Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Shout Out for all the Expats Spending New Year's Eve Alone

I was reminded yesterday that fifteen years ago I spent my first New Year's Eve in the Netherlands alone. Completely and totally alone. In a new house, in a new country. Just me and my tears at midnight.

I had been in the Netherlands for just over three months and my Dutch partner and I were in the middle of making the house we had just bought habitable. We 'moved in' a week previously, and I use the term moved in loosely. The house was half painted downstairs; we had spent Christmas morning sanding the floor. It was sparsely spotted with a few belongings here and there. It was pretty dismal in the best of circumstances, let alone as the backdrop for the first New Year's Eve celebration in a new country - alone. He had to work a nightshift.

I have written a couple of articles about celebrating New Year in the Netherlands, and none of them are very positive but on Facebook yesterday that very first New Year's Eve flashed back suddenly when a fellow expat shared that she would be spending this evening alone because her Dutch husband is working. Been there. Done that. Wouldn't recommend it. But looking back, it may just have done me some good. Going through the rough times helps you recognise and appreciate when you have it good.

Expat life is not easy for many of us, no matter what others around us may think. Even after fifteen years in the Netherlands life as an expat is still not without niggles and negatives. But I do know it gets easier.  I promise expat life gets easier.

Each New Year celebration that comes my way allows me to see just how far I have come. I'm practically a local at this New Year in the Netherlands things (except for the indiscriminate blowing up of street furniture and the brainless random setting off of decorative fireworks in broad daylight) as I munch on olieballen and prepare a gezellig meal for the family, putting champagne on ice for midnight and waking the children up to gaze at the fireworks that light up the sky.

I couldn't spend New Year's Eve alone these days, even if I wanted to (and believe there are some days I wouldn't mind an evening entirely alone, even New Year's Eve!) as I have three young sons. They are not the only positive things, but without a doubt the best things to come out of the expat life I chose, the one that started with a New Year's Eve alone, an evening that looking back I wouldn't change a second of. It was part of the path that got me to today.

So, wherever you are celebrating, whether you are with loved ones, a room full of strangers, or alone I wish you a wonderful passage into 2016. If you are a newbie expat remember that this evening signifies the start of another year of expat life under your belt - and it gets easier. I promise.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

New Year's Bonfires in Scheveningen

As has become custom over the years, two bonfires are currently being built up ready for a New Year's Eve party and a half on the beach at Scheveningen. These bonfires have now been officially listed as part of the Dutch national cultural heritage. They are here to stay.We went to take a peek today......there are so many words to describe what is going on there but I'm not sure any of those I use really capture the craziness that is going on on the beach. There are wooden pallets everywhere waiting to be hoisted up to the top of the crate mountain. There are lorries coming and going, swerving around fork lift trucks. There are men moving around from one spot to the other adorned with matching black tops, some chatting to the police or fire brigade representatives, some necking from beer or Smirnoff bottles and some just milling around. It's one in the eye for health and safety fanatics.........
It's a fascinating sight, in an 'oh my god how does nobody end up killing themselves' sort of way...... 

You can read more about my take on New Year celebrations in the Netherlands over on Amsterdam Mamas and Haarlem Expats.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

'Tis the Season of Giving: 40 Ways to Create Winter Memories

'Tis the season of giving. It's a great time to think about what we can give. What have we already given? What have we got left to give? December shouldn't just be about the presents.

And that is exactly the sentiment that BonBon Break is embracing this month, hand in hand with Water Aid America (the UK arm of the charity being one I had close ties to when I ran company payrolls in a previous life so one I'm fond of).

December should be about the memories we create. The moments we spend with our family. The tastes we delight others with (like these Nutella Bonbons - you're welcome!). The smiles and the laughter. The magic we give our children, even if Santa gets the credit for it. The inspiration we give each other. The help we offer to others around us who need it.

I am delighted to be part of December's wonderful theme over on BonBon Break with my take on what we can give our children this winter.

"When I think back to my childhood Christmases, it’s not the gifts I remember (except the red television hidden in the attic), it’s the fact that we were together as a family. It’s the festive traditions that flood my mind – the mince pies for breakfast, the Christmas pudding set alight with brandy, the pantomimes."
Head over to '40 ways to create memories this winter' to read the rest - it's never to late to jump in and start creating those childhood memories!

What are you giving this December?

Bonbon Break

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Sticker Kid Name Labels (With Discount)

I have three boys in three different classes at school. That means there are a lot of belongings flying around outside our home: lunch boxes, beakers, coats, gym clothes, school bags, scarves, hats, and the peskiest of all, gloves. And I have to ask where something is on a weekly basis when my children come bounding out of school at lunchtime or home time.

So my sons have labels and stickers on everything they own. They are actually lucky I haven't covered them in name labels......

The latest stickers I've gotten my paws on are from Stickerkid, a Swiss company that operates worldwide. I ordered a starter pack that contains 94 stickers: 60 name labels for practically all non-clothes items, that can withstand the microwave and dishwasher and freezer, 20 iron on clothes stickers and my favourite, 14 shoe stickers. The latter came in particularly handy with the children having to leave their shoes everywhere for Sinterklaas......

They have name labels for just about anything you could imagine! And all those stickers are a great stocking filler idea for older kids......

If you'd like to get your hands on your own supply of Stickerkid labels head over to their website and
get a 10% discount on your order simply by using the code: 


*This is a sponsored post. I received the starter pack of stickers free to test and review. I receive no further compensation for any items purchased.*

Monday, 7 December 2015

6 December aka 'Put Your Christmas Tree Up' Day

In the Netherlands as soon as pakjesavond is celebrated and Sinterklaas is on his way back to Spain everything related to the 5th of December is quickly packed away. Then it's time to turn attention to Christmas. That means everyone runs to the local garden centre or Christmas tree vendor on the 6th of December and spends the rest of the day hauling the Christmas stuff from the zolder (attic) and decorating the tree.

Which is exactly how we spent our day yesterday. Well, actually we did a little preparation and bought our tree on Friday whilst the kids were busy in school with Sinterklaas and his helpers. But then we realised we hadn't bought a snow blanket thing to put the Christmas village on so my husband popped to our local Intratuin. He picked up the last snow blanket pack.... and was actually challenged by another shopper as to whether his need was greater than hers...... It's a jungle out there folks.

Many years ago, when I was a naive and untrained expat, I attempted to get our Christmas tree up as soon as December reared its head. I learnt very quickly that that is just NOT DONE in the Netherlands. You should have the courtesy to see Sinterklaas off before you welcome Christmas into your home. I know better these days and go with the flow.

And so it is now in our home too: 6 December aka 'put your Christmas tree up' day.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

From My Home to Yours - Een Fijne Pakjesavond!

However you are celebrating this evening, I wish you a fabulous pakjesavond filled with fun, laughter and gezelligheid!

Sint and his Pieten visited us early afternoon, left us some presents - and the boys are spending the afternoon playing. Harmoniously. Peacefully. Happily. Happy kids, happy mama!

Later we'll get the gourmet out and eat together. 

Happy pakjesavond to you all, from my home to yours!