Camping with a Toddler

We love to camp.

I grew up camping.  I was a Girl Scout for 11 years and then a camp counselor.  After that, my boyfriend, now husband (whom I met whilst camp counseling) got me hooked on backpacking.

I developed that love-hate relationship with it, where while I’m hiking up the hill in 1354627 degree heat, I just want to die…but once I get to the top, it’s all worth it.  Survival.  Independence.  Self-reliance.  All that good stuff that we are so excited to pass on to our kid.

We realized we hadn’t been camping in 4 years, and since I’m pregnant with #2, we needed to get in a trip RIGHT NOW before I am too big and before we have a screaming baby to take care of.

The short version of this story: camping was fucking hard.

Before going, I had read several articles about how camping with kids was so doable, you guys!  Just get out there and do it!

And, like a sucker, I was like, YEAH!  Let’s do this!  What could go wrong?!

The hardest part was trying to keep some kind of normal sleep schedule for my almost 2 year old.  He barely napped in the car on the way there.  Strike one.

We went out for dinner so we could hurry to the campsite and set up with enough time to put the kid to bed at a reasonable hour.  Now, we don’t co-sleep and we put our kid to bed while he’s still wide awake, so it’s his job to self-soothe himself to sleep.  I originally worried that there was no way we’d be able to get a pack n play into our tent, because I didn’t see how our thrashy sleeper would get any sleep (let alone US get any sleep) lying on an open mattress next to us.  Thank goodness our hand-me-down 5 person tent was plenty big enough to fit the pack n play next to a full sized blow up mattress for my pregnant hips.  It was a good start.


Our sleep setup

So we get him to bed, and he’s super distracted (understandable) and it takes him a while to get to bed, but he does, and without crying.  When we go in the tent to sleep, I can smell that he’s poopy (my son, not my husband).  We decided to let him sleep with the risk that the poopy might give him a rash.

It was a horrible night.  I couldn’t sleep and my son couldn’t sleep.  Like, at all.  I woke up several times to my son standing in the pnp, leaning over me, whispering Mama.  Creepy as all hell.  Go the eff to sleep, kid.

He woke up upset at 6am, when he normally sleeps til 8 or 9, sometimes even later.  I got up to change his poopy (which had leaked all over everything. perfect.) which made him scream and he wouldn’t stop…..and we woke up the entire camp and FELT HORRIBLE.

Breakfast was tough, he didn’t want to eat, he wanted to run away into the road.  I was exhausted and cranky and pregnant.

To make matters worse, we had to break down camp completely because we had to switch to a new campsite for the second night.  Ugh.  We seriously considered just going home.

But I’m glad we didn’t.

Breakfast and cleanup and breaking down camp took forever because one of us had to do all the work while the other made sure Cranky McDidn’t Sleep stayed alive.  We managed to pack a lunch, get the hell outta there, and went to the beach (a very short drive away).  Dylan perked up, ate, ran through the freezing ankle-deep water.  We all had fun.  We saw a 100 year old shipwreck!


Then we got to the second campsite and set everything up with enough time for Dylan to actually get a nap in before dinner.  He had to cry himself to sleep in order to do it, but he just needed to fuck-ing sleeeeeeeeeeep.

Unfortunately, he woke for dinner sooper cranky and crying and wanting to run out into the road, again.  It was incredibly frustrating and scary.  Everything during camping is hard to do anyway – cooking, washing dishes, set up, clean up – and it went even slower because one of us had to constantly be following Dylan around.  I now totally understand why parents put their kids in leashes.  Sign me up.

Thank goodness we had the genius forethought to plan hotdogs for dinner, because Dylan ate like a champ and I kid you not – halfway through the meal, his cranky whines stopped and he looked up at me and said, very calmly, Hi.  In response, I said, “Welcome back!”  And he was back, just like that.  My sweet, lovable, obedient little boy.  We went for a walk around the campground and he had his first s’more (loooved it) and we put him to bed and everything was glorious.  That night I slept, he slept, we all SLEPT.  And Dylan woke at his normal time, smiling and giggling like the horror that was yesterday never happened.

We had oatmeal and packed up and saw a cool fort and drove home and it was a very lovely day.  No one tried to run out into the road!

So.  Overall, it was a success.  A hard-fought success.

A few pointers for those still brave enough to attempt:

  1. Bring extra bedding.  Our leaky poopy experience taught us the hard way.
  2. Plan simple meals.  This one saved us.  Ain’t nobody got time for fancy meals when everything takes ten times as long and you have a hungry, cranky kid running into the road.
  3. Pack early.  With kids, you have to bring a lot of extra shit.  We left later than we wanted because we were scrambling to get everything and to make sure it all fit in the car.
  4. Reserve your campsite early.  The reason we had to switch campsites was because no one campsite was open two nights in a row because we waited so long to book.  Apparently people in Oregon loves them some camping.
  5. Be prepared to leave early if you need to.  Because every well-intentioned plan needs a backup.  Or an escape route.


I’m very glad we went.  I’m glad we didn’t come home early.

And I don’t plan to do this again any time soon.

I’m Gonna Win at NaBloPoMo

Guess what?!

I think I’m gonna try this NaBloPoMo thing.  I think.  Maybe.

(NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month.  I’m already really tired of typing that, so maybe I should just shorten it to NBPM.)

It all started when I saw WP’s The Daily Post about it, and I thought, Hey.  November is almost here.  I’d kinda like to be a writer.  I’m unemployed outside the home and I enjoy typing in my pajamas.  And I don’t have a newborn this year!  And that was all I had to hear of my own voice before I convinced myself to take the plunge.  Although I totally should have done it last year when I did have a newborn, and I could have pledged to type all– wait, how many days in November?  Only 30!  Yaaaasss! –all 30 days one-handed whilst breastfeeding.  Now that would have been impressive.

And I’ve gone and announced my intentions publicly, so now I’m really on the hook.  Once I stop to think about what I’ve gone and done, this should be interesting.  And by interesting I mean I might fail, because I only have about two ideas for blog posts, and I plan to travel (read: fly) back to California for Thanksgiving with my walking-like-crazy toddler (pray for me, y’alls, pray for me) and so I may miss a few days here and there.  Or, my perfectionist self will yell, FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!, so determined not to miss a day, I’ll be forced to attempt to use the WP app to post a frantic picture of myself wanting to melt into the terminal floor and die at the airport.  You won’t want to miss it.

Get ready for 30 days of run-on sentences!!  I can’t wait.

Drifting in Portlandia

So we’ve been here about a week now.

Here means just outside of Portland, Oregon.

It’s been a little rough, as I expected it would be.  I also suppose it hasn’t been as bad as my worst fears, so that’s something.

Brian and I both came down with the flu over Christmas (given to us by the movers who packed up our stuff), and that made for a pretty rotten holiday.  We made the most of it, but we were not able to do everything we had planned, and we were forced to skip seeing loved ones for fear of getting them sick, which really sucked.

We returned to our mostly bare apartment for one night in sleeping bags so that we could rise early, grab the cat, and make the 10 hour drive to Portland all in one day.

I have a love-hate relationship with this cat, and that morning it was definitely hate.  And pity, I suppose.  She refused to eat any of the sedative-infused food we offered her.  We had given her some a few weeks prior as a trial run, just to make sure she wasn’t allergic and to see how she would do.  I can only imagine that she remembered that experience and was like, “No effing way I am doing that again, you guys.”  We tried putting it in dry food.  We tried hiding it in chicken.  And then we tried just forcing it into her mouth and down her throat.  To no avail.  At this point we were behind schedule, so she got shoved into the cat carrier, hungry and unmedicated, and off we went.

Despite the struggles of the morning, Sadie (the cat) did pretty well.  She howled solidly for the first 45 minutes and then would pass out for 20 minutes at a time, only to wake up and howl some more.  I had to just emotionally detach myself from her in order to cope.  I kept telling her, “I love you, and you are safe,” which I think was more for my benefit than for hers.

The drive up was pretty damn gorgeous, and wonderfully uneventful (the cat howling aside).  We passed Shasta and saw a bit of snow in the shade in the mountains.  We stopped for lunch in Ashland, which was good to check out again.

We arrived at our new place after dark and I was just exhausted.  The cat was freaking out and had no bed to hide under.  We unloaded most of our two cars, ordered pizza, and then passed out on an air mattress.

This is the first time I’ve ever moved somewhere and not had something waiting for me on the other side.  We moved because my husband found an amazing job, which is awesome, and we are both thankful for that.  As for me, I am now left with the daunting task of trying to figure out how to get relicensed in this new state and how to find a job.  I know zero clinicians in Oregon, and so I am left to email perfect strangers to answer my questions.  We left the warmth and sunshine of California, and I can definitely feel that tugging at my wellbeing.  I wonder to myself if Oregon will ever really feel like home.

To sum up, I feel scared and sad, and somewhat stuck.  I am fighting it, but the energy only comes in spurts.  I am very, very thankful to have one good friend in the area I know from California, and of course my husband is there for me, as I am for him.

I don’t like moving and I don’t like change and I hate the unknown.  In my moodier states, I feel like I am on a raft, just drifting aimlessly in an endless foggy sea.  That just makes me want to curl up in a ball and wait until the raft bumps into something.

I guess I’d better fashion myself a friggin paddle.

A moment of fear

Two weekends ago, B and I went to our first wedding since attending our own.  As was expected, I had mixed feelings about going, mainly because I love weddings, but I knew it would also trigger some sadness leftover from grieving the yucky parts of Brian’s and my nuptials.

I did feel some sadness, especially when watching the bride and groom do the traditional things that Brian and I didn’t get to do the way we had hoped.  But.  Overall, we had a blast and took full advantage of the fact that we were at a wedding that wasn’t our own.  The best part was that we got to dance like mad fools.  It was liberating, as if every spastic movement my body made was shaking off the grief and flinging it aside.  We definitely took this opportunity to create another little corrective experience for ourselves.  I’m proud of us, and each day this wedding crap gets just a little smaller and more distant.

The wedding we attended was in Southern California, and Brian actually flew us down for the occasion.  (For more stories on what it’s like to fly in a tiny aircraft with your pilot partner, try this post and this one.)  I hadn’t flown with Brian for quite some time, and it had been a couple of years since I had flown with him for any great distance (this flight was set to take 2-3 hours one way, depending on the wind conditions).  Looking back, I think it might have been due to my intermittent depression and the time elapsed since I last flew, but I found myself running through morbid scenarios in my head about what might happen if we crashed.  Honestly, I think I was just feeling insecure and vulnerable in general, and then the thought of putting my life into someone else’s hands in a tiny-ass plane with no oh shit handle (see previous posts) compounded the swirling in my head.

The plane ride down to the wedding was great.  We had very little turbulence (which makes my anxiety go through the roof in such a small plane) and everything went pretty smoothly, despite strong headwinds that made the trip last a little longer than expected.  I felt calm, and the trip reminded me that flying can actually be fun.

The return flight began without problems, but ended very abruptly in what I can only describe as the most terrifying 10 minutes of my entire life.  We took off a few minutes after 1pm, and it was about 1:30 when I got out my ipad because I had just had an idea for a blog post, of all things.  I was typing away when I heard the usual roar of the engine quickly dim and sputter and then return to normal in the span of about two seconds.  My head shot up and looked at Brian.  “Did you do that?!” I demanded.

The look on his face made a chill run straight through me.

“No,” he said, “That wasn’t me.”

Brian flew into action, pushing buttons and pulling levers.  My heart rate skyrocketed and my muscles went completely rigid with fear.

And then it happened again.

At this point I remember looking down at the ground below us.  It was all foothills and mountains.  With my untrained eye, I couldn’t see any place where we might be able to make an emergency landing.  My fear turned to panic.

I don’t pray in the traditional sense, but now I was doing the closest thing to it.  Please, just let us live.  Both of us.

I did the only thing I could do at that point: I focused on calming myself down (or at least containing my fear) the best way I could.  I turned off my ipad, threw it in the back, shook some tictacs into my mouth, and put on a playlist I especially designed to calm me down when I am stressed out at work.  I closed my eyes and focused on breathing.  I pretended that I wasn’t in a plane, that my ass was firmly on the ground.  I was able to get my muscles to relax for a few seconds.

Brian immediately turned the aircraft steeply to the left, back towards a small airport we had passed a few minutes earlier.  Since the airport was on the left side of the aircraft, Brian had seen it but I hadn’t.  Plus, he was the one with all the navigational charts and maps.

Brian then got on the radio and told air traffic control that we were experiencing engine issues.  He explained the temporary loss of engine power we had experienced and they asked how many souls were on board, how much fuel we had, and if he wanted to declare an emergency.

Souls?!  Why does he need to know that?  So that when we crash, they can know how many bodies they are searching for?!

Brian said he didn’t want to declare an emergency, but he did want to land as soon as possible.  Air traffic told Brian to switch to another frequency so the small airport could talk to us without any other aircraft interfering.  They offered to let us land on a runway that would have required Brian to circle the pattern, which would have taken time.  Brian saw another runway that we were headed straight towards, and he also requested a straight in approach.  The airport gave us the go ahead – whatever we needed to be able to land asap.

Brian pointed up ahead for me.  “See that runway?  That’s where we’re going to land.”

Once I had a target, a destination in place, I focused on that and time seemed to stand still, but my mind did not.

Would the engine hold out until we got on the ground?

Would we be able to land safely from this altitude, from this speed?

I looked down again, because the straight in approach meant that we were now flying over a densely populated area.  Now I was praying for the safety of the people below us.  If we didn’t make it, I didn’t want anyone else to be hurt as a result.

I was completely freaking out, still not really sure how much danger we were in, and all I wanted was comfort from Brian, which he couldn’t give me.  Both of my hands were clinging to the oh shit handle, because that was all I could do.  I couldn’t help, and I wasn’t fully understanding the situation, so my job was to trust Brian,  let him do his job, and not get in the way.

There was a lull in Brian’s communication with the tower, and I could tell that the engine still didn’t sound like it was running correctly, so I turned to him and asked, “Are we going to be ok?”

My voice came out sounding like I was 5 years old.  I didn’t even recognize it as my own.

Brian looked at me and paused.  “Yes.  We’re going to be ok.”  I knew that Brian wasn’t sure, and I love him for saying the right thing.  Nevertheless, I remember a whine escaping my throat that reminded me of a lonely puppy.

It took forever for us to reach the airport.  Indeed, Brian was trying to slow the aircraft down and still get us on the ground in as short a time as possible.  We were lower now and Brian said that he was going to put the airplane into a “slip,” which meant we ended up flying in sideways to create a bunch of drag and slow the airplane down enough to land.

It was a nail-biting landing for me, but Brian did a fabulous job as far as I was concerned.  He taxied so we were just off the runway and then cut the engine so we could get out and wait for the firetrucks that were now screaming towards us.

I immediately felt relief, and I also felt this numbness, this urge to act like nothing had just happened.

We got out of the plane, and we just kind of stood there for several minutes not knowing what to do.  It was cold and windy (and I think my body was in shock) so Brian got me out a sweatshirt.  But it was quite a while until we actually looked at each other, hugged, and emotionally acknowledged what had just happened.  We were also standing around and waiting with mechanics and firefighters who started to show up, and we oddly cracked some jokes and had a few nervous laughs.

To wrap up this long story, we spent another several hours at this airport waiting for the maintenance crew to figure out what was wrong with the engine and we ended up renting a car and having to drive the last 5 hours home, because there was no way in hell I was getting back into that plane, fixed or not.

We arrived home very late, very tired, and very traumatized.  I’m not sure that I’ve still fully processed this, hence the blog post. The process of writing it was interesting, because I had trouble putting all the events in the correct order.  It interests me how selective and fallible our memories can be.

After talking about this with Brian, he explained exactly what happened and I realized that I had irrationally assumed that if we had lost engine power, we would have just fallen out of the sky – which was the source of the majority of my panic.  Brian ended up doing some calculations, and had we lost all power, we still would have been able to glide to that airport and land – which both boggles my mind and makes me feel better.

The end result is that I plan to take some form of a “pinch hitter” course – a crash course in how to land a plane (pun intended).  The idea of taking the course scares me, but not as much as not taking it does.  At any rate, that experience should also make for another good story.

Transitional periods are hard

Hello there, Psychos.

I’ve missed you.  Well, I have and I haven’t.  It [my honeymoon] was actually a very nice break from blogging, from wedding crap, from my job, from the world.

I was able [read: forced] to completely unplug whilst on a giant ass boat in the middle of the Mediterranean, and it felt good.  Wireless was crazy expensive on the boat, and the only things I used my phone for was as an alarm clock and to stitch together amazing panoramas of European villages I want to retire to (in like 5 years).

But it’s interesting, because now that I am back, I want to write, I feel the need to write, but I don’t know what to write about.  I also want to put a post between me and my last one…so here you go.  I just started typing to see what comes out.

So I started this post several days ago, and just last night I got a surprising email – my Post Wedding Blues post is going to be Freshly Pressed, and my first reaction was not excitement.  I think my first worry was that I’ll get all this unsolicited advice about how I need to look on the bright side and how I shouldn’t dwell on the wedding, it’s the marriage that’s important.  (A side note about advice like this – I find it very interesting that many people in our Western culture have a hard time tolerating sadness, whether it’s their own or someone else’s.  We’re taught very early to act like everything’s fine or to cheer people up rather than just accept and deal with what is.  Perhaps this is a post for another day…) I’m wondering if dealing with all the FP-ness is going to hinder or help my fragile mood as of late.  Being FPed is an honor and a part of me is excited – maybe it’ll give me that push to start really writing again – but it’s also a vulnerable place to be.  I’ll get a lot of exposure from all different kinds of people and that can be awesome but it brings about just that – the feeling of being exposed.

My depressed mood hasn’t all been about wedding stuff.  I had a lot of fun on my honeymoon, and I was able to just be in the present for the vast majority of it, but we came home to a hurricane of an apartment and it’s driving me crazy.  We registered for crap for a house we don’t yet have, and that crap is now piled and shoved into our tiny two bedroom apartment.  Right now I feel like I am drowning in stuff – the walls are closing in.  More importantly, B and I both came home to jobs from which we’ve learned all we can, and we both feel that it’s time to move on – professionally and personally.  At this point, before we’re able to actually make these major changes, I am not sure how I am supposed to keep this feeling of unrest from eating me alive.

The only answer so far has been for me to clean, organize, pile, and give shit away like a maniac on speed.  I obsess over what I can give away next, or how I can maximize my closet space beyond what I’ve already done.  In my calmer moments, I am also able to reassure myself that this period of my life is transitional, it’s temporary, and I will get through it.  Plus, now I have an amazing husband to get through shit with, and that’s the best part.

A Walk in the Cold

On Fridays I usually take a walk from my office to the local grocery store a few blocks away to buy a sandwich for lunch, or a coffee, or both.  Today I was feeling particularly antsy and restless, so the walk felt really good.  Invigorating.

It’s been particularly cold here the last week or so (meaning that I’ve had to scrape ice off my car at 8:45am more mornings than not…which is cold for not-the-mountains-in-NorCal) and I packed one of my mom’s hand-knitted slouchy hats into my bag and it came in handy for the walk today.

I walk fairly fast compared to most people I know.  My family was raised with German common sense and efficiency – you just gotta get there fast.  Dilly-dallying is for the weak.  I am The Short One at 5’6″ in a family of basketball players and giraffe lasso-ers, so I learned to pump my legs at twice the speed or be left behind to eat their dust.

Needless to say, I found myself at the grocery store in a very short amount of time.  As I walked back with my delicious white chocolate mocha, I had the realization that I’ll be 30 soon.  Thirty.  This is the first time in my life where my age is starting to sound old, and that’s kinda scary.

This, of course, brings up a lot of existential issues, one of them being regret.  I worry a lot about wasting time.  Too often I find myself waiting for things, and that takes me out of the present.  I wait for the weekend.  I wait to get married, buy a house, have kids.  Hell, some days I’m looking forward to coming home from work and I haven’t even left my apartment yet.  I don’t want to live like this, and I worry about looking back on periods of my life and regretting that I didn’t do more, whatever that means.

But I suppose I really do need to figure out what that means.  I’ve asked myself what it is I really want to spend my time on, and right now, I think the answer is wrapped up in three themes: I want to spend time creating, I want to spend time (and money) seeing the world, and I want to spend time cultivating relationships with people I love.

1. Creating

I want to invest more time and energy into writing.  Could this really go somewhere?  I feel like I need to give it a fair chance.

I want to set aside a place and more time to paint.  I think I’ve only done two major paintings in the past 4 years or so, and that makes me sad.  I have oil paints that I haven’t even learned how to use yet.

2. Travel

There are few places on this earth that I don’t want to see and experience.  I’m pretty thrifty with my money, but I have no problem spending it on plane tickets, museum tickets, and amazing food half a world away.

3. Relationships

The time I spend at work with clients who come to me at their lowest and in the most need has really highlighted how important friends and family are to me.  There is nothing like spending time with healthy, supportive people to recharge my batteries and remind me that not everyone in the world is either a victim or a perpetrator.  I’m also reminded that life doesn’t feel worth it if it’s not shared.

I also can’t wait to create a family of my own and have a relationship with little people who are half me and don’t even exist yet.  This part overlaps with the first theme of creation, although I hope my future kids aren’t offended by being lumped in with blogs and watercolors.  I’m sure they’ll be too screwed up to notice, at any rate.

So.  Are there ways to begin working on these things now and stop waiting for them to magically happen?  Absolutely.

Are there ways to stay in the present and stop waiting?  Yes…This is the part where I should actually practice what I preach to my clients.

I didn’t really start out to write a new years resolutions-ish post, but I suppose I just did.

Sometimes just taking a walk in the cold can do a person a whole lot of good.

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.

A Blogyear Timesuck

As of today, I have been blogging for a whole year.  365 days. Twelve months.  A dozen menstrual cycles, phases of the moon, psychotic breaks with reality.  Ok, so there were actually a baker’s dozen psychotic episodes…mmm, baked goods…

This blogyear has probably been one of the best years of my life, and I owe it all to blogging.  Didn’t you know that typing meaningless stories and feelings and bodily fluids bring great things?  I think Oprah said that one time.

I’d like to recap all the amazing things that have happened and were made legitimate by the fact that I wrote about them and then broadcasted them for hoards of perfect strangers to like and comment on:

Brian earned his master’s degree and I ceased to be the suffering partner of a grad student!

I turned 29 for the first time!

I blogged publicly about having cancer that one time, and I celebrated being cancer-free for 9 fucktastic years!  Plus, I get all the joke-rights to having only one ladyball.  Half the ball, twice the crazy.

I learned how to shoot a gun and no one got hurt except Ben Affleck’s left ear.

I passed two (count em: one and two) Marriage and Family Therapist licensing exams after having studied for them procrastinated by reading other people’s blogs.  Surprisingly, some very important people in the state of California think I can actually help people.  My goal is to prove them right.

I hadn’t even taken a deep breath or a post-licensing-exam-nap before I GOT ENGAGED THIS YEAR to the boyman of my dreams!!!

As if I hadn’t had enough joy this year, I also got a promotion at work managing our therapy department.  So many amazing changes, that I summoned the Trololo Guy to help me celebrate.

In July, Brian and I took an awesome Pre-weddingmoon trip to Puerto Rico and returned barely alive.  But that’s ok, because what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and more equipped to survive The End Times.

For the remainder of the blogyear, I’ve basically been planning a wedding, blogging about planning a wedding, and eating potato chips.

Not a bad year if I do say so myself.

I’ve found two main benefits to blogging during this past year.  One of them is getting to meet and read about so many interesting, eloquent, and funny people out there!  If I have ever liked or commented on your blog, then I include you in the above description.  And if you have ever read, liked, commented, followed, or given me an award on my blog – thank you.  Thank you for trading jokes, thank you for your encouragement, thank you for the community – because that’s what I was looking for when I started this whole thing.

The second benefit is that I’ve been able to discover who I am as a writer and who I might like to become as a writer.  This blog is basically one big experiment and I basically feel like I’ve been winging it this whole time, but when I look back on my posts I am sometimes surprised to find myself thinking that I actually churned out some stuff that I am proud of.  Who knew that I am funny?!  Who knew that I have shit to say that people might actually care about?!  Who knew that I had so much to say about zombies?!

Don’t worry- I’m not even close to being done blogging about zombies.

Here’s to another year that’s simply blogtastic!