Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best things to do with a euro

I'm making a list. I'll be checking it twice, but spending it only once. I'm collecting a list of the best kid-friendly things to do with a euro. Here it is so far:

6.) Go to a kinderboerderij.
5.) Go to a speeltuin.
4.) Shop at a vlooienmarkt.
3.) Shop at the kringloop.
2.) Get a kunststof bloemetje to wrap around the handlebars of your fiets.

And my favorite for last:

1.) Get an ice cream cone at the gelato shop on the Groest in Hilversum.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Avondvierdaagse: another lesson in Dutch culture

Aislin was begging me to be able to do the Avondvierdaagse event this year with all her buddies. Since I (usually) can be cajoled into doing activities that have no equivalent back home -- for the cultural value, y'know -- I agreed to go along with it despite a few logistical issues for us.

A little background: Avondvierdaagse (A4D) is a four-evening series of walks that each Dutch city or group of smaller towns sponsors each May or June. Thousands of children and their parents walk together through the countryside each evening after school for four consecutive nights, and at the end the kids who have sucessfully completed each of the walks receives a medal. The 6- to 9-year-olds walk five kilometers (3 miles!) each night, and the 9 and ups walk 10 kilometers. Little Dylan, who is actually too young to participate this year, decided he was not going to let Aislin have all the fun; he insisted on walking the 5K. With great apprehension and visions of toting him on our backs for many miles, we consented to let him try.

Okay, so you now have the basic parameters. Here's what may not be immediately obvious. Since the school year lasts into the month of July, this is all done during a school week. The kids do a full day of school, eat some dinner, bike/walk/ride to the A4D site, mill around until the start, walk for a few hours, then bike/walk/ride home to do homework, take bath, and go to bed. Then they get up the next morning and start the whole thing anew. Since we live in a different state instead of in town like all the other walkers, we have the added benefit of a 30-minute drive home (what was I thinking?!?). It also bears mention that the weather in June in the Netherlands is not particularly reliable. More like a blustery March in North America -- 50-60 degrees, windy, and likely to be wet.

The first night I was organized to a fault. I had a substantial dinner packed so that after playing for a few extra minutes after school we could drive from Hilversum to Nieuwegein to pick up Jeff, eat dinner on the castle grounds, then drive back to Hilversum for the start of the festivities. Thusly fortified, we all took off on the 10K, Avery bouncing along the rooty forest path in the stroller sans shock absorbers. We had to pad her head with a blanket so she wouldn't have shaken baby syndrome by the end of the night. Padding or no, it became clear that it might be a better idea for Avery's head and Dylan's homeostasis to cut through and join the 5K crowd, though Aislin persevered with her group of buddies. All in all, it was a nice evening walk through the forest; just us and a couple thousand of our closest friends. We were home by 9:30, in bed by 10:00. Late, but doable.

I let them sleep in the next morning and we got to school a wee (ahem) bit late. After a freak head injury at school that day, though, the doctor decided that Aislin had better forego the walk that night. Although I was looking forward to another evening in the woods, let's just say that I wasn't crushed with disappointment when we got home and into bed at a normal time without walking a quarter-marathon. Especially when we started hearing the thunder.

On the third night Jeff was working and couldn't watch Avery, so again I let Aislin walk with her buddies in the 10K and took Dylan on the 5K with Avery in the sling and a backpack on my back. I was a little loaded down, but we were prepared, darn it: drinks, snacks, bottle for the baby, raincoats, camera... in short, about fifteen pounds of everything you might possibly require for an evening walk in the woods with two young children. Except an umbrella.

The delightful school group behind us was yelling "doorlopen!" ("walk through!" i.e. "let us through, you slowpokes") at our group from the time we departed, evidently unaware that we could walk only as fast as the group in front of us...? When we reached the first bottleneck, a gate that allowed only one person at a time through it, their shouts grew more heated as if we were personally responsible for the pace. Shortly after, one of the adults started yelling in Dutch at one of our smaller kids toward the back who happens not to understand Dutch. I turned around and smiled that they might need to be patient with the little legs. The woman's response to me is unprintable in civilized discourse. After carrying on insulting me in particular in Dutch for a while, this woman then proceeded to teach the six- to eight-year-olds around her to start chanting at us, "Move your ass! Move your ass!"

"What's 'Move your ass' mean, Mommy?" inquired Dylan.

"Oh no, dear," I responded, hustling him further forward in our group, "they're saying 'Mow your grass.'"

"Oh," he panted as he jogged along at my hastened pace. "Are you sure?"

Pleasant evening walk, indeed. Oh well, once in the middle of our pack we carried on some slightly less hostile conversation.

And then, just as we reached the kilometers-long clearing, it started sprinkling. The initially refreshing shower quickly became drenching deluge, and under thousands of feet the dirt path was suddenly mudslog. Avery, who had never before had issues with things on her head, decided she didn't want to leave her hood on, so her grumblings shortly turned to outright protesting... all of which began to make this cheery evening stroll feel a bit like a death march (except to Dylan, who rather enjoyed the rain and kept it entertaining for everyone around).

One of the teachers in our group insisted on giving me her umbrella, and another pointed out a nearby shortcut. Les enfants and I diverted course, made a bottle for the youngest, and plodded on down a new path sans madding crowd. Dylan only asked to stop once, and I was able to cajole him on after only a minute or so of leaning up against a bench. It wasn't until a couple of A4D officials on bikes showed up and asked if we wanted a ride back to the starting point that I realized how hilariously bedraggled we must look. I consulted Dylan about the ride, but he begged to "finish the race." The man looked at me incredulously, glanced at Avery with eyebrows raised, then back at me. "Wij lopen." We'll walk.

You could see the amusement in his shoulders as he rode off.

A few minutes later, they were back. They rode about a hundred meters past us and stopped, then the amused guy whipped out his cell phone and proceeded to take a couple of pictures of us. God only knows where those will turn up.

At any rate, after a two rounds of "The Ants Go Marching," we made it back to the starting point where we huddled in a little dugout thingy and fortified ourselves with cereal bars while we waited for Aislin to make it back. She and Karna finished the whole 10K, but returned with tales of their new head injuries inflicted by the rough-housing boys and then went to the bathroom and threw up. The docs the next day decided that any concussions were mild at best, but I didn't cry too hard when ours opined that we might have to forego A4D the next night. Thankfully, Aisie still got her medal at school on Friday to prove that she lived through the experience. Since Dylan is actually one year younger than those allowed to participate, he got nothing but the pride of knowing that we never had to carry him even once, and that he is now just a little more Dutch than he was before. That, thank goodness, is enough for him.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Belangrijkste Nederlandse tradities

I recently read in one of our local newspapers a list of the most important Dutch traditions, according to a study undertaken by the Instituut voor Volkscultuur in 2008. Let's see how we're stacking up here.

  1. Pakjesavond (Dec. 5, when Sinterklaas comes and gives presents to everyone)
  2. Putting up the Christmas tree (this is apparently often done on Christmas Eve, or at least the tree is lit for the first time on Christmas Eve -- no wonder we got such weird looks last year when we had ours lit two weeks before Christmas!)
  3. Queen's Day (celebration of Queen Beatrix's birthday on April 30 that ends up being a big patriotic holiday)
  4. Oliebollen
  5. Easter eggs (who knew this was a Dutch thing? But maybe we should've figured it out since the Dutch word for Easter is "Paas!")
  6. Carnaval (i.e. Mardi Gras)
  7. Beschuit met muisjes
  8. Candles on cake
  9. Sint Maarten
  10. Eating herring

All in all, I don't think we're doing too badly here in getting the cultural experience. And just because it shows up on the list doesn't mean you're going to get me to down raw herring whole like a sword swallower.