Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Smitten by Britain: Eating Our Way to Britishness

A Nice Cup of Tea
Photo Credit: Magurka
Have you ever thought about the role food plays in a culture? It's huge, it really is. If you ask a foreigner what they associate with Britain more than likely the answer will involve fish and chips, cream tea or simply a 'nice cup of tea'.

If you ask an expat living here in the Netherlands about Dutch food most will report back on haring, pea soup, stamppot and snacks. Food is very closely linked to the culture of a country.

During our last family trip back to Britain over the Christmas period it struck me just how much of the British culture I shared with my children through food. So much of a traditional British Christmas is about food. A trip to the beach turns into a cultural lesson in British food as fish and chips are scoffed overlooking the sea. Cold, wet days are turned around with the comfort of hot tea and a scone or two.

So anyway, I wrote about how I shared my British culture with my children through food for Smitten by Britain.
"Having just spent Christmas in Cornwall, England, it dawned on me how big a role food plays in British culture. I wanted to make the festive period as ‘British’ as I could for my three Dutch children and what we ate turned out to be a big part of achieving this. I think mince pies were the main act as far as my sons were concerned, both shop bought and home made."
You can read the rest over at and whilst you are over there take a peek at Six British Foods with Strange Names - you'll never look at British food the same way.....

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Memories in a Clothes Peg

I was just hanging up the washing on the drying rack that hangs over the bannister in our attic when I dropped a clothes peg. I was struck by a wave of nostalgia as I watched the brown, wooden peg tumble down the stairs. Yes, a clothes peg. An innocent everyday household item but it momentarily stopped me in my tracks. I paused what I was doing whilst my thoughts involuntarily floated back to a different time. One not so long ago in reality but one that feels so long ago.

Once upon a time I needed a LOT of pegs to hang the washing up on the clothes dryers. The clothes were so small, the line was full of tiny socks, little sleeveless rompers, all in one baby suits, pyjamas, cloths. I could get five or six items on one line of the clothes airer, sometimes even more. By the time I'd finished hanging up the load from the washing machine my peg bag would be empty.

In fact, my clothes peg collection just kept growing to keep up with my growing family. Layer upon layer of tiny clothes hanging to dry. A reminder of the babies in the house. Babies that went through a few outfits a day, creating endless lines of washing. Tiny, tiny clothes making up stacks and stacks of washing.

And now, this morning, in the emotional aftermath of celebrating my eldest's seventh birthday, it suddenly struck me that the peg bag is never empty. There are never more than two clothes items hanging side by side to dry on the line.

The trousers are suddenly bigger, the T-shirts are wider and longer, some of the children's socks are hard to distinguish from my own. The endless lines of muslins are long gone, now used as cleaning rags or disposed of after years of mopping up after the beautiful babies that have filled our home.

There are a few rompers left, but they are no longer those of a baby, but of an active toddler who will soon have no need of nappies nor the rompers that encase them.

There are shirts and pyjamas that hang to dry that have been with us from the time my eldest was a toddler, now on their third and last adventure. Soon they too will be too small for my little family and they will head to a local woman's shelter, to join the baby clothes we sent there, donations to help other families who are in need, other babies that are less fortunate than mine. Those little garments hang now on the clothes line of another home. A far different home than the ones they started off in.

I hope when a mother dresses her baby there in the shelter, in a second hand romper and a pair of soft blue velvety trousers, despite the difficulty she finds herself in, she sees the miracle before her, holds her bundle and is filled with love. And the clothes we donated have new life breathed into them.

So, I guess, one of theses days, I'll be able to get rid of lots of clothes pegs. But for now, I count my blessings - all because I dropped a clothes peg this morning.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Happy Birthday - A Letter to Mr S

Dear Mr S,

Happy Birthday little man!! Today you turn seven. How those seven years have flown! It's a cliche, but some days it feels like you're growing up in the blink of an eye. Despite you flying through the stages of childhood, each stage gets better and better and the stage you're in now is a wonderful one, full of discovery, exploration and learning.

And, as a bonus, you're big enough to help around the house more. Once you've trained up your brothers your mama is planning on retiring from household duties - nearly time for you take the household jobs reins right?

Anyway, seven years. And how you've grown. You are racing through clothes sizes. It feels like we buy you new shirts and trousers one minute, and the next minute we put them away in a plastic rollbox under our bed, waiting in storage for your brothers to grow.

It doesn't matter that you no longer fit in the crook of my arm. Truth be told you haven't for years. In fact, sometimes it's a a struggle to lift you at all now. You've gotten big. And heavy. But thankfully I don't have to carry you often, only when you're ill, when a virus floors you. And you become small and helpless again.

But it's not just physically you are growing, it's in so many ways. You've started asking lots of questions, you want to know why and how things happen. You've started to look deeper into the world around you, questions ranging from how a plane stays in the sky to where exactly babies come out of a mama.

You're reading in two languages, and amaze us with how much you can read in your second language when we've not pushed you to read English, letting you concentrate on Dutch and what you are doing in school. We wanted to let you go at your own pace, but still you pick up English early readers and read us stories at bedtime. You're writing - deftig writing. A new word learnt in school every week: starting with ik, maan, roos, vis and currently uil. You're stuck between being proud of being able to write and being bored with it because you need to concentrate so hard - after all you've not lost your perfectionist trait and having to use that eraser irks you.

Which reminds me - it's been a tough year for you little man. You changed schools, swapped the teachers, classmates and corridors you knew so well for unfamiliar faces and strange classrooms. But you blossomed, took it all on board as a positive change and haven't looked back. You've been welcomed in your new school with understanding and acceptance; all your highly sensitive traits acknowledged, acceptance that you need quiet time in the classroom, understanding about thinking deep and emotionally about the world around you. Instead of being dismissed, you are now listened to. Your juf gets you, doesn't deny how tired you feel (doesn't sarcastically suggest you go to bed), doesn't dismiss how full your bucket is, instead she encourages you to take time out, teaches you to acknowledge your own needs and encourages you to create a quiet space for yourself. She's helping you bloom instead of leaving you to shrivel. She's helping you grow. She's helping you build solid foundations.

And because you've found a classroom you feel comfortable in, you are shining at home too. We see more of the real Mr S coming through, instead of the tired, angry boy that dominated you a year ago. What a difference! Watching you play with your two younger brothers, watching you help them gain their independence with little gestures, watching you protect them, all leaves us smiling. It gives us the confirmation we need that fighting for you in school last year, for standing our ground, was worth every cross word, every meeting, every inch we had to fight for, and eventually the tough to decision to make a change.

So, not only are you learning lots yourself Mr S, you're teaching us lots too. I've learnt so much about myself watching you grow, I accept my highly sensitive traits now too - because you've shown me just how positive seeing the world through your eyes is. You've taught us that change is sometimes necessary to move forward, even though it seems so difficult. You've taught us to trust our instinct, go with our feelings because when we announced you were moving schools your response was, "Leuk!" It was a positive reaction, because you knew you were in the wrong place, though you couldn't put those feelings into words. It didn't feel right. Now it does. What a strength of character you have - to embrace change, and make it work for you in a way we could never have imagined.

And yet, you remain a little boy. For me, you will always be my baby, no matter how many candles sit upon your birthday cake. I hope you will keep wanting to take my hand on the walk to school for a little while longer, that you never get tired of hugs from us and that you keep cherishing the role you have as a big brother. Keep making your own path, deciding your own way of doing things and never lose sight of the fact that you know your own mind - your instincts are spot on so trust them. May you stay strong but sensitive.

We hope you love your Spiderman party today, make the most of your special day and enjoy those gathering together today in honour of you turning seven.

Happy 7th birthday Mr S!

Lots and lots of love and cuddles,
Mama & Papa

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Dutch Culture in a Box

My family is taking part in a worldwide culture swap. We're very excited about it. We're in a worldwide group of five participants; four families and a school class in Barbados. The idea is that we will recieve four packages with items that introduce my children to the culture of another country. And we then share the culture of the Netherlands with those same families and school class.

We now begin our mission to find things we can send across the world (items need to be light to keep postage costs in check) that represent what the Netherlands is all about.

So over to you - we would love to hear your ideas. Let your imagination run riot - I would love to fill our packages with your ideas about Dutch culture. What makes the Dutch Dutch? How do we capture the culture and the atmosphere of the Netherlands and put it all in a small box? What are the must sees of the Netherlands? What are the essential tastes of Dutchland?

Monday, 20 January 2014

Thoughts of Home: Banishing the Expat Blues

It's been a long time since I suffered the expat blues, the REAL expat blues, that point when life sucks, nothing is as good as it is back 'home', and you wonder what the hell you have gotten yourself in to. When I say a long time, I mean years. At least eight. But there were five years before that which were at times tough. 

I remember the countless times, driving on the M25 around London, leaving from my mum's or my dad's house back to one ferry port or another, feeling dismal. Feeling like it wouldn't take much to make me ask my Dutch partner to stop the car and let me out. It wouldn't take much to run in the opposite direction from the port. Tears would stream. Leaving again every time I went back to England was the hardest thing I had to do. But I kept doing it. 

And eventually, as life got easier and more comfortable in the Netherlands, leaving England each time got easier. Instead of feeling like I was leaving home to go back to 'the Netherlands' it started to feel like I was leaving England to go back home. Each boat or plan trip took me home, instead of merely taking me away from my family and friends, from everything familiar. 

And now, more than thirteen years after leaving England, I find it hard to imagine living back there. I would miss the Netherlands. I would miss my Dutch life. 

But that doesn't mean I don't miss things from my previous life, my British life. The obvious is family and friends - that is something that doesn't fade, but I have got to a state of acceptance. My best friend no longer lives in England, she too leads an expat life, so there are no guarantees, no matter where you live, that you'll be close to loved ones. People move. Things change. Expats know that better than anyone. 

I still miss the sight of miles of green, rolling hills. Sometimes, I miss being able to think in my mother tongue. I miss understanding why things are the way they are, I miss having the historical cultural knowledge to understand a bit more about why people do what they do. The culture in the Netherlands is not mine. I didn't live here through previous decades to know why things have evolved as they have - it's like taking a test on something you never studied. But I'm learning. I'm trying to understand. I'm trying to integrate as far as I can. And in doing so, I seem to have banished those expat blues for good. It doesn't mean I never miss some things in England, but I don't see it as home anymore. The Netherlands is my home. It's a mindset change.

Here are three tips to help deal with those expat blues, (all of which involve a lot of embracing):

1. Explore and Integrate

If you are an expat for the long haul get out and explore locally, and then make that circle of exploration wider. Join groups near you, both expat and local ones so you can meet others. Learn the local language. Get to know more about the local culture, even when the same language is spoken as back home there will always be other things that are vastly different - learn to recognise them and understand them so that you can in time accept them.

2. Embrace the Curve

There is no getting away from it, expat life can be rough. You will go through a huge emotional roller coaster curve when you move overseas. The first few days or weeks is the honeymoon period, you see everything through rose coloured spectacles. And then it hits, everything is different, nothing is familiar, this is NOT home. Culture shock hits. And then you'll slowly crawl your way up the curve again. Your curve maybe U shaped, it may be W shaped, but it's an inevitable process and you need to be tough. Embrace the curve, cuddle it, make it your friend. If you accept that what you are going through is perfectly normal, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, then it makes those expat blues much easier to deal with. The mantra you should hum through the first four to twelve months after moving abroad should be "temporary, this is only temporary, life will get easier". And I promise it will. You can read a lovely example of what I mean here, written by "I Was an Expat Wife".

3. Embrace Change 

It's hard, but accepting that the only thing you can be sure of is that everything will be different will make life overseas easier. I am convinced that accepting change, and subsequently adapting to it, is what makes one expat more successful than another. It's a topic I plan to write much more about but as a summary, Aisha Ashraf puts it so beautifully in her post "Expats are Born, Not Made Discuss:
"Aspects of life in a new location may initially seem alien, even ill advised, but looking beyond pre-conceived ideas and striving to understand them is what marks out the successful expat from those ‘doing time’ abroad."
 So here's my best tip - when you move overseas, start by making the vow not to do time abroad, but to live your life abroad!

This is a link up with The Move to America as part of The Expat Experience series about missing home or suffering from the expat blues.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Awakening the Sleeping Expat Giant

Every now and then I read a blog post or article that inspires me to drop everything and put pen to paper. Aisha Ashraf's piece "Expats are Born, Not Made. Discuss." was one such gem.

"Expats are among those who realise there's more to it - no one HAS to do something they don't want to do for the rest of their life. They're more inclined to consider the previously unconsidered, to look beyond what they know to find answers, to take a leap of faith."
Truth be told I am an unlikely expat. I'm a typical introvert. I'm a homebody. I actually like the outer confines of my comfort zone. Change is no friend of mine.

Photo Credit: Jenny W. (Stock Xchng)
At the age of thirteen, my parents announced, out of the blue, that a move to Manchester was on the cards, just before I was to choose my GCSE subjects. There was an opportunity to move our lives from the south to the north of England. I froze. I can still feel the panic that filled those school going days whilst uncertainty hung above us. My friends, my school, my home - all under threat. Everything I knew could suddenly be pulled out from under me. It was a change I didn't want. I feared starting all over again, building everything back up from nothing. I shed many tears. I spoke angry words. I was relieved when the move didn't go through and life marched on for us 'as you were'.

Yet, a few years later, I chose a university degree course that took me 300 kilometres north of where I lived, away from my family and my home. In fact, I chose a course that would even take me away from my home country for a year.  Away from my base. Away from my comfort zone.

I spent a year in Toulouse, France, studying abroad for the third year of my degree course. I voluntarily packed up my suitcase and left my birth country shores for a temporary cultural immersion in to a life that was barely mine. Cultural water boarding. It was scary. It was enriching. I wanted the year to end. I wanted time to stop, so I could capture all the French cultural nuances, let them course through my body. Become part of me.

Now that I know myself better, understand who I am and accept myself, I am nothing but surprised by my life choices two decades ago. Even the decision I made in 2000 sometimes feels as if it was made by a stranger, a previous version of me.

Where did I get the courage, the idea, the drive, to want to live overseas at the tender age of twenty? There was no nomad trend during my childhood. True I called a number of places home home before my teenage years descended, but we never drifted from the British Isles, despite a chance turned down to move our family to Australia when I was small. There was no hint of an expat life waiting in the wings whilst life played centre stage.

And yet there was a longing to learn foreign languages. I lunged at any modern language course my school offered me; French, German and Italian. Italian was not a formal part of the school curriculum and brought a small group of linguist enthusiasts together in the darkness before school hours. I was the lone pupil from my school who took German A-level, ferried by minibus with the Technology course buffs a couple of times a week to another school in the area. All to quench the thirst for a new language.

Ironic that a girl who doesn't like or need to say much could say so much in other tongues by her early twenties.

Were my teenage choices driven by a romantic view, the image of a culturally richer life than Britain had on offer? Or were my choices a result of some subconscious knowledge of a life destined to be lived abroad? Was I simply preparing myself for the inevitable life as an expat?

Was the seed sown for a life beyond my home territory because of my aptitude for foreign languages? Or did learning new languages open my eyes to a world beyond the one I could see from my Hertfordshire bedroom window?  Was I made into an expat by a life choice? Or did I make a life choice because I was born to be an expat?

Aisha poses a similar question,

"Does travel broaden the mind or does a broad mind lend itself to travel?"

My mind was open, from an early age, to other cultures, other countries, other languages. But that openness goes against the grain of who I am, my personality, my introverted self. I wasn't born to take chances, to step outside of a place I consider safe. But somehow the battle to be expat, to take a leap of faith, to embrace the unknown, was won out by my inner sleeping giant who awoke at just the right time, gave out an ear piercing roar, a wake up call to take a risk that was so out of character. Once satisfied that the right path was started upon, my inner expat giant settled down once more into a peaceful slumber. And has there remained. Content. Job done.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Confession Time: We're Donkey-less

New year. Clean slate. I have a confession. Just before Christmas I did something that turns this blog into a sham. "Expat Life with a Double Buggy" became a redundant title. In the interests of accuracy it should now be called "Expat Life with Two Single Buggies, One Of Which is Hardly Used". 

The Bugaboo Donkey has a new home. To be perfectly honest the double pram had been used as an oversized single pram for many, many months. More months than I want to admit. My three year old would sometimes stand on the buggy board, but hadn't sat in the pram itself for a looong time. Facing up to the fact that we no longer needed a double stroller meant admitting that I no longer have two babies in the house. I have one toddler and a pre-schooler, (and their brother of course - he's still here, but for the purposes of pram talk he's out of the picture). The time had come to invest in a pram that actually fits through the regular check out of my local supermarket. The days of being forced through the wide aisle needed to be over. Whilst the side basket on the Donkey in single stance was handy, the contraption all in all was wider than the standard single pram. It was time for a change. 

So with a heavy heart the pram was lovingly spruced up and put on Marktplaats to sell. That was a Sunday, just before dinner time. By the time we had eaten our meal and loaded the dishwasher we had a buyer. Twenty four hours later, we were well and truly Donkeyless, the Bugaboo Donkey and it's close friend our buggy board nothing but a distant memory.

What made me feel better about the whole transaction (aside from the addition to our holiday fund) was that it went to a good home, namely to foster parents who were likely getting baby twins to look after, in addition to an older child who was already part of their family. It's nice to think of a whole new set of children being ferried about in our pram. Our ex-pram. 

So we bought a new, single pram and we still have the 'spare' McClaren buggy folded and stored under the stairs for cases when space or stairs are an obstacle. So two single buggies. 

Anyhow, back to the point of this post. My expat life is now sans double buggy. But I'm not changing the blog title at this stage. When all three of my boys are teenagers I might consider it. Think of the title as preserving a little of expat history. Two single buggies is pretty close to a double buggy right?

Monday, 13 January 2014

5 Things I Love About the Netherlands in Winter

As we race to the middle of January, the darkest most depressing month of the year for many, I've decided a little positivity is in order. So I am focusing on the reasons to be happy for living in the Netherlands in this first month of the year and not on the lack of sunshine, wet stuff falling from the sky and the downer we are all feeling after a month of what seems like endless celebrations.

1. Schools are Local
Most Dutch children have the luxury of attending a school which they can either cycle or walk to. It means I don't have to de-ice a car every morning to haul the kids off to school, sit in endless traffic jams or worry about ice and snow and the chaos it causes on the road, if it comes. Instead, should snow fall, the kids get taken to school on a sledge and the journey is filled with laughter and merriment. In the absence of really wintry weather, the close distances of schools mean I don't have to be out in the cold or wet, grey, miserable winter weather for very long at a time.

2. Making the Best of the Weather
When the sun shines the Dutch flock to the beach and parks, taking time off work to take full advantage of a heat wave. Similarly in winter the Dutch are constantly poised to leg it to the local frozen body of water to make the most of a cold spell. Last week there was talk of a cold front heading our way. The word 'freezing' was thrown about. There was faint excitement in the air.

If you stopped what you were doing and put your ear to the ground you could have heard the sound of thousands of ice skate blades being sharpened - the Dutch at their most positive. Screw the fact that windscreens suddenly have to be scraped, traffic is chaos and riding a bike means putting your life at risk (not that this stops the Dutch getting on two wheels) - all irrelevant because freezing temperatures means the ice skates can come out of the cupboard. It's a wonderful atmosphere when the temperature drops below zero and the Dutch take to the ice in their masses - nothing gets in the way of the fun to be had on the ice. And whilst the temperatures stay low, if you listen carefully, you can hear a nation uniting, gently humming the mantra, "elfstedentocht, elfstedentocht".

3. Winter Walks
Dutch winters are not typically consistently so cold that you don't want to leave the house. In fact, Dutch winters encourage wanderings. Wrapping up warm and getting a breath of fresh air along the canals, in the dunes, in the woods, or on the beach is a great way to appreciate the Netherlands in winter - stopping for a warme chocolademelk met slagroom along the way.

4. Hearty Food
Winter is when Dutch food comes into it's own; stamppot, soups like erwtensoep that are a meal in themselves, oma's gehaktballen, stews and casseroles. It's the perfect time to get that slow cooker busy. My Facebook status last night in fact, is proof of this:

"Complete Dutch diva in the kitchen tonight - I made stamppot. Turns out if I just plonked the sausage on their plates and ditched the rest of the meal my family would be perfectly content. Lacking nutrients of any sort.... but content."

5. Winter Gezelligheid
Winter time brings out a special kind of gezelligheid in the Dutch. It differs from the gezelligheid you experience in the summer when the Dutch are camped out on beach cafe terraces sipping iets lekkers watching the sun set. Winter gezelligheid is something much warmer and cosier. It's about candlelight and little lamps giving off warm, orange subdued light to block out the dark, cold evenings outside the living room window. It's about families around the dining table. You'll know exactly what I mean if you take an evening walk around your neighbourhood and take a peek through the undressed windows.

So you see, January in the Netherlands has many positive sides. There's fun to be had even in the deepest, wettest, coldest part of a Dutch winter. You just need to know where to look!

What do you like about winter where you live?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

What Does 2014 Hold?

I'm no fortune teller but there are a few things I already know will happen this year. One is that my baby (Mr O) starts the peuterspeelzaal (psz). Well, he actually started last Monday, joining his three year old brother (Mr C) there who is a bit of a psz pro. His eldest brother made him a special "first day at school hat" which he wore proudly.

Mr O didn't hesitate to join the school going population, albeit for only a couple of hours twice a week. In fact, he'd been displaying more and more resistance each week to leave the psz when dropping off his brother. Last Monday, his first day, he smiled, gave a wet kiss to me and his dad and waved us off, hardly looking up from the play dough he was attacking at the time. His brother reassured me that he would look after  the baby of the family, and true to his word the two boys were as sweet as pie together.

They were sat in the circle next to each other the first time the group got together, but the second time another child sat between them. The teacher said she had wondered what they would do. Mr O left his chair, went to his brother, gave him a big hug and then returned to his own chair. They were fine. They were adorable.

I came home, having dropped off all three sons at school, and shed a few tears, marvelled at how time is flying by and how big the boys are getting and then I sat at my desk and started writing. I'll get used to these few precious hours a week when the house is perfectly still. It will become the norm.

Mr O starting at the psz is a forerunner of things to come. After the May school holiday this year my then four year old will join his older brother at primary school. My heart breaks to even think about it right now. So I try not to think about it, treasure every day with him until then and cross that bridge when I come to it. He's ready for school, excited about joining his brother in big school, and whilst I am excited for him too, curious how he'll be in school, I just can't quite believe it's nearly that time already.

On the writing front, I am planning a revamp this year. A new website, getting back into taking on writing assignments, progressing with the book I am writing and getting more involved with other group projects. After all, I do have a few hours extra a week to play with….

What does 2014 hold for you and your family? 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Starting 2014 with a Bang

During the summer of 2013 we made a conscious decision (mostly at my request) to be out of the Netherlands for New Year's Eve. Quite simply because I hate the destruction and vandalism of property and aggression against emergency workers which seems to dominate the headlines on New Year's Day. And before I get a host of protest, I am aware that the majority of the Dutch population use fireworks in a normal manner and only at midnight, and that most Dutch people see the new year in in a gezellig manner. However, there are enough that use fireworks to blow up bins, bus stops, post boxes and even animals for me to personally experience the 31st of December as a complete nightmare.

It is the only day of the year that Dutch individuals are allowed by law to set off fireworks - and so they make the most of it. This means that even young children walk around neighbourhoods with a rucksack full of fireworks, not afraid to use them in any manner they see fit. In short, from 10am on New Year's Eve some parts of the Netherlands sound like what I imagine a war zone sounds like. There are constant bangs and flashes throughout the day. Pensioners, animals and small children spend the day in fear, afraid to leave the house.

Our New Year's Eve on the Beach
We usually get to Christmas (when the illegal setting off of fireworks starts with a vengeance), and I remember how much I hate New Year here by which time it is too late to escape. Last year whilst enjoying our summer holiday at Glynn Barton in Cornwall it occurred to us that spending Christmas and New Year there too would be nice. And it was. We had a fabulous time. We spent New Year's eve in Looe, firstly watching the waves on the beach and taking a wander around, and then eating fish and chips and watching evening fireworks over the sea - the only fireworks we saw and heard that evening. It was  all in good spirit with lots of locals dressed up and heading for the pubs. It was a nice way to spend New Year's eve with the children, despite the rain.

And then on the 1st January my husband and I received an SMS from BurgerNet which informed us that a firework bomb had gone off at 5am that morning, damaging six houses. And

the really good news was that it was in our street. There are less than twenty houses in our street, so the damage rate was pretty high.

My husband contacted a neighbour and we learnt which houses had been hit and ours was not one of them. Our direct neighbours lost two windows. Our house was lucky to go unscathed. Those that were not so lucky spent the first day of the new year getting over the shock of their children being woken up by glass shattering over them whilst they slept, talking to the police and then clearing up glass from their homes. They are now busy with insurance inspectors and claims. Their windows are boarded up or replaced temporarily with emergency glass. It's a miracle no one was injured. One family has temporarily lost their home. Happy new year huh?

This type of act is exactly why we weren't there, and I am glad my children were spared the scare. It is a strange thing, New Year's Eve in the Netherlands. I don't understand it, even after thirteen years here, and I am guessing I never will get my head around the destruction and violence that occurs when a new year is welcomed in.

It seems that there is a lawlessness that doesn't happen at any other time of the year, and one that is accepted. Every year the headlines run the same on the 1st January. Every year I am amazed that celebrations that leave 69 cars burnt out in The Hague are termed as 'relatively quiet'.  There is always some political uproar and calls for fireworks to be banned, but that all dies a death by the end of the first week of January and it all repeats at the end of the year.

Thankfully this is not the usual way to see in a new year. For example American Mom in Bordeaux tells about her celebrations in France: "We have a nice multi-course dinner with friends or family, including regional specialities - we even did this in the States (as my husband is French). Our kids & their friends eat earlier and play quietly until midnight when we all toast in the New Year!"

Rita Rosenback explains that traditions in Finland involve melting tin, as well as the more traditional use of fireworks.

Jonathan of Dad's the Way I Like It explains,

"Here in the UK there's a massive fireworks display in London at New Year and I think that there are smaller displays in quite a few cities. In our rural village in North Wales, we heard a few fireworks going off just after midnight as well."

And of course, in the Netherlands too, most people do know how to have a good time on New Year's Eve without turning to the sort of destruction that so irks the majority. Juliette describes how the Dutch traditionally welcome in a new year,

"We bake and eat "oliebollen". At midnight everyone wishes everyone happy new year, while drinking champagne, usually a lot of phonecalls are made and a lot of texting is going on. Then we go outside and light fireworks or just looks at the firework in the neighbourhood."

Kelley tells how she misses the Dutch new year celebrations,

"We left the Netherlands 2 years ago after living in the Maastricht area for 6 years and LOVED New Years there. We lived across the street from a bar and they would spend a TON of money on fireworks so it was crazy for hours in our street but cheap on our pocketbook. We live in Poland now and they fireworks here too but nothing to the extreme there!"

Wherever you are, I hope you had a fun filled New Year's Eve and I wish you all every happiness for 2014.