maandag 28 oktober 2013

Sinterklaas and Black Piet

Give me my soap-box.

The pre Christmas tradtion here of "Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet" is causing at long last a bit of a storm.

Sinterklaas himself is a lovely story and I enjoy my children having a part and believing it. However it is his Black 'helpers' that make me unformfortable. Many Dutch people take no offence (especially if they themselves are white) in a tradition of allowing a white Bishop (Saint Nicholas) to be served/followed by a large group of Black Piets. Many here see no irony (this land is supposed to be fair, equal and tolerant..) of ONLY white people being 'blacked up', wearing Black afros, bright red lipstick, gold earrings and white gloves. They follow and help Sint Niklaas prepare for his present giving evening on 5th Deceember. the helpers are called Black Piets - they say because they are going down the chimney. They look like the black and white minstrels. They are walking gollywogs. They are mimicing a slave figure from a bygone era.

These terms and traditions were unacceptable to any race knowing anything about civil rights and the movement in the 50s, 60 and 70s that made us move forward. Still not far enough in lots of cases.

If Black Piet here really has just gone down the chimney and is not a depiction of a slave - then take the afro wig off, wipe the black make up off and put a bit of soot on the face of any race that calls the Netherlands their home. Roll on seeing Piets with heritage from all over the world running around helping Sinterklaas with his very important duties on the evening of the 5th December.

maandag 21 oktober 2013


Before children I used to wonder around not knowing or understanding what school holidays were, or when they were.

Now we have school aged children I have the knowledge. 

I have my own internet based company so luckily I do not have to worry about leaving the house each morning to go to the office - the kitchen table is my office. This brings downsides of course as someone who rings my home phone wanting to speak to the Locker Winkel, may even hear a scream as I am in the middle to explaining that our 3 year old cannot have chocolate before lunch time, she disagrees loudly. 

So,  don't need to leave for the office so when the holidays come around I can mostly work around the kids for a few hours each day. They are at the age when they can play by themselves or with each other quite happily - or put a film on. 

The school day is much more complicated here. There is a lunch break, sometimes the kids are home for lunch in the week. Although it seems like a nice thing to do, it is often stressful: having to get back home, make lunch (we like to have something warm most days not sandwiches if I can help it) then eating lunch within the hour and then getting the kids all revved up again for a return to school. I don't think this break can help them concentrate at school. The plus side is that i know they have eaten well.

Before kids I didn't realise how stressful a school day here can be. Too-ing an fro-ing from school, then getting them to swiming lessons or guitar lessons or dance lessons. Plus then the negotiating over where they kids are playing straight after school, so warning - sometimes I might have an additional 3 boys at home with us. I already have 3 kids of my own! And then there are the days on a wednesday when the kids only half a day of school. I make pancakes on wednesdays. I have tried to make them in advance - only then to be surprised my having only the little one at home because the older two have gone somewhere else to play and eat!

This is rare: it normally feels like I am the one having the children to play...

So actually, even though i have three young children, parents or non parents may think that I dread the school holidays. I don't. I look forward to them. No running back and forth to school (we do literally run as we live in the same street as school and we are always late..), no swimming lessons (only swimming fun), no arguments over guitar lessons or guitar homework. No afspreken (play dates) - just enjoying my own children, who can stay in their pyjamas ALL day if we have no plans, come to think of it - so can I - or at least I can stay in my joggers and wooly socks all day. This is when i relax, and the children also do what they want. If they want to watch 3 films back to back, they can. I don't mind. Not every day, we do try and leave the house occassionally..

But life for them is so busy during the school week, and life for mummy is too. So we all have to completely switch off, especially if it is only one week holiday.

So we are on our final day of holiday - an it was an extra day too. The go back to school tomorrow - a Tuesday. I am completely realxed despite having all the kids at home at times. I will reluctantly start the rushing around again tomorrow..making fruit boxes, packed lunches for some days and the rushing back and forth to school and the unexpected play dates....roll on Christmas holidays..!

donderdag 10 oktober 2013

Maisdoorhof and pumpkin carving - Dongen

‘t fazantje Dongen, Brabant

We raced from school to Dongen, around 25 minutes away on the motorway. 

We had an invite to come with some friends to find our way through a corn maze and to also carve some pumkins. Nor I or the children had ever gone through a real maze nor had we ever carved pumkins. I thought I would never do this on my own, so I jumped at the chance to go. It sounded like a perfect Autumn afternoon out.

The owners do not speak very good Dutch so you will have to rely on your Dutch. They were however friendly and welcoming. There aren't any snacks or drinks on site so bring some nibbles with you.

 The kids were given a list of letters that they had to find which made up a sentance in Dutch. They also had to look out for TV characters along the way. My kids are aged nearly 8, 6 and 3.5. They had a fantastic time racing around the maze and really tried to get as many letters as possible. Once they had found almost all the letters and could find no more, we found our way out of the maze. There are no markers to help you make your way out but the kids seemed to know exactly where they were going! 

After that we were able to pick 3 small pumkins and the lady told us how to get started. Getting the top of is tricky as the knives we were given had no grooves in them. However I did it for the kids and they then scooped out in the inside with a large spoon. Even the 3 year old managed quite a bit. We were then showed some ideas for carving - two of my kids wanted scary faces and the little one wanted windows and a door. To my amazement, since I had never done it before - the faces and windows looked good. I couldn't wait to get them on!

We paid 2 euros per child for the maze and 5 euros for the pumpkin. They also had a huge selection of 'display'pumkins - those that you can put with the scary ones to make a nice display for the Autumn. 

After bath and just before bedtime we let the kids light their pumkin candles and they were amazed at how different they looked shining in the darkness. Well worth the drive and well worth the effort. I now feel that I could do this myself at home! 




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