Monthly Archives: December 2012


As I sit here and type, I feel like a war correspondent filing my story. That is because outside there are sounds of gunfire and explosions. It is not the sound of war, it is the sound of fireworks. In The Netherlands, it is legal to have fireworks. The law is that on New Year’s Eve, you can start lighting fireworks at 10am and you must stop by 2am, January 1. At 10:05 this morning, someone started shooting off firecrackers in our neighborhood. Soon, others had gotten into the act, and it now sounds like we are surrounded.

We are not sitting back and ignoring this ritual, which is HUGE in this country. We will be outside our house tonight setting off our own fireworks, which we picked up today. Here is a photo of our stash. Notice the safety glasses, we all be wearing them tonight.

fireworks 2012-2013

This is a dangerous activity, there is no question. Every year you hear about people who have been seriously injured, and most times it is because they have made their own fireworks. The Dutch press does a good job of getting the word out about safety and the consequences of stupid or drunken behavior.There are people who like to be really funny with fireworks, and blow up mail boxes or the exhaust pipes of cars. And there are many people who will start lighting their fireworks before New Year’s Eve, which is completely against the law. But on the whole, most people seem to follow the rules.

While writing this, the sound effects have not stopped. Tonight we will light up our little corner of the sky and then go to sleep to welcome in the new year. I wish for all of us a year of good health and happiness. Never downplay the importance of happiness.



I had to learn about this unique Dutch crime from an American friend. This does not seem to be big news in The Netherlands, but apparently it is making news all over the world.

In Amsterdam, thieves have been stealing the headlights of Porsches, specifically the Porsche Cayenne and Panamera models. Why? The police believe that the lights are wanted for growing marijuana. Yes, you read that correctly.

It seems that these are Xenon bulbs and they are a strong light that gives off a lot of heat, but they are energy efficient, so not that much electricity is being used. Perfect for growing cannabis.

The headlights are also pretty easy to steal. I saw on a hidden video that it takes less than a minute to yank off  the two lights. Porsche is now working on a better way of making the lights harder to steal.  It is really not the Porsche light they want, it is the Xenon light that is the appeal. The strange thing is that there are other cars with the same lights, but it seems that only Porsche lights are being stolen. The thieves simply prefer these cars because they are easy to steal and maybe they are just a little snobby about name brands.

At last count, 35 sets of lights have been stolen in Amsterdam. There have been no thefts in other Dutch cities, only Amsterdam.  Each light costs up to $1000 to replace.

In The Netherlands, it is legal to grow cannabis. You can legally grow up to five plants per household. So they are stealing lights to do something legal. Unless there is  one grower with a huge amount of plants and he/she is in need of many lights at once. And why only Amsterdam? Why not Rotterdam or The Hague? Why not my favorite city, Utrecht? How did they find out that these lamps were perfect for growing this crop? It is interesting to note that the thieves or farmers are concerned about electrical costs, I guess everyone is worried about their utility bills nowadays.

Imagine spending thousands of euros on a luxury car and then finding the lights missing. There are not that many garages in Amsterdam, so most cars are out in the open air.  Hopefully, Porsche will quickly come up with a solution that makes it hard to steal their lights. Until then, things are going to keep growing in The Netherlands. Cool, dude.

Recommended reading: PRISONER OF HEAVEN by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This is the third in the series, the first being SHADOW OF THE WIND. If you have not read these books, please make sure you read them in order. Zafon is such a gifted writer…a master storyteller.



I just learned that the Dutch really like giving Christmas cards. In a recent survey, it was discovered that the Dutch send out more Christmas cards than any other European nation. They mail 40 cards per average household.

This year, 160 million cards will be mailed and hopefully, delivered.

On a normal day, the postal service delivers 13 million items and during the holidays, they deliver 22 million items.

Not surprisingly, there has been a decrease in using the postal service because of online greetings. In 1999, 210 million items were delivered. That is much less than this year.

Well, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and that you get to be with those that you love. There has been a lot of sad news lately and we struggle to find a way to celebrate amidst so much pain. It truly comes down to the basics of life and not the presents, lights or food. All those things are great during the holidays, but we all have a deeper sense of what binds us together. It is all about the people in our lives, whether they are right in front of us or far away.

A few days ago our son told me that he did not want too many gifts this year. He did not need to have lots of presents under the tree. He then hugged me for a very long time and then he sighed on my shoulder. This is a moment that I could not have put a stamp on. Peace to all.

Recommended viewing:  a not so famous Christmas film from 1949:  Holiday Affair starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. I have seen this many times, and it never loses its appeal.



I love mysteries. I love reading them and love watching British television mystery series. It is always fun to discover a new mystery author, especially when she has more than one book out. Her name is Camila Lackberg and as of November 2011, she is the bestselling author in Sweden. Her books are translated in 33 languages and thank goodness that one of them is English. She has seven novels published but not all of them are in English-yet. Lackberg is considered the Swedish Agatha Christie and I can see why she is so popular.

I read THE STONE CUTTER and loved it. There are many characters and that means, many suspects. Lackberg’s books are part of a series with the same police force. I am usually a stickler about reading books in order, but this time I did not follow my own rule. This was an intense and shocking book that I could not put down and it was almost 500 pages. But the time flew while reading it. The first in this series is THE ICE PRINCESS.

I am going to share with you some other mystery authors that I have enjoyed through the years and let me emphatically say that this is just a sampling…there are lots and lots of fabulous mysteries out there. Think of this list as a brief buffet…

Here are just three popular writers of American female private detectives—Linda Barnes, Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller.

There are many southern crime novelists, but the two that spring to mind right now are James Lee Burke and John Hart.

British mysteries are abundant and much loved. These are stories that take place in Great Britain, but the authors are not necessarily British. I love Rennie Airth, Kate Atkinson, Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear. I know, I know…you are mumbling other names. There are too many to name right now…

I have to rave about Donna Leon. She has created a wonderful series with Inspector Brunetti in Venice, Italy. Leon makes Venice truly come alive with complicated crimes and in depth characterizations.

I cannot do a blog about mysteries and not mention the most talked about mystery of the year: GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. Not only is this book a critical smash, but it is  extremely popular with readers. This is a book that hooks you right away and takes you on a very crazy ride. It is a book that meets the hype. And you cannot talk to anyone about it unless they have read it too.

So there you go…pick up a book, play a game of CLUE or watch a mystery on tv with a nice cup of tea.

Good news for fans of Foyle’s War, a wonderful British television that was a big hit in many countries. After this series was cancelled a few years ago, it has been decided to bring it back in 2013 for three more episodes. Fans know that in the last episode the war had ended, and the new shows will pick up right after the second world war.


The story of the origin of family names is pretty familiar. I know that in America, the names came from many sources, but they were mainly from the profession of the man or where he came from. Slaves were given the name of the owner of the plantation. Thousands of immigrants had their name changed once they arrived at Ellis Island. For many of us, we don’t even know what our name means or how it became our name. But the origin of names is pretty similar around the world and hundreds of years ago, names did represent what you did or where you lived.

I have not only struggled with the pronunciation of Dutch words, I have hit my wall with Dutch names. When I hear names on TV, they go right by me. When I see the names in print, I am astonished at how many vowels there are, how long the name is and how someone can say the name without passing a hair ball. I decided to look into the history of these names and find out why they are so complicated. Remember that they sound really weird to me, an American. But American names sound really odd to the Dutch. It is all about what you are used to.

And you all know, many Dutch people have immigrated to the United States. Not just to New York, but to the mid-west too. Those Dutch names have been part of American lives for centuries. It just shows how far back we are all connected, one way or the other.

Did you know that Napoleon occupied The Netherlands and was its emperor? He named his brother King Louis as the ruler of this country in 1806. But Napoleon did not like what his brother was doing, he was too permissive and was not forcing the Dutch to conform to the French ways. In 1810, he took over and ruled alongside his brother.

Napoleon wanted to conduct a census for tax purposes, so he required mandatory registrations for births, deaths and marriages and for that, people needed a surname. He even required men to serve in the French army. Napoleon and his brother instituted civil reforms, codes and laws. King Louis set up the monetary system using the Guilder.

Back then, many people did not have last names. Everyone had to register in person with a name and many Dutch people thought this was ridiculous. Some even thought that Napoleon would not last long (they were right) as their ruler and did not take the naming too seriously. They viewed this new law as temporary…until Napoleon left The Netherlands. It is believed that some Dutch had some fun at the French expense. So they made up names that amused them and the French had no clue that the names were jokes. Here are just a few examples:

  • Uiekruier        – onion crier
  • Naaktgeboren – born naked
  • Poepjes           – little poop
  • Rotmensen     – rotten people
  • Piest                – to urinate
  • Komtebedde   – come to bed
  • Van den Berg  – from the mountain (there are NO mountains or hills in NL)
  • Oudegenoeg   – old enough

So here is the even funnier thing: after Napoleon left The Netherlands, the new Dutch government liked a lot of the new laws, including the registration of surnames. And that meant that all the surnames stuck. Whether they meant them as a joke or not, those names have stayed for generations.

I can just see this line of men in the village square waiting to register their “new” names and thinking that they are being so funny. But their first names were already pretty funny (to me) and naturally, the Dutch just knew that these were typical Dutch names. Imagine a line of men named: Freek, Hylke, Sjoerd, Ewoud, Jeroen and Koos. Then add their last names. I don’t care where you are from, you have to smile at this. By the way, no matter how hard you try to pronounce these first names, you will sound like you have marbles or three tongues in your mouth…trust me on this.

Today, there are a lot of English names in the Netherlands. The current list of popular baby names is pretty much what is in America or England. But some traditional Dutch names still pop up. In the Netherlands, the J is silent. So I am thrilled and relieved that I am still called Jane and not Yane. I am grateful to the very nice Dutch people for that.