25 March 2014

6 Tips to Feeling Better by an Expat Kid (with Mama's Commentary)

Little Man is down with a cold today. He was was little sick on Sunday but  seemed well enough to make it through the whole day at school yesterday - and he did. Unfortunately, that's where our luck stopped. He had a rough evening and didn't seem much better this morning.

Courtesy of artemisphoto

We kept him home from school today, and in an effort to maintain a certain level of sanity and avoid watching tv all day, I started asking him what types of things we can do to feel better when we're sick. With a few follow up questions, we up with a list of all Little Man's good health advice. You'll find my corresponding commentary directly beneath each point.

1. Cuddle with dinosaurs. But you have to cuddle fast.
I'm not sure if "cuddle fast" is because it makes you feel better faster or if because there is just a general sense of danger that comes when you attempt to cuddle a dinosaur.

2. Eat a cough drop. It feels warm in your mouth.
Obviously, this isn't for very little kids. We happened to have a container with smaller than normal sized Ricola drops that work well for Little Man.

3. Take a shower. They make you a bit gooder.
A little steam always helps with the congestion, sometimes enough to let the kiddo play while feeling a little more like himself. And it's a nice distraction from the couch.

4. Watch tv. You watch carefully and it goes slowly.
When he's sick, he does get to watch more tv than normal. The energy level is down (maybe that's why it goes slowly?) and if he's not tired enough to take a nap it provides a chance to veg out. One of us just tries to make sure this doesn't become the whole day - I'll let you guess who that is.

5. Eat an ice cream. It makes your throat and pipes feel good.
Ice cream and popsicles are my personal go-to when I have a sore throat, so I can't deny it too much to the Little Man. And if a sick tummy is involved, a popsicle isn't too hard on the stomach.

6. Wear comfy clothes.
There's no sense in making a kid really get dressed, so I just have Little Man change out of pjs into another pair or into sweatpants. It's easier for everyone that way.

Mama's additional tips:

- If possible, have some sort of "expat medicine" stash in the house. There's an argument to be made for Americans having the tendency to over-medicate everything, but sometimes you need some form or relief and it can be frustrating that you can't find anything locally to help your kid feel better.

- Distraction is your friend. Now is the time to let kids either do something unusual (like a new art project) or pull out forgotten toys and books.

- Forget the routine. It's not worth the aggravation for either of you. Your kid's body isn't on schedule when it's sick, so don't force it. Things will fall back into place when everyone's healthy again. This goes for eating, too. Of course it's important to help them keep their energy up, but sometimes little bites will do your kid better than a full meal.

Do you have any tips for getting a kid through a cold? I'll take anything I can get!

21 March 2014

"Why Do You Write?"

SJ at Chasing the Donkey recently tagged me in a blog hop to talk about the reasons why I write, to answer some specific questions about my writing, and to tag two other bloggers to do the same. It's taken me a few days to get my thoughts in order so I don't go rambling on, and today I thought would be a good day to share my answers with you.

Courtesy of Idea go

I started Life in Dutch back in July 2012 in the midst of our moving process. We were still in Chicago and I wanted to keep friends and family informed about what we were up to. Starting before we moved meant I could easily give everyone the blog information before we left. When we arrived in the Netherlands this remained an easy platform from which we keep the folks at home updated (especially when I go through my bouts of being terrible at keeping up with email).

As time went on, this blog was my tool to feeling like I had "something" to do. I left my full time job that I really loved in Chicago and started life as a stay at home mom in a foreign country, and while the experiences I've had here and extra time spent with Little Man have been more wonderful than I can express, at times it has been rather lonely and I worried about losing my writing skills or having my brain atrophy. This blog has allowed me to stay connected with friends and family at home, start new connections with other expats and bloggers, and keep a creative outlet that still requires me to use all my writing and editing skills. And it's been fun to keep this blog. With the exception of occasional technical issues that suck away a few hours of my life, things have been smooth sailing here and have been worth the time I've put in (as I knock vigorously on the wood table).

What am I working on?

Mainly I work here at Life in Dutch. I've done several regular link-ups and some guest posts for other blogs, but most of my efforts have been here on my own content. I would love to expand my writing opportunities, and I'm looking into that, but for now I keep this little corner of the internet.

I have recently (and by that I mean last week) started a blog for arcBcrafts, my webshop endeavor on Etsy. Things are very new over there, but I plan to have it as an outlet and news source for the things I'm making for the Etsy store and other crafting projects.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most of Life in Dutch is my observations and our experiences as expats. I like to throw in some of our travels, things about Little Man and parenting, but I think that mostly this blog is a chronicle of the general (mis)adventures of our daily life. Most days our lives are just as boring as everyone else, but we experience the occasional curve ball that makes mundane tasks like operating the washing machine or going to the doctor much more "exciting" because we're operating in a different language.

Why do I write what I do?

If I'm honest, this blog is really subject to my whims. It might be something current in our lives that I want to share because it's a milestone or a common event that's different than it would have been in the States. It might be an opportunity to laugh at myself or talk about trying to really learn a new language as an adult or share some of our travel experiences. But mostly I write to show that even though we're doing things as expats, most of our lives are the same as they would be in the States, just with a twist, and I'd like to think I do it in an engaging enough a way that keeps people coming back to read about little ol' us.

How does your writing process work?

It depends. Some posts involve days or even weeks of research and work to gather information and pictures before I start really writing. Some posts are written in a few minutes. When I'm really on top of things I have a schedule, but mostly I have ideas floating around in my head with an outline and I go for it. I prefer to write when Little Man is at school so there are fewer distractions, but sometimes I feel the need to write as an idea hits me. I'd like to say that there's a method to the madness, but... yeah, not really.

Now, I'm going to tag Shannon at Beginnings in Bayern and Molly at The Move to America to talk about their writing and answer the same questions as above. And please check them out - they keep lovely blogs.

Are you a writer or a blogger? Why do you write?

19 March 2014

De Overblijfmoeder: The Sequel

I've mentioned before my one-time stint as an overblijfmoeder - in particular my fears before the gig, and confirmation that I had survived afterwards. Well, I'm now a veteran overblijfmoeder that has managed to survive two experiences surrounded by lots of Dutch-speaking children.

Today the teacher asked me to sub in as the overblijfmoeder again, which I did with less anxiety than the first time. But there were a few moments today during the kids' lunch when this quote from Finding Nemo was all I could think of:

Finding nemo marlin - Look You're really cute But I can't understand what you're saying

Just a little mid-week humor for you. Happy Wednesday, all.

17 March 2014

The Expat Experience: The Reason I Left

It's always a bit strange when I look back at how we started our journey as expats - particularly because it all happened so fast. Today, Molly at The Move to America is hosting the fantastic Expat Experience linkup with theme "The Reason I Left." It's a good way to look back at how we started this adventure, and I'm joining her and the other blogs today to share my own experience.

The Move to America

The short answer to why we left the United States is that a good job came along for Mark. He was finishing up his doctoral dissertation and on the job market. Just for fun and to see what would happen, he also applied for jobs abroad when he received an invitation to interview in the Netherlands. They liked him, offered him the job, and voila! Expat status initiated.

The longer answer is this:

As Mark was finishing up his degree, we knew there was a good chance that we might leave Chicago for a job, but it wasn't for certain. He applied to jobs in the US, but when we thought it would be a good idea to expand the options by looking outside of the country. We thought seriously about what was going on in our family before he started looking for open positions. At the time, my mother was undergoing treatments to fight ovarian cancer and we wouldn't have made such a big move had she not been doing well. We were fortunate that the cancer was found in its early stages and the doctors were very optimistic about her prognosis - and today she is cancer free! Since my mom was doing well, we felt it was possible to apply outside the US. We also thought about Little Man - he was not yet 3 years old, so it seemed like this was the best time to make such a drastic move. He was young enough to have a relatively easy time learning a new language, and moving across the ocean wouldn't be much more disruptive to him than moving to another state.

The move itself was also a bit of a leap of faith. It was only about 7 weeks between the day Mark was offered the job and the day we arrived on Dutch soil. Without the logistical support from the university (i.e. doing most of the work on our visas and setting us up with a relocation company) there would have been no way that we could have made it here in that short a time. Our transition here was much smoother with the support we received than if we had done it alone.

And finally, I'd be lying if I said we weren't looking for a bit of an adventure. This is quite possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. Traveling in Europe is often hard to do from North America, and we've been able to make trips that would have seemed like only a dream 3 years ago. The opportunity to learn a language like this is also something that would have been harder in the US, always surrounded by our native tongue. Little Man has made great strides in his Dutch, and while I'm certainly not close to fluent, I can do things in the Dutch language that I never considered a possibility before living here. These were things we didn't want to miss out on doing.

If you're thinking about becoming an expat, here are some things worth considering:

1. Make sure it's a good time for you/your family. Is there something going on in your life that you should really make sure you stay around for? If you have kids, consider where they are at in school and their general needs. Depending on your situation, it may or may not be a good time to move.

2. Make sure you have something to go to and some sort of moving support. By that I mean a job, partner, whatever. Most countries won't allow you to move in on a whim - they want to make sure you aren't going to mooch off the system - so you need to have some reason to anchor you to the country, be it a job, school, or an already established partner. This anchor is also helpful for the logistics of the moving process, even if it's just someone to vent to when things get frustrating.

3. Make sure there's something to excite you about the move. If you hate the idea of going to another country (especially if you don't speak the language), you should probably reconsider your idea to become an expat. You have to be open to the differences and the changes you're about the face - both good and bad.

How did you move into expat status? Or have you made a "big move" even within your own country?

16 March 2014

#SundayTraveler: My Favorite Bits of London in 12 Photos

In our trip to London a few weeks ago, we took a lot of pictures. Some came out better than others, but they all hold some great memories. I thought I would share (in no particular order) my favorites with you today.

1. Dippy of the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum of London has one of the best displays of dinosaur fossils I've ever seen in my life - and needless to say, Little Man loved every minute of it. Dippy the Diplodocus isn't an actual fossil (just a cast of a real fossil), but that doesn't lessen the impression he makes on you when you enter the main lobby of this gorgeous building.

2. Westminster Abby 

This gorgeous and historic site is beautiful inside and out (though photos are not allowed inside, unfortunately). The number of famous (and infamous) people buried in the church and it's long ties to the British Crown further increased my awe during our visit.

3.  Big Ben

Sure, it's one of the "token pictures" everyone (including us) takes in London, but you can't deny the beauty of the clock tower. It gleams in the sun, it's immediately recognizable, and it sits on a pretty nice piece of real estate by the River Thames.

4. Palace of Westminster/Parliament Building by Night

Westminster looks fabulous when it's lit up at night. From across the Thames, it's hard not to appreciate the architecture of the building as it reflects in the water below.

5. The Queen's Guard on Horseback

By happy accident and good timing, we witnessed the Queen's Guard riding by on horseback while we were doing a walking tour of the Westminster neighborhood. Little Man was excited - because, horses - and we were able to take a great picture.

6. Riding the Iconic London Buses

The red double-decker buses are always associated with London. They're just part of the urban landscape for residents, but I think even they would agree that they look cooler than most public buses. Mark and Little Man were sitting in the front seats of the top level, enjoying the ride as we followed a similar route as the bus ahead.

7. Assyrian Sculptures at the British Museum

These huge sculptures from ancient Assyria once stood at the entrance of a palace. Standing next to them is humbling when you consider their age, their size and the work of the people that built them, and the work of the explorers that brought them to England in tact.

8. Trafalgar Square

The massive lions at the base of Admiral Nelson's monument can't take a bad picture. They are imposing - they dwarf even the tallest people - and they are surrounded by other great landmarks.

9. The Ravens of London Tower

The ravens of London Tower can be seen all over the grounds. While taking his picture, this one started talking back to Little Man from his perch.

10. Prisoners' Carvings at London Tower

For better or worse, many have been held prisoner in London Tower through the years. Some left their marks upon the stone walls with their dinner knives, a testament to their faith or innocence (though some perhaps out of boredom). I can't help but feel connected to the past when looking at these markings.

11. Tower Bridge

Another highly photographed London landmark, the Tower Bridge is a monument to beauty and human ingenuity. From a neighborhood below the bridge (on the bank opposite the Tower of London), we loved this view of the bridge.

12. Little Man at Paddington Station

Going to Paddington Station was one of our literary stops around London. It was something I got to do as a kid, and I'm so glad to have shared it with the Little Man as well.

Today's post is part of the #SundayTraveler link up hosted by Chasing the Donkey and friends. Please visit the other great posts and see some other amazing parts of the world.

11 March 2014

How to Put Your Foot in Your Mouth in Dutch (Kind of...)

A little while back, I publicly announced my annoyance with the number of people calling at my door for just about every reason imaginable. I was even starting to think that this novelty doormat was a legitimate investment:

Available through Amazon.com

Well, folks, today is the day I come back to you and tell you about how this one post has led to me putting my foot in my mouth... and doing it entirely in Dutch.

Like many awkward moments in which you suddenly realize you have no idea what you're talking about, this story starts with me thinking I knew what I was talking about. I received a phone call a few weeks back and decided I was going to power through with my Dutch rather than apologizing and switching to English. The caller was asking (I thought) if I would be willing to make a donation to a charity when they came around the neighborhood. I agreed and waited to see if anyone would come around for about a week, and then promptly forgot about it. 

Last Thursday I received another call from the same organization, and I kept going with my Dutch. This time they were asking when they could make an appointment for (I assumed) picking up the donation. I made an appointment for Friday evening, thinking it was a strange way to do collections, but was happy I would at least have a warning about them coming.

As it turns out, I volunteered myself to do collections for Reumafonds, a charitable organization that supports the research and patients of rheumatoid arthritis. I figured this out when the appointment involved a large bag with all my supplies and a short discussion of what everything entailed. Now I've got myself a fancy collection bin and some light reading (in Dutch) and a map of my walking route.

In light of my complaining, I find the whole situation a bit karmic, but I'm going to follow through with it and have already done a couple streets for the collection. At least I accidentally volunteered for a good organization. So if you see me hoofing it around your street, feel free to call me on my hypocrisy, and please help out the good people at Reumafonds (though you may not understand what I'm saying when I try to pronounce it). Please know that in the Netherlands, you can make an online donation from the home page of the Reumafonds website.

Little Man helping on the beat.

Have you ever found yourself accidentally volunteering or agreeing to something? Did you ever do it in a different language?

09 March 2014

Picnic on the canel

#SundayTraveler: Living Books in London

Last week we made a trip to London during the Voorjaarvakantie (Spring Vacation). It's something we wanted to do for a while, and though we made a point to do all sorts of things, I particularly enjoyed making some "literary" stops around the city. With so many options around the city it was hard to narrow down the list, but eventually I found three options that worked well with our itinerary.

First up was a trip to Paddington Station to visit our favorite Paddington Bear.

I first came to really appreciate Paddington Bear in 1995. During a trip to London to visit friends, my mother and I went to the station and visited a little Paddington Bear kiosk of goodies and took some photos with a stuffed Paddington Bear by a station sign. A few months after that trip, my brother was born and his nursery decorated with Paddington Bears and filled with several Paddington books, which were all passed down to Little Man. We still read many of the books and it seemed like a great idea to visit Paddington Station, where Paddington Bear's story and my connection with him began. Now a lovely statue commemorates Michael Bond's adorable bear and a much bigger, permanent shop stands full with even more Paddington goodies.

Little Man with Paddington Bear and Paddington Bear

We added a new book from the shop to our library and recreated a photo with the Little Man. It was a great opportunity to share an experience like this with the Little Man, and it was something he also enjoyed doing after reading all of his Paddington stories.

Ace in 1995. Little Man in 2014. Same Paddington Station, same Paddington Bear.

The next evening we stopped for dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Pub, off Trafalgar Square. I found it in some of my initial searches of things to do in London, but didn't take the idea too seriously until I realized that we would be in Trafalgar Square around supper time. The pub is nowhere near 221B Baker Street, but it is fully dedicated to Sir Arther Conan Doyle's shrewd detective. The walls of the bar on the ground floor are decorated with various Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, and you can even order a pint of Sherlock Ale or Watson's Wallop; but the "museum room" in the upstairs dining room shows the sitting room at 221B Baker Street as Doyle describes it (and according to the pub's website, Doyle's family had a hand in helping the pub establish itself in the 1950s).

The Sherlock Holmes Pub

Replica of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street.

And in case you're wondering, the food is solid pub food, the staff was quite kind, and children are welcome. It may not be quite like Baker Street, but it was a fun atmosphere and it was nice to be surrounded by a clear appreciation of the stories.

Our final literary stop was entirely for my benefit only. I have read the Harry Potter series many times, and I just HAD to visit King's Cross Station. Since so many people have visited the station after viewing the Harry Potter movies, a special photo-op has been installed for fans. A luggage cart (halfway in the wall) lets you pretend to rush through the magic entry way onto Platform 9 3/4, and friendly staff will loan you a Hogwarts House scarf of your choice (though in full commitment to the bit, I brought along my personal Gryffindor scarf) and take your picture (available for purchase in the Harry Potter shop).

I brought my own scarf. That's full commitment.

We also made a stop by the arches between Platforms 4 and 5, where I had read that the filming of the movies actually took place - because if I'm committed enough to bring my own House Scarf, I'm committed enough to go to the actual filming spot.

Between Platforms 4 and 5 - where the movies were filmed

Not exactly like the movie... but close...

These are just 3 of the many places you can visit in London if you have any fondness for British literature. I love incorporating things we have read into our trips because it feels like there is already a strong tie to the city, especially for Little Man. I recommend checking out any sites that may be tied to what you've read (or watched) to give the trip another special moment. It's a great way to jump start your own imagination and excite your kids about the trip!

Have you ever gotten to "live" a book you've read on a trip? Or do you have a dream location to visit because of a book or movie?

Today's post is linked with the #SundayTraveler series hosted by Chasing the Donkey and friends. Please be sure to check out all the other wonderful blogs that have linked up!

07 March 2014

Returning from London

We were lucky enough to go to London from Saturday to Wednesday. We're catching up on normal life happenings since our return and a proper post will come along soon. In the mean time, I'll leave you with this picture that pretty much sums up a lot of our experiences traveling: Making crazy faces in front of a country's beloved icons.

03 March 2014

The Expat Experience: The Unexpected Challenge

Moving abroad brings its own unique set of challenges no matter where you go. Even "serial expats" find new challenges in each location - many of which center around language. Our move to the Netherlands has been no different, and language continues to be a daily challenge.

Dutch is a difficult language to learn - this is something that almost every Dutch person I have met will tell me, and I can't help but agree with them. To me, the words are totally unique, related to German, related to English, or related to French. The pronunciation is hard - there are sounds that do no exist in American English that I'm now training my mouth to make, and I often feel like I'm walking around with a giant question mark hovering over my head. But what may surprise you (and it's certainly surprised me) is that the main part of my "language challenge" is that many people simply speak English to me.

The Dutch are amazing with their English. The schools teach English and other languages, and some high schools even teach all subjects in English, the idea being that in a country with a relatively small population in an ever globalizing economy people will benefit from knowing more languages. Because of this very forward thinking attitude, most people I come in contact with are minimally "conversationally fluent" and are often keen on speaking English when my Dutch takes a turn for the incomprehensible. It's an act of kindness, and often I feel better to be relieved of the embarrassment, but it makes it harder to learn Dutch.

I need to force myself to keep speaking Dutch, even when I struggle, and not fall back on the reliance that everyone speaks English. It's an unexpected challenge in the language learning process, but I'm up for it. So here's to keeping up the motivation and powering through.

Today's post is part of the Expat Experience Link Up hosted by Molly at The Move to America. Please be sure to check out the other great posts on today's topic.

The Move to America

01 March 2014

It's Carnaval! Drink Like a Prince!

I found this advertisement in out local Ablert Heijn, and just had to share it. The makers of Bavaria Bier would like to remind you that with a purchase of two six-packs, you can receive a special Carnaval Bier Scepter, and "Drink like a prince!" And really, who doesn't at least secretly want one of these?

So there you have it, folks. Enjoy your Carnaval, but please do it responsibly.
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