Sunday, December 2, 2012

For My Mom


It's time for Sinterklaas!

If you've read the first couple of chapters of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, you'll know what this means.

Well, you'll know what this means Van Draanen style. For civilized Dutch folks it's a much tamer affair. 

Basically, Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus. Only he rides a horse. And his hat is way cooler than Santa's. And he comes early in December. And visits five times, not just one. 

Oh, and forget the whole coming down the chimney thing. Sinterklaas don't need no stinkin' chimney. Sinterklaas knows how to deliver spice cookies through the roof.

As Billy Pratt would say, The dude is awesome!

When I was growing up, Sinterklaas and his magic white horse (and cool hat) got all the credit. But the Royal Dutch Bakers for Sinterklaas are actually the ones who do all the work. 

As fate would have it, one of those Royal Bakers was (shhhh) was my mom. 

Yes, my mother had the recipe for the magic pepernoten that clatter through the ceiling / roof and onto the floor. She was a very busy baker, too, managing to make up to three thousand pepernoten in a few days, all while the kids were at school. 

Through this tradition, Mom filled my childhood Decembers with happy squeals and anticipation and fun. And since Sinterklaas kept a rather irregular schedule (depending on whether it was a school night or Scout meeting night, or whatever), peppernoten might fall on December 4th. Or 5th. Or (come on already!) 6th. 

Civilized Dutch stick to the 5th, but, well, we Van Draanens don't fit that mold, and the not knowing when pepernoten might come crashing down around us was half of the fun.

When I had children of my own, I, too, was recruited to become a baker for Sinterklaas. And although I cannot call myself a Royal Baker or boast 3,000 cookies in any season (or maybe, even, total), I have for many years baked lots of little cookies during the early days of December. And each time I did, I thought about my mom. About the dough sticking in her palms, about her airing out the house before school so we children wouldn't detect the sweet spicy smell of pepernoten baking. About how much time and effort she put into the tradition and the holiday. About how much I loved her for the joy it brought to me as a child.

What I haven't shared on this blog (because it's personal and hard and just...sad), is that my mother is in the last stages of life. She's down to 70 pounds and in a memory care facility. (Please, no sympathy comments, okay?) I visit her a lot. (I'm there so much many of the residents think I work there.) 

Some days--some visits--are better than others. Today's was really nice. I talked with her about Sinterklaas and pepernoten and how joyful she'd made this time of year for us when we were growing up. I spoke to her in the best Dutch I know (and she corrected me, as is her way), and she smiled more than usual and remembered along with me about the baking and the hiding and the magic. 

It was obvious that me remembering and appreciating everything she'd done made her happy. Which made me happy, too. Mom may be retired from the workforce, but she will always love--and be loved for--having served as a Royal Dutch Baker for Sinterklaas.

So, happy Sinterklaas to you Dutch. And to you non-Dutch, read the first 2 chapters of Justice Jack. You'll wish you were. 

18 comments:

gabrielle said...

Dang!!! I can't believe your mom baked 3,000 cookies!!! Even my mom couldn't make that many cookies!!! To bad I'm not Dutch,that would've been so awsome!!! I mean,cookies coming from the roof!! And that's really nice how much you appriciated her doing that. :)

Kylie said...

I believe that my family is part Dutch, so I am going to try an convince them to do this. I think we would have so much fun with me, my sisters, brother, niece and nephews. While it might get slightly violent, it would be extremely fun.

I can not believe that she made that much. I bet they tasted awesome! I don't think I will ever make that many cookies in my life.

I hope you all have a great week!

Yusa said...

Haha i dont celebrate Christmas or anything but if cookies fell from the roof there's no stopping me :) Me and my brothers would get down and dirty and there would only be a last one standing. Wow your mom sounds amazing with all the work and effort she put into that. Now i want to make pepernoten... is your mother's magic recipe a secret? Haha there is no way i'm staying civilized after cookies start falling from above. Happy Sinterklass!
--Yusa
P.S. not to be a sympathetic comment or anything but wish your mother well from us. :)

Norma said...

It was really fun reading that passage in Justice Jack, and that thing about three thousand cookies??? Wow! Talk about a super mom. :D And thinking about your mom and your childhood Sinterklaas while you bake cookies? My mom says it's adding that, a little piece of you, into what you bake that makes it special and taste even better.It's a wonderful way to remember and incorporate that, don't you think?

Bella Honeydew said...

I was really wondering how they fall through the roof!=)
It kind of reminds me of this song me and my friends would sing at lunch for some reason; If lemon drops were raindrops and raindrops were gumdrops oh what a storm it would be! I'd run outside with my mouth open wide sing'in ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ahhhh!!
Huh, we should start doing that again . . . =)
3,000 cookies! Hmm I might try to find a recipe just for fun even though I'm not dutch.
One more thing, I looked at the wrong date earlier, and there are 35 more days until January 8th!!!=)

Mel said...

I had no idea you were Dutch! It makes sense, with your name, now, but that is neat to know! Is your pepenotem receipe a family secret or can you share it? Every holiday season, I bake ginger snaps and it would great to add another one to my "list".

And Happy Sinterklass, if that is how you say it!

Isabel said...

I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YUSA!!!!!!!!!! Oh, I would totally forget where I would be, drop to the ground and minutes later you won't see a face but a pile of cookies!!!!!! Trust me in my French class my friends I pretty much learn French while eating, LOL, so I pretty much got the hang of gobbling food up. Also, I am sometimes considered a cookie monster :) :D

gabrielle said...

I know this is really random,but I was reading a book today,and guess what they called the main character,Umbrella Girl!!! I obviously thought of JJ. I just thought I would share that. :)

Jessica said...

Happy Sinterklaas! At Sunday school this week, the kids all put their shoes in the hall for St. Nicholas, who put a candy cane in them. He looked a lot more like Santa Claus than any European version of the same, and for some reason he sounded just like our younger priest.

Your description in JJ of all the Sinterklaas candies sounded so delicious (except for the black one) that I want to try them all. I even tried looking up pepernoten recipes, but apparently there's some debate about what's "real" pepernoten. My family's all very competitive, so I think someone would have gotten hurt if we'd attempted a cookie war. Instead, our family tradition was a Christmas Eve buffet (everyone got to pick one favorite, so it was quite a spread) followed by exchanging family presents, so that Christmas day could be calmer.

For any Germans, Happy Krampus Night! Apparently if you don't put treats in your shoe, he'll carry you away in his sack -- except he's not jolly like Sinterklaas.

Bella Honeydew said...

My friend gave me windmill cookies ounce and when I asked her if they were dutch she said yes!=)
They were really good!=)

Yusa said...

Time to learn how to bake some pepernoten... when i have time after finals...

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Love the comments! The magic-crash-through-the-ceiling recipe is not one for discriminating palates. If you find and buy them in a Dutch store, they will not be anything like the little "rocks" that crashed through our homes. But they will be more edible! Enjoy whatever traditions you have...thanks for sharing!

Yusa said...

hey anyways anyone think olivia holt would make a good sammy for a tv show if she died her hair brown? Or leo howard as casey.... just an idea...
http://media.commercialappeal.com/media/img/photos/2011/06/15/a16disney1_t607.jpeg she could kick some but...

Kylie said...

Olivia yes, Leo ehhh

Yusa said...

Yeah olivia more than leo... i can totally see it...

gabrielle said...

I would have to agree with you guys. Olivia I could see more than Leo.

Yusa said...

That's good. Its not only me... How is that TV project coming along anyways?

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Looking promising. Keep your fingers crossed :-) I will definitely let you know when things come together.