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Joe's Neighborhood

February requiem for your January vows


New Year’s vows are tricky for most of us. Particularly after that first failed month down the rocky road of virtue and clean living. You probably know what I’m talking about. Vows made over holiday turkey and stuffing are long gone by the time the grey clamminess of February oatmeal ferrets out the truth. Sure, we can reasonably argue how our hope to be a better person ran afoul of bad people, bad astrology and bad weather. But, the cold, raw February wind smacking us upside the head puts a quick end to that nonsense. Here’s the bottom line — January got the best of us. End of story.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for New Year’s vows. I’d love to be a better person. But for a vow to really work, I’ve read that you have to be ready, willing and able to change. You have to be motivated. Most of us aren’t.

My friend, Bill Roach, an indoor cycling instructor at the YMCA in Waukee and the YMCA Healthy Living Center in Clive, teaches special January biking classes that acknowledge this motivational problem of “change.” He tries to help you slip the idea of your new vow into your subconscious while you’re pedaling like a maniac. The current wisdom is that the seed of change in the subconscious mind will grow into a blossom of actual change in your conscious mind. Clever. But what else is Bill slipping into your subconscious mind? Have you thought about that? Let me ask you a question: Do you feel you want to bark like a dog when someone says the word “meatloaf”? See, something else to think about as you’re “hill climbing” in one of Bill’s class.

No matter. Maybe this is the year to take a sabbatical from renewing your January vows in February. Maybe this February is the time to embrace the real you, the you in the mirror, the you inside your Spanx. Yup, maybe it’s even high time to make friends with your belly. That softly rounded sensuous curve deserves a little respect. A little love. He or she may be your closest friend and is undisputedly in your corner through thick and thin.

To expedite this love fest, I’d like to introduce you to my new best buddy — the lowly “oliebollen.” Literally, “oil balls” in Dutch. The translation says it all. These wondrous delights are the Lamborghini of deep-fried donut holes. The size of a tennis ball, they have a chewy dumpling consistency that doesn’t look like much, but after eating one, you’ll want to lie down on a bench, wipe your brow, and perhaps have a little swoon. Delightfully satisfying.

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joes1Oliebollen is a traditional Dutch pastry served around the New Year’s holidays. They’ve been in existence forever. The going theory is that oliebollen is eaten to thwart a German goddess who appears around New Year’s Eve and tries to cut open your belly while you sleep. If you eat oliebollen, you’re in luck: the goddess’s sword will slide off your newly-created fat. How awesome is that justification. Disembowelment or dessert? Listen, it’s a personal choice each of you has to make.

Linnie Vermolen runs an oliebollen stand. This stand is so popular that the line stretches clear to the next street on New Year’s Eve day.

joes2Linnie and his family have run this same stand in the same place for a long time. “This was for my father and mother, I think now 25 years here,” Linnie says with a broad smile.

His cousin, Gerda, working beside him, chimes in that the entire business is a family affair.

“His mother works, his sister works, and I am here,” she says.

They laughingly tell me, “Our English is not so good. What do you think?”

They then talk about the ingredients in oliebollen, how kids love to put their faces up against the glass front and pick out the exact oliebollen they have been eyeballing for 20 minutes, how the dough rises in two separate bowls with one containing raisins, how good this location is for business, where Linnie works in the off season, how they put on the powdered sugar, and on and on and on.

joes3Don’t they get tired working long hours in the stand?

“I am 63. Linnie is 46. Linnie is like a young dog. We have much fun. Sometimes we have very hard working. But we get to talk and have fun,” Gerda says while smiling broadly.

But don’t your feet get tired?

“We don’t work, we dance always,” Gerda says, dancing around in circles with Linnie.

OK, what further information do you need? Perhaps it is time to set aside those New Year’s vows and all the associated guilt, eat oliebollen and dance with Gerda and Linnie. And love your belly. If you can do this, consider yourself invited to the February requiem for those January vows. May they rest in peace. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at

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