It is tradition that our kids school takes a field trip to the Nationaal Carnavals Museum just before the start of Carnival.  Oeteldonk runs in the blood of many people here in Brabant so naturally it’s a tradition celebrated in the schools here in s’-Hertogenbosch.   In fact, each year there is an school emblem competition [a patch worn on boerenkiels or jackets]..  While neither of my kids won, they both received an honorable mention for their badges.  I thought I took photos of their final drawings but I cannot seem to find them. Anyway I did find this one on my photo so you can get an idea of M’s.


When the class mother asked if anyone could help chaperone the kids, I immediately volunteered.  It’s good for my oefenen and I somewhat enjoy the Carnival celebrations of my “adopted city” and have not yet been to this museum so I signed up!  Our kids do not have boerenkiels or jackets (yet) but I wrapped Maebh in the traditional red white and yellow Oeteldonk colors scarf complete with a frog on her shoulder (Soren’s scarf from last year) and sent her off to school.


The Oeteldonks Gemintemuzejum is located in an idyllic spot in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, on the site of the former gatehouse of the medieval Sisters of Orthenklooster and located on the Binnendieze.

Foto credit: Indebuurt.nl

Essentially off the Hinthamstraat and down an alley way.  I was totally immersed in the rich history of the national, international and Oeteldonk carnival.  The “muzejum” has a permanent collection with all kinds of masks, clothing, promotional material, weapons, shields and other valuable and important objects from the history of carnival and Oeteldonk. Thematic exhibitions are also organized in the summer months.  We had a tour with a very informative & passionate woman who told us EVERYTHING about the history and details of the carnival in her own unique way geared towards children.    And truthfully she was a lot more patient than I could be with children – especially 10 year old boys who cannot stand still and focus 🙂    I learned so much about carnival in, but also outside of Oeteldonk – far beyond the borders.  I highly recommend a visit to this museum if you are ever in Den Bosch and curious about Carnival.

If you are not 100% sure what the fus is about Oeteldonk or why Carival is so big here in Den Bosch.    First the name Oeteldonk stems from Den Bosch’ geological condition and history (donk = sandy hill; oetel is agreed to allude to frog): a sandy place found in a swampy area outside the town. The vernacular language of Den Bosch is spoken, best understood if it’s not written, but spoken out loud.  Cities change their names for the period:  Den Bosch becomes Oeteldonk; Bergen op Zoom Krabbegat and Tilburg Kruikenstad.

Secondly, check out this blog post “How to make sense of Carnival” done by Cora of Free Den Bosch Tours – she touches on the FAQs quiet well.  Forget the cow and bunny suits filling up with cans of beer in the AH on Vughterstraat – do that elsewhere – preferably far away say in Maastricht but not Den Bosch… you won’t fit in here.  🙂  And it if you haven’t done one of Cora’s Free Den Bosch Tours – do it!

Beyond the name there is the Prince and the Jr. Price (and his court), and parades with amazing floats, a kids parade, the clothing, brass bands and carnival songs.  It’s just something you need to experience.   I will add that some people absolutely HATE it and leave town for the period.    Being from abroad, I neither love it or hate it but I am in the middle – I certainly don’t buy a one way ticket out of town nor do I go out each until 4 am.

foto credit: indebuurt
foto credit: indebuurt
foto credit: indebuurt

Many store fronts decorate inside and of course.  In fact, last year the kids did artwork at school and they are put in the store windows around the city and there is a competition between schools.   We are then given a map and the kids and I walked around and found their specific pieces on display.   Oh and each day I get to see hundreds of people come by my house going into the city on the bikes dressed in the decorated jackets.


In case you are inspired to visit, all the details for 2020 Carnival here in Den Bosch including the parade route, etc can be found by clicking that link.



12th Birthday Party @ Hezemans Indoor Karting

12th Birthday Party @  Hezemans Indoor Karting

Not that long after we moved to the Netherlands, I took the kids to Speelland at Berkse Bergen and it was there where Soren got bit by the karting bug.  While it’s a small track, for €2. you can drive around the outdoor kartbaan a few laps. So he did that a few times the two times we visited and he LOVED it.  He also visited American Road House in Zaltbommel and did karting with his dad.


So it was no surprise when we asked him if he wanted a karting birthday party this year for a small group of friends, he agreed.  As he didn’t have a kids’ party last year, we really wanted to be sure to do something extra fun this year.  So after looking at our options we chose to drive down and check out Hezemans in Eindhoven.  It’s not that far of a drive and looked like the nicest and most professionally-run place.   During our short 15 minute visit, we were sold and he was so excited.    Here is he is with his favorite driver Max.  


However we were not 100% sure that the parents of his friends would allow their kids to go karting as most boys around 11 wouldn’t have ever been karting before…  thankfully they all agreed!   


For kids,  they offer two sizes karts.   Mini karts: for kids who are between 1.20 – 1.45 m and Junior karts:  for kids taller than 1.45 m but younger than 16 years old.  Thankfully all the boys who came along were taller, so they were all able to go into the Junior karts.  Our 9 year old daughter who came along yet didn’t race.  In fact, she couldn’t race with them even if she wanted to join as she’s not yet 1.45 m and they are pretty strict so something to keep in mind when booking this type of party.   We also kept the party quite small – which makes it much more manageable plus we had limited seats in the two cars. 


Kids Party Packages

Hezemans offers different party packages for groups of 4 kids or more;  which include track time, pancakes or fries and a snack.  You can add extra heats and even bowling or cooking your own food on a stone grill in the middle of the table.   All of the info is outlined on their website so you can customize how you want for your needs.   It can take kids a few laps to get the hang of it so they gave them some time for a practice ride and then another 8 or 10 minutes to really start racing.   You could see the confidence build and the lap times getting faster and faster.  They boys were really was impressive.   Our five guys were on the track with another party of four lads – who were celebrating a birthday too.  The one boy who faster than Soren attends their Sunday sessions so has a lot of experience.  I told Soren it might be something could try out more… but for now he had a LOT of fun doing this.    All in all we were there for about 3 hours.    They also have the kids parties on certain days & times  – we did a Friday from 3-6 pm as there is a lot of demand for adult parties here.  For obvious safety reasons, they cannot have the kid and adults on the track at the same time.

We did add 55 minutes of bowling into our party package for €12.50  which was fun and helped make the party a bit longer.  We were afraid of traffic heading out of Eindhoven on Friday night at 5:00 pm so it was great to wait just that big longer.  When we left after eating, there was no traffic – perfecr!!


Safety first!


At first we could see all the boys were a bit nervous about what to expect when they were out on the track.  What if they crashed.. how fast do they go, etc.   Their experts first show kids an instructional video and then gear them up in helmets and neck guards. Each child is fitted into a kids’ cart to ensure they can reach the pedals. Drivers aren’t let on to the track until they know how to brake, accelerate and back up, etc.  So the staff questions the kids to ensure they know what they are going.    It was 100% in Dutch so I didn’t get it all but my son did so that is good 🙂  The staff stays on the track to help young drivers who bump into the rails and to keep them in check if any issues.  Which at the end there was a few issues – apparently on the last heat one of the older boys in the other group did some banging into the back of two of our kids and a few tears were shed – which I think came about more in frustration than pain.   After a few minutes – tears were gone and all seemed fine.

Party Planning

The staff at were extremely helpful in figuring out the details of our go karting birthday party and during the party itself.  When you arrive, you are assigned a large table so you can come in and your have a place to leave your coats and keep as your sort of “base”.  As we live about 1/2 hour away, we had the kids first come to our house from school to hang out.  Cleary it’s a new world for me between the conversations and things which come out of the mouths of some of these boys and the fact that they were ALL (well one wasn’t as he doesn’t have a phone yet) playing on their PHONES together… I just had to take a photo.



As they get out of school at 12:30 pm and we didn’t have to be there until 3, I first had the boys come back to ours.   They first had lunch – requested  Brabants worstenbroodjes, chips & soda = healthy & yummy – NOT 🙂  But I did make two delicious home-made cakes that morning, which they have been eating each day since.


What I am not sure is if you are allowed to bring your own cake to the place – I assume not as there was a sign on the door that said no outside food allowed – but birthday cakes might be an exception.

Medals on the Podium



To finish off the celebration, each child received a print-out of their race standings and the all the drivers received the same medal.  Everyone went up on the podium for a photo at once.   I do wish they separated the groups for the photo, but they were all set up at once so with the birthday boys in the 1st position (coincidentally) they were the fastest racers).  So, I have no idea who the kids in the photo to the left and the tall one in the back, other than they were the other group who raced at the same time our kids did.  It happened so fast and then before you knew it half were gone and a new group was there, so I couldn’t retake the photos of group.  I could just barely get them all looking at my phone at the same time 🙂


Overall, Soren’s 12th birthday party was a definite hit.  All but one of his friends had never experienced karting before and they were beyond pumped after their first round of laps.  I suspect he’ll have this party here again next year and perhaps he’ll inspire some friends to also have karting parties.

I have some videos here is one.


Intratuin: More than just your average garden center.

Intratuin:  More than just your average garden center.

I LOVE Intratuin Garden Centers. YES, Intratuin is technically a garden center (largest in the Netherlands) and NO I am no green thumb.  Anyone knows me, knows that I kill all plants.  BUT…. this place is more than a garden center.   They have beautiful home items for sale too and they offer workshops!  It sort of reminds me of IKEA, yet better.   It’s really a nice shop for all ages.  If you are mobile you can walk and walk following the route.  Kids can play a bit, older folks can sit down for a long time if they want in the cafe – I witnessed it first hand… many being rolled around in their wheelchairs – perhaps an afternoon out from the nursing home?

Intratuin is a great place to visit any time a year and they update their site and store based on seasons.   At Christmas time they really have the place decorated and there is a walk you can do through the store with lights, music, decor – a real must-see.   We were there during the Herfstvakantie for the Kid’s Workshop: Pompoen Snijden.  During the summer they offer a lot in terms out outdoor living & bbqs.

Today I took Maebh and her friend from school to Intratuin in Veghel for an afternoon craft event based on a tulip theme considering today was National Tulip Day.  At  €2.50 per child, they are always well worth the small fee and at 9 she LOVES to do them herself.  There is a helper there to start them off or give tips if needed.   Many times, you can buy the kit and do it at home too.


In fact,  today was Nationale Tulpendag – the Dutch Tulip Growers created a massive temporary garden on Dam Square in Amsterdam featuring around 200,000 tulips.  Visitors then could pick some flowers to take home after walking around the displays.  I originally wanted to go here but plans changed.  Instead I took advantage of the self-pick area at Intratuin and took home 10 beautiful tulips which I picked myself.   At home I cut off the bulb myself… contrary to what you’d think you cannot just use the bulb again… it’s just waste. They are really my favorite flower and love having fresh ones at home.  I’m  looking forward to Tulip season this year and a visit to the Keukenhof and seeing the fields in full bloom.  While still early, for the past few weeks, I’ve had several bunches already… pink, yellow, white and now red.


Anyway – back to Intratuin.  All Intratuins offer kids workshops (always €2.50) but the one closest to us only does it on Wednesday afternoons –  so unfortunately that is our busy day with early release,  piano and gymnastics, so it’s not possible.   They also have some pretty cool workshops for adults but I’ve yet to do any of them.  I’ve love to take a BBQ masterclass workshop in the summer like this blogger, AnniePannie.nl, did.  Her experience looked very cool and the photos made my mouth water!

In addition, they have a scavenger hunt thing called a “kinderspeurtocht”.

Screenshot 2020-01-19 at 18.04.32

During this month’s children’s treasure hunt, you’ll discover everything about indoor plants.  Kids explore in the store and find the answers to questions.  Pick up the treasure hunt at the service counter, investigate in our store.  Then return the answers to the service desk, where they’ll will receive a nice present.  We didn’t do this, but next time I’ll have the kids do this.

There  even has a small play area which at 9 our youngest is a bit big for but as she is gentle and small, she and her friend had fun.  Today after their craft they played with some smaller kids (safely of course).  I assume they all have the same set up  – a cafe that serves nice coffee and fresh mint tea, yummy lunch options.  I had a tomato soup and the kids had a kids meal (including a drink and poffertjes.


While they were inside doing the craft, I enjoyed my fresh mint tea, then I walked around the shop a bit.  So many lovely things I’d love to buy.


Thankfully I had some self-control but I love all the decorations like the cushions & throws, scented candles, beautiful plants.  I’m also trying to find a new throw for the sofa – a fully, warm one that doesn’t leave fluff.   Here are some photos I took but they do not do justice on how beautiful the items really are – the store is so lovely.


They have a small area for pets.  Along with food and grooming products, they sell hampsters, rats and a couple bunnies.  But Maebh really loves stopping by and looking at the fish section – so that takes about 20 minutes.  She picks out which exact fish, which tank, which decorative items she’d like inside.  Hummm – I have no desire about having an aquarium at home.  I don’t mind going to see them in their tanks at the shop, but I think keeping a fish tank clean and ph balanced is a lot of work.  I told her a single fish in a bowl of water is an option  – but not today!  I hope she forgets!


I’ll keep an eye out on both the upcoming kids & adult workshops at the Intratuin and look forward to our next visit.   Of course a workshop to improve my lack of a green thumb would be very handy as I now have a whopping two plants in the house that I’ve managed to keep alive now for a while!!


A Night Away to Groningen

A Night Away to Groningen

In September over a family anniversary dinner, my son and husband made plans to see their favorite football team take on FC Groningen with my husband’s cousin so my daughter and I decided to tag along and make a night away out of it!  So the four of us headed up towards Groningen on Saturday.  We arrived around 3:30 pm, so not the most ideal time to arrive to spend the entire day exploring [as I had hoped to arrive by noon] but my son had to first play his soccer game – that was important – and happy he did as he scored – TWO goals!


How to get to Groningen from s’-Hertogenbosch

We could have certainly driven our car but as we live here in the Netherlands, we have personalized OV-chip cards, so we have the subscription which allows us to get 40% off during off-peak hours which includes weekends. If you live in the Netherlands, I highly recommend doing this as well – as it makes travel so much cheaper!  Kids are FREE until 12 so that is great –  we took the train.

While there is not a non-stop train from Den Bosch to Groningen (nor should there be – not a demand for it), it is VERY simple to take a train from here to Utrecht, switch to a different train (with a short wait)  and then it’s direct to Groningen.


Our Hotel – City Hotel Groningen

There are more than a dozen choices of great hotels in the city centre of Groningen and we were looking at the Best Western, NH Hotel Groningen and Hotel de Doelen but we ended up choosing the City Hotel Groningen.  It was a great location – less than a 10 minute walk from the station.  Because there were four of us, we had to get two rooms but that was fine – we had two rooms next door.  They were comfortable rooms and the beds were super comfortable and the showers were awesome!  The pillows were very thick – one might say even TOO THICK – if that is even possible.  After my issue with the pillows at the hotel in Germany, I will never complain if pillow are too thick. ha ha  As you can see here in the photo of M and her new teddy, Grapes – they were super thick!  Have you ever seen a thicker pillow on a bed before?


We left the window open enough for air and was wondering if I’d be bothered with noise from the city, but I only heard the church bells on Sunday morning around 9 but I was already awake.  Thankfully they did not ring all night long!

Breakfast was not included but we did choose to have breakfast there Sunday morning – it was buffet style and it was perfect for us.    We kept our bags at the hotel desk and picked up just before 5:00 pm after spending the day in the city.

I HIGHLY recommend this hotel and would absolutely stay here again during future visits to Groningen!

Museums to Visit

Groninger Museum

Founded in 1874, the Groninger Museum remains one of the most technologically advanced art galleries in the Netherlands. In a splendid post-modern building on the banks of the Verbindingskanaal, its three main pavilions host impressive exhibits of modern and contemporary art from both local and international artists, as well as works from the museum’s standing collections.


Maebh and I did this on Sunday when the boys were at the game.   Tickets are normally €15 for adults and free for kids but we used our Museumkaarts so entrance was free.      You don’t need to pre-book tickets if you are using your cards.

Highlights of its permanent collections focus on the history and culture of Groningen and include archaeological finds, portraits, regional arts, and crafts, as well as applied arts. The collection also includes examples of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and paintings, works by the Groningen-born painters Jozef Israëls and Hendrik Willem Message, and the famous Groningen silver.


The highlight of our visit (apart from the gift shop) was Daan Roosegaarde large-scale phosphorescent exhibition PRESENCE.  I admit my photos suck and do his exhibition no justice whatsoever.   Click on his name above to see his twitter feed where you’ll find much better photos to get the idea – it was cool and Maebh loved it.  In fact, we were certain Soren would have loved to be there with us too!


Other Museums To Visit

Noordelijk Scheepsvaartmuseum

GRID Graphic Museum Groningen

Dutch Comic Museum


I really wanted to go here, but we didn’t have time – next trip.  I joked that when S goes to school here, I’ll come visit and he can show me around.    He agreed – he was serious – never know where he’ll go but it’s a great student city and they offer Marine biology here.


Martinikerk and the Martini Tower

Martin’s Church (Martinikerk), a lovely brick built Romanesque-Gothic basilica constructed in the 13th century, is one of Groningen’s most important landmarks. Rebuilt in the 15th century, the old choir was replaced by one with tall Gothic vaulting and an ambulatory, while a chapel and sacristy were added to the north side.

Interior highlights include 16th-century wall paintings in the choir, as well as the old organ, parts of which date back to 1480. For a truly memorable experience, try to visit during one of the church’s regular services or, better still, at Christmas, when this magnificent organ is put through its paces, accompanied by a choir.

Its most notable feature, however, is undoubtedly its tower, the Martinitoren (or Martini Tower to locals). Originally built in 1482 (and several times rebuilt), this 96-meter-tall structure is one of the highest in the Netherlands and offers great views over the city’s Main Market Square (Grote Markt).

Address: Martinikerkhof 3, 9712 JG Groningen

Climbing the Martini tower cost €3 for adults & children from 4 to 12 years are €2. Group rate from 10 people €2.50  per person.   Tours are possible – info can be obtained at the Tourist Office.

Groningen Old Town

With its numerous bike and people friendly pathways and old squares, Old Town Groningen is a delightful place to explore. Highlights of a walking or cycling tour of the city’s historic core include the magnificent early 19th-century Neoclassical Town Hall (Stadhuis) in the Grote Markt, and the superb Renaissance Gold Office (Goudkantoor) built in 1635. Also of interest is the Neo-Renaissance Provinciehuis, the seat of the provincial government. Notable interior features are the Hall of the States (Statenzaal), with its fine portraits from the 17th century, and the wood paneling and timber vaulting from 1697.

Other highlights include Huis Cardinaal with its superb Renaissance façade from 1559 (it’s also known as the House of the Three Kings for its medallions of Alexander the Great, King David, and Charlemagne on the gable) and Prinsenhof, a former 15th-century monastery with its lovely 17th-century rose and herb gardens.

Also worth a visit, the covered Fish Market (Vismarkt) has been in existence since 1821 and is open Wednesday through Saturday.   We were in LOVE with this market.  Soren loved the fish mongers – he could watch them for hours.  I loved the spices and an hour before closing the merchants want their stuff gone.  For example we heard the produce stand vendor shouting out – “all this xyz for only €1”.  You can grab huge bargains!


Other cool things to do in the city

While doing some searching of things for me to do with the family and with just my daughter on Sunday when they boys are the football match, I came across a few additional things which I found cool.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Now we certainly can’t do this in November, but how fun would it be to SUP through the canal in Groningen?

Canal Tour

A very popular tourist thing to do in most of the big cities is to take a canal tour – so it’s only fitting they offer it here.   Also like most cities, they have different boats and tours available so you have options and all outlined on their website in English too – handy for non-Dutch speakers.    On Sunday when Maebh and I were free looking for things to do, I thought we could do this but she said, na, I’d rather not 🙂 . Okay – so we didn’t.

Rent your own boat

There are also many options of renting a boat and setting out on your own at your own pace.  Now this is something I’d love to do in warmer weather with family and/or with friends.  We’ve not yet done this during our time her in NL.  So I cannot personally speak to any first-hand experience, but hopefully during the Easter spring break, we will rent one and I’ll report back.

Let’s Talk Food


Apart from the hotel breakfast, some beers here & there, we only had one dinner out. I wish I could come here & brag about a fantastic meal I had but sadly it was just okay.   

4 Roses Mexican Restaurant

Also anyone who knows me knows how much I love Mexican food & margaritas.  But we know that is hard to come by in Europe.  Yes we still try different places knowing we’re not going to get what we are used to back home.  Anyway, we did it, we visited a Mexican place.  We walked by two other Mexican places, but I was overuled for whatever the reason.  Anyway, this places was  okay (good in that it was around the corner from our hotel).  It was super busy so clearly a big hit in this area… but nothing out of this world but not the worst either.   We called ahead and asked for a table to be reserved – this is a huge thing in NL – I have no idea why but even if you call in two hours before you are better of calling in than walking in.  So I always call in and reserve a table if I know we are going out to eat – it’s just a way of live here.  Anyway, we eat everything but something new for us was crickets and meal worms on the menu in a Mexican restaurant so we thought why not… but honestly the crickets were too greasy and mealworms were too dry and boring…



Our kids love an authentic pannekoekschip.   Even the old dumpy one in Wells was a hit.  So look out for the old sailing ship at the Schuitendiep.  Originally a rigged two-mast clipper ship from 1908 now serves as a pancake ship.    They offer loads of pancake choices but no poffertjes.  We did end up having our last meal here – well the kids did.   But have a look at Soren’s shawarma pancake – horrible right!?  The fries were really yummy!!  Nils and Soren had ordered Tapas including escargot and other yummy bits earlier so we were no longer hungry but as we still had a 3 hour train ride ahead of us we wanted the kids to eat before heading home.    


In this same area, along the canal are some beautiful homes.


A few other photos I took around the city this weekend.


One more highlight for the kids was the ice skating rink was set up.  So while we didn’t skate, we did spend a bit of time at the claw machines trying to win a sloth for Maebh and a couple other stuffed teddys.


€20 later – NOTHING but and arm an arm dangling over.    I’ll add two things.  1) the minute the machine clamps onto your teddy, it immediately releases it.  2) the second you walk away, the man comes over and resets the cheap, China made toys, firmly into the styrofoam, so it is extra hard to pick them up.  So the odds are stacked even higher against you.

Thankfully “Sint” brought here a giant sloth for her present!


Maebh and I had a drink in De Drie Gezusters on the Markt.   I just had to take a photo of the glass ceiling – cool right?!





We had a lovely short visit to Groningen.  The boys’ team tied and Maebh and I got to have a little fun.   While we didn’t leave with a stuffy from the fun fair, we did leave with a magnet for our fridge, some Groningen mustard and some yummy cheese from a lovely little shop which could be here in Den Bosch called De Bourgondier.    The worker (perhaps owner) was super friendly and informative and welcoming.   Highly recommend!!


It was a fun time and a great city to explore.   In the summer there is even more to do outdoors.   I look forward to returning but have other cities I want to see next including:  Delft, Gouda and Haarlem.


Sinterklaas Surprises – Love It or Hate It It’s a Dutch tradition and we LOVE it!

Sinterklaas Surprises – Love It or Hate It  It’s a Dutch tradition and we LOVE it!

Sinterklaas Surprises – love it or hate it – it’s tradition!  If you have kids group 5-8, chances are your kids are required to make a “SUR-PRE-ZUH” leading up to Sinterklaas.  If you are new to Netherlands, you might not want to get caught off guard and show up with something less than expected – might be uncomfortable for the receiver and of course your child the giver.  This mom writes about her experiences on a local site.

Last year was our first full school year in the Netherlands, so it was our first experience with “Sinterklaas Surprises” and celebrating Sinterklaas.  So we made our own family celebrations  and then each year we add (or subtract) or edit.  This year the kids were looking so forward to all the festivities.  But as we also celebrate Christmas, they knew not to expect too many gifts on the 5th.  Also this was the first year we had two non-believers so it made it easier to set expectations.   Though it was quite sad at the same time as M – who had been questioning it all along was apparently told by the teacher – grrr!  So in the end – she was more mad that sad – asking “how could you lie to me for so many years?”  She is over it now but there was one full night of unconsolable drama and tears….

All in all, what the kids were looking forward to most this year was the Sinterklaas Surprises at the school.  In fact, we visited Vlieland again but this time our plan was to head up on the 5th – so no movie this year.  But when we realized they’d do the surprises in the morning, we moved to the evening ferry so  they could be at school the entire day to participate.   Luckily our school has a study day the next day, so we had the day off and could enjoy our time in Vlieland.   I’ll make a separate post about our time there.


You can see from this year’s surprises, some kids with and without help from parents spend a lot of time and thought into the surprise and others not much.



For a child receiving a present which  is GEARED TOWARDS THEM and THEIR PERSONAL INTERESTS & HOBBIES is very special.   Perhaps even especially for girls. They even fill in forms to include their hobbies and interests along with things they do not like.   So with that said, even if you have not a creative bone in your body, a simple google search will turn up tons of ideas like this Pinterest board with nearly 300 ideas50 Nice & Easy Sinterklaas Surprise Ideas!   It is really not that hard to create a surprises but I guess you have got to want to make it and not treat it as a nuisance.

Sadly unlike last year, where she received an amazing surprise – a purple ice skate, [which is still on display in her bedroom] this year, she received one that was let’s just say more suited for a child who plays soccer and probably created in less than 10 minutes the night before.  

So for her and rightly so, she was a bit disappointed.  But as the is a mature 9 year old, and a nice girl, she didn’t get upset or cry, but you could tell when she brought it home, she was disappointed.   I wonder what this boy’s reaction would be if he were to receive a ballet slipper whipped together in less than 5 minutes – I’m sure he’d pout!  Anyway, this was her surprise and it goes down in the record books and went out in the next days recycling.


My son received one right up his alley – a “MEME”! As he is always posting MEMEs on his friends app and sharing them with me so it was really perfect!



Here are the suprises my kids gave – along with a typed poem – the one of the left was a punch surprise – inside each hole was treats and a big chocolate letter inside.    And the dog looking cat (ha ha) was made out of fluffy cotton balls – inside the tiny box in the front was a package of washi tape and inside was also a giant chocolate letter.




On the 5th there is a bit of a class party, Sint and some Piets visit the school, etc so I baked Sint cookies for both kids to take to school.  Extras were given out to the administration, teachers and helper as a thank you.   In fact, as I’m still starting out with my cookies, I did two rounds.

This first photo were of my first set of “oefenen koekjes” = practice cookies which I shared with local kids and my Inburgering classmates.   I picked up this cookie cutter for €1.50 at Dille & Camille but I found it a bit too small.


Second photo were the actual cookies which were brought into school.  I ended up ordering online a larger Sint cookie cutter for €2.50 from Koekdesign.nl and it was perfect!    I put the in plastic baggies as I assumed some kids would take them home, but turned out they all ate them there.  Good to know for the future – no bags!   Now that I have PME 00 and 0 tips,  I know I can do a better job but they kids thought these were wonderful as is so I was happy about it and they did taste good (according to my kids). 
I never eat decorated cookies – I LOVE making and decorating but I don’t eat them. 


I’m going to make some Winter themed cookies for their Kerst Dinner.  I’m thinking Extra Large Snowflakes, Xmas Trees, Hot Chocolate Mugs . My son asked me to also make my chili, so I’ll do both.

UPDATE:  Here are some photos of the cookies I made for the Kerst Diner –  slowly I’m getting better with consistency of the icing- still can’t get icing through the tiny  0, 00 and 1 PME to allow for fine details as hoped.   So while the tiny details are still a problem for me, I’m sure the kids are going to love these cookies – or at least I hope! 


Maebh had a friend over and they decorated some cookies – but using buttercream frosting instead – as there was not enough time to let the royal icing dry.  Here are two photos of their beautiful creations! They are very excited to bring them to school to show their masterpieces.


While they have 350+ days to wait until next year to start again, the thought of next year’s Sinterklaas Surprises is exciting!

If you are reading this and have an opinion on the whole tradition of Sinterklaas Surprises, do let me know.  Do you love it like us or do you dread it each year?


Bouwdorp Construction Village Camp

Bouwdorp Construction Village Camp

This summer, the kids participated in a week-long building construction village “Bouwdorp” called MiniGestel – in nearby village, St. Michielsgestel.    They happen all over the country around the same time of year (last week of summer vacation which varies depending on your region) and our kids LOVED it!   Growing up in the US, I NEVER had anything like this – which I’m 100% sure due to liability and insurance reasons.   The closes we had was a bit of woodworking at the local YMCA day camp.   So thankful that my neighbour told me about this program.


Honestly the first couple hours, it took a bit of getting used to as kids (age 4-12) with hammers, nail, saws just left to themselves to build huts at first I was like umm – is this safe?  Some are like 10 feet tall – I thought I hope it doesn’t collapse with a few kids inside but I guess you have trust your kids and hope they are not going to get hurt.  Also, many parents help the kids get the base of their huts established day 1 so they were probably very confident in the structure and sturdiness of the huts.   Small kids are a bit more supervised by the volunteers, but overall there were a few scrapes but no major injuries in our group!  I made sure they wore hiking boots to protect their feet a bit from nails. But as I said, our kids loved it and unless we are away, there is no way they won’t force me to sign them up again next August.   Hopefully I can convince my hubby to take the morning off on the first day as us moms could REALLY use his height and strength.


It’s only a 10 minute drive so not so bad.   They did it with some kids from our neighborhood and school, but next year I think Soren will join his friends from his class.  He wants to be with the “cool older boys – ages 11 & 12” and not with his 10 year old sister and younger kids as the oldest boy – but was a big help often found up on the roof!


Starting 1st of July, you can buy day tickets for €5.00 but we purchased a weekly ticket €20. per child for the construction village at the Albert Heijn, Hema, Oetelaar Schoenmode in St. Michielsgestel en Willy Schellekens (Gemonde)  This includes a lunch – bread with a slice of meat or cheese and a drink.   They get a bracelet with a barcode which you register and that is scanned in and out each day as your child enters and exits the village so security is tight.  So no worries about them wandering off!

The gates open daily at 10 a.m. and close again at 4 p.m. Except on Friday, they open at 9 a.m. and close the gates at 12.30 p.m.

In addition to the construction activities, a daily newspaper, additional activities are also organized during the day like games so I won’t include those but generally this is how the Mini-Gestel week looks like – all in an out of space theme.



The gates will open at 10 a.m. with a ceremony.  Once the gates open you immediately build your own huts until closing at 4 p.m.  This day is sort of crazy – when the gates are open small kids go to the left and big kids to the right.  We built out hut right by the pile of wood so no need to lug far – it was IDEAL!!   There are two huge piles of wood and this is where you see kids and parents working together rather quickly.  Adults can help out the kids at the start so you see big men grabbing the best wood pieces, doors and planks of plywood and start off the huts for the kids (no electric drills allowed).  Parents need to leave by 11 am (I think) so it’s a real rush to get the base for the kids set up ….   Kids bring their own hammers, work gloves (if they want) but they supply tubs of nails and of course, the piles and piles of wood which you see dwindle down over the course of the week until there is nothing left. 






Do you want to become mayor or alderman of this village where nothing is too crazy? Then you can sign up today for the mayor election and you will have to campaign in the village to win as many votes as possible! Also today there is the ‘who does what race’ so that sweats are blown. The huts are being painted today.  You supply your brushes and pots, they supply the paint. 

This morning we have a farmer’s wedding in this year’s theme. Tonight the children of the primary school may, with the permission of their parents, finally stay the night in the hut or the big tent. That is why today the cabins have to be made rainproof and all cabins are inspected.  This year it was way to wet so they cancelled the sleep over – but our kids didn’t want to stay over anyway so no disappointment there. 

Today you can trade in flea market stuff with the cool Mini-Gestel euros. It is namely market day in Mini-Gestel.  This was the BEST DAY EVER!  The kids brought in toys from home to see and it was a giant kids car boot sale.  They sold lots of stuff for great prices, but only issue was that at the end of the day, Soren had €15.50 Mini-Gestel bucks in his pocket as he didn’t spend his money on buying other peoples junk – great job saving!  ha ha


This morning there will be an auction. Who offers? The site will be closed at 12.30 pm so that you can all come back in the evening with your parents for the smashing village party with a playback show and numerous activities. (You need a separate ticket for this and we didn’t come back for this part).


From a parents point of view, it was great as it was affordable and the kids loved it.    We could also watch them on a live feed as our hut was right in the front.  That is my daughter in the pink … 


Hopefully the schedule works out next Summer (meaning we are not away on vacation) as they are really are looking forward to doing it next summer.   I think the general rule is that it is the last week of summer vacation so I’ll look for sign up and hopefully it will work out again this year.

There is one in Esch and Den Dungen  and the one in Vught has a lottery it’s pretty big. I heard Den Bosch Zuid has one and it’s small only 100 kids… but this was such a fantastically organized group, super volunteers and they are SO looking forward to doing it again next year here.


Terrarium making working at Werk aan de Winkel – MixStore – s’Hertogenbosch

Terrarium making working at Werk aan de Winkel – MixStore – s’Hertogenbosch

Yesterday I made my first ever Terrarium at Werk aan de Winkel  here in s’Hertogenbosch.   It was a lot of fun and while it sounds old fashioned and boring it wasn’t.



The store is so cute and filled with so many lovely things.   If I need a gift, this is where I’ll go here next.  I already know that I’m going to buy M the neon heart light for Xmas!









Many bars and restaurants in the area provide her with their jars and bottles for The Green Bar to use for her eco-systems and terrariums.  Love that!! So, instead of just recycling my glass blue Bombay Sapphire blue gin bottle, I’ll be brining them by for her to use as they actually use them for eco-systems, etc.


I actually organised this event for a group of International women who live in town.  Five of us attended so it was cozy and each person received loads of one-on-one instruction for their terrarium.   She even did the event in ENGLISH for us as not everyone speaks Nederlands well enough (if at all).   We started off with a cup of tea and some freshly-made pieces of a cake.


How it works. 

The first step in your plant-making adventure is learning about your materials and then prep your planter.   She showed us a number of examples (both dry & wet) and told us all about drainage, soil types & nutrition so that our mini garden survive.

First we had to choose a glass container from a large collection which were set out on a table.  I chose a recycled roasted pepper jar with a strip of leather on the top.  Even the leather was recycled.   I found it rustic and thought it would be perfect for low plants.   If I was doing a wet terrarium, I would have chosen a taller one as the plants are taller.


With a wet terrarium you choose plants that like a humid climate, such as Ferns, Fittonias, Hypoestes, mosses, Tillandsias and Asperagus etc.  If you prefer cacti and succulents, like me, then go for a dry version.

She then explained to us step-by-step how to add different types of rocks to the planter, layer by later to be sure to get proper drainage before adding the soil – which you use different soil for wet & dry terrariums.


Once your planter is prepped, you’ll move onto actually adding your plants.  This was a fun part as this is where your personal style comes in.   I choose a furry cacti and not thinking the handling part through too well – ha ha.   All in all it was fine, not too many pokeys to pull out. 





The final step in your planting experience is decorating.   The dry ones are topped with tiny pebbles, and if you want you can add a few stones and a tiny creature.  I chose a Oeteldonk frog – after all we do live in s’Hertogenbosch 🙂


Once satisfied with your terrarium,  take it home to enjoy for as long as your heart desires.   You need to water it every once in a while to make them last as long as your memories of the event.

I’m not a green thumb at all – in fact, I own ONE plant and I’m surprised it has lasted as long as it as.   I normally kill every plant – even killed cacti in the past – I’m determined to keep this alive.

If you are interested in making one, it costs €36 and you can book online.  They have other workshops too and we’re now looking at booking a hand lettering workshop.