Meat, Vests, and Keanu Reeves

The past two days, my fellow hero in anxiety, The Bloggess, has encouraged her readers to first post things they hate that everyone else loves, and then the inverse – things they love that others don’t get.

This exercise was her way of reminding us that us, each of us, either who we are or what we write/produce/put out into the world (or all of the above) is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like us or understand us, and that’s okay. Nay, it’s normal and expected.

As for me, I despise:

  • whiskey (I involuntarily shudder each time it touches my tongue. That’s what she said.)
  • David Sedaris (Okay, so despise is way too strong of a word for Mr. Sedaris. I just don’t get him, really. I’ve read several of his books and I keep really trying to find him funny, and I only find him mildly amusing some of the time.)
  • licorice (bitter and gross)
  • vests (your arms are still cold)
  • pot roast (dry and tough and I don’t want my meat tasting like carrots and my carrots tasting like meat)
  • potatoes that aren’t highly processed…like the kind in pot roast
  • turkey (like, the Thanksgiving kind. It’s dry and tasteless. I eat at Thanksgiving for the sides. And the pie. Mmmmm, pie.)
  • sausages (I’m a horrible mostly-German person)
  • I guess I just don’t prefer most meat, really…except bacon
  • IPAs (I don’t like drinking Pine Sol)
  • The Smashing Pumpkins (whiny voices)
  • Keanu Reeves (never cared for his acting)
  • Oregon.

And I love:

  • therapy!
  • the smell of gasoline
  • writing resumes
  • Hanson
  • Almond Joys (sometimes you feel like a nut)
  • really depressing and/or traumatic reading material

People who know me – was there anything I missed? I’m sure it’s easier for my friends to remember just how much of a weirdo I am. Much thanks.

Now you! You go; it’s your turn. What things do you love/hate that most others don’t?


nanopoblano2019

Reblog: Tiny snickerdoodles, burlap sacks, and blackface

I originally wrote this post last year, when I had 7.2 dear and loyal readers.  I’m phoning it in today and spreading some Sinterklaas cheer because everyone needs to celebrate Christmas like the Dutch do – early, and with lots of racism.  Enjoy!

——–

In other words, Happy Sinterklaas!!!!

For those of you who may not know, I spent a glorious and exciting semester abroad in the Netherlands in the fall of 2005, which means that I got to celebrate Sinterklaas for the very first time.  For purposes of context, I am also almost finished reading Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (I recommend) and he devoted a chapter to Sinterklaas and how awesomely funny it is to Americans.  In the same spirit, I am going to share my love for this wonderfully racist and quirky holiday with all y’all.

Sinterklaas is the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day, and it falls on December 5th.  The Dutchie version of Saint Nick is the former bishop of Turkey and lives in Spain.  He’s still a white dude wearing red, just add a pope’s hat and maybe a little bit of a tan from the Spanish sun.  What I don’t get is that many Dutchies don’t like Turkish immigrants and think they should go back home, yet they welcome this man every year.  Maybe it’s just because Sinterklaas goes home before wearing out his welcome?  Or maybe Turkish immigrants just need to bring presents with them when they come.  Take note, Turks.

Utrecht Sinterklaas parade Nov 2011

Sinterklaas is much more practical than our American Santa Claus.  Flying reindeer?  Yeah right.  Around the world in just one night?  Please.  Of course, Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain in mid November and spends those few weeks riding his white horse in parades and handing out goodies before he heads back home on December 6th.  The main boat arrival into Rotterdam (I think it’s Rotterdam) is televised with great excitement, and then numerous other smaller boat arrivals take place for smaller villages with their own harbors.  For those villages without a harbor, Sinterklaas usually arrives by horse, as he did in Utrecht where I was living.

Now, Saint Nick doesn’t come alone.  He has “six to eight” helpers, each named Swarte Piet (translation: Black Pete), who are usually young men in startling blackface with bright red lips wearing bright colored tunics with puffy sleeves and feathers in their equally bright, fluffy hats.  Why blackface?  The original explanation is that Swarte Pieten are slaves Sinterklaas saved from Ethiopia (what was he doing in Ethiopia??) and are now sooo grateful to be saved that they stick around and help him deliver gifts and torment kids (more on the tormenting later).  The newer, more PC explanation is that Piet has black soot all over his gosh-darn face from going down all those chimneys to deliver gifts every year.  Hmmm, maybe Piet should ask for some moist towelettes from Sinterklaas this year.

Swarte Pieten!!

really??! The Dutch teach em young….

The most horrifying part for me was going to the parade to see Sinterklaas and his horse gallantly trot into Utrecht to the delight of little boys and girls…who were also dressed in blackface.  What the what?!  It is one thing for legal adults to smear their faces and portray former slaves, but apparently Dutch parents do this to their kids to get them into the holiday spirit.  Worse still, is that the Dutch see nothing wrong with this and my Dutch friends insisted that I calm down (this is one thing that I was told consistently during my stay in the Netherlands, that as an American I needed to calm the fuck down.  Good thing they have lots of coffeeshops for that.)

So, where were we?  Sinterklaas comes from Spain on his boat with Swarte Pieten, switches to his white horse and then proceeds to parade through the city, waving and handing out goodies.  This is where Swarte Piet pegs the onlookers with tiny snickerdoodles, or pepernoten.  Seriously, they run around and throw handfuls of these things at people (not to them).  Maybe there is a point system, more points for kids and the elderly.  Pepernoten are quarter sized, hard, not-very-tasty gingerbread-like-things, and it seems that Swarte Piet has the right idea that they are better suited as weapons than as sweets.

Now we get to the excitement of the night of December 5th.  Traditionally, cute little blonde Dutch kids would put their painfully uncomfortable wooden shoes out by the fireplace and leave some goodies for Sinterklaas, Swarte Piet, but most often carrots and hay for the white horse (looking back, now I get why the white horse gets all the love…).  In return, the shoes would be filled with candies and a small present.  Nowadays, Dutchies leave their shoes by a heater or, as I was taught, right outside either the bedroom door or on the front or back porch and hope that the white horse doesn’t leave some other kind of stinky gift in there.  One awesome Sinterklaas goodie kids can expect is a big-ass piece of chocolate in the shape of the first letter of their first name.

mmmm chocolate letter….

What happens if you’re bad, you ask?  In America you just get coal, and you should consider yourselves freaking lucky, my friends.  Sinterklaas apparently doesn’t take any shit from anyone, and if you’re bad he sends his Swarte Pieten after you, and you know that these former slaves know a thing or two about corporal punishment.  Swarte Pieten carry burlap sacks with them, and if they encounter a bad child, they put that poor, helpless soul in the bag, drag him outside, beat him with a switch, and then if the situation warrants it, they kidnap him and take him back to Spain.  What they do with this kid once he gets to Spain, I have no idea.  Maybe he’s broken down and retrained Jason Bourne-style to  become part of the next generation of cutthroat Swarte Pieten.  I heard that in the old days, family friends would take turns coming to each other’s houses dressed as Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet to perform some of these fear-inducing rituals on their kids, but nowadays parents just tell these stories to their kids to hopefully still scare them into submission.

During their stay in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet visit many public places like town squares and shopping malls and schools.  He made sure not to miss coming to University College Utrecht during one of our lunch periods.  There we were, eating some sort of mystery pastry (the Dutch seem to get a kick out of making yummy looking pastry and then filling it with something heinous, like meat and peas), when all of a sudden six to eight black men came sprinting into the dining hall, chucking handfuls of pepernoten at us.  Now, this university is an international university, run in English and with an American grading system, so many of the students (about 1/3 of the student body) were not Dutch, and we had a good American representation.  Well, us Americans thought, “What the fuck?  These crazy-ass black men run all up in here and throw disgusting, tooth-cracking cookies at us and we’re just gonna take it?  No, sir!”  And we did what came naturally.  We threw the pepernoten right back, along with some food for good measure.  Like hell we were gonna get beaten with switches….although, come to think of it, Spain probably would have been really nice that time of year.

Then in came Sinterklaas, and we straightened up a bit.  I remember he said something to us in Dutch, and then the moment I had been dreading – our Dutch language professor made us non-Dutchies learn a Sinterklaas song and we had to get up and sing it to Sinterklaas himself in front of the whole dining hall.

See how uncomfortable I am?

I did my best to mouth the words (what little of them I knew) and hide my voice in with the rest.  At that point, I would have preferred a small beating instead.  After Sinterklaas left, the food fight resumed.  Boo-yah.

the aftermath

Aside from Sinterklaas giving the kids gifts, I learned about how Dutch families exchange gifts for the holiday.  Usually families choose names so that each person only buys one gift (I like this so far).  It is customary to creatively wrap the gift in order to disguise what is inside, and also to make the wrapping somehow significant to the recipient.  For instance, my group of friends chose names and I chose my Dutch friend Floris.  He likes maps and travel, and so I wrapped his gift in a map.  I remember my friend Shady wrapped her gift and placed it on the plate of a place setting from our dining hall, using a plastic tray and all the stolen silverware and dishes.  I forget the significance…..but I think it was for Jozef who liked to eat a lot.  What also must accompany the gift is a poem about the recipient.  This poem usually makes reference to what their gift may be and/or pokes fun at the person’s character traits/defects.  Yet another small look into the darker, meaner underbelly of Dutch culture.

our Sinterklaas celebration! pepernoten, speculaas, and see’s!

So there you have it.  Sinterklaas 101.  So tonight, remember to leave your shoes out…and hope that you don’t wake up bruised on the Spanish shoreline.  Or do, you know, if you like that kind of thing.

Sinterklaas, goedheiligman!
Trek uwe beste tabberd an,
Reis daar mee naar Amsterdam,
Van Amsterdam naar Spanje,
Daar Appelen van Oranje,
Daar Appelen van granaten,
Die rollen door de straten.

I’m bringing joy to the picnic

I get the symbolism, the tradition of making new years resolutions, but what I don’t get is why people keep making them since they don’t work.

I’ve observed that the nature of the most common new years resolutions is often to do something that we “should” be doing already anyway: lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, eat better.  The “should” is in quotes because my immediate response to “shoulds” and “have tos” is “who says?!”  The “should” is a value statement that came from somewhere- friends, family, the media, society, etc. -and a person has to believe in a “should” in order for it to have any meaning.  Very arbitrary indeed.

My assumption is that people who make new years resolutions must be resolving to do something that they don’t want to do…otherwise, wouldn’t they have just done it already?  If quitting smoking was something that you really, truly wanted to do, then why would you wait to begin doing it until the first of the year?

I am rejecting this guilt-based form of resolutions!  I support joy-based resolutions!  I am resolving to do things that I like to do, things that bring me JOY!  One thing I started doing already (because why wait?!) and that is to blog.  Check.  The other is to take my picture everyday for at least the year of 2012.  So far so good.  Another is to continue to read. 

In my attempt to pass on the joy I experienced through reading this year, below is my year in book reviews for 2011.  They are listed in the order I read them, and an asterisk (*) means I had read the book before.  Enjoy!


1. *Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

I had read this in high school and remembered liking it.  I think I am a Bokononist at heart. I just love the close-to-home absurdity of it all! 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson

I just tore through these books, and I think they really highlight the year for me, especially since I followed these with the three Swedish and first American movie versions.

5. Enlightened Sexism – Susan Douglas

Awesome non-fiction about how sexism as backlash is more covert in the media now more than ever.  I like books that teach me how to be a more critical consumer of media.

6. Gone – Michael Grant

The Michael Grant Gone series (more below) are young adult books, and even though they start to go a crazy, far-out TV show Lost route, they are still fun, easy, and imaginative reads.  I look forward to the few more in the series he has yet to write.  Basic premise is that in one moment everyone in this town over the age of 15 just disappears…

7. Bossypants – Tina Fey

Tina, I love you, I love you, I love you!  This autobiographical hilarity she calls a book is well worth it.

8. *A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

I read this one as a child and reading it again made me feel like I was 10 again.  Love the power of books.

9. Hunger – Michael Grant
10. Lies – Michael Grant
11. Plague – Michael Grant

These titles really indicate how the plot thickens…

12. *Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling

I think this was at least my third read.  I had to read it before the last movie came out so that I could properly tear the movie apart for inconsistencies.  The end of all things Harry Potter was and still is traumatic for me…

13. *Tales of Beedle the Bard – JK Rowling

To ease the pain of the Harry saga coming to an end, I read this for the second time.  For this reading, I actually read one story out loud each night to the boyman before we went to sleep.  He hadn’t heard them before, and there was something magical about sharing the stories out loud to someone else.

14. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

So this book seemed right up my alley.  I was still mourning the loss of Harry, and I figured this whimsical fantasy with a female protagonist would help ease the pain…but it was soooo slow and parts were boring and I struggled to get through it.  I struggled so badly that I gave up hope trying to finish the series.  Maybe someday I’ll try it again.  And maybe I learned the hard way that nothing can ever take the Harry Potter PTSD away.

15. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer

This non-fiction first account of a disastrous trip to the top of Everest was the most captivating and anxiety-provoking book of the year for me.  I could not put this down, and I even had dreams about being in mortal peril in the freezing snow and not having enough oxygen.  I recommend this adventure of a book!

16. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

I remember that at this point in the year, I said that I would choose media devoid of abuse and trauma, so I chose what I thought was a charming, old-timey circus fling.  Sigh.  I still enjoyed it, even though there was some domestic violence and animal abuse thrown in there. 

17. A Stolen Life – Jaycee Dugard

At this point I think my curiosity got the better of me and I threw out my rule about choosing books free of abuse.  This book gets me enraged and hopeful at the same time.  Enraged that someone could do horrible things to someone else for SO LONG before getting caught, and hopeful because Jaycee and her girls are so resilient and kind and determined and not broken in any way.

18. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Phenomenal book, beautifully written.  This book makes me want to visit the south.

19. The Whistleblower – Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn

Here is another example where I couldn’t help myself.  This is a true story where Kathryn, a cop, was hired to help prevent and police sex trafficking in Bosnia, only her superiors were sabotaging her work and were consumers of the sex trade themselves.  I love a story where women kick ass and not only take names, but take them to court!

20. Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

I had heard good things about Sedaris, and so I borrowed this book from a friend.  Full of autobiographical stories of David’s family and life growing up.  He has this dry humor I find amusing, although I expected the stories to be more laugh out loud funny.

21. Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris

More stories, less autobiographical.  I found that these stories were either hit or miss for me.  One was absolutely hilarious, and the other was so over the top that it missed its mark.

~Here’s to many more happy, fun, exciting reads for 2012!~

Tiny snickerdoodles, burlap sacks, and blackface

In other words, Happy Sinterklaas!!!!

For those of you who may not know, I spent a glorious and exciting semester abroad in the Netherlands in the fall of 2005, which means that I got to celebrate Sinterklaas for the very first time.  For purposes of context, I am also almost finished reading Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (I recommend) and he devoted a chapter to Sinterklaas and how awesomely funny it is to Americans.  In the same spirit, I am going to share my love for this wonderfully racist and quirky holiday with all y’all.

Sinterklaas is the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day, and it falls on December 5th.  The Dutchie version of Saint Nick is the former bishop of Turkey and lives in Spain.  He’s still a white dude wearing red, just add a pope’s hat and maybe a little bit of a tan from the Spanish sun.  What I don’t get is that many Dutchies don’t like Turkish immigrants and think they should go back home, yet they welcome this man every year.  Maybe it’s just because Sinterklaas goes home before wearing out his welcome?  Or maybe Turkish immigrants just need to bring presents with them when they come.  Take note, Turks.

Utrecht Sinterklaas parade Nov 2011

Sinterklaas is much more practical than our American Santa Claus.  Flying reindeer?  Yeah right.  Around the world in just one night?  Please.  Of course, Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain in mid November and spends those few weeks riding his white horse in parades and handing out goodies before he heads back home on December 6th.  The main boat arrival into Rotterdam (I think it’s Rotterdam) is televised with great excitement, and then numerous other smaller boat arrivals take place for smaller villages with their own harbors.  For those villages without a harbor, Sinterklaas usually arrives by horse, as he did in Utrecht where I was living.

Now, Saint Nick doesn’t come alone.  He has “six to eight” helpers, each named Swarte Piet (translation: Black Pete), who are usually young men in startling blackface with bright red lips wearing bright colored tunics with puffy sleeves and feathers in their equally bright, fluffy hats.  Why blackface?  The original explanation is that Swarte Pieten are slaves Sinterklaas saved from Ethiopia (what was he doing in Ethiopia??) and are now sooo grateful to be saved that they stick around and help him deliver gifts and torment kids (more on the tormenting later).  The newer, more PC explanation is that Piet has black soot all over his gosh-darn face from going down all those chimneys to deliver gifts every year.  Hmmm, maybe Piet should ask for some moist towelettes from Sinterklaas this year.

Swarte Pieten!!

really??! The Dutch teach em young….

The most horrifying part for me was going to the parade to see Sinterklaas and his horse gallantly trot into Utrecht to the delight of little boys and girls…who were also dressed in blackface.  What the what?!  It is one thing for legal adults to smear their faces and portray former slaves, but apparently Dutch parents do this to their kids to get them into the holiday spirit.  Worse still, is that the Dutch see nothing wrong with this and my Dutch friends insisted that I calm down (this is one thing that I was told consistently during my stay in the Netherlands, that as an American I needed to calm the fuck down.  Good thing they have lots of coffeeshops for that.)

So, where were we?  Sinterklaas comes from Spain on his boat with Swarte Pieten, switches to his white horse and then proceeds to parade through the city, waving and handing out goodies.  This is where Swarte Piet pegs the onlookers with tiny snickerdoodles, or pepernoten.  Seriously, they run around and throw handfuls of these things at people (not to them).  Maybe there is a point system, more points for kids and the elderly.  Pepernoten are quarter sized, hard, not-very-tasty gingerbread-like-things, and it seems that Swarte Piet has the right idea that they are better suited as weapons than as sweets.

Now we get to the excitement of the night of December 5th.  Traditionally, cute little blonde Dutch kids would put their painfully uncomfortable wooden shoes out by the fireplace and leave some goodies for Sinterklaas, Swarte Piet, but most often carrots and hay for the white horse (looking back, now I get why the white horse gets all the love…).  In return, the shoes would be filled with candies and a small present.  Nowadays, Dutchies leave their shoes by a heater or, as I was taught, right outside either the bedroom door or on the front or back porch and hope that the white horse doesn’t leave some other kind of stinky gift in there.  One awesome Sinterklaas goodie kids can expect is a big-ass piece of chocolate in the shape of the first letter of their first name.

mmmm chocolate letter….

What happens if you’re bad, you ask?  In America you just get coal, and you should consider yourselves freaking lucky, my friends.  Sinterklaas apparently doesn’t take any shit from anyone, and if you’re bad he sends his Swarte Pieten after you, and you know that these former slaves know a thing or two about corporal punishment.  Swarte Pieten carry burlap sacks with them, and if they encounter a bad child, they put that poor, helpless soul in the bag, drag him outside, beat him with a switch, and then if the situation warrants it, they kidnap him and take him back to Spain.  What they do with this kid once he gets to Spain, I have no idea.  Maybe he’s broken down and retrained Jason Bourne-style to  become part of the next generation of cutthroat Swarte Pieten.  I heard that in the old days, family friends would take turns coming to each other’s houses dressed as Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet to perform some of these fear-inducing rituals on their kids, but nowadays parents just tell these stories to their kids to hopefully still scare them into submission.

During their stay in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet visit many public places like town squares and shopping malls and schools.  He made sure not to miss coming to University College Utrecht during one of our lunch periods.  There we were, eating some sort of mystery pastry (the Dutch seem to get a kick out of making yummy looking pastry and then filling it with something heinous, like meat and peas), when all of a sudden six to eight black men came sprinting into the dining hall, chucking handfuls of pepernoten at us.  Now, this university is an international university, run in English and with an American grading system, so many of the students (about 1/3 of the student body) were not Dutch, and we had a good American representation.  Well, us Americans thought, “What the fuck?  These crazy-ass black men run all up in here and throw disgusting, tooth-cracking cookies at us and we’re just gonna take it?  No, sir!”  And we did what came naturally.  We threw the pepernoten right back, along with some food for good measure.  Like hell we were gonna get beaten with switches….although, come to think of it, Spain probably would have been really nice that time of year.

Then in came Sinterklaas, and we straightened up a bit.  I remember he said something to us in Dutch, and then the moment I had been dreading – our Dutch language professor made us non-Dutchies learn a Sinterklaas song and we had to get up and sing it to Sinterklaas himself in front of the whole dining hall.

See how uncomfortable I am?

I did my best to mouth the words (what little of them I knew) and hide my voice in with the rest.  At that point, I would have preferred a small beating instead.  After Sinterklaas left, the food fight resumed.  Boo-yah.

the aftermath

Aside from Sinterklaas giving the kids gifts, I learned about how Dutch families exchange gifts for the holiday.  Usually families choose names so that each person only buys one gift (I like this so far).  It is customary to creatively wrap the gift in order to disguise what is inside, and also to make the wrapping somehow significant to the recipient.  For instance, my group of friends chose names and I chose my Dutch friend Floris.  He likes maps and travel, and so I wrapped his gift in a map.  I remember my friend Shady wrapped her gift and placed it on the plate of a place setting from our dining hall, using a plastic tray and all the stolen silverware and dishes.  I forget the significance…..but I think it was for Jozef who liked to eat a lot.  What also must accompany the gift is a poem about the recipient.  This poem usually makes reference to what their gift may be and/or pokes fun at the person’s character traits/defects.  Yet another small look into the darker, meaner underbelly of Dutch culture.

our Sinterklaas celebration! pepernoten, speculaas, and see’s!

So there you have it.  Sinterklaas 101.  So tonight, remember to leave your shoes out…and hope that you don’t wake up bruised on the Spanish shoreline.  Or do, you know, if you like that kind of thing.

Sinterklaas, goedheiligman!
Trek uwe beste tabberd an,
Reis daar mee naar Amsterdam,
Van Amsterdam naar Spanje,
Daar Appelen van Oranje,
Daar Appelen van granaten,
Die rollen door de straten.