Local Heart, Global Soul

December 5, 2012

Have YOU Been a Good Child This Year?

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Today is a very special day in the Netherlands because it’s the day that Sinterklaas visits all good children and leaves gifts.

Officially he is called Sint Nicolaas but children generally refer to him as Sinterklaas or in our house just as the more familiar version “de Sint”.

De Sint comes to Dutch and Belgium children on either the evening of 5 December or the morning of 6th December but from what I understand, the morning of 6th December is mostly a Belgium tradition because all of our Dutch family and friends celebrate on 5th December and never the 6th.

Tradition states that because Sint Nicolaas is the patron saint who looks after children, travellers and sailors this is the reason why he takes a steamboat from Spain to the Netherlands (typically arriving to great fanfare on a Saturday roughly two weeks before the “big day” of 5 December.)

In the Netherlands a town or city is chosen to be the special place where Sint officially arrives and the day will be filled with many events and celebrations as children and parents attend in their tens of thousands.

Such a big deal is the “arrival” that the entire event is televised for most of the day “live” on Dutch TV so that children in other parts of the Netherlands can witness the great event too.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Here it is also traditional for there to be a special Sinterklaas News bulletin on children’s TV every day, from the day of Sint’s arrival up to 5 December and this programme journals the “drama” that invariably unfolds that year. (There is a drama every year, that’s getting to be a tradition too LOL)

One year “Amerigo”, the horse that Sint rides, went missing, or someone mislays all of the gifts for the children of the Netherlands, or the group who are to bring Sint to the arrival town loose their way… or this year the Zwarte Piets lost money that Sint was going to use to buy the gifts.

Naturally the “drama” is spun out on TV for this two week period and then miraculously everything falls into place on the very last night … and woe betide any parent to tries to interrupt this most hallowed of TV viewing in the yearly schedule!

Our children are certainly riveted during this programme and haven’t twigged at all that there are many howling errors contained in the programme: small details such as: most of it is filmed in secret in the summer months when the trees are full and green, whilst when the programme is transmitted the trees are bare as can be LOL, or that entire sections have been filmed on private land, and there is not a single small child in the “crowd” (how would you explain this all away to a little kid in August?)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Sinterklaas delivers his gifts to children by riding his white horse and landing on the rooftops (although interestingly no mention is ever made to the fact that Amerigo can fly!) so Little Mr. has been most concerned this year that Sint will have a problem now that we have renovated and installed heat-pumps and blocked up the chimney now that the old gas heaters have gone.

We solved this problem by opening a small window and putting a paper arrow on the glass to point to the new way inside.

Sint Nicolaas is said in some stories to be based on a real person who lived in Turkey and helped travellers by land and sea and also children. The story goes that his burial remains were taken to southern Italy which duly came under Spanish rule at one time in it’s history and this is how Sint ended up supposedly coming from Spain.

It’s not without irony that Sint is not celebrated on 5th December in Spain itself, but OK logical on the other hand because of course on that date is he away from home: busy delivering gifts in the Netherlands and Belgium!

When I arrived in the Netherlands in the early 90’s it was still that the 5th December was the exclusive day of gift-giving in the Netherlands, giving gifts on 25 December was almost unheard of outside of the ex-pat community.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

In fact, within both our Dutch families no special dinner or any celebrations apart from a church service were ever planned on the 25th at all. It was my homesickness for a Christmas tree and a decent Christmas dinner Kiwi-style that kick-started the celebration of Christmas Day in our extended family but only the only gift giving on that day is between Himself, our children and and myself.

Slowly though, over the years, the retail section of Dutch society woke up to the fact that Christmas Day could be a whole new retail opportunity so slowly but surely there has been a steady increase in Christmas merchandise, at least in trees, decoration and to some extent food.

We clearly had no escape from doing both anyway because I love cooking for Christmas Day and because our kids have been regularly in New Zealand at Christmas where Sint arriving on 5 December doesn’t exist and every kid is hanging out for the big gift giving from Santa Klaus / Father Christmas on the morning of 25th December.

The family rule we have maintained so far is that our kids do both but they get a small amount of gifts on each (one larger one smaller) so that they don’t get to double-dip.

There are many more Sint traditions, songs and stories too, but far too many for just one post today, so maybe next year I will add more to the story and traditions of our celebrations.

I noticed that close to my Sister in Law’s house some families have made displays in their windows so I grabbed some photos for you.

If you are wondering why there are carrots in the shoes, that’s a tradition too… the carrot is of course for Amerigo, Sint’s horse and once it has been gratefully received there is sure to be a little token of sweets or a very small gift left in it’s place.

Our children may put out their shoes twice: once at home the day after Sint arrives in the Netherlands and once by Oma (Grandma). Since Himself has very large feet they attempted to use his shoes instead of their own, but we told them that it’s also a tradition that the smaller the shoe the bigger the gift, so they swiftly returned to using their own shoe!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Happy Sint Nicolaas! Have you been a good child this year???

Oooh… back later… “Someone’s” coming!!!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

February 26, 2012

A Weird Day of Extremes, Slithers Past…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

This is a continuation of yesterday’s BBQ post.

The Christchurch, New Zealand kids we are visiting have a stream running past the end of their back yard, and they often paddle in it, canoe on it etc.

One thing the kids like doing is feeding the wildlife… and apparently the most interesting wildlife are the eels.

A favourite way the family like to thoroughly use every part of their chop bones is to put them onto the stream bed and watch the eels come out to pick them completely clean.

You  then retrieve the bare bones afterwards and put them into the household rubbish container.

The Kiwidutch kids listened to this story with wide eyes… their faces a mixture of excitement and apprehensive uncertainty as they thought about the possibility of feeding eels.

Of course we had just polished off an ample supply of lamb chops, so what better moment to test the theory and educate the Kiwidutch kids?

Our friends’s daughter waded in and put the bones into a good spot in the stream and the rest of us all got as close to the edge as possible without falling in to see who could spot an eel first.

Fortunately for me I could cheat and sit a decent distance away and use the zoom lens on the camera instead. You know me and accident prone… let’s not tempt fate here.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

It took only a few minutes for the first eel to appear, the Kiwidutch kids were suitably impressed and started pointing out more ‘eels’  in the shimmering and shaded water.

Several of Little Mr’s ‘eels” were exceptionally stationary and looked for all the world like river-bottom sticks, but that mere detail didn’t seem to deter him from the excitement of his “discoveries”  … and he finially looked a fraction more relaxed after this afternoons earthquake meltdown, so I certainly wasn’t going to be the Mama to  pour cold water on his “eel” finds.

Getting a photo in the late evening light, with the dappled shaddows of the trees and the ripples of the water was harder than I expected but if you look hard I did manage to get some photos of (real) eels in the water.

One of our kids asked what eels were like to touch.. it was a general question, but before they knew it our friends daughter ran off and returned with a net, sprang into the knee deep stream and started enthuisatically chasing eels.

It took some doing but she had done this before and to the Kiwidutch kids amazement, suddenly with a whoop that denoted success, the net was handed back over onto the lawn and out wriggled a long, fat and very slippery black eel.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Our children shrieked and took a quick step back, watching from a safe distance.

For some reason the eel than got a little disorientated and started to slither quickly towards a patio area away from the stream, and knowing that there was no good place for him to survive there our friend’s daughter proceeded to try and grab it on the run and get it back onto the grass.

More shrieks and giggles ensued before she was successful and our kids got to see an eel up close.

Little Mr. even summonded up enough courage to come over and touch it.

(yes I know… behold my wonderful photo editing technique LOL).

Since our children are apartment dwellers and we have no garden, they never really have the opportunity to get their hands dirty, so the wonders of nature are several steps removed from their childhood existence.

You can only dig in the sand of the sandpit of the local playground after all…. and there are no worms in that. These are the bits of the “Kiwi experience” that I hope our New Zealand trips will be beneficial in  filling some of the gaps in their concrete and brick cobbled  childhood so far.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Little Mr. is still very clingy and nervous,  close to tears whenever he thinks of the possibility of another quake, and still begging us to pack up, drive to the airport and come home to the Netherlands, …but at least we have managed to turn a very frightening afternoon into a less frightening evening and taken our minds off the scary bits for a while with great food, fun, good conversation and excellent company.

As luck would have it the next really decent aftershock  happened on the car ride home, and whilst Himself and I had our suspicions we said nothing  just exchanged simutanous looks.

Such are Christchurch’s now bumpy roads and due to the amount of insulation that the tyres provide  we wen’t totally sure if it had been our imaginations or not.

It turned out that we were not mistaken, there had been a 5.1 quake but the kids were none the wiser and we chose not to enlighten them now that they were finially less stressed.

Luckily too that both were so tired from the excitement and stresses of the day that they fell into a deep sleep back at the B&B and slept through a constant supply of long rolling aftershocks and short sharp jolts in the night that kept me awake as I typed a blog post about the day and messages to family and friends to confirm that we were ok.

What a day.. from the tranquility and laughter of this mornings pea-picking to the terrified screams and tears of the afternoon, and then the new experiences of the evening. New experiences all of them… and a lot to take in for a kid in a single day.

It’s been a long,  rather weird day of extremes, a hard day… The beginning and the end of the day were great, I just wish that the middle section of  it had gone by faster, slipped on by   … as slippery as an eel.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The water is beautiful, but hard to get decent photos of eels with this kind of light…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The theme of today appears to be “bravery”….

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

February 25, 2012

Weird Science with Cans, Fish Tanks and Lamb Chops all Help with Bouncing Back…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The evening of 23rd December 2011, after a tumultuous afternoon full of tears, fears and children’s general earthquake meltdown, we decided to try and lighten the evening by going ahead with the BBQ that we had already planned with friends.

Little Mr. wasn’t keen on going inside their house, (well any house at that point, actually) but was enticed by the very down to earth and matter of fact attitude of our friends daughter and foster daughter.

We had a chat to both privately about our kid’s afternoon reactions and they were quick to tell us kind heartedly that they would be sure take great care of them whilst they were playing together and would be careful to make sure that they felt really safe.

We arrived as our friends were cleaning up the mess that the quake had once again given them… the most pressing had been the rescue of the family goldfish, the tank got shaken off the chest of drawers it was on and toppled onto the floor.

Quick thinking and even faster action saw the girls save the fish, now all that remained was to clear up the sodden books on the bookshelf, dry out the wall and carpet and general cleanup of everything that had been displaced by the shaking.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Outside the Dad of the family was cleaning up by the garage door… there had been a neat stack of full soft drink cans sitting between a sturdy wood cupboard and the spare fridge-freezer and multiple cans  exploded, somehow the force of the liquid ripped the can open around the tab line and everything blew out under pressure.

What was particularly bizare was that although the concrete garage floor was a mess with various overflowed soft drink puddles, the cans themselves looked completely undented on the sides , and expect for the obvious damage near the tabs there was no evidence that that they had been squashed or even slightly dented at any point at all.

I’m supposing that the speed and force of the vibrations though the ground must have been enough to jiggle the contents to bursting point as no other logical explaination fits.

The cans had been neatly stacked between two solid objects and maybe because they lacked the space to allow movment in any direction except “up”, all the energy was concentrated in that direction? Hmm who knows, and stupidly  I forgot to take any photos of the cans but it was certainly some of the strangest earthquake damage they had seen so far.

The Kiwidutch kids were pleased to help out with the fish tank drama and relaxed visibly before dinner. The reassuring words and gung-ho attitude of the host girls,  did wonders as these Christchurch kids  brushed off fear completely ( publicly at least) and just got on with life.

I’m really proud of them because they are living in a house with some horrendous cracks in the walls, foundations and ceilings. In fact part of the house has sunk and is breaking away from the rest of the house and with each cluster of bigger aftershocks it’s getting worse.

In spite of this they are living in a zone classed as “Green”(deemed fit for repair) but massive repiling of their house will be necessary as well as other damage repair and there is now a battle between CERA and their Insurance company as to who is liable for what, so the whole situation is really stressful and there is little hope (realistically) of a quick solution.

They have every right to be completely and utterly stressed but are soldioring on as best they can whilst  they wait for the repairs to begin.  I’m amazed they re handling it as well as they are.  I’m not altogether sure that I would be.

When we talked about what we fancied on the menu several days ago, the subject of lamb chops came up as a suggestion from us. We then learned that the price of lamb has gone up considerably  in New Zealand recently and it’s been a shock for our lamb loving friends, so it’s been religated to “treat” status.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I’m afraid that when I heard the prices they mentioned I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud … and when I told them what we  paid for lamb chops and leg roasts in The Netherlands they were truly horrified. (between double and triple the price)

We therefore  very happily arranged that our contribution to the meal would be lamb chops and when we arrived with three trays of them they almost fainted… “we will never manage all those” they said… but they were sooo good, from BBQ to table they didn’t stand a chance as  we lamb-chop deprived diners enjoyed every last one of them.

Kiwi Daughter was now more relaxed and wanted to go on the trampoline, she took turns with the other girls but Little Mr was still in scared limpet mode so we didn’t push him to participate.

The Dad of the house then said to Kiwi Daughter, lets do some tricks on the trampoline together.. she was a little nervous at first as they had to bounce in complete synchronisation… he held her left hand with his right hand and when they got to a decent height he gave her a big boost with his arm on the up-bounce an she flew up really high. He was of course still hanging onto her hand so she was in no danger of flying off anywhere.

Once she mastered the technique of the synchronised bounce , she even managed to dare to reach out with her other hand on the big up-bounce to touch the fronds of the punga tree above.

I’ve managed to master the art of exceptionally bad photo-editing to show you a shot of the up-bounce trick without actually showing the participants. No, they aren’t ghosts, even though Kiwi Daughter’s face did a good impression of one earlier in the day during the more frightening moments.

In fact earlier in the day she was so scared she felt physically sick… I’ve made a new word for this phenomonon… I told her she had a “bellyquake”.

It’s nice to see her trying so hard to be brave, and finally letting out a few squeals of delight as she managed to touch the tree above… kids are nothing if not resilient, and Christchurch Kids have had to be more resilient than most since September 2010. Bravo to them all.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

December 24, 2011

The Surprise that Now isn’t, ….and Ones That Definitely Were…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I was  going to surprise you all in a few days by taking you on a new  Kiwidutch “tour”.. one that we are on at present as we have headed to the Southern Hemisphere to  spend Christmas with family and friends.

I’ve been preparing the posts and photos already with just a little time delay… but yesterday that  surprise went out of the window when we were overtaken with bigger surprises of the Mother Nature variety.

In the tour sequence you will eventually arrive in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, but we are already there on 23rd December 2011 and this is the day that Himself, Kiwi Daughter and Little Mr felt their first earthquakes.

No one could have missed them because they were huge… There were a whole swarm of rather major earthquakes early afternoon, (a.m. if you are in the Northern Hemisphere)  the first one was a BIG rolling  and rumbling one of about 20 seconds duration while I was trying to hang out laundry in the back yard (I had a seat next to me to hang onto) but during the quake  I was desperately trying  instead to grab the crutches and go find the kids…

… I didn’t have much success until the shaking stopped.

Kiwi Daughter  was alone in the downstairs bedroom starting to draw pictures and Little Mr. was upstairs taking a plate back to the kitchen, R.  was at the bottom of the stairs. Both kids got the fright of their lives.

Himself  had finished painting the fence at the house we own in Papanui  with my cousin P. and was in the rental car on his way back here… he’s never felt a quake before so he didn’t actually realise he was in one, he thought there was something wrong with the steering and was trying to pull over, but the car didn’t want to respond …

…then it all got ok again so he drove on and he only realised it must have been a quake when he saw hundreds of shoppers being evacuated into the car park  of the big Mall at Northlands…

Himself   was also  still in the car when first aftershock hit a few minutes later but was back with me comforting the kids when the next big one hit a while later so it was the third big one  that he actually “felt” as his first real earthquake.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

 The house where were are staying is solid as  a rock but the fridge went walk-a-bouts, the Christmas tree toppled and some stuff in the garage tumbled all over the place.

Nothing serious, though, no liquefaction and no real damage. Electricity stayed on which is more than can be siad for large swathes of the city especially in the eastern suburbs.

Yesterday Friends of our had a BBQ planned for tonight and said Please still come:  it would help everyone most if they all carried on as much as possible as normal.

We went and had a good time, Little Mr was clingy and scared but played outside with Lego in the end… I keep feeling wee shocks and don’t mention it to the kids, no big ones last evening while we were out though but there is every chance of something above 5 magnitude in the next few days.. that’s been the pattern every other time.
They come in clusters.

Turns out that there was another big shock that happened  early evening but we were’in the car on our way to our friends place on the other side of the city and amazingly didn’t even feel that one.

(Fortunate actually because Little Mr was rather distressed by the end of the afternoon and Kiwi Daughter was also a mess but was  just hiding  the fact significantly better).

The friends where we went for the BBQ lost a fishtank (but saved the fish) and gained more cracks in their already badly damaged home, Thanking God yet again that everyone is ok and trying to laugh, but this cluster will be the last straw from some people who thought things were calming down finally since there hasn’t been too much for a while now… whooooooo,… short sharp jolt shook the house as I typed that last sentence.

Lots of people injured by stress accidents… car prangs, panic and heart attacks etc no deaths that I know of… Sumner and Redcliff suburb  reports look like more cliff came down, (we were there three days ago) big evacuation of residents in the area below, liquefaction in the east of the city is bad and power is off for about 1/3 of the city… it always seems to stay on ok  in the area where we are and luckily hasn’t gone out for any  of the big quakes so far.

I emailed  friends and family last night:  ” We expect things to be unsettled for a .. whhooo another shock, and a rumble..still going …  gonna be an interesting night, I’m not scared but the light is on as I type in bed… might be a different story half asleep and in the pitch dark 🙂
Then we will see exactly how big a wimp I really am”. 

Damage reports are still coming in…some red stickered buildings marked for demolition (were cordoned off) have come down yesterday afternoon,  it seems we will know more tomorrow… whee another kick… rock and roll!

Kiwi Daughter is in the double bed next to me, Little Mr is  sharing with Himself in the double in the other room…  she just slept through the lot. So far so good. No peep from the boys room either… even better. Little Mr. (now a.k.a. Little Mr. Limpet) will take some calming down he’s really on edge.

My Aunt and uncle who live in two streets down from where we  are staying have more breakages as stuff exited the cupboards this afternoon and are quite shaken up (we drove round to see if we could help out)

whooo more rolling ….. oi, and a thump… still going maybe 15 seconds, but just a  little one, feels like a boat docking at the wharf and coming alongside the dock way too hard.. we are just missing the water bit.

The house is making creaking noises and there are so many smaller rumbles that I’ve lost count,  but they are just hiccups rather than the coughs of the big ones. …better sign off and try to sleep (yeah right)” 

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Kiwi Daughter said yesterday afternoon “ok I’ve felt earthquakes now, we know what it’s like, Can we switch them off now?” (sigh) with around 10. 000 aftershocks since the 7.1 quake in  September 2010, everyone here in Christchurch is just wishing it would be so easy.

We have emailed family and friends back in the Netherlands so they know we are ok. We have two scared kids but we are fortunate… they get to go back home to quake-free Nederland after our holiday, we are staying in a house that has been 98% damage-free  though all the quakes that have hit Christchurch so far and  Himself and I at least feel totally safe.

We have friends and relatives who have been on the phone as soon as the system was back up to check if we were ok.  Even the neighbours of the house where were are staying, knowing that we are not locals, came to check that we were ok within a minute or so of the first shake. Community spirit is alive and well here.

This morning the full extent of damage is coming to light, the whole family Kiwidutch was jolted awake this morning at 06.30 a.m., frightened kids just wanted to stay close.

I’m sitting on a bed having a rest and catching up with a rush of email and I’m not telling the kids that there are little tremors  going on almost continuously at some moments. If you aren’t in a quiet spot and being still,  then you don’t feel them.

My heart goes out to everyone who’s lost power, got liquefaction, more damage and traumatised kids,  they have the physical and emotional mess to deal with just days before Christmas and Malls, supermarkets and businesses all over town are still closed this morning as staff clean up the wreckage of fallen stuff and they loose revenue too since the customers can’t come back until places have been cleaned up.

Family Kiwidutch have much to be Thankful for… we will help out here wherever we can, but to everyone, and especially the people of Christchurch, have a  SAFE  and Happy Christmas.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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