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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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6 Weird Travel Finds Near Delft

You’re browsing through Pinterest  and you think “I have to go there.” As it turns out quite a few of these incredible sights are easy to reach from Delft. Here are a few I’ve had the chance to visit and how you can visit them too.

Walkable Rollercoaster : Duisburg, Germany (~2 hours by car)

This piece of public art is officially called ‘Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain.” You can walk all but the loop, which is gated off. At night it is lit by LED lights in the structure. Walking the structure is incredibly cool as your mind wonders about which way the path will take you. Find out more here.

Moses Bridge : Halsteren, Netherlands (~1 hour by car)

 

The sunken bridge was put in place as part of the renovation of Fort De Roovere. The bridge allows access to the fort without changing the view or design. When you are on the bridge you are below the waterline, yet you stay completely dry. There is plenty to do hiking around the fort in addition to the bridge which makes it worth the visit. Find out more here.

Upside Down Railway : Wuppertal, Germany (~3 by car)

The Wuppertal Electric Elevated Railway hangs from its tracks as a space saving design. It runs right down the river meaning it took up none of the city’s precious riverside land. It is the oldest of its kind in the world. It is Wuppertal’s public transportation system so hopping a ride is incredibly easy and super fun. There is even an audio guide you can download and listen to on your ride. Find out more here.

 

The Town With No Roads: Geithoorn, Netherlands (~2 hours by car)

Geithoorn Netherlands is a small town largely without roads. Instead a system of canals and bridges connects the village. If you go in the off-season you can rent an electric boat (no license required, ~ 25 Euros/hour) and enjoy the pristine quiet of this village. If however, you go any day with nice weather you will find yourself surrounded by incompetent boaters. Start out early and head out into the lake for a lovely view and more space. Walking the bridges can be equally as picturesque if you don’t want to take to the water. Find out more here.

The Star Fort Town: Bourtange, Netherlands (~3 hours by car)

The star shaped Fort Bourtange sits on the German border. Inside remains a small town complete with hotel, restaurants, museums and shops. Crowded during the day it is virtually empty in the evening. You can walk the fort walls and look over the land. Cannons, a windmill and even toilets that dump into the moat have all been preserved. It’s incredible to walk the walls while following yourself on Google Maps.

Find out more here.

Book Store In Old Church: Maastricht, Netherlands (~2 hours by car)

 

The Dominicanen Bookstore is built inside a 700 year old Dominican Church. The bookstore has a cafe and a variety of exhibitions. It’s worth popping in to see books stacked to the ceiling of this former church. It’s the sort of place you’ll want to browse and hang out a bit. It certainly kicked off my love of weird European bookstores. Find out more here.

Share your Pinterest travel finds with DelftMama here.

You can also see more crazy Pinterest travel finds on my travel blog,  Dutch, Dutch Goose!

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The Womanhood Studio

The Womanhood Studio in Delft is moving to a new location and will be filling a hole in Delft’s current offerings for families. Tami, the Womanhood Studio’s creator and owner, has been serving women in the Delft community as a doula. She opened the Womanhood Studio two years ago, expanding her services to offer massages and classes for pregnant women and new moms. Now Tami’s moving her studio to a new home at 28 Schoolstraat in Delft, bringing the studio closer to Delft’s public transportation connections.

The Womanhood Studio was a centerpoint for my pregnancy in Delft. I was able to enjoy several massages with Tami and discuss the best way to alleviate my aches and pains. Tami was there for me when I was overdue, worrying about an induction. Once my little one arrived, we returned to the Womanhood Studio for baby massage classes. The studio also offers baby sign language classes. At the previous small space on Vlamingstraat, the studio services often ended there – then came news that Tami had found a new, larger location and would be able to expand her offerings.

My experience is not unique. Jules, who used Tami as her doula had wonderful things to say about her experience. “The Womanhood Studio is a unique concept that celebrates women ,and I feel fortunate that I had the support and care of Tami during my pregnancy and labour. Tami was our doula – her calm spirit, cheerful personality, positive affirmations and can-do attitude gave us a lot of confidence as first-time parents. My birth was filled with laughter and Tami’s presence really empowered me to have the birthing experience that I had dreamed of. I am so excited to see that the Womanhood team under Tami’s guidance is going from strength to strength and moving to a bigger historic Delft location. Tami’s big smile and hospitality will welcome you. Make sure you check out the Womanhood Studio. You won’t regret it.”

If you have never been lucky enough to meet Tami, you should rectify that right away. Her mere presence puts you at ease. She has a particular soft spot for expat parents and classes at the studio are often taught in English. (I can promise you she will make sure you feel comfortable no matter what your language or home country.) She encourages everyone to stop in and say hello to see what the Womanhood Studio has to offer for you! I am lucky enough to be Tami’s neighbor. I invited her over for tea to chat all about the exciting changes and what it means for families in Delft.

The name Womanhood Studio came from her desire to serve women in the community at all stages. Although many classes focus on children or pregnancy, the studio is designed to be welcoming to all. The new studio space will even enable Tami to offer Pilates classes for men or mixed classes.

All the classes at the Womanhood Studio are small, usually under 10 participants, so that they can have an intimate feel. These gatherings are designed to provide community and connection. Tami encourages participants to come early and hang around afterwards to chat up with her and other participants.

Photo Credit: Womanhood Studio

The new space means an expanded range of options. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises she has planned, but Tami was off to be certified to teach Arial Yoga after our chat. She’s also ordered some lovely swings for a special class for children and plans to offer other classes that help older children with body, mind and emotional connections. I cannot wait to have my kids try out these classes. Previously you would have needed to head to Rotterdam or The Hague for offerings like these, but now they will be available in Delft center.

If you still think the Womanhood Studio has nothing to offer stop by, meet Tami and let her know what you would like to see. The Womanhood Studio is a service to the community and wants to be responsive to the community’s needs. Feedback on classes, be it times or format, is heard and adjustments are made. If you have a group that is looking for something specific, say Pilates for moms with young babies, stop by and she will see if she can make it work. Since classes are small, it’s often feasible to start a class with enough interest.

The studio will also be available for other gatherings. If your group is looking for a place to gather and meets the mission of the studio, get in touch with Tami. This lovely new space can be a gathering place for the community.

Make sure you follow the Womanhood Studio on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date on all the exciting changes. I hope to see you there!

 

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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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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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Delft mama of the week: Xiaolin

Raising children in a foreign culture is always a challenge, and this week’s DelftMaMa Xiaolin is actively working to help Chinese children in the Netherlands have a strong and positive relationship with their cultural background.

I first met Xiaolin at the library last year, as she was showing some Chinese moms around, and I felt from the start that she was an astute leader and organizer. The more I have had the chance to speak with her and see her in action, the more this impression rings true. In the past two years alone, she has created a vibrant social media chat group for Chinese mothers in the Netherlands, organized many activities including a Lantern Festival celebration for over twenty families, coordinated a monthly children event on different topics (art / story / technology) and also coordinated weekly yoga class for mamas. Now, she and other like-minded moms is on the way to creat Chinese Mama’s in Nederland (CMN) association.

Xiaolin, originally from the city of Datong in Northern China, first came to Delft ten years ago as a student of chemical engineering at TU Delft. On her first day in Delft, she was paired in a group with Junju. He is now her husband, and they are parents to Yojan (2.5 years) and Minghe (11 months). Xiaolin has experiences in bringing together the best of different cultures not only as a Chinese native living in the West but also in her own marriage as Junju is from Taiwan, which is culturally similar to mainland China but does have many unique traditions.

The couple have lived all over the Netherlands, but are now happy to call Delft home once again. “After I graduated, I moved to many places including Leiden, Apedldoorn, Arnhem, and Rotterdam. But when we decided to settle down, we chose Delft, as it is an attractive city that contains both youth and old, modern and traditional. Therefore we made Delft our new hometown.”

She manages to feel very comfortable living in the Netherlands, although it is bittersweet to be separated from the rich cultural tradition of her homeland and the caring hands of her folks. She finds, “the Netherlands is a country that is not only attractive, it is also a country with values that resonate such as openness, honesty, and a balance between work of life that make us want to stay. ”

Friends describe Xiaolin as smart, dedicated, helpful, and cooperative. I would add that she is highly curious person, while she describes herself as a decisive person, “I am quite strict thinking-wise. If I think something is right, I will do it immediately. I do not think very deeply into the pros and cons of an issue. Once I have decided something, I go for it.” All of these traits surely helped Xiaolin in bringing together Chinese moms in the Netherlands.

Once Xiaolin became pregnant she decided that she needed to find a new group of friends who were either already moms or moms to be “I managed to meet many Chinese moms and decided to create the Chinese mamas moms in the Netherlands WeChat group. At that moment, I never imagined there were so many Chinese moms locally.” After only two years of existence, the Chinese Moms WeChat Group is already a large and active community with over 160 members. For those unfamiliar with the technology, WeChat is a social media application that is extremely popular and widely used in China and by Chinese speaking communities.

The moms wanted to go further, though, than simply chatting online and started to meet and discuss how they could channel their talents, interests, and shared goals into something larger.

As Xiaolin explains, “First-generation immigrants generally have a clear identity; we know who we are, we know our hometown, and we know why we came to the Netherlands. Culture-wise, though, our children are second generation immigrants, and very often the second generation of immigrants country feel lost. From their appearance, our children are from China, but from their education and experience growing up abroad they are completely different from their parents. We Chinese moms thus want to help educate our children to be a bridge between Chinese and Western culture. We want to help our children to be confident, aware of their Chinese heritage, and be proud of this identity.”

In the coming days, CMN will start its institutionalization process by publishing its mission and vision statement on a WeChat-related blog. The mission is to: 1) provide events and activities for Chinese families in the Netherlands; 2) create a shared platform for Chinese families in the Netherlands; 3) create development opportunities for Chinese families in the Netherlands and encourage and help them in the immigration process; 4) welcome foreigners and share the Chinese culture with the broader community.

The group is already actively organizing events to help transmit the beauty and richness of the Chinese culture and equip children to successfully integrate their double identity. “We worry very much that our children may forget the Chinese language and culture. We have thus decided to give the children courses and opportunities to play together. This way one day when they have started to think about their own identity and philosophy, they have not only parents to consult with but also their own friends who have similar background. These children will grow up together and share the same experiences. Hopefully, they will then not feel as lonely in their experience as second-generation immigrants often do.”

In March, CMN hosted their first art class with approximately thirty participants and are now lining up more art, storytelling, and technology classes. The challenge is not so much finding volunteers but catching up with the demand from all all interested families. According to Xiaolin, “we have some very professional and talented moms. These amazing women are willing to share their talents and help create activities for the children, but every time we announce a new class on WeChat, it is full within a half hour.”

The organization is focused on growing step by step and following through with its mission, but “there are a lot of things we don’t know yet. It is the first time we are moms, and this organization is something we can grow up together with our children.”

Xiaolin, who is active on the DelftMaMa Facebook group and has attended DelftMaMa playgroups, sees opportunities for mutual learning and sharing. “I have learned a lot so far from DelftMaMa, even just on the Facebook Group. It is a mature organization, and there is a lot we can learn from DelftMaMa. There are a lot of professional moms involved in DelftMaMa, and I would hope that one day we can sit down together and share experiences and lessons learned. I would be very enthusiastic about that.”

Juggling her career, raising two children, and being very active in associational life is a challenge, but Xiaolin shared one very effective insight that has have helped her maintain time for herself and be so effective even with such a busy schedule. “A useful hack is to find what you want to do instead of letting life push you. In this way, you find yourself more a master of your life.”

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23rd of April, World book day. Let’s celebrate!

Books, roses, writers and lovers will literally take the streets of Barcelona and every city big or small in Catalonia tomorrow Sunday the 23rd of April, to honour our patron, Sant Jordi (Saint George).
Well, not just quite only to honour the patron, as we are not that devoted to patrons or saints anymore.
It is Catalans lovers’ day, and we are certainly devoted to love. Love for culture, love for history, love for flowers and love for love’s sake.

So, we will take the streets in the name of love, books and roses.

Why roses?

We give blood-red roses to our loved ones following Saint George’s legend, who fought and killed a dragon to save the Princess. From the blood that sprouted from the dragon’s neck, a rose bloomed. Saint George, a real knight, cut the flower with the same sword with which he had killed the beast and, gentleman as he was, offered the rose to the Princess, who hopelessly fell in love with him. They lived happily ever after and blood-red roses became an international symbol of love.

This legend that belongs to the universal literature was turned into a Catalan tradition on the year 1436 (15th century), marking the first roses-for-love exchange. It went uninterrupted until today, 600 years after.

Nowadays, and thanks to the Dutch flower market, roses are in as many colours as you can imagine, including black and rainbow. But the blood-red or rouge passion remain the most popular.

 

Why books?

This is a “new” tradition that started in the beginning of the 20th century (1929). It was nothing but a marketing campaign from a Valencian book publisher who thought people were not reading, hence buying, enough books.
My apologies for killing the romantic mood…

As Saint George Day was a very well-established tradition in Catalonia, and men were getting nothing in return from giving away a red rose, he took it to his advantage asking women to buy men a book to show their love and keep them culturized. It was well embraced by the Catalan society and happily celebrated by authors and publishers, who helped to keep the new tradition alive. Soon the ladies got book treats from their significant others too. This “new” tradition was never cancelled, not even during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the Franco’s dictatorship era (1939 – 1975), when the Catalan language and its traditions were forbidden.

In 1995, Unesco declared the 23rd of April to be the World Book Day to celebrate the deceased anniversary of universal literature writers Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de la Mancha and William Shakespeare author of Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, … They both died exactly 401 years ago.

So, if you happen to be in Catalonia tomorrow, expect crowded streets smelling like books and roses and a festive like working day

Saint George it like a local

If you would like to embrace this lovely Catalan tradition, you only need to do the following:

  • Ladies, Inform your loved one that you, your daughter(s), mother in law, and … are expecting to get a blood-red rose.
  • Go on a family trip to the bookstore and get each of you a book.
  • Stroll around town with your flowers, books and a broad smile on your face.
    Expect to be smiled back by other fellow citizens who are celebrating Saint George too.

They are easy to spot as, like you, they will walk with a rose, a book and a smile on their faces.

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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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Book review: Dutched up! Rocking the clogs expat style

There is a certain expat wisdom in almost every page of the book “Dutched up! Rocking the clogs expat style”. It’s a collection of stories by beloved women bloggers who have all had their share of living in the Netherlands. The book is brought together by two mothers, the European Mama Olga Mecking and Lynn Morrison of the Nomad Mom Diary.

What happens when you throw together the stories of 27 different writers from all over the world? A colorful soup of stories from a vast variety of perspectives, is what happens.

This is both the book’s strength and its weakness. If you have any experience of being a foreigner in the Netherlands, you’ll easily come across several stories that will give you a good chuckle. There’s something for everyone and almost definitely you will find yourself at the same wavelength with certain writers more than others. At the same time the book suffers from a slight repetition, as many of the expressions used are stereotypical. Doe maar gewoon (be normal/less is more) is one of the most famous Dutch sentences and it also hasn’t gone unnoticed by the bloggers as it repeats itself throughout the book. This echo leaves a reader hoping for a bit more effort in the editing process.

This said, the book is wonderfully segmented in well-thought categories. It all starts with the culture shock, goes through topics from learning the language, working and raising a family in the Netherlands to farewell stories among many other subjects which are known to every expat. All in all, the book can be viewed as a bundle of wisdom: “How to deal with leeches” (guests that just won’t stop sucking your hospitality), how to deal with Dutch spouses, kraamzorg or Dutch doctors, to name a few.

Personally, having lived in the Netherlands for over a decade I could easily relate to many of the stories. I do, too, get funny looks in the land of giants, because my bicycle is so darn small and cute and I have, too, accidentally combined the words “dag” and “hoi”, thus telling someone “die” at the end of a conversation. Some stories are surprising and unexpected, such as Kerry Dankers‘ “How to steal back your bike” or Molly Quell‘s awkward conversation with her doctor on “That’s a helluva exam”. You cannot but help reading them out loud to anyone who happens to be around, all the while trying to hold yourself together from folding in double with laughter.

In the end it hit me: now this book is quality entertainment, because I’ve been through similar experiences, but if I got this book in my hands when I first moved to this country, it might’ve saved me from many painful experiences. Depending on your perspective, the book can play either part, the entertainer or the savior – possibly even both. Can’t wait to see if the writers will cook up a part two eventually…

The book is available on Amazon, through The European Mama shop and soon also available at The American Book Center in The Hague.

Dutched up! was first published in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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