Sinterklaas & the traditions in our house!

This is our first year living in The Netherlands for Sinterklaas and Christmas…. so what do we do?  We certainly cannot stop celebrating Christmas – suddenly have the kids forget about Santas Claus and now believe in Sinterklaas and all story behind that.   Our youngest (age 8.5) “believes” in both Sinterklaas and the Kerstman, The Tooth Fairy, her Irish Fairy Fiona, and every other imaginary thing you tell her! Well – she knows the Easter Bunny is you know f@#e… but only because we never did that big basket of junk for the kids.  But they did attend a few egg hunts (which were staged and set up mainly from the grandparents) or a guy in a funny bunny suit. However, our oldest (nearly 11) told us this year in tears that “he knows”. Of course he does – it was only a matter of time. He was the one who told us (in front of his sister) that Fionas, the elves and my handwriting were all the SAME!  Which I had to offer a valid explanation to not crush her – clever guy…. but still keep it to yourself, don’t tell your sister.  Oh and for about two weeks this dragged on and on about how he now is ruined Christmas for life….I think a bit too much drama and it was used a crutch to avoid getting into trouble with things.   Sort of the white milk and cookie scenario when he was a kid but will give him a break 🙂 So how to do it??

Well, we’d maintain with our Christmas traditions (Elves (for now!), Santa, if possible cut down our Christmas tree, ice skating, Christmas Market) but we’d do a little bit for Sinterklaas too. Kids would receive three small gifts along with a letter from Sinterklaas telling them that this year they are new to the Netherlands and that he’d only be brining them a few things as they’d get more gifts at Christmas while other Dutch kids wouldn’t. They were TOTALLY fine with this!!  They loved that in his letter he gave some money with instructions to the movies and watch a holiday movie – which we did – we went out and watched the Grinch on Pakjesavond.

So our first annual Sintaklaas tradition is to go to the movies on his birthday!! 🙂 Also, we went to Vlieland for three nights and will hopefully continue to do that as a tradition of heading to one of the Wadden Islands with friends.

So …starting on Dec 17 and every few nights during the period when Sint was in The Netherlands the kids put their shoes out in front of the fireplace – sang a few songs and magically the next morning, they received a few treats and every now and then a tiny present which were all bought at the Wibra! The day after Thanksgiving (see another twist) Asteroid and Pixie, their mischievous elves showed up and got into their candy!

I won’t even discuss those elves – they took a break last year and visited another family who needed help as our kids were very good. This year the kids really hoped they’d return so they did… oh do I regret that. Each day I go to bed early, I forget to move them… so now they often just sit in the same place for two days in a row – or if I remember, they join the kids in bed – ohhh how adventurous. You’ll see – a few years ago, I was very good with them…. I had a whole 30 days on my facebook dedicated to them…. this might be their last year with our family…. might be time for them to ‘retire permanently’.

Oh yeah I nearly forgot – one of the best parts of the evening was that the next door neighbour banged on the door at 5:30 pm so during dinner, suddenly the widows and doors were being banged on and it was so loud it scared the crap out of me and M. Then  the kids ran to the door to find the presents laying there … typical how did Sinterklaas get those gifts inside questions begin….


Then there was a big surprise for me which was the “SINTERKLAAS SURPRISE” which happens at school. In case you are not familiar … it is a common Dutch practice for the older kids starting at upper primary school level (I think group 5 & above) to celebrate Sinterklaas in the classroom by opening a “SURPRISE”. Pronounced as “sur-pree-zuh”. It essentially mirrors a Secret Santa gift exchange yet with exaggeration and you must be super creative and put your present inside an over-the-top crafted gift which goes along with the receivers hobbies or interests.   Now from what I understand the KIDS are to MAKE the gift and write the poem, but after watching an episode of De Luizenmoeders and seeing first-hand – sorry but many of those sur-pree-zuhs were created by the PARENTS and not the kids. I helped my kids a bit but no way did I want to show up with a super duper crafted item which clearly I did.  For some parents, it is clearly a competition and it is the parents who do the work on these things.   Maybe next year, I’ll help a bit lot more than this! 🙂

I think the whole Surprise is so great and so original. I love it and not sure why it never made it’s way to to the US, UK or Ireland. Sure we have grabs, Kris Kringle and the poems, but never the creative aspect of putting your gift inside something made about the hobby or interest of the receiver.  I love it and look forward to next year! 🙂 

On the same day, Sint came to the kids’ school along with his Piets which delivered peppernoten to the classrooms. Each group sang songs, etc. The kids had a great time!

As with all these holidays, it’s about being together as a family and we’re spending a few days together the the family here in The Netherlands. The family and kids from NYC will come in the summer, so we’re all be together then and will make up for this missed time then.   Last year my family came over so maybe next year we head back to the US?  

2018 was interesting to the say the least and I’m looking forward to 2019!

24 Days of Mischievous Elf on the Shelf Ideas!

So I was a little nervous this morning on how they kids would react to Asterioid and Pixie.  Thankfully, the two of them ran down stairs (together) excited to see where they were.  This posting will include all 24 days of their fun & mischief.   When possible, I will try to incorporate what the kids were doing that day, as I think it will be more fun this way.
For those who have never heard of it, click here.

Day 1: They were sitting on the table where they wrote “Hi” in the money found in their joint piggy bank.  I now only wish I put in some special “Santa coin or Elf Money”.

Day 2: The kids are going to find this one funny!  Both Elves took a role down the stairs.  I was more concerned with Nils stepping on one of their heads when he came up to bed last night.

Day 3: I know the kids are going to LOVE this one!  These army guys are “new” (and the kids don’t know they are theirs yet!)  I picked the entire set of them for £1.49 at the Salvation Army Charity Shop!

Day 4: I’m cracking myself up with the next one.  As I cleaned off the giant chalkboard wall, I thought I’d try and incorporate Android & Pixie on it for tonight’s mischief.   I originally had them on a table but when I saw the fire truck with the large ladder in the corner, I knew it would be perfect.

I’m going to do something with a map & Santa the day before Christmas showing his route from North Pole to Norfolk, with a stop in Boston, of course.  But for now I thought I’d get them thinking about their, “Wish Lists”.  I know that Soren wants a remote control car & Maebh a play kitchen, but it gives me some ideas.

Day 5: As I was putting out the kids cereal bowls, I thought it would be funny to have it seem like Asteroid & Pixie set it up for them.   Just can’t decide which way I like it the most … one head out or two?

Day 6: Rub a dub dub, two elves in one tub.  But then I thought Mr. Big Duck looks lonely so he joined in. When the kids came down to see them, I was still in bed.  So when they came back to report what the elves had done – Soren (in a very British accent) told me, “Asteroid & Pixie were playing with the duck in a big pan of cotton wool! You know the pan you made the turkey pie in?”

Day 7: 
Today after school, the kids were doing some crafts including glitter and snowflakes.  As expected, the glitter is EVERYWHERE and paper snowflakes are dangerous, but they loved it.  We had so many more “crafty days” back in Boston.   I hope to get more kid crafts going this winter.
So, it is  only fitting that Asteroid & Pixie wanted to have a “go” too.

Day 8:  
We put the trip up tonight, so it made sense that the elves would jump onto the tree.  But as they are pretty light, they fell out so they ended up at the top.  They are so going to something funny with the tree and the laundry later in the week.

Day 8:  Rocking Horse
So of course, Asteroid & Pixie had a ride on the horse, and they brought along Herbert the Penguin too.

Day 9:
 Playing a game of Memory with the tiny cards, I brought home today from a Christmas Cracker.  These, along with a small pile of cheapo plastic crapola toys, will end up in the trash can in the next day or so.  Soren & Maebh both love this game and Soren is so good at it.  He always wins!

Day 10:
  Today was the school’s Christingle at the Gresham Church.  While it was mainly for KS2, the little ones had the option to walk down with a candle.   Maebh actually didn’t want to do it, which I was totally surprised, as she loves to be up on the stage.  I think she was just so tired.

Anyway, I was originally going to cut open the orange and pretend they ate it, but then I thought he may become upset, and I do not want to ruin their my fun!

Day 11:  Soren & I put together a Gingerbread house for the Christmas Fayre Gingerbread Competition at the school. [I’ll make that a separate post.] Asteroid & Pixie got into the candy too and had some!

Day 12:  The kids have been receiving Christmas Cards at school from their friends and have some here which they’ll fill in this weekend, as I’m working and it’s something for them to do.  So this morning, they awoke to Asteriod and Pixie hanging upside down with the cards.

Day 13:
  The kids bought some homemade play dough from the school’s Christmas Fayre. A friend said that I put in a lot of effort to these elves, but really it took two minutes.  Rolling out dough, cutting it up with cutters.  Leaving it on the table and putting the rolling pin behind them is not complex and the kids enjoy it!

Day 14:  Last night, I went to bed late and didn’t do anything with Asteroid & Pixie.  I thought when I wake up early, I’ll do something with them.  But that didn’t work so well, as I didn’t wake up first like normal.  So both kids were standing in front of me asking me if they could go down stairs.  So quickly, I ran down and popped them in bed with Nils [his idea], as he is still sleeping downstairs due to the paint smell upstairs.

When they came downstairs, immediately they were on a hunt for the elves – and when they finally found them in bed with Nils, they were cracking up laughing.

Day 16: The kids brought home their two Christmas stockings from Beppe’s house yesterday, so tonight’s adventure was simple.. inside they go, done!  Yes, Maebh’s named is spelled incorrectly, it was a mistake made last year when it was ordered.

Day 17: The kids came down today to find Asteroid & Pixie had opened and drank the last smoothie from the fridge.  I had them pose with my beer first, but I think it’s not so funny for kids only 3 & 5.

Day 18:
 A quick wrap of the tree and I’m off to bed.

Day 19: The kids awoke to find a photo shoot in progress.  Asteroid was taking photos of Pixie hugging “Aleksandr Orlov” the meerkat.  At least someone enjoys him!

Day 20:  Sitting on eggs in the basket trying to hatch them.  The kids will get a chuckle…

Day 21:  Asteroid & Pixie got a hold the kids’ train sets and spelled out their names.

Day 22:  We picked up the kids some small planes at the Norwich Aviation Museum trip yesterday. On the way home, Maebh said the silly elves might play with the planes tonight.  She was right!

Day 23:  Poor Soren is sick – just in time for Christmas!  As he had a high fever, sore throat and cough, we stay home today and let him rest.  I’m sure Maebh will be sick tomorrow followed by Nils & I on Christmas.  Anyway, keeping with my plan to include something from the day, Asteroid & Pixie have to be sick too.  So no mischief for them tonight…

Day 24:  As Soren was still ill today, we skipped making cookies.  Hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow and Maebh will not be sick, so we can get Santa’s cookies done!

Their goodbye letter. I’ll take some photos later on when the kids actually hold Asteroid & Pixie.

Part of the big “finale”, the kids came downstairs this afternoon to find that Asteroid & Pixie sent them a message.  I recorded their reaction – which I found it so cute.  Part of the fun was that they were allowed to touch, hold and take Asteroid & Pixie outside of the house!
The kids were able to have a final cuddle, goofy play with Asteroid & Pixie when we read, “Little Red Riding Hood” a gift from Father Christmas at school.   Than that it is, they are gone, back to the North Pole with Santa tonight.  AKA boxed and far in the back of our hall closet hopefully never to be found by little hands.

I’m pretty that are a year or two of doing this, Ill be done with these elves and they’ll be on their way to another family! 🙂


Christmas Meals, Presents and Family Time

This year, we celebrated the Christmas holidays in England as an entire family.  10 adults and 5 children and one in Lise’s belly and there will surely be more in the future.

We had two Christmas trees – one pretty, gold one in the living room and one kiddie one in the dining area. Each day we took turns doing some cooking, cleaning, etc.   We did the traditional games of poker, watching of movies and loads of chats.  But this year with 5 little kids with the oldest being 4, it was really loud, crazy but fun.

We mixed it up this year and did what Italians do and had a feast of fish.  We had Brancaster Oysters, fish soup, salmon salad, smoked mackerel and fish cakes.  It was so delicious… As usual, Soren really wanted an oyster and had one.












Before heading up to bed, we set up some milk, cookies, carrots for the reindeer to enjoy during his stop off at Valley Farm House.  Santa left a note back for the kids thanking them all for the treats and for being good boys and girls.

Here is a view of Soren seeing the tree and Santa’s note.

The kids were all awake early to open their presents but we had to wait for Liberte and Neils to come over at 9 am.  Once here, the kids had a great time opening the presents.  Soren received his special lights and sounds Fire Truck with a ladder which goes up high in the sky and Hungry Hungry Hippos which was a huge request.  Plus a few more lovely gifts.  Maebh really wanted a Minnie Mouse bow and she got that, a wooden cash register machine, a pretty fancy dress and more.   All in all, they had a wonderful Christmas.

This video is a great showing of how he loved it.







We were broken up into teams of 3.  There was a lot of cooking and cleaning of many pots and pans but it was lovely.

Neils: Thai Prawn Coconut Soup
Nils:  Mini Beef Wellingtons
Jorinde: Mini Bruschetta Toasties

Tjibbe, Lise & Reolof: Leg of Lamb stuffed with garlic, Pomme Provencal, with Roasted Carrots

Hepzaba, Mark & Liberte:  Nigella’s Individual Chocolate Mousse and Oreo Cookie Trifles

Christmas cracker hats added some entertainment. The meal was very good and we were all stuffed.









Nils’ famous Mini Beef Wellingtons
The starter.




Nils & I took our kids up to Cromer to see the annual Boxing Day Swim – This will be it’s own blog but in summary there were about a 800 people gathered to watch 80 take a dip in the freezing cold water.



Keeping with Veenstra family traditions, we did our annual poems and grab gifts on Boxing Day.  The Poems were really great – very personalized and thoughtful.  The grab part was  a lot of fun and we had a bunch of laughs.  We took turns rolling the dice and depending on the number drawn, you did what was on in it.   Open a grab gift, pass to left or right, swap a present with another, take from one and give to another etc.  Some gifts were a box of massage oil, a large battery charger, candle stick holders, a box of dominos, a pair of leg warmers.   It was funny to see the competitive juices flowing and teams and strategies forming.
Jeltje prepared a lovely cheese tray complete with walnuts, grapes, various cheeses, crackers.
Liberte and Neils left on Sunday morning boat back to Amsterdam and Lise, Mark, Vaughn and Morrison went home on the night boat.  Jorinde, Reolof and Justus will stay until the 2nd and head back to Holland then on the night boat.
All in all it was a lovely week and everyone had a great time.  We ate so much, we probably put on about 5 pounds each!!

Leading up to the holiday, I kept saying I really want to get a photo of all five kids in the bath.  We didn’t get to do it, but we did mange to get three of the five in a bath.   One small injury on Soren’s back and loads of fun and laughs.








Crane Neck Christmas Tree Farm: West Newbury, MA

Today the four of us set out to cut down our own Christmas tree! Sure part of us was thinking it was terrible to cut down a tree, bu the other part was tarnished from last year’s experience we wanted it to be as fresh as fresh could be and wanted to start a new family tradition.

So after some research we decided to head to Crane Neck Christmas Tree Farm in West Newbury. Such a nice, family-friendly place. I vaguely remember cutting down our tree 15 years so with the McIntyre family but it’s completely foreign and out of my mind.

Upon arrival we were greeted and asked if we knew what type of tree we wanted to find. I said we had loved the look of the Fraiser Fir from last year but the experience with it dying with a week of getting it home was so poor, we wanted to see what they had first. One thing was for sure, I wanted to get a glance at their $5.00 trees, yep that is right, $5.00 trees! They were nothing worth taking but we had some laughs.

We were told the general direction of some trees which would fit our needs and off we went complete with a sleigh for pulling the tree back and a saw.  How fun, right!?  It sort of backfired on us as Maebh was so tired she cried and hated almost every minute of the expedition. Soren had a lot of fun and next year will just be better!

A little past the $50 and $60 trees was a little section of “discounted trees” with tags… well a few were terrible and most were half decent. I think we lucked out too because come tomorrow (Saturday & Sunday) I think most of the “cheapo” trees will be taken.

Enjoy the photos, we had a lot of fun!

Now that was cool for a 4 year old – this net thing took the three and made it smaller and manageable!

As we were leaving some horse riders were going by – a treat for a 4 year old!

Who knew that a simple wooden board with a snowman painted on it and a hole for a face could be so entertaining.


Can you believe it, we ended up with a FIVE DOLLARS tree and to some it’s a bit like Charlie Brown’s tree, I love it.  Once decorated it will be great!

More information about the tree farm can be found on their site.  With most tree farms, depending on their size, they have to let their trees catch up, etc.  So before you head off, call or check for their site for hours and their inventory – not point in going if they are not selling trees this year