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Memories and Blackberries

Blackberries and Memories

Yesterday, I took my daughters blackberry picking. To someone else this may sound like just another day out, but for me it was special. It was special because it enabled me to re-live one of my favourite childhood memories and to share it with my own children.

When I think of it now, it seems a little strange, a teenage girl voluntarily taking her little brother out to pick blackberries. Remember though that this was in the time before iPads, and we had two months of summer holidays to fill!

This particular memory takes place towards the end of the summer break when we had already spent days at the beach, in the park, hung out with friends, set out crab traps, wandered around the house doing nothing in particular and were feeling rested, relaxed, and superbly content. Suddenly it was the end of August, and what had started as an endless vacation was *gasp* almost over. The race was on to make the most of those last sun filled days. I grabbed a few buckets and shouted to my little brother, “come on! We are going blackberry picking.”

Vancouver Island, where we lived, is a magical island of spectacular natural beauty (but that’s another story). It is also covered with wild blackberry bushes that ripen in late summer. Out we walked into the hot sun carrying our buckets like little soldiers on a mission to the nearest patch. After sizing up the bushes to find the juiciest specimens we dropped our buckets and started picking. We worked in companionable silence broken only by the occasional “ouch!” as one of us scratched ourselves or ‘mmmm’ when we were unable to resist a taste. Occasionally, disaster would strike in the form of accidentally kicking over a nearly full bucket or, particularly painful, falling into the bushes. Much to the hilarity of the other sibling.

If I let my mind travel back there now I can still smell the warm, ripe berry smell, part fermented fruit and part earthy leaves that would soon be turning brown. The hot sun burning the back of my neck, the scratches on my hands and the relaxing monotony of picking. Concentrated as we were on our efforts to find the biggest, juiciest berries, we lost all track of time.

Buckets finally full we trudged home with the fruits of our labour. Tired and hot we competed to see who had the most scratches or whose fingers were the purplest, stained from the dark juice.

Back in the kitchen, I made the pastry and, together with my little brother, we rolled it out to fit the pie tins. Then we cooked the berries, adding lots and lots of sugar. By the time we’d assembled the pies and baked them in the oven, the kitchen was a disaster of flour and squashed berries. At about this time, my Mum arrived home from work to find two children who had made a disaster of her kitchen proudly displaying fresh blackberry pies.

The childhood experiences that my daughters have in Holland are very different from my own back in rural Canada. Sometimes this is part of the fun. We get to experience things for the first time together. But other times it can make it hard to relate to each other. Memories that friends back home hold on to because they are triggered by their familiar surroundings have faded into the recesses of my memory. It’s amazing how a simple activity like this can bring those memories rushing back, filling my heart with a warm glow.

Vancouver Island is too far and too expensive to travel back to regularly. However, I am doing my best to bring a little bit of my life in Canada here to share with my family. When I do and when it works, the distance between here and home closes just a little and the effort is so very worth it.

I would love to hear about traditions from home that you are sharing here with your children?

And of course about any good spots for blackberry picking!

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Delft MaMa 10th Anniversary Picnic

Every year, Delft MaMa organizes a summer potluck event for local families together with food, fun, and friendship. 

The 2017 edition was even more special, as it marked the first in a series of celebrations of Delft MaMa’s ten year anniversary. More than 50 adults and even more children joined us for last Sunday for this event.

10-year Anniversary Picnic Delft MaMa with Delft MaMa Founder Lucie, Delft MaMa Chairwoman Anna, and one of our youngest members

Over a dozen nationalities were represented from Argentina to Australia and back again. The resulting cuisine was much more impressive than your usual picnic fare.

There was a tasty rice salad from Italy prepared by Delft MaMa Luisa prepared an Italian rice salad with boiled rice, cheese cubes, tuna fish, boiled eggs, grilled courgette and other mixed grilled veggies, and olive oil for dressing.

Photo courtesy of Renée Veldman-Tentori

Delft PaPa Eelco provided a Dutch touch with his herring salad. To recreate this dish at home, you need smoked herring, pickled onions, small pickled cucumbers, peas, roasted paprika and dressing (mayonnaise, kwark, orange juice, salt, pepper, olive oil, sambal).

Photo courtesy of Renée Veldman-Tentori

Delft MaMa Zsofia and Delft PaPa Anish made a Middle Eastern couscous salad of bulgur, fresh herbs, chopped vegetables and buttery chickpeas. You can find the full recipe here.

Photo courtesy of Renée Veldman-Tentori

Delft MaMa Zsofia added, “every year we enjoy taking part in DelftMaMa’s summer event. It is a great opportunity to catch up with Delft MaMa families we know and even meet new ones. From a culinary point of view, we do learn and get to taste lovely dishes of different cultures.”

Photo courtesy of Hellen Chandra-Boortman

In addition to the delicious fare, the picnic included fun activities for the entire family. The children took advantage of the sunny weather at the Bomenwijk playground. There were also games and the opportunity to contribute to the ten year mosaic project.

Delft MaMa Nan hosted a special edition of the mosaic workshop! Participants worked on small tree designs and Delft blue detail pieces that will add a bit of sparkle to the final product. As Delft MaMa Shadi shows in the following photos, making a mosaic is an ideal way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 

Photo courtesy of Shadi Parsa
Photo courtesy of Shadi Parsa
Photo courtesy of Shadi Parsa

According to Nan, “the workshops for the mosaics have been mainly attended by Delft MaMas, so the picnic was a chance for the children to participate. They made small sections of mosaic for the arching base of the bridge in blue and white.  Delft blue shards are definitely a MUST this mural since it features very Dutch scenery. The children were enthusiastic about leaving a beautiful mark on Delft!”

Photo courtesy of Renée Veldman-Tentori

Hosting such a successful picnic was only possible thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers.

Delft MaMa Hellen headed the project, and her hard work and leadership skills were much appreciated. She was supported by Delft MaMas Shadi, Luisa and Tatjana. Delft MaMa heartily thanks these ladies and all our volunteers for their time and efforts.  

For Delft MaMa Hellen, “it was really nice to share a wonderful day with some of the Delft MaMa’s members, especially the one I’d never met before. Despite our different cultural backgrounds, we just blended in and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere. Both parents and children seem to have a good time. I’m also very happy to have been given an opportunity to organise the event. I’m looking forward to attending more events in the future.”

We look forward to welcoming everyone to the 2018 picnic, but, in the meantime, be on the lookout for upcoming events that will bring together the Delft MaMa community.  As always, the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday playgroups will welcome the youngest members of our community and their parents.

On September 12th, Delft MaMa Nareen will host the next edition of our monthly Mom’s Night Out. September 17th will be the second annual Delft MaMa Walk at Delftse Hout. All members of our community are welcomed to walk together to keep keep Delft MaMa running.

There will also be mosaic making sessions regularly throughout the month of September on the following days: 

Tuesdays 19:30  – 5, 12, 19, 26

Thursdays 19:30 – 7, 14, 21, 28

Saturdays 10:00 – 9, 16, 23, 30

We will start with the installation of the mosaic at the Achtertuin Playgroup towards the end of September. More updates will be announced soon on the Delft MaMa blog. Depending on the weather, the unveiling ceremony will take place on October 21st or 28th. Please mark your calendars for this momentous (all pun intended) occasion.  

Delft MaMa also hosts an annual Halloween Party, but are actively looking for one or two volunteers for this event on October 29. If you are interesting in helping to make this event possible, please contact info@delftmama.com.

And then it will be on to our fall and winter events. If you are an early planner, you can even put a reminder on your calendar for the 2018 summer picnic, who knows what weekend will bring the sun and fun needed for the picnic.

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5 Easy Weekend Trips from Delft

With busy schedules it can be difficult to find time for a big trip. Work and school schedules often mean travel is limited to peak times. Luckily, from Delft, there are many places you can escape for a quick weekend trip. Here are five ideas that allow you to leave Saturday morning, spend one night and come home on Sunday. Obviously if you can get away on Friday afternoon you’ll have more time to enjoy your getaway.

Texel, Netherlands

Texel is the largest of the Netherlands barrier islands. It is a 2-hour drive by car or a 4-hour trip by public transport, which includes the ferry ride to the island. Although Texel is popular for a summer visit, a shoulder season visit gives you a quiet island if you don’t mind wearing your coat on the beach. Once you’re on the island rent bikes and enjoy the sheep and pristine nature.

Stay at the Grand Hotel Opduin to be engulfed by the Dunes of Texel National Park. Visit Ecomare to learn about the seal rescue and protection the island plays a huge role in. The Shipwreck Museum has a playground and treasure hunt for kids. Make the short hike to Texel’s Lighthouse and enjoy the strand below. You won’t want to miss a visit to the Sheep Farm where, after visiting the sheep,  you can delight in some cheese fondue and sheep’s milk ice cream. A visit and tour of the Texels Brewery is a must.  The island has many restaurants, beaches and bars so you won’t go hungry during your visit. Bring your bike along or rent one on the island to really take advantage of the scenery.

Brussels, Belgium 

The capitol of Belgium is full of fun for the whole family. Two hours by car or train will put you in the city for the night. Stay at the Train Hostel for a fun night. Next door, Train World will captivate children and adults alike with fun displays of trains throughout history. Visit Atomium and climb to the top for views of Brussels. Mini-Europe is a fun day out and easily combined with Atomium and the water park Oceade. Children delight in the Manneken Pis statue. You can also enjoy the Comic Strip Center, Museum of Natural Sciences, Musical Instrument Museum and the Children’s Museum.

 

Cologne, Germany 

A 3-hour drive or 3.5 hours on public transportation (NS to Utrecht, ICE to Cologne) will land you in Cologne, Germany. Enjoy the city by climbing to the top of the Cologne Cathedral. Visit the Museum Ludwig where kids can check out suitcases to explore different elements of art. In good weather visit the botanical gardens or the zoo. Ride the Cologne Cable Car over the river for great views. The Lindt Chocolate Museum is a must for all visits to Cologne. In the summer you can rent bikes or cruise the river and in the winter the vast squares are turned into Christmas markets with a skating rink that runs the length of one of the streets.

Maastricht, Netherlands

Maastricht is 2-hours by car or 2.5 hours by public transportation. The funky Town House Hotel is our favorite place to say although the Kruisherenhotel, built into an old church is also a good bet. Maastricht is full of things to explore from the bookstore inside an old church to caves below the city.  There are river cruises of varying lengths, which our little ones loved. We’ve found a few great playgrounds like Frans van Speeltuin and Speeltuin Fort Willem. You can also head over to Valkenburg, which is a bit touristy but has a fun alpine slide and a few other great kids activities.

Center Parks, De Vossemeren

This campground in Belgium has everything you need for a weekend of fun. Unlike other camping setups, Center Parks, De Vossemeren allows you to book just a few nights so you can do a one or two night stay instead of a full week. The cabins are arranged around several lakes. The campground has pools, mini-golf, bowling, playgrounds. . .basically everything you need for a weekend away. There are restaurants on site or you can cook up food in your cabin. It is an easy get away and they often offer “last minute” deals  The campground is a 2-hour drive from Delft.

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Delft mama of the week: Elizabeth

Our Delft mama of the week, Elizabeth, has worked as a political consultant, a NASA tour guide, and a lawyer, volunteered for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Ghana, traveled to 30 countries and 45/50 US states, and even been inside the Space Shuttle. Now she is a travel writer and full-time mom living in the Netherlands.

In 2015, Elizabeth’s husband, Jeff, was offered the exciting opportunity to complete his PhD at TU Delft, and Elizabeth and her two older sons eagerly joined him. They saw Delft as a charming town in its own right and an ideal base to travel around Europe. A third son joined the family and their travels in 2016.

Elizabeth is clearly enamored of the Netherlands and of Delft in particular. She describes it as “a real town with the advantage for expats that everybody speaks English and that you can find friends. There are a million little restaurants in every price bracket, and there are parks hiddeneverywhere. You can go climb the windmill, go to the farm and buy eggs, or see sheep at the petting zoo. These are just so many opportunities in this special town.”

A half year before arriving in Delft, she found the Delft MaMa Facebook group and connected with fellow Coloridan Caroline. When she first arrived in town, Caroline helped connect her to Delft MaMa friends and resources, giving her an invaluable piece of advice: “surround yourself with expats who are excited to be here in Netherlands, as your local friends will largely determine your mood.” Elizabeth has put this advice to good use, not only finding supportive friends, but also making herself a valued member of the Delft MaMa community. She co-coordinates the weekly Delft MaMa newsletter with Karen, and in the coming months, you may have the chance to read an original post or two of hers on the Delft MaMa blog.

Elizabeth believes that “Delft MaMa is a wonderful resource that provides something for every personality type. If you are a one-on-one person, there are many events. Ifyou need mom friends, you can go to a Mom’s Night Out. If you need friends for your children, there are playgroups. If you are just are looking for advice, you can ask on the Facebook, and the newsletter details what’s going on locally in the coming months. When I travel, I usually look for something like Delft MaMa, but a lot of places either do not have an equivalent or the local international family group is not on the same level as a support group.”

Elizabeth is thriving in Europe, but the decision to move to the Netherlands was not so straightforward from a professional perspective, as her visa status precludes her from working locally. Elizabeth’s optimistic and driven personality, though, have helped her to embrace this difficulty and turn it into many opportunities – that to spend more time with her children, blog actively, and pursue other endeavors close to her heart, particularly traveling.

Elizabeth’s blog, Dutch Dutch Goose, started as a way to share her European travel experiences with family and friends and as an outlet for her creative and professional talents. Dutch Dutch Goose soon became a popular resource for families around the world. Her post on traveling from the US to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 with children was a particular hit, given the lack of information available on this topic online. Thanks to the success of her own blog Elizabeth was also asked to become editor-in-chief of BebeVoyage, a global community of parents providing local, practical advice on traveling with kids.

Elizabeth and her husband traveled widely before having children and have decided to use travel as an educational tool with their children. They firmly believe that “the places we see and people we meet during our different travel experiences help make our children better human beings. Exposing our kids to so many different tastes, modes of transportation, ways of living, and cultures is the most wonderful gift we can give them.”

Elizabeth is also always challenging herself and looking for ways to grow and learn through travel. For example, this careful planner took a trip this year without having organized any specific destinations or itineraries. You can find more about how the family managed this adventure in spontaneity here.

Through her blog, Elizabeth also shows families around the world that travel with children may be challenging but that it is both a feasible and a rewarding experience. For Elizabeth, there is no need to travel for many weeks or to a distant location to make a trip great, as visiting a nearbyfarm or museum can be just as valuable.

There is also no need to force your children to immerse completely in every aspect of a trip. Instead, do your best to ensure your children are comfortable and enjoying their time traveling, even if this means allowing them to look at the iPad on some museum visits or play at a local playground for some hours rather than visiting a site. Elizabeth notes, “I find that the kids absorb so much of the little stuff while traveling, like going to playgrounds and to kids cafes, as opposed to all the big tourist sites. At these places, they get a better picture of the local culture, differences in parenting, and differences in interactions between the kids.”

Furthermore, “the best trip for me is one where each member of the family has something that peaked their interest, and we have all gotten along and enjoyed ourselves as a family.” During our interview, Elizabeth described how a trip to Brussels’ train hostel that was requested and largely planned by her eldest son fits the bill.

To summarize some of her expert advice, Elizabeth encourages parents to know their kids and make them comfortable, know that disasters happen and don’t let them ruin trips, plan the right balance of activities parents are interested in and child-friendly activities in an itinerary, and allow children to absorb the little details during trips that show cultural differences.

One word that kept popping up during our conversation was “gift,” with travel as a gift, living in Delft as a gift, and even her local un-employability as a gift in disguise. Elizabeth also described her time interacting and talking to her kids while biking as a daily gift and one of the highlights of her life in the Netherlands. I hope all Delft mamas can also recognize and take advantage of the multitude of gifts in their lives and embrace challenges with as strong a positive attitude as Elizabeth. Indeed, it is this zeal for life and focus on uplifting values like joy, discovery, and gratitude that make Elizabeth so charming and her blog posts so delightful to read.

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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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What’s your time worth?

Yesterday I worked fifteen hours without a break. No, I’m not a life-saving surgeon or the Prime Minister – I’m a working mother who is underpaid and undervalued. Who am I undervalued by? Myself.

In 2012 I began to work as a freelance Marketing Consultant while living in Spain. My girls were aged nearly three and five at the time and in full time nursery. I had survived the sleep-deprived baby years, my energy and health was improving and my kids could finally (more or less) feed themselves and wipe their own butts. It was time to forego the part time work, take the plunge and finally use my years of experience to become self employed.

‘My days are my own!’ I silently rejoiced. ‘I will finally be paid for everything I do outside of my mummy duties.’

Oh how wrong I was.


The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have time to work – nursery was 9-5. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have clients – I had plenty of work coming my way. The problem was that I underestimated how bad I was at valuing my own self worth, and what a pushover I would be at volunteering my time now that I didn’t have a boss managing it.

Time and time again I would find myself looking at my watch thinking ‘how can it be 3pm? I haven’t done any paid work yet!’

Then things got trickier. I received a three book publishing contract for my fantasy romance series ‘The Path Keeper’ and I temporarily moved to The Netherlands with my family. I continued working and getting new marketing clients, but now on top of work and mummying and writing my books I was now also promoting them. I was up until midnight every night trying to squeeze it all in…but my bank account didn’t reflect the amount of hours I was working

After a long hard think I had to admit where I was going wrong. Tell me if I’m alone here, but I think it’s fair to say that the self-employed, especially women, and ESPECIALLY mums are really really really crap at saying no.

I’ve often wondered why us mums are the worst when it come to recognising our own self worth. Is it because for years we’ve happily worked for free changing nappies and feeding babies and forgotten that our time is actually worth something? Or is it because once we finally escape the baby years and re-enter the workforce everything (yes, everything) seems easier and more fun than dealing with screaming newborns and tantruming toddlers, so we don’t see it as hard work but actually an escape? And who wants to charge people for work that doesn’t feel all that difficult?

Once I began working for myself I was so eager to please and prove my worth, show that my time out of the workplace hadn’t affected my ability, that I was putting in more hours than I needed to and earning a fraction of what I did pre-baby.

So at what point do we drop the guilt, the sense of obligation and our embarrassment and say to clients/people in need of our time – ‘no, I can’t do that’ or ‘yes, I can….but not for free’?

Work is one thing and one thing only – an exchange of our time for money. That’s it. What we choose to spend time on outside of our allocated working hours is up to us, it’s our right to say no if we think volunteering on three school trips in one month on our only day off is too much. It’s ok to sit and watch TV on a Saturday night instead of answering emails or helping our neighbour with their CV. It’s perfectly ok to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t’ and be kind to ourselves.

Our kids get enough of our time without having to thank us…so why should anyone else?

What happens if we let things go and say no? Nothing. No one is judging us, if anything they are realising that our time is precious and only we have the right to decide how it’s spent. Hey, they may even pay us what we deserve!

So I have made a vow to myself – from this day forth I shall no longer do things for free. Unless it directly benefits my family, business or my books I can’t (literally) afford to do anything more for nothing. I can’t.

But of course there’s always an exception…such as this article. Of course Delft Mama haven’t paid me for it, and it’s 9pm and I’m still working after having been awake since 6am. Dammit! There’s only one thing for it then, I’ll have to use this as a big advertising tool to shout about my next author event in The Hague on 1st June.

There, that’s better, I don’t feel like I’ve given away my time any longer. And now for the tricky part – how do I say no to  the PTA?

Natali writes as N J Simmonds and the first book of her YA fantasy romance series, The Path Keeper, is now available at all good English language bookshops and online (the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ is out February 2018). She will also be presenting a FREE talk about writing at the American Book Centre in The Hague 1 June at 6pm and signing copies of her book. For more information on her work, and up and coming events, visit njsimmonds.com. And to find out more about her Marketing Consultancy services visit natalidrake.com

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Delft mama of the week: Marie

I met Marie for first time last year when she started hosting the Delft MaMa playgroup. She is currently the playgroup coordinator and she’s taking part in several other DMM projects as well.

We sit down together on display on the window of Hummus in Delft and order hot beverages. It’s Saturday and she’s coming straight from mindfulness yoga. It fits the first impression I had of her: a calm mom oozing nothing but serenity, but Marie tells me laughing her yoga classes were a gift from her husband, who hopes she can find it easier to relax a bit. Marie has been called too serious all her life, because of her amazing drive and ambition, so she has made a conscious effort of finding ways to loosen up a bit. To her luck, becoming a mother has been one of the things that has helped her in her quest.

Marie has been calling the Netherlands home for a few years. She used to travel a lot first for her studies: a scholarship took her from her home in the US to Paris when she was only 16, and later during her undergraduate studies Marie spent a semester in Brazil, two summers in Russia and one summer in Paris, where she also completed her master’s degree. Later in life her project based work took her from Scotland to Singapore and everywhere in between. She loves Brazil and says Vietnam is one of her favorite countries. But the love of her life, a Chinese man Junzi, Marie met by coincidence in the Netherlands.

When Marie was expecting their son, now a 1-year-old William, the married couple decided to settle down in Delft. Earlier having spent her time visiting new countries and cities every two to three weeks, Marie was sure she’d go out of her mind in such a small place as Delft. She had good friends in The Hague and in Haarlem, but she was missing a closer safety net. “When I first had William, I wasn’t meeting others very much, but I knew about Delft MaMa. When he was 5-6 months old, I decided to come to the playgroup”, Marie says. Meeting other moms allowed her to create her own social circles in Delft and thanks to this simple plan followed by action she’s much more involved in the community and to her surprise has yet to feel bored in the beautiful medieval town.

Marie speaks several languages fluently (English, French, Portuguese, Russian) and is constantly pushing the envelope with useful things to learn. She is currently taking Dutch lessons and teaching herself Chinese and she’s soon traveling to China with William to stay with her in-laws for a month to get more immersed in the language. She has always been hard-working and extremely driven at school and at work. Before becoming a mother, she describes herself as having been “definitely workaholic”. As one might assume, it has been a big adjustment fitting in the stay-at-home-mom shoes.

Lately Marie has been increasingly thinking about returning to work. The original plan – to return to work when William was three months old – didn’t go through. She realized the plans she had made before the birth of her child weren’t what she wanted and she listened to her heart instead. “Outsiders often think I’m calm, but I feel it’s the opposite! The main struggle now is should I go back to work or should I stay with William,” Marie explains.

The struggle is familiar to if not all, to most mothers. Marie says she knows she shouldn’t compare her own situation to her friends who are working in very prestigious positions around the world, but she can’t help but think about the opportunities she had, the good schools she went to and the professional ambition she to this day has. Now that William is one year old, Marie started to apply to again. She has sent out tons of applications, but hasn’t gotten that much interesting feedback. “It’s always difficult when you’re used to having a job and now I have to think how much I want a certain job and how much I want to stay at home with William. He’ll never be young again, but maybe if I stay out of work too long, I might have more difficulties finding a good job”, Marie says.

She often thinks about why work is so important for people in general. In the more distant past people didn’t define themselves by their work, but now it seems to be one of the first questions people ask each other. Before Marie didn’t mind this question at all, but lately she noticed how defining this question sounds. “It makes you think why do we value work so much as the value of the individual, when it doesn’t represent much at all. Of course it can, but oftentimes it doesn’t,” Marie says and explains how these days a specific job isn’t always what someone chooses to do, as it depends a lot about circumstances one can’t control. “If I’m philosophical enough I’d say would it matter if I’m working or not? What I’m doing is probably more valuable than what a lot of work people do,” she rightfully says at the end of our talk.

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Style and Comfort – Creating your Child’s Wardrobe

When I found out I was having a girl I was so excited and imagined all the cute outfits I could put her in. I remember creating a Pinterest file designing her perfect imaginary wardrobe, I think I had about nine months of dressing her in what ever I wanted, before I realized that my little girl had her own ideas of what she wanted to wear. When she was two it was nothing but superhero costumes. At two and a half she just wanted to dress like a boy and by age three she was crazy about Hello Kitty.

So how can you merge Style and Comfort into the perfect little wardrobe? I feel like I am far from knowing the answers, but here are a few things I have learnt along the way.

 

Style

Children need to love what they are wearing. Through colour, texture, pattern, a little creativity throw in some accessories and your child can shine with their personal style! It is fun to teach children about colour in clothing and about different colour schemes. Monochromatic is a great word for kids to learn and say while sporting pink from head to toe. You are never to young to learn about neutrals or how to match like colours or contrast light and dark.

 

Similarly, talking about texture is equally intriguing for kids. Fuzzy, smooth, soft, bumpy, ruff, scratchy are all fun to explore while distracting little fingers from pulling shirts off the hangers in the department store.

Kids also love creating their own clothes. One white HEMA t-shirt, a pack of iron on transfers, your aspiring young artist’s drawing and you have the cutest one of a kind graphic tee. Here my little “Odette” has made her own swan princess t-shirt and wears her white tutu to pull off her look. She couldn’t be prouder to wear her masks which we bought at So-Low and decorated herself.

My son had to play the part of the prince and for that a cute black vest (H&M), a simple white band collar button down (Zara), linen pants (H&M) and shoes (Hema).

 

Accessories are a simple, playful and can change up a look in an instant. It is also where you and your child can explore your creativity. I found some cotton jersey fabric at the market for three euros, I decided to try my luck at making little buff scarfs that double as a headband for the kids. My sewing skills are limited but this really was the easiest project and involved sewing only one seem, you don’t even have to finish the hem it rolls on its own.

 


Girls tend to accessorize themselves very easily with necklaces, bracelets, tiaras and fairy wings, while boys aren’t left with much.

Try cute hats, suspenders, neck bows, vests, capes wings and tales and your boy will be just as excited as the girls to prance pretty. Make simple accessories together, it takes no time at all to  string a beaded necklace or glue some cat ears on a headband. Think accessories for everyday life, it is nice to have children look in their costume box before they go out and add a special something to really jazz up their outfit.

 

Comfort

Most of us are familiar with those beautiful Pinterest photos of woolen sweaters, tiny printed floral dresses and perfectly matching tights. As lovely as they are to admire, at five my little princess detests wool sweaters, saying they are too itchy. She will absolutely not wear those cute perfectly matching tights (stockings) either, saying she hates the way they feel and puts her nose up at any lovely corduroy overalls (dungarees), trousers or jeans.

The fact of the matter is, children are going to play, explore and are going to get dirty and if they are anything like mine, they will want something comfortable that allows them to move.

My daughter’s uniform seems to be a pair of leggings, a cotton long sleeve t-shirt for the base, layered with either a dress, tunic or circle skirt – and if I am lucky – a lovely cotton cardigan.

I think it looks adorable on her and seems to be the winning combination that allows her to hop, run, skip, scooter, climb, with out any constraints.

 

 

On the other hand for my son who loves to be warm he is comfortable in wool sweaters, jeans and his fox hat, which I made for him quickly at Halloween and still hasn’t taken it off.

Here my daughter is wearing her simple cotton tee, a darling deer tunic (H&M), her lovely deer antlers of her own creation and red Mary Janes from Start-Rite. When she adds some leggings, she is ready to be on the move. My son is in a fox sweater from Filou & Friends , his fox hat (mama made), a hand-me down plaid button down shirt and sage green cords from his sister that she never did wear.

Budget

I know that you can have great comfortable style for your children with out breaking the bank. For me it’s hard to spend a lot of money on kids’ clothes especially when they outgrow them so quickly. It is nice to spend money on gender neutral classics that can be passed down to their sibling. A great toggle coat in red or navy is classic and adorable for either girl or boy.

 

Personally I love cute shoes, but they can be expensive. I either wait for a sale or order off Limango, a great discount webshop. For affordable basics I go to H&M, HEMA and C&A and usually those come in organic cotton.

 

Here my tiger who came to tea is wearing a pair of leather booties with funky mustard laces a steal from Van Haaren, a pair of jeans on sale from WE with suspenders (H&M) and cotton tee from HEMA with an iron on transfer I sketched.

 

My daughter is in a very inexpensive navy blue shift dress with a white Peter-Pan collar from the French discount grocery chain Monoprix. I love their children’s clothing line, you get that chic French look at a fraction of the price! Her baby blue ribbon is from the market, her knee high socks are one of her many unloved tights I cut, and her navy Mary Janes are from Pepino.

 

 

I spend more money on unique pieces, a special dress or a really cute jumper and for styles that can be repurposed as they grow. A style like this starts off as a dress, turns into a tunic and later maybe a swing top.

 

 

Vintage finds are real scores: I look on Etsy and have raided my mother-in-law’s trunks.  This red hand knit sweater and t-strap clarks was my husbands and it really goes to show some things are worth hanging on to.

 

Seasons

As a kid I always loved the change of season, with it brought fresh colour palettes, new textures and fabrics in clothing. There was nothing better than celebrating the seasons when I received a new raincoat, rain boots and umbrella, and to my joy my children feel no different.

I love getting excited about colour and for this spring I tucked away our rich colour palettes from winter, brought out pale muted colours with pops of intensely saturated colours.

 

 

In these princess and dragon inspired looks my daughter is wearing a dress I splurged from Filou & Friends,  H&M leggings and the perfect pair of riding boots I bought from Decathlon for practically nothing. She picked out her own fuchsia pink umbrella, which I cringed at the time but it actually looks so cute with her pale pink rain coat (Cadet Rousselle.) My son is in a pinstriped navy pant from HEMA and a baby blue button down from H&M. His hat is form Zara and his scarf we made from one of his dad’s. I quickly sewed him up a dragon tale from scrap felt I had in fun shades of green and pale blue. We found his umbrella for 5 euro at Bristol. His boots are Hatley. His favourite colour is yellow at the moment so what better than a bright yellow raincoat from Pluie Pluie.

 

There you have it what I have learnt so far: if you can be a little creative, make it fun and comfortable, accessorize and play with the seasons, kids can have a unique style that both of you will love!

 

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Being a Multilingual Mom to Multilingual Kids

Congratulations, you’re raising your children to speak two or more languages. Maybe you have questions. For example: “Am I screwing up my kids for life?” or “How on Earth will I ever manage this when parenting is so overwhelming and I have to do it in two languages?”

I’m here to tell you: “Don’t do it.” Your kids will be so confused that they’ll end up not speaking any language properly. They’ll have language delays, no friends and will surely end up in prison.

OK, by now you probably have noticed that I’m joking, right?

So here’s the truth: it will be amazing. Yes, really. I promise. And how do I know that? At almost four, almost six, and seven, my kids are fluid in Polish, German and Dutch. And they surprise me every day with their linguistic abilities. In fact, I’ve never been very confident about my parenting skills, but I knew that I can raise my children to speak three languages. Because to me, it was the most natural thing to do.

I was born in Warsaw, Poland. When I was three years old, we moved Cologne, Germany where we stayed for two years. I attended a German kindergarten and learned to speak the language like a native. After we came back, we still spoke Germany every Sunday, at least until my brother was born. He couldn’t speak German so we stopped. But I kept the knowledge of the language alive, through school and lots of TV.

Moreover, my parents are multilingual themselves. My mom spent a big part of her childhood in the Netherlands (what a coincidence, isn’t it?) She went to the International School of the Hague where she learned to speak English. My father was raised in France. Both of them still speak the languages they learned while abroad. And they also learned other languages along the way.

At home, I grew up in a highly multilingual environment. My parents listened to the BBC in English. They argued in French which I didn’t speak then. At some point, my mom taught me English using “Winnie the Pooh” which I knew by heart in Polish.

Image: pixabay.com

And all the time, German has stayed with me: I chose a secondary school with an intensive focus on this language, and then studied it at University. During a student exchange program in Hamburg, I met the man I’d later marry.

When I was pregnant, my mother-in-law asked me “Which language will you speak to your daughter?” It’s funny but that question never even occurred to me. Besides, when there are strollers to be bought, clothes to be picked… and did I mention I was still in Germany at that point but my husband moved to the Netherlands? We had a whole international move to plan on top of that. So please forgive me if simply assumed that I’d just start talking to my daughter when she made her arrival and see what language came out.

But my mother-in-law’s question made consciously decide in favour of Polish. Not because I couldn’t raise my kids in German. It was just that my husband was already the designated German speaker, so I could teach my kids Polish.

The reactions we got from extended families were varied. My parents were happy to have multilingual grandchildren. My in-laws were worried they wouldn’t understand theirs. The joke’s on them though because my kids are fluid in all three languages. And my eldest is learning English at school.

So how are we raising our kids? We’re consistent, but not obsessively so. We show that we respect each other’s languages. My husband even took a Polish class to better understand his children. We’re very confident in our choice to raise the kids with so many languages, even though we’re completely at a loss in other areas of parenting. We’ve gotten some ridiculously ignorant comments, which we were more than happy to ignore.

Since their German and Dutch are being taken care of at school, the whole responsibility for Polish falls on me. To get some help, I hired a private Polish tutor. I teach them reading and writing in this language and I even downloaded a Polish schoolbook for my eldest. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But yes, it’s also worth it because as soon as they can read I can give them Polish books to devour, which will make my workload somewhat easier.

Image: pixabay.com

And if I feel overwhelmed by it all, I think of my parents, who raised me with so many languages (I now speak Polish, German, English, French and Dutch) while both of them were working. They used TV as a German-speaking baby sitter, only spoke German with me once a week. They knew nothing about OPOL (One Person One Language) or ml@h (minority language at home) or the time and place method. But they managed to successfully raise my brother and me with multiple languages.

According to many experts, it shouldn’t have been enough. But it was.

So dear parents, if you want to raise multilingual kids, take it someone who’s seen both sides of the equation. Raising multilingual children is hard work. But it shouldn’t drive us insane.

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Life After Motherhood…Dream On

I really wanted to be a mother and, as a woman who generally gets what she strives for in life, I took for granted that kids would magically appear when I wanted them to. Luckily for me I found getting pregnant easy, I had an easy pregnancy and I had a relatively easy birth. Those supposedly difficult stages that mums-to-be around the world agonize over were the easy bits, but for me the tough part was yet to come – motherhood itself.

No matter how many times you are told by a friend that being a parent is difficult or you read the warning words in books, blogs and articles such as this one…they don’t actually sink in. You think they do, you try and brace yourself, and you are convinced that you are ready.

But you aren’t.

It goes without saying that the sleepless nights, endless tantrums and aching monotony of baby days that act as foggy bookends to those flickering fleeting moments of joy and wonder that motherhood brings were difficult – but I was told about them and I knew that they wouldn’t last. No, what I wasn’t prepared for was that it wouldn’t only be sleep and freedom that I lost…I would lose myself.

Motherhood is a vortex, a black hole that we tumble into as soon as our pregnancy test turns blue, where nothing matters but our child. Mother Nature made it that way – that’s why our children survive until they can walk and talk and wipe their own behinds. But then we finally look up, like startled meerkats, and exclaim ‘shit, what’s happened to my life? Where did everyone go?’

When you shine the spotlight on your babies you fall into the shadows. And your dreams? They dissipate so fast it’s as if they never really existed.

But can we get them back? Can women mix success with motherhood?

This isn’t an article about post natal depression, working mothers or finding the work/life balance. This is my story….and it’s a story about dreams.

Since I was a old enough to hold a pen I have wanted to write. I still have the stapled-together ‘books’ I wrote when I was ten years old; as a backpacker I filled my bag with notebooks which in turn I filled with stories peppered with the adventures I was living day by day; and in my twenties I wrote articles for work and attended writing courses – but I was always too busy to write that elusive novel I promised myself would happen one day.

I was too busy…oh the irony! The occasions in my life when I did have the freedom and time to sit, alone, dreaming and conjuring up new characters were squandered to the frivolous and the fun. ‘You can write your novel next year,’ I told myself. ‘You have all the time in the world’.

Except I didn’t…because then I became a mum.

With a needy baby in my arms I realised that I had twenty years of raising kids ahead of me, how on earth was I ever going to be a mother and work and attempt a social life AND write a book? It was over. My writing ship had sailed – I would be a retired old lady surrounded by cats before I found the time to convert my scribbled notes into the novel of my childhood dreams.

Yet the strange thing about having a busy mothering life full of ‘have to’s’ instead of ‘want to’s’ is that you soon appreciate the tiny slivers of time that you have to yourself. When your days are filled with the cries of demanding small people and your nights are a merry-go-round of dream feeds and night terrors, ricocheting from the toddler to the baby to the toddler in the dead of night like a demented marble in a pinball machine – you realise that to stay sane you need an escape. So where can you go that doesn’t mean deserting your family? You can climb inside your mind…and that’s how I finally wrote my novel and became a published author.

Lots of people ask me where I found the inspiration and the time to write ‘The Path Keeper’, my first book of a Young Adult Fantasy Romance series (no, there are no vampires). And the answer is simple – I thought about it, planned it and wrote it all in my head as a way of managing motherhood.

When my baby took an hour to feed at 3am, I was thinking about my book. When I had my lengthy work commute stuck in traffic every day, I was thinking about my book. When I was hanging out the washing or cooking dinner or sitting in front of Teletubbies with the kids at the crack of dawn, I was thinking about my book.

How much ‘white space’ do YOU have in your day? Do you use your quiet mind time to zone out? Or worry about stuff that hasn’t happened yet? Or do you, like me, plan?

Instead of arguing with my husband about what to watch in the evenings, or getting upset if he wanted to go out, I would write; and when my toddler insisted that 5am was a good time to get up, instead of being angry about it I wrote my book while she played. I turned the moments that were a source of tension, resentment and anxiety and made them about what I wanted to do. Motherhood was so much more bearable that way.

And suddenly I was no longer just a mum…I was a writer. I was fulfilling my dream. I had stopped moaning and complaining about how trapped I felt and had found my private sanctuary inside of my imagination. Writing my book saved my sanity, the relationship with my family and my self esteem. I had returned!

Finally, after two years of staying up late (well, I had got used to not sleeping anyway) and sneaking to the spare room in the evenings to finish one last chapter – I had a book! Now, what was I going to do with it?

Another strange thing about motherhood that no one tells you about is the guilt. I felt proud with my achievement, but I also felt immense guilt. By juggling my job and my writing I had ignored my family – I’d put my enjoyment first and prioritized a self-indulgent hobby over my role as a mother and wife. So in my mind I had to make it mean something, I had to make sure it got read or it would have all been for nothing. And that’s how I officially became a published author while working and being a mother of two (now a bit older) children. The struggle it took to complete my book drove me to find an agent, it made my skin tough enough to spend a year being rejected by over forty publishers and I finally received an offer for a THREE book contract by UK publishers Accent Press.

I’d like to say that that was my Happy Ever After but in fact this is merely my beginning…because now I’m a few chapters away from finishing the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ and I’m busy promoting ‘The Path Keeper’ in four countries. It’s even being translated into Turkish with other languages in the pipeline.And guess what? I love it! I am interesting again! I feel powerful and proud and energised…and, most of all, I am the old me again!

So I hope this article has been a little light at the end of your tunnel. I hope you read this and think two things:
1. My dreams are still there, I’m not letting go of them just yet and…
2. Well, if she can do it, then so can I.

Being a mother is just one of many things I can be – it doesn’t define me and I won’t let it end me. In fact there is no end. The best thing about dreams is that they keep going on and on and on – just like us mums do.

‘The Path Keeper’ by N J Simmonds is available to buy from all good bookshops and online or visit njsimmonds.com for the latest news and appearances. Natali will be hosting a variety of events during her book tour of The Netherlands in March and April 2017 – follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to find out more.

 

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