Thursday, 8 December 2016

5 Ways to Embrace a Dutch December

December in the Netherlands means ferrying the children to school in near-darkness and evenings that draw in early. The temperatures take a nosedive and there’s every chance that snow will form a blanket over this little land. But a Dutch December certainly doesn’t spell doom and gloom. Winter in the Netherlands can be a lot of fun – if you are determined to embrace the colder, grey days and the dark evenings.

Here are 5 ways you can turn December into a month of gezelligheid and create a treasure trove of memories at the same time.

1. Embrace the Darkness

Candles and lights are everywhere at this time of year and with a little imagination you can make family time very special indeed whilst the dark evenings close around you.

Make lanterns or glass pot candleholders and take an evening walk in your neighbourhood, or simply let your children grab torches and go for a stroll after dinner. Children love the excitement of exploring in the dark.

Alternatively, ask your children to help you decorate a tree in your garden or your balcony with twinkling, festive lights.

Eat a family meal by candlelight. This is something that has become a bit of a tradition on winter solstice for my family, a way of marking the year’s shortest day. You could also read a story together by candlelight. Little faces light up when the candles come out.

Or you could venture out and attend one of the many mesmerising kaarsjesavonden in the region: Gouda, Zoetermeer and Voorburg all have an evening where the shopping streets  and shops are lit up with hundreds of candles.


2. Embrace the Cold

The Dutch are ice-skaters extraordinaire and you certainly can’t beat them, so join them. When the temperatures drop to below freezing, listen carefully and you can hear the sound of millions of ice skate blades being sharpened. Grab some ice skates for your children and yourself and head to the nearest frozen canal or pond and get skating. You could also use a garden chair to help you around the ice if skating really isn’t your thing – head to a frozen body of water and you’ll see what I mean.

If winter doesn’t quite play ball and the canals don’t freeze solid, head to one of the many skating rinks that open or appear at this time of year.

Similarly, a little snow doesn’t deter the Dutch from going about normal business. Many (but certainly not all) will ditch their bike for a sledge. The dunes are a place with toddler-sized hills for sledging. My children’s excitement is immeasurable when they are pulled to school and back sitting on a sledge. Head for the hills for some sneeuwpret! (Easier said than done here I know).

You can also keep warm by gathering your family around an outdoor fire basket, the children sipping hot chocolate and munching on festive biscuits and the grown ups indulging in a little Gluhwein, whilst roasting marshmallows over the flames. Gezellig!

3. Embrace the Winter Feeling

Instead of shutting down during the cold, dark days of winter, places like the Efteling embrace winter warmly like a good friend. The Dutch theme park transforms into a winter wonderland at this time of year; there is a skating rink and a cross-country skiing course (langlaufbaan) as well as live entertainment and of course hot chocolate in abundance.

Similarly the Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht transforms into a winter station paradise from the 20th December, with music, a skate rink, a carousel and a chance to toast marshmallows outside on open fires.

There are also numerous kerstfairs across the Netherlands to enjoy too - like this one at Marienwaerdt.

4. Embrace Your Family

Cold days, dark evenings and a month of festivities leaves lots of days for quality family time. Make the most of snuggling together and watching a Christmas movie; read stories together on a mound of cushions and blankets or share tales from your own childhood winters or Christmases. Have a family games evening.

Bake mince pies, pepernoten or New Year treats with your children. Eat oliebollen together. Make and decorate a gingerbread house – and watch as your children demolish it piece by delicious piece.

Use this time of year to take silly photos, get your children behind the lens whilst you don a Santa hat. Be creative, have a little fun.


5. Embrace Good Causes

December is a perfect month for having a good clear out. It’s the season of giving, and receiving. Encourage your children to sort through their toys and donate those they no longer play with. Clear out wardrobes and donate clothes to worthy causes. Donate food to the local food bank.

Show your children the meaning of this season, and get your children thinking about who they could help at this time of year. Maybe a family friend or relative has just had a baby and would welcome a home cooked meal from your family. Maybe your children could clear the snow from an elderly neighbour’s path.

December is a month when animals can benefit from good turns too – for example by making food holders, fat balls or cakes for the birds.

There are lots of ways you can help at this time of year and get your children more involved in a less commercial side of the festive period.

Embrace December – and squeeze every last drop of gezelligheid out of the last month of 2016.

Monday, 26 September 2016

10 Reasons To Love Being Knocked Up in the Netherlands

Being pregnant anywhere is a mixed bag of emotions from elation to sickness. Raising children abroad is both amazing and challenging wrapped up in one awkward shaped parcel. If you are knocked up in the Netherlands though you have many reasons to count yourself lucky. Here are ten.



1. Pregnancy is not seen as a disease 

When that cross appears after you've peed on that stick you aren't ferried off to the nearest doctor or hospital. Instead you choose a midwife and, if all is progressing well with your pregnancy, you have all your pre-natal appointments with your midwife.

2. You may give birth where you like

Around a third of births in the Netherlands are home births. You can choose a hospital if you wish, or even a kraamhotel - a birthing hotel, or you may opt for a home birth. Unless there is a medical reason (in which case you must give birth in a hospital) you are free to choose where you give birth.

3. You get a box of goodies sent to your house

As you near the end of your pregnancy you will receive a kraampakket, sent by your health insurer. Okay so there's a naval clamp in there, alcohol of the none drinking kind, more mattress protectors than is healthy to wonder about, and lots of cotton wool related items for soaking up the mess. But hey you still get to feel like a kid at Christmas when a big box arrives with your name on it. Just don't try and work out what it is all for......



4. Nobody bats an eye when you are still cycling 8 months into your pregnancy

Nothing, and I mean nothing, separates the Dutch from their bikes. Growing a baby in your buik is not a valid reason to stop cycling - in fact the advice is keep moving - you are having a baby, you're not ill! See reason number 1....

5. The Netherlands is child friendly 

It is seriously child friendly. There are playgrounds on every corner. There are schools in every direction you walk. The country is littered with pancake restaurants. Do I need to go on?

6. The Dutch are raising some of the happiest children in the world 

If you could pick any country in the world to raise your children you could do far worse than the Netherlands. Year after year the Dutch come out around the top of happiness surveys, with children showing the rest of us just how happy you can be.

7. You get kinderbijslag 

That's child allowance to you and me. If you live or work in the Netherlands and have children under the age of eighteen then you are probably entitled to child allowance, paid quarterly directly into your bank account. It helps. It really does.

8. Your cupboards fill up with chocolate things

It's near on impossible to raise children in the Netherlands without ending up with hagelslag (sprinkles) and chocolate spread stocked in your kitchen cupboards. I tried to resist. For years I was strong. But the peer pressure is strong and eventually you will succumb. It all goes on bread. Just go with it.


9. You live with mini language teachers

Your children will speak better Dutch than you by the time they are three years old. And they are proud to let you know that by correcting EVERY. DAMN. THING. YOU. SAY.

10. Kraamzorg
I left the best for last. Kraamzorg - a maternity nurse in your home after the birth. I love, love, love kraamzorg. In my humble opinion it should be made illegal for countries not to provide new mothers with kraamzorg. But hey, who am I? I have experienced kraamzorg three times (I also wrote about it in Dutched Up!), and every time was a unique, but amazing experience.

If you want to read more about kraamzorg then get your copy of Knocked Up Abroad Again. My story tells much more about the best thing about a Dutch birth.



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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Knocked Up Abroad Again - Live on Kickstarter

When a mother is born it's a beautiful thing. When she's living abroad that experience is something even more - beautiful but also scary, funny, mystifying and certainly a journey full of bumps in the road and cultural (mis)adventures.

That's what our book 'Knocked Up Abroad Again' is all about - the magical experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting abroad told by 26 women across 25 countries. And one of those women is me.

 Together we spill the beans on the highs, the lows and everything you could imagine in between and beyond motherhood in a foreign place.

 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Gone Dutch and Now What?

Last Wednesday Dutch nationality was bestowed upon me. And given that I can now call myself both British and Dutch it is no longer applicable to call myself an expat. Which is a bit of a buggar when your blog is called Expat Life with a Double Buggy. "Ex-expat with no Double Buggy' is more appropriate these days. So now what?

First, a couple of photos from the naturalisation ceremony that took place. I was incredibly stressed about the ceremony but I am happy to report that it was actually a fantastic experience - even fun!

Arriving at the town hall for the ceremony - stress? What stress?

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Week I Become a Nederlander

This is a big week in this British expat's life. It's the week (barring a disaster) I become Dutch.

A few days after I published my last blog post Almost Dutch? I received a letter, written on behalf of the mayor, inviting me to a naturalisation ceremony which will take place this Wednesday. When I saw the envelope with the local council's logo lying on my doormat my initial thought was oh oh there's an issue with my citizenship application - it's too early for there to be any contact.



Friday, 26 August 2016

Almost Dutch?

Over the years my Dutch husband and I have touched upon the topic of me and Dutch citizenship. Every discussion has ended with the conclusion that I had nothing to gain from owning a Dutch passport in addition to my British one. Until Brexit. Brexit has changed everything. Maybe. Potentially. 


Although no one knows for sure what the future holds for the status of British expats like me living in the European Union I do know that there is a chance that Brexit will mean some kind of change to my residency status and/or working permissions within EU countries. And so, like many other expat Brits, I started seriously looking into obtaining Dutch citizenship so, given any eventuality, I will  still enjoy the same rights as my Dutch family.

The decision by Britain to leave the EU was taken two months ago but my application for Dutch citizenship is filed, in progress and awaiting the decision of the local mayor. It was filed a month ago actually. I didn't hang around! I could be about to get seriously Dutched Up!


The process has been painless, quick and much easier than I ever could have imagined. And because of the many questions I have had on Facebook about the process I am going through I decided to write this blog post and share my experiences.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Explore Paleis Soestdijk

Whilst a new purpose is being considered for Soestdijk Palace, it is open to visitors. And it's well worth a visit.

It used to be the working palace of Queen Juliana, the mother of Princess Beatrix, the grandmother of the current king of the Netherlands.


From the smoke stained walls of Prince Claus's study to the family photos of princesses in their childhood prime, the palace gives a fascinating, historical glimpse into the life of the Dutch monarchy. 

The grounds are beautiful to walk around and there's a speurtocht for the children, which gets them uncovering places and facts about the palace and the family that lived in it.

If you haven't been then go whilst you can!

I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking!














Thursday, 11 August 2016

Saying Goodbye to My Consultatiebureau

I started working here eight years ago and I can still remember the day you walked in for the very first time – a newborn baby in your arms. A brand new mother,” said the lady at the front desk of the consultatiebureau to me at the end of my last visit.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have set foot inside my local consultatiebureau since 2007. But the woman who has weighed and measured all three of my sons over the space of eight years gave me reason to stop and reflect on my visits there; the same woman who remembers the name of my eldest son despite his last consultatiebureau visit being four years ago.



Thursday, 4 August 2016

Little Steps to the Basisschool

If you are living in the Netherlands your child can start attending primary school at the age of four. All three of my children are now in various stages of primary school but for each one of them making the leap from peuterspeelzaal to the basisschool was a big one. So here's my story about how we tried to make it easier.



Monday, 1 August 2016

5 Popular Dutch Children's Books

There are a lot of books in our house, and they are something that generally escape my rare but thorough decluttering frenzies. Our bookshelves are filled with both English and Dutch books (with the occasional French and German title). When it comes to Dutch children's books there are some which are incredibly popular which you will generally see everywhere - like these 5.