Thursday, 30 June 2016

Parenting Lessons Watching ADO Den Haag

Last August I took my eldest two sons to their first eredivisie match at the Kyocera Stadion in The Hague. We’ve been to most home games since.

It’s reminiscent of my own footballing childhood; from the age of seven I stood on the terraces of my local football club at Vicarage Road. Up until I left England in 2000, at the tender age of 27, I was a serial season ticket holder at Watford Football Club.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

3 Lessons Brexit Could Have Learnt From Sinterklaas, Yes Sinterklaas!

It struck me today that the whole Brexit thing is rather like the whole Sinterklaas thing here in the Netherlands - and there are lessons the Brexit camp could have learnt from the Dutch. Bear with me: it's June and we're talking Sinterklaas so I know you're wondering where the hell this is going.....

Lesson 1. Outdated, Insulting and in Need of Change

For many a year now there has been a huge discussion about Sinterklaas's helpers and the fact that they are outdated, insulting and in need of change.

As it is with some of the EU institutions, those in the "Leave" camp have said, (and not many would disagree). Outdated, insulting and in need of change.

So you see, Brexit and Sinterklaas - same thing.

Did the Dutch throw Sinterklaas back to Spain and leave him there to rot? Did they stamp their feet and abandon the whole party, casting a bewildered Piet and his friends aside? Did they involve the whole world in their conundrum? No.

No, what they did, and are still doing, is shout a bit, argue amongst each other, and then let the NTR (Dutch television company who makes the Sinterklaasjournaal) gradually and subtly make changes that neither offended nor riled any particular side. The talking continues. Eventually everyone ends up happy without even realising it. Eventually.

Lesson 2. Not Logical for Modern Day Society

Many Dutch children have been screaming for years about the fact that most modern houses (i.e. the ones they live in) don't have chimneys so how were the Piets getting in to fill their shoes?

You see children are getting smarter, they are more informed than they once were, and they ask questions. They pose questions that parents can't answer, because no, none of it is logical. It's all based around an ideal, an ideal that isn't quite ideal. Sometimes it means parents have to lie to their children; it means they have to make shit up.

The situation is very much like the electorate of any EU nation. People are asking questions. Some of them are very intelligent questions, other questions not so much. People are getting much more information than they once did and social media allows that information to be spread easily. Lies, made up stuff and facts. The questions asked aren't necessarily met with the right answer. For example:

Q: Will that 350 million that we pay into the EU each week be paid to the NHS if we leave the EU?
A: Yes, we've even put it on a bus for you.

The question is based on misinformation, and the answer is an outright lie. Exactly the same as when our Dutch children ask:

Q: How does Piet get in our house if we don't have a chimney?
A1: Magic.
or A2: I don't know, I'm asleep when Piet comes into the house.
or A3: Piets have special keys that open all doors.

So what have the Dutch done to solve this chimney question? Did they ban shoe filling? Build chimneys on every home in the Netherlands? Abandon the whole Sinterklaas thing? Air their dirty laundry in public?

No, the answer is magic stones. Seriously, it's ingenious. Suddenly the Piets have magic stones to get into our homes. Methods change. Things evolve. The Dutch found an answer that fits today's problem. Children happy. Parents happy. The Piets are happy (those chimneys were a bit of a buggar to go down) and most of all Sinterklaas is happy. The Dutch now have a solution that fits with our modern day houses. They didn't knock the houses down.

Lesson 3. Who is it all for?

Ok, so there are lies told. There's an awful lot of stress involved around November and December whilst the children bounce around for weeks with excitement about the fact that Sinterklaas and his helpers are in the country and the older children hand over their surprise project to their parents out of frustration and reluctance. There is frantic shopping. Frantic planning. Lots of sugary snacks that are incredibly bad for you. There's a bit of arguing (see lesson 1) but we muddle through and then heave a sigh of relief when the man in red totters back to Spain on the 6th of December where he remains until the following November. 

It's not perfect. But wow, there are great things about it too. Seeing the pure excitement, joy and happiness on your child's face when they come down and see a present in their shoe. The sheer joy of watching your kid running out the house to look for a magic stone, or a special Sinterklaas coin. The culmination of all your hard work on 5 December and the most gezellig of all gezellig evenings.

We do it for our children. We do it so they can look back and cherish those memories, and pass those traditions and experiences on to their children one day.

We do it for our children. We are thinking about our children. And the generations to come.
You can make the connections yourself there I am sure.......

Monday, 27 June 2016

How to Get (and Keep) Your Bilingual Child Writing

I've been living in the Netherlands for more than fifteen years and although my daily life is conducted in Dutch, writing remains the weakest area of my Dutch language skills. I need to really think about every single word and sentence I write. So it's no wonder that this is also the area I find hardest whilst raising my children to be bilingual. And it's the topic I have chosen for the Multicultural Kid Blogs carnival about raising multicultural children.

Why Bother with Writing in a Second Language?

The first question you may be asking yourself is why bother. Gone are the days when we hand write everything; we have computers now. We have auto correct and spelling check. Why spend so much time trying to teach our children to write in a second or third language? The Russian Step by Step team sum it up:
"Yes, everyone will agree that in the modern world we have a lot less opportunities to use handwriting than even 50 years ago. Everyone, even toddlers, use the “screens” and start typing at a very early age." Russian Step by Step
But there are still many reason whys handwriting is today still an important tool to help your children improve their language skills. Russian Step by Step give four great reasons in their post Why Learn the Russian Handwriting? which apply to other languages too.

The European Mama also points out just how far handwriting is cultural - it differs across the world, and not just because of the different alphabets:

Writing is something special!

How Do Children Learn to Write

Bilingual Avenue has a whole podcast dedicated to helping you understand How do kids really learn to write, as well as this one to support you in teaching your child to write in the home language.

Of course, to be able to write in a language a child also needs to be able to read, which is the theme of a great post on Spanish Playground, tips to help teach those first steps to reading: Spanish Syllables: Learning to Read.

Multilingual Parenting shares tips in a post called 'From bilingual to biliterate':
"What you can do as a parent to nurture this interest is being a great role model for literacy. Read lots of books to (and later with) your child. Following the words with your finger while reading allows your child to make the connection between the sounds, letters and words. Write notes, cards and letters. If you have nothing else to write on a day, make writing the shopping list something that you do together." Multilingual Parenting
Use day to day chores to practice writing, make use of technology and get your children writing emails to family members in their second language.

Make Writing Fun to Keep Children Engaged

Being able to write in a language is important and there are ways to encourage, motivate and help your children develop an enthusiasm for writing in a language that is not their native tongue. 

Adam Beck (Bilingual Monkeys) advocates making literacy development fun - and as far as I'm concerned keeping it fun is one of the best tips for parents raising multilingual children. His idea of Silly Stories is a sure fire way to get children laughing and learning! 

Another idea over on the blog Family Life in Spain is to use story cubes to create stories that can also be written. My children love story cubes but we have only used them to make up verbal stories so I love this idea of taking it further and actually writing down the little tales we make up.

Fun is also the key to this post by Raising a Trilingual Child - not just fun but food too!
"Apparently there is nothing as easy and fun as teaching your child letters using an aromatic Italian mortadella! One evening I was preparing appetizer for kids, I took a big piece of  mortadella, the Italian heat-cured meat sausage,  and started slicing it and cutting it in cubes and sticks." Raising a Trilingual Child
There are eight more creative tips on Discovering the World Through my Son's Eyes to keep your children engaged in reading and writing from bingo to mini books. She realises that as parents raising bilingual children we sometimes need to think out a little outside the box:

There are other ideas and tips in the post "Easy way of teaching your bilingual kids to write in a minority language" on how to get your child writing in their second (or third) language over on Raising a Trilingual Child, who also reminds us of something important:

Just Start Writing

I journal. I write daily. I read daily. I read with my children on an almost daily basis (if not me then my husband does so we alternate between Dutch and English books). And I hope by doing these things the importance of reading and writing, in both languages, becomes engrained in my children - that practicing these skills just come naturally to my boys.

Writing can be in many forms:

Journaling - I am currently exchanging journal entries with my eldest boys using The Time Capsule and Between Mom and Me, journals that have been made especially for children. I have written before about how to use journals to encourage writing in a second language - and it's a tool that really works for us.

A Pen Pal - Read why everyone should have a pen pal here.

I have five more ways in this post: 5 Ways to Encourage a Child to Write in a Second Language

And finally, in his blog post "Do This One Simple Thing and I Guarantee You Greater Success On Your Bilingual Journey" Adam Beck explains just how important writing is as a tool on your bilingual journey, not just for our children but for us too, to help us raise our bilinguals:
"Just start writing: No matter who you are, or what your circumstances are like, if you make writing about your bilingual journey a priority in your life—a firm and regular routine—you will inevitably strengthen your awareness and your actions, and accordingly, your children’s bilingual development." Bilingual Monkeys

Friday, 24 June 2016

Being a British Expat In the Wake of Brexit

I woke at 5am this morning and the first picture in my head was a map of the United Kingdom. The British referendum on the EU was weighing on my mind. Nearly two hours later I saw the BBC headline that it forecast that the 'leave' campaign would win the referendum. Britain is leaving the EU.

33.6 million people voted. 16,141,241 cast in favour of Remain and 17,410,742 in favour of Leave. Interestingly, the older Brits voted for Leave whilst the younger citizens opted for Remain.

My Facebook timeline is filled with shock, confusion and upset.

Of course, my network comprises British expats, Europeans and expats from other countries - many who could not vote or had no say in British matters. I wasn't eligible to vote as I have been out of Britain for over fifteen years. I had no vote yet the result today will have an impact upon me personally, and my family. Some of my husband's colleagues are today wondering what their future holds - in all likelihood they may lose their jobs. I see my friends who are EU citizens living in the UK also wondering how things will pan out for them in the future.

It feels like a hangover from a party I never went to. There are condolences being handed out to British expats left right and centre. It's a strange day.

But what does this actually mean for British expats in EU countries?

David Cameron touched upon the issue on British expats minds this morning from outside the Downing Street property he will shortly vacate,

"There will be no immediate changes in your circumstances."

Nothing we'll notice straight away. But there will be changes in the future. My British passport will potentially have less weight in 27 countries in the future than it does now. There will be bureaucracy and paperwork to face that I currently don't need to worry about. In the future I will have a different status than my husband and children in EU countries. Maybe.

But they are all things that will work themselves out. They are an inconvenience. Minor issues. I hope.

What I do have more of a problem with is that Nigel Farage is today the British face of victory (yes the same man who went on record this morning as saying "we won it without a bullet being fired' obviously forgetting that Jo Cox lost her life on Britain's streets last week, and withdrawing the Leave campaign claims that the money not paid into the EU would be paid into the NHS).

What I do have a problem with is the hatred and the negativity that has flooded my social media timelines over the last few months, and particularly the last week.

What I do have an issue with is the sudden increase in armchair politicians spouting their views about immigrants, public money and making Britain 'great' again. I have seen members of the British public interviewed on Dutch news programs who were asked which way they were voting and their reasons for doing so. Some of the answers made something shrivel up and die inside of me.

I have seen friends arguing on Facebook with each other over the referendum and the issues involved. I have seen ignorance and fear. I am also happy to have seen those who have read every possible thing they could to make a decision they were comfortable with. Informed decisions - whichever way their vote went. I have seen those who chose to abstain because they really don't know enough to make an informed decision.

Today the pound's value has plummeted, the Euro has declined against the dollar. Stock markets across Europe are falling. Will there be a recession in Britain? Across Europe? Will the divorce be a messy one, or a friendly civilised affair?

The British PM has resigned and there is a motion of no confidence agains the opposition leader. Immediate political turmoil. Will Boris Johnson become the future prime minister of Britain?

Will other EU countries call for a referendum on their EU membership too? Geert Wilders (yes, that man again) has already staked his claim for one. (Note that he does not have parliamentary backing so no need for alarm as yet). The far right in France is also making noise for a referendum. Far right. Europe. Is that really where we are heading? I seriously hope we have learned that lesson by now.

What is also evident is that the United Kingdom is one of divisions. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, England and Wales voted out. I saw someone thinking aloud on social media that this may well be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. It's anyone's guess where it all goes from here.

"For one thing, there is now a genuine question over the shape of this kingdom. Scotland (like London) voted to remain inside the European Union. Every one of its political parties (bar Ukip) urged a remain vote. Yet now Scotland is set to be dragged out of the EU, against its collective will." The Guardian

Sure, things will settle down. Things will balance themselves out. It will take years but there will be a road forward from here. Britain will carry on, with its stiff upper lip it will survive. Will it be better? That's a question for the future. A question we will have to ask our children. The only certain thing is that things will be different.

What won't change in the future is my sudden loss of identity. My teenage self studied European Studies at university. I opted to learn European languages. I chose to exercise my right of movement and make another EU country my home. My husband works for an EU body. I will lose my EU citizenship but my life remains in the Netherlands.

My two youngest sons are clad in their Dutch football shirts today and a Dutch friend asked if that was me making a statement. It wasn't, it was pure coincidence - they chose their tops themselves today as they do every day. But she did get goosebumps from my reaction to the Brexit result.

Today I am feeling rootless. I am feeling a lot less enthusiastic about being British than I was yesterday. I plan to give myself time for a 'period of mourning', to wrap my head around this momentous decision that my countrymen have made. Meanwhile, I am planning ahead. I know for sure I am not the only Brit in the Netherlands today looking at the option of obtaining a Dutch passport. (There's a great article about the consequences for Brits living in the Netherlands here if you are worried about what Brexit will mean for you in the future.)

I've talked before about how I feel like I am living life in the middle - not quite Dutch but no longer wholly British. Today I am being pushed out of that void. Today I realise just how European I feel.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

10 Things Expat Life is Not

Sun, sea and white sand. Maids, nannies and cooks. Exotic and luxurious living. Do any of these words evoke an image of expat life for you? Then I have news for you. Here are ten things that expat life is absolutely not.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Bruce Springsteen Makes Magic on the Malieveld

From the second that the first note of 'Badlands' echoed around the Malieveld Bruce Springsteen had 67,500 people under his spell, and he kept them there for three-and-a-half hours. 

The weather men had threatened rain. There was even talk of a thunderstorm. So stocked up with ponchos, plastic bin bags and rain coats thousands made their way to The Hague. In the end the weather gods smiled down on us and the only thing that dropped from the sky was beer; Springsteen even has the weather gods under his spell it would seem. Blue skies, sunshine, and even a little bit of pre-summer warmth as the Malieveld filled up with excited Springsteen fans. 

The Stereophonics warmed the crowd up further before heading off thirty or fourty minutes before Bruce was due on stage. The Welsh band apparently left a bit of a mess on stage, which took 30 minutes of vacuuming to clean up: or perhaps Springsteen is partial to a spotless stage... either way the stage was clean and set for a fantastic evening.

Just one minute after the scheduled time (afspraak is afspraak if you are in the Netherlands!), the E Street Band made their way onto the stage and Springsteen bounded on after them, with his trademark powerful start of "1,2,3,4"as Badlands blasted out of the (at times dodgy) sound system. And Bruce kept bounding - for hours on end, without interruption, in a way no other 66 year old music star could do. 

He got in amongst the crowd, he used the full width of the stage and, as he always does, he pulled surprises out of the hat to delight the crowd, to make sure his audience knows that every show he does is unique. There are no two Springsteen concerts the same. 

For the European leg of this tour he has abandoned sticking rigidly to his The River set list and he's thrown in something new everywhere he's played. In Manchester he played Santa Claus is Coming to Town, at the request of a Santa Claus clad fan. He took requests on the Malieveld too and The Hague was treated to a very special performance of Tom Waits' song 'Jersey Girl' on the request from a fan from Jersey (that's Jersey and not New Jersey) and From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) - both songs a first on this River tour. And special it was indeed. 

Springsteen handed the reins over to the 67, 500 strong crowd to belt out 'Hungry Heart'. From 'Death to My Hometown' Springsteen launched into 'The River' with his harmonica, causing a few goosebumps in the audience, and tears in the eyes of at least one grown man around me. 'The River' is my favourite Springsteen song, so this was the absolute highlight of the concert for me - I would have gone home contented at that point. But there was much, much more to come. 

From 'The River' Springsteen and the E Street Band moved to 'Racing in the Street', another 'The River tour' first. We listened to 'Waiting on a Sunny Day' (one young girl was invited up on stage to sing with Bruce, much to the crowd's delight - and for her trouble she got the gift of Bruce's plectrum), I'm on Fire, Because the Night, The Rising, Thunder Road and Land of Hope and Dreams.

And then the encore. Bruce rocked. The E Street Band rocked. There were girls plucked from the crowd who rocked. The crowd rocked. The Malieveld rocked. 

I'm sure the whole of The Hague could hear nearly 70,000 people telling the world they were 'Born to Run'. 

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out was played with a wonderful tribute to the 'Big Man' Clarence Clemons and The Isley Brother's 'Shout' closed the evening out. Almost. The E Street Band left the stage to rapturous applause but Mr Springsteen came back for one last song: an acoustic version of This Hard Land. It was an impressive end to an amazing show. 

Every time Springsteen gets on a stage it genuinely looks like there is no other place in the world he would rather be than on that stage, right at that moment. When Springsteen gets on a stage there's no party like it.

This wasn't my first Springsteen concert (and hopefully it wasn't my last either; I don't believe the rumours). I was 15 years old when I saw Bruce live for the first time in Sheffield in 1988. I went with my parents, then not a particularly huge Springsteen fan, but my brother and I had been subjected to a lot of his music at home and my parents had bought two extra tickets so we could tag along. From that concert on I was hooked too.

I have seen him a number of times since, here in the Netherlands and back in England. When we heard he was coming to The Hague my husband and I were one of the many thousands and thousands who waited in online ticket queues to be able to be there last Tuesday night. My husband got two tickets, and then had the option to get more - so he got an extra ticket. That ticket was for my dad, the one who nearly thirty years ago bought me my first Springsteen show ticket. Favour returned. He flew over from England to stand on the Malieveld with us.

Thanks Dad for introducing me to the only man I would happily stand 6 hours on a muddy field for at the ripe old age of 43........... I hope I get to pass Springsteen on to my children. I hope that they one day share the idea that if real life was one long Springsteen concert the world would be one damn happy place to live in.

The Boss left his mark on The Hague. He closed the phenomenal show out with calls of 'dank je wel'. "Nou Bruce, jij ook bedankt hoor!"

Monday, 13 June 2016

Long Hat - My First Dutch Children's Book Translation

I am thrilled to introduce you all to Long Hat, who up until very recently only existed in the form of a Dutch kabouter called Langmuts. I worked on the translation of 'Langmuts is een held' for Scrivo Media and I'm so proud that the 'Long Hat is a Hero' book has been released.

This is just one of a long list of things I would never have ended up doing had I not moved to the Netherlands, not opted for an expat life and not learnt Dutch. We are all on our own path, sometimes that path is chosen for us (like when we meet a Dutch man and fall in love), sometimes we consciously choose a direction ourselves and whilst none of us can see what is around the corner expat life generally manages to throw up surprises, challenges and opportunities. Long Hat falls quite easily in the first and last of those categories.

I was contacted last year about translating Langmuts because of my Happy Sensitive Kids blog and I didn't hesitate to say yes. Langmuts was a part of my family's life before I was contacted about turning him into an English gnome. The Langmuts series is written with highly sensitive children in mind (though they are fantastic stories for any children) and so we had the complete series on our bookshelf long before I became personally involved. My sons relate to Langmuts. My eldest son had his first - 'Wow, that's just like me" moment reading 'Langmuts is een held' so you can understand that there was no hesitation to get involved in the Long Hat series. (You can read more about this on the Happy Sensitive Kids blog.)

And so, my first Dutch children's book translation is available now. Right now. From Amazon UK (it is not currently available in the USA - lots of people have already asked so I wanted to pre-empt those questions!) and for those of you in the Netherlands you can get the book from Scrivo Media, with no delivery costs.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

5 Ways You Can Make Expat Life Easier for Yourself

I'm longing for change. I've been in the Netherlands now for over 15 years. I've been living in the same house now since 2002. I've been struggling to live life in Dutch for more years than I care to think about and instead of getting easier it's actually getting harder; people expect you to speak flawless Dutch after 15 years in the Netherlands, but I don't. I can hold my own, I get by, but I still have to think about what I need to say. I've been through the culture shock curve and co e out the other side, unscathed. I feel more at home these days in the Netherlands than I do in Britain, yet I am still living a life in the middle, between two worlds. And suddenly I'm finding it to be exhausting.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

'Message in a Bottle' Kickstarter Kick Off: 5 Reasons to Get Involved

I've been part of a book launch team behind the scenes for a little while now and I'm delighted to share that the wonderful team behind this new personalised children's book has now kicked off their Kickstarter campaign. The next phase of 'Message in a Bottle' is here and you can be a part of it.

There are a couple of reasons I got involved in this book:

1. As an expat, I love the idea behind this book. You compose the message and it gets delivered in a personalised book to that special child in your life. For those of you who don't get to live on the doorstep of grandchildren, nephews, nieces, godchildren or your friends' children, this is a great way of letting them know you're thinking of them - and whenever they read the story they are reminded of you. This is such a great way to say something special that will always be remembered.

2. My boys LOVE seeing their own names in a book, with them being woven into a story. What child doesn't?

3. The illustrations in 'Message in a Bottle' are just gorgeous.

4. The message you can send a child is flexible. And that's unique. Often a message is restricted in a personalised book, or comprises just a name and one line. Message in a Bottle goes above and beyond the normal idea of a personalised book!

5. I love books. My kids love books. The End.

So how can you get involved too? Head over to the 'Message in a Bottle' Kickstarter page and watch the video, which tells you lots more and introduces you to the story maker and ilustrator. Then pick one of the great Kickstarter rewards and make your pledge. It's as easy as that.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Why Amsterdam Is the Perfect Destination for Families

This week I'm delighted to share a guest post with you about family travel to Amsterdam.This post has been written by Jess Signet who blogs about travel over at Tripelio. Jess is an avid traveler and enjoys writing about her adventures. Knowing there’s more to the world than the bubble she lives in makes her want to travel even further.  Here's her take on why Amsterdam is the place to for a family holiday.