Is it Hamster Time?

So I think we can all agree that this is a weird Christmas. No Christmas markets, no ice skating, no dinners with friends and family, just an impending sense of guilt and doom. I would like to offer a suggestion to help salvage this dumpster fire of a year and create a covid proof magical Christmas…

Is it Hamster Time?

I think the answer is YES! Hear me out!

The natural impulse is to get a dog. I know what you are thinking: I have all this extra time. I am at home so much. It would be great to take more walks and a dog would be the perfect incentive. A dog would totally ease the guilt I feel about the kids not having the magical Christmas I want them to have… I urge you to resist the impulse! I mean, if you want a dog nothing is stopping you (please consider a rescue dog) but I will remind you that dogs live a really freaking long time. My dog is now 20 years old. Yes, 20. He is deaf and mostly blind and he sleeps all day. He is still a super healthy and happy dog, though so that’s nice. We love our scruffy and hope he stays with us a while longer but jeesh. 20! One impulse Christmas purchase now could result in 20 years of walks in the rain before work, vomit on the floor, overturned garbage bins in the kitchen, vet bills, and yes, love and cuddles and all that as well. It’s a long haul investment!

So why a little rat type thing? I’m glad you asked. Fish are gross, pretty to look at but a major pain in the ass. The tank needs to be cleaned at least once per month and it’s a smelly, slimy ordeal. All for what? An animal that doesn’t even cuddle. Rabbits and guinea pigs are big. Basically oversized rats with bigger poop, bigger cages and no more cuddles. Birds are messy, loud and smell (never again in my house!). I won’t even go into the idea of owning crazy things like snakes or spiders, that’s just nuts. My daughter has been toying with the idea of a little pig. One of those tiny ones that lives in the house. I told her maybe after the dog is no longer with us. Anyone have one? Thoughts?

I have had many pets in my life. Most of them started out as a favor to someone who needed me to house their pet “for a short time while they got some stuff sorted out” (3 different cats) and the 3 rescue dogs that were supposed to be short term (one is Scruffy who will never die) and a bird who kinda adopted me. But a rat? NEVER. But kids can change your mind about things can’t they?

I swore I would never have a rat in the house. Gross little things pooping everywhere. One more thing I have to clean and take care of. We already have a cat and a dog, why more pets? Because my son became obsessed with hamster videos on YouTube. He started begging and didn’t stop. It was easy enough to put him off though. I was in the middle of a divorce, we were living in a caravan, OK so now we have a house but …… I had run out of excuses. There was no putting it off. He got a hamster for his birthday. We started out with a small cage that was given to us by a friend. According to the internet it was insufficient. We began the task of researching and upgrading the little beasts living arraignment. Soon, Minecraft Tornado (the hamster) had a cage fit for a king, or at least a very posh hamster. I was fine with it. He didn’t bother me. The cage has to be completely emptied once per month for cleaning and once a week or so it needs a freshen (this is to ensure the hamster stays healthy and keeps the house from smelling like hamster piss). Then, of course, my daughter wanted her own hamster. Fine, whats one more rodent? As we were in the store looking at all the furry little buggers and chatting with the nice hamster lady we learned that the two could not live together as I had thought. The lady actually looked horrified at the idea. Apparently, Minecraft would undoubtedly kill the new one. It’s a hamster territory thing. Who knew the fucking things were so fussy, they are rats after all. But, we were there, and the risk of a total 6 year old meltdown was growing by the moment, so I broke down and bought a second cage and I won Mother of the year. Introducing Red-stone Marshmallow. The kids are not permitted to name anything further until the Minecraft obsession ends, btw.

Just a girl having a hamster cuddle

For the first few months we admired their cuteness but little else. The kids actually help clean the cages when needed and make sure they have food, these were stipulations made at time of purchase. The little bastards kept biting me when I tried to pick them up, so I gave up. I mean who wants to hold a rat anyway? Apparently, my partner in crime. She kept trying, and kept trying. Eventually Tornado would permit it, I think the addition of dried mealworms helped immensely. The little buggers go crazy for them. Hamsters beg, I had no idea. It’s nuts to watch. They come to the side of the cage and climb around and bite the bars and do whatever it takes to get my attention. I dutifully feed them the dried mealworms until they get full and go back to sleep. Then one day the hamsters were begging for attention and the kids wanted to try again to play with them. It worked really well! We took them one at a time and put them in the kids lap and they explored and played. Not a single bite wound! Now we try to get them out of the cage in the evenings for a little cuddle. They get more and more friendly as time goes by and have almost completely stopped pooping on us! They are actually little members of the family now. Who would have thought?

This was a fun experiment with a box of tubes we found at a resale shop. I wouldn’t recommend this! It took ages to clean.

So what does your hamster need? A cage, ours like the multiple level ones because they have more room to play. A house with some cotton fluff in it. A bowl with really fine sand, they clean themselves by rolling around in the sand. Water, food, hay, and a wheel. Pretty simple, right? Oh, a little house that they live in with cotton fluff inside. If you get a cage new it will probably come with the basics. The cage we bought was pretty expensive, in my opinion, around 45 Euros, but it came with pretty much everything we needed. I did have to buy a bowl for the sand and realized how stupid I was for buying it at a petstore. It’s a freaking bowl and I paid like 5 Euros for it. Jeesh, how much do little bowls cost?!?! Since overspending on some items I realized that second hand shops are the way to go when it comes to hamster gear. We have upgraded both of the cages for pennies.

A note on the food. Apparently hamsters can be fussy so don’t buy a huge bag of food to start. I bought a fancy hamster food with all natural stuff like dried bugs, grass like stuff, grains, it looked like something that would be served in a fancy hamster salad bar. Now I am picturing hamsters at a hipster salad bar. One has a man bun. They are all drinking craft beer complaining about how Facebook is now too commercial. Sorry.. Your picturing it too now, aren’t you? Your welcome. I’m back….. do you know what the OG hamster did with the fancy food? He literally flung the stuff out of his cage. He would fling some out and then go to the corner and stare at me then go fling some more food out. I was shocked!!! Who told him he could have an opinion? And since when do hamsters have opinions? Apparently my fucking hamsters not only have opinions but aren’t shy about expressing them. The little shits. But we now have regular non fancy food that they love and it is actually cheaper. But probably in the same way that fast food is better and cheaper than salad but is killing people slowly. I’m going to choose not to think about it. I refuse to play “I’m doing this for your own good” with a hamster. Life is to short.

Another mistake we made early on was putting the cage in my sons room. After all, it’s his pet why not? Hamsters are nocturnal. I guess I knew that. It was logged away in my brain somewhere. But I didn’t put 2 and 2 together until the first night when I heard that wheel going at midnight and my son was complaining the next morning about not sleeping. Hhhmmm. Perhaps the hamsters are loud at night… Perhaps they should live in the living room where their nightly antics will not effect the sleep of the people… See how smart I am? I came up with that all by myself. Kids need sleep. See? Mother of the year! Really though, everyone will be much happier if they live away from the place that sleep happens.

So have I convinced you that a hamster is the perfect 2020 Christmas gift? You still have time. Start hitting the second hand shops now for cages and you will probably be ready to buy a hamster on the 25th. Think of all the magical moments over the Christmas break!

If I haven’t managed to convince you I would love to know why. Should I call my high school debate instructor and tell her that her lifes work is all for ruin because her student of 25 years ago can’t even convince strangers to share their homes with rats?

Maybe you already have one! Anything you would like to add to the hamster talk?

Cheers to a wonderfully calm Sinterklaas 2020

SO, the Christmas season is here. At this point I would normally be in a complete panic about getting everything done. All the magic that has to fit into a few simple weeks. It all starts with the Intocht and ends on New Years and there is no stopping in between.

I have always joked with Dutch moms about how easy Americans have it this time of year. First, there is Thanksgiving. It can be stressful, but it really is what you make it. For the Dutch people, Thanksgiving is a celebration of a bunch of religious refugees not starving to death because the Native population helped them out. If you would like more info about the history behind the holiday, leave me a comment and I will recommend some awesome podcasts for you. But Thanksgiving is all about the food. It can be a stressful shitshow or a laid back afternoon, depending on your family traditions.

Then the Christmas season kicks into full swing. Americans will tell you how miserable and stressful everything is but I will tell you, ya’ll aint got nothing on the Dutch.

There are a few basic “must do” things to have a fairy tale American Christmas.

  • Nail Thanksgiving. I mean NAIL IT. No matter how your family does it, do it right. The fam should walk away saying “damn, that Aunt Betty cooks a mean bird!” Or something like that.
  • Get the tree. Big or small, this is an event. I have memories of schlepping into the middle of nowhere to trudge through the woods to cut down our family tree. It was miserable. I hated it. I liked it better when we went to the empty lot by the TombThumb and argued with each other for an hour over a tree and even more when we bought a fake tree and skipped the drudgery all together. However you get the tree though, it must be up the weekend after Thanksgiving. No exceptions. You must also take magical pictures of the kids putting decorations on.
  • The obligatory picture with Santa. You must take the children to the shopping mall, stand in line and pray for that one amazing picture that will make the experience worth it. A nice Dutch comparison would be taking the family to the Keukenhof.
  • Christmas Eve. This will depend on the family but generally a ham is involved. It needs to be amazing, but not as good as Thanksgiving. Never as good as Thanksgiving!!
  • Christmas morning. This is pretty much a celebration of surviving. The kids tear through the presents, mom and dad drink mimosas (or was it just my family who got lit on Christmas morning?). Then the kids watch TV while Mom prepares yet another meal and Dad fusses about with the wrapping paper that is strewn around the living room.

That’s it! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

I refuse to acknowledge that stupid elf. Ya’ll did that to yourselves. That nightly misery is all on you.

Que all the Americans to say: “that is so much!! It kills me every year!” I will answer: Momma, I know. My point is that the Dutch take the crazy and step it up about 5 notches.

See, it all starts with the Intocht. You can read the specifics (I wrote ages ago)Christmas in The Netherlands – Part One: Sinterklaas is coming to town!!.

Here is a list of the Dutch parents “to do list starting mid November”

  • The Intocht. Parents are required to procure an appropriate costume for their children. They can either dress as a Piet or as Sint. Of course it is ALWAYS raining on the day so no one will see it anyways but these are the rules. You must research where the best arrival will be and get there early to get a good spot. You want to be able to see the old man riding that horse, bonus points if there is a boat involved. That totally ups the magic quota. The children must have bags to collect the candy given out by Piets. Side note: an intocht will be remembered and judged by the amount of free candy. I remember one year I had to sneak into the nearby grocery store and buy a bag to hand out to kids because our local party ran out early). Luckily, this event only lasts about an hour and then everyone can go home and take off their wet clothes.
  • Sinterklaas Journal. It’s a thing. It’s going to be hard for Americans to understand. There is a news program than comes on every night while Sint is in town. It’s like news meets comedy soap opera. There is always a problem when the big man arrives. One year the naughty and nice book was lost, another year the presents went missing. This year (lovely 2020) Sint is in quarantine and the Piets are being naughty. Families watch the saga in the evenings and the kids get daily updates about the status of the presents. I guess, we don’t. The kids also watch it in school. Do you believe that? IN SCHOOL! I get to hear about it daily, joy.
  • The shoes: The story is: While they are in town Sint checks up on the kids. Children leave out their shoes and when Sint visits after they are in bed he leaves them a small present or candy. Bonus points if the kids leave a carrot in the shoe for the horse (teach ass kissing early, right). Yes, magical for the children. But remember, parents have to shop for and stash an appropriate amount of “shoe presents” for the three weeks of festivities. Every family chooses how often presents are left in the shoes and how big they are. Myself, I am lucky to even remember twice, if I remember to buy things beforehand. This means that the magic happens on weekends after I have been to the grocery store and remembered to buy something. Never on weekdays (I got stupid and did this yesterday, a Thursday) we were late for school and covered in chocolate at 8:30. My fault). I was told that this year, because Sint is in Quarantine, the Piets are being super naughty and leaving the shoes in random places. Those silly Piets, giving mommy something else to remember!
  • Piet houses: There is one in every city center. Its a space for kids to go and do crafts and such after school. Its magical. Its great. Its crowded and busy and, because there is something different to do every week, we have to go multiple times. Awesome.
  • Sint residence. Well, the old man has to live somewhere! In every big city there will be one castle or farm or museum that will be a designated “Sint House”. REQUIRED VISIT. Luckily, the older kids will go with school. Unluckily, you will undoubtedly be asked to chaperone.
  • School Christmas dinner. This is a nice one, actually. All the kids bring a plate, fork and cup to school. When the kids go home the teachers decorate the class rooms for a festive dinner. Parents sign up to bring dishes, pot luck style. The kids get all dressed up and have a fancy dinner with their friends. Bonus points if there is a little parents drink in the school gym. I look forward to this every year.
  • School craft day. Parent supervision required. Wait, were these two after Sint but before Christmas? Maybe… I can’t keep is all straight anymore.
  • Surprise gifts. Older kids draw names and get a gift for another student. But wait, added torture, the presentation is more important than the gift. Pretty much this is homework for parents. Both the shopping for the gifts and the creating overly elaborate wrapping that is supposed to be in the shape of a thing..(Luckily, my kids aren’t old enough for this yet).
  • The big day, or night….. December 5th. The children go to school that day as normal. Sint delivers the presents in a burlap sack sometime after dinner. Simple version: put the sack outside the front door and either ring the bell, sneaky like, and let the kids run outside and find the presents. Big version: Hire a Piet or Sint to come deliver the presents in person. I have done both. My old neighborhood association would provide a few Piets and you could sign up for a 5 minute visit on the big night.
  • A chocolate letter: the first letter of the first name is a required gift for everyone in the house. BUY THIS EARLY! THE COMMON LETTERS WILL SELL OUT! Remember that children do not get gifts on Christmas. This is THE present time so go big or there will be tears at school the next day.
  • Don’t forget to engage in the lively debate that happens every year about weather or not white people donning full black face, big lips and a full afro wig is racist. This argument will be a DAILY occurrence and will make you want to pull your hair out. This Mommy on a Mission will come out and say: yes. it is racist. Time to change. Moving on!!!

Phew…I’m tired. Are you tired?

But’s not over… Not for Dutchies.

With Sint gone it’s time for Christmas. Now is time to get that tree up! Visit the Christmas markets! Sing carols and watch Christmas movies. See, Sint and Christmas are two completely different parties with different rules and traditions Sint is all about the kids. Dutch parents kill themselves to make this time so special. I think thats why the older and conservative people are holding on to Black Piet so hard. This is a magical time. Like American Christmas but on crack. It’s amazing really. But the crazy thing is that Dutch people don’t feel overwhelmed. They love all of it and get it all done with a flawless ease that I am in awe of.

I feel overwhelmed every year. As magical as this is for the kids I kinda miss the simplicity of American Christmas season. But, I will say that when I started writing this I felt relieved that I didn’t have to do it all this year, but as I end this post I realize that I actually miss it. Or maybe I miss complaining about it? That could be it!

Are you looking for more awesome content about Christmas in the Netherlands?

Christmas in The Netherlands – Part 3: Celebrate Like an Adult

Christmas in the Netherlands – Part 2: Celebrate Like a Dutch kid

Christmas in The Netherlands – Part One: Sinterklaas is coming to town!!

5 Essential Rules for Surviving Christmas Decorating With Kids


What’s normal anyway?

A lot has changed in the last three years. I’ve gotten divorced, lived in a caravan, landed a pretty decent job, found an amazing house to rent, and just last week ended that job. Oh, and stopped going to the gym, started eating eggs occasionally and discovered that I am pan (that’s the first time I have seen that in writing and it feels kinda weird). I really need to update all my “about me” descriptions.

Among all these changes I have learned a few things about myself. Mostly, I am strong as hell. I may have killed my liver in the process but I have managed to survive more than I ever thought possible. I am not bragging, I am only writing this because I have come to another realization: all women are capable of accomplishing anything. Through this journey I have met so many women who have survived through the darkest of times and, not only managed to come out the other side, but are thriving. We are strong and capable of anything and we need to come together and stop letting people tell us otherwise. *** Envision Melissa gingerly stepping off her soapbox.

What else have I learned? I am an extrovert to my core. I never would have thought that, I have always been the one reading in the corner and getting overwhelmed in crowds. Maybe it’s because having kids kinda forced me to step outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis, who knows? The realization how much of an extrovert I am didn’t come during the first Covid lock down (I say first now because I am pretty sure there will be another) although lock down nearly killed me. I don’t want to talk about Covid right now. I handled working from home while homeschooling two kids in different grades in a different language so horrifically shamefully that it deserves its own post and will surely make you feel better about your parenting. What gave me the most incite is my previous job. I had worked there part time and loved the people and the environment so when I was given a chance to work full time there I jumped at it. The job however went from projects and working creatively with lots of people to emails. Nonstop emails. Mind numbing, soul crushing computer work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it is perfect for some people but not for me. It felt like the people were taken away and replaced by two giant screens caging me away from the outside world. Maybe it would have been different if not for Covid, I’m not sure and it doesn’t matter. There was no way to get back to the job that I loved, so when my contract ended I decided that it was best for me to go explore the horizon, ride off into the sunset, to use all the strength I found in myself to create a life where I can use my skills and love of people in the best way I can manage. So I said goodbye to the team members who I love and left, grateful for the opportunity and for all that I was able to learn.

So here I sit, once again in interesting times.

So whats next?

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure. I thought a good start would be to go back to my roots and my beloved blog. My kids are older now and we don’t go out much anymore but I have some places we have been that I would love to share with everyone. But, like life, the content will change a little. I will also be going over all the old blogs one by one. Most are in desperate need of an upgrade and some I may get rid of completely. I hope no one minds.

I chose to title this little debutante style post “Whats Normal Anyway” because I have been wishing for my life to find some sort of normalcy for ages now and I have finally given up. There is no normal. My life is chaotic and imperfect and I doubt that will ever change. So we move forward, unsure of the outcome but sure of the fact that we are strong and brave and as long as we have people in our lives that we love and who love us in return, everything will be ok.

The Groningen Redemption

For those of you who have been reading my blog for the last few months you know that I have been spending a lot of time in Groningen lately and that, over all, I am not a huge fan. It’s a lovely city with lovely people (although they speak really weird Dutch that is nearly impossible to understand) but they it isn’t very parent friendly. It has great play areas with shit food and nice restaurants with no play areas, and no where seems to sell booze. It’s a recipe for a lot of outings with mildly annoyed parents. But I won’t get into that again, ya’ll have already read my insane rantings about it and if not you can read about it HERE.

corn maze. It seemed like a good idea at the time…

I was very excited to go during the warm months because there seemed to be some super fun stuff to do outside, and I was right. I’m not sure that I should call it a complete redemption (although I thought the title was pretty catchy) because I still haven’t found much worth while as far as indoors but the outside stuff made up for it. We went for 5 nights over the summer and we had a great time. First of all, the area is beautiful. There are tons of huge nature reserves with loads to do. We found lakes, beaches, parks and play grounds. Best of all nearly everything we did was free! I think it was the cheapest vacation ever. Sure, the food available for purchase was still shit but it was enough to keep the kids happy and I had no problem packing my own food. Actually, I kinda wish that there was less shit food on offer because my kids lived off french fries and discovered that they love a good frikandel (for the non-Dutchies out there its a deep fried meat log. Kinda alike a mix of hot dog and meatloaf that has been mushed to nothingness and then deep fried). It’s fine, we were on vacation. I packed fruit and healthy food and they ate french fries and meat logs. At least I could take some healthy stuff to balance out all the fried food. Don’t get me wrong though, I love well made french fries (but I’ll pass on the frikandel).

I highly recommend Griningen for a family holiday in the Netherlands (at least during the summer). The jury is still out on the colder months.

I’ll make a list of all the places we visited and link them to more specific articles soon. I have been so horrible about writing lately that I hope this helps me stay a bit more motivated.

So. where did I miss? What are ya’lls favorite spots in Griningen? Or other areas? I’m updating my list and cold use some ideas!!

Check out those super big rocks behind us! Not just rocks, special, super old, museum about them rocks. Stay Tuned!

The Next Chapter

I have been undecided about the best time to share this, then I decided that the best time is whenever I feel comfortable. Because I don’t really see a “best time”. After many years of marriage my husband and I have decided to go our separate ways. I am getting divorced.

I’m not going to get into the why right now, the simplest way to say it is that we don’t want to be married to each other anymore. Simple. OK, nothing about divorce is simple but you only get one chance at life and it is your obligation to yourself to be as happy as you can be. I won’t be doing any bad mouthing about the ex here either. He is a good dad and a good person. Sure, give me a few glasses of wine and the bitching about the ex will certainly happen but that is a right ex wives have. Lets face it, bitching about the father of your children (divorced or otherwise) with friends over a few glasses of Merlot is as integral to mom life as sweat pants and boxed wine (or is that just me?). And I’ll be willing to bet that all the husbands and ex husbands are bitching about us as well. I am lucky that the kids dad and I have a good working relationship and we both want what is best for the kids. We are sharing custody 50/50. I miss them like crazy when they are with their dad but I know that they are happy and it’s great that they can spend so much time with a daddy who loves them very much.

This process has been pretty horrific. And it is still ongoing, 2 fucking years later. This is due to complications with my Dutch residency and the incredibly lengthy, complicated and expensive process to get it sorted has been rough. You see, we have decided to stay in The Netherlands. We love it here. Despite all my complaining about the weather and the food I think it is an excellent place to live and raise kids. We are in. Watch out Dutchies, We are here to stay!! But this isn’t as easy of a process as I was expecting. This totally deserves it’s own post. I promise that I, very large glass of wine in hand, will write all about the process that has made me want to beat my head against a brick wall. And it’s not even over yet!!

But it’s time to start the next chapter in my life and this blog post feels like the first step.

Life will change but I have to think it’s for the better. I’ve got big plans and big adventures in store. Big changes and big opportunities.

I will still be writing about all the awesome places to take kids in the Netherlands but I will also writing more about my own personal adventures. I will also be sharing a lot on the YouTube channel.

Do you know about the YouTube channel? It’s still pretty new. I am working with the lovely Marta from Happy Beets to bring everyone super easy and delicious vegan meals that the whole family can be happy with. Together we will also vlog our adventures. It will be great fun! If you want to check out what we already have you can find us at Beets on a Mission . See what we did there? She is Happy Beets and am Mommy on a Mission…. Man are we clever!!

So that about wraps it up.

Lets go have an adventure!

Hullie Speelboerderij: Uden (Updated)

Hullie was never my favorite place to take my kids. I know that everyone has different tastes and that just because I don’t like a place doesn’t mean that it isn’t someone else’s favorite. Not that I don’t like Hullie, but to be fair it was never my favorite. We had year passes there for the longest time when my son was super little but as soon as Ballorig opened up we ditched them for Ballorig. In all fairness Ballorig is ten minutes away and Hullie is closer to 30. The other main reason for my dislike of Hullie wasn’t their fault, my kids were to little. At the time the had a super small little kid play area that didn’t keep Logan entertained for very long and that left me having to help him struggle through the big kid area.

I don’t know why I decided to go back a few weeks ago, honestly. The kids had a study day (teacher in service as we would say in the US) and on those days we generally do something pretty grand. Why not take advantage of a sneaky day in the middle of the week when everything isn’t so crowded? I considered The Keukenhof (did you read my post about it? Well, I decided not to go) but the day before was crazy hectic and I really didn’t want that grand. But I did want to do something a little special on their study day and we haven’t been to Hullie in a while so that felt like a good choice.

The first change I noticed was the addition of a cool kids pool outside. There are fountains and slides and such. Of course the water wasn’t on because it is still to cold so I will have to go back during the summer and check it out again. Beyond that I didn’t notice many changes at first. The main room you walk into first is the same. Tables to the left and a snack counter running the length if the wall. The other two main rooms are also unchanged. The super small little kids area, the big soft play and, in the second room, another giant soft play. There are tables in both rooms so there is still plenty of seating.

Big Room!!

These two big rooms are great. I don’t want to give the impression that because they are unchanged they aren’t fun. Trust me, they are plenty to keep any kid entertained for an afternoon.

The biggest changes are the little back rooms. There is a hall running the length of the building at the back. This hall led to a bunch of different rooms all with a different play bit inside. I didn’t like this at all. If I lost track of my little one it could take ages to find him in those rooms. Like I said, nothing really negative about Hullie just that my kids felt a bit to young to be wondering around unsupervised. Now instead of many rooms there are three. It is a huge improvement!

The New Little Kids Play Area

One room is a super big little kid play area! It even has more seating! I really wish it was there when the kids were little. The second room is a nice craft area. Kids can paint or color and can make the “craft of the day” with the help of a staff member stationed inside the room. This is especially great for kids like my son who can get overwhelmed with to much stimulation. He went in and made a craft, he was able to focus on a task in a quiet area and came out ready for more play time instead of getting tired and wanting to go home. Of course it’s not just for kids with sensory issues, my daughter loves crafting and spent a great deal of time there as well. The third room has around a million (just a rough estimate) big plastic legos. I thought Ballorig had a good supply of these cherished blocks but it’s nothing compared to Hullie. No chance of kids fighting over them here!

There is also a nice outside play area with loads to do. Play grounds and even a race track will keep the kids active on nice summer days.

My son’s favorite: The Craft Room

I’m mixed about the menu. There is nothing vegan but there are around 6 vegetarian options including the notorious Goat Cheese salad. You can always find a goat cheese salad on any menu in the Netherlands. In the past this was the one and only vegetarian option. It was a running joke between my vegetarian friends and I. “Is there anything I can eat on the menu? Besides the goat cheese salad, of course.” In that respect the menu is standard Dutch fare. But I will say that they do the food right. It is certainly a cut above a most other play places. I did have the goat cheese salad (I strive for 100% vegan but sometimes I have to give myself permission to bend a bit) and it was really good. The pizza sets them apart, though. They do a pretty damned good pizza. With an actual pizza oven and everything. I should have gotten a cheese pizza but I had had pizza the day before and was graving greens. Oh well, lesson learned. If you think you should have the pizza go with your gut and order the pizza. This time a server actually came to the table. I’m not sure if that’s new or if it was because they weren’t very busy. But whatever the reason, it was nice not to have to stand in line at the counter to order. It made the afternoon feel more like taking the kids out for a meal at a place with a play area and not like suffering through a soft play and spending a fortune for the privilege.

The Goat Cheese Salad

So that’s Hullie (Updated). I considered rewriting my original post but I thought this would be easier and I’m nothing if not lazy. I’m not sure how often we will be going back, honestly. If the kids ask for it I have no problem taking them back, though. After all, my main issues with the place have been resolved. I would appreciate a few vegan options on the menu. I mean how hard is it to keep some veggie patties in the freezer so a veggie burger can be on offer?

Head over to Hullie and let me know what you think of the upgrades. I will probably write a part 3 then the weather gets nice and focus on the outside. I think it’s cool enough to warrant it’s own post.

Do you need a refresher on what it looked like before? Check out my original post!

Do you know of any other places I need to check out? Please leave a comment and let me know!


An Open Letter to Groningen

OK Groningen, we need to talk. I know ya’ll are trying, I really do. I just think that, in the realm of “kids activities” ya’ll could use some help. And please, don’t think of me as a pesky foreigner coming in and telling ya’ll what’s wrong. And don’t think of me as an annoying Southerner thinking I’m better than the Northerners. In reality, I’m neither. Having lived here for over ten years I consider myself pretty assimilated (after all I have been known to enjoy a vegan bitterballen as of late) so I’m not really foreign but since I wasn’t brought up Dutch, the culture isn’t ingrained yet. Just think of me as a friendly little Mommy blogger who has some thoughts on how to make parenting a bit easier and a lot more fun for us parents up North.

We are in Groningen pretty often lately, with and without kids. We now have family there and it makes for a convenient vacation. It’s nice to spend time with family and explore new places to play. The first time we came with the kids last year we had a blast. We were only here for a few days so it was no problem finding ways to entertain the kids. After all, there is a Ballorig here! What more could you want?

But things got a bit weird. The Ballorig in Groningen DOESN’T SELL WINE OR BEER.

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

One of the reasons I love Ballorig so much is because my kids can run amuck while I sit on a comfy white couch and have a glass of wine. Perhaps I read, perhaps I have a chat with some other moms, perhaps I will write posts for my little mommy blog in the hopes that someone will find them entertaining and useful. The point is: I want to make my kids happy while I am enjoying myself. Take away the glass of wine (and there were only like three couches in the whole damn place) and it’s just a horrible building full of shrieking kids and me in the big middle of it grumpy as hell and drinking Fanta like a child. I’m an adult, damn it! Give me a beverage that matched my status as such! I spoke to the staff and they said they said that the company wouldn’t let them but that’s about all they had to say. Honestly after the next day I had forgotten about it and the rest of the vacation passed uneventfully.

This most recent trip was a bit more frustrating.

It’s a difficult thing and perhaps if I haven’t been living in North Brabant for so long I would have noticed so much. I think I may be a bit spoiled. I was also told that because the North is Protestant and the South is Catholic there are striking differences in the culture. I was raised Catholic and I thought we were as conservative as it gets but I realize I was dead wrong. At least we have Carnival to look forward to.

You see, everything is super nice in Groningen. The playgrounds (that I have found) are acceptable, we found an amazing kinderboerderij (this translates to “children’s farm” and it’s basically a petting zoo) and we have discovered some really fun indoor play places and such. Unfortunately everything so far has been just short of awesome.

I’ll explain.

BTW: I plan to write individual blog posts about the places we visit in the (hopefully) near future and I will link them in this text when I do.

Grumpy face after being told there is no beer.

First we visited Stadspark in Groningen. The GPS pissed me off a bit because it literally said “you have arrived” while we were still on the highway with no exit in site but we manages to find it. It is the city park and it seems really big. We went straight to the play areas because , although we walked for about 5 minutes from the parking lot to the park my daughter was already crying that her legs were tired and that she was bored. Four year olds, am I right? The park itself was pretty basic. It was great for the little one but my seven year old was bored. The petting zoo was tops, though. We loved it. Then came the time for us to sit in the sun and the kids have an ice cream and the adults have a beer. The look of shock and horror on the face of the woman running the kiosk when I asked for a beer was amazing. If she had been wearing pearls she would have grasped them in absolute horror. Then she started laughing. The man who was working with her made a snarky comment like “it’s not even 5:00 yet” or something (but in Dutch. Not even real Dutch. Northern Dutch where it’s all R’s and an entire sentence is mashed up into one word somehow). Insert “Sorry, not Sorry” for offending an entire region. I was pissed. Again, I am a fucking adult. I carried that little monkey running around for 9 months without alcohol. Then I breast fed for a year, also without alcohol (mostly, I was able to pump a bit for the occasional night out), and I did it twice!!!! And it’s not like I’m asking to shoot tequila out of the belly button of a stripper. I wanted to sit in the sun and enjoy an adult beverage whilst the kids play. But no. No beer for me.

This became a trend. Apparently it isn’t common to serve beer and wine at play places. I am amazed. I almost launched into the “where I come from” speech a few times during the trip but managed to hold it in until we were in private. Why can’t I enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer while my kids play? I am an adult, after all. It’s bad enough that I have to come to these places why not attempt to make it slightly better by rewarding me for my effort with a tasty adult beverage? Let’s be honest, I only take the kids out because they enjoy it and therefor my life is made easier. I will judge a place on how much I am able to enjoy myself as well.

Another thing I have found is there is a lack of restaurants with decent play areas. I’m not going to start comparing Groningen to Eindhoven but, wait.. I am going to compare them. I can start listing nice places to eat with play areas around Eindhoven at the drop of a hat. The place is silly with them. Pancake houses on every corner, play areas everywhere, some with child minders in the play areas to care for the kids! I thought it was normal, nope.

Fine Dining? No. Please put something decent on the menu!

Groningen. Listen. Parents want decent food. We want to be able to go out for a meal as a family but we don’t because who wants to take the kids to a normal restaurant? Then what do we have to look forward to? A crying child who wont sit still and us shelling out a small fortune to keep our kid entertained and not actually enjoy the food we are paying for. PUT IN A PLAY AREA!! And I’m not talking about coloring. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about. If you want some ideas have a look at my blog. Inspiration everywhere! Look and learn because we parents just want our children entertained while we have a decent meal and we are willing to pay for it.

And on the subject of food. The play places all had one major flaw, either they didn’t serve booze or the menu was complete crap and sometimes (in the case of the local Ballorig) both. This was also a trend. We find a nice play place but there is literally nothing on the menu but deep fried snack and absolutely nothing vegan but the french fries. We found an amazing indoor play place. It was huge, served wine, looking good, but then the menu…. Nothing. Literally, I ate a CHEESE TOSTI. I was desperate. Seriously folks, Parents need to eat just like the kids and most of us don’t want a freaking tosti. I’m not asking for fine dining here but a gezond sandwich would be nice (for heavens sake I never thought I would be begging for a freaking gezond without the ham), I’ve never been anywhere that didn’t at least have a handful of sandwiches on the menu. Until I went to Groningen. I will say it again, I am amazed.

So I see a trend in Groningen. No one is even trying to make the parents happy. The play places, although amazing for kids, are pains in the ass for the parents. It’s like everywhere we visited forgot that no matter how much the kids love going to a place, it’s the parents that have to bring them and the parents who are ultimately spending the money.

We will continue to vacation in Groningen because we really do love it there. I’m excited to explore more during the summer because there seems to be loads to do outside.

But, if there is one thing to take away from this post it’s this. Make parents happy because it is us spending the money and I promise we will spend more if we aren’t miserable.

Do I have any readers from Groningen? I would love to hear from parents in the area. Am I missing something? Are there cool places I haven’t found yet? I would love to hear from you!!!!

This was a random bit of the park we found. Pretty, right?!?

Kings Day or Koningsdag: The Netherlands

Kings Day is probably the most confusing holiday in the Netherlands. There is no rhyme or reason to it that I can find. It’s is pretty much whatever you want it to be.

Feel like sorting through all your old crap and sitting outside haggling with some of the cheapest people on the planet? This, my friend, is your day.

Fancy getting a bargain on some old rickety furniture and kids clothes? Welcome to Kings day, friend!

Is your favorite color orange and fantasize about covering yourself in it from head to toe? You are in the right place!

Enjoy day drinking without any form of social judgment? Pull up a chair!

Tired of being the only one getting blackout drunk while walking the streets of the local city singing horrible music loudly in the middle of the afternoon? Brother, today you aren’t alone!

Not that long ago (in a land far, far away. wait. nope) Kings day was Queens day. Wait. What? This holiday is so confusing that it’s hard to keep track of what it’s even called. Just to spice things up it’s even on a different day, now. One of the great joys in Dutch life is laughing at the tourists with an old guide book. How can you spot them? They show up in Central Station Amsterdam on the wrong day wearing all orange. Then they stand there in their little huddle, confused as hell and consulting the outdated guide book that started all the trouble in the first place. Pro tip, buy a new guide book. It’s worth the 10 Euros not to look like an idiot.

Some background: It was first Princess Day and then that Princess became queen and the name was changed to Queens day. The official date of the holiday shifted as Queens came and went until 1949 when Juliana took the throne (I always love that saying. I picture someone running down the street carrying a chair over their head) and it settled on April 30th. There was another Queen after that named Beatrix but she decided to keep the date the same. I had a Dutch person tell me that her birthday was in the winter and who wants to get black out drunk in the middle of the afternoon in the winter? Oh wait, that’s what carnival is. So there, winter is covered. When the current King took over in 2013 the whole thing was changed from Queens Day to Kinds Day and it was moved to his birthday on April 27th. Unless of course, that the 27th falls on a Sunday. Then Kings day is shifted to the 26th.

Yep. Confusing.

I think everyone is pretty used to the change now but I don’t think people were thrilled about it at first. It was always perfect weather in Queens day. It was crazy, always perfect. People worried that the change would disrupt the track record. I don’t know, but there have been two rainy Kings days so I suspect the people were right.

The day begins at the crack of dawn with people setting up tables and laying down blankets so they can have a clear out. There are designated places for this in every city. It’s not free, if you want to sell your old crap you have to reserve a spot ahead of time. It’s like a giant flea market. It’s a lot of fun, if you are into that sort of thing. I always look for plastic “outside toys” for the kids. One year I found a good sized multilevel garage with attachable road that the kids have been playing with for years. It lives in the back yard and when it has reached the end of it’s life I will recycle it and all will be fine. I’ve found some nice kids clothes in the past as well.

There is always lots of music and food and things for the kids to do. Our little village generally has a bouncy house and a small petting zoo. One year there was a non profit organization giving away plates of cut up fruit. I’m almost totally Dutch now so the idea of getting anything free is super exciting. The Kings day market combines the three things Dutch people love most in the world: day drinking, trying to get a bargain and deep fried snacks served from a truck.

I lived in The Netherlands for YEARS and never knew there was a market. Before I had kids I was much more interested in the other side of Kings day. Bring on the day drinking!!

You see, I live in Eindhoven and there isn’t a market in the city center. We would take the bus into town early afternoon and meet friends for a few drinks (and then a few more most likely). There are stages set up in the open areas with bands or DJ’s playing. Everything is festive and fun.

Market? What Market?

And you have to wear orange. Not just any orange, though. It’s a very specific orange and wearing the wrong color, although not punishable by death or anything, is just as bad as not wearing orange at all. Just find a HEMA and you will be sorted. Trust me, you won’t have any problem finding something to wear.

I think that about covers Kings day. Think about it like Carnival. Take it for the weirdness it is and enjoy. And don’t forget cash.

Keukenhof, The Netherlands

I was asked yesterday (I think though maybe it was two days ago) why I have never written a blog about The Keukenhof. I have to admit I didn’t have an answer. I have been many times while living in the Netherlands and generally enjoyed the experience. Every year I contemplate taking the kids. Even better, every year I promise myself I will plan a grand adventure and rent bicycles and bike through the tulip fields taking magical pictures of my joyous kids. Then we would stop for a picnic on this perfect sunny day and I would feel pro Dutch and all my friends on FB would be jealous of my perfect life amidst the tulips.

I have never planned that biking trip and I only took the kids to the Keukenhof once a few years ago. It was a less that joyous experience. I mean, it was fine. I’m not sure what I was more annoyed with: my kids at the Keukenhof: the tourists at the Keukenhof, or myself at the Keukenhof.

My kids: They can’t touch or pick the flowers. There was a lot of grass they couldn’t walk on. They were bored and moany and just wanted to run around and climb on things. I said the word “no” more on that day than I do in a month and it got really stressful. Looking back, I should have implemented a “stay on the path” policy from the beginning. Or, maybe, just chilled the fuck out a little. I was still in my “perfect mom who doesn’t raise her voice and never drinks” phase of parenting. I imagined people judging me for my boisterous children interrupting their serene tulip viewing experience. I am certainly not that person any more. Thank goodness. It was so very stressful.

The Tourists: Fucking hell I can’t tell you how busy it was. There were people everywhere. All standing around, taking pictures, pointing at things, just overall being annoying. I completely understand that they thought the exact same thing about me, but whatever. My personal bubble is sacred. Closer to closing time it started to empty out a little and I enjoyed that last hour or so very much. I felt free to move around and let the kids run (the website even says that the best time to be there is first thing in the morning or just before closing time.

Me: I was nuts. When someone asks me what I think of the Keukenhof my standard reaction is “driving 2 hours to spend a small fortune to hopefully get one pretty picture of your ungrateful kids in front of a pretty flower” (I’m such a delight, aren’t I).

Logan, honey, sit next to your sister. No, not like that. Like this. Can you put your arm around her? NO? OK. I can work with this. Can you look at the camera, honey? Why are you making that face? Just smile normal. Riley, baby, look at mommy! Look at mommy! (she was still pretty little at the time) Logan, remember. NO!! STOP! PLEASE!!!!!

Repeat that for an entire day. I was a crazy lady on a mission. Again, I am a much softer, gentler, boozier (if that’s even a word) person now so I think it would go differently now but that psycho mom still scares me a little.

Two tired babies at the end of a very long day. Thank goodness for that wagon!

So what would I do if I were going to the Keukenhof with the kids tomorrow? First of all, layer. It is colder up north. I would resist the urge to put the kids in their prettiest clothes for the pictures and embrace the fact that they will most likely be wearing a coat or at least a sweater all day so that might as well be warm and comfortable. I would bring LOADS of snacks, an army runs on it’s stomach, after all. It is so freaking expensive to get in that I can’t afford eating out there all day as well. But this brings me to another point… How are you going to transport all that food (and for the love of god don’t forget the juice boxes)? We have a red wagon that I bring on all day outings like this. It’s big and often difficult to navigate through crowds but I think it’s worth the bits of frustration. The kids are still at a size where they can both sit in with the food bags but it is a super tight fit. I would also save the playground for later in the day. After lunch or later in the afternoon if possible. I have known parents who started in the playground and found themselves stuck there for most of the day and when they left, the kids cried that they were bored and wanted to go back. Get the boring stuff out of the way first.


You can take a car or public transport. There are plus and negatives to both, right? I mapped out the trip by car and door to door it will take just under two hours. It will take 2 hours 45 minutes bu public transport. If you drive you will have to pay 6 Euros to park and pay for gas (in my car it takes about a half a tank of gas to get to Amsterdam so it would be about the same. So for me that’s around 35 Euros). If you go by public transport you will have to pay for 2 buses and at least one train. For more than one person it is, unfortunately, probably cheaper to go by car although I did see a special on the NS App for public transport and entrance for something like 35 Euros and that’s a good deal. But I have no idea if that’s a limited offer so check it out and don’t get mad at me if it’s gone. Why is it so expensive to take the train here? I know they are nice and well cared for but jeesh. It souldn’t be cheaper for two people to drive than to take public transport, but whatever.

If you want all the specific details you can check out the website. Luckily it is in English. Keukenhof

The flower was giving her a kiss.

So why am I writing this now having not been to the Keukenhof in a few years? Perhaps it’s because I was asked why I hadn’t written about it. Perhaps my backlog of super awesome places is massive and I thought I could start catching up on it (this is totally true). In reality, I think I am trying to convince myself to actually take the kids this year. I’m a calmer parent, my kids are a bit older, and I’ve developed this amazing “fuck you, I’m nearly a native” attitude that is essential in dealing with HORDES of tourists. After all, I can now handle Amsterdam like a champ. But the ideal day would be on a study day that is coming up and I have a super busy day before that and I’ll have limited time to prep. And it is super expensive. See that? I’m already trying to talk myself out of it.

I would like to take them this year. If I do I promise a post about it and I’ll update anything that is needed. But I’m not going to promise anything.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy more pictures of my kids in front of flowers. After all, a lot of blood sweat and tears went into them so I feel they deserve a bit more than that one FB post.

Do you have any other tips for a grand day out at the Keukenhof? Please leave them here and help a momma out!

Or, I would love to know why you would or wouldn’t take the kids to the Keukenhof!

Women’s March on Amsterdam 2019

Two years ago, after the election of the 45th president of the United States we took to the streets. We did not march, as the right would like to believe, because of the loss of our candidate. We marched (or at least I marched) out of fear.

The right would have everyone believe that the women who marched on that day were militant women, ugly, man hating women who wanted nothing less then to destroy the family structure and values in America. They (we) were an assault on everything good and pure. The reality is far different, at least for me. As I said, I marched because I was afraid. I was deeply afraid of the most powerful office in the The United States being held by a man who said that he could do whatever he wanted with women and he would get away with it because he was famous. I was afraid of what the future held when a man who claimed he could “grab a woman by the pussy” was shaping decisions for me and all women. I decided that I would join my sisters in an attempt to remind the world of our power as women.

So, on January 21, 2017, we donned our uniforms (a pink pussy hat, I have a lot to say about this hat but I will save it for another time) and as a group of like minded women, about 20 of us from Eindhoven took the train to Amsterdam for the march. It was such a powerful day. One of the greatest and most uplifting in my life (below my kids being born at least. But lets face it those two days were magical in the end and miserable throughout so perhaps they should be on different scales). The energy on that day surged through the crowd like a wave of hope. We were enacting change. We were coming together in unity and love. We were in the right place at the right time, just were we were meant to be. It all felt right. After it was over our little fraction of the march went to dinner and we laughed and complained and got upset about everything happening in the world. I made some wonderful friends on that day.

The backlash came almost immediately. Within an hour of us posting pictures online the harassment began. I’m not going to devote any time here or negative space in my heart to these horrible trolls but I will say that I lost friends over that day. I lost relationships with family members back home. I was, and I am still, amazed how anyone (especially women) were comfortable hurling insults at me for wanting basic human equality. But perhaps I shouldn’t try. Keep a positive and open heart, right? I posted this just after and I stand by it today: Anyone can be mean. I’ll be here in my pink pussy hat giving out free hugs to anyone who wants one. Or something like that, who can remember.

In the time since that first march a lot has happened and many of us have felt powerless to stop the wave of white men who are set to demolish the small amounts of progress that have been made in the last 20 years. Well, we will not go back.

So this past weekend, the day after International Women’s Day there was another march. So many women worked so hard to bring the march together. I was not one of those women. I picked up trash.

Trash Duty!

I wanted to help but honestly I didn’t have the time to devote before the march and because the meetings were in Amsterdam it wasn’t feasible. But I offered my help on the day itself and I was assigned “eco duty” with two other fabulous women. We walked at the very back and made sure Amsterdam was just as clean when we were done as before we arrived. I thinks it very important to show respect for the city and the environment so I didn’t mind at all. That’s what we are doing after all, ensuring that our kids are left with a better world and environmentalism is part of that.

It was such a great crowd. The vibe was really uplifting.

This march looked and felt very different from the one two years ago. Feminism has changed a lot in the last two years. This was so evident in last weekends march. Now, the name of the game is “intersectional feminism”. When I look back at the march from two years ago the difference is striking. I remember looking around and, under those pink pussy hats, seeing a sea of able bodied, well dressed, white women. Now to be clear, there was nothing wrong with that crowd. After all, I am also an able bodied (sometimes well dressed) white woman. So please, let me explain…… After listening in on the women who were at the center of the march and the talented and passionate speakers who shared their stories with us on the day, there was a shift in my thinking about protest rallies and demonstrations. First: who can march? People with enough money to take the day off to do so, able bodied people who can physically join in, people who can be in large groups or handle loud noises (my son for instance hates large groups and loud noises. Even something simple for most like a crying baby will cause him to cover his ears and hide) or people without impaired hearing or vision. Think about that list! All those people who want to be heard, who want to be represented, who want to be a part of a march but often can’t. This list doesn’t even include women who often feel marginalized and don’t march because of the general lack of inclusion within the feminist community (like sex workers). Now while the specific needs of every individual can’t be taken into account the goal of the most recent march was to make everyone feel valued. Feminism doesn’t count unless we are fighting for everyone. And not just in the “we are fighting for all women” way of the past, today we fight for individual groups just like we do our own and intersectionality and anti racism is at the core.

How great is this sign?!?

My favorite chant was :

Black Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. Refugee Lives Matter. Indigenous Lives Matter. Sex Workers Lives Matter. Disabled Lives Matter…….

Even the speakers where all from diverse backgrounds with different points of view. I loved it. I think two of the most striking speeches for me was given by a sex worker and a refugee. They both dramatically altered my perceptions about both marginalized groups. I’m not saying that all the speakers weren’t great, they were. But for me these two stories had the most impact. They are stories that I have never heard, or perhaps I had never bothered to hear. It was worth being wet and dry over and over and over again for about 4 straight hours and with a police estimate of 15,000 people in attendance, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

I don’t know where we are going to go from here but I do know that this a very scary time to be a female in this world. All those fears we were marching for two years ago have been realized and then some. All our worst nightmares about the potential ramifications of 45 have come true and the hits just keep on coming. I’m glad to know the strong women who organized the Women’s March on Amsterdam last weekend. It’s comforting to know these women are out there and that they will keep fighting for women, all women, and I will keep doing my small part to help. Even if it’s just picking up trash.

Sorry, Not Sorry!!!!!

There are videos of the march and at least a few speeches on YouTube and I really recommend checking them out.

And on a final note: FUCK THE PATRIARCHY!!!