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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
So a few weeks ago I did a thing. For me it isn’t a big thing, but based on the responses I have gotten since, apparently it is. I cut my hair. Like, really cut my hair.
I knew I was going to do it for a while honestly but I wasn’t in any hurry. I was having fun getting random cuts, secure in the knowledge that at some point it would go entirely. I have always wanted a mohawk, for instance. This felt like the perfect time. Why the hell not? I’m just another 38 year old mother of two with a mohawk, nothing to see here. It’s just hair, right? I also tend to do random and impulsive things without giving them much thought. The night that I was meeting friends and walked by a tattoo shop and decided to get my nose pierced. Right then. No regrets.
But maybe a little background:
My Mom went back to college when I was in high school. She did a study abroad in London one summer. I met her there and stayed in the apartment with the other college students, I was 16. Hard life, right? They would go to class during the day and I would wander the streets of London. In the evening I would go out with the other students (my mom wasn’t much for the nightlife). Man, do I have stories. I was taken to a underground (literally) movie theater and watched a really interesting film about a couple who met through their love of BDSM and pony play. It wasn’t horribly graphic or anything but it was a bit of a shock to my Southern system. But, I digress. Although those stories are fun I usually save them for when I have had one to many glasses of red wine.
One day I wandered in to a salon for a hair cut. I must have had shoulder length hair at the time. I told the man that I was traveling and needed an easy to maintain cut. As I sat there in this dirty little salon that I felt was so cool at the time but would probably now feel like it was trying to hard, the man cut all of my hair off. Short, I mean short short. It was just gone. He told me to go to the shop and buy a tub of Vaseline and put a little in my hair to spike it. Cheeky, right! I don’t know what kind of reaction he expected but I honestly thought “OK. Well, I wanted easy”. I wore my hair short for the rest of high school and into college.
Cut to present day ( I edit a few videos for the YouTube channel and all of a sudden I’m talking like I’m in “the biz” or something. WTF)…..
The decision to cut it short again came suddenly. I woke up one day just after Christmas and it struck me that if I had to fix or worry about my hair one more time I would scream. In all fairness I was going through a lot at the time. January was THE WORST! That stupid lingering flu that wouldn’t go away, I think everyone I know had some form of it. I just snapped.
I made the next available appointment to get it cut.
Let me tell you, one less thing to worry about in my morning routine is the best. I have adopted a new motto in life in the last year: If it causes stress and it is within your control, do whatever it takes to remove the stress.
I’ll give you some examples:
Can’t ever seem to find matching socks for the kids? Go buy a million pairs of the exact same sock. Problem solved.
Kids always fighting over the purple bowl? Get another purple bowl. Done.
Kids want yogurt for dinner? Whatever. Not worth the fight.
Constantly annoyed at the fact that you have to take extra time in your morning to attempt to tame hair that will annoy you throughout the day and end up in a clip anyway ( when you can find a clip. Where do those bastards go?) ? Cut it all off.
Look, ya’ll. Being a mom is hard. We have a million things to think about all the time. There is always that one annoyance that affects your life in the most stupidly frustrating way possible. For me it was my hair, so I fixed the problem. But the reactions were crazy! My friends and even casual acquaintances kept calling me brave. “Oh I wish I were brave enough to cut my hair short”. “I have always wanted to wear my hair short but I just don’t have the guts” Seriously. I was amazed.
I quickly realized that many people really need their hair. Maybe to them it’s a sign of beauty. I honestly believe that women are cultural ingrained with the belief that hair is linked to being a female and to have short hair would make them less feminine and there for less attractive. But don’t get me started on cultural gender norms and their negative effect on the world and for the love of pete don’t get me started on the patriarchy.
But let me tell you, this was not a bold act of feminism. This was not bravery. For the record, I am lazy. I am busy. And for me (I know not for everyone) this was a quick and easy way to simplify my day to day life.
I have decided to Marie Kondo (I love that this is a verb now) my entire life and that curly mop of uncontrollable mess on my head did not bring me joy.
Got any simple ways you have found to streamline your day and remove some of the frustrating bullshit?
I’d love to hear them!!!
So, you’ve been invited to a grown up party for Sinterklaas. What now?
Every culture has it’s own way of celebrating Christmas. But this isn’t really Christmas, is it? I have gotten a bit of grief for calling these posts “Christmas in the Netherlands” but I stand by the title. It’s the Christmas season. I thought about changing it so “Holidays in the Netherlands” but that is far to vague, there are a lot of holidays. So I’ll keep it Christmas for now, but I do want to clarify one thing. It’s the Sinterklaas celebration. If you have read my earlier posts about this time of year you know that the Dutch like to shake things up a bit. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security because it’s an adult party during the Christmas holidays and you think you know what’s coming. I have made that mistake and there were a lot of very confused Dutch people around me.
So what are the basics?
Just like the kids do. If you give a gift the wrapping needs to be special and look like something else. Some examples from parties I have been to include: A giant box of packing peanuts with several very small gifts inside. A wrapped box inside a wrapped box inside a wrapped box that contained a present. I went to one of these Sinterklaas celebrations with my knit group and a present given to a woman (who was a rower) it was a hand made paper rowing machine with knit related presents in all the tube bits. It was amazing. But you get the idea.
You read that right. The Poem. You write a poem about the person you are giving a gift to. If you are giving multiple gifts then you better set aside some time because you are going to have to get really creative. Here is the kick, they are a bit mean. It’s like the closer you are to someone the meaner they get. For heavens sake don’t call Karen at the office fat, but it’s perfectly acceptable to make a little rhyme about how your brother didn’t do a very good job staying away from the sweets this year. Maybe it’s the Dutch bluntness coming through. Who knows. But it’s a thing.
I can’t really give you to many specifics because they are all different. If you are invited to a party and not specifically told that you are bringing a gift for a specific person, there is gonna be a party game. At least you off the hook about the poem and the surpise wrapping at this point, so that’s good. The games can get extraordinarily complicated and will differ from family to family or from group to group but they all amount to the same basic theme. Fighting over the best 3 presents. My family played a version of this on Christmas Eve every year so I’m used to the general concept but the Dutch tend to add in a lot of extra rules. And it will probably be in mostly Dutch so you are a at a disadvantage there as well. The easiest version is: everyone brings a gift. Then they pick a number written on a tiny piece of paper from a box. The person who picked the number 1 opens a present. The person who has picked the number 2 can either open an unwrapped present or take the present that the previous person has opened. If person number 2 takes the present from person number 1 then person number 1 opens a new present. It tends to get a bit dicey when person number 8 takes a present from person number 3, then person number 3 takes a present from person number 5…… WAITER, OH WAITER, YES PLEASE. ANOTHER MERLOT PLEASE! There is generally some kind of cap on it like a present can only be shifted 5 times until it is out of play. At my knit group parties we all brought 3 small gifts (under like 5 Euros each) but one had to be hand made.
The most complicated one I have experienced involved dice. One really, so die (although this word always feels wrong to me for some reason). There was a chart. Roll a one and you open a present. Roll a 2 and everyone moves one seat to the left (but the present stays behind and you inherit the person to the lefts present). Roll a 3 and you take someones present….. This sort of thing. It was fun and all but mostly I ended up with a headache trying to keep up with it all. It doesn’t help that it was in one of my Dutch classes so it was first thing in the morning and there was no booze.
Seriously, the point is to have fun so just go with it. I promise you will not be the only person confused. And there is great satisfaction in bringing the gift that is getting fought over.
This will also vary from party to party. Most of the celebrations I have attended have been is a cafe so you were free to order snacks. If it’s a large private gathering there will be snacks and soup. Soups. Whats with the soup? At every Dutch party I have ever been to I have been handed a bowl of tomato soup. (I asked about this and a Dutch friend literally said “tomato soup is a staple of Dutch cuisine” with, like the most serious look on her face. Like questioning the soup was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. Uuummmm. Hilarious) There will be bread and some bowls of vegetables. If things are really getting fancy there will be food on sticks. Everything tastes better on a stick, right? Some possibilities are bits of chicken with a peanut sauce or a tomato, basil and mozzarella combination. It varies a bit but generally it sticks to this theme. There is also a gourmet option. This is only for small (mainly family) gatherings. Basically it’s a hot plate in the middle of the table and everyone cooks their own food. I’ll get more descriptive about this in my next post about what happens after Sinterklaas leaves and we can get into a proper Christmas.
So there you go. Don’t forget the drinking. There will always be drinking. Don’t feel intimidated. If you are lucky enough to get invited to one of these then you will be with friends who will help you through. Just smile and remember that everything is meant to be fun, even if you have to read a poem about yourself that mentions your inability to tell jokes properly or the fact that you are never on time.
Have you read my other posts about Christmas in the Netherlands? NO?! GASP! It’s OK, I’ll link them here: Part one: Sinterklaas is coming to town
What’s next? You didn’t think we were done, did you? There is so much more! Next we get to talk about what happens after Sinterklaas gets on his boat and heads back to Spain with sacks and sacks full of naughty children he will enslave for the next year. I always try to end things on a positive note.
Wait… There is also New Years to talk about!
It’s official, the weather has turned nasty. Remember those bright sunny days when all you wanted to do is go outside? I know, I barley do as well, it feels like ages ago (when in fact it was like, what, last month?). This time of year I start looking for things to keep my kids entertained and off of screens as much as possible. Not that I worry about screens to much, after all every one needs some down time, but if I offer my kids something fun to do instead they will gladly turn of the TV so I try to have a few easy activities on hand.
My usual “go to” activities for cold and dreary afternoons are crafting but now that my son is learning to read in school I can branch out a little. He brings his work books home and shows me all the fun word puzzles and stories and (of course) they are all in Dutch.
I used to love cross word puzzles as a child and it looks like my son will be the same. Now to find a good English resource so I can join in the fun, as well as reinforce his English language skills.
Education.com is an amazing resource. It has pages and pages of free printables. Work sheets, coloring pages, cross word puzzles, math sheets, you name it and they have it. I’m fantasizing printing out some and making a “busy book” for each of my kids. I can put the sheets in page protectors and they can use a dry erase marker!! We could take it with us when we go out to eat and my kids would sit like such angels, busily learning while I actually get to have an adult chat. Other parents would look with envy at my amazing parenting skills!
Wow. That fantasy got away away from me there. Sorry about that.
But it is a fun idea.
They also have resources for teachers, like lesson plans and such. I actually got a bit excited about this. My son want’s to practice his reading at home but all of our books are, of course, in English. He gets really frustrated. I think it may be a good idea to start helping him along with his English reading skills at home a bit and Ehttps://www.education.com/resources/ela/reading/ would be a nice resource for that as well.
Here is a sample crossword puzzle. Cute, right?
The site is really easy to navigate. You fan filter your searches by grade, theme, or activity.
Check it out Education.com and you will be just as excited about it as I am!
I volunteered today to help take the kids in my daughters class to Museum T’Oude Slot today. A magical outing for the kids to do something special during school and I helped make that possible, what a good mom, right? Seriously, super mom. How do I find the time? The patience? I take such an active role in parenting that I even amaze myself. At least, that is how I feel when I sign up for these things. Then the day comes and I’m left thinking “What the hell was I thinking? When will I learn?” Because what will end up happening is that I stand awkwardly alone in the corner as none of the other parents talk to me. Maybe it’s the mohawk, maybe it’s because I’m foreign, who knows. But I keep signing up. I’m not that bright sometimes.
On this day though, I’m glad I did. I was still standing awkwardly in the corner not talking to anyone for most of the morning but it was nice to see my daughter have fun. Also, I’m glad I got to visit the Sinterklaas House in Veldhoven.
Damn this thing was organized. I was amazed. You see, every class in probably every school in Veldhoven is going to hit this spot in the next few weeks. Each class gets an hour. It was like: BAM! Lets sing some songs. BAM! You have 15 minutes to color a picture. BAM! lets spend a few minutes talking about the big book (like our naughty and nice list). BAM! This is where Sinterklaas sleeps………. It goes on like that. All with 2 super friendly Pieten interacting with the kids and making sure everyone is still smiling. I’m not gonna lie, it was overwhelming for me. Plus, all of the other parents there know all the kids names. How do the do that? When I want to scream at one of my kids at home I often have to run though the names of everyone living in the house before I finally get to the one that I am actually upset with. I sometimes get the dogs name mixed up with the kids! Anyways. It was really scheduled.
But it’s not always like that. Apparently this is just for the school groups. I got a chance to talk to a really lovely woman who works there while the kids were getting bundled up to go back to school and got the lowdown on what happens during normal visiting hours. When they aren’t herding school children around with military precision, it sounds like a pretty chill place.
Sinterklaashuis Veldhoven is open to the public, kids can wander and explore on their own. If you haven’t read any of my other blogs about this time of year (don’t feel sad, I’ll link them below), Sinterklaas comes to the Netherlands for a few weeks every year and has to sleep somewhere, right? It’s like a super special hotel full of magic and joy. I’m pretty sure there is one in just about every city, but don’t quote me on that.
T’Oude Slot is really nice. There is lots to see and do. There is a coloring and crafting room, and different rooms and buildings where Sint and his Pieten work while they are in town. Kids can explore his office and look at “the book”, his bedroom, the room where the Pieten sleep and do the wrapping and such.
There is also a small cafe where you can have a drink (adults actually get a free coffee or tea with their admission). They also have beer and wine! I love this country! Of course I was drinking tea. After all, I was driving. Other peoples kids. And it was like 10:30 in the morning. But you bet I noticed the beer and wine!
Opening times: This reads a bit funny (to me but I’ll bet it makes perfect sense to Dutch people) so I’ll break it down for you:
Despite the fact that I will be going twice with school trips (yes, I also signed up to take kids in my sons class. Once again… what the hell was I thinking) I think I will take the kids over the weekend. They have chocolate letter decorating!
It’s a cool place.
Some Helpful Info:
More Dutch Christmas excitement
And another Sinterklaas house:
So the Intocht has come and gone, what next? This is when things get interesting.
There are 2 things going on during this time of year: one is for the kids and one is for adults. I’ll start with the kids, this is a long enough to require two different posts ( trust me, they both require a lot of explaining).
The shoe thing:
Children will put their shoes by the fire place / radiator / back door (depending on your house) with a gift for the horse. This can be sugar cubes, a bit of hay or a carrot. I generally just chuck a carrot in there because who has hay, right? The idea is that when Sinterklaas checks in the horse gets a treat and Sinterklaas leaves a small present in return. The present, and how often this happens depends on the family. I honestly don’t know any one who does this every night, once or twice a week tends to be the standard. I do it when I remember, honestly. As far as the little present goes, I keep is simple. Chuck a few pepernoten in there and you are good, especially for younger kids. Fun pencils, play-doe, a bit of chocolate, keep it small. The big bit is yet to come. It’s important to keep it round about shoe sized so that it can go in the shoe. There are some special songs apparently, that kids can sing as they are putting out the shoes, my son was never interested in such things but my daughter is learning Dutch Sinterklaas songs like a mofo so I have that to look forward to.
In most villages there will be some form of Piet House and / or a Sinterklaas house. A Piet House is just Piets. There are usually activities for kids on certain days. It’s a fun thing to check out. Last year at the Piet House in Veldhoven, they ushered us into a makeshift movie theater and we watched a short movie staring Sinterklaas and the Pieten. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty miserable but my kids really enjoyed it. The previous year is was more activity based and I hope they go back to that. I’ll be sure to let you know.
The bigger deal is the Sinterklaas House. This is where Sinterklaas and his troupe sleep while they are in town. I’m pretty sure there is one in every village, but don’t hold me to that. If your kids are in school they generally go as a group though the school, so you’re off the hook. If not, I have only experienced the one in Nuenen but I’m going to try to check out at least one more this year. You can read about my experience in Nuenen here
You really don’t need to go too far out of your way, honestly. You generally can’t throw a rock without hitting a Piet this time of year. Grocery stores, department stores, even my gym will have some kind of celebration. I can’t tell you how shocking it was to walk into my local shop and seeing all the check out people dressed up in full black face. Generally Sinterklaas will also visit the schools as well. For me it all gets a bit overwhelming honestly. I really tried to do everything one year and it was so exhausting that I didn’t enjoy it. I’ve simplified things and I like it much more.
Lets talk candy:
Pepernoten rules the holiday, but it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. What you are eating from the shop is technically kruidnoten. These are the crunchy little balls of goodness. Pepernoten are soft. Like tinny little cakes. The confusion exists because even Dutch people will call everything pepernoten. Even the packaging at the shop is often inaccurate. Dutch people don’t seen to mind, though. Don’t ask me why.
What happens on the 5th?
That is when Sinterklaas delivers the presents. Kids go to school as normal and at some point in the evening Pieten deliver the presents in a burlap sack. Of course the amount of presents depends on the family but considering it’s the main present holiday, Dutch people go big. I saw a neighbor bring in 3 huge burlap sacks full of boxes. I have always tried to keep small since Santa also comes to my house but I’m not sure how long that will last. I am afraid the when all the kids comparing their presents my kids may start to feel disappointing. If this happens I will have to put more emphasis on Dutch tradition and ease up on my American ones. After all, I don’t want them to have to much stuff!! Getting the presents inside can be a bit tricky. Generally I reach out and ring the doorbell then shut the door and let the kids answer it. There doesn’t have to be anyone there. Just tell them that it’s a super busy night and the Pieten can’t say hi to all the kids. You can hire people to dress up like Piet and deliver the presents personally if you would like, also.
Around group 5 schools switch up up a bit (8 or 9 year olds). The dreaded Surprise gets thrown into the mix. It’s pronounced more like “surpeez”, by the way. This completely depends on the school, though. Most commonly the kids will draw names and get a small gift for another kid. Here is the trick: the packaging has to be special and the aim is to conceal even the shape of the present. Luckily I am not at this level yet because it feels like a lot of work that is going to end up being done by me. Luckily at this age children are generally old enough to understand whats going on so they can (hopefully) explain things to you. I was told by a Dutch friend that the easiest and most common thing thing to do is to get crafty with a shoe box, turn it into a boat looking thing and hide the present inside. Good luck!
There are only three more things that you need to know..
My advise: don’t complicate things. If your child is in school you’re pretty covered and if they aren’t than they don’t know whats going on anyways. Grab yourself an adult beverage and enjoy!