Building a Snail Village

So something a little bit different. My kids and I built a snail village a few weeks ago and it has been an amazing learning experience for them. I know, I know, I’m odd. I accept that.

It happened on Mothers Day. It had been raining on and off all day so we decided to spend the day at home. I took the dog to the little dog area on the corner and noticed so many snails! I had never seen so many on the sidewalk before. At first I was taking pictures so that I could show the kids. Then I had an idea. Snail Village!!! After a brief look on Pinterest I decided to go get a bowl and collect some snails. My goodness you should have seen the look on my kids faces when they saw me holding a giant measuring bowl full of snails. It was like Christmas morning!

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We came up with a plan. They needed soil, a swimming pool, a plant, places to hide and some pretty things to look at. We have a fish tank that has been empty and sad since Bob the goldfish died and I thought that it was the perfect location.  After we had made the decisions we each set out to gather things we thought the snails may need. It was my sons job to keep the little buggers in the bowl. You wouldn’t think so but those little buggers are fast!

We had a great time setting everything up and trying to make sure our snail village was a pretty perfect place for them. We then relocated them into their new home and watched with excitement and wonder as they began to explore.

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Here is a breakdown of how we decorated our snail village. I wanted some living green in there but I didn’t want to plant it directly in the dirt so I found a little pot. I read that snails can drown so we got some smooth glass from our last trip to the beach and a few marbles and put them in a saucer. This way, they can get to the water but not risk drowning. The bucket is half submerged in the sand because I wanted to give them a place to hide but generally if the want that they just hang out on the lid. I put a bit of egg carton in there but I removed it at the first cleaning. They seem really happy with everything!

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We are still figuring out what they like to eat. We have discovered that they don’t like mushrooms, they will tolerate apples and bell peppers, and that they LOVE cucumber. My kids love watching them eat. Tiny little bite marks! Who knew! We check on them every morning and evening to make sure they are happy. Every other day or so I have to wipe down the walls with a damp cloth to clean up all the poop. I also clean the swimming pool. I had no idea how much they poop! I also take out any unfinished food and replace it with fresh because I don’t want mold. It only takes a few minutes and I get the kids to help so I don’t mind.

 

This has been a real learning experience for us. We have watched every YouTube video about snails and have learned a lot of, probably useless, but interesting information. My kids may get bored at some point but that’s fine. The snails will get relocated to a nearby park and the fish tank will probably get more fish. But in the meantime they are secretly learning and we are having a great adventure. You can do this with any container as long as its sealed tight with air holes. Just in case you are interested in building your own!!

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Happy Snails after I fed them spinach and cucumber

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Happy snails after I fed them broccoli, carrot, and cauliflower.

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Happy kids watching their new little friends

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Sterren Strand: Eersel

Sterren Strand: Eersel is a water park located on a camp ground. My kids call it the “indoor beach” because that’s how it feels. It is a shallow pool with sand and things to climb on. Although my kids have always focused almost completely on the indoor beach there is so much more to this place. It’s a camping place. The Dutch love these places. You pay by the night to pitch a tent and there is entertainment and food on the grounds. It’s really cool and makes for a super easy (and cheap) vacation because you never have to go anywhere. The camping ground is called TerSegelt BTW. There is more to do on the premises but the pool and beach area is called Sterren Strand and that’s what I’ll be focusing on for now.  There is also a normal pool with a really great toddler area, a nice beach with slides, a playground and a lake with paddling boats.

I’ll go through it in the order we usually do.

Room 1: The Beach

This is my favorite place to take the kids swimming because they really can do their own thing. The sand and water keep my daughter busy and my son likes to climb and explore. The water is up to my knees at it’s deepest point so they are able to run through it and play on their own. I always bring buckets and shovels and my kids can entertain themselves for hours!

There is also a little play area with sand and no water in the same room.

There was a small cafe inside but this was closed last time I was there and replaced with a machine. There is a touch screen that you can order from and you pay with your pin card. You can order a small selection from the main restaurant. Fried food and sandwiches mostly. The food is delivered and, in my case, left on the counter. I can’t say that I’m happy with this change, honestly. You can’t order drinks and that’s annoying. I do understand, though. Less staff and whatnot. Maybe it will be open during the summer. But we usually bring our own food anyways. I was looking forward to that glass of wine, though!

The really nice thing about Sterren Strand is that you can bring in your own food and sit wherever you want. I look for places like this. It can get so expensive taking the kids out all the time and being able to take a picnic really helps.

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Room 2: the pool

The pool is separated completely and it’s nearly impossible for little kids to go from one room to another without help. There are 2 ways to go from one room to another. The quick way is through a little bath. You open a door and step down into a small pool (that goes up to my waist) and come out into a shower room and lead into the pool. The door is difficult to open so I don’t worry about my kids finding their way in. The second way to get into the pool is to leave the beach area and go down a small hallway. You will be led into a room full of changing rooms and go through into the pool. There are also lockers you can rent for 1 Euro but you get that back.

The pool itself is a pretty basic one. Stairs going in and one depth. I’m 5 feet 2 inches and it comes to my neck.

The toddler pools are really great. There are 3 connected pools of different depths, a slide and a little water fall mushroom thing. This area is completely fenced in with a heavy door and a high handle. This was the first place I took both kids swimming without my husband because of this gate. I didn’t have to worry about one of my kids running off into the big pool while I was trying to keep track of the other.

There is a big tube slide but my kids aren’t that adventurous yet.

There is also a hot tub!

 

The outside beach:

The outside is a day out all by itself! The beach is really nice with lots to do. Its very clean as well and big enough so that it never really feels cramped. There are slides into the water as well and  also a bouncy mountain.

There is a second lake with no beach but there are pedal boats and I think they do other water sports there occasionally.

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There are 3 options for food. The little kiosk in the beach room, the main restaurant, and a fry shop.

The main restaurant looks really nice.  It’s super cozy and inviting. There is also a good sized play area with a mini cinema. Disneys Cars was playing the last time I was there. The patio is also really cool. There is a fire pit and couches. It overlooks a lake.

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There is also a little fry shop close. It’s only open on busy days or during the summer.

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My kids always have a blast there when we go. I even had my daughters second birthday party there and everyone had a great time. On that day there was face painting. This has happened often when we have been here, especially on the weekends. Because they want to keep the kids entertained and happy they have kids activities. Balloon animals, face painting, scavenger hunts, rock wall climbing (they have a rock wall in the beach room but it is often closed because it requires staff) . I honestly never know if there is an activity or not so when there is it always feel extra magical.

I will warn you though, it is hot as hell inside. Don’t forget to bring beach clothes for yourself. Even if you don’t plan to swim. Even if its the dead of winter and it’s a pain to pack something else because it probably already feels like you packing for a continental move. Seriously, throw some shorts and a tank in the bag. You may even want to bring a bathing suit (or costume depending on what version of English you speak) that water may get pretty inviting!

Some Helpful Information:

  • This is their website: Sterren Strand 
  • They aren’t open all year around. It always closes for a few months during winter (probably because it’s to cold to camp). But they really should keep the pool open. I’ll bet people would go and it wouldn’t require to much staff. Perhaps if we all sent an email?…….
  • The park is generally open from 10:00 – 6:00
  • This place is a royal pain with strollers so here is what you do. One person goes through the annoying spinning gate and if you look to the left there is an emergency exit, go and open it. I have always done this and there is never an alarm. In fact, these doors are often propped open on hot days for ventilation. If you are worried about an alarm just go to the counter and tell a member of the staff to open the door for you.
  • There aren’t any showers or foot baths in the beach room so be prepared for loads of sand in the car.
  • Paying can sometimes be a bit of a pain. On busy or weekend days there will be someone at the pool to pay but sometimes you have to go to the main TerSpegelt office to buy a ticket because there is only a bar code scanner.
  • There is a different price during summer days. You can either but an “outside pass”  or an “inside and outside pass”. It is way cheaper to just go to the outdoor beach. The price for an inside and outside pass is 8.50 per person and kids under 3 are free.
  • The Year Pass: Abonnementen in Dutch, FYI: A year pass for a family of 4 is 59.50 Euros. Probably the cheapest year pass out there but it comes with a catch. You can’t use the year pass inside during the school holidays. You can still use the beach, though. And it is a super nice beach. We had year passes for about 2 years before my kids started school. It’s a great place to take the kids on cold or wet days.

Enjoy!

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BTW: This is what my hair does if left to itself! I had swimming with the kids all afternoon. There is no controlling it, I’ve given up.

 

Looking for more indoor and outdoor places to take the kids?

Het Spoorwegmuseum (Railway Museum)

Vossenberg Speelboerderij: Tilburg

Aardbeienhof: Gemert

Billy Bird: Hemelrijk

I rarely come across a place that I know we have to have year passes for but Billy Bird: Hemelrijk is one of them. We also have year passes for Dierenrijk: Nuenen, Toverland Amusement Park, and Ballorig: Veldhoven. Seems like a lot but they all fulfill different purposes on our outings. Toverland is a pretty grand outing, Dierenrijk is always a fun family day and we practically live at Ballorig. At the end of April was the day I added Billy Bird to the list and we went back again the very next week. The light switch moment about the year passes for me came a few years ago when my house was completely over run with toys and we were always playing at a park somewhere. So I asked the grandparents to start sending money for the kids for holidays instead of toys and it was worked out beautifully. The money pays for the year passes, the kids have fabulous outings and my house stays clean. Everyone wins!

What impressed me most about Billy Bird is that is is an all weather outing. My rule for year passes is that it has to have an indoor play area. There is no shortage of parks and outdoor spaces so we like to switch that up. Indoor play places are much more difficult to find. Extra bonus points for a place that has both.

Billy Bird is a lovely beach lake with indoor and outdoor playgrounds and even a small roller coaster. The first time we went it was a typical Dutch spring day (meaning close to miserable). It would rain on and off, nothing to really be annoyed about but the sun wouldn’t come out. The kids had a blast at the outdoor playgrounds and then we moved to the indoor play places for lunch. At the end of the day the sun started to peek out so we had a nice time exploring the castle (yep you read that correctly). We went back the very next week on an amazingly warm sunny day. We spent the entire time on the beach building sandcastles and playing in the water. We didn’t even step one foot off that beach for the 5 hours we were there. I was kinda amazed actually.

So Billy Bird:

To get in you walk through a little building and either buy your ticket or show your year passes. When you pass through the first thing you see is the beach. It’s really long with nice clean sand and surrounded by grass. There is a dock that can be rented out for parties and a deck area with lounge chairs that can be rented for the day.

At the right of the lake as you walk in is the castle. It’s huge. There are slides hidden throughout it and it gives great views of the park. I will say it was a bit nerve wracking with my fearless three year old and the lack of railing at some places but we survived.

There is also a huge water slide! You sit in a raft bit will probably get a little wet. There are peddle boats you can borrow to take you around the lake and some really crazy fitness equipment that felt so random but we had loads of fun playing on. There is also a little nature path through the woods.

Walk around the lake and you will come to a large building. This contains the restaurant, ice cream shop and the largest indoor play area.The restaurant is cafeteria style and has some pretty typical Dutch foods. Nothing special there. Pretty standard alcohol selection as well, but you can bring your own!!   The play area is pirate themed and it’s pretty great. No problem the kids could spend a rainy afternoon here! There is also a large separate space for the little kids at the back.

Further around the beach you will find the entrance to the “kids zone”. The first building is the new “ball fabriek” this means ball factory in English. this is a really cool space. It’s full of balls (like from a ball pit) and things to do with them. Air guns, buckets on string sucky things that lead to other places. It’s hard to describe but a blast for kids. There are also some tables in this building and a small food shop. The ball fabriek was brand spanking new when we were there and the shop wasn’t finished so I’m not sure exactly what they will serve but I update the blog when I know more.

Further on you have the outdoor play area. There is TONS to do. A play circus where the kids can, you know, play circus. And bumper cars, a pedal powered monorail, teacups a small roller coaster and all the other standard playground equipment. In the warmer months there are also pedal boats that go around a lazy river. Honestly, this section of the park would entertain my kids for a day all on it’s own.

Be warned… most of these rides are parent powered.

You can bring in your own food. There are loads of picnic tables and plenty of space for blankets. We ate our picnic lunch upstairs in the play area.  They even have these super cute little grills you can rent for the day but you can’t bring in your own food to grill. You buy a grilling “kit”. There are selections for different prices per person. For a big family day or group event this would be pretty perfect, and they have a vegetarian option so thats pretty cool. This is the link that will take you directly to that page on their site (in Dutch I’m afraid). BBQ in the park

It’s a really great place. It’s in Uden about 30 minutes outside Eindhoven, very close to Hullie Speelboerderij: Uden in fact, so not to far. I really recommend it. Your kids will not be disappointed!

 

Some Practical Information:

  • This is their website, unfortunately it’s completely in Dutch: Billy Bird
  • This is their address: Zeelandsedijk 34A, 5408SM Volkel
  • There is loads of parking. It costs 5 Euros per day unless you have a year pass (more on that in a moment
  • They are open from 10:00 – 6:00 and later during the summer vacation
  • How much? General admission is 11.95 Euros and free for kids under 3 years old, You can prebuy them online and save 2 Euros

The year pass. Seriously. They get cheaper the more passes you buy. For instance a family of 4 costs less individually than a single person. And if you have the passes automatically deducted from you account every year it’s cheaper than if you don’t. A family of 4 people costs 23.50 per person for the whole year. So if you go twice in a year you have covered the cost of the card. They will deduct the days entry price from the year pass so you can go, check it out and then upgrade without being out anything. And parking it the one flat fee of 3 Euros with the card. Amazing, right!? It was very easy to justify upgrading to the year pass for me especially considering how much I pay per day entry to other beaches like  Witven Lake and Beach: Veldhoven. Odds are that I will still end up there over the summer because it’s so darned close to my house but Billy Bird will pretty much take over the beach role for us from now on.

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Looking for more outdoor fun:

 

Oisterwijkse Bossen en Vennen

If there is one thing I love about the Dutch it’s their willingness to let their kids get dirty. Probably not all Dutch, I’m possibly over generalizing but I think that the fact that there are mud pits in most playgrounds and play forests everywhere says something about the general laid back attitude of the culture. I was never dirty! I wore frilly dressed and white shiny shoes that were not to get scuffed as a kid. My kids seem to constantly look like a pack of wild, dirty children straight out of Lord of the Flies. I love it! But anyway, the Dutch do messy play very well and Oisterwike Bossen en Vennen is the perfect example. De Oisterwijkse is a nature reserve about 30 minutes outside of Eindhoven in a town called…wait for it… Oisterwijkse, easy right? Bosssed en Vennen translated to forest and streams. This sums it up perfectly, its a nature reserve with a forest and streams in Oisterwijkse. But let me tell you, this place is special.

I have actually been here twice. The first time was with a friend and her 3 amazing daughters. We found the playground and got distracted with some epic teepee building in the woods. The visitors center wasn’t open so we didn’t think to go to the other side of the building. We had a really lovely day, don’t get me wrong, but I was honestly thinking that it really didn’t seem worth the drive. I have a local Speelbos (play forest) that is just as good. Little did I know!

I went with a different friend this past weekend and her 3 super fun boys and got to see more of the park. We started out in the same playground as the first time. It’s a nice little playground, it really is. But all I’m thinking is “why did I come back here? We could have cut the drive in half and gone to Bosschuur De Meren . Oh wait, because I had completely forgotten the name of the place the last time I was here. Damn”. Or something like that.  I mentioned this to my friend and she told me that there was much much more. She has very good taste in kids places so I relaxed a bit and waited.

The playground I’m talking about is just down the path leading from the parking lot on the left . Right across from the visitors center. I promise you can’t miss it. The nice thing about starting your outing here is that this is where the picnic tables are.

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After the first round of food and some playtime we went into the visitors center. Mostly because everyone had to pee. But then the kids got distracted by the play area and were lost. We took the opportunity to have a beer, so all was right with the world. The visitors center is really nice. There is a lovely cafe with an above average Dutch menu and reasonable prices. We didn’t eat but the food being delivered around us looked really amazing. The space is also really comfortable and there is a killer patio. The play area is a tree house style cabin and basement with nature related games and videos. There is also a little play area with different games, puzzles and books. The kids were entertained for a long time.

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When everyone had peed and we had finished our adult beverage we left through the side door and walked toward the back of the building. Down the path is where the real magic starts. This is nature play at it’s best (or at least the best I have ever seen). There is a pump at the top of a small hill that feeds into a pool of water. There is a bridge but the the real attractions are the stone path that crosses a narrow spot and the huge felled (fallen? I think felled is right based on a quick google search) that goes across a bit of the water.

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So my American parents are freaking out. Yes, this place can be dangerous. The water isn’t deep but it’s deep enough to drown in, for sure. All the kids are running around like feral children. I saw one kid walking around with a huge hunting knife! To be fair he was an older kid who was using it to cut branches, but still. He also sharpened a stick for my son so I had to brace myself for my wild child running recklessly through a wooded area holding a very sharp stick (thanks, dude).  The boys fought over that stupid sharp stick for ages (again, thanks…). It’s still in my living room. It is now a treasure.

As horrible as it sounds, nothing really bad is going to happen, knock wood. I had to really learn this. I was a helicopter parent with my first and found it just to exhausting.   I think there are scraped knees and some bruises but really not much more. Kids are tough. Let them try.

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I love these places. I love the imagination based play that they inspire. I love that kids have a relatively safe place to push the limits of their bodies discover how amazing nature can be. I love that they can get super muddy and wet and it’s fine. All the love.

We ended our outing with a little walk though the woods. It’s a small path that goes in a circle. It was nice. Fun was had by all and I had the opportunity to feel very good about my parenting because I was exposing them to nature thereby offsetting the hours of tv they watched the previous day (or some other mommy guilt parenting craziness) .

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It was a very good day. I can’t wait to go back and I highly suggest everyone check it out. The kids will LOVE it.

And also, go there without kids! They have a high tea that looked really freaking great. The terrace is really awesome and you can’t beat the environment. I would totally have a adult only lunch or tea there. The actual grounds are really big. You could get a group together and start at the visitors center, go for a long nature walk and end it with lunch or tea. Hmmm.

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Some Helpful info:

  • This is their website: Oisterwijkse
  • The website is in Dutch. Sorry!
  • There is loads of free parking
  • At the playground area there are picnic tables and there is bench seating at the play forest
  • Seriously, bring a change of clothes. I brought one but left the clothes in the car. When the kids inevitably soaked their shoes and socks I really withed I had at least had a pair of dry socks on me. Luckily it was warm and they were able to go shoe less.
  • It’s free to play!
  • There are walking/biking routs on the website.

 

CHEERS!

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Looking for other places to play in nature?

Bosschuur De Meren

Speelbos De Kemmer

The Speelgoed Museum: Oosterhout

My son had a study day and I always try to make those a little special. I decided to give the Speelgoed Museum in Oosterhout a try.  For the Americans out there a study day is basically a teacher in service day and they happen every other month or so. I like the fact that we have what I consider a sneaky day off mid week when all the other littles are in school so things aren’t horrifically busy.

I decided on a museum because we have our museum cards that we haven’t used in a while. Do you know about the museum card? It’s magic you can read about it here: The Museum Card

I’m not gonna lie this super special outing got off to a rocky start. I had looked at so many museums that I didn’t realize that this one didn’t open till 1:00 in the afternoon and most open at 10:00 am so we were in the car super early before I realized my mistake. So we were already in the car and I thought “well, we will find somewhere to eat close by and wait for them to open”.  I didn’t realize that the toy museum was in a small town and NOTHING was open during the day. But it was OK. I found a playground that we played at for a while and then we went to the Market Square and found a place to eat. I even bought the commemorative plastic bear cups filled with ice cream because I was feeling very “spoil my kids on this grand day out”. And secretly (not so secret now) I always giggle at the idea of my kids eating ice cream out of a severed head. Kinda “I will feast on ice cream out of the heads of my enemies” kinda thing. Yes, oh yes, I can be dark and I love horror movies. Anyways……..

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We finally made it to the The Speelgoed Museum in Oosterhout. First impressions was that the place is adorable, everything about is ridiculously cute. The people who work there are all older people and I’m pretty sure volunteers. They were very sweet and and it totally gave me an excuse to speak Dutch.

The kids are given papers with pictures of things they can find within the museum and are encouraged to go on a scavenger hunt. My kids were not impressed but I like the idea of of it and the older kids there that day seemed to enjoy filling in their cards.

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The museum itself is a series of connected rooms with toys behind glass. My kids weren’t that impressed, honestly. They ran though the tiny museum on about 5 minutes. Every now and then something would catch one of their eyes and I would hear a delighted squeal of “OH, look at that!!” but that was about it.I would have loved to have taken a closer or longer look at things. There were some older women in their reliving their childhood like crazy. It was super adorable.

The little cafe was cute, you can get drinks but not really food but the website said you could bring your own. Honestly I don’t know how someone would spend long enough there that a packed lunch would be required but it’s good to know that you can bring in a snack or something. Speaking of snacks and drinks: I was given a coffee or tea and the kids were each given a ranja with a cake and sprinkles. All included in the admission costs. I actually felt kinda bad because I used my museum card but I got over that quickly.

This is the Dutchiest kid thing ever btw. You take a piece of bread or cake, cover it in margarine and pour on candy of some kind. The margarine acts as a “glue”.

There is an indoor and outdoor play area. My kids were kept well entertained for ages! Inside there is a little play castle filled with toys. There are all kind of games to play. board games, Scrabble, Connect 4, my kids and I played Twister. It was really fun. The outside area has a large chess set and bikes and such. There was plenty for any age group to find entertaining.

So my verdict on the Speelgoed Museum is overall good. The actual museum wasn’t interesting for my kids but I would have loved to have had the option to have a really good look around. I would love to take them back when they are a bit older and we can play more games. In my kids mind I took them to a fun place to play and that makes it perfect.

Some Helpful Info:

  • This is their website Toy Museum
  • Sorry but the website is in Dutch
  • This is their address: Zandheuvel 51, 4901 HT Oosterhout
  • There is on street parking for free

OK. Thats about it. It was a grand day out!

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Want to check out some other cool Dutch museums?

Maritime Museum: Rotterdam

Science Center Nemo, Amsterdam: A Grand Family Day Out

Nederlands Water Museum

Het Spoorwegmuseum (Railway Museum)

Vossenberg Speelboerderij: Tilburg

De Vossenberg Speelboerderij: Tilburg is an indoor softplay with a great outside play area in Tilburg. Sounds scary to people living in Eindhoven but really it’s only like 30 minutes away from me. I have a real love hate relationship with Vossenberg. First let me say that the place is amazing. There is so much to do and a wide range of activities. The staff is so super friendly and the beer menu is respectable. My kids adore the place. So what’s with the hate, you ask?

Parental involvement. Yep. This isn’t a place to take the kids if you want them to go play and leave you alone for a few hours. This place requires some work.

The inside area has two levels, the ground floor is a very good sized soft play. It will keep the kids entertained for hours with no problem. This is also where all the seating is. The nice thing about Vossenburg is the the softplay sits in one half of the building and the tables at the other so there aren’t kids running berserk through the tables constantly. There is also a fair amount of space between tables so when the place is packed it doesn’t fee claustrophobic.

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The “little kids” area is really good. The walls aren’t high so you do have to worry about your precious little ones escaping while you are tying to enjoy your adult time.

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The outside has a really great playground. Loads to do including trampolines, a sand pit and traditional play ground equipment. This is a really nice feature Vossenberg, they have an indoor and outdoor play area. Most places have one or the other.

So…

The second level…..

The dreaded second level…..

Honestly this is what sets Vossenburg appart from all the other softplays. This is why my kids beg to go, repeatedly. This is what makes this place so special. This is why it’s never my first choice…..

Craft and building……

There is a room with tables, There is a bin with pre cut bits of wood. There are hammers. There are nails. You get the idea, right? I’m constantly “helping” my kids build birdhouses, sculptures and other random bits of crap that the will fall in love with. There is another table with paint so the kids can paint their creations (or cardboard or paper). To be fair, there is staff everywhere. They are super sweet and helpful and make sure everyone is safe. There are painting shirts for the kids to put on so that they don’t get messy. They have done everything they can to help make this a magical experience. And it is. My son actually calls it the “birdhouse place”.

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It’s an amazing thing, really. But I’m not that good with the hammer and nails. And, not to call myself a lazy parent, but I’m pretty lazy. I take my kids out so they can have a play and I can read or, heaven forbid, have a grown up chat with another parent. Actually, that probably makes me lazy but I’m fine with that. So I take the kids to Vossenburg and they have a ridiculously amazing time. I try to limit the amount of sculptures or birdhouses to one per trip and everyone has a magical family outing.

 

 

Food and drinks:

Typical Dutch food. Nothing special but not bad either. The chicken nuggets are recognizable. I find it sad that I now judge all play places on the likelihood that my kids will cry when the see the nuggets on offer. There isn’t really anything healthy, and heaven forbid vegan, on offer for the grownups.

There is a respectable beer menu, though and that kinda saves the day. The have La Trappe Puur. It’s an organic Belguim Pilsner that I enjoy very much.

Definitely put it on you list. The kids will go crazy and if you are the building type so will you. And if not, just remember that they will play for a while as well. And think of the fond memories the kids will have every time you see all those damned birdhouses all over your house because the kids love them so much they must stay forever.

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Some Practical Info:

  • This is their website: De Vossenberg
  • They are closed Monday, Tuesday and Thursday most weeks. It’s different during school holidays so make sure you check before you go.
  • Tons of free parking
  • Kids cost 7.50 Euros and adults are free
  • You can’t bring in your own food

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On the Heels of Being Normal

I spent the last 2 weeks in the US visiting family. It was a wonderful time spent playing with kids, hanging out with family and all around enjoying life. In the back of my mind I was always thinking how much I loved home. I have lived in The Netherlands for nearly 10 years and I love it. As I was visiting the US I was constantly contrasting the US VS The Netherlands and The Netherlands was always the victor.

No Play areas in restaurants? Where we live…….

Constantly chasing your kids with disinfectant? In The Netherlands……….

UUGGHH! all this traffic! Do you know about our……….

It goes on and on (and probably in the opinion of my family, on and on and on and on).

I love it here. It’s great. I have chosen to call this little country home forever and I felt a bit superior about it all.

Then we came home. I was standing in Schipol and everyone around me was speaking Dutch.

Honestly, the reality of my struggles hit me like a ton of bricks. My life is amazing and I love it, but I suppose I had grown accustomed to being outside. My Dutch is passable but I struggle. No matter what a Dutch person will tell you (because they are, on the whole, a very accepting and amazing people) the language is a problem. Surprise, right!?!

I had spent 2 weeks in a world where strangers would chit-chat with me. Not just realize that I didn’t speak Dutch, repeat themselves in English and then move on. While in the US I had communicating with people on a level that I was very unaccustomed to. And it was so nice. Random things like what I was drinking and where I bought my pants were possible. I guess it had been so long that I had forgotten, but as I was standing in the airport waiting on my bags, after having been gone for what felt like an eternity, I realized how different things were from the outside.

Fast forward about 36 hours.

This is the basic skills test for Fresh Meat.

Spoiler Alert: I failed.

I struggled. But in the whole I thought I did pretty well with the basic skating.

Anyway….

After it was all said and over I met with the RockCity Roller who was judging my performance and who would decide if I passed or failed. I failed.

The heart of what she told me was this: I am timid and looked to other people. I seemed unsure about what I was doing and needed to grow in confidence before I could proceed. There were skating issues in there as well but I felt all these were pretty minor. She said my balance was good, I was fast (26 laps in 5 minutes, baby!!) and that I was good on my skates but I looked unsure of myself all the time.

I was reminded of my sons judo instructor a few years ago. He said the same thing: he said a million positive things about my son and there was the but….. he looks to others before he does things, he is always one step behind, he is just a bit slower than the other kids, he is extra timid….  He felt like I should have him tested for all kinds of learning difficulties. My reaction was: of course he looks to the other kids, of course he is a step behind, of course he struggles, HE DOESN’T SPEAK DUTCH VERY WELL!!!

I can’t ask the people at Derby to speak English with me at practices, it’s their country and I am alone in my inability to speak the language.

I am jet lagged and haven’t slept in longer than I can remember.

So what do I take from all of this? my life would be easier in the US, but it is better here.

I struggle every day to fit in and I don’t see that ending any time soon.

 

Update:

I wrote this months ago but never published it. I don’t honestly know why. I think I was having such a hard time readjusting that I just couldn’t.

I am publishing it now because I feel like its important and worthwhile to share some of the struggles of being an expat.

I really love my life and I am working on my Dutch and making my voice heard. I have decided to speak up in derby and really ask when I don’t understand something. They have been very cool about this, like the totally awesome Dutchies they are.I have moved on to the next level of training (but that is a post for another day).

Since writing this I have also made a few more Dutch friends and have renewed my commitment to making a life here.

I read this now and feel the pain and the struggle that I felt in those first few days back. On one hand I’m sorry I didn’t publish it then but on the other I am very happy that I can add this at the end.

I learned a lot from this experience.

 

 

 

I Hate My Diva Cup: and I can’t be the only one

So I consider myself a pretty crunchy mom. Cloth diapering (mostly), vegan (mostly), cosleeping, breastfeeding, organic eating, totally non GMO, home made as much as possible, baltic amber wearing, daily yoga (mostly), oil cleansing method and I totally have a salt lamp in every room. Like I said pretty crunchy. On the scale from modern prepackaged living to unshaven Earth mother I feel like I have reached a happy (and maintainable) middle ground.

Then there is Aunt Flo. Every month I would use horrible plastic pads (I have always hated tampons and refused to use them) and every month I lament the waste, the damage to the environment and the plastic and chemicals I am putting against my most sensitive of lady bits. About 2 years ago I decided that  I needed to change my non crunchy period ways and go with something more sustainable.

Hello Diva Cup.

Everything I had read had been amazing. It was changing women’s lives! Everyone loves theirs. What could go wrong?

It sat in the box for 6 months. I finally tried it once, it leaked. Back to the box.

Then, one day, I was talking to a friend and Aunt Flo came up in conversation.  Once again, this was the best thing ever! How am I not using it? It’s a total period deal changer.

Back out of the box. Perhaps I judged it to harshly the first time. We all have to get used to things. Maybe I needed to use it for a few days and get used to it. After all, everyone else on the planet loves theirs.

First day I was very impressed, actually. It did leak a little, but overall I felt very positive and optimistic about having a brighter future where being a chick doesn’t totally suck for a few days every month.

The next morning everything went wrong. THE DAMN THING WOULD NOT COME OUT. Slippery, weird angle, and that little tiny post with the little tiny ridges is simply impossible to grab hold of. So there I am, on the toilette  trying to extract a little plastic shot glass out of my girly parts. My kids in the next room watching Peppa Pig or something equally mind numbing. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind at that moment. None of them were panicky, yet. I abandoned efforts for a moment to regroup and breath. At this moment I thought that maybe standing up and jumping up and down would help. It did not. I actually considered tweezers but I couldn’t find them. I have a small pair of needle nose pliers in the kitchen I use to debone fish, hmmmm. OK. Time to google.

I rejoined my children on the couch, phone in hand, and started to consult the greatest wealth of information in the history of the world. The advise ranged from worth a try to downright scary. Shower and squat down, have a partner go in for an extraction, crochet hook (yikes), masturbation in the hope that the contractions would help dislodge it, I went with the shower. The other advise seemed horrific and I needed a shower anyway.

I did what the good people in the internet said to do, because one should always do what the good people of the internet tells one to do. Squat and go in after it. Nope. Again, the little bastard would not come out. So I’m standing there in the shower regretting every life decision I have ever made because they had all led me to this point. How did I allow this to happen? So this was how I was going to spend my day? Random trips in to the bathroom in an attempt to remove this stupid thing from my girl bits all ending with a trip to the hospital (because that wouldn’t be uncomfortable at all). Great. Lovin life.  Then I hear my daughter banging on the door screaming that she had to pee. Ok. What now?

Get dressed and start to panic. Message a friend who attempts to calm me down. Open a beer. So this is me at 10:00 am: sitting on the floor of the living room playing with my kids, trying hard not cry, and drinking a beer and having a texting conversation with my friend about my inability to remove my Diva Cup. I have an alien object wedged into my naughty bits and I had no clue how to proceed from here.

I finished my beer and decided to go in for another attempt. I gave myself a pre toilette pep talk in the mirror, did some deep breathing in an attempt to relax and went in.
Victory! Stupid plastic little thing! You will not win! I’m in charge here!

But because I never seem to learn a lesson the first time I let my very dear friend and total Diva Cup fan talk me into giving it another try. After all, I’m still learning. These things take time. Happens to everyone.

OK. Sure.

So I spent the rest of the day at home playing with my kids in total domestic bliss. Every now and then I would giggle a bit at my silliness of the morning. Pliers, really? What was I thinking? I can’t believe I panicked like that! Such, such silliness.

After all, these things happen. I went the rest of the day without incident.

Skip ahead to later that night. I’m still wearing the thing. I’m at a friends house, the same friend who had convinced me to keep trying. I stood up and noticed that the stupid little thing had leaked. a lot. Pants possible ruined.

Seriously. I’m done.

I love that people love their Diva Cup. I’m so happy for them. But, just no.

Back to the box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Weeks 13 & 14

I’m combining 2 weeks again because I had to miss week 13’s practice. Super sad! A friend of mine and I always go to Amsterdam for International Pillow Fight Day and we have recently started spending that night away (since the kids have gotten bigger). I was planning on making it back for practice (I even had my bag packed and by the door) but I just didn’t make it. I was so tired after a very sleepless night and my kids would have never let me leave immediately after I had been gone over night. I could have snuck in and grabbed my bag and made it to practice but I knew that the next day when my son woke up and had to go to school it would be an issue. I’m not letting that missed practice bother me, much. I kinda anticipate have to retake Fresh Meat anyways.

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Our homework was to watch a bout on youtube. I watched 2. I got so frustrated with the first that I found another one hoping it was better. They kept changing the damn camera angles. I couldn’t follow the game or keep up with the penalties. I got so frustrated I kinda gave up. I say kinda because I kept the bouts running in the background while I drank wine and chatted on the phone. Perhaps being in the same room as Derby counts for something!

Some good came out of that frustrating evening. I was told that the RockCity Rollers were having their first scrimmage of the year and that Fresh Meat and Smokey Bacon were welcome to come and watch. I was really excited to watch another bout in person.

The night started out a bit rocky. I sat in the stands and was completely alone. One of the players skated over and asked me who I was. I told her and she said ” Oh, OK. Welcome” then skated off and said to a teammate “I don’t know, she is English” (she said all of this in Dutch, of course). I wonder if she understood what I had said.

Anyways..

At this point I wished I had brought knitting. I felt very outside. I feel like this less and less now. But its a combination of not being Dutch, only passably speaking the language and being Fresh Meat that made me kinda wish I could blend into the bleachers. I wanted to be there, but not be “that weird English chick sitting alone in the corner” (and for those of you wondering: I am not, in fact English, I am American. But “English” is a generic term for anyone who speaks English).

Before the bout actually started one of the Fresh Meat trainers who was playing in the scrimmage skated over and told me that I was sitting in the wrong spot. I should be sitting with the other players and officials (and one random dog) in what is the Derby equivalent of a dugout. I was so grateful! I would have given her a hug if that wouldn’t have been weird, and she was on skates, and we were separated by a wall. You get the idea.

I changed locations and things immediately got better. People started talking to me! It was a shame I couldn’t stay till the end but I had Power Yoga at 9:00. Everyone was just starting to warm up a little to the “little English Girl”. I’m so glad I went. I was able to keep up with what was going on and the rules started to actually make sense.

I was surprised and a little sad that I was the only one from either Fresh Meat or Smokey Bacon to come. It would have been nice to have a group.

 

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon studying the rules. I finally read the rule book from beginning to end. It a warm and sunny day and I was able to sit outside and read while the kids played. I have that scrimmage to thank for my ability to grasp the concepts finally. I was able to read the rules and the example situations and know what was going on. I’m very happy with that. I still don’t feel completely confident in my ability to pass the written test but I am getting much closer.

Practice:

This was an extra practice. There was something going on that was preventing us from meeting but it got cancelled. I honestly didn’t really know any of that till a few days before. I am very glad we had a practice though, 2 weeks away would have been far to much!

This was a particularly fun one. The first half or so was like a boot camp. I love boot camp. I am a big fan of movement and pushing my body as far as I can and then a little further. I’m a bit nuts like that.

Instead of the normal fitness routine (boring) he just called out different things. All of them were the things we had been practicing like planking and squats but in a random order and repeatedly. It was so much more interesting.

Then we did some endurance training. This was seriously fun (in a deranged nut job way). We skated as fast as we could across half of the track then fell to a knee and spun around on our belly. In the end (if all goes well) we are laying on on our stomachs looking at the direction we came. When the whistle blew we jumped up and did it again. Back and forth for ages! Then we took a brake and didn’t it again.

At the water break I asked the trainer if we were doing more. He said “don’t hate me!” My response was  “It’s like boot camp. I love boot camps. I do this style of thing a few times a week”. If they really want to learn how to make us cry they should check out Body Pump at the gym! Goodness, I can’t even imagine what would happen if my favourite instructor was given a room full of people on skates and told to wear them out!

After that we went over the things that would be on the basic skills test. I fell on my butt jumping over the obstacle. I was told that we have to be able to jump over the cones stacked 3 high, if i had to guess I would say about 6 inches. It took some doing but I finally managed. Now that I have done it a few time I’m confident that I will be able to the day of the test.

I actually find my confidence growing more and more. Perhaps I can pass basic skills on the first go! I’m not pinning all my hoped and dreams on it, though. After all, I haven’t been on skates since I was a little kid. It would be unreasonable to expect me to master this level of skating in only 15 weeks at 2 hours a day. Still, would be nice!

We didn’t attempt our 27 in 5. I was told that this was because it was an “extra practice”. I was very sad! I was kinda using that as my way to judge progress.

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Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 12

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 11

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat Week 10

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Weeks 8 & 9

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 7

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat,Week 6

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 5

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat Week 4

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 3

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, week 2

Roller Derby: New Year New Challenges. Fresh Meat. Week 1

 

Bij de Neut: Westerhoven

I was traveling back home in Dallas visiting family and we decided to go out to eat. I asked if the restaurant was kid friendly, because I have kids and I am not going to take them  somewhere were they are going to be miserable and make everyone else miserable as a result. I was guaranteed that it was, in fact, kid friendly so off we went for a dinner out. Apparently, “kid friendly” means a colouring sheet and 3 crayons.

Ummm. No.

I live in the Netherlands where kid friendly really means “the kids will be well entertained so you can enjoy your meal with minimal stress.” Restaurants like this are everywhere and they make my world a nicer place, but you kinda have to know where to look.

Bij de Neut in Westerhoven is pretty amazing. Great for the kids but the atmosphere is very “grown up”, meaning that the play areas are well hidden but easily  accessible. The feel of the place is really fun. The Dutch word is “gezellig” and it is a wonderful word. It doesn’t have an exact English equivalent, it means. “cozy”, and “warm” and “welcoming”. A place or a situation can be gezellig. It’s a fun word. Give it a whirl sometime.

There are three main rooms. 2 with play areas and 1 without.

Walking in and to the right you find the biggest of the rooms. It is loosely seperated into two sections. Directly around the play area there are small bistro style tables, perfect for a coffee or wine while the kids burn some energy. The other part has more traditional square tables.

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There is a padded area for little kids.

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And beautifully hidden is the big soft play.

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yep. Thats a soft play. Amazing! I never would have believed there was so much fun hidden away back there!

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There are stairs in there that lead to a little cinema. There was nothing playing on the afternoon we were there but it was really slow that day.

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There is a new addition since the last time I was there. A whole room in the back with yet another play area! It has the feel of a beach vacation complete with a boat ( with a soft play inside)!

The play area is so fun!

To the left of the entrance there is also a big room with more seating. There is no play areas inside and it has a much more “adult restaurant” feel.

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What about the food, right?

I was also very impressed with the food. My daughter ordered the “kid pancake” and I ordered the “margarita pizza” . Her pancake came with fruit, 2 kinds of sweets, whipped cream and syrup. She nearly lost it when the waitress put it in front of her. I really think her brain was overloaded with joy, she literally just stared at it.

MY pizza was HUGE! I’m not ashamed to say that I very nearly finished it. Just in case you are wondering, that is a ramekin of mayonnaise on top of my pizza. I just put it aside and pretended not to notice it. It must be a Dutch thing.

What really impresses me about this place is the little touches that make the atmosphere interesting and yet very mature at the same time. It doesn’t feel like a kids playground but the level of whimsy is so high that my 2.5 year old daughter found the atmosphere delightful as well.

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And I almost forgot about the ice cream.

There is a patio but it doesn’t have any play equipment.

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Put this place on your list. I can’t wait to go back with both of my kids. My son would love it (in fact I felt a little guilty about going while he was at school).  Bij de Neut could also be enjoyed by people without small kids. I would take visiting family or kidless friends here for a dinner out with the family and I know everyone would have a really nice time.

 

Cheers! To eating out with the kids and actually having a relaxing time!

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Some Practical Information: 

  • This is their website: Bij de Neut
  • This is their address: DORPSTRAAT 8, 5563 BD WESTERHOVEN
  • They are open every day from 10:00 – 9:00
  • There is free on site parking
  • They host kids birthday parties. I’ll bet they are fantastic!

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Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 12

I was able to get some skate time apart from derby practice this week. Someone also participating in either Fresh Meat or Smoky Bacon posted a link in out FB group about a 70’s roller skating disco night. I thought is sounded like a great way to spend an evening. Practicing skating, getting to know some of the other freshies and listening to some cool music. What could be better, right?

Well, some of that happened.

The roller disco was happening on 2 nights. I knew that some people were going on Friday and the rest of us were going on Saturday. It was a shame I couldn’t go on Friday but I already had plans (I personally knew some of the ladies going on that night). I really didn’t let this worry me, though. I’m social and always game to make new friends. I posted a week before that I had bought my tickets. I also wrote that I was going to be driving and would be happy to drive the group. CRICKETS.

I started to get a sinking feeling that I would be there alone. Luckily for me, a friend of mine was able to join me at the last minute. We ended up having a really great time. I got to skate just for the fun of it, something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I realised how much I enjoy skating. It was really nice. There was a girl, probably aged 8, there tearing it up. She was so amazing. Spinning around and doing tricks. I had serious skate envy.

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As you have probably guessed, no one from Roller Derby showed up. I would have felt a little rejected but luckily I really don’t care that much. My self worth has never been tied up in other people and I’m not about to let that kind of thing start now. It did seriously burst my “roller derby community” happy bubble and I am going to be very hesitant to make plans with anyone I don’t know personally in the future. It’s fine that things come up and I know that everyone is busy but it would have been nice if the people that were supposed to be meeting me there would have at least let me know they couldn’t come. That’s kinda common courtesy. In situations like this I really start to feel like an outsider. Not only new to derby but in The Netherlands.

Oh well. I am awesome, my friend and I had a great time and they missed out (for whatever reason) on a load of fun.

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Yep, I’m wearing my Derby skates, because they are awesome and I love them.

 

Practice:

More of the same form last week, really. Pack skating with Smokey Bacon and skating in a line handing off a ball. The last nearly half of practice 2 instructors asked us what we were having trouble with specifically and we got some one on one help. That was really helpful. I focused on transitions, skating forward and then turning so that you are skating backwards and then back the other way.

my 27 in 5?

25 BABY!!!!!!! I skated 25 laps in 5 minutes. I’m continuing to do better each time and I’m really pleased with that.

I am starting to get a little nervous about the skills test. I came to the conclusion that I enjoy going to the practices so even if I don’t move forward, I’m fine. I realised that I will miss the practice test and the final practice because I will be traveling and that’s a shame. Couple that with my injury a while ago and I am going to cut myself some serious slack.

This was the first practice that the weather was really nice. I was so sweaty. I kid you not, I had knee sweat. First time that has ever happened to me. I can only imagine how stinky our gear will be by summer!!

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After practice we had another rules class. Oh my, I suck. Every time I we have one I say that I will buckle down and learn the rules. But then 2 weeks go by and I have done nothing! I have about 2 hours after the kids go to bed to get everything done and I guess this has always just been pushed to the bottom of the list. I need to get better about that.

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So thats it for this week. I’m out of town again next weekend. I plan on going to practice but I will have to see how my kids do when I get home.

Either way I am almost done at this point with Fresh Meat (at least possibly the first round). I look forward to much more Derby in my future!

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 11

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat Week 10

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Weeks 8 & 9

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 7

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat,Week 6

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 5

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat Week 4

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, Week 3

Roller Derby: Fresh Meat, week 2

Roller Derby: New Year New Challenges. Fresh Meat. Week 1

Tofu Springrolls: Cooking With The Kids

I haven’t let the kids help me cook in ages. Well, they help me cook all the time but I haven’t made it an organised event with kid friendly food in ages. I need to start that again. Sheer laziness is probably the reason I stopped. I mean, it’s so much faster to send them outside to play and do it myself. Less mess as well. But they will never learn that way so it’s time to make more of an effort again.

Tonight we made Tofu Spring Rolls

 

First I cut the tofu into strips and roasted it in a hot oven until it was crispy on the outside, around 20 minutes. In the meantime I gathered and prepped any vegetables that I thought would be good. I chose cucumber, bell pepper, carrots and spinach. I’m sure you can use any vegetables you want.

I got these rice paper wraps. Man they are tricky! The instructions say to soak the sheets in warm water for 30 seconds and then put them on a tea towel. I followed the instructions the first time but it went horribly wrong. They stuck to the towel and I couldn’t get it off!  I learned that it’s better to use a plate but it needs to be kept dry.

I let the kids fill them and then I wrapped them (to the best of my ability). They had a great time. My son decided that he loved all the individual ingredients all of a sudden.  The kids ate more during the process of making them than they ate the finished product. Including the roasted tofu.

I mixed soy sauce and sweet chilli for a quick sauce.

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I thought they were really good (especially for my first attempt). My son decided that he loved them and ate a respectable amount. This was a huge result because I haven’t been able to convince him to touch a vegetable in ages.

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My daughter was less impressed. I think she found them difficult to eat.

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I will say that they were quit bland. This was perfect for my kids because they tend to prefer their food more on the bland side but I could have done with more seasoning. I tried to drip some soy sauce inside of one before I rolled it but it was a disaster! Next time I will plan ahead better and marinate the tofu overnight.

I’m happy we cooked dinner together. It was fun!