25 September, 2013


If you've been coming to visit me here at Adventures in Integration over the last three years, you'd have noticed that it has been a bit dead here lately.  I thought I'd better pop by myself and offer an explanation.

Time.  Pure and simple.  I don't have much of it left over once I've been to work, looked after my daughter, had dinner and spent the evening working on my side project; my crochet business MissNeriss.  Blogging isn't the only aspect of life that has fallen by the wayside, you should see the state of my house.  Not great.

A lot of the "spare" time I do have is spent trying to figure out the balance between work and family, and to try and work on my own health and self esteem.  I've started doing yoga at home, which is actually helping me a lot.  The quiet brings a lot of clarity and calm.  God, doesn't that sound wanky.  But it's true.  It's good for soul searching.  When I'm not collapsing from trying to hold some sort of reverse plank position!

So, something has to give and unfortunately, this is it.  I'm going to be away from this page for a while.  I'm not sure how long.  Hopefully not permanently, because this place has brought me so much joy and so many lasting friendships, both online and in real life.  But let us say that you won't find me here again this year.  When it comes to resolution time in January, I'll see how I'm going, and if the ideas that are bursting out of me actually make it onto the page.

Until then, let's stay in touch.  You can always get me via Facebook, and you can come join me at missneriss.com and check out the adorable creations that have been taking all my time...


08 August, 2013

Weekendje Weg - Bruges (Brugge)

I'd been to Bruges before.  One afternoon, on a Sunday back in 2008.  We had planned to go to Antwerpen, only to find that it was a car-free day and nothing was open, so decided to go on to Bruges for a bit of a look.  And wow!  It was one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe.

So, when the opportunity came up to return this last weekend I jumped at it.  Carly (my first friend in Holland) had booked tickets to see Cats, the musical, in Oostende and someone had cancelled and she had a spare ticket.  I'd never seen Cats, so thought, why not?

We arrived in Bruges and the weather was gorgeous.  Absolutely glorious.  We were coming off the back of some of the hottest days of the year and the cool change was just arriving which was fabulous (although no complaints about the hot weather, it was amazing!).

Our first stop was the square, of course.  We decided to grab dinner there and soak up the atmosphere while doing a bit of people watching.  Until the bill arrived.  96 euros for three mains and two rounds of drinks for the three of us was a bit of a rude shock!  But, we reasoned that this was a one-off and we should just enjoy the perfect weather and gezelligheid.

Saturday was spent cruising the city and the multitude of chocolateries.  There's one thing that Bruges will never run out of, and that's chocolate.  And horse-drawn carriages.  The city was absolutely heaving, but to be honest, I didn't really notice it.  Usually I hate crowds, but it really wasn't a problem.  I think I was just enjoying my break so much that I could have been anywhere!

Canals of Bruges
Look at the people behind me. I didn't even notice they were there!

In the evening we headed over to Oostende to see Cats, and the city was a huge surprise.  I was expecting a bit of a dump of a town to be honest, not the Belgian Benidorm!  High-rise apartments line the beach for miles and the promenade was bustling with people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.  It was lovely.

And the musical.  What can I say?  Meh.  It didn't excite me.  I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't rave about it and my life isn't richer for having seen it.  I don't get the hype.

What I was excited about though was the famous Bruges Belfry.  On the Saturday I looked at it and thought to myself: I should climb that.  I had a quick look at the entry and saw people lined up to climb and decided then and there that I wouldn't be joining that queue.  Instead I planned to come back as soon as it opened the next day and avoid the masses.

Bruges Belfry
The Belfry.  366 steps to the top.

And I'm so glad that I did!  I was one of the first to the top and the view was spectacular!

The view from the Belfry, Bruges
The view from the Belfry

The absolute best part of getting up early to climb the Belfry was that nobody else had the same idea.  I walked the streets of Bruges from 8 am and the city was practically deserted.  Quiet and still, it gave me a whole other level of appreciation for the place.  Sunday morning is my favourite time to really explore a city, while it's still sleeping.  Especially in summer and with gorgeous weather.

Canals of Bruges, Sunday morning without the crowds.
The same view as above, without the masses!

My top tips for visiting Bruges:
Avoid eating on the main square if you are on a budget.  Yes, the atmosphere is amazing, but the food is overpriced and average at best.  Explore first, you'll find a multitude of lovely restaurants and cafes within a stones throw of the Belfry.

Take a canal cruise.  While the canals are not as extensive as Amsterdam and it's only about a half hour trip, the city of Bruges is Unesco listed and there is some seriously impressive architecture to be seen, including the 100+ metre high cathedral which is made entirely of bricks instead of stone.

Eat chocolate!  It doesn't matter where really.  I know that not all chocolate shops were created equal, but in Belgium you'll have to try very hard to find a bad one!

Try a trappist beer.  There are literally hundreds to choose from, but be careful: some of them are so strong they're likely to blow your socks off!

Take the time to visit Oostende if the weather is good and time allows.  The promenade is well worth a stroll.  The beach is lovely and there's plenty of space.

I love Bruges.  I still want to return in the winter, I think it will be a spectacular cold, Christmas city.  Have you been?  What did you think?

16 July, 2013

Why is it so hard to make friends with other mamas?

Seriously.  Raina has been going to day care since she was ten weeks old and the only other parent I am friends with is a woman I knew already, as she's another foreigner (and awesome).

Why is it?  I just haven't been able to break in.  I've had a friendly chat with one mother whom I ran into at the health centre one day when Raina was in for her monthly check up, but I've never seen her again.  The mothers I do see regularly completely blank me.  Really.  None of my attempts even gain eye contact.  One of the little boys opened the door for me once and his mother proceeded to give him the bollocking of a life time for opening the door for strangers.  Fair enough, but I'm not a stranger.  I see her little boy three days a week.  We chat together and he plays with Raina all day long.  I'm not a stranger to the mother either.  I've seen her three times a week for a year.  But she's never once acknowledged me.  I must have committed some crime on the very first day that she hasn't forgotten.

I've had people let the door slam in my face, ignore me and then if they do talk, it's just to be patronising.For example:
Her:  "Oh wat een bos haar heb je," (what a lot of hair you have) to Raina
Me:  "Ja, sinds ze geboren was," (yeah, ever since she was born) with a big grin, thinking finally!  I can engage with someone.
Her: "Tjsa.  Dat weet ik,"  (like, yeah, whatever.  I know that.) in a sarcastic way, not looking at me, then turning away.

It has taken me right back to the very early days when I first arrived in Holland.  Except now I do know the language and I'm not afraid to communicate in it.  These women seem to know all about me; where I come from, that we went on holiday to Australia for a month over Christmas, but I know zero about any of them.

One of the first things we learn in Inburgering is "Je moet altijd een hand geven," or, you must always offer to shake hands when you meet someone new.  Not one parent has offered their hand to me and yes, of course I could be offering my own hand, but that's difficult when eye contact isn't even possible.  I'm the first to admit that although I'm not great at making new friends and approaching new people, I'd love to be able to make friends with some of these parents.  Especially as our children are the same age and we live in the same area and are potential play-date material, but I feel as though it's too late.  The walls are already up.  And fortified.

I'm hoping it can be different once Raina turns two.  She'll be able to go to playgroup and parents are encouraged to hang around for a few minutes to interact.  I'd love to meet new people who share the same interests.  And by interests, I mean have kids.  At the weekend we went to a party for a friend's 40th (oh lord.  My friends are celebrating their 40ths.  Shit.) and it was wonderful.  He has a gorgeous daughter and their house is kid-proof!  We could just let Raina enjoy herself instead of stressing about her knocking over expensive statues or smearing the tv with her greasy fingers.  It was just about the best party I've ever been to.  Purely for that reason.  Well, the food was pretty fabulous too.  But I'm hoping that the playgroup will be a fresh start.  New people, new opportunities.  Maybe an invitation for coffee if I'm lucky.

Ultimately my point is, I want to have friends who live close by and have kids and I had always thought that I would find those friends via the day care because at the very least, we'd have kids the same age in common.  Instead I feel even more of an outsider.

How have you coped with making friends via kids and living in a foreign country?  I always hear that we must try harder to integrate and interact with the locals, but I don't know how I can break through.  Any advice for me?

And just because it's so cool, here's a photo of Raina getting creative with her dinner.

Raina dinner

01 July, 2013

The European Mama

A few days ago I was lucky enough to guest post on The European Mama, a fantastic site discussing the ins and outs of multilingual living here in the Netherlands.

I shared the story of what I call my Sliding Doors moment.  That moment in time where life could have gone one way, or in the complete opposite direction.  For me it was being dumped.  In my navel gazing moments, I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if we had stayed together.  It by all means was not a long relationship, it was a defining one in my life.  Here's a snippet of the article:
It was December 27, 2002.  I was visiting my boyfriend, blissfully happy and looking forward to the future.  Completely out of the blue he took my heart and smashed it into a million pieces.  He couldn’t give me a reason why, but proceeded to string me along for six more months leading me to believe that there was a chance we would get back together and live happily ever after.
More than ten years later I realise that day way back in 2002 was my sliding doors moment.  Remember that movie where Gwyneth Paltrow lives two lives in parallel and sports two equally horrific haircuts?  It was the moment in time where my life could have gone in two completely different directions...... Read more

Olga is a Polish born, multilingual parent living in Holland with her German husband and three small children. I have no idea how I found Olga, but all of a sudden her fabulous blog was on my must-read list.  It should be on yours, too.

11 June, 2013

GROOTS met een zachte G

Every year in Eindhoven, Brabant's favourite son Guus Meeuwis performs his three-day extravaganza - Groots met een zachte G.  Basically it's one massive party, with singing, conga lines, beer throwing, dancing and of course, beer drinking.

This year my sisters in law gave me a ticket for my birthday and it was an absolute cracker!  I couldn't understand much, but could sing along to my favourites - Het is een Nacht, Brabant, and of course, Kedang Kedang (which has to be heard to be believed!).

I had such a great time; I even had to get myself a souvenir - a pair of Guus Glasses:

Like my duckface selfie?

Thanks girls, I loved the concert.  Loved it.

27 May, 2013

My first Lustrum

Five years ago yesterday I hopped on a plane from Bristol and flew to the Netherlands to live with Maarten after almost a year in a long distance relationship.  Five years ago yesterday I was planning a short term solution to our problems of not being able to relocate to Australia.  Five years ago yesterday I was full of hope, confidence and excitement for the future.  Five years ago yesterday the weather was warm (damnit!).

So how has my short term solution panned out?  Well, not so short after all.  Life seemed to get in the way.  We bought a house, got married and then had a baby.  Now that baby is a toddler and we're no closer to moving to Australia.

How did I celebrate?  With a new bicycle!  One of the greatest aspects of working in the Netherlands is that every year in May you are paid 8% of your gross salary as "Holiday money."  Essentially you put money aside from your salary each month and are given a lump sum in May to help with whatever it is you plan to do over the summer (holidays, renovations, savings, whatever).  I decided to do two things with my holiday money: contract an amazing professional illustrator to create some graphics for my blossoming crochet business and buy a new bike.

A bike has been high on my list of priorities for more than a year.  I have to carry Raina to and from day care quite a bit, so I have been carrying her on my back in my Stokke MyCarrier since she was about ten weeks old.  I'm not exactly sure if it's against the law to do this, but it's really not recommended although I've always felt safe and in control.  But, this was never a long term solution.  Both my and Maarten's bikes are not really suitable to attach a child seat to, we don't have the space to store a trailer, and we don't have the spare 1600 euros for a bakfiets and nor do I want to push that sucker around all day long.

So, I started looking around for cool bikes.  My friend Sanne (hi Sanne!) bought a new bike a couple of years ago and I remember her saying that if you're going to spend s bucket-load of cash on a bike, make it a cool one.  And what a cool bike I found!

It's actually even cooler now, because Maarten bought a bright pink seat for Raina, so she sits just behind the handlebars and absolutely loves it.

So is my integration finally complete?  I complete my daily life in Dutch, I've been naked at the sauna, I eat and enjoy boerenkool, I use the word "Gezellig" in normal conversation, I am no longer even mildly surprised when I'm elbowed out the way so an old lady/kid/business man can get on or off the bus before me, I moan about the weather every single day, I always hold my line while cycling, and now I have an awesome bike with a child seat.

What's left?  Where will I be in another five years?

Edited to add:  Because I'm celebrating a significant event in my life, I have followed the rules and have brought a tart to work for my colleagues to share.  There's officially nothing left in my path to full integration!

23 May, 2013

Tuineren - An Update

Remember a couple of weeks ago I talked about our front garden renovation project? Well, it's finished!

What do you think?

Looks great, doesn't it?  Now to get those pots I was talking about and scrub the remnants of the ivy that I ripped of the walls about two years ago....

06 May, 2013


For some time now we have been those neighbours.  You know, the neighbours with the ugly, unkempt, overgrown front yard.

The ground was covered in wild strawberries (the inedible kind), lots of spiders and dandelions.  Thankfully we had a hedge to hide it a little bit!

We decided months ago that this year we would fix it.  So, we've been sitting inside looking at the crappy weather for months, just waiting to get outside and work on becoming the neighbours that don't have the ugliest garden in the street.

Saturday was step one:  I got in and chopped our thorny hedge off at ground level, earning myself quite a few prickly splinters.  Took me back to my shed hand days, where I had hands covered in black dots from all the thistles....

This was a bitch to get out.  They all were, actually.

Yesterday was the day to dig out the roots.  I figured it was going to be a monumental task as one shovel had already fallen casualty to the cause on Saturday.  This time I tried with a pitchfork, who very quickly succumbed to the same fate.

Enter Maarten.  Together we scrambled around on the ground, digging to our elbows and then finally pulling each stump out one by one.  For once my weight came in handy; being able to use my body as leverage to pull those suckers out.

Last stump!

Now we have an even uglier garden, but it will soon be transformed into a clean paved wonderland with a couple of colourful pots to make it look inviting.

Here's what it looks like now.  But not for long!

I can't wait to proudly walk to the front door, rather than skulk in pretending I don't really live there....

And just because the garden isn't ugly everywhere, here are some photos of our back garden, which I'm enormously proud of!

Tulips love my garden.  So do moles.

Minus a tree that Maarten's dad chopped down for us.

23 April, 2013

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the King. Wait....

For the first time in more than 100 years, Nederlanders will have to remind themselves to drop the "in" when referring to the monarch. "Koning" just doesn't have the same ring as "Koningin" and it's going to take some getting used to saying "Koningdag" (King Day) when it took three years for me to be able to say "Konininginnendag" (Queen's Day). Queen Beatrix announced her abdication on the 28th of January this year, a few days ahead of her 75th birthday.

She has been on the job since her mother, Queen Juliana abdicated in 1980 and has been a hugely popular monarch over the last 33 years.  I think it's fabulous that the monarchs abdicate here.  It seems they get to a certain age and think, "Bugger it.  I'm retiring," and hand over the reigns (see what I did there?) to their first born.  I wonder how often Queen Elizabeth thinks that now that she's staring down the barrel at 90...

So this year, instead of the usual city visit, the Netherlands will be turning its attention to the coronation of Willem-Alexander, the first king since Willem III, who died in 1890, leaving daughter Wilhelmina in charge.

Quirky Fact

Did you know that until 1890 when Willem III died, Luxembourg was also ruled by the King of the Netherlands? The Grand Duchy was granted to the Nassau-Oranje (Oranje-Nassau) family in 1815 as compensation for lands lost to Prussia and the head of the family (Willem I) happened to be crowned King of the Netherlands around the same time. Luxembourg split from the Netherlands in 1890 when Willem III died, as the last male heir in the Nassau-Oranje line.  Because women were not allowed to hold power in Luxembourg, the Dutch heir Wilhelmina could not take become the Grand Duchess, so Willem III's 17th(!) cousin once removed, Adolf de Nassau became Grand Duke of Luxembourg as the first male heir in the Nassau family (source).

Not only that, when Willem III died Wilhelmina was only ten years old, so her mother Emma ruled as regent until 1898 when turned 18.  All makes for a good historical novel, don't you think?

The Festivities

Every year thousands - what feels like millions - of people flock to Amsterdam to celebrate Queen's Day. The party usually starts on the 29th (Koninginennacht) with DJs, party boats and masses of people dressed in orange filling the city. I've never been to Amsterdam on Queen's Night and to be honest, that many drunk people in one place is just not my thing. But more importantly, there is never anywhere to go to the loo. One New Year's Eve I had to go in an alley next to the flash harry Hotel Krasnapolsky while my friend Jess had to stand guard, because there were no ladies toilets anywhere to be found on the Dam Square. I probably should have been embarrassed, but after a bottle of champers I was desperate!

But as usual, I digress.

The first Queen's Day I was in Holland Maarten took me to Amsterdam for Queen's Day and it was sheer madness. I spent most of the day with my nose firmly jammed in somebody else's armpit (as I'm Dutch armpit height), couldn't get a drink anywhere, the parties that we found were all DJs playing doof doof music (which I hate) and worst of all, we don't have a friend with a boat. The only place to be on Queen's Day (or any Amsterdam festival) in my opinion is on the canals in a half-submerged boat drinking beer and singing oompah-pah songs.

In the years since, we have stayed in Almere.  We have a ritual we follow every year.  Pretend nothing is going on on the 29th, get up early and head to Almere Haven to check out the flea markets, then Almere Stad to do the same in the afternoon.  Since 2012 we've thrown the children's flea market into the mix, finding some fantastic bargains.

Flea Market

The flea markets, or vrijmarkt, is a wholly Dutch phenomenon that I just love. Well, of course the flea market concept is not Dutch, but the scale of it is something that I have never heard of before in my life. Every city, town and village turns into one big outdoor market with people marking their space days before so they score the prime real estate. In Almere Stad the market kicks of at 6pm on the 29th and the city goes nuts. If you just happen to be trying to get from one end of town to the train station, forget it. All the streets and squares are clogged with families flogging their unwanted goods, trying to get the best possible price. It's a real party atmosphere, going on throughout the night with music and general gezelligheid. Then, come about midday on the 30th everyone packs up their stuff (or just abandons it) and goes off to celebrate, or sleep.

My tip: If you're a serious shopper, make a list of what you want to buy and go on a mission to find it.  Otherwise you'll find yourself wandering for hours picking up loads of crap that you will get home and realise you have no use for.  Having said that, we did pick up a fantastic cast iron pot one year for 50c.  Too bad it was at one of the first stalls we stopped at and then had to cart it around all day.  Correction requested by husband:  he had to carry it all day.  Obviously I was far too busy buying crap that I didn't need...

Next Year

It will be Willem-Alexander's time in the sun.  Controversially he has changed the date of the celebrations and King's Day will be on his birthday - 27 April.  One of the (many) reasons Queen Beatrix has been so greatly loved is because she made the decision not to change the Queen's Day festivities to her own birthday, which is in January as she wanted to make sure that the Dutchies at least had a chance at some sunshine.

The controversy isn't that Willem-Alexander is changing the date however, but that the new date falls on a Sunday.  Big deal, I hear you think.  Well yes, it is.  Unlike other countries, when a national holiday falls on a weekend the government does not make the following Monday a holiday in leiu.  So we are being robbed (robbed, I tell you!) of a public holiday in 2014.  Actually, it saves the economy millions.  But that doesn't make it any more fun.

And finally, it must be highlighted that one may not be king without a beard: Zonder baard, geen koning

How do you feel about our new king?  And how do you celebrate Queen's Day?  Or what is your favourite holiday from your home country?

10 April, 2013

Best Customer Service Ever!

After almost five years of living in the Netherlands I've become very accustomed to the lack of customer service, the niet mogelijk and kan niet, and argumentative wait staff.

So you can only imagine my shock when I experienced great customer service in the extreme yesterday.

I've only recently been able to afford to be able to return to my awesome hairdresser after a year's hiatus.  That's right, a year.  After Raina was born I started working less and my disposable income essentially disappeared completely.  But out of the blue the opportunity arose to make some money out of advertising on this site, so I jumped at it.  It isn't much, but enough that I could go back to my beloved hairdresser.

Anyway, yesterday I had a hair appointment and rocked up at the time in my agenda - 4.30pm.  Problem was, my appointment was at 3.30 according to their agenda.  Shit.  I was fully expected to be told to go away and make another appointment (as would be the norm), but the manager went to see if my hairdresser was still around, or if she had gone for the day.

Next moment my hairdresser appeared; I had caught her right in the middle of having her own hair done!  She was dressed in a cape and half her head was covered in foil and hair dye.  We both fell over ourselves laughing and apologising for the mix-up (also a rarity) and she suggested that if I give her 15 minutes to finish painting her hair I could come back and we would have our appointment as normal.  Wow!

She then proceeded to colour my hair while still dressed in a cape and with her hair all covered in hair dye.  Not only that, because she wasn't happy with the job she did last time - I was fine with it, liked it in fact - she was going to re-do it for free.  Free!  Can you honestly tell me the last time somebody offered something for free, anywhere?

Then, after drying and styling my hair for half an hour, she decided that the ends were a bit dry and quickly ran over my hair with the scissors to tidy it up.  Again, for free!  Unreal.

I have to say, that even before this amazing instance of customer service, I was recommending this hairdresser of mine to everybody who would listen, but now I'm going to shout it from the rooftops.

If you're in Almere and looking for a perfect stylist, head to Salon B and ask for Nanja.  And for future googling remember:  Mooi Haar, door Nanja.

Updated 19 September 213:  Nanja has since left Salon B and has set up her own business.  So, if you're looking for a fabulous stylist, get in contact and I'll connect you with her.  You won't regret it, I promise.

Tell me about the best customer service experience you've had recently.  We complain about the bad points so often, sometimes we need reminding of the good.

11 March, 2013

Consumed by the Obsession

I haven't had a lot of time lately to think about life in the Netherlands (apart from the awful weather I complained about ad nauseum here) because I've been far too busy working on my obsession!

It was a friend's birthday a month or so ago and her husband challenged her friends to instead of buying a gift, to make something that we thought she would love.  I stalled and procrastinated and wondered what I would make until I remembered:  I have a hobby!  I can crochet something!  But what, exactly?  Then I remembered that the friend is crazy nuts about Hello Kitty so I decided to make her a hat.

Illness and the weather was against me, so I couldn't make the party to give the gift in person, but my husband went and I understand that the hat was a great success.  So much so that it led to my very first order: another Hello Kitty hat!

From there the whole selling my obsession idea has started to gather some momentum.  I've been busy making more hats, exploring the possibility of making dolls and have even just finished making a dress for a dog!  Who knew that there was a market for crochet doggie outfits?!  Not me, that's for sure.

Now I'm busy trying to come up with some business ideas - what do I call myself?  What is the best selling platform?  Is it Etsy?  Facebook?  Word of mouth?  Coming up with some branding ideas and getting myself an online presence.  All of this is taking quite a bit of effort and I continue to push it to the bottom of the To Do list because I'm far too busy actually making things!  Oh and did I mention that I'm discussing collaborating with my good friend Stephanie who makes jewellery.  We have been madly pinning ideas on that massive time sink that is Pinterest.

Watch this space (and my Instagram feed) as my new project starts to unfold.  I'm hoping it's a success and I'm absolutely chomping at the bit.

So, apologies in advance if there is a bit of radio silence around here.  This space is my baby and I promise I won't abandon it.

In the mean time, take a look at some of the bits and bobs I've been making recently and if you want me to make you something, just let me know and I'll send you an email!
Baby owls.  Raina loves playing with and chewing on these.

"May the force be with you."

Mary Jane slippers for myself that I wear every day!

The infamous "Boobie Beanie"

My favourite project so far, isn't this hippo cool?

Basket made out of t-shirt yarn.  Cool hey!

Sock monkey beanie

Just whipped this up one afternoon - cotton summer beanie.

04 March, 2013

This Week's View

Over the past few weeks I have been down in the dumps (as my ranty post from last week illustrated), but that's all changing people!

I went to the sauna with a good friend last week and I have been feeling much more positive ever since.  Seriously, if you're avoiding the sauna because of the nakedness, get over it and get amongst it!

Plus, I stepped outside this morning and it was clear, crisp and sunny!  Cycling to work was a joy; there was almost no wind, which is a rarity in Almere and all the cyclists were happily going about their business, behaving well.

And look, here's the view from my office window this week:

A bit different to the same view from this time last week:

So I'm a very happy camper, to say the least.

Happy March, and happy spring!

Thanks to everybody who gave me some invaluable tips for coping with the horrid weather last week.  I will seriously consider light therapy for next winter and I bought a new dress at the weekend, so I can crank the heating and dance around drinking tropical cocktails!

26 February, 2013

My New Hero

(not the man shown in the capture on screen below, really!)

"But the Muslims did not kill six million Jews in Europe," is not what I would usually expect to come out of the mouth of TV game show host Andrew O'Keefe's mouth.  I'm far more used to hearing "No Deal!" and had tarred him with the Lightweight brush.

How wrong could I have been!  I was forwarded an interview today that AOK held with Dutch Polly Geert Wilders, who is currently spreading his gospel around Australia. I am now convinced that he is a very talented and incredibly prepared journalist who has just about been elevated to the level of my other favourite journalist Andrew (Denton) in the interview stakes.

Check out the full interview here.  I haven't enjoyed a television interview so much in a very long time.  Wilders was severely outclassed in my opinion.  But then, I'm clearly biased...

25 February, 2013

Cabin Fever

If I were Innuit, I would have been sent out onto the ice by now.  If I was Anangu I would have been sent out into the desert.  If I was living with my parents I would have been given a "clip under the ear," by now.  Why?  Cabin fever.

I'm sick of the long grey days.  I'm sick of the cold weather.  I'm sick of snow and ice.  I'm sick of freezing cold wind and sleet.  I'm sick of spending my weekends in the house looking at my ugly garden.  I'm sick of being sick!  I need to get out of the house and I need some sunshine.  The amazing month in Australia is nothing but a distant memory.  So distant, I can barely remember how it felt to have the sun on my face.

I'm short with Raina and even shorter with Maarten.  The poor man is being blamed for everything.  My gloves, hat and scarf were missing this morning.  He happily went searching in the car to no avail, while I tore our bedroom to pieces in an angry frenzy.  When I came back empty handed I immediately blamed him for leaving them in the hotel room when we left yesterday.  Why would I blame him?  They're not his responsibility.  I did find the hat, gloves and scarf - under Raina's buggy, where they had been stored yesterday while we were out and about.  Then poor Maarten made the mistake of pushing for an apology.  Apology?!  Instead I just about bit his head off!

This is unacceptable and has to stop.  In years gone by, these feelings would have degenerated into months of "I hate this fucking country" ranting, but now I know it's not Holland's fault.  The problem is with me.  And with winter.  I stare out the window at my bleak surroundings, dormant trees, endless grey and it makes me miserable.  I wonder if the sun will ever shine again.

The view from my office window today. Envious?
The view from the same window, 11 weeks ago!

In the past it has been suggested that we buy a punching bag, so I have something to take my frustrations out on.  But this won't help.  I don't want to punch something, I want to break something.  Give me an endless budget and a room at the Dorchester and I'll work out my frustrations on the furniture in a jiffy.

But this is reality.  I don't have the option of trashing a room at the Dorchester with Tommy Lee and Slash.  It won't be considered polite behaviour to kick the next cyclist who cuts me off on my way to work.  It's only a matter of time before Maarten files for divorce.  How do I fix it?  Is it vitamin D?  A general sense of winter misery that will only end with the coming of spring?  Should I move to Spain (Can I? Can I?)?

Edited to add:  I should also mention that Raina brings home a little snuffle from day care just about every week.  A snuffle that she brushes off (thank goodness), but I get so sick that I must have the plague.  Right now I have a sinus that is so blocked that my voice is hoarse and I could guide Santa's bloody sleigh.  Oh, and I've had norovirus three times since the beginning of December.  Three times!  @#%&! winter.

Help me, please!

How do you cope with winter?  Any tips for a genuine child of summer?  Does light therapy actually work, or is it all hogwash?

19 February, 2013

Happy Birthday Raina!

Today is the best day ever.  It's Raina's first birthday.  I can't believe just how fast the time has flown by.  I look at my clock and I can tell you exactly how I was feeling at this moment a year ago - like I was trying to hold in the world's biggest poo!

I remember the contractions and trying to resist the urge to push, but more than that I remember the feeling of wonder and shock as Raina was plopped on my chest at 10.28 am.  Looking down wide-eyed at the miracle that is my daughter, staring at Maarten not quite believing that it was real, not wanting to ever let her go.

Here she is, moments after birth:

And now, a year later:

I also shared my birth story (along with some interesting (?) photos) here.  It was a wonderful experience and Raina is truly a joy.

Did I mention that it's my birthday too?  What better present could a person want than to share her birthday with her daughter?

Happy Birthday Raina, can't wait to share a hundred more of these with you.

13 February, 2013

It's a Holi--holiday, Part II

I've been home from Australia almost three weeks and have not found the time to share the second half of our amazing holiday with you.

When I left you I was sitting in my TGA's kitchen just outside lovely Holbrook; famous for being the half-way point between Sydney and Melbourne on the Hume highway and oddly, for its submarine...

With many, many tears we bid my family farewell and headed off into the mountains of Australia.  That must sound a bit odd, Australia is known for its beaches and the Outback.  Mountains, not so much.  But into the mountains we drove.  Through tiny towns, shouting at bloody tourists in campervans (slow-moving caravanners and campervanners need their own roads far, far away from the rest of us), until we reached the highest town in Australia - Cabramurra.  An interesting spot, Cabramurra.  It's part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and is now only inhabited by those who work to service the Tumut 2 power station - you and I could never move there on a whim, we'd have to get a job at the power station.

Jindabyne was our destination, and from Cabramurra we drove across would could possibly be referred to as The Roof of Australia to get there.  Areas to attach snow chains and ski areas were dotted through the landscape that hardly resembled the Australia I know and love at all.

Our first stop in Jindabyne was the visitor information centre to find out the easiest way to get to the top of Mount Kosciuszko.  Turns out that the week between Christmas and New Year is the busiest time in the high country.  Who'd have thought?  You would imagine the place to be heaving during the winter months, but it seems that more people want to see in the New Year at Australia's highest point.

It also turned out that the shortest way to the top was a "leisurely" eight km hike that I just couldn't face.  Of course, because I was on holiday, I had to get Strep Throat.  So instead we drove over to Thredbo, which is one of the most famous ski resorts with the intention of taking the cable car to the top and taking in the views.  We paid $16 to get into the National Park (which was a bit steep in my opinion, considering Uluru Kata Tjuta NP was only $25 for three days when I worked there) and when we searched for prices for the cable car we discovered that it was $40.  Each!  There was no way on this earth we were going to pay $80 (plus whatever it would have cost for Raina) to take a cable car to the top of a hill, so we settled for a capuccino instead.  I was flabbergasted at how expensive Thredbo was, and how they could possibly justify that expense.  Again, I kept making the Uluru comparison.

Because we wanted to at least see Mount Kosciuszko, we drove on to Charlotte Pass, which is the main departure point to hike to the top.  We walked to the look out and picked out Kosciuszko in the distance, while trying not to be blown off the side of the mountain and slapping each other to avoid being stung by the March flies.

The scenery though, was absolutely breathtaking.  The azure blue sky was stunning and the geology spectacular.  Australia may not have the famous human history of Europe (although Aboriginal  history is rich, diverse and not to be ignored), but the geological history is to be seen to be believed.  Some of the earliest fossils are found in Australia (stromatolites), some of the oldest rock formations can be found in the Pilbara and other parts of Western Australia and millions of people visit Australia each year just to see the natural wonders of The Great Barrier Reef and Uluru.

Sorry about that.  A bit of "I'm a proud Aussie" thrown in there for good measure.

We left the Snowy Mountains for the coastal town of Eden.  We had initially tried to find accommodation in Eden, but the entire south coast of NSW was fully booked for school holidays, so we booked into the Hotel at Mallacoota, a very tiny beach town in the south east corner of Australia.

This town is one of the untouched gems that we as tourists love to find. While the town is growing, there is not much there except a pub, a couple of small supermarkets, a takeaway shop, a bakery and a couple of cafes.

We hired a boat and went cruising into the lakes area, spending the morning puttering along admiring the view. Well, that's what we did in theory. In practice I spent most of the time trying to keep Raina under control. It was also scorching hot, so I was trying to keep Raina out of the sun, make sure she had enough to drink, all the while trying to stop her from climbing overboard. Not that you would know it to look at the photo:

On our last morning in Mallacoota, because we were all awake at stupid o'clock, we jumped into the car and drove out to a gorgeous location called Secret Beach for a swim. There was not a soul to be seen, it was magical to have the whole place to ourselves (and the lovely biting flies).

It was a bit cold for me to take a dip, but Maarten went in properly and we just had the best time wandering around being alone.

Our trip was starting to wind down, I was feeling the melancholy of having to leave soon, but there were still a few highlights to come! Our next stop was Lakes Entrance, and while underwhelming after the wonder of Mallacoota, I caught up with a dear, dear friend I haven't seen for a long time. Let's just say, two marriages, two kids and a divorce have taken place since we saw each other last!

We made the final push up through Melbourne and onto Mount Macedon to stay with Maarten's relatives for a few days before flying home and it was the perfect end to a wonderful trip. We spent more time with family and friends and visited Hanging Rock.

Have you ever heard of Hanging Rock? It was made famous by the book and movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, based on the mystery of a group of school girls disappearing in 1900. There are a load of interesting happenings going on and we experienced one phenomenon ourselves, where we stopped at a particular stretch in the road and the car started to roll uphill! While we can insist that it is an optical illusion, I'm telling you, we rolled right uphill, back towards Hanging Rock! It was like the the rock never wanted us to leave...

As we stood at the airport saying goodbye, I realised that this time it was the hardest. I spent time with so many of my beloved family and some of the best friends a person could ever want and I really didn't want to let them go. This time I really felt that I am missing out on so much. My cousins are almost all grown, my grandma just turned 80, friends are getting married and I feel deeply saddened not to be able to share every moment with everyone. I remind myself that I will return soon and I won't miss everything forever, but I have to keep convincing myself of that.

So, it was a bittersweet end to one of the loveliest trips of my life.

Thank you so much to the Gorgeous Kylie and her amazing father David for lending us their "spare" car for the trip. And to Lovely Brone for organising the hire of the car seat. We wouldn't have had such a wonderful experience if it wasn't for those guys.

If you haven't already, don't forget to read It's a Holi-Holiday, Part I!

11 February, 2013


Yesterday I was cheating on my Digital Detox (well, Facebook Detox actually) and I came across an amazing video shared by Holland Photography, simply entitled, "Holland".

The author is Dutch photographer and film maker, Erik Hijweege, whose work I can definitely recommend checking out.

I spent the three minutes guessing the events an locations.  How many do you recognise?

28 January, 2013

I'm a Dutch Australian!

Late last year at the Expatica I Am Not a Tourist fair, I had the good fortune of meeting the lovely Renee Veldman-Tentori who is a multi-talented social media expert and who runs the wonderful community Dutch Australian.

Renee has a similar (if you use your wild imagination) story to my own.  She met her husband when he was a backpacker in Australia (as did I), she connected with him in the UK (as did I) and moved to the Netherlands to be with him (as did I!).  That's where the parallel lives end, however.  Renee has two gorgeous daughters, is a dual Dutch/Australian citizen (something I never seem to get round to organising...) and moved back to Australia for several years before returning to South Holland early in 2012.

Why am I telling you all about Renee?  Well, I have been spending quite a bit of time hanging out on the Dutch Australian Facebook page, which is an excellent resource for anybody with Dutch and Australian connections (as well as a lively place to just hang out).  Plus, Renee recently featured me on her wonderful Dutch Australian site, which you can read all about here:

Image from Dutch Australian
Right now Renee is in the middle of what is probably the single most irritating factor about being an Australian living in the Netherlands: getting her driver's license.  Like me, Renee has a perfectly good Australian driver's license sitting in her purse, but after living in NL for six months, she is no longer allowed to drive using it so has to exchange it for a Dutch license.  That's where the problem starts.  An Australian license is not recognised as one of the chosen few that may be exchanged.  Instead she has to go through the painful and expensive process of "learning to drive" before sitting exams at €250 a pop.

Wish her luck and join me at Dutch Australian, you'll love it.

24 January, 2013

Circle Party Survivor!

Look what arrived in the post yesterday!

I ordered the shirt from Stu of Invading Holland who is just starting out selling this, and other hilarious t-shirts.

When I first saw that he had designed these shirts I just about fell over myself trying to order.  I couldn't fire off an email fast enough.

Want your own Expat in Holland uniform?  Here's how you can get one:

Go to: http://www.invadingholland.com/invading-holland-t-shirts/
Choose which shirt you want and your size, then send your order to shop@invadingholland.com.  If you want to buy one for all your friends, you'll get a discount for more than three and five shirts.

Stay tuned, Stu has a webshop coming soon!

Will you buy one?  Go on, you know you want to!

15 January, 2013

Inburgering - Big Fat Changes

I’m going back to my roots today at Adventures in Integration.  I’m going to talk about Inburgering, something that I haven’t spent much time thinking about in quite a long time.

You may have heard the rumours flying around about the changes to the Inburgering policy and exams and as I originally started this blog to share my experiences about Inburgering I thought I should do some research and pass on what information I could find and how it will affect you as an immigrant potentially having to take the exams in the coming few years.

The changes are big.  Really big.  They are the biggest changes since the big shake up of 2007.  Some are good, some; not so much.

Let’s start with the big changes, the exams.  The good news is that portions of the old exams are being phased out and replaced by a new centralised system.  This means that the Dreaded Portfolio no longer needs to be an option and neither do the assessments.  It will still be possible to follow this path up until 01 January 2015 if you would prefer, or if you have already begun to assemble your portfolio, for instance.

The Centrale Examen have been altered somewhat.  Instead of the old KNS, TGN and EPE exams, there will now be five portions to the exams.  They are:

  1. Knowledge of Dutch Society - presumably remaining much the same as the old KNS exam
  2. Fluency - From what I can understand, this is the old TGN exam dressed up with a fancy new name as it will still be conducted over the telephone.
  3. Reading - much the same as the old EPE, without the audio/video accompaniment.
  4. Listening - sames as reading, but having to listen instead of reading or watching a video.
  5. Writing - you will be expected to answer questions and complete tasks in written form.  The questions will be electronic, i.e. submitted via the computer, so no need to worry about your doctor’s handwriting...

As I mentioned above, you can choose either the old version of the exams (KNS, TGN and EPE coupled with either the portfolio or assessments), or the new version (KNS, Fluency, Reading, Listening and Writing with no practical component) right up until January 2015.  So you will have plenty of time, depending on how long you have left on your contract with the Gemeente to decide which is the best fit for you.

Another big change, which really affects those of you who have been living here for a long time and can speak Dutch is that the KVT (exemption exam) has been completely removed from the system and is no longer an option.  Instead, you are able to apply for an exemption if you can satisfy the Gemeente that you are sufficiently integrated.  I’m not exactly certain how this will work in practice, but in theory if you have completed a course in the Netherlands (in Dutch), or taken a language course in the past, you may be able to apply for exemption.  However, it appears that this is purely at your Gemeente’s discretion and I would love to be able to get my hands on their criteria to find out if it is a standardised system nationwide or if you will be at the mercy of your contact.  But, I won’t speculate further on that...

Further to the changes to the exams themselves, are the changes to what you pay.  If you were lucky enough to be living in one of the few remaining cities in the Netherlands who was paying residents to integrate up until the end of 2012 and you managed to get a slice of the action, way to go!  For the rest you, you’re on your own.  You will have to pay the cost of the exams (and any course you choose to take) yourself.  It will still be possible to apply for a loan from DUO and you begin to pay the loan back (plus the current rate of interest which is right now set at 0.6%) six months after you successfully pass your exams.  The loan must be fully repayed within three and a half years years of passing the exams and it’s possible to borrow up to €5000, which can be used for either Inburgering or Staatsexamen.  

Now, how much does it all cost?  The cost of the exams is all broken down on the DUO site, but I’ll give you a quick overview here.

The old exams:
  • Practical exam (portfolio or assessments) - €110
  • Central Exams - €140 (KNS - €40, EPE - €40 and TGN - €60)
Total cost (if passing on the first attempt): €240

The new exams:
  • Knowledge of Dutch Society (KNS) - €40
  • Fluency (TGN) - €60
  • Listening - €50
  • Reading - €50
  • Writing - €50
Total cost (if passing on the first attempt): €250

So, taking the old option will save you a grand total of €10.  But that’s without the cost of any course you might take, which can cost anywhere around €600 for three months.  So, taking my own experience as an example, I took eight month to complete my course and exams (so presumably would have had to pay for nine months).  I would be up for €1800 plus €240 for the exams.  Ouch.  If that’s not an incentive to pull your finger out and pass the exams quicksmart then I don’t know what is!

So those are the changes in a nutshell.  The biggest disappointment for me is the doing away with the exemption test, but who knows.  The new exemption application process may be more efficient and cost effective in the long run.

I do love that the portfolio is being phased out though.  This really was one of the most tedious parts of the entire process.  Seriously, “Ik pin geld bij de bank,” is truly ridiculous.  So, there’s at least one positive.

My biggest recommendation in all of this is:  Skip inburgering altogether and go straight for Staatsexamen.  At least then you will be in good stead to move on and study at either a vocational or university level here if you want.  Inburgering gives you none of that preparation.

Over to you now.  How is this going to affect you?  Are glad to have taken the exemption test, or disappointed to have missed out?  Do you like the fact that you will now have some options as to which type of exams you take?

What we are talking about

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