Thursday, December 30, 2010

Een witte Kerst

Snowy Oirschot
It was a white Christmas in the Netherlands this year. Everything is covered in snow and Jaap's hometown is picturesque. Thankfully we made it from Maastricht to Oirschot without a hassle. I kept thinking how perfect these snow conditions are for sleigh riding. Not too many hills around these parts though. :)
We celebrated Christmas Eve with Jaap's parents with dinner and going to church. Even though I'm not a church-goer, I enjoy it. The cathedral in Oirschot is massive and beautiful. It's pretty powerful attending on Christmas Eve. 
Christmas Eve
I love Christmas in the Netherlands. No presents, no binge eating... it's very refreshing. I feel so much healthier visiting Jaap's parents. We take long walks (even if it's freezing cold), watch less T.V., play games, and don't binge on large amounts of food. It's very different than the American way of celebrating the holidays and I enjoy it so much. 

Here's one of the games we played: Sjoelen! 

Sjoelen!
Christmas day walk
But despite all of our new traditions we are starting in the Netherlands it is difficult to be away from family this time of year. Binge eating and all, I wish I could see my parents on these special days. My mother has a tradition of giving my sister and I new pajamas on Christmas. It has not happened in a few years and she says she's in withdrawal. She says that she's giving us new pajamas next year if we like it or not. And Jaap as well. :)

The rest of the Jansens came on the second day of Christmas for some more festivities complete with delicious food (thanks to Trees), games, and sterretjes (aka sparklers). Afterwards Jaap and I went to Bruges for a nice vacation. More about that later!
Getting ready for New Year's

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Glühwein time!

Trees and I ventured to Aachen, Germany today to visit the cathedral and explore the German Christmas market there. Of course we sampled some glühwein and I had to have some schnitzel while on German soil. Aachen is only an hour from Maastricht and even less by car.  I love how Maastricht borders Germany and Belgium and it's all so close to our home. 15 minutes by car takes you to French speaking Belgium and 25 minutes in the other direction takes you to Germany. It's incredible. 

We stopped first at the Aachen cathedral which has played an important role in Germany's history throughout the centuries. The cathedral houses the throne and remains of Charlemagne and served as the coronation church for German-Roman kings for over 600 years. It's stunning. My obsession with old things continues. Part of the church was first constructed in 800 A.D.
13th century shrine (Charlemagne's in the background)
The goods at the Christmas market were unique, fun to look at, and we each walked away with a souvenir. I bought a Christmas tree ornament for us. It's more special than buying gold balls at Hema. I now understand why Jaap doesn't like the Christmas markets in Maastricht. They're pretty much faux German Christmas markets. I'm glad we got to experience the real thing today. 
Beautifully hand crafted Christmas ornaments
My favorite table
And for me...one of the main purposes of this trip was to sample some hot glühwein. They even had white glühwein (which was much fruitier in taste), but we decided to go the traditional route and enjoy some red. Lekker!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December festivities

Happy Holidays!
It's snowing like crazy! Surprisingly I've had a busy week. It's amazing how one can become busy without even working. Doctor appointments, an introduction session at my new gym, a Christmas caroling concert at the conservatory, and an outing with the Dutch class. It's been a fun week.

Although being unemployed does not mean that there isn't lots of work to be done in the apartment. But who am I kidding? Cooking and cleaning for two people isn't exactly difficult. I thought I was stressing out the other day about housework and shopping. And then I thought, "Wait a minute. Let's put things in perspective." The good news is I got a letter from Dutch Immigration this week saying that my residency permit will be on it's way soon. This means I'll be able to work again...hopefully in January. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that all of the paperwork goes smoothly. I am grateful that my future employer is willing to wait for my appropriate documents. Extremely grateful!

Thursday was my last day of Dutch class at the university until February. We have all successfully completed module 1! I was very happy that my teacher complimented my improvements and said that my Dutch is super goed. I was so happy. Afterwards we all attended an event for expats and the international community living in Maastricht called Maastricht Mingle. It was fun to hang out with my classmates in a social setting. I even saw several women that I met through the International Women's Club there. It's nice to know that it is possible to make friends. I miss my NY friends like crazy though! It's just not the same. 
Mom's homemade Rudolph head
Last night we had a party at our place. I was so happy to bring our two groups of friends together. I've met some nice people through the Womens' Club and my Dutch classes. I was happy that they were able to come and celebrate with us. Jaap's Mom came as well and helped us organize the event. Thank you so much Trees!

In preparation for the party I found myself doing a lot of things that my parents do around the holidays. I think I'm trying to keep them close to me this holiday season even though they are so far away. Decorating the tree, baking cookies, and hanging Mom's Rudolph head reminds of home and especially family. I was so happy to get a package from home this week with Rudolph and some baking products I can't find in the Netherlands...chocolate chips and cream of tartar. Now perhaps cream of tartar is in the supermarkets, but after asking around nobody seems to know what I'm talking about. So I was happy when I opened a package with some inside. I made Mom's Snickerdoodles with it and they were a hit!
Kerst Feest!
After the cleanup this morning we went for some coffee and a nice stroll in the city. At the time it was snowing lightly and the park looked incredible. It's really coming down now, so I'm enjoying the view from indoors while listening to my new Mariah Carey Christmas CD from Sinterklaas. :)
City Park
Me & Trees

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Decking the Halls

There it is. The 2010 Jansen/Pardo Christmas tree. I became obsessive and almost panicked this week worrying about getting a Christmas tree. Mostly because I wasn't sure how we were going to get a Christmas tree to our apartment without a car. That's where Jaap came to the rescue. I've been sick this week and instead of hunting for the tree with him, Jaap ventured out on his own and brought home the tree tied to his bike. It made my day! (I know, I'm a huge Christmas dork).
My homemade wreath
In an effort to 'Deck the Halls' I bought a wreath at the market on Friday and thought I could decorate it myself. It quickly went from a wreath to a centerpiece because hanging things on the walls in our apartment is quite difficult. Above is a picture of the results. Not exactly Martha Stewart, but I'm trying. 
As for today, our original plans were to visit a Christmas market in Aachen, Germany. I was looking forward to drinking some glüwein, eating some good German food, and visiting the cathedral. Unfortunately illness and head colds thwarted our plans. Boo hoo. I was bummed, but it was a good call to stay home. I'm still sick and Jaap is getting the sniffles. Oh well. Aachen will have to wait for another day.

Instead we decorated the tree, enjoyed lunch at a local café, and watched some episodes of a show about zombies. Nothing says Christmas like a bunch of walking dead people. Just kidding. But the show is great! It's called The Walking Dead and it's on AMC (in the U.S.). My friend Susan recommended it. It's so good. 

On the language front my Dutch hit a new milestone today. At lunch, Jaap and I spoke completely in Dutch the entire time. Woo hoo! With my increasing vocabulary each week we are now able to communicate more thoughts than ever. It's really exciting and at the same time exhausting. Usually when we speak in Dutch after about ten minutes I switch back into English because I feel like my brain is fried. But today was different. We were able to speak in Dutch for our entire lunch and even through a quick visit to the supermarket. Yay!
Where's Rudolph?
And in the spirit of Pardo family traditions I also baked some chocolate chip cookies. Every year my parents have a Trim the Tree party where they decorate the Christmas tree and my Mom and Titi Vivian bake dozens of delicious holiday cookies and candy. My mother is an incredible baker and I have tried to carry this tradition on into our household. I also displayed my Mom's homemade stuffed Rudolph head. And since it's hard for us to hang things on the wall he's sitting on the bookcase now. Can you find him?

Now I'm enjoying some milk and cookies while watching White Christmas. How can you not love Danny Kaye? 

I like how the peak leans left. :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snowy Maastricht

We woke up this morning to more snow outside. I took a stroll after my doctor's appointment and took some pictures. (This was my first experience with the Dutch healthcare system and so far, so good). Since it was early, I was able to take some pictures without having lots of people in the shot. 

I'm obsessed with the old fortifications surrounding the inner city. They are so old! You just can't find monuments like this in the U.S. I'm always fascinated by them. 

I'm enjoying the snow this time of year. It really makes me feel like it's Christmas time. And unfortunately, the winter weather has given me a cold. :( I'll be resting indoors today drinking my 'winter tea' and reading Time magazine. But my invigorating walk this morning has given me an excuse to relax and nurse this cold today. :) 
Medieval fortifications
Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sinterklaas

Onze Lieve Vrouweplein at night
Same church, across the river
Well, Sinterklaas has come and gone. He is now back in Spain with his Zwarte Piet where he will enjoy a nice, peaceful, and hopefully warm Christmas. Unlike Santa Claus in the U.S., Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by boat in November, travels around Holland giving presents to children before and on December 5th, and then returns back to Spain. Leading up to December 5th children put their shoes out to get little goodies from Sinterklaas like chocolate letters, pepernoten, chocolate coins, marzipan, and small presents among other things. On December 5th or Pakjesavond, children get the 'bigger' present delivery from Sinterklaas as well. Oh, and he rides a horse name Amerigo and dresses like the Pope.

And instead of Santa living in the North Pole with his elves, Sinterklaas has a group of helpers called Zwarte Piet or Black Peters who help him deliver toys and goodies throughout the Netherlands. (We call them Black Pete because they're really white men dressed in black face). Is your jaw dropping? Yes, white men dressed in black face. Most Americans I've met are like, "Um...what?" Apparently they're black from the soot in the chimney, but we all know that Sinterklaas' helpers were originally slaves. Don't worry, I've been told everybody gets along now and that Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piet are friends. Hmmm. Really? It's not really the most politically correct way to celebrate Christmas, but it's tradition here. Okay...next topic.

Cadeaus van Sinterklaas!
On Saturday we went to Oirschot for a family gathering with all of Jaap's relatives. We exchanged gifts, played games, ate some yummy stampot, and even had a snowball fight! I feel so lucky to be welcomed into a Dutch family. I learn and experience so much more with Jaap and his family than if I was just an American living abroad. I feel very lucky. It's hard to be away from my family this time of year. I miss them so much. I wish that they were here with me to experience all of these new adventures!
snowball fight
dobbelspel
I also love the creativity that comes with Sinterklaas. Everyone takes turns opening gifts one at a time, you write poems for gifts, and make 'surprise' presents for your family as well. And even though we did not make our own surprise presents this year we did play a dobbelspel or a dice game with surprise gifts. (It's similar to a Yankee swap). We had a great Sinterklaas weekend. Oh....and I made kruidnoten. Lekker!
Snowy view from our balcony

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving in NY

Rockefeller Center
I love this city! Thanksgiving in New York was wonderful! I only wish we had more time to visit with friends and family. I'm lucky that we got to spend this American holiday in New York with loved ones. Who doesn't love New York this time of year? The city is already decorated with Christmas lights and decorations and while most people complain about the arrival of the Christmas season too early...I love it! Look at 5th Avenue all dressed up for the holidays. 
5th Avenue
Times Square
We have a lot to be thankful for this year including the newest addition to the family, baby Elin! She's so cute and little. It was great to cuddle, hug, and spend time with her. We had lunch with Mom, Lee, and baby E on Friday and enjoyed some retail therapy afterwards. My heart started racing while walking through Target. I know, it's pathetic. We were prepared to drop some big bucks on some TV DVD sets, but were disappointed by the selection. Don't worry. All was remedied last week when Jaap discovered Amazon's sales online. They'll be shipped to my parents house in a few days and when my parents come to visit in March they'll bring the goods. A long wait, but worth it. :)
Meeting Elin for the first time
My cuties
Saturday we drove upstate for the afternoon to visit members of the 'Catskill clan' who were in town. It was great to see everybody. Unfortunately, Jaap and I will miss the annual Secret Santa dinner, but we will be back for next year's festivities with the whole group! Thanks to Erin for hosting!
My girls
Sunday dinner with the Dalrymples
We spent part of the week in New York City with family and friends. Of course there had to be a stop at the Russian Vodka Room for a meet-up with friends. They have the most amazing cosmopolitans! Lekker!
Tuesday visit with Lee, Michael, Joey & E
We spent Wednesday in the city with Mom and Pop. We had lunch in the village at Café Espanol for some paella and of course sangria. Pop claims his sangria is just as good. Not so sure about that one.
Pop enjoying sangria at Café Espanol
Turkey day games
Another Pardo family Thanksgiving in Queens was a success complete with yelling, screaming, applause, speeches, games, and of course delicious food. I must say, this year's food was top notch and in my opinion better than previous years. After the mashed potato disaster of 2004, Shannon and I have come to the rescue with quality potatoes. Pop's potatoes of '04 were similar to eating paste so we pride ourselves in our ability to make this traditional Thanksgiving side dish. *Please note: My father's a great cook, but potatoes are not his thing. Love you Pops! And special thanks to Mom, Pop and Titi Vivian for some delicious fare.
Shannon's 7th Thanksgiving with the family
Here we are in action. 
Here are some clips from Thanksgiving 2010. Uncle Angel gave a nice Thanksgiving speech this year that gradually evolved into a round of applause. I hope your family is as crazy as ours. 


Games after turkey, a Pardo tradition
Decorating the house
It's a Pardo family tradition (along with the Riveras) to chop down the Christmas tree the weekend following Thanksgiving. It snowed this day. Too bad you can't see it in the pictures.  
Cutting down the Christmas tree 2010
The finished product
It was a great trip, but I'm happy to be back in Maastricht. We arrived back in the Netherlands to snow! Maastricht looks beautiful covered in white. I hope it stays like this and we get even more. Thanksgiving has past and now I get to experience my first Sinterklaas in the Netherlands! I am thankful for so many things this year. My nephew Joey said it best at Thanksgiving dinner, "I'm thankful for my friends, family, and my new baby sister." Me too!
Good-byes with Joey