Criss-crossing the Netherlands on various day and weekend trips these past few weeks has rekindled my love for the motherland. It almost feels like I am seeing the low horizons and endless skies for the first time.

Over the past six months I have been pretty much blind for what the Netherlands have to offer. Moving back after eight exciting years living abroad felt a bit like an anti-climax. No new horizons to explore, no alien culture to conquer and going to the supermarket was like a deja-vu. My surroundings felt way too familiar to really appreciate them. The fact that we moved to a new village in a part of the country that I had never seen before, did not change that feeling one bit.

My eyes were not ready to see beauty close to home, nor was my heart ready to let new people in. After the draining months of prolonged farewells, an exhausting move and a month of unpacking boxes and trips to the skip, I simply was not ready to look at the world with expectant eyes.

Luckily autumn came to the rescue, giving me a perfect excuse to hibernate. Within the four walls of my rented house I could easily pretend nothing much had changed. Armed with my knitting needles 500 grams of wool and endless cups of tea I could just about face my new life.
But now it is spring and the sun has been shining bright for at least six weeks. Fresh, almost see through leaves have magically appeared, countless tulips open their flowers and little lambs are frolicking left right and centre beckoning me to come out of my shelter. And I must admit that after visiting the famous Keukenhof, I am feeling a lot more upbeat about Holland.

Even the ubiquitous tulip/wooden shoes/windmill paraphernalia that I find in most places I visit can not seem to dampen my spirits. The little multicoloured windmill my friend bought me a the tulip festival has quickly become one of my most priced possessions. I love how its moving vanes and tulips set the scene just outside my back door.

Last weekend I mingled with tourists from every corners of our planet to have a wonderful Easter stroll round the Museum Square in Amsterdam. The sky was the brightest of blues, the façade of the Rijksmuseum looked truly magnificent and I did not even have to wrestle my way in to get a look at the paintings, because I can do that any day, so in effect it can wait for a rainy day. No, I just sat and watched and ate an ice cream and it was lovely.

The rest of my Easter weekend I spend visiting friend in Zeeland, the far south western tip of the Netherlands, where the land is so flat and the villages so few and far between that the sky really takes centre stage. I used to live in this beautiful corner of the world and felt the roots I grew tug at my feet. Life seemed simpler, or at least gentler in this peaceful corner of the world. I surprised myself by enthusiastically taking various pictures of a photogenic dike with typically Dutch houses and a windmill.

Without moving away from the Netherlands and living abroad for almost a decade I do not think I could have ever seen my country, nor understood the identity of our national symbols with such fresh mind. I always laughed at this windmill fantasy of Holland, but actually seeing an antique windmill in a spring green field adorned with lambs and narcissus, these days almost moves me to tears. Tulips are indeed absolutely wonderful and I love the fact that you can buy arms full of them for very little money so my house is never without in vase filled with tulips in the spring.

Wooden shoes are of course a bit of a nuisance. No one actually wears them. Or may be some farmers still do, although the reason eludes me, as wooden shoes must be the single most uncomfortable shoes in the world. I must try them on one day, just in case I am totally wrong.

As far as national symbols go, we have done all right in the Netherlands. Our easily recognisable, quite decorative and brightly coloured windmills, tulips and wooden shoes don’t need much explaining around the world. Come to think of it so don’t the gondola’, the boot shape and the Colosseum of Italy, nor the cowbells, cuckoo clocks and pocket knifes of Switzerland. England our first expat country is probably the trickiest of all places we lived to define by just a few symbols. Cricket, cream teas, school uniforms, rose gardens, liberty prints, cooked breakfast are all part and parcel of English culture, but which one to choose to unify it all?

One image that springs to mind is the ability to have a picnic in the rain. And I mean to sit and eat completely unperturbed when the heavens open. I have witnessed, on more than one occasion how people just flip open their umbrella’s while they continue eating. No panic, no screams, no running for cover. My favourite school trip with my son’s class was one to the seaside at the end of June when the rain was pouring down, but the kids just went on with it, making sand castles, playing chase and jumping the waves. Of course we all had an ice cream, even though our lips were blue and we were shaking violently from the cold. We were at the seaside after all.

So I dare the tourist crap making industry to come up with one of those little glass domes with a pick nick scene inside. The minute you hold it upside down or shake it, instead of snow, rain should fall and umbrella’s should magically open. Or even better, let them produce a whole series of these with different rainy scenes (the beach, the camp ground, the Easter egg hunt, the summer fair, the diamond jubilee to name but a few).

It will be an absolute delight to look at them. Especially on – the not infrequent – rainy weekends when on Saturday I will be getting soaking wet watching my son’s hockey game and on Sunday I will be getting soaking wet coaching my daughter’s rowing team. Because how wet, cold and miserable I might be when I get home, it could be infinitely worse. I could have been picnicking after all.


Expat Life with a Double Buggy

I’ve added this post to the June 2015 Expat Life link party. Click on the picture above for more great expat blogs.



May be inviting 20 plus people for a BBQ, without owning a BBQ, wasn’t the best idea. And may be, just may be, planning this BBQ on a Sunday, whilst at the same time being out from dusk till dawn on the Saturday before, wasn’t such a great idea either. Our worst mistake however, was feeling invincible and certain we were going to pull it of.

It wasn’t until last Monday, weeks after I invited both our families for a Whitsun BBQ, that Mr S. casually mentioned that we do in fact no longer own a BBQ. Apparently we (well Mr S of course) threw it out whilst we were living in Italy. We were way too polite to try and light the BBQ on our Italian balcony and smoke out the neighbours, so by the time we left Italy the unused and unloved BBQ was covered in rust (according to Mr S) and not worth taking with us to the new destination.

In Switzerland we had one of those lovely brick built fire places, complete with its own chimney. BBQing became our second nature. We (well actually Mr S) loved charring burgers, or grilling the hell out of some ribs. Lovely.

Luckily our rental place in the Netherlands doesn’t come with a build in BBQ, because Mr S. long since dreams of buying himself a ‘proper’ gas BBQ. And not just any old gas BBQ, but a really, really big one. As this is an important purchase, he decides to take a day off.

After he had a nice little lie in and three cappuccino’s, Mr S is ready for some serious online investigating. For a while he is completely lost to the world, but then the 12yo, who doesn’t need to be in school until ten on a Friday morning, decides to take a look as well. Within minutes both the boys have a in depth conversation about ‘flavourisers’, titanium, extra burners and are watching promotional films of outdoor kitchen with lovely names like the QR4200, or PL250A.

Time to hit the shops, or shop, because apparently our rather large village, only has one shop that sells half decent BBQ’s. With the warmest weekend so far this year upon us, it is eerily quiet in BBQ Land. After long humming and hoeing and looking at various ‘outdoor kitchens’, we find out why. Most of the BBQ’s are out of stock. And although forty pallets of BBQ’s and BBQ accessories are due to arrive any minute, the sales guy has no idea whether or not Mr S’s desired model will be in this shipment. He thinks it ‘likely’, or even ‘highly likely’, but can’t be sure.

Mmm, time to come up with a plan B. After some frantic browsing on the net, I find a shop, about half an hour’s drive from our home. According to their website the ‘3000 titanium pro’, should be in stock.

An hour and a half later, Mr S triumphantly walks in with a box, the size of our kitchen. The only thing between him and total happiness is a gas bottle, but that will be easy to fix later on. First he needs to piece together the monster BBQ, which Ikea fashion, comes in exactly 271 different pieces.I decide to keep my distance and hide behind a magazine at the back of the garden. Mr S is whistling. Assembling is FUN!

But then it gets quiet. All I hear are some sighs and whispers. I am probably just imagining Mr. S is muttering swear words under his breath. swearing. Any time now the whistling will start again.

But of course it doesn’t. Loud swearing and some throwing around of screwdrivers follows. As it turns out, the very expensive BBQ that Mr S just bought, is probably a display model that someone assembled and then disassembled a while back. And just like Ikea furniture, once disassembled, you can never put it back together again.

With clenched teeth and loads and loads of counting till ten, Mr S. manages to get the ‘titanium pro’ back in the box again. Silently we lift the box and carry it to my car, where it just about fits, if we pull the seats down. Of course customer service closed 5 minutes ago and the shop isn’t open on a Saturday, so there is nothing we can do.

We’ve got tons of meat, garlic butter, potato salad, corn on the cob, a special BBQ cook book, a rain cover, beautiful stainless steel thongs, but no BBQ. It takes Mr S about six cans of beer and myself a bottle of Chardonnay before we see the funny side of the BBQ fiasco (there isn’t a funny side of course, but who cares after six cans of beer and a bottle of Chardonnay).

On the morning of the party we decide to just play it cool and pretend we completely planned a BBQ-less BBQ event.And it works! It honestly turns out to be one of the best BBQ’s ever, with Mr S in an orange ‘I love BBQ-ing’ apron presiding over the hob, frying everything he manages to get his hands on. It is utterly brilliant. Who needs a BBQ?

It isn’t until I need my car the next morning to go to work, that I realise the downside of the ‘hob-be-cue’ being such a success. Knowing Mr S., the urgency now gone, probably means he won’t take another day off to return the faulty BBQ. I will probably have to drive around with the blasted thing filling every inch of my car, the caption BBQ Land visible from almost every angle.

So we’re throwing another BBQ party and all 17 or so members of Mr S’s field hockey team and their families are invited. I doubt we can pull it off without an outdoor kitchen.Oh and did I mention the party is next Saturday?



A weekend of domestic bliss! Even a Sunday night spent wading through the spillage of the blocked downstairs toilet doesn’t seem to shake us. We just watch the football with our wellies on.

During the past few weeks Mr S. and I have had our ups and downs. Yes, we are getting used to living in the Netherlands again, but it definitely doesn’t feel like we’ve arrived. I am sort of kidding myself that I am loving it here and that we should buy a house, make a pact to stay here for a least a decade and buy tons of new furniture to cement the deal.

Mr S. on the other hand is not so sure about the whole living in the Netherlands thing, so doesn’t want to buy a house yet, let alone think about how long he is going to stay. Needless to say, furniture never even enters his head.

However hard I try not to push Mr S. – and I honestly do try – most weekends start with me wanting to discuss buying a house and more often than not telling him which one I would like to make an offer on. This weekend of course is no exception.

To my surprise however Mr S. is not only willing to discuss houses (as long as we don’t have to decide), but he also agrees to look at some furniture with me. Now! So we decide that after fifteen years, two home births and four moves we will treat ourselves to a new bed. And not that we’re pining for our lovely place in the Alps, but we head straight for ‘Swiss Sense’, a Dutch chain of bed & mattress stores that, as we are about to find out, have nothing to do with Switzerland whatsoever.According to the sales guy the ‘Swiss’ in ‘Swiss Sense’, is purely for marketing purposes. It just sounds nice. The beds are in fact produced in the Philippines.

He is not too bad this guy, until he starts jotting figures on a piece of paper. Although ‘every bed in the store can be combined with every mattress and top layer’, when we do suggest a different combination, it all of a sudden seems to get a.very complicated and b.very expensive. But we do like the bed. We do however definitely do not trust the salesman, so we leave.

But then we find an even bigger ‘Swiss Sense’ store that is open on a Sunday as well. The weather is absolutely gorgeous as we head out around two. Which is just as well as the store (one of fifty furniture stores in a massive arcade, which is pretty much how I would picture hell if I believed there was one) is very quiet. As soon as we enter the store, the manager dives upon us.

Before we have had the time for such much as a cursory look around, this guy is bombarding us with information. He talks about pocket springs, bonnell springs, foam mattresses, memory foam, latex foam and different seams. He also talks about different zoning in mattresses and shows us five booklets of different upholstery fabrics. All I want to do is lay down. At the rate that this guy keeps going, I would be able to sleep anywhere.

I soon realise that bringing an engineer to a bed and mattress store is a very bad idea. Mr S. actually seems to enjoy talking about different types of coils. ‘Let’s buy this one here’, I mutter under my breath to Mr S. when the sales guy finally draws breath.
Luckily my husband agrees and an hour and a half later of testing different mattresses and top layers (‘toppers’ in bed & mattress store jargon) he too is willing to pay the guy extra if only he would shut up. Although I now know everything about Talalay natural foam latex and have laid down on a ‘topper’ made of camel and horse hair, which is more expensive than my car.
When at the end of the process the guy is willing to ‘do us a deal’, we just nod.Whatever, we’re buying the bed. Three hours after we entered the shop, we are finally set free. The sun have never shone brighter!
We have the best time ever driving back. Hours later we are still in high spirits. So when the water from from the downstairs toilet floods our hallway, we just laugh. Who cares? We have just spent the best couple of thousand euros in our lives. Not only did the money buy us a very nice bed, but more important, it bought us fifteen years of not having to set foot in another bed & mattress store again!

Over it

 over it

Four new soup bowls sitting on my work top brighten my spirits without fail. Not because they are beautifully formed and exquisitely glazed, which by the way they are, but because of the German lady that made them.

‘Are you German?’ Friend P. and I must look very stunned at this question, because the lady in the pottery shop hastily switches to speaking French, trying to guide us round the entire contents all in one sentence. Friend P. is English, I am Dutch, we were probably speaking English on entering the shop, which is in France, because that is where we are on holiday. So German? No.

When I frantically try to unearth my school French in some far away corner of my brain, friend P., who speaks fluent German, surprises the lady with some very interesting remarks about the pottery industry. From which it takes only a very small step to discuss the painful break up of the German pottery lady and her French ‘beau’.

Within minutes of us entering her shop, the German pottery lady completely spills the beans.Of how upon coming to France thirty odd years ago for a pottery course she fell in love with this French pottery artist and how they were perfectly happy until he ran off with a Vietnamese girl. Oh dear.

Before we can commiserate, however, the pottery lady tells us how important it is not to drown in one’s sorrows. No, it is vital to learn from such life events and to move on. If only her French ex-lover would do the same. Moving on that is, or even better, buggering off to Vietnam altogether. But no, she points, every summer he, his Vietnamese wife and their children spend around three months in their pottery shop, which – didn’t we know? – is right next door.

By now two little red spots appear on the pottery lady’s cheek bones. Good thing she moved on and is in a good place now. She grabs some bowls and plates of the shelves. ‘See this spiral motive?’, she points. ‘I love it, because for me it represents emotional growth and the fact that life is a journey and one shouldn’t dwell upon the negative things, but continue to move forward’.

Not much more German is required at this point. All we have to do is nod and smile and wait for more. ‘No she doesn’t miss Germany at all’, the lady continues. She visits once a year, or since her mother turned 90 three years ago twice a year, in October and March, and that is enough. She truly loves France.

But then friend P. strikes gold when picking up an unidentifiable little blue dome. It turns out to be a salt shaker, a very clever little salt shaker. A salt shaker that the German pottery lady has come up with and designed all by herself and that has over the past couple of years become one of her best selling products.

Again she points across the small garden. ‘He copied it’. And not only does the French bastard produce and sell very similar salt shakers, he sells them cheaper. ‘When he first started making them he sold them for one Euro less than mine’, she says. That left her no choice. So she lowered her price, and than he followed suit and so on and so forth.The pottery lady sighs. Good thing she has responded to the lessons this break-up needed to teach her, dealt with the pain, grown from the experience and moved on.

We buy some more pottery than we originally intended and leave to find our bikes, all the while carefully avoiding to look at the shop next door, just in case the pottery lady is watching us. It is indeed very fortunate that she is truly and completely over it.



I sort of knew this of myself. The recent operation on Mr. S.’s ankle, however, really brought it home. I am no Florence Nightingale.

Although to start with I didn’t disappoint. Driving to Rotterdam at an ungodly hour, listing to the duty nurse, getting the crutches out of the car and installing Mr. S. in his hospital bed for the day: no problem. Leaving him behind, mooching around Rotterdam, treating myself to a luxurious cappuccino and some cake: easy peasy. Hoisting Mr. S. in the wheel chair and wheeling him through the hospital and the parking lot to the car: quite good fun actually.

It isn’t until the next morning, that I realise I am a bit of an action hero when it comes to nursing someone back to health. I love the driving – carrying crutches – taping plastic bags around the wounded ankle – getting a stool in the shower – bit of nursing. I am less great at the endless cups of tea, coffee, sandwiches and other tidbits. I just forget.

Normally that isn’t a problem. Even if I forget to eat myself, the children and Mr. S. won’t starve, because they learned – years ago – that they live in a self service household. No matter when you enter the kitchen in our house, there is always someone making a peanut butter sandwich, or frying a couple of eggs. Dinner is the only more of less reliable service I provide.

I am even worse when it comes to listening sympathetically to stories about Mr.S’s ailments. Shortly after the operation I am patience personified. Of course it hurts, someone just made two holes in his ankle and scraped a bit of bone off. That is why the nurse gave us a stash of painkillers. I provide a glass of water, Mr. S takes a pill and all is well with the world again.

Just as I start to grow in my role as carer, Mr. S. reverses back from being a patient, to being his plain old self again. He starts to walk on his wounded foot without crutches, wobbles over to the coffee machine umpty times a day, as no one makes coffee, like he does, and decides to give up on pain killers, as they can’t be good for you.

He further demands to be driven to work, three days after his operation, as he is sick and tired of being cooped up in the house. So, I drive him to Amsterdam – again at an ungodly hour – before taking myself to work in Utrecht. When I call Mr. S. from the car on my way back from work, he picks up after the first ring. His ankle really hurts, he informs me. He even sounds genuinely surprised.

It would be great, if I could come straight away to pick him up, as he hasn’t called for the taxi to come and pick him up, as we agreed he would do. As he wobbles towards the car, leaning heavily on a crutch, I really have to delve deep to try and find my inner Florence. ‘I am really glad you told me to bring a crutch’, he tells me lovingly before he reclines his seat and closes his eyes.

Mr. S. grudgingly agrees to stay home the next day, as long as we both agree it is just the one day, because really there isn’t anything wrong with him. Right. As soon as I return home from work the next afternoon, he tells me proudly that he has been cycling. ‘It is so much easier than walking’. He beams from ear to ear. From cycling it is only a matter of hours until he declares himself fit enough for driving.

Mr. S. has been back at work for a week now. He still wobbles, but does he let that stop him? You guessed right. He is a bit disappointed his ankle isn’t healing more quickly and is sharing that disappointed liberally with his family. At which point, I really, really want to smack him. Not very Nigtingalelesque, I know.

Although when I see Mr. S. carefully putting a cushion under his hurting ankle and install himself – fizzy drinks and snacks handy – in front of the telly to watch a children’s programme about dogs with the 11yo on a Saturday afternoon, I cannot help myself but salute him. He is does try to put his feet up. At least for now.

As we are still living ‘happily ever after’ and in all probability will grow old together, we’d better make a battle plan. A live in nurse, would be our best option, I think. Someone in an official white coat and in the possession of a very loud voice, who tells us when it is time for our medicine, or our nap. Someone with oodles of patience and enough authority to ensure complete submission. So we can concentrate on what we do best together: eat, drink and be merry.

Guinea Pigs


I dreamt about guinea pigs last night.Something, I might add, that is very, very unusual for me, as animals don’t figure largely in my life. Until three weeks ago that is, when my daughter finally got to choose two guinea pigs. Now I feel like a new mum.

Within hours after their arrival in our household I completely and utterly surprised myself by cooing over the guinea pigs, like I would over a new born. It is completely ridiculous, as Mr. S. doesn’t hesitate to point out, but I can’t help myself.

At bed time I no longer give my daughter a good night kiss. Well no, I might eventually still give her a kiss, but not until I have talked to the guinea pigs at length, arranging their toys and ensuring myself they are tucked in nicely in their straw burrow.

This all really annoys the 11yo, who a.) is the proud owner of the guinea pigs, as she can’t point out often enough and b.) feels she should be far more important to me than two guinea pigs. It doesn’t help that she has a bunk bed, of which she occupies the top bunk, while the guinea pigs live on the bottom bunk.

So now when I come to tuck my daughter in all she hears is me busying myself with the guinea pigs. She can’t see me from her position in the top bunk, nor can she see the guinea pigs, who always happen to do some incredibly funny tricks, just around bed time.

I am, by the way, not the only one who has completely been won over by the guinea pigs. My son can also quite often visits the guinea pigs in their rodent enclosure. He even went so far, as sitting in his sister’s bedroom for around two hours, when he came home early from school to an empty house. According to my son, the guinea pigs, who, despite them being girls, have been christened Ollie and Cheesy make great companions.

Although Mr. S. admitted the other day that our two furry friends are ‘quite nice’, he doesn’t really want to pick them up. He did the first days the guinea pigs were around, but since he found out they go to the toilet wherever, whenever, he is less keen. So most nights my daughter and I snuggle up on the sofa, each holding on the a guinea pig and a towel (to counteract the aforementioned toilet business).

The 11yo now insists she is going to teach Cheesy and Ollie some tricks and has devised an elaborate obstacle course to train them. Patience, she informs me, is key. First they have to be tamed. Instead of running over to her when she enters to room, the guinea pigs currently still run for cover. Lot’s of picking up and stroking and talking to them quietly, whilst feeding them treats is what needs to be done.

I should know this, as I have been trying to teach my daughter some tricks over the years (along the lines of: ‘flush the toilet’, ‘don’t drop your clothes wherever you take them off’, ‘put dirty crockery in the dishwasher’, ‘return home with your jacket, mittens, hat, umbrella’ and ‘keep your bicycle keys in the designated drawer’). She is always very polite when I point out the dirty clothes on her bedroom floor, or a floating turd in the toilet and promises me to really try and remember what is expected of her. And then she just gets on with whatever she was doing before.

I on the other hand get so annoyed that I – on more than one occasion – yelled at her. I have also binned all the dirty socks and undies lying around and laughed when she couldn’t find her bicycle keys for the umpteenth time. To no avail. But now I have a cunning plan. Instead of yelling at her, I will stroke her and feed her nice treats, whilst talking to her about tidying, flushing and keeping track of belongings. I bet you I can tame her. She will be putty in my hands.




The combined birthday and wedding anniversary surprise weekend organised by Mr. S. last weekend featured sanding, painting and trotting around Ikea. It must be love, or otherwise I must be mad, but this week I  can’t stop smiling.

On my 46th birthday last May Mr. S. solemnly declared he was going to book us a weekend away. We were to go somewhere fun and exciting just the two of us. He told me September, but then got operated on his ankle and couldn’t see himself hopping around on crutches in some far away and exotic place. All right, October then. Since 14 October 2014 was our 14th wedding anniversary, October seemed a good idea.

In the meantime, however, we bought a house. The same house we have been renting for over a year now and still has the washing machine in the middle of the landing, ill fitted curtains in my bedroom, lights that don’t work, a huge climbing frame in the garden and boxes everywhere. So, instead of going away, he proposed a DIY weekend. No children allowed.

Except for the fact that the 13yo has a hockey camp and needs to come home on Friday night, which Mr. S. only tells me about on Wednesday night. So instead of going out, we stay in. And because we are fairly tired from traipsing around the Dutch equivalent of B&Q and lugging paint, wood, nails, light bulbs and countless other thing inside, we just have crisps, beer, some French cheese, crackers and garlic bread for dinner.

It is great. We completely pig out and not a single child in sight to tell us off. Just like the old days! Unfortunately Mr. S. chooses this moment of beer and carbohydrate fuelled euphoria to tell me he originally planned to take me to Rome. Rome! I would have loved to go to Rome, enjoy a balmy night under the Italian stars, eating delicious food, sleeping in an ancient palazzo.

Instead we decide to have an early start on Saturday to make the most of our child-free DIY weekend. And we do. I sand and paint a new storage ‘solution’, Mr. S. fits the washing machine, replaces lamps, hangs curtain rails and even offers to go back to the DIY store, because I forgot to buy enough paint brushes.

A good two hours later and with a triumphant look on his face Mr. S. walks back in. I had almost given up on him. He, however, bought himself an electric saw. In fact he bought himself the best sawing machine money can buy. Wonderful! Just what we need.

Around six we call it a day. I put on my high heels and some lippy, whilst Mr. S. manages to find a clean pair of jeans and a semi-presentable shirt. We drive to Amsterdam, have a beer on the waterfront, whilst watching an incredible sunset. We then go on to a tiny French restaurant where we have the most fabulous food and wine ever, followed by some more wine at home. We literally talk for hours. What a lovely night,

It was in fact such a lovely night that even a slightly hang over visit to Ikea the next day, can’t dampen my spirits. We don’t buy anything, as halfway the ubiquitous route through furniture hell Mr. S. decides he is going to make me a desk himself. Which he does. Now all it needs is about four coats of paint.

I also need to make some curtains, tidy the whole house top to bottom, drive to the tip at least three times and fit twenty hours of painting around my day job. When our modest Dutch palazzo is ready, Mr. S. and I will go to Rome. Or we’ll  go and sit on a mountain top somewhere, enjoying the view doing nothing at all. I doubt though whether we’ll have as much fun as we did this weekend. Turning our house into a home.