Monday, 29 June 2015

5 Reasons We Love the Lost My Name Books: A Review and A Giveaway

Lost My Name is a wonderful gift book concept for children and the good news is that the company has just arrived in the Netherlands. Three 'Lost My Name' books dropped on our doormat** last week, two in English (The Little Girl/Boy Who Lost Her/His Name) and one in Dutch (Wat een Pech, Mijn Naam is Weg). We were not disappointed!

Here are 5 reasons we love the latest additions to our bookshelves.

1. The order process was easy. 

Very easy. Often with personalised books there is a list of questions that parents have to puzzle over and within a week of getting the book the information is out of date  (eg who is your child's best friend? What is their favourite colour?). This is not the case with the Lost My Name Books. You simply type in your child's name, click whether they are a boy or a girl and then specify which language you would like the book in. That's it*. What's more is that you can see exactly how the book will look before you confirm the order.

*And your address details and the slight matter of payment of course. Oh, and postage costs are nil. Nothing. Nada.

2. The story is mesmerising

In short a child awakes to find their name gone from their bedroom door. The story that unfolds through the book is the quest to find the letters that make up their name. And it is done in an enchanting way meeting all sorts of wonderful magical animals and creatures.

My 5-year-old son really enjoyed reeling through the letters we already had, and telling me which letters he still needed to complete his name. It was so lovely to see him pulled in to the story!

3. Each book is unique

Because the story is focussed on collecting the letters of a child's name each book is unique. Each of my sons (3, 5 and 8) have a Lost My Name book, and because we wisely named each of our children differently, each of their books is different which makes them feel pretty special!

In fact the books are so unique that you could order one in English and one in Dutch for the same child and they would be completely different stories.

Whilst reading the English version with my eldest son he posed an interesting question about how the book would be with my name, given how I have three 'A's in my name. Would I meet the same animal three times to collect 'A's?  I checked it out and the short answer is no I wouldn't. Three different creatures.

4. The illustrations are beautiful

Gorgeous in fact. I love the illustrations in the books, and so do my sons. I can't say anything else except how beautifully illustrated these books are. Stunningly beautiful. Even my artistic husband was highly impressed by the images in these books.

5. Fabulous quality

The books themselves are of a top notch quality - proper durable pages that will stand the test of daily bedtime reading.

Some additional random thoughts and observations

The 'Lost My Name' website states the target audience of the books at between 2 to 6 years but it certainly wasn't too babyish for my 8 year old (in English which is his second language) and personally I think this book makes a beautiful kraamkado.

The book is available in English (UK and US), Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, French.

And one more thing - last but absolutely not least -
I have one personalised book to giveaway - and a discount of 15% for ten other readers
All you have to do is tell me underneath (and enter your details in Rafflecopter*) in the comments how you came up with the name for your child. I want to hear the funny, heartwarming and bizarre ways you came up with names. I would love to read about the near miss stories of how your child almost ended up with a name you would have regretted later. I want to hear the tales of how your child remained nameless for days, weeks, months (ok maybe just days) because you couldn't agree on a name. Were there dual language issues to consider? How did you finally decide on a name for your children?

In our case I loved the Dutch name Joost but my husband had previously had a dog called the same so had a strange association with the name. Furthermore, we worried about how the name Joost would be butchered by my British family and friends. In Dutch the 'J' is a soft 'J' and pronounced as a 'Y'. The double 'OO' is more an 'O' sound (but slightly longer) than the English 'OO' found in boot for example. In Britain I'm sure our son would have ended up being called Juiced. And that didn't appeal........ So Joost was scrapped.

So over to you........

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Rafflecopter will not be used to randomly pick a winner but will facilitate contacting the chosen winners.

** Lost my Name approached me to review their books to coincide with their launch onto the Dutch market. Three books were provided to me at no cost. Aside from the free books I get no compensation for any sales made or by hosting this competition. All opinions are my own and because the books are so lovely I agreed to a giveaway. And that is the end of the small print....

Thursday, 25 June 2015

National Veteran's Day in the Netherlands

This Saturday is the annual Veteran's Day in the Netherlands, when those who have fought for our freedom come together in The Hague to be properly acknowledged and thanked.

The days starts in the presence of the Dutch King, Minister of Defence and Prime Minister in the Ridderzaal with medals presented shortly after in the Binnenhof.

The veterans then parade from the Dutch houses of parliament to the Malieveld where there is a fly-over, music, food and drink and children's activities (a climbing wall and a flight simulator for starters). Many military and peace-keeping organisations and museums are represented in some capacity or another. You can find the complete program for the day here.

There's always an amazing atmosphere and my three sons have such a great time - and if you go talk to some of the veterans too it makes the day even more amazing! Oh, and when else do you get to hang out with a King and a Prime Minister?

To give you an impression of the day, I'll leave you with some snaps from previous years.....

Monday, 22 June 2015

Passionate Parenting: The Summer Holiday and The Expat

My latest article for Passionate Parenting is about the summer holidays which are nearly upon us in the Netherlands. For those of us living expat lives, choosing a holiday destination usually presents us with a bit of a dilemma.... for those of you living overseas you probably already know what I mean without me spelling it out.

The world is a big place but we want to see our friends and family too. But there are ways to have your expat summer holiday cake, and eat it too. 6 ways to be precise.

You can read 6 Ways to Make Sure Your Summer Holiday Really is a Summer Holiday When You're an Expat over on Passionate Parenting.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Celebrating A Trio of Fathers

This year, contrary to last year, and more years than I care to think about before that, I will actually get to spend Father's Day with my dad. In fact, all going to plan, nearly all the dads in my immediate family's life will be together and that has never happened before.

Expat life is like that - it means being apart for days you should be together.

Last year we (my sons, my husband and I) had a beautiful Father's Day and I sat thinking how great it would be if next year it could be spent with my dad and my father -in-law too. And then life carried on until a few months ago when suddenly the idea I had last year sprang to mind.

I sent an email to my stepmother, who booked flights quicker than you can say, "Happy Father's Day" and the date was etched in stone on the calendar. And that day is now here.

We have a fun afternoon planned. Three dads. Three grandsons. Three sons. One family. One celebration of fatherhood. We'll be making the most of a unique occasion.

I am so pleased that we get to spend this day together.

Wishing all you fathers out there a wonderful day in the company of your families.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Using Pudding to Britify My Little Dutch Boys

For some reason this week I made a bread and butter pudding. We had lots of bread and the idea sprang to mind to introduce my four Dutchies to this British delicacy. Mr O, my 3-year-old, took much delight in helping me by spreading the butter on the bread (read putting a tiny lump of butter in the middle of each slice) cracking the eggs (mostly over the work surface rather than in the measuring jug) and then doing a great job of pouring the eggy mixture over the bread and fruit.

Where he helped the most was with the demolishing of the pudding itself. The whole pudding disappeared in one sitting, with the help of this two brothers. And that, if you were wondering, is how you Britify little Dutch boys, one little step at a time.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Stop. Pause. Journal. It's Summer Holiday & Expat Dilemma Time.

The summer break is coming up and that means exotic trips, palm trees and cocktails, plane journeys to far off places, lazy days on the beach soaking up the sun - or in our case cramming as much crap as we can get in the boot of the car and then squeezing three kids in the back seat hooked up to a DVD and Nintendo intravenous drip feed and heading off to Germany.

It's always hard to plan a summer break when you are an expat. On the one hand I want to see my friends and family who are back in Britain, on the other hand the world is a big place so heading back to the same town in the same country every year gets old when you have done it year after year. Nearly Irish sums it up beautifully in her post she added to the monthly #ExpatLifeLinky.

Since having children we have tried to combine a summer break with a visit to loved ones back in Blighty. We've been to Cornwall, England for the past three years so we thought we'd try somewhere else this year. It's a surprise for the boys what exactly we'll be doing - but I do know it will be lots of fun. But the new destination means skipping a trip to England. Living a life overseas makes vacation time a little more complicated - there's always a destination dilemma to deal with!

On the other hand, our unchartered destination this year, means I get to fill my "The Great Journey" travel journal with completely new things this summer. I have kept a memento of our holiday using Gadanke's crafted gem for a few years now - but last year I couldn't help but think that I had probably filled in the same details the year before....

But I won't be able to say the same this year! The journals are a great way of capturing the moments that make up a fantastic family vacation: the sights that mesmerise, the smells that overwhelm, the colours that fill your children with wonder, the new tastes they can't get enough of, the giggles you share as a family. There's room for photos and postcards, hiding places for those special museum tickets or train ticket stubs. It becomes a homemade time capsule to look back on with your children as they grow. These Gadanke journals give me my 'me moments' whilst away, my relaxation moments which allow me to be creative.

Keeping a travel journal whilst on holiday has become an obsession a habit I love. (If you love journaling too head over and take a peek at the many Gadanke free workshops for great tips and advice.) It makes me pause and take in the world around me, really soak up my new environment. And that is what a summer holiday is all about - stopping, pausing - wherever you head, whoever you spend it with. Right?

How do you record your summer holiday memories? Do you keep a travel journal? Turn your photos into a photo book? 

Monday, 8 June 2015

An Expat Guide to the Dutch Avond4daagse

Last week my family walked the avond4daagse for the first time. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, but are bursting to know what exactly an avond4daagse entails, here's the low down.

Here are all the answers to the burning questions you could possibly ever have about this annual quintessential Dutch event.

Q. What is the avond4daagse?
A. It's basically a community walk that takes place over four evenings. Thousands of children and some of their teachers and parents walk either 5, 10 or 15 kilometers per evening. The majority opt to shuffle along behind each other for 5 kilometers so that children actually get to bed before midnight. It is worth noting that because of the sheer volume of bodies moving in the same direction at one time it feels like you walk at least twice the 5km distance.

Note that many children are accompanied by one parent whilst the sane one enjoys the peace and quiet at home.

Q. Who takes part in the avond4daagse?
A. Schools, families, sports clubs, walking groups, random people and their dogs.

Q.  What's the point of the avond4daagse?
A. The idea is to be the first one from your school to reach the finish point, dodging and weaving your way through the crowds; anything goes to get ahead so long as you don't run or injure more than 3 other people along the route.

Of course that is not in the slightest bit true but at times felt like it was indeed the case. The real purpose is 'gezelligheid". What else would it be living in the land of the Dutch? A lovely walk after dinner with a few thousand strangers is gezellig right? That, and promote exercise.

Q. How much does it cost?
A. Now let's get down to the nitty gritty. If you have been in any way Dutchified since living in the Netherlands you'll want to know about the financial side of it. It's NOT gratis. We paid five euro each but I have no idea if that is a standard charge.

Q. So, I hear you cry, what do I get for my money, apart from gezelligheid of course?
A. You get a drink and something to eat at the half way point provided by the school you signed up with. You get a bag with a few snacks, vouchers, a cap, badge and stickers on your first day and on the last day you get a medal. Plus an amount goes to a local charity. Well, that's how it worked for us. It's possible that each school and council arrange it differently.

Q. How did this avond4daagse lark start?
It's an offspring of the Nijmegen 4 day international marches. In 1940, the Nijmegen march didn't take place because of the mobilization of Dutch troops. As a result there were lots of restless walkers milling about in het Gooi. Some bright sparks therefore decided to throw together an evening walk spread over four days in het Gooi and before anyone could say, "This reminds me of that Forrest Gump movie," the idea had spread far and wide. In the Netherlands at least.

Q. Is it fun?
A. Is the Pope Catholic? Are the Dutch gezellig? Of course it's fun. Why the hell would thousands of people in one town alone do it if it wan't fun? Moving along...

Q. I'm not a fast walker. Can I still take part in an avond4daagse?
A. We watched snails overtake us. There were numerous near misses as tortoises hurtled by the walking masses. So yes, slow walkers can join in.

Q. Do I have to scream in every tunnel or subway I walk under?
A. It's only obligatory if you are under ten years of age. Ear plugs are handy for accompanying parents and teachers.

Q. If I suffer from hayfever will I be able to walk the avond4dagse?
A. I won't lie. In places the hayfever was dehabilitating. The sneezes came hard and fast one after another as we walked alongside high grasses next to sloot after sloot as the spring evening descended. The sneezing coupled with the fact I've birthed three children and every evening spontaneously needed the toilet almost as soon as we were given the 'go' to start walking, made the avondvierdagse a bit of an extreme sport for me personally. Fortunately, I'm sure non- hayfever sufferers had a very different experience. 

Q. Can I walk the avondvierdagse with a pram?
A. Yes. As long as you are trained to the black belt equivalent in pram manoeuvrings. You'll need to be ruthless whilst refraining from resorting to out and out attacks on those who step over your pram WITH YOUR CHILD IN IT in order to get ahead or catch up with schoolmates/family/strays/their dog on a long lead. 

Q. Are the roads/ cycle paths closed off to traffic during the avond4dagse?
A. In some towns they are. In Zoetermeer they weren't. Again, I'll be honest. There's a risk element to walking the avond4dagse: will I/won't I get hit by a car/angry cyclist/motorbike/oblivious brommer demon? Depending on your outlook on life this can be attractive.

Q. Aren't the kids a little tired as the week goes on?
A. They are knackered. Late to bed, school all day and then a 5km walk. Four days long. Tired isn't the word. I'd use words like: Grumpy, short-fused, chagrijnig, unreasonable, uncooperative and reluctant to get out of bed each morning. But the avond4daagse is gezellig right?

Q. Do crowds line the finish point on the last night adorned with flowers and sweets for the children who have completed their four evenings of walks?
A. Why yes they do. Some children had more bouquets of sweets given to them as a reward for walking 20 km in four evenings than my children have seen in their short lives so far. Nothing says well done for getting all that exercise this week like a couple of kilos of snoepjes.

Q. Would you do it again next year?
A. Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

So there you have it - the avond4daagse. Having completed my first one, and having received a medal for my efforts I am feeling truly smug - and now truly ingeburgerd.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Summer Culture Fun for Kids

We're in the home straight now as this school year races to an end. Six weeks of silent alarm clocks, days stetching into each other with no fixed routine and no place to be. For some bliss, for others a scary prospect. But a summer break with a theme and a focus will soon turn any doubting frowns into fun smiles.

We're exploring Germany during some of the holidays but for the majority of the summer break we'll be home in the Netherlands so I've decided to get my children exploring some other places in the world without leaving the house. Well, without leaving the country in any case.

At the beginning of each week we're home I plan to give my three sons a little suitcase with a pack which will help them learn about the culture of one particular country or place. In our case it will be Britain, New York State and Madagascar, the first two because we have family ties to both places. Here's how I plan to go about our summer of culture fun......

Firstly the suitcase will contain:

  •  a cover sheet with the country/ place name, map and a blank flag template.
  • a basic fact list for the children to discover and fill in over the course of the week: population, nearest country, language spoken there, native language name for the country, most famous landmark, capital city - that type of thing.
  • colouring pages related to the country/place.
  • a recipe for a national dish - for the children to cook/make during the week.
  • instructions to head to the library and borrow books about the place/country.
The suitcase will also include envelopes for them to randomly open with different missions such as these:

  1. Find the country/place in an atlas.
  2. Paint the national flag. 
  3. Make the national flag with iron on beads.
  4. What is the climate like there? What would you pack if you were to visit there? Ask them to go pack a bag as if they were going on a trip there. 
  5. Find out about an animal that lives there which you can't find in the Netherlands. Write a few lines about it. Cut out pictures of what it eats. Draw the animal. Use playdough to make the animal. Make a painting. The possibilities are endless!
  6. What food is a speciality there? 
  7. What sport do they play there? Ask the children to try and play the game i. The garden or at the local park. Improvise if you don't have exactly the right tools.
  8. Complete a jigsaw puzzle that has the country/place in it (we have puzzles of Europe). Take a picture of the country, print it out and stick it on the fact sheet.
  9. Listen to some music from the country. Dance. Try and learn a few steps from the national dance if there is one.
  10. Learn to count to five in the local language. 
  11. Send a postcard to someone in the country. 
  12. What is the national currency? 
  13. Watch a YouTube video about the country.
  14. Play a game online relevant to the country.
  15. Do a word search. You can find word search generators online so you can create your own and make it as easy or as difficult as necessary.
  16. Do a craft.
  17. What national holidays are celebrated? 
All activities and questions can be made age appropriate. My eldest is 8 but spends little time on the computer at home and tends to use it in school for Dutch language and maths related activities so it will be good for him to use the internet to find out facts. You can be as creative as you like - for example if there are volcanoes in your chosen country you could use an experiment to bring some volcanic action to your garden.

Bring in history and social studies for older children, talk about the difficulties the country faces. The possibilities are endless!  

I will also suggest they contact family and friends to ask for help with different questions about New York State and Britain. 

I've set up a Pinterest board called Summer Culture Fun where resources will be collated - anyone wanting to join in let me know and I will add you as a pinner.