Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays from Holland! 2006 ~ Prettige Feestdagen uit Nederland! 2006

It's Christmas Day! Time to open those presents,
eat those cookies and have fun!
We and our human "mom & dad", wish our family
and friends (all over the world),
a wonderfully happy holiday!
©2006. J. Nijholt-Strong, "Sacha - Sitting Pretty for Christmas"
©2006. J. Nijholt-Strong, "Finn - Chews his Christmas present"
©2006. J. Nijholt-Strong, "Judy & Auke - Upon Reflection"

Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas!
Prettige Kerstdagen, Prettig Kerstfeest!
Peace on earth.
Vrede op aarde.
©2006. J. Nijholt-Strong, "Sacha & Finn's Christmas Card"
(photo taken at Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum, 2006)

Ho! Ho! Ho! :o)
Sacha &Finn

and "our humans": Judy Nijholt-Strong & Auke Nijholt


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cats, Cookies & Trains – Katten, Koekjes & Treinen

If you were Dutch, you might think the dutch title of this post sounds a little like an old André Hazes’ song – “Bloed, Zweet en Tranen” …but it’s not about that! Heh heh! (Ok maybe the post title doesn't sound like the Hazes song, but if you're learning dutch, sometimes these odd thoughts go through your head - so says our "mom" ha!).

Although, a lot of blood sweat & tears (bloed, zweet & tranen) did go into the Christmas cookie making this year. *eek* :o)

On with our story about the past two days ...

Christmas Cookies (Kerstkoekjes) :
“Mom” had the grand idea that she would be able to bake all sorts of cookies before Christmas ... that didn’t happen. Nice thought though.
Below is an inkbrush drawing of one of the chocolate cupackes she did make!

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong,
"The Chocolate Christmas Cupcake"
Pentel Inkbrush pen, Micron pens, colored pencils

We really did help her! Well truthfully, Sacha helped her... Finn slept through the whole thing.

The “Jam Thumbprint” cookies, before baking ...

© 2006. J.Nijholt-Strong

Oops! They flattened out during the baking, but they still are tasty.
Sacha is doing a little taste testing here for “mom”.

©2006. J.Nijholt-Strong, "Watch that Paw!"

A large stack of “Soft Ginger Snaps”(Gemberkoekjes) fresh from the oven.


Here is an assortment of the cookies that “we”made ... yummy!

©2006. J.Nijholt-Strong

“Mom” is making more cookies this weekend and throughout next week... “ mom” is very determined when it comes to baking! Afterall, she did buy loads of anise seed (anijszaad) and real cinnamon extract (echt kaneelaroma) from a lovely spice store (kruidenwinkel) in Utrecht. The store, Abraham Mostert, is located near the Neude square on Schoutenstraat 11. Abraham Mostert was a 16th century, Dutch-Jewish, spice dealer and the original business was located on this street in Utrecht. The current store has all the charm & atmosphere of the old kruidenwinkel . "Mom" plans to make Frisian Dumkes ( anise-flavored cookie) for her mother-in-law (schoonmoeder) who is originally from Friesland. We’re sure our “grandmother” (oma) will like them and be surprised.

Sacha promised to keep her paws out of the Dumkes ... we’ll see.

Lekkere dagen! (Tasty days!)

Trains (Treinen) :
In the mood for Chirstmas at the National Dutch Railway Museum, Winter Station – Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum, Winterstation

We really didn’t get to go to the Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum ( Dutch Railway Museum), because we’re cats (bummer), but our human “mom & dad” went to get in the Christmas mood! (Good thing too, because they were being a bit “scroogie”.)

This is a photo of the restored/rennovated, original late 19th century, Maliebaan station in Utrecht. As a museum, it first opened its doors in 1927 and was then housed in the part of the former (pre-restoration) Maliebaan station - which was still in use as a train station up to the 1930's.

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong, "Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum at Christmas"

Over the years, due to varying circumstances, the collection had temporarily been housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, but it eventually found its way back to its original home in Utrecht. The recent rennovations, (begun in 2004), were two years in the making, but well worth the wait, (according to “mom & dad”).

The entire building (and station) has been brought back to its original glory through extensive rennovations. Below is a view of the grandeur of the main departures/arrivals hall.

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong
"Christmas tree in the grand old departure hall- Nederlands Spoorweg Museum"

The Spoorwegmuseum is located in Utrecht, not far from the current Utrecht Central train station (Utrecht Centraal) . In fact, you can take a “special train” that runs the short line between Utrecht Centraal & the Spoorwegmuseum.

Utrecht Centraal is the main hub of all the rail lines that run through the Netherlands, although it wasn’t always this way. The first rail line in the Netherlands was completed in 1839 and ran the short distance between Amsterdam and Haarlem. The first Dutch steam locomotive's carriages were designed by an Englishman, Michael Longridge, and called the Arend (the eagle). From his plans, the carriages for the Arend were built in Soeder's workshop in Maarssen, Netherlands. Another Englishman, George Stephenson, was the father/inventor of steam locomotive engines (first "The Rocket", England 1829) and it is one of his engines that powered the Arend. The first conductor for the first Dutch train was also an Englishman.

Today, many, many trains criss-cross the Netherlands via the Dutch railway system (which is now electric), and you can also catch the International high-speed trains ( the French Thalys or the German ICE) to destinations throughout continental Europe.

This is a photo of the ‘special installation’ of the first Dutch steam locomotive train, the Arend.
©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong "Oude Amsterdam Station & the Arend - Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum"
She sits in front of a replica of the first Dutch train station which was located just outside of Amsterdam (long before the current Amsterdam Centraal). The installation represents the celebration of the opening of the station in the year 1839. We don’t think our humans would have liked riding in a train car (wagon) with only canvas to cover the windows! Of course, this was 2nd class seating (tweede klasse). Only first class (eerste klasse) had enclosed carriages with windows, while third class (derde klasse) was totally topless/openair (openlucht) ! Yikes!!! However, "our humans" did enjoy being able to sit in the Arend's carriages on exhibit and imagine what a thrill this 'new' mode of transport must have been for travelers in 19th century Netherlands. "The Industrial Age" had arrived in Holland!

From December 16th to January 7th, the Spoorwegmuseum's 'Winter Station' is in “Chirstmas atmosphere” (Kerstsfeer) - full of decorations & twinkling lights, market stalls (kraampjes) , choirs (zangkoren) , orchestras, Santa (Kerstman) , an outside manger with live animals (levende kerststal) , an ice rink (ijsbaan) , a carousel (draaimolen) and, of course, “poffertjes” (tasty, tiny Dutch pancakes).

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong
"Winterstation 2006, Spoorwegmuseum"
Utrecht, Netherlands

For any train enthusiasts, the Dutch Railway Museum is a great place to visit all year 'round.
(click for larger image)

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong
"Images of the Spoorwegmuseum" Utrecht, Netherlands

So, “our humans” came home happy and in the mood! We’ve heard they even bought something for us at the Spoorwegmuseum, though we can’t imagine what it might be??? Finn is hoping it’s a catsized train... Sacha is thinking he’s crazy!!!

Goede reis! (Good trip/bon voyage)
Sacha & Finn

Abraham Mostert store site (in dutch only)
Frisian Dumkes recipe, in english(though not the one "mom" is using because she's too tired to translate!)


Friday, December 22, 2006

Deck the halls with boughs of catnip - Versier de zalen met takken van kattenkruid

Today we helped our "mom" decorate the house for Christmas. Vandaag hielpen wij "mom" het huis te verfraaien voor de Kerst.

"Decisions, Decisions!" ©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Finn spent most of the day posing like a cat drawn by the great Swiss-born, French graphic artist, T. A. Steinlen. Doesn't Finn look just like the famous "Chat Noir" poster or the other Steinlen cats !? __I think so...

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Finally, after much deliberation, Finn chose a bright red ornament.

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

I also chose some pretty baubles to hang around the house ... but, oops! ... I was caught in the act of batting our favorite red Christmas bauble.

"Sacha, caught in mid-paw" , ©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Luckily for us, most of the ornaments are made of plastic (kunststof) ... hmmm, our "humans" thought ahead! But some of the ornaments are made of glass and some are very, very old. This is one of "mom's" favorites - two kitties in a basket (twee katten in een mandje) . "Mom" hung it high so we couldn't mess with it.

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

This year our Christmas tree was so tall, it barely fit in the room, but " our dad" did get the star on top! The Christmas tree is complete - Het kerstboom is klaar.

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Then Finn helped "dad" with the writing & sending of the Christmas cards . Yeah he's such a big, big help *cat rolling eyes* ... Finn mostly just directed.

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Finn demonstrates how cat tongues are good for licking Christmas stamps (Kerstpostzegels) . Take a close look... you might learn how it's done "cat style". *heh heh*

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

These are a few of the Christmas cards our "mom" designed and made this year. The images on the cards are from some of her original small watercolors . "Prettige Feestdagen" is a typical Dutch expression/greeting at Christmas time - it means "Happy Feast Days".
©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong, "Christmas cards 2006",
Watercolors, pen & ink - cards printed on W&N pastel paper

Even downtown Utrecht is all decorated for Christmas - although, they started earlier than we did! * hee hee*
Top photo: "Lijnmarkt at Christmas"
Bottom photo: "The Winkel van Sinkel's Christmas Colors"
Utrecht, The Netherlands --- ©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Tomorrow, we help bake cookies!! (Morgen helpen wij koekjes bakken!)
I think that's going to be fun! (Ik denk dat het heel leuk wordt!)

Tot morgen,
( until tomorrow)Sacha

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A trip to Cologne Christmas Market - Een reis naar de Kerstmarkt in Keulen

Off "they" went again on a trip ... to Cologne, Germany (Keulen, Duitsland) . On this trip, all three of our humans left us home alone! How brave they are!! (Ze hebben wel lef!!)
©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

Apart from Sacha doing some investigating in the kitchen trash bin (de afvalemmer in de keuken) , we pretty muched behaved ourselves while the humans were gone for the day. Sacha can never keep her little nose out of the trash bin. On the otherhand (paw?), I only raid packages of fresh bread (vers brood) that the humans forget to put away. Well ok, I also, occasionally, open the the butter dish (botervloot) to get a few licks - it is always tasty (altijd lekker) ! *wink*

"Mom" only managed this very small ink-brush drawing in her watercolor Moleskine ... there was too much to do, to see and to buy for her to sit for very long. This is a view of the market with the large Santa sitting on the Dom Hotel balcony- which is just by Cologne's Dom Cathedral. From the vantage point where "mom" was sitting to draw, the cathedral became a sort of curtain of carved stone forming an intricate background for this scene.
© 2006, Judith Nijholt-Strong, "Big Santa in Cologne"
Pentel ink brush with watercolor colored pencils in Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

Cologne's Dom is one HUGE cathedral. It just looms above the Dom square. In the photo below, you can see just a small portion of the cathedral in the background on the right. It seems to go on forever skyward in real life .. very awe inspiring, says "mom".

©2006, Judith Nijholt-Strong

Here are some more photos of "their" day in Cologne. (Hier zijn meer foto's uit Keulen) . All photos ©2006, Judith Nijholt-Strong

Look!! In Cologne, even old Rembrandt's pub was decked out for Christmas. We wonder if the art historians know that Rembrandt has a pub in Cologne?! :o) *cats heartily laughing*

©2006, Judith Nijholt-Strong

We heard all about the tasty sausages in buns (broodjes worst) that our human "step-brother" enjoyed so much ... he had three while he was there!

©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

We sort of wish they had brought some sausages home for us :-( ... that sure would have kept Sacha out of the trash for at least a day and I wouldn't have to steal packages of bread!
Maybe next year we'll get lucky (Misschien hebben we volgend jaar mazzel) .

Yes, "our humans" travelled by the fast ICE train from Utrecht to Cologne - it's an enjoyable train trip. Fortunately for "our mom", who only ever answers in dutch (nederlands) , "our dad" speaks fluent german (duits) . The German language and the Dutch language (taal) do have many similarities, but there's enough differences for them to be miles apart when speaking, reading or writing. For instance, the pronunciation is very, very different between the two languages - our "mom" just can't get her head around the sounds in german. However, while they were in Cologne, the locals kept thinking our humans were French, or speaking french ... " mom & dad" thought that was funny!

Pictured below is the Cologne central train station - Hauptbahnhof (Keulen - Centraal Station)
©2006. Judith Nijholt-Strong

The station was in full Christmas spirit with stars on the ceiling inside, and every once in awhile, Santa in his sleigh with reindeer would glide across the stars.
Auf Wiedersehen!
Tot ziens!
Till we meet again!


Link: More on Cologne at Wikipedia - in english

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Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Sinterklaas - might be the original Santa Claus!

Yes, it could be true ... even though there is some debate about this theory. ( btw: Since we are Dutch cats living in Holland, we're not entertaining any debates on this issue, ... so don't even think about it! *meow*)

Gouache painting of "The Sinterklaas Pen!"
copyright Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
Talens & Holbein gouache and
Micron pen on Arches watercolor paper.
5.5"x 5.5" (painting size)

The Dutch Sinterklaas could be the original predecessor of the American Santa Claus and the Anglo-Canadian & British, Father Christmas. 'Santa Claus' is the mis-pronounced Dutch word, Sinterklaas. In the 1600's, the Dutch settlers in America (New Amsterdam or 'Nieuw Amsterdam' , which is now New York), brought their customs & traditions to the new world - as did all other immigrants, past & present, of course! It is also proposed, by some scholars, that the British 'Father Christmas' was derived from the American Santa Claus. These scholars suggest that English colonists in America of the time before the revolution, brought the tradition back to England ( the Puritan immigrants to America had no such tradition for celebrating Santa Claus). Sinterklaas brings gifts to all the children in the Netherlands, just the same as Santa & Father Christmas do for all the children in the US, Canada & the UK ... but Sinterklaas has been around a lot longer and celebrated in the Netherlands for many centuries.

We'll explain a little bit about Sinterklaas and the Dutch celebration.
Sinterklaas is the Dutch tradition of celebrating the birthday (actually, it is the death day) of Saint Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra, Turkey in the 4th century. According to the legend he saved his town from starvation, other legends say he had a bad temper!!! Although Saint Nicholas ( a Greek by origin) was the Bishop in Turkey, when he died his body was stolen and taken to Bari, Italy and according to some sources he died on December 6th. If you want to read more about St. Nicholas, see this Wikipedia entry.

Each year, according to the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas travels by stoomboot (steam boat) from Spain to the Netherlands. Why Spain, you wonder? Possibly it has something to do with the fact that St. Nicholas was the patron of sailors. In the 17th century, Holland was famous for its navigation - maybe by contact with Spanish sailors this myth began. Or perhaps it more correctly has to do with the fact that Bari, Italy was located in part of the Spanish Empire of Phillip II of Spain in the 16th century and remained a part of Spain until the 18th century - the Netherlands was also under Spanish rule.

Anyway, more of how we celebrate in Holland :
Each year, the Sint arrives in the Netherlands sometime around the 20th of November. This year he arrived in Middelburg in the province of Zeeland. From the time of his arrival, Sinterklaas then begins his travels throughout the Netherlands finding out who has been a good child, or a bad child, and writes these names down in his big red book (as Santa does, "he's making a list, checking it twice, going to find out who's been naughty or nice ...") . If you've been good, you'll get presents; if you've been bad, you'll get nothing but the rod/switch (roede) ! (Although nowadays, the idea of "the rod" is a thing of the past and every child is good! ).
.Upon his white horse (Amerigo), or even by canal boat with horse (!!), the Sint visits every village and city in Holland meeting & greeting children everywhere. He is helped in this enormous task by Zwarte Piet (plural form is Zwarte Pieten - Black Pete, Black Peters - they are possibly of moorish origin and always dressed in medieval costume.) - that's sort of like Santa and his 'helper' elves. The Zwarte Pieten throw candy & other sweets from the bags they carry around - getting hit by flying 'pepernoten' isn't always fun though! By the way, the modern (more popular) explanation of why Zwarte Piet's face is black is not that he is a moorish slave, but from all the soot he gets on himself from sliding down all those chimneys. Don't you ever wonder how come American Santa Claus never has a black face, afterall he's supposed to be doing all that chimney sliding too, isn't he? (Hmmmm, Finn is already black, and proud of it, so maybe he can be a helper for Sinterklaas next year?! ;-) ...)
A photo of our American "mom" kissing a real 'Piet'!!

photo copyright J. Nijholt-Strong, 2006
.Between the 20th of November and December 5th (the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day), children throughout Holland will often leave their shoes by the fireplace (or outside). In the shoes will be a carrot & some hay for the horse, (Amerigo), and a small note to Sinterklaas - often a wish list of desired presents. When Sinterklaas finds these shoes, he sometimes leaves a small gift in them - maybe chocolate, or pepernoten ( a gingery spice, tiny, round cookie), taai-taai ( an anise flavored, soft cookie), schuimpjes ( a soft candy similar to those American 'circus peanuts'/marshmellows), or some other little trinket/small toy. In principle, you could get a small gift every morning from November 21 to December 5th - but since Sinterklaas travels around and has so many places to visit, that isn't likely to happen.

An archive from 1477, found in the St. Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas church - site in english) in the city of Utrecht, describes how the shoes of the poor children were set out at night on Dec. 5th and the rich citizens of the Utrecht filled the shoes with sweets and money (geld) . Today, the little bags of foil-covered, chocolate coins that children receive, are meant to represent the gift of money; in the Dutch language they are chocoladegeld.

photo copyright J. Nijholt-Strong, 2006
Sinterklaassnoep (St. Nicholas candy)
Marzipan moon, Milk chocolate Sinterklaas, Marzipan wooden shoe

And now we come to ....

December 5th! That's tonight!!!

For weeks on end, you hope that Sinterklaas has seen your shoe with your note in it, you look each morning for a small surprise and you wait for December 5th to arrive - because that is "Pakjesavond" (gift evening)! On 'pakjesavond', Sinterklaas flys over the rooftops on his white horse ( Santa has eight reindeer). With his helpers, (the Zwarte Pieten), Sinterklaas is very busy travelling through the moonlit skies of Holland leaving gifts for the "good" children. At some time during the evening, there is a knock on your front door and the gifts are left in a burlap sack. If you're very lucky, sometimes Sinterklaas himself hands you the bag!

In the Netherlands, 'pakjesavond' is celebrated by both children and adults - it has also become more of a secular celebration as both Catholic & Protestant families enjoy the evening. However, Sinterklaas & pakjesavond do remain very much as childrens' festivities. Also on pakjesavond, funny (often really sarcastic) poems are written to (and about) each other, songs are sung and 'surprise' packages are given. These 'surprise' gifts are often packaged in a box or wrapper giving some very creative idea (actually, no idea at all) to what's inside ... the Dutch love a good surprise. :o) Everyone also gets the first letter of their first name in chocolate - chocoladeletters!!! O lekker is dat! (Oh that is yummy!)

photo used with permission of tante ' T 'A chocolate letter ' T ', for our tante ' T ' (Aunt ' T ') .

Celebrating Sinterklaas during the period of Advent and giving gifts at December 5th, instead of on the 24th or 25th of December, is the Dutch tradition/way of preserving the true meaning of Christmas - the birth of the Christ child. That is also why you won't see any Christmas lights on houses in Holland until after Dec. 5th.

Early on the morning of December 6th, Sinterklaas silently leaves Holland and sails back to Spain ... until next year.

And we sing:
"Dag, Sinterklaasje, daag, daag,
daag, daag, Zwarte Piet.
Dag, Sinterklaasje, daag, daag,
luister naar ons afscheidslied."
"Goodbye Sinterklaas, bye, bye,
bye, bye Black Pete.
Goodbye Sinterklaas, bye, bye,
hear our farewell song"

You can hear it sung, in dutch , here ( a rather nice voice & clear file): Dag Sinterklaasje

You can also hear more Sinterklaas songs from the site: Isidorusweb ... the site and songs are in dutch, but there's even the Pepernoten Samba!

The tradition of Sinterklaas is also celebrated in Belgium, however their day for gift giving is normally Dec. 6th. The festival of St. Nicholas has also been celebrated for centuries, (long before American Santa appeared ... see what we mean?!), in many other countries throughout Europe.

And to make it less confusing for 'the little ones' in the Netherlands, American Santa Claus is called the "kerstman" ( the Christmas man). There has been talk about 'Sinterklaas' becoming a dieing tradition in the Netherlands, but we don't think so and we certainly hope that NEVER happens. Wij houden van Sinterklaas! (We love Sinterklaas!)

Here's Finn as Zwarte Piet ... you knew he would.

© Judith Nijholt-Strong
Ouf! The things Finn does to get his pic on this blog!! (*Sacha rolling her eyes*)

To all our Dutch friends throughout the Netherlands and the world:
We wish you
een Gelukkig Sinterklaasfeest!
(a Happy Saint Nicholas feast).

Tot ziens,
Sacha (and Finn)

Friday, December 1, 2006

Garden work! - Tuinwerk!

Are you wondering what we did on the first day of December???
Well, apart from writing this blog post ( long one that it is), we helped "mom" finish planting the rest of her tulip bulbs before the weather gets nasty.
Nothing like waiting until the last moment!

© Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
Finn, the 'big helper', making sure the bulbs get planted in the right spots.

As most everyone knows, tulips, along with wooden shoes and windmills, are the symbols (perhaps icons?) that are most associated with The Netherlands. For the most part, the wooden shoes and mills have become quaint reminders of the past cherished mostly because they help the tourist trade, but the tulip retains considerable importance as a product for Dutch export and remains a "living" symbol of the country. The Netherlands exports 2/3rds of the world’s fresh cut flowers, plants and bulbs – most of these going to the U.S.A. and the U.K.

However, tulips are not native to the Netherlands! The tulip is actually the national flower of Turkey and Iran - these countries are two of the garden variety tulips' native lands. The European name “tulip”comes from the Turkish word for turban, “tülbent”.

For the most part, the tulip bulbs now existing & cultivated in Holland are descendants from bulbs imported from Turkey - of course, the modern Dutch bulb growers are constantly cultivating/inventing new strains of tulips. In the 16th century, the Netherlands, Belgium and the nothern part of France were joined as the 17 Provinces, or Low Countries (Netherlands). These seventeen provinces belonged to the Spanish empire of Philip II and were governed by the Duke of Parma. The ‘discovery’ of the tulip is generally ascribed to the Flemishman, Augier Ghislain de Busbecq, who was the Austrian ambassador in Turkey – it was at this time, in 1554, when he saw the tulip at Adrianople. After his retirement as ambassador, he documented seeing this tulip in his book "The four epistles of A.G. Busbequius, concerning his embassy into Turkey "(London, 1676; Dutch ed. 1662). The tulips from Turkey were not wild plants, but mostly garden plants - already having been cultivated for a long time. Originally the wild tulips came from Central Asia, which was partly under Turkish rule at that time.

The Netherlandish botanist, Carolus Clusius, (1526-1609 born in Arras, now a part of present day France), was employed as the Austrian court botanist in Vienna from 1574 till 1588. In his book of 1583, Clusius mentions the introduction of tulips by Busbecq and of obtaining seedlings from Brussels. Clusius had the tulip varieties grown and distributed them among fellow botanists in Europe - therefore, he is known as being primarily responsible for the introduction of the tulip as a cultivated garden plant in Europe. In 1593, he was appointed an honorary professorship in botany at the Universtiy of Leiden and was also director of the "hortus botanicus" in Leiden, Netherlands.

It was about 1565 that tulips were first grown in the Low Countries. At this time, Clusius was living in the Southern Netherlands at Mechelen/Mechlin (now a part of present day Belgium), where he saw some tulips at the garden of Jean de Brancion. An illustration of the plant appears in a book published in Antwerp in 1568: "Florum et coronarium odoratumque nonnularum herbarium historia by Rembert Dodonaeus". Clusius first published reports about some tulip varieties in 1576 appear in the appendix on oriental or Thracian garden plants of his book "Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum historia" (Antwerp, by Plantin).

In 1612, it was a Dutchman, Emanuel Sweerts, who was one of the first to offer tulip bulbs for sale in the annual markets of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and later in Amsterdam. Tulip flower samples of the bulbs for auction were displayed in illustrated books. These books (many watercolors later bound in book form) were in fact manuscript catalogs of tulips up for auction - much like todays garden/seed catalogs. Prospective clients, such as country estate owners, could decide what to buy from the watercolors that were often the work of well-known artists of the age.

Of the 43 tulip books known to exist in the world during the seventeenth century, 34 of them were produced in the Netherlands in first half of the century – only a few of these books still survive. The most famous are two books by painter Jacob Marrel. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has one of the books - Jacob Marrel at the Rijksmuseum- and the other is in a private collection in the United States. Another famous tulip book is that of Judith Leijster(also spelled as Leyster, she was a pupil of Frans Hals) – the book, along with others, is in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands (click on 'collection' and then on 'search' look for Leyster to see a page from her tulip book).

If you would like to read more about the history of the tulip, or the phenomenon of “Tulip mania” in 17th century Netherlands (a time when the costs & stock specultations for tulip bulbs resulted in a stock market crash of sorts, playing a large part in the fall of the Dutch Golden Age), see these sites for more information:

l Tulipmania: Wikipedia in english on Tulipmania

l Article from Business Week Online (April, 2000) : "When the Tulip Bubble Burst", by Mark Frankel, a review of the book "TULIPOMANIA The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower by Mike Dash

l Origin of the Tulip: Wikipedia in english - Tulip

Or, if you like a good read about the life/culture in 17th century Netherlands (with a chapter about the tulip craze) from a real book, our “mom” recommends:

l "The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age" by Simon Schama. "Embarrassment of Riches" at Amazon (this book is also availbale in dutch translation from Broese bookstore in Utrecht).

Click the image for a larger view and you will see that Brueghel has depicted the bulb traders as 'silly monkeys'. ;o)

So why, you may ask, is all this sooooo important to a couple of Dutch cats and our American “mother”? Are we 'silly monkeys' too? (

Well, last Spring our humans visited the Hortus Bulborum in Limmen, NL where they ordered a special set of heirloom tulip bulbs. These bulbs are the descendants of bulbs dating as far back as the late 16th century. In this collection of 50 tulip bulbs, is the oldest known and still cultivated tulip – the Duc van Tol, Red/Yellow from c.1595. We helped "mom" plant just 5 of these small wonders! We truly hope they flourish in “our” garden.

© Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
Ducs at the Hortus Bulborum - Limmen, Netherlands

As you can see in the photo above, tulips from the 16th century were of a low growing variety ( as was the fashion of the time). The 'Duc van Tol' varieties do not grow much higher than 7 or 8 inches ... but we think they are very pretty.

This is a gouache painting of the 'Duc van Tol, Red and Yellow' that our "mom" did last spring at the Hortus Bulborum.

copyright Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
"Delightful Duc", 7"h x 5"w (painting size)
Talens gouache on Fabriano watercolor paper
*orignal, sold*

And so, the heirloom bulbs we helped her plant today are(were/will be ....):
5 ex. ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’ 1595
5 ex. ‘Duc van Tol Orange’ 1700
5 ex. ‘Duc van Tol Violet’ 1700
5 ex. Single Early ‘Gele Prins’ (Yellow Prince) 1780
5 ex. Single Early ‘ Cottage Maid’ 1857
5 ex. Double Early ‘Purper Kroon’ 1785
5 ex. Double Early ‘Rex Rubrorum’ 1830
5 ex. Rembrandt tulip ‘Insulinde’ 1915
5 ex. Rembrandt tulip ‘Mabel’ pre-1915
5 ex. Lilyflowered ‘Elegans’ pre-1895

We can’t wait for Spring!!!!!

Finn & Sacha

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A belated Thanksgiving wish! - Een verlate Thanksgiving wens!

We know American Thanksgiving was last Thursday, but we we're too full to type!

"Mom" forgot to order the turkey (kalkoen) , so we had baked chicken (kip) instead - which was fine with us because we love chicken. We had lots of little nibbles of the chicken on our Thanksgiving plates. ;o)

Our "family" (gezin) also had:
Cornbread stuffing (maisbroodvulling) with Calvados soaked currants (krenten)
Homemade cranberry compote (Amerikaanse veenbessencompote)
Tiny potatoes (kleine aardappeltjes)
String beans and carrots (sperciebonen en wortelen)
Spicy pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese icing (kruidige pompoentaartjes met kaneelroomkaassuikerglazuur <-Yes! that's one long word, that is very Dutch! Eventually, you get used to it. )

"Mom" spent all day in the kitchen (de keuken) and we didn't bother her at all ... we behaved this time... we are little furry angels, you know!?! ;o) Well, there was chicken to be had, we're not stupid - wij zijn niet stom. hee hee!

Here are some photos of the food and pen & ink with watercolors that our "mom" did ... from our American Thanksgiving in the Netherlands ... yummm.
(click each row for larger image)


© 2006, Judith Nijholt-Strong.
The pen & ink pieces were done with Micron pens, Winsor & Newton and Yarka watercolors on Arches hotpress watercolor paper. Each one is 5"x5".

We came running into the house when "mom" called out; "Dinner is ready!" (Het eten is klaar!)
After everyone around the table expressed what they were thankful for, "mom" said; "Eet smakelijk!" (bon appetit, tasty eating, tuck in, dig in, etc.), and so we did.

© Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006

We are very thankful for being so well cared for by our humans.
We hope you found something to be thankful for as well.

Beste wensen, (best wishes)

Finn & Sacha

Thursday, November 16, 2006

We're too busy!! Wij zijn erg druk!!

Busy, busy, busy! (druk, druk, druk) . We haven't had time to take even the smallest catnap ... the entire family is busy this month.

Our "mom" is working on three commissions, (a painting and two drawings), and she's taking more classes in the Dutch language. Our "dad" is busy developing new software programs.

The whole family has just celebrated another birthday - our Dutch "step-brother's" birthday was last weekend. We wished him "Hartelijk gefeliciteerd met zijn verjaardag" (Heartfelt congratulations with his birthday). "Mom" managed to make this buttery Italian apple torte for him (she's currently doing a painting of a slice of the torte, but no pictures of it to share ... yet). "Mom" found this recipe on one of the many food blogs that she reads - Simply Recipies . Again, Sacha offered her help making the torte when she stole a knob of butter (boter) off the kitchen counter (keukenaanrecht) .

©Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006 - all rights reserved.

Sacha is a little devil! (Sacha is een klein duiveltje!) Our humans are thinking of sending her to chef's school (koksschool) - you can't do anything in the kitchen without Sacha offering a "helping paw".

I'm not sure when we can get back to regularly blogging - we need help with the typing, you know ... we're just cats! There will be lots of parties to attend this month; we're getting excited thinking about them. Afterall, American Thanksgiving is just around the corner, then Sinterklaas is about to arrive soon - we wouldn't miss that; we're busy getting our tiny klompen (woodenshoes or clogs) ready for the Sint! Then it's on to Christmas, Tweede Kerstdag (second Christmas day), our "dad's" birthday and New Year's Eve (Oudejaarsavond - "oudejaarsavond" is literally translated as, "old year's night") ... yikes, DRUK!

Also, the humans are going to take a train trip over to Cologne, Germany (Köln, or in dutch - Keulen) for the wonderful Christmas markets (Kerstmarkten) . "Mom" is taking her travel Moleskine with her, so there will be sketches to show you (unless it's freezing cold, like it was last year - in that case the sketches will be of the stollen & hot coffee inside the lovely cafés of Cologne)! While in Cologne, she is also going to visit a very old artists' supply store (kunstenaarsbenodigdhedenwinkel) to stock up on some paper & colors she can't find here in the Netherlands. Sacha and I hope they find us something to play with too - a nice toy, maybe (Misschien iets leuks om mee te spelen) .

I'm sure Sacha will be very busy "helping" in the kitchen (druk in de keuken) through these holidays (feestdagen) and "mom" will show you some more of her art in the coming weeks, when she can.

As for me, I'll just wait for the feast days and next week I'll help plant the rest of the bulbs in the garden. And then I'll wait for Spring to arrive! (Ik wacht de feestdgen wel af en volgende week help ik de bloembollen in de grond te stoppen. En dan wacht ik op de lente.)

Tot volgende keer ( 'til next time) ,

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Happy Halloween from Holland, Part 2 ... the day after

The weather was stormy, the night was dark and the treats were delicious. (Het weer was stormachtig, de nacht was donker en de traktaties waren heerlijk.) (Isn't that a beautiful Dutch sentence! We think so.)
Pictured clockwise from bottom to top , are: Merlin's Eyeballs, Toxic-waste (lentil soup), Baked Cat Heads, Scary Cupcakes, and Jack-0-Lantern Pizzas

Earlier on Halloween day, Sacha was doing her best to make sure the "treats" tasted fine. She was trying to convince "mom" that she could be 'the official food taster' and was only there to lend a paw, if needed. I don't think "mom" bought that idea after Sacha stole a second cupcake while it was waiting to be decorated.

Both of us enjoyed checking out the pumpkins & gourds (pompoenen & kalebassen) We also helped decorate the house. (Wij hebben ook geholpen het huis te versieren) .

"Mom" did several drawings and paintings of some of the pumpkins & gourds she bought this year from the pumpkin man. Not far from where we live in Utrecht, the Dutch pumpkin man grows all sorts of fascinating gourds and enourmous pumpkins. With each year, his collection of differing sorts of pumpkins & gourds increases...we're happy he's nearby.
(Click for larger image)
© Judith Nijholt-Strong
Works done in gouache, pen & ink and colored pencils on Fabriano watercolor paper, Arches hotpressed wc paper, Moleskine sketchbook and also in an unknown sketchbook with archival paper.

Yikes! Sacha looks like she's just a head on the table! Very Halloween of her, don't you think? ... heh heh She was sooooo interested in the Jack-o-Lantern pizzas, especially the ones with the anchovy smiles!
We both tried the Merlin's Eyeballs which are really stuffed eggs. I wasn't so interested in them, but Sacha will eat anything (Sacha eet alles) !

During a break in the rainstorm, I decided to take a walk around the house ... I am a black cat, after all, and it was Halloween. I came upon a little Dutch witch (heks) and two small Dutch vampires (vampiers) who had come to trick-or-treat at our house. As "mom" opened the front door, I scooted past them into the house, giving everyone a small fright! It was a purrrrfect Halloween moment! Everyone laughed and chose their treats - mini spider, scary eye, & pumpkin cupcakes and bloody witches' fingers .... creepy & tasty too!

Here are some Dutch words for "creepy":
kruipend (to creep: i.e. creep across the floor)
griezelend; griezelig ( to be or feel creepy);
griezelverhaal (creepy story)

And some words for "tasty or delicious":
lekker; heerlijk; smakelijk

"Mr. Punkie" © Judith Nijholt Strong, 2006

And so another Halloween in Holland came to an end.
(Halloween is voorbij)


Tot ziens!
P.S. A small complaint:
Blogger can be a real 'thorn in a lion's paw' sometimes. Today it seems to be taking forever to upload our images - which seems to indicate that this post will be, err, "post-dated" if this sluggish behaviour continues. You know, cats (as well as humans) can make better use of their time than waiting (wasting) all day for Blogger to be cooperative... for example, Sacha could be eating, "mom" could be painting and Finn could be sleeping! We'll be rethinking our salutations from now on, as "tot morgen" might really mean - "tot 'who knows when'"! Grrrrowl!!!


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