Focusing on the good… my son!

After my depressing last post, I really do have to report on the highlight of this past week, of this past schoolyear, actually!

I absolutely love my son, but he really is a lazy sod. His secondary schooling has been a bit of a headache for us, every year he only just made it to the next grade. Here in The Netherlands you have several levels of secondary schools. The highest level is called VWO and prepares you straight for university, the second level is called HAVO and prepares you for applied sciences college/uni, the third level is called MAVO and prepares you for vocational education. Within MAVO you have a few more levels that are lower.

My son is smart enough for at least HAVO but as he’s such a lazy sod, his results didn’t get him in there, so he has been doing highest level MAVO instead, aiming to move on to HAVO afterwards. He is almost 16 and a month ago he had his last finals for the MAVO exam. This past week we heard he passed in one go, without needing to re-sit any exam! Woohooo! Quite a relief for him and for us as well! We cheered very loudly when the call came. ๐Ÿ™‚ As is tradition in The Netherlands when kids pass their secondary school exams, the flag also went up at our house with my son’s schoolbag hanging from the pole…

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He wants to be ‘a manager’ one day, although what it is exactly he would like to manage he doesn’t know. However, he’s been very enthusiastic about a 3 year vocational college course for hotel management (we went to an open day a few months ago) and wants to go on to do that instead of going on to HAVO. The second half of the the second year and the first half of the third year he’ll have to do one or two internships, with at least one of the internships needing to be abroad. He loves the idea of that! So, at the end of August it will be hotel management college for him, in a city close to here that he can travel to easily. He’s been accepted into the bi-lingual Dutch-English program of this course, which makes him and us very happy. He’s more of a practice-oriented guy than a theoretician, so we’re really hoping this college will suit him well.

We’d promised him a PlayStation if he passes his exams (he’s been wanting one for years now). Yeah, bribes may be bad parenting, but we were getting desperate and it seems to have worked in the end… My husband ordered a PlayStation for him yesterday and it came this afternoon. It’s hooked up now. My son has been obsessed with basketball for the past year or so, he follows the NBA closely and was elated when ‘his’ team, the Golden State Warriors, won the NBA championships last week. So, we also got him an NBA game and the boy is happy!

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Boys and their deserved toys! And moms and dads have extra leverage over him for the coming 3 years… As the PlayStation is hooked up in our living room, we get to control the use of it for now. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The good, the bad & the ugly

It’s been a tough, bad week…

  • Landslide in south east Bangladesh after a cyclone, killing over 150 people!! (there are so many lives always at risk in Bangladesh because there is no money for water, storm and flood management infrastructure);
  • Republican congress staff shot at & wounded in Washington (hatred is encouraged nowadays with divisive rhetoric and when will something be done about gun laws? I don’t see how MORE people carrying concealed guns solves anything);
  • And an awful fire in the Grenfell Tower apartment building in west London (30 known dead but probably more to follow; could the reason for this deadly fire spreading so quickly be negligence by the owners?).Paper Fortune Teller

And then yesterday I met a young woman from Ivory Coast with an ugly story. She is only 19 years old, still a girl really, with not much known about her, she is very reticent. She somehow came to The Netherlands and was forced into prostitution (whether here or already back in Ivory Coast, I don’t know). She has now found refuge at a shelter and has a 2 week old baby… father unknown… She’s had little education, has only been to primary school and says she can read and write. She mentioned losing her mum some years ago and something about brothers with ‘hunger belly’ some time ago.ย  What awfulness has she seen in her 19 years? Why are many men’s actions so ruled by their di**s that they need to exploit and use (vulnerable) women? What future is there for this Ivory Coast girl? And for her absolutely beautiful 2 week old daughter who I got to hold for quite a while? When asked how she felt about becoming a mum she said, she was happy, “at least I am not alone anymore”. She has no idea what to do, where to go, whether she even can or will stay in The Netherlands… She is overwhelmed by life and she’s a new mum all on her own at that. The shelter she is living in is filled with young women who have stories like her’s. Needless to say, I have been preoccupied with this young woman and her tiny daughter for the past 24 hours…

With all this bad and ugliness I have put myself off writing about anything good, although I will try. There were some new Richard Armitage pics this past week that are good and that I really like (especially the one of the two bearded men, lovely smiles there!)…

… and a picture of Richard and Rhys Ifans in action during filming which is nice too. There is also a new selfie that Richard tweeted for Cybersmile’s stop cyberbullying day (an admirable goal)…

Everyone is gushing about this new selfie being so wonderful and I just keep on thinking, “what am I missing?” To me, Richard looks off in this… something about his mouth, his hint of a smile, feels very posed and not real… his face looks a little plastic too, reminds me a bit of one of those wax dolls at Madame Tussaud’s. I really love this man, but I’m just not one to gush over every image of him, I guess. Or maybe I’m just in too much of a bad and ugly nitpicking mood after this week to appreciate the good? I know we must keep on battling bad and ugly with good; I really do try that and I know Richard tries to do that with this Cybersmile thing (and no, me criticizing this image is not cyberbullying), but sometimes it all just feels so hopeless…

Ice ice baby!

So, the latest Mach was’ challenge is all about: ice! I think Die Pรถ meant ice cream more than just ice and I did think of related images to share from this past summer. For instance, we did have very nicely shaped vanilla ice cream in Wroclaw (Poland):

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And I did have the most delicious iced tea there that I’ve ever had!

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However, these things didn’t seem like enough to really blog about. Then my mind made the leap to what ice means in The Netherlands and that in turn brings on thoughts of winter! Natural ice and The Netherlands have a, well, warm history together. We are now at the end of summer and it seems a little soon to be talking of winter, but when it gets hot outside, maybe just thinking of ice in the winter can help with cooling off as well. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Netherlands has a close relationship with water. Without our dikes, dams, dunes and floodgates 2/3 of our population, living in flood-prone areas, are at risk. Draining ditches, canals and pumping stations (windmills in the old days) keep our land dry. It’s not only the North Sea we have to consider (a large part of our country is at or below sea level, including where I live), we also have the big Rhine and Meuse rivers that flow through our country into the North Sea. Without protection the rivers can easily flood our lands as well. It’s safe to say, we have a lot of water here. So, when winter comes the whole of the country hopes that it will be cold enough for ice to form on all the canals, rivers and lakes here. 16th century painters have already captured the joy the Dutch feel when winter brings ice: people go out and skate! When you google you can find many paintings like this one:

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Hendrik Avercamp ca. 1585

Although the buildings and the fashion have changed, this is pretty much an image you can still see here in winter when all water outside freezes and turns to ice.

Every year when it does get cold enough for ice to form on our canals the whole Dutch nation starts hoping for the “Elfstedentocht” (“Eleven Cities Tour”) which is an ice skating race on canals covering 200 km, passing through 11 cities in our northern province of Friesland. It needs to stay cold enough for about two weeks before the ice is safe enough to hold this race.

In the winter of 2007-08 my kids for the first time experienced a winter cold enough to see the canals freeze. We have a little lake very close to our house, and the kids walked on natural ice for the first time. My son was 6, my daughter had just turned 4.

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But the ice didn’t stay thick for long and it was a year later when at our holiday cottage in Friesland (yes, the same province that hosts the Elfstedentocht) we had ice again on the little canal next to our cottage. First the kids walked on the ice..

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… and then we bought them tie-on ice skates so they could learn to skate! And they learned like many Dutch children learn to skate: holding on to chairs on the ice…

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I can’t skate by the way (I didn’t grow up in The Netherlands and I’m too chicken to learn now) so my husband taught them. The ice stayed long enough for the kids to skate on a big lake not far from our home town after our Friesland holiday…

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… but this time the ice didn’t hold long enough either for the Elfstedentocht.

The following year we again had a very cold winter and we were in Friesland again when the ice came. There were blocks of ice on the coast of the IJsselmeer (a huge sea between our mainland and the islands in the north)…

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… and yet again the ice stayed long enough for skating back home, but not long enough for the Elfstedentocht to be held. It’s not good for the ice if there’s snow on it, the ice can’t get hard enough to sustain a whole race.

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The next winter, back in Friesland again, the IJsselmeer was completely frozen and now that they were older my husband took the kids skating quite far out. This picture, next to a buoy frozen in the water, was taken just before they set off…

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The winter after that, in January 2012, the ice came later, so there was only skating (and clearing snow off the ice to make an ‘ice rink’) for my husband and the kids back home and not in Friesland…

The ice didn’t stay long, it was already starting to thaw while people still hopefully continued skating…

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So far, that was the last cold-ish winter we had! The past few years our winters have felt more like endless autumn. Our last Elfstedentocht was in january 1997, it’s about time we had another one! Maybe this coming winter? Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, the Dutch will indulge in their ice-passion on TV, following all sorts of ice speed skating championships.

The Dutch are quite dominant in the speed skating scene. During the last winter olympics in Sochi the Dutch wons tons of medals, mostly for speed skating and the nation loves it. Due to our history with water and ice, it’s become a Dutch tradition. We’ve been to the Dutch speed skating championships in Friesland ourselves a few times (nowadays only held indoors)…

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… and if there is no ice outside yet again this winter, I guess watching speed skating inside will have to be enough for us!

Tulips from… not Amsterdam

Theย  latest “Mach was!” (Do something!) topic is Herba’s challenge to do something with tulips… I’m Dutch, so of course I just had to join this challenge!

Tulips became popular here during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. There was even a ‘Tulip mania’ (see this Wikipedia entry) at the time, when a single tulip bulb sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman! Tulips soon became normal, however, and during the last winter of World War II, tulip bulbs were famously cooked and eaten when there was no other food available!ย  That winter was later dubbed “The Hunger Winter”. My mother remembers eating tulip bulbs as well when she was a child in the war and remembered them tasting awful.

I’m not sure what makes tulips so popular as to my mind they are so ‘normal’. It always feels a little surprising to me how much tourists seem to crave seeing them here in The Netherlands. When I first read Herba’s challenge, I decided to look around me and see how many references to tulips I see around me in daily life. It turns out, tulips really are very normal here… So, this tulip challenge does not come to you from Amsterdam, as I don’t live there, but there are enough tulips to be found here where I live as well!

Very soon after I read about the challenge, we went to the funeral of a friend of my dad’s who had died in an accident. We also visited the spot where he died and laid down our flowers amongst other flower tributes that also included tulips:

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Not long after that we visited my own dad’s grave, and there, in a little separate and still empty plot, the only flowers popping up were tulips:

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I also bought myself some tulips for at home:

After all, in the local small mall that is almost opposite my house, there are more than enough tulips to choose from at the 3(!!) flower shops here:

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They also have them in our supermarket, where they also sell tulip chocolates (that I have never eaten before, but I suppose they taste the same as any other Droste chocolate)! At one of our stores I also saw some ornamental plastic tulips…

Last weekend during Easter, my husband, the kids and I had a drink at a cafe and the decoration there included some fake tulips:

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And apparently tulip tourism is still very much alive! When two of my closest friends from the US came to visit me here in The Netherlands 7 years ago (has it really been that long? It’s time they visited again!) they asked if we could drive by some flower fields. We did just that on the way to my house from the airport…

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There seems to be a misconception that the tulip fields are just everywhere in the Netherlands, but that’s not true. The fields are concentrated in certain areas and in my daily travels I do not see them… they’re to the north of where I live, closer to Amsterdam. There is a yearly flower show in that tulip area called the “Keukenhof”. I have only ever been there once (again, with foreign guests) and this year, like every year, the opening of the Keukenhof flower show was also announced on our Dutch TV news:

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At a bus stop near our house I also saw an ad for another tulip show in Haarlem (although, I think this is Keukenhof related as well):

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And our tulips (& other flowers) are also very much present at the Vatican at Easter. Every year the Dutch are very curious to find out whether the pope will thank The Netherlands again for supplying the Easter flower decorations:

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I didn’t really pay attention, I missed the speech and Easter blessings, but I am told that this year ‘we’ were thanked again by the pope. ๐Ÿ™‚

With all these tulips, where are my own tulips in my own garden do you ask? Well, we do have them planted in our garden but this challenge has come too early – the tulips haven’t come up yet! I don’t see any tulips around me in the outdoor green areas yet either. Our own tulips are starting to come up, though, like in this pot (leaves but no flowers yet):

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We’ve had a very mild winter so maybe it won’t have been cold enough for the plants in this pot to bear flowers now? Time will tell…

My daughter bought me some tulips the other week (very affordable on the pocket money she gets) that I finally had to chuck out two days ago after keeping them for as long as possible. Here’s what they looked like just before they were headed for the green bin:

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And, to end, here is the most famous (and oh so cheesy!) Dutch tulip song called Tulips from Amsterdam! I’m posting the Dutch original (and not the English version by Max Bygraves); the lyrics are basically about some guy bringing someone else tulips from Amsterdam in the spring. Not too imaginative.

Happy spring, everyone! Enjoy the spring tulips if you can! They are not my favourite flowers (maybe because I see too many of them around me) but they are very pretty nonetheless. ๐Ÿ™‚