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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Swim Like a Dutchman

It's been a bit quiet on the blog lately because of the craziness of Christmas fast approaching and the fact that the kids are still in school here until this Friday!  I thought I should fill everyone in on Jeremy's latest accomplishment.:)

When you move to The Netherlands, the last thing you may think of as a person new to this country would be that almost everyone native to this country has a swimming certificate.  That is, most people who live here have completed a swimming program and have it documented.  Since The Netherlands is under sea level and there are so many canals running through the country, it has become imperative that everyone knows how to swim here in case he or she would fall into a canal.

Jeremy has a camping trip with his class coming up before the school year is up, and his teacher brought up the topic of swimming by asking the class who had an A diploma in swimming.  Of course, we had no idea what that meant, but after a few questions to some great friends I have met since moving here, I quickly found out that the A diploma is the first diploma in a series of three which certifies that a person can swim out of a canal if his or her clothes were on.

I went ahead and signed both the kids up for the A diploma class.  Even though both the kids can swim, they have never actually fallen into a body of water with their clothes on and been able to get out.  I hope that opportunity never presents itself in real life, but since we are living in a country which puts such emphasis on swimming, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea.

Both Jeremy an Elizabeth were signed up for the classes at an indoor pool near to our home.  The classes are divided into four groups based on ability level.  They both started off in the second group where they had to perfect he breast stroke.  Let me tell you that the Dutch swimming instructors are serious about the exact way the breast stroke must be done!  From there, Jeremy quickly progressed through the next two groups until he was invited to swim for his A diploma.  Elizabeth is in the third to last group working on perfecting the back stroke.:)

To obtain the A diploma, the children have to demonstrate that they can float...

Swim through a hoop under the water...I took this picture a bit too late after J had swam through...

 swim and float, alternating between the two....

 do the back stroke...

 manuever over a hurdle in the water..,

and also demonstrate that you can swim completely around the junior olympic sized swimming pool alternating between the backstroke and the breast stroke.  And to get the diploma, you have to wear your clothes in the water to simulate falling into a canal.

Well, I wasn't there today when he swam for his diploma since I have been at home recovering from a stomach bug the kids brought home from school.....but, guess who got his diploma today??!!!

Guy was able to take work off today to get the kids to school and to swimming. I'll have to post pictures from his swimming test later after Guy sends them to me from his phone.:)   I am so proud of Jeremy for doing this.  He took seven weeks of lessons even though he already knew how to swim. The  Dutch swimming instructors were very strict but fair, and all the classes were taught in Dutch with very limited English.

So, now, as my friend said, "Now, he can swim like a Dutchman!"

Monday, December 12, 2016

It's Beginning to Look (and Feel) Alot Like Christmas!

It seems that the days are getting shorter with each passing day.  The temperatures are getting colder, and the calendar says it is already December 12!  This is the first December in a long time that I remember experiencing it being cold.  We have lived in a warm climate for the last 18 years, so the "feel" of Christmastime is a new experience for our family!

So, when some new friends asked us to go along with them to Oldenberg, Germany on Saturday to go to a Christmas market, we jumped at the opportunity to experience a German Christmas market for ourselves.  This small town is just about an hour and half car ride away from Groningen.  You can click here  for more information about the market, and you can click here for more information on Oldenberg, Germany.

We woke up early on Saturday and were on the road by 8 a.m. (thank goodness, Jeremy is on a winter break from his Saturday soccer games!). We arrived in Oldenberg at about 10 a.m.

The first order of business was to get a quick bite to eat and some really good German coffee!!!

 And some hot chocolate.:)

And some tea!!

Then, we were on our way to the market...

Elizabeth and her friend wanted to give some money to a small band playing in the town center.:)

Lamberti Markt is the Christmas market set up every year in Oldenberg, Germany.  Once you walk in and see all the small stalls with vendors selling souvenirs, ornaments and all the delicious German food, you start to feel like the Christmas season has arrived.:)

walking through the market

German Sausages

Too many sweets and candy stalls to count!!

TONS of cheeses!!
I know it looks like J is looking at the the nail polish in this picture, but he really is looking at the hand painted cottages up on the shelves!:)

So many varieties of pretzels!

I thought of my mom when I saw this....wood plank smoked salmon!!!

When the kids were tired of just walking around, there were some rides for them...

And. later on in the day, it is almost obligatory to partake in some gluhwein!!  This warm wine drink will keep you nice and toasty from your head right down to your feet!  To read more about what exactly gluhwein is, click here.

Guy, myself and our friends were fans, but the kids...not so much. Don't worry!  They got the non alcohol version!!  But, it was fun for them to try it out and get into the spirit of things!:)

And after our feet were tired from walking and the gluhwein was making us feel a bit tired, it was time for another quick stop in one of the German cafes for some great coffee and some fabulous apple strudel!!!

You HAVE to get apple strudel when you come to Germany....I think it may be a law!!:)

We had a great time at the Christmas market this weekend!  I miss my family and friends back home dearly during this holiday time, but it is so fun to make new memories and be able to explore Europe!

Until next time, Doei!:)

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Two Are Not the Same

It has been busy since the last time I wrote.  There has been a piano recital...
And over the weekend there were sleepovers for the kids and a birthday party to go to.  There was also ice to scrape off our cars in the morning!

 But the real excitement has been brewing over here for the last few weeks since Sinterklaas arrived in Holland from Spain on his steam boat.  I wrote a bit about the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas in my Delft post and also this post.  For the last few weeks, Jeremy and Elizabeth have been leaving their shoes out for a special treat each night from the Zwarte Piets (Sinterklaas's helpers).  Last week, Elizabeth got to bring a shoe to school to leave overnight.  When the children came in the next morning, they were happy to find a surprise in their invisible ink pen left by the Zwarte Piets.:)

On Monday, Jeremy and Elizabeth got to participate in the Dutch tradition of gift giving on this special Day when Sinterklaas goes all around Holland leaving gifts for girls and boys on the evening of December 5.  Both Jeremy and Elizabeth were given a name of a classmate in secret (similar to Secret Santas), and they were also given a list of small items their secret person would enjoy.  A money limit was set of no more than 7 euros and 50 cents.  They each had to write a poem for their person in class, purchase small gifts to wrap and then disguise their gifts inside a box decorated to look like something else.  They had a ton of fun making the boxes...but maybe a little glue would have looked better instead of tape!! LOL!!

Jeremy's person really likes the XBox...

 gifts wrapped up inside...
 Poem on the outside so the class has to guess who the package belongs to.  Jeremy decided to go with a "free verse" poem.:)
 Here was what Elizabeth brought in...
 Her person liked Legos, and her wrpaped gifts were placed inside.
 Both kids put their packages inisde a black plastic bag to take to school so no one would see who brought what.:)  When we arrived at school, we saw that the red carpet had been rolled out for Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piets!!  You can click here for more information on Sinterklaas and how this tradition came to Holland.  It is interesting to see who Sinterklaas ( Saint Nicholas) is a patron saint to ( I was quite surprised to read about his story and who he all helped in his life)!!  The link is definitely worth the read and explains the Dutch traditions surrounding this special day.:)
 The whole school assembled outside to wait for Sinterklaas to arrive!  Lots of music was playing and the kids were getting excited!!
 Some of the younger children had made special Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) hats.:)
 And finally, we saw Sinterklaas poke his head out of one of the windows of the school!!

 The Zwarte Piets came to escort Sinterklaas downstairs so he could talk to all the students.:)
 Can you tell which one is "Selfie Piet"?:)

 They carry pepernoten in their sacks to pass out to all the children.:)

 That afternoon, we had a friend over for some Christmas cookie baking...

 And on Monday night, Sinterklaas sent a text directly to Guy's phone.  Good thing Elizabeth's friend spoke Dutch and could translate the message for us.  Sinterklaas had left a gift for the kids outside one of the doors to our house....

 And the kids were so excited when they found out they received Dutch bikes from Sinterklaas!!  Jeremy will need a bit of practice getting on and off of his is a bit tall!:)

 Elizabeth was thrilled to have a Dutch bike with a transporter carrier and a crate!:)

 Here is a picture of Elizabeth's surprise from school. Her friend knew she plays the piano...
 The poem her friend wrote about her...
 And her special treat inside.:)
I wasn't able to get a picture of Jeremy's as he left his box at school...but he was happily surprised by the Pokemon cards he received!!  I don't think those things are ever going to go out of style!!!

I was quickly corrected by my Dutch friend that Sinterklaas and Christmas are not related to each other.  Most Dutch people do not put their Christmas tree up until after Dec. 5.  I thought that Sinterklaas was just part of the Holiday festivities, but my friend told me that it is very separate from Christmas.  Many Dutch families only give gifts on Dec. 5 and celebrate Christmas with getting together with family and friends without exchanging gifts on that day.

I am learning so much about the Dutch culture while we are living here.  Too bad I cannot convince my own kids that since we are in Holland, we should only give one gift on Dec, 5 and no more gifts on Christmas!!  They didn't really go for that idea!! LOL!!

But, make no mistake, Sinterklaas Day and Christmas are not the same!:)

Unitl next time, Doei!:)