Monday, 30 November 2015

The Sinterklaas School 'Surprise'

This year, for the first time, the Sinterklaas 'surprise' has made an appearance in our home. My eldest is in group 5 which means he gets to make (and also receive) a surprise for (and from) a classmate.

It's simple. He buys a present up to the value of €5 and then hides it in a surprise that he makes based on what his classmate has written as their hobbies and interests. So if his classmate has written she loves singing he makes a microphone out of toilet rolls and sticky back plastic. That sort of thing.

So far, so good right? Except that asking an eight year old to build, make or create something from scratch based on a few words (some of which his parents can't even read, let alone my son) is a tall order. There's been a lot of sighing, huffing and puffing and mutterings of, "ik weet het niet". And this is year one, with only one child doing surprises.

You can imagine how excited I am at the thought of future years when I have three sons huffing, puffing and declaring they have no idea where to begin.

Imagine my further dismay when I read Ashleigh's story on Amsterdam Mamas. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I have seen the upper school's class display's of Sinterklaas surprises in previous years. And they are not shoddy. A lot of effort goes into them. A lot of effort from people I am sure are well beyond the age of eight years old. (See my Sinterklaas Pinterest board to see what I mean!)

Remind me to clear the family calendar for two weeks before pakjesavond in future years.... I'm off to raid our recycling bins......

I would love to hear tips, advice and stories from you. Especially from you experienced Dutch parents! What's the golden tip for dealing with this 'surprise' thing?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Where We Put Our Shoes for Sinterklaas to Fill

Since Sinterklaas hit town children across the Netherlands have been putting their shoes out before they go to bed for Sinterklaas (or rather his Piets) to fill with presents, sweets and kruidnoten.

My children are no exception. As we don't have a fireplace and a chimney, we thought we'd knutsel one together..... Even though the Piets no longer have to use the chimney (as they can use their special hunnebed stenen) this creation still takes centre stage in our living room......this is the magic of the Sinterklaas celebration!


Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Gift of Family Memories: Eye for Life Photography

Looking for a festive gift that doesn't clutter? A gift that lasts forever? A gift that any family would cherish? Then I have just the perfect idea for you.

The gift of a photo session. 

My family has had a few photo sessions and the results hang in our home. We see them daily and they make us smile. That's a special gift to give - even to give yourselves!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Sinterklaas Present Tip - Get Dutched Up!

Sinterklaas is weer in het land! So it's time to get your thinking caps on and fill those shoes! Get Dutched up! for that expat or Dutchie in your life.......

"Dutched Up! is a compilation of stories from Expat Women Bloggers living in the Netherlands. The book covers a wide range of topics about everyday life as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. Some are funny. Others have a wealth of professional information. Yet other stories are sad, shocking or surprising. 
There is one thing we can guarantee about this book. If you have ever lived in the Netherlands, at least one story in it will resonate with you. In all likelihood, there are a lot of stories that will sound familiar and have you nodding your head in agreement or shaking it in shared frustration. This book will help you appreciate the many moments of beauty, learning and growing."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Why I Journal Our Decembers

Every year around this time I get ready to start a Christmas journal, more specifically a 'Tis the Season Gadanke journal. I usually get near to the end of November and then think about my Christmas journal, realise I don't have one and get one rushed to me just in time for 1st December.

This year I am prepared! I have this year's on the kitchen counter, ready to go and my eldest asked me yesterday what it was. I told him that I use it to record all the wonderful things we tend to do as a family during December; I write little notes, put photos in and record the details. It's become a tradition, and as my sons get older they'll add to it themselves.

"I've been doing one every year for the last few years. You can look at them later if you like," I told him. His eyes lit up.

"Really? That would be cool!" he said.

My children, as most children do I think, love looking at photos of themselves when they were little(r). And that's the moment when I remembered exactly why I spend time in December capturing both the special and the ordinary moments.

My boys are growing fast - the rolls of baby fat are long gone, the high chair has no place at our Christmas table anymore and whether Sinterklaas exists is now a question on my eldest child's lips. In short, every December we have together is different.

December is evolving as we grow as a family. One day our Decembers will look so different, one day when my children have families of their own. But meanwhile, these are our Decembers to share - and I'm making the most of them, every smile and squeal of joy.

December is a mad month, easily the busiest month of the year. First we have the build up to Sinterklaas arriving in the Netherlands (he gets here this Saturday) and as soon as he heads back to Spain with his helpers our attention turns full on to Christmas. December is a mad month - but also an incredibly wonderful one so capture it.

Every year I create our own advent calendar which comprises 24 envelopes with something sweet and edible and an activity which we then do that day. Because things at school are already hectic enough for my children I tend to go for quiet, calming activities during the week. Think things like a Christmas story by candlelight or simply eating by candlelight, or donating food to a local cause or making a present for a loved one. Other days we go to a Christmas market or fair or bake mince pies or pepernoten. This year a traditional, British pantomime will be on December's list (watch out for a future post on this!).

So, there are lots of moments to capture, lots of fun to record for later years, and lots of photos to take to remind us of precious times. Lot to be thankful and grateful for.

And on top of all that the Gadanke Christmas journals contain writing prompts that make me think about the smells, the sights, the sounds, the feelings of the festive season - and of course the tastes of December! And there are lots of other little bits and pieces which will make the creatives amongst you squeal with joy. Gadanke is also a great place to go for journaling inspiration, including workshops, prompts and ideas to spice up your pages.

Oh how I love December!

How do you capture your December memories? Do you journal at this time of year?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Get Dutched Up! for Sinterklaas

If you go down to the ABC bookshop in The Hague today you're sure to get a surprise.
If you go down to the book shop today you won't believe your eyes.
Dutched Up! is there adorning the shelves in the company of some amazing expat books.

If you can't make it to The Hague then you can also grab yourself a copy with a few strokes of your keyboard:


Or if you live local to Zoetermeer than you can get a copy from me.

With Sinterklaas fast approaching this book makes a great gift for the expat in your life - as well as all your Dutch friends!

Friday, 6 November 2015

You Know You're a British Expat When.......

You can take a Brit out of Britain, but you can't always take the Brit out of the Brit....even when a Brit no longer lives in Britain......

Monday, 2 November 2015

Why You Should See 'Soldaat van Oranje'

I shared my Dutch bucket list with you in the summer of 2014 and I am pleased to report that one of those wishes recently came true. I went to see Soldaat van Oranje.

It was even more special than I had imagined. It was a truly spectacular show - even my husband who is not a musical theatre show kind of Dutch guy was blown away by Soldaat van Oranje. It has been sold out for five years now, and now I understand why.

The story (based on a true story) is set during the Second World War when the Netherlands was under the occupation of the Germans. Leiden students Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema and his friends realise that war changes everything. It turns life upside down and makes sure that each person is confronted with the consequences of their choices. Do you fight for your fatherland? Take the side of your occupiers? Or stick your head in the sand? Deep questions which get you thinking - what would you have done? You cannot leave this show without being deeply touched, without asking questions of yourself.

The story is gripping, particularly to this Brit whose studies at school about WW2 were through the eyes of the British and the French. Learning about the war from a Dutch perspective has fascinated me since I came to live in the Netherlands. The war was very different for the Dutch than it was for the British.

But it's not just the story that keeps you hooked: it's the rotating stage, the amazing props, the moments of tension interspersed with comedy, even the location is phenomenal. The theatre is in an airplane hangar on the former Valkenburg military base.

I wouldn't hesitate to see it a second time.

If you haven't yet seen it and your Dutch language skills are up to it, then grab yourself some tickets and treat yourself to a fantastic evening out! You won't regret it.