climbing the chimneys, scooping up the bad kids into dufflebags, or being the right-hand helper of Sinterklaas himself. But the one I had the good fortune to see up close was Professor Piet. How 'bout that! My mom would have been tickled to death.

Sinterklaas, like Santa Clause, is all about children, of course. But here in The Netherlands it's also a bit like Halloween to the Sinterklaas sense. Look at all the Zwarte Pieten and the bishops.

And because one of you liked seeing me in some of my recent collages, here's one of Yours Truly (below), thanks to Astrid. This time I have no pics of her because she was behind me all the way, taking pictures of me while I snuck in with the other photographers for the paper...because of my big lens. Astrid told me no one would question why I was there...and that's the truth! There's even one little image where I'm taking a picture of our city photographer, Dries, who happens to live here at our senior community, De Lindeborg.

[Remeber to click on any image to enlarge...and then click again.]

So now what happens that Sinterklaas has arrived...and the kids know he's on Dutch soil?! NOW is when they are allowed to put out their shoes for little presents until the Big Day on 5 December. Some kids will even put a carrot and hay in their shoes for Amerigo. Gotta keep the horse happy and well-fed for Sinterklaas, of course.

Guess what was in my shoes this morning after I got up: that would be a hazelnut milk-chocolate Sinterklaas letter 'G.' HA! G is for good! Yes, I've been a very good girl this year. So has Astrid. QUEEN just happens to be her favorite music group. She deserves Freddie Mercury's story "Under Review 1946 - 1991."

What a way to celebrate for both of us...being sensible about our quality of life. As Astrid says, "Just hit me over the head with a baseball bat." And as I mention on Vision and Verb, if the shoe fits, wear it!

ADDENDUM: Remember Dries, our city's photographer who happens to live here at our De Lindeborg senior complex? I sent him the following collage yesterday because we kept bumping into each other on Saturday....

A few minutes ago, just after I published this post, he e-mailed me his own version:

And guess what he titled this collage: "Like a little kid!"
That just about says it all, folks.


  1. Oh Ginnie what beautiful and rich pictures!!! i must confess my fave ones are of the kiddies lol i just love taking pictures of kids :) and it's so cool how you got so close, what a pretty horse!! i had to laugh when i saw freddie mercury in a shoe, then read the explaination lololol i'm not sure i would be able to adjust to a different Christmas lol

  2. I am SO happy for Astrid's job change. I am sure her body is too. Better for more dancing. :)

    And I am SO happy you quit the Dutch class. How perfect that now you can work on your conversational Dutch with friends!

    I told Inge Saturday that you had pictures of Sinterklaus, and highly confused, she said, but he doesn't come until December 5. Now that I have read your post, I emailed her the explanation that he arrives in Amsterdam two Saturdays prior. :) Have I told you that her son's name is Piet?

    The collages are wonderful, and I especially LOVE that final photo of you in the last collage that Dries took! My favorite smile of yours, so sweet.

  3. Nice parade, wish we had such here:) about the 5th of December and Santa Clause coming on that day, interesting, that in Poland He comes to kids on 6th of December (so I guess he has one day to get there) - it is the name day of Saint Mikolai (which is in Polish Santa). Another good thing is that he comes also on 24th of December, this time not to kids only!:)

  4. Elaine: This tradition is so brand new for me I can't contain myself. It makes so much more sense to me...celebrating on a different day than the 25th when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, supposedly!

    Ruth: Thanks for enjoying our happiness these days of change, sister. That means a lot to both of us. We're both ready!

    As I've already mentioned to you (for Inge's sake), the big day is in fact the 5th (the 6th in Germany, and Belgium) but Sinterklaas arrives in the country first. Kinda like getting all his ducks in a row, you know. I love that Inge's son is Piet. So is yours. :)

    The smile on my face in the collages is definitely of a little kid in her glory. I'll never forget it.

    Ola: Sinterklaas comes to Germany and Belgium also on the 6th, so that makes sense. I guess he needs time to get around, right?! He comes here, too, on the 24th or 25th because of the influence from the States. But it didn't use to be that way. The older tradition makes a lot more sense to me!

  5. Marvelous collages Ginnie... They are so colorful and each image within them a treat. I'm guessing you use a photoshop template? (another thing I simply must learn about one of these days... so much to learn yet)

    I like the Dutch tradition much better than ours!

    I'm leaving the page open for In Soul as a reminder to come back and have a look at earlier posts I've missed... thanks for stopping by and leaving comments on my blog! :-) Have a great week.

  6. Are there many black people in the Netherlands? How do they feel about the Black Peter tradition? How do others feel? It certainly makes me cringe to see blue eyes shining out of blackface. BUT, i realize I am coming from a totally different perspective, not having grown up with the tradition. So I am genuinely curious how a liberal country like the Netherlands deals with the conundrum of a centuries-old tradition that has outlived more modern sensibilities. (And of course, I do not hesitate to ask you, Ginnie, because I know you will have something informative and intelligent to say--unless you just want to delete my comment, which is okay too.)

  7. We used to celebrate certain "Saint Days" and we have gotten away from that. St. Nicholas has always been Dec 5, I believe. It is interesting how many physical changes he has undergone - the most recent plumb version being due to too many cookies and not enough carrots, I suppose. And, of course, he was streamlined into "acceptable" non-religious attire for various reasons, I am sure. I do think there is a certain beauty to the version you photographed here on your blog. Such rich colors the whole procession has - orange, purple, red, blue, yellow, green (and unique hues) - a feast for the eyes. And I love the brick streets and buildings.

    And I don't consider you "quitting" school. You just got out of it all you could and have moved on - for further, more practical learning.

    Love, love the photographers photographing each other - the collages are great! And that is quite a camera you pack!

  8. Victoria: The collage templates are from, which I highly recommend. I think I paid just short of $25 for two years. Totally worth it in my estimation. It has changed my entire way of blogging. I used to make photo albums, but no more.

    I like the Dutch tradition, too. It makes so much more sense!

    Karen: Astrid is sitting here laughing right now because for the past 10 years there has been quite a discussion about this issue here in The Netherlands. Maybe they should also have blue and pink and green Pieten! In the end, this has been their tradition for the past 600 years and has nothing to do with discrimination. It's just the way it is. Astrid says they're from Moorish background AND they go down the chimneys for Sinterklaas. They're black coming and going, period.

    Hopefully that's intelligent enough. I'd never think of deleting you!

    Margaret: I am learning to embrace these new traditions for myself as I learn more about them...and not our watered-down version from the States. It really IS a rich tradition, isn't it.

    Thanks for supporting my decision to move on from school. I like the way you said it.

    And yes, we photographers have so much fun, you included, don't we!

  9. Like a little kid..... lieve schat, that are you!!! The sparkling eyes, the joy, the energie, the naughty, name it and it is you.
    We had the time of our life last Saturday, everything fit, the waather, the location, the nice people.
    I am so happy for you that you are able to witness this.
    Now about school, I read some of the comments and yes you moved on, you will learn Dutch, you are so determined, no question about it.
    In a way I am glad that the bike ride is over, I always was looking for your bike when I came home...
    The deep lines are out of your face, you are more relaxed, all this is worth it.
    I know it did not come easy, but it is the right thing to do.
    The collages are a joy to the eye, thanks for putting in so much work, a nice memory to add.

  10. Here's to lots of new beginnings! I do hope you take lots of photos while chatting in Dutch to your friends! And my fav pic is the last one with the "like a little kid" as your face is glowing with joy... A festival like this is what I so miss about the atmosphere of Europe. I do think it's very hard to explain the feeling through pictures but I do know it and I see it in your face.

    Lovely educational story to go along with your adventure too! :)

  11. Astrid: You know me better than anyone else in the whole world, so you see that little kid in me. Thank you for capturing her for me. It was a day I'll never forget. I had that sheepish grin on my face for a long time, especially after walking side by side with Sinterklaas. :) Thank you, too, for holding my hand throughout the school decision. Thank you for trusting me!

    ET: Lots of new beginnings for both of us...and now for you, too. I agree about's hard to explain to those from the States. It's just different!

  12. What a fun tradition and how exciting to be experiencing it and be able to get close and personal because you are the professional photographer! I love the colorful costumes and outfits everyone wears, especially the children.

  13. Mad: It was a blast! I loved every minute of it and felt like I was in another world. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  14. Better late than never, Ginnie - and by that I don't mean you quitting your class! I've just come to this glorious post and realized that, all this time that I've been reading and seeing what your life is like in Holland, you are living IN A BOOK! With beautiful illustrations, a wonderful story line, fascinating characters and while the ending is a looooong way off, it sure looks happy to me.

    Yes to finding what you need from other sources! Yes to others recognizing Astrid's talents! Yes to her not giving in to the uncertainty of the time! Yes to loving life and living love!

    Oh man. Well, I'll calm down a bit now and express my relief that Black Peters have not become politically incorrect in Holland. Wouldn't that just be sad?

  15. Deborah: 'Living in a book.' More like living in a fairytale, really! At least that's how it often feels to me. Sometimes I still pinch myself. Often Astrid and I talk about how happy we are, in spite of the ups and downs of life around us. The thing is, at the end of the day we lie in each other's arms and rejoice. We feel very lucky! We're 'loving life and living love.' I like how you have put that. Thank you.

    Yes, to your last statement about the Black Pieters. Just get over it!

  16. Oh I miss Sinterklaas! We used to take the kids to Berkeley at this time of year where the Holland-America Club hosts a Sinterklaas party. Did you know that Sinterklaas arrives in Berkeley on a sailboat with his Zwarte Pieten? Too bad, the kids don't want to go any more. I love all the Sinterklaas liedjes and actually have a couple of albums on my iPod of Dutch children singing all the classic songs.

    Thanks to you, we will all have our proper letters in our shoes this year!

    I love how all the kids are dressing up like Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten. I never saw that before!

  17. This Sinterklaas celebration looks quite fun and colorful. Love the photos! And am glad you made some changes that advance your goals. :)

  18. DB: NO! I had never heard about Sinterklaas before moving here, so I did NOT know Berkeley had it's own rendition. How cool is that! Astrid tickled me by singing all the liedjes along with the kids. I guess I'll have to learn them. HA! And yes, thanks to your Giants, you will have letters in your shoes this year. I love it for you. :)

    Tim: It was so fun and makes total sense to separate it from Christmas day. That's the part I love the most!

  19. What a great tradition – so much fun for the kids, small and old – like you. Lovely pictures that really brought the feeling of joy. I am also happy that the Dutch are doing their thing and not feeling they have to be politically correct – so what, it is an old tradition and a nice one. Your did look like you had a wonderful time.

  20. Vagabonde: I love it when the little girl comes out from inside of me. Astrid says she sees her country in a whole new way because of me. That thrills me to know end. It's like we're both seeing it together for the first time. Thank you.