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!

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.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Halloween Dutch Style

Halloween tends to get bigger every year in the Netherlands. Fifteen years ago when I arrived on Dutch shores the word Halloween was barely uttered in the month of October. Now it's common to see Halloween related goodies in the shops and the odd spookily decorated house towards the end of this month.

A few years ago my neighbourhood started organising a spot of trick or treating for the children and for the last two years our school has also marked Halloween in some way. It's growing in popularity, that's for sure.  

Does your Dutch neighbourhood mark Halloween? Or do you join in celebrations for Sint Maarten on the 11th November? Did you do anything for Halloween in your home country? I'd love to hear about your Halloween then and now!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Starting School in the Netherlands - Little Steps to the Basisschool

As I mentioned in a previous post all of my children are now of school going age. *Gulp* As soon as a child turns four they may start attending primary school in the Netherlands - a big step for such a little person.

"There have been tears. There have been bursts of anger because he doesn’t want to go to a new school. Through the eyes of my highly sensitive three year old all that change is bad, scary. 
Te spannend!” he shouts through his tears."

For my youngest it was a bigger step than he could handle in one go, so we broke the transition up into baby steps to help him get used to going to school every day. We're still busy with that transition, but so far, so good.

Starting School in the Netherlands - Little Steps to the Basisschool

You can read more in my latest article, Little Steps to the Basisschool, written for Passionate Parenting, which shares how we have dealt with the latest big change to hit our family as well as tips and info about starting school in the Netherlands.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Traktatie Time Again: Fruit Peacock

Last week was traktatie time again in our house. My little one turned four and this treat was popular with both children and teachers in his school. And it's healthy!

You can find lots more traktatie and birthday treat ideas on my Pinterest board.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Dutch Primary Schools Lag Behind with Foreign Language Teaching

Platform Onderwijs2032 is looking at the future of the education system in the Netherlands. One of the conclusions drawn from their work to date is that English should be taught from group 1, from the start of a child's school journey.

According to an article on Expatica, just over half of Dutch children are taught a second language in primary school. This falls below the European average.

The government is busy with measures to rectify this situation. It is well acknowledged that children learn languages more easily from a younger age. The reality though is that many of them are not formally introduced to a second language until they are in secondary school.

It's a story that surprised me when I first read it. Lagging behind in foreign language teaching and the Dutch isn't something that struck me as going hand in hand. Let's be clear, the Dutch, on the whole, have excellent foreign language skills. Most of the population can hold a decent conversation in English.

"Amongst nations where English is considered the best-known foreign tongue, the study noted that the Netherlands also had a high proportion of working-age adults "proficient" in the language (36 per cent). This places the Dutch fourth in Europe, with only Malta, Sweden and Cyprus boasting more proficient English speakers. An additional 45 per cent of Dutch adults rated themselves as "good" speakers of English. This means that over 80 per cent of the Netherlands' working population has good English skills" 
(Taken from a 2013 I Am Expat article)

But the content of the Expatica article certainly doesn't contradict my own personal experience with three children in primary school.

My eldest son is in group 5, is eight years old, but as yet has had no formal second language lessons in school. My youngest son recently had a morning of singing English songs, and my middle son has had exposure to a few words of English vocabulary in the classroom. Their English skills are certainly not attributable to their hours in school.

However, they have classmates who are also adept at speaking some English despite not having the benefit of a British mother as my sons do. There are many five year old walking the school corridors with more than a sprinkling of English vocabulary - picked up from their parents, radio and TV. There is exposure to English outside the classroom, even if it is minimal. (I'm pretty sure you'd be hard pressed to find an eight year old who doesn't know the word shit for example...)

The debate at the moment is about the teaching of a second language at primary school level, not about the overall ability of the Dutch to speak foreign languages. Somewhere along the way it comes good. There's no mistake about that - something echoed by the Dutch respondents on my Facebook page to this issue.

My only concern is that if English was taught to the Dutch from group 1 by the time they reach adulthood their English would be more proficient than the English language skills of most English people.......

So over to you: at what age do children start earning a second language in school where you are? What language(s) do they learn? At what age do you think children should start learning languages in school?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Times, They're a Changing: More Writer, Less Mother?

This week my youngest son turned four. Four. That means he gets to go out into the big, wide world on his own. Well, it means he starts primary school. It's a bittersweet moment. It means my role will change. It will be the first time in nearly nine years that I will have been at home during the week without any children around me. My sons will continue to come home at lunchtime from school and for a little while at least my youngest will be home in the afternoons whilst he builds up his school hours to full-time.

But it's a big change for me. As a mother. As a writer. Hours suddenly open up to me to work more. The projects I have been planning and scheming for the past few years may actually come to fruition. More time to get out and about. More time to work in locations other than my home. 

And as if by magic I received an email from Scaramanga* asking if I would like to take a peek at one of their bags. After squealing a little with delight (shoes I can take or leave, but bags....whole different story!) I realised that the request was perfect timing. I was on the look out for a 'work' bag, one to carry my laptop, countless pages of incoherent notes that come to me as ideas for blog posts, articles and book chapter ideas and all the other things I lug around simply because I have three children.

The large messenger bag I picked out turned to be the perfect choice. Last weekend all five of us headed to the beach to blow the cobwebs away. Through September one son after another has fallen ill with one virus or another, and then head colds hit me and my husband. We needed to get out and get some good sea air in our lungs so we headed to Wassesnaarseslag

I loaded up my beautiful bag with my folders and notes, a notepad, my copy of The Whole-Brain Child book I'm currently reading (which I thoroughly recommend!), pens and the bits and pieces that always sit in my bag. There's plenty of space for everything I could possibly want to take out with me. I planned a bit of writing and reading whilst the boys dug up the beach, as they are prone to do when they get anywhere near the sand.

We had a great few hours. We left home wearing coats, jumpers and even a scarf or two as the weather was cloudy and a bit chilly. By the time we headed home the boys were stripped down to their t-shirts. And their jumpers and scarves? Yep, tucked away safely in my bag........... 

The hours I have to write may be on the rise, but there's no changing the fact that I'm first a mother, second a writer. And I wouldn't have it any other way. 

*I received a free bag of my choice from Scaramanga in exchange for a review on this blog. All views are my own.

Monday, 21 September 2015

15 Habits for 15 Years in the Netherlands

As regular readers will already know this month marks fifteen years for me in the Netherlands. It's impossible to live in another country for fifteen years and not pick up the habits of the locals. Here's fifteen things I now do that I didn't do before I moved to the Netherlands*.

UFOs are just one Dutch habit I have picked up

1. Living local

I pretty much live life with everything on my doorstep. I walk six minutes with my children to get to school. In the Netherlands the average primary school child has to travel 700m to school. Within a few minutes on foot I can be at a number of supermarkets and even my local town is only twenty minutes walk. Life in the Netherlands (unless you head out to the sticks) is small scale and local. Hence, all the cycling. There's less jumping in your car for every little errand.

2. Breakfast

Once a week we sit together as a family and eat breakfast comprising of crackers, cheese, cold meats and a variety of things that come out of a jar - like jam and pindakaas. It's not the sort of breakfast I ever ate in England.

3. Stamppot

Once winter arrives the potato masher comes out and stamppot is firmly on the weekly menu. It's a Dutch staple served with sausage and gravy which matches well with my British upbringing - Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie were regularly served up for dinner. We Brits are no strangers to mashing up potatoes and vegetables so stamppot was an easy habit to pick up.

4. Soup

It may be my imagination, or my lack of culinary adventures back in Britain, but the Dutch seem to be more into making hearty vegetable soups from scratch than the Brits. You can buy everything you need in one packet in the supermarket so for the real cooking slouches you don't need to do any food preparation at all. A healthy and warming habit to have picked up - which incidentally my kids love and if there is an easy way of getting vegetables into them then it's a winner for me!

5. Natuurijs

I can not so much as remember a time I stood on a frozen body of water as a kid in England, let alone skated on one. Here in the Netherlands it's as normal in winter (weather permitting) as putting on your woolly hat and gloves. Watching the excitement of my children on natuurijs is something I will always treasure even when they're all big and grown up. I have even been known to venture out carefully to stand on the ice myself but certainly not going as far as putting ice skates on my own feet. (The habits I haven't adopted could probably fill another blog post.)

6. Hagelslag

Having a box of hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) as a permanent feature in my kitchen cupboard is not a habit I am particularly proud of but I defy anyone with kids to live here and not have it lurking somewhere in the kitchen. In my defence, I am stricter with it than most other parents I know as my sons have it only on special occasions and not as their breakfast staple. However, you will always be able to find a box in my kitchen cupboard.

7. Country Hopping

Essentially, I grew up on an island. We visited Wales and in later years Ireland, but country hopping wasn't really something we did regularly because of the distance. And then I moved to the Netherlands - Belgium, France and Germany are practically on our doorstep. In our pre-children days my husband and I flitted off for weekends in one country or another on a regular basis. Sometimes, even just for a day. A nice habit right?

8. Supermarket Visits

This is related a little to the first habit. Supermarkets are close. I practically pass by after the school run so can pop in and grab things on my way home. My visits to the supermarket in England were strictly on a maximum of once a week basis. Frozen sections were large, even fifteen years ago in British supermarkets. In fact, supermarkets there on the whole were large fifteen years ago. Here in the Netherlands they are more local and smaller scale and the frozen food section generally nothing to write home about. It's all about fresh. The baker, the butcher and the cheesemaker (my blog - I can make up words to fit) are still well visited as part of the Dutch shopping rituals. So these days you'll find me in a supermarket or food shop more regularly than you would have done twenty years ago.

9. Orange Clothes

I am not sure if I ever wore anything orange prior to living in the land of the Dutch. It's now a habit to dress in orange at least once a year to celebrate the Dutch king's birthday. In-between there are football matches to dress in orange for - though sorry to say that 2016 is not looking like one of those years........

10. Sinterklaas

Before landing on Dutch shores I had never even heard of Sinterklaas. Now I am an enthusiastic celebrator on the 5th December - and I have got used to hearing Sinterklaas songs for the month prior to the big celebration and three months after he has left the country whilst the children try to get out of the habit of singing "Sie ginds komt een stoomboot..." every morning. Some habits you just have to grin and bear.......

11. Pancakes

We eat pancakes probably once a month. In England this was an annual affair on Shrove Tuesday. It took me a long time here to accept pancakes covered with sprinkles as my sons' dinner. But every now and then I just let it slide, tuck my Britishness away in my pocket and watch them devour pancakes as their evening meal. It's called integrating I guess.....

12. Living life in Dutch

Obviously in England my life was conducted in the English language. My days now usually comprise talking in Dutch. I talk to my sons' teachers in Dutch, I talk to people in the shops in Dutch, I greet and chat with my neighbours in Dutch. It's one of the hardest habits I have picked up, but also one of the most necessary and one of the most rewarding.

13. Watching TV with subtitles

I no longer think anything of watching a TV program spoken in Swedish, Danish or German because shows are subtitled with Dutch. The Dutch, thank goodness, do not dub TV programs (with the exception of children's programs), instead TV shows have Dutch subtitles. Not only is it a great way of picking up Dutch vocabulary, it also became such a normal thing that I miss them when they are not on my screen. And I am so used to reading them as I watch TV that the spoken language can change from English and I barely notice anymore.

14. Snacks

Before moving to the Netherlands the most exotic things I saw deep fried were fish and sausages - and I had of course heard about the infamous Mars Bar. The Dutch take deep fried food to a whole new level and have made an art of all things deep fried under the label of 'snacks'. I affectionately refer to snacks as UFOs - Unidentified Fried Objects. You don't want to know what is in the middle of one of those fried snacks you order at the snack bar. It's a habit I get dragged along with as I am married to a Dutchman, and Dutch people like snacks. I remember my first snack bar experience - it was confusing and stressful. Being asked the question, "What would you like?" whilst faced with a billion unfamiliar things in the cooler before me was harrowing......

15. ADO Den Haag

My most recent habit that has formed is my regular attendance at the Kyocera Stadium in The Hague to watch my local eredivisie club ADO Den Haag play football. Aside, from my actual Dutch home, it's become the place I feel most at home in the Netherlands. It's my favourite habit to date.

*This post was inspired by 7 habits for 7 years in Germany by Let the Journey Begin

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Algemeen Dagblad Interview: Expats in Zoetermeer

Yesterday's edition of The Hague's Algemeen Dagblad featured an article about the growing number of expats in Zoetermeer. I was contacted on Thursday to ask if I would answer a few questions on the topic. One thing led to another and on Friday a photographer came around to take a picture. The photo session involved Colman's mustard, Marmite, English tea, a copy of Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style, British teaspoons, a blanket adorned with the British flag and a plastic British. It was mind blowingly weird. 

This was the result.......

Watch this space for more on this!

Monday, 14 September 2015

15 Years in the Netherlands: England is Like A House I Once Lived In

I piled everything I owned into the back of a borrowed Dutch police trailer and moved across the North Sea to live in a country I knew little about. I left England, my birth country, and started life as an expat. Fifteen years later England is no longer home; it feels like a house I used to live in.  

In the streets outside this house I once lived in I see images from my childhood, of tennis matches played on the road and I hear the laughter that only children caught up in a fantasy world of play can make. I walk in the front door to be flooded with memories.

There's a hallway where we hung our coats and kicked off our shoes, but now I see only unfamiliar footwear and coats that I would never wear.

The kitchen is in the same place it always was but it has been revamped and smells of food I never ate.

The living room, albeit with a different shade on the walls and a new carpet, bears a resemblance to the room we occupied as a young family, gathered around the TV or chatting about our day.

And yes, the bathroom is almost the same, looking just a little grubbier and more worn than it once did, and there are toiletries littered on the shelves that I do not use.

The garden brings back fond memories of English summers, BBQ’s with friends and lazy afternoons on the lawn. However, my parents never planted that row of conifers, and roses blossom where we used to keep patio chairs. The shed we kept our bikes in has gone completely.

I know it is a house I have lived in, it breeds familiarity, but someone came in and redecorated. Somebody rearranged the furniture, planted new shrubs and flowers and erased the little touches that made it my place. I know my way around but it is clear I don’t live there anymore. It's not my home. It's been a long time since it has been my home. 

When we drive through the rolling English countryside I realise I miss hills and a landscape that provides variety. When I am pushing my trolley around the one-stop supermarket, it reinforces my yearning to shop every week surrounded by such choice and variety, surrounded by foodstuffs I grew up with.  When we pass a traditional English pub, tucked back on a country road tempting the passer-by with Sunday roast dinners, I cannot deny happy memories flood back, and the desire to have such a stop-off on my doorstep again is overwhelming.

Yet the overwhelming truth is this, when I am back in England I feel like a visitor. It is no longer my home. People I love live there but I no longer have a base there. When we get into our car and make our way back to Dover to catch the Eurotunnel back over to mainland Europe, or head to Harwich to get the ferry back to Hoek van Holland I know I am heading home.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Food is Not Just Food When You're an Expat

As a child there was nothing more magical for me than the sound of the ice cream man playing in the distance, the gentle jingle getting louder as he approached my street. My brother and I would run inside to ransack purses and beg and plead to scrape together enough change to buy a '99' each and we'd run back outside clutching the coins in our clammy hands and join the excited queue of neighbourhood children. The anticipation of getting that cone in our hands, of hungrily licking the soft ice cream and biting into that chocolate flake. The summers of my childhood.

That was the image invoked when I opened the package sent to me by the British Corner Shop (BCS) and I pulled out a pack of Cadbury's Flakes. (*I received a free hamper of British goodies from the British Corner Shop in exchange for writing a blog post. All product links are links to BCS*).

When you are an expat food takes on an unusual ability to evoke a sense of home, to stir up memories long forgotten, to instil a feeling of familiarity and comfort. Food from your 'home' country becomes more than just food; it prompts emotions.

Take the Pot Noodle Chicken and Mushroom nestled in the hamper sent to me by the British Corner Shop. Personally I don't eat Pot Noodles, I'm not sure I ever have but the picture of a kettle on the pot (the one meaning you just need to add boiling water to the pot) made me giggle. Why on earth is that I hear you ask.... well it evokes a memory stored deep in my data banks, one from the time I attended university.

I have a friend, who will remain nameless (but you know who you are) who fancied a spot of Ambrosia rice pudding whilst in his halls of residence room. He wanted hot Ambrosia rice pudding. So he heated it up in his kettle. Needless to say he needed to invest in a new kettle and he never got to enjoy that particular tin of rice pudding. Three words: rice pudding explosion. It's hard looking at a tin of rice pudding, or the picture of a kettle on a Pot Noodle, even twenty years on without thinking of him.

And talking of Pot Noodles, as I was, the Pot Noodle in the hamper did not go to waste. My Dutch husband took it to work for his lunch. His verdict? "Best wel lekker!" A Pot Noodle convert.

The box also contained goodies that took me back to my early expat days - the days when the only flavour crisps you could get here in the Netherlands comprised paprika and ready salted. Crisps were a standard part of my shopping list when I went back to England: notably prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar flavours for my Dutch husband who had quickly picked up a British crisp taste too.

Oxo Beef Stock Cubes were also a standard part of my expat shopping list - there was something about the way they crumble, which Dutch stock 'rectangles' don't do. And of course the nostalgia of Lynda Bellingham as the Oxo mum during the 1980s. There's that too.

Food when you are an expat takes on a whole new meaning. It's not just a stock cube, a bag of crisps or a stick of chocolate - it's a short trip down memory lane, a few fleeting seconds back in your childhood, a comforting reminder of a country you no longer live in.

All readers of Expat Life with a Double Buggy can claim £15 off their first order with the British Corner Shop on orders over £75 up until the 28th February 2016 using the discount code:


Sunday, 6 September 2015

My Life in the Netherlands Started Fifteen Years Ago Today

The sun-faded oranges and reds of the shipping containers emblazoned with white letters that line the dock edge are the first things I see from my vantage point on the outside deck of the freight ferry as it comes into port.

The clouds above Hoek van Holland are brewing, changing tones of grey before my eyes in the early morning haze.

The ants scurrying in the distant a few minutes ago metamorphose into dockworkers in orange fluorescent jackets scampering around the port.

Distant shouts in a foreign tongue echo and reach my ears, intermingled with a smoker’s voice announcing something in Dutch over the tannoy speakers.

“Okay, she says we can go back to the car,” my future husband translates for me.

We join a pack of lorry drivers in their uniform of stretched jeans and checked shirts with buttons that threaten to pop at any second heading for the vehicle decks below, all of us jostling for room on the metal stairs.

We are all eager to return to our cars and trucks to get the next stage of our journey underway and leave the confines of the ferry behind. The next stage of my journey. My new life in the Netherlands.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dutched Up! is Now a Real Live Book

Yes, it's a little like Gepetto waving Pinnochio around but this is more about 'e-book into real live paper hold in your hand book' than it is about 'wooden puppet into a real live boy'.

I am so excited to announce that you can now get your hands on a copy of Dutched Up! as a paperback book. Of course, reading it on your Kindle was fun but in my humble opinion nothing beats holding an actual real book in your hands.

The authors of Dutched Up! have been collectively holding their breath in anticipation over the past few months as the printing process went on behind the scenes. But we are (you'll be glad to know) all breathing once more as the books rolled hot off the presses into our grubby little hands.

And of course you'll all be wondering where on earth you can get your own grubby mitts on a copy of this wonderful book, this collaboration of literary geniuses telling expat life like it is in the Netherlands, this showpiece for expat life, this collection of...... you get the picture. Read on for a list pf places you can get hold of a copy.......

But first - who needs this book? Well, it's a book you need to have on your bookshelf if:
  • you are an expat in the Netherlands
  • you are soon to be an expat in the Netherlands
  • you could at some point in the future be an expat in the Netherlands
  • you want to be an expat in the Netherlands
  • you dream of becoming an expat in the Netherlands
  • you know an expat in the Netherlands
  • you have a friend who knows an expat in the Netherlands
  • you are Dutch and wonder how female expats experience life in the Netherlands
  • you have any kind of tenuous link to the Netherlands and want to read about life in the Netherlands
  • you like reading about expat life
  • you life reading about the Netherlands
  • you love reading funny, poignant, interesting and informational stories
  • you like reading
  • you like filling your bookshelves with beautiful books
  • you have eyes
Convinced? Ok - here's where to head for your very own copy:

  • Online at or

  • Or from

  • And last but not least - if you are local to Zoetermeer then get in touch as I have a few spare copies to sell!