30 December 2008

Sinterklaas - a bit late

Sinterklaas is celebrated on the evening of 5 December in the Netherlands but he worked around the schedules in the community so that he could come a couple of days late. Traditionally, if a child were good, presents would be given - but if a child was bad, Zwarte Piet (Black Pieter), Sinterklaas's helper, would put him/her in his sack to take to Spain where Sinterklaas lives (Seeing as a lot of Dutch people vacation in Spain because of the warmth, it does seem a bit of an odd punishment). Nowadays, Sinterklaas just brings presents (and sometimes quite large ones).

With the present comes a poem. And the present has to be wrapped in a "surprise," which generally means creatively designing a package for the present that has something to do with the present or the one receiving it. This can take hours and sometimes involves papier-maché and sometimes involves an waterproof container that needs to be fished out of several litres of pudding... Often the poem and surprise are the best part of the present - and both allow give ample opportunity to tease and annoy each other, making present giving fun for adults, too.

To see photos of the day, check out the pictures on Facebook, as well as Tom's blog entry on Sinterklaas (which was up in a much more timely manner).

27 December 2008

Christmas with my family in Canada

i always find it hard to go through advent in one place and then celebrate Christmas in another. it's as if i can't carry over from one place to another the longing for Christ's coming. that movement of places makes it hard for me. but i have to smile a bit at myself: if i find this movement difficult, think of how hard it would have been for Mary and Joseph. 9 months pregnant, travelling to the home of their distant family, with a lot of the unknowns in their future - and they still celebrated a miracle.

and i have celebrated being with my family, even as i recognzed a twinge of sadness in not getting to be closer to be able to see everyone more often. and Christmas meant getting to read read some books to my niece, put together a cool kitchen set for the other niece, see a lot of my cousins and aunts and uncles, spend time talking to my siblings, see my sister pregnant, meet the dog of my other sister (although i learned the hard way that he responds really well to "poop" as a command eve if he isn't outside to do it), and spend a lot of time just hanging out with my mom. since my mom and i both look good in blue and the sweater was a great price (and we don't live in the same area), we got the same sweater when we went out shopping on friday. there's something lovely about sharing clothes :)

perhaps the best way to describe my feeling of Christmas is a celebration amidst a bit of sadness. in that way, Christmas is taking awhile to settle in for me this year. a bit of the advent longing still lingers, the wishing that it were different. but i take the memories of this time here with my family, the love i have for them - and they for me - and i will pull them out again in the days and months to come. i will ponder them in my heart, even as i already hold dear to my heart my other family who i missed out in sharing Christmas with in Amsterdam.

18 December 2008

Amsterdam to Toronto

My flight left late enough and packing was so easy that I could set out breakfast, go to chapel, and drink a coffee before catching the train. I'd checked in online before leaving (i figured it wouldn't hurt to try), so instead of waiting in a line of 30 people, i had only 3 people before me. I had enough time left over to buy Christmas presents for my nieces and still be early through security for my plane!

The flight to Washington was tolerable. It was 8.5 hours with limited sitting positions and limited things to do and plane food – so even though the airline nicely bumped me up to a slightly better seat, i wouldn't exactly call it pleasant.

We were late coming in – a strong wind. I had a shorter layover and i'd never done customs in Washington before so i was unsure if i'd make my connection. And American immigration/customs aren't so great if you're not American – these lines are usually twice as long and twice as slow. And then through security again, just in case we'd taken something dangerous out of our checked luggage – it's not like any of us could have left the airport.

I was still standing in security when my plane was supposed to start boarding. 25 minutes before my plane was supposed to leave for good, i started running to catch the little shuttle that would take me to the right terminal. I arrived sweaty and out-of-breath at my gate to hear that they were just about to start boarding. So i went to wash my face and brush my teeth and fill my water bottle – when i was done, i heard last boarding call for Toronto – another adrenalin rush! My seatmate was also hot and sweaty from running – she'd been on the same plane from Amsterdam.

In Toronto i discovered that my luggage hadn't moved quite as quickly as i had – it was still stuck in Washington. But customs had been short and simple (and i had clean clothes in my carry-on), so no problem. I was just about home with friends – and my trip was finished, so I was happy.

03 December 2008

brenda vs. the work computer

my computer has been unkind to me in the past (by losing my data or crashing the program). even though it's been frustrating, it's been generally minor. but on friday, we got into a serious fight.

it began when it wouldn't let me login. i went to the opening screen, typed in my name, typed in my password, and then got rebooted to the opening screen again. hmmm. must have typed in something wrong. after trying again (a couple of times) and noticing there was no error message but still i got the opening screen, i gave up. turns out there's a random network misfunction in my computer - so i moved to another person's computer. no problems there.

and then, i ran the data program in Ezekiel 1. or at least tried to. after it crashed (and deleted some of my data in the process), i forced it to crash in a different chapter (after saving all my data) - so i could find the problem. i found the problem file. i backed it up and deleted it - and then tried the program again. no success (it remade the faulty file). so i modified the faulty file somewhat. still no success. so i gave up - our computer expert had bumped into the same problem (so it was bigger than just a faulty file in my system) and was working on it. but i could just prune the faulty file and try anyways. and after tricking the system with a much shorter copy of the faulty file, it worked again. and i was back to crunching data.

and at the end of my fight with my computer, i feel like i won. sure, i lost data - but my understanding of the program and system is good enough now to know generally how to work around whatever it throws at me.... [hopefully :)]

01 December 2008

doing dishes

on a good day, doing dishes in the community is a delight.

sometimes the delight is found in a sense of accomplishment - after clearing away the pile of dishes made by dinner for 35, it's obvious to see that i've actually done something.

and sometimes, after a day spent on too much thinking, it's nice to do something physical - getting my hands dirty with too much grease and scrubbing some pots and pans.

and sometimes it's a delight because it's gezellig [warm and cozy] to do chores with other people. i often end up a bit wet afterwards (although i usually end up making myself wet most of the time i do dishes). and i usually have delightful conversations and laugh. the other tonight i was laughing at the daughter of someone drying the dishes - she was cleaning up the kitchen with another girl - by rearranging the stools and wiping up the floor. and the two guys by me ended up singing Sinterklaas songs, with a strange nasal (Amsterdam?) accent (i was in stitches). and it all ended with someone else trying to convince the two little girls that Sinterklass didn't really exist - i don't think he was too successful as the girls responded by singing Sinterklaas songs :)