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Month: May 2017

Delft mama of the week: Olga

Ever since I started writing about the moms of the week for Delft MaMa blog, I’ve been asking those who I interview to nominate other mothers to be the next moms of the week. The list is ever-growing, but sometimes someone is nominated multiple times and it’s time to get to know them better. This is exactly the case with our mom of the week, Olga, who has been nominated by others who look up to her every now and again.

Although Olga lives in Rijswijk these days, she’s one of the Delft MaMa pioneers. She joined the playgroup that used to gather at St. Olofspark back in the day. Olga joined after she got someone call the police on her, so her journey so far has been not only long, but a noteworthy one as well. “I reached out and it was fantastic. It’s all the support you get. If you have a problem, you know someone who may know the answer, or at least they might know someone who knows the answer,” Olga says.

She’s sitting across the table from me in Bagels & Beans on the Markt, which she chose for us to meet. Olga orders macha latte, a very trendy drink indeed. “It’s Japanese green tea powder,” she clarifies while sipping her healthy looking drink.

Olga was born in Poland, but partly grew up in Germany. Her parents spoke several languages to her in her youth and when Olga did Erasmus exchange program in Hamburg, she met her German now husband, Nikolai. His studies took him to Winnipeg, Canada, where Olga followed, just to try her wings since given the chance. She loved her time in Canada, although she spent that time working in telemarketing and customer service, which is ironic because Olga has always found talking on the phone difficult. In the end she’s glad she did it, as it gave her a yet broader perspective of the world around her. After the year in Canada, the couple moved back to Germany, where their first-born, Klara (8), was born and soon enough the family settled in Delft. In the years to follow Klara got company from her little sister, Julia (6), and little brother, Markian (4).

By the time they settled down, Olga had lived on two continents, four countries and countless addresses. It’s no wonder when figuring out her national identity, Olga found it very natural to refer to herself as a European Mama for her blog.

Having studied German in the University, she wasn’t exactly sure what was in the future for her. Before she started blogging, she thought blogging was for people who mainly wrote about themselves. Little did she know there already was a whole community out there with similar feelings and experiences to her. Accidentally, she tumbled into blogging and over the years found her audience growing. “What I don’t understand about blogging is that everyone tells you to find your niche and stick to it. After a while I get bored about a subject,” Olga says.

Even with blogging, Olga has been following her own intuition and has been writing about what she gets inspired about. Currently she’s responsible for one major parenting newsletter and writing paid articles about various subjects, ranging from motherhood to tech. She’s also working on publishing her grandfather’s text about his experiences. “It’s his story in a holocaust. He lived in Ukraine, but moved to Warsaw when situation was getting tough there and they thought it would be safer in Poland. They got caught in Warsaw uprising and his first wife died. I was thinking what would have happened if she survived. I wouldn’t be here. I think I owe her my life in a way,” Olga says and struggles finding the words about what she means to her.

Personally, I’ve known Olga since 2011, and every time I meet her, she leaves me with more questions than what I had in mind before meeting up with her. Even though this time I came to her with a bunch of questions, when our time together is up, she still manages to intrigue my curiosity to the point that this expectation is yet again met.

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School endings and new beginnings

My daughter is in “groep 8″of the “basisschool”. And since she has returned from her last break beginning of May, she is in a total mode of end-of-primary-school-career-celebrations. They still do learn something at school, but after the Cito-toets just before the last holidays, school is all about preparation for the school camp and the famous end-of-musical.

For many international parents the Dutch school system is sometimes at least a bit confusing. To start with the fun parts. in many other school systems going to school camps happens yearly as from year 1 or 2 (groep 3 and 4 here), while in most Dutch schools the groep 8 camp is a very big deal. My daughter was lucky enough to go abroad to an International British school, and back in the Netherlands first to an international orientated bilingual Dutch school, so this is not her first camp. And also not her first musical, as theater productions are an yearly happening in many other school systems. She sometimes giggles: I am a pro, I’ve already done so many camps and musicals. But even so, the fever of all these preparations,  the fun and the joy is there every day, but also the fear and anticipation of what comes after. Because after the school camp, and after the musical, and after the summer holidays, she will start at her new “middelbare school”. Quite a huge step. And it keeps her and her peers very busy.

Since the Dutch education system does not have middle school, the step between the 8 year long primary school, (where all the kids learn together at the same level, have almost no homework and go to have lunch at home everyday) and the high school is really a big one. Everything changes. And it starts all with the Cito toets. The Cito is actually not only one exam (in some schools they use different examination tools, Cito is the biggest and most common one at the moment). Cito is a standardized testing system used for the very first groep 1 till groep 8, where the pupils are being ranked by their cognitive and academic achievements. In groep 8, the teachers look at the Cito results from previous years, and they look at the social-emotional development of the child, and they advice which type of school suits your child the best. Dutch high school educational system is characterized by division, according to the level of abilities of the pupils.  And then you as parents, and the child, start looking for schools, and their different educational curriculum, and choose one.

Middelbare school…how is that?!

Sounds simple? Well, it is not that simple. Because each high school has its own way of teaching, each school offers different kinds of support, extra curricular activities, foreign languages or practical skills. My daughter and we have visited quite a few school till we decided upon the one we think fits her. And it is hard, because it happens at such a precious age (hello puberty), and the differences will be felt. Because after the summer break my daughter, like all her peers, will have to deal with a new teacher for each subject, moving from one classroom to another, work in projects, and foremost make tons of homework and presentations. The transition is not soft. She and all of them, will be growing lots next school year. They will all need to make new friends, get used to new class dynamics, they will learn to plan, and again make lots of homework… they will learn a lot.

But, there are still some time till then. I remember the first time she went to “basisschool” when she just turned 4, and now she is ending her primary school years, getting ready for the unknown yet “middelbare school” ones. Packing her backpack for school camp, rehearsing her lines and songs for the musical, planning her summer, getting almost ready to take the next plunge.  No it’s not about reading and writing anymore, it’s about the big things. As for us, the parents, there is a Dutch saying “small kids, small problems, big kids, big problems”. Oh wel…

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10 things living in The Netherlands has taught me

In the summer of 2016 my family and I moved from the sunny Costa del Sol to the not-so-sunny town of Delft, and  I wasn’t sure if we’d made the right decision.  I knew that my husband’s work opportunities would be better, my children’s schooling would be a LOT better and that I wouldn’t have any trouble continuing my writing. I also figured that living in such a creative town, and close to other business hubs like The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, my career could only ever progress. But Holland? Could I be happy there?

Yes I like cheese, clogs are funny and tulips are pretty – but what did I know about The Netherlands? What could the country offer me?

Well actually, it turns out that ten months into our three year placement here it’s taught me a lot. I now understand why everyone thinks it’s so cool and I know (freezing winters aside) I will be happy here. Here are ten things that living in The Netherlands has taught me…

 

 

You don’t need to have good weather to have fun
I’m half Spanish so sunshine runs through my veins…closely followed by mojitos. When I look back at the best times of my life there’s always been a blue sky. Yet living in The Netherlands has taught me that it’s fine to go outside. Even if it’s a bit drizzly and cold. Once I’d invested in a decent winter coat, thermals and thick boots I was ready to explore the amazing scenery. We’ve trekked through fields of tulips, woodlands and farms, canal boat rides, city walks and plenty of food markets – and although it’s been cold it’s also been lots of fun. And as for going out with friends in the evening, I just swap my sangria for gluhwein and it’s all good!

You don’t need a car
In Spain we had a car – in fact we had two! Then we moved to the tiny cobbled streets of Delft, with its multitude of bicycles and parallel parking beside canals and we changed our minds. And you know what? I love not having a car now. I walk over an hour a day and my backside is pert and round. I get fresh air (maybe too fresh) and I get to see the beauty of the town. The trains, buses and trams are (mostly) on time and reasonably priced and best of all I don’t have MOTs and insurance to worry about. I’m sure life will get even better once I get myself a bike…but one step at a time. Literally.

 

 

Kids should be given freedom
To be fair, my kids have always had freedom because I practise the parenting art of ‘do the least possible and tell everyone you are making your children independent’! But in Holland that is a thing. It’s actually their way of life and it’s encouraged for parents to let their children do as much as they can by themselves. Cycling to school, going to the park, going shopping…you see children as young as six years old going about their daily business alone and it’s fine. It feels safe here and you know your children are respected; in fact kids are given as much importance as adults. Apparently children here are also the happiest in the world (they don’t get homework in their pre-teen years, which I’m sure also helps). Take a look at the book ‘The Happiest Kids in the World’ if you don’t believe me!

A home looks better when you fill it with flowers
You know what makes me happy (apart from chocolate and silence)? Fresh flowers. And the best thing about The Netherlands is that flowers are cheap. If you go to the market before they close you can buy a bunch for as little as a Euro! I’ve quickly realised that the dustiest of houses look pristine if you fill them with enough tulips and roses. It also smells better too!

I’m lucky to have English as my mother tongue
Have you ever tried to speak Dutch? Well luckily you don’t need to, as the clever buggers all speak about five languages and feel so sorry for you as you splutter your way clumsily through every sentence that they insist that you speak English. Even the films on TV and in the cinema are in English – lucky us!

 


You can eat crap and still be slim
Dutch people are not fat. Dutch people love their beer, waffles, pancakes, bitterballen, bread and cheese. It must be all that cycling and lack of driving that keep them trim!

Beaches are not just for the Med
I was shocked that The Netherlands had such great beaches (OK, so my geography isn’t great). Although it’s standing room only when the sun makes a rare appearance, places such as The Hague’s Scheveningen is a Hipster paradise full of cool beach bars, restaurants and sand finer and more golden than anything the Costa del Sol has to offer. I wouldn’t bother bringing your snorkel, or getting in the freezing sea in general, but you can still get a mean cocktail or two.

Women are a force to be reckoned with
Being an expat (or ‘trailing wife’…don’t you just love that term?) it’s rare for me to move to a country because of my husband’s work and get asked what I do. It’s a sad fact of life that when you are a mother, and married to a businessman who travels a lot, people rarely expect you to have your own career as well. Except in The Netherlands. How refreshing to be asked if I was here for my studies or my own business. How wonderful to have the opportunity to tour universities and schools talking about my books, host panels at literary events and get to discuss gender politics, entrepreneurships and business opportunities while surrounded by like-minded working mothers. Hurray, an expat location with an advanced mindset.

You can be rude and still have manners
Just ask the Dutch. So friendly, so helpful, so smart…yet so direct!

Europe is actually one big playground
And the best thing about living in The Netherlands? We are at the centre of Europe. We are a short train ride away from Belgium, France and Germany. We can hire a camper van and drive to Italy via Switzerland. Or we can be in the UK in 40 mins by plane. Weekends have just got a lot more fun. So who cares that the weather is cold, the language tricky and the food a bit stodgy? It’s a magnificent country with great people and loads to do…and if you get bored of it you are just a few hours away from other amazing countries. Yes I miss my siestas and balmy nights of sunny Spain – but pancakes on a Dutch beach in an anorak isn’t so bad either. I might even treat myself to some cheap flowers on the way home.

Natali Drake is a published author and freelance Marketing consultant. You can attend her FREE talk about the Rise of Young Adult fiction and its place in today’s society at the American Book Centre in The Hague on 1st June 6.30pm, where she will be also answering questions and signing copies of ‘The Path Keeper’ – her first book from her thrilling fantasy romance series.

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First taste of mosaic making

American mosaic artist living in Delft, Nan Deardorff McClain, greets me by the door of the building where her atelier is located. Eight to ten women have RSVP’d to her mosaic workshop during this particularly different Delft MaMa night out. It has been raining throughout the day and she’s hoping people will show up despite the weather. As a matter of fact, when the weather is scruffy, there’s no better way to spend some time relaxing than creating something new, Nan points out.

Mosaic making
Nan Deardorff McClain introducing the basics of mosaic to first-time workshop mamas.

Altogether seven moms show up. The table is full of snacks and drinks generously provided by the attendees; asparagus wraps, deviled eggs, chocolate, grapes, strawberries, nuts and all sorts of wines. This is shaping up to be an especially good moms’ night out, I’ll say!

Mosaic Making

Nan introduces us to her workroom. It’s filled with different mosaics, big and small, finished and unfinished, glued and those waiting to be grouted. My eyes are drawn to a Delft Blue vase, but unfortunately those are out of the question for an outdoor mosaic. The tiles for outdoors are different: they are harder to work with and has no pours to prevent them from sucking up moisture and possible cracking when freezing.

The room next door is already set up for the workshop. The collection of different colored tiles is in small plastic containers. Nan says we can start with making mosaic flowers, because those are easy to utilize in multiple projects. Many moms whip out their phones to google flowers they want to trace on a piece of paper, but some moms simply work with the shape of tiles, letting them speak for the look of the flower.

The styles in the room are as versatile as the moms attending, but a few things they have undoubtedly in common: there is a lot of use of color, everyone seems to be staying true to their own point of view and they are all shaping up to look like real mosaics!

Mosaic making
Delft mamas getting creative during the mosaic making workshop

Two hours go swiftly by. We barely remember to drink and eat, which tells how much everyone has seemingly enjoyed creating something. “People need to create to feel accomplished”, says one of the mothers at the end of the class and everyone agrees.

I never knew I enjoyed arranging tiles to a particular shape until Tuesday when I tried it for the first time. The workshop was such a success that in the future Nan is planning to organize the remaining Delft MaMa mosaic workshops the same way. Personally, I cannot recommend it highly enough! Hope to see you there!

Mosaics
The result of a 2-hour mosaic making workshop.

The big piece of art Delft MaMa is planning to put up on a wall in the Achtertuin playground will need all levels of support to get finished. You can start by sharing information about this with your friends, roll up your sleeves yourself and take part – or you can show your support to us here, and below is a video of what the workshop looks like in real life 🙂

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