“Moving to a new country is always an adventure. Choosing the right home for a family makes it even more exciting, but sometimes also more complicated.” Delft MaMa Xenia Gabriel starts off our new blog series with some tips based on her family’s experiences finding their home in Delft.
by Lynette Croxford
When arriving in Delft not speaking the language, I spent quite some time worrying about schools for the precious ones. My agitation increased tenfold after speaking to other mamas at the playgroup. The conversations were along the lines of, “WHAT? She’s not on the list yet? You might have to move if you want her to get a place at a decent school”. It never occurred to me to enroll my newborn at a school of my choice. Naturally I then proceeded to contact every school in a 20km radius of my home to make appointments or enquire about open days.
It turns out that the waiting lists for some schools are ridiculously out of touch with anything in the realm of reality, with some as long as 6 years! However, upon further investigation, I found there are really good schools with no waiting lists or at least lists that are in the span of my lifetime, all within the city limits. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the child-led methods where kids determine their destiny, a stickler for structure and direction or an inbetweener, Delft has it all.
On the Education Inspection website, a regulatory body for the assessment and control of schools, there are 34 primary schools listed in Delft. The pedagogic principles range from the Mary Poppins school of thought (hard work, discipline, routine) to the more Hogwarts (without the magic) approach (child-led, independent, non-structured). The website has an English page which is helpful to understand the rationale behind the system. There is a ‘find schools’ option but the search function is only in Dutch with an English explanation of how it should be used.
Depending on your reasons for migrating to Delft and the duration of your stay in the Netherlands, you may choose to keep the kiddos in an English environment. Skipping around in clogs and singing Dutch songs won’t enable their future growth outside of the Netherlands, except for entertainment value or party tricks. The International School in Delft is an authorized school for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, which means settling in Delft will be easier since they don’t have to learn a new language. If, like me, you’re in it for the long run and want your kids to integrate into local culture, habits and language, there is a multitude of Dutch schools to choose from, all facilitating clog-skipping and song-singing.
There are 5 pedagogic methods being used in the Dutch schools in Delft at the moment. Below is a brief explanation on their principles. If you want more information, Google it. There is a whole bunch of information readily available. [Note from the editors: we’ve done some work for you! See the short resource list at the end of this article to get you started.]
- Learning takes place in a context that is meaningful to the children;
- Class life is organised in a democratic/cooperative way between teachers and children;
- Learn by experimentation, discovery, doing and discussion;
- Learning from the experiences of others, adults and cultures;
- Teachers, children and parents all contribute to an optimal learning climate.
- Students are active in a prepared environment;
- Students are given the opportunity to develop their talents;
- Let students do a great deal themselves and thereby learning from each other;
- Teach responsibility by letting students make their own choices and their own plans;
- Trust the students;
- A continuous concept throughout the school years.
(Based on Anthroposophy, a human oriented spiritual philosophy that reflects and speaks to the basic deep spiritual questions of humanity, to our basic artistic needs, to the need to relate to the world out of a scientific attitude of mind, and to the need to develop a relation to the world in complete freedom and based on completely individual judgments and decisions.)
- Students become rounded individuals and is conscious of daily and yearly rhythms;
- It doesn’t refer to the freedom of the students but the freedom of the school to work in their own way.
- The subject matter is derived from the living and experiential world of students and important cultural objects from society;
- Teaching is carried out in educational situations and with pedagogical means;
- Education is shaped by a rhythmic alternation of the basic activities of conversation, play, work and celebration;
- Students of different ages and development levels are placed together in tribal groups. This stimulates learning and caring for each other;
- Independent play and learning are alternated and supplemented by controlled and guided learning. The pupils’ initiative always plays an important role;
- World orientation occupies a central position with experience, discovery and research as the basis;
- Behavioral and performance assessment of a pupil takes place as much as possible from the pupil’s own development history, and in consultation with the student.
Regular education is the collective term for education that does not address special target groups, such as special and special education. In a regular school there are therefore predominantly children who go through a normal development. These schools might have a religious affinity.
After deciding on the pedagogic method you prefer for your child, the next step is to go and see the schools of your choice and to meet the people. My first call was made with a mental image of a fire-breathing dragon on the end of the line, speaking to me in Dutch and condemning my lack of linguistic ability. I was pleasantly surprised by polite and friendly people who were more than willing to struggle through a conversation in English. The appointments were made with little hassle and followed up by email confirmations. I really enjoyed seeing the schools in action and meeting some of the kids and teachers. Taking your child along is a good idea since they’ll pretty quickly show you how they feel about the place. Some schools have open days to facilitate choices and there is a fair once a year, De Delftse Onderwijs Markt, where all schools in Delft showcase themselves. The exact dates and times are usually advertised in the local papers.
One thing that I didn’t appreciate the full extent of when making a choice was the distance from door to door. In the summer it’s all fun and games getting to school on the bikes or walking, but in the winter, it can be a real challenge if you’re some distance away. Dragging babies out in the freezing rain to get their siblings to class on time is no fun and can add significant stress to an already frantic time. Although none of the schools have catchment areas (geographical areas served by schools), take a good look at the schools closest to your home. Most schools are close to daycare facilities (kinderopvang) to help (working) parents before, during and after school. They can pick kids up from school, take them to activities and are open during school term time.
A place in your school of choice will be confirmed with a formal letter inviting the little one to their first day, usually the day after their 4th birthday or in that same week. Prior to the actual start date, the schools arrange for the newbies to come in and get used to the class and environment (wennen). Usually it starts off with a couple of mornings and then a full day or two to see how they cope. Depending on the school, parents are sometimes permitted to stay for the first hour if needed. Some schools are even flexible in the first year of school to have kids for 3 days instead of 5, or a combination of shorter and longer days, since compulsory attendance (legally) only starts when they turn 5 years old.
When your baby puts that little backpack on and runs down the road for the first time you may very well shed a tear or 10. They grow up exponentially in their first year of school and the baby-ness become kid-ness. It’s a true milestone in their young lives and one that they relish once everyone settles into the routine.
*Pedagogic methods (translated by myself)
*All photos are mine (with the exception of Vrijeschool Widar, the image came from the school website).
Originally from South Africa, Lynette moved to Delft from New Zealand in 2011. The majority of her time is spent working in Rotterdam in the Healthcare sector, but she also has 2 young daughters, both in school in Delft. Lynette’s background is varied, including creative and people-related experiences.
Note from the editors:
Want to read more about education in the Netherlands?
To get an overview of the Dutch education system, start with education in the Netherlands from Nuffic: the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education. (There is also information about bilingual schools at the primary and secondary levels, in Dutch.)
To get an overview of the Dutch education system in an international context, read Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Netherlands published by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Delft MaMa’s very own Parenting in Delft: School Age has some general information. The link to a list of schools in Delft no longer works. Use the one listed in this article.
Dutch school types: primary and secondary education – a good summary of the different types (based on pedagogy) of schools in the Netherlands.
Education in the Netherlands: A guide to the Dutch education system – also a good comprehensive guide, the article also contains useful information regarding school fees, holidays, and contacts for more information.
Some other good/fun articles to read:
Dutch schools: What to expect when you go “local” – article published in July 2018 on iamexpat.nl
Are you sending your kids to a Dutch school for the first time in September? Read How to deal with being the new parent at a Dutch school, published this month on iamexpat.nl
The Dutch school system for dummies – a guide from one parent to another – article published in March 2017 on Dutchreview.com
See also past DMM blog posts about education and after school activities:
Success of the “Muziek op schoot” workshop, initially hosted by DelftMama in March, convinced me yet again that music is a universal language — a cross-point where mothers and children from all around the world can meet, sing and make music together. How great that was, proving that no barrier, not even language, can stand in the way of musical play.
Thus, the purpose for this article, an opportunity to offer some basic information about age appropriate musical instruments to help you and your child embrace the joy of that universal language.
My name is Zdenka Prochazkova and I come from the Czech Republic. Ten years ago, after finishing my music studies there, I came to the Netherlands to continue with a specialization in early music in Utrecht.
A couple years ago, I then decided to enroll in a postgraduate program to become a “Muziek op schoot” teacher. Literally translated to “music on your lap”, Muziek op Schoot is a foundation for early childhood music education in the Netherlands. I currently give lessons in Delfgauw, Spijkenisse, and teach regularly at daycares in Delft and Delfgauw. I am also a member of Krulmuziek — an ensemble dedicated to bringing classical music to children of early ages.
The importance of music to our children
Experience as a teacher and as a parent of two young children has shown me firsthand the positive influence singing and musical play has on child development. Not to mention the simple joy it brings to their daily lives.
The songs we sing to our children at bedtime are part of the transitional space where parent and child are present together. A moment where children feel safe and can overcome fear and anxiety. Through songs and musical play, we can also turn chores and everyday activities such as getting dressed, tidying up, eating, or even brushing one’s teeth into play.
Age-appropriate musical toys
The first, and probably the best, source of rhythm, melody and musical feeling that children encounter is the human body. In fact, children experience music best through hands on engagement with their parents and care givers. Our heart beats in the most wonderful rhythm; our voices can both soothe and entertain, while bodily sounds like clapping, snapping or whistling always seem to catch children’s attention.
The child’s body develops as a unit; it is therefore important for children of all ages to use both of their hands simultaneously, such as clapping and using shakers and jingle bells in each hand.
Consider sound quality and the ease of producing that sound when introducing an instrument to your child. Children should be able to use and bring out sounds from the musical toy; otherwise, it would be hard to hold their attention. For instance, if you give a xylophone and a mallet to a 1-year-old, the child at that age would not have the precision to hit the bars. The instrument would not make noise, and the child would soon lose interest in it.
Toy stores offer various sound/musical toys to entertain children. However, if they have a low-quality sound, are monotonous or lack dynamic possibilities, they do not contribute much to the musical development of the child. Offering varied good quality sounds enrich the child’s experience and even prevents negative reactions to encountering new sounds in their surroundings.
0 to 1 year old: Discovering the world through multiple senses
Safety and quality are essential when identifying appropriate toys for children this age. Another consideration is the ability to stimulate different senses at the same time. A soft, colorful ball with a bell inside is an ideal tool for a musical ‘massage’. A pleasant-sounding rattle stimulates children’s senses as they try to locate the origins of the rattling sounds and begin to train their prowess of concentration.
Singing, along with various other uses of the voice (varying between high and low pitches, different volume, “glissando”), dancing and bodily sounds also occupy a central place during this period. At this age, children follow singing for a longer time than speech. They also have very limited or no control over their movements at this stage. It’s therefore important to choose instruments that are easy to manipulate.
Choose from shakers (e.g. egg-shakers) and maracas to various kinds of ‘jingle’ bells that attach to fingers, wrists, or even favorite toys and sticks. Homemade shakers like these music bottles can also bring a lot of fun and extra visual or thematic stimulation. Bottles with child-safe closures are available to order from Kijk op spel.
1 to 2 years old: Rapid gross motor development during which children learn to sit, walk and run.
Little ones this age enjoy exploration and relative independence as long as parents remain at an easily reachable distance. They enjoy playing on parent or caregiver’s laps, can combine different movements while clapping to songs, and seemingly have the ability to absorb a fundamental sense of rhythm. Children at this age spontaneously find objects such as tables and chairs for impromptu drum sessions. Give them even more opportunities to explore those percussion talents. Provide toys already on hand such as wooden blocks, boxes, or objects from nature (chestnuts or walnuts for example) for use as sound-making toys.
Fill a bottle with sand, rice, lentils, beans, wooden pieces, stones, and even feathers to offer a large spectrum of rattling sounds. Suitable instruments are shakers, jingle bells, rhythm sticks, and rainmaker tubes. The harmonica is ideal for this period as a stimulant for voice development. Children this age also really enjoy dancing with some material in their hand.
Language skills are also fast developing and any musical play and songs with language forming texts are very suitable. Let children listen to different genres of music and you will soon notice them developing a musical taste. Similar to hiding and revealing objects, pausing and resuming music can also be very entertaining. This principle keeps the child’s attention and teaches them to react to the music.
2 to 4 years old: The start of vivid imaginations
Musical instruments that trigger fantasy are very appropriate. Offer different types of drums, xylophones, metallophones. They stimulate hand-eye coordination, which is important for writing. Toddlers are interested in different aspects of music such as piano/forte (soft/loud) or slow/fast (speed). As a result, they can learn basic principles of music making.
Choose music and instruments that offer dynamic possibilities at this age. There are various songs, which incorporate the contrast of slow-and-fast or loud-and-soft. Integrate these elements when playing with instruments as well as in singing, dancing (with or without material) and parent-child lap play. Additionally, for stimulating the development of the larynx, kazoos, ocarinas, and slide-flutes are ideal.
DelftMama music workshops
Music workshops within the DelftMama group has been a great initiative of Ildigo Wooning, Marie Kummerlowe and Tatjana Lisjak. The first series drew many participants and proved a big success. During the sessions, we exposed children to hearing and trying the violin, viola, guitar and melodica, as well as egg-shakers, tambourines, metallophones or bells for themselves. The theme of the first workshop series was spring. The current series, which started on May 28th, has a summer flair.
While the general language used in the workshops is English, participants will be exposed to many songs in Dutch (many of which children already hear at daycares). The sessions are a perfect opportunity to enjoy fun time together with your little ones, learn new songs and get some ideas for music making at home.
Not able to make the current series of workshops? Fear not, we’ve already begun exploring options for scheduling additional sessions after the summer holidays.
Embrace the joy of music
When you make music with your littles, it’s a great joy for you both. The interaction makes you learn about each other and the positive effects of music — stimulation of concentration, motor skills, emotional and social development — turn the learning process of children into play.
I wish you many beautiful (musical) moments with your little ones.
With warm weather (hopefully) just around the corner and the school summer holiday fast approaching, I’m busy working on my summer holiday bucket list. In addition to being a list of things I’d like to do with my two girls aged 7 and 5 while they are off school, it’s also a list of places to cool off when it’s hot. I love the beaches at Monster and Ter Heide, but being a redhead I miss the shade. We thus often opt for a local lake where we are more likely to find trees for me to hide under. If any of you, like me, start to wilt like fresh spinach in a pan when the thermometer rises above 25˚C, you may enjoy one of the options below.
The Prinsenbos is one of my favourite places to go with the kids. Given that we live in Naaldwijk, it is very close by. It also just makes a lovely day out.
There is a small lake for swimming with a sandy beach and grass to sunbathe in. There is playground equipment and a small nature playground with a water pump on the other side of the parking area. There is nowhere to buy refreshments, but there are picnic tables to use and the ice cream man is often parked at the entrance.
If you get tired of swimming, you can take a walk on the path around the lake, which is buggy and wheelchair friendly. The walk takes about 15 minutes at adult walking speed.
Madestein (between Monster and Den Haag, gemeente Den Haag)
The Madestein is a large park and recreational area in between Den Haag and Monster. There are a few entrances, but I normally enter and park on the Madepolderweg side, which is also where the restaurant ’t Brasserietje is. There is a large grassy area in front of the lake where you often see families gathering for BBQ picnics.
Wollebrand (Honselersdijk – off the Veilingroute N222)
The Wollebrand may be located directly behind a provincial highway, but once you are in the park you would never know. There is a sandy beach surrounding the swimming area with a grassy field behind where you can stretch out on a blanket and daydream an afternoon away. If you fancy a walk, there is a tree filled park behind the lake with walking trails.
Directly on the beach is a modern restaurant with good food and a big deck overlooking the lake called the Wollebrand. If you are feeling adventurous, there is a cable water ski/wakeboard track on the lake.
Krabbeplas (gemeente Vlaardingen)
The Krabbeplas is a great lake for swimming and surfing located in a huge recreational park between Maassluis and Vlaardingen. There is playground equipment, a sandy beach, and a large grassy area for relaxing or picnicking. On the beach is a restaurant called the Krabbeplas. While it is a little outdated, it’s still a decent option if you don’t feel like cooking after a long day of playing in the water.
Grote Plas Delftse Hout (gemeente Delft)
What’s not to love about the Delftse Hout? There are several options for swimming in the Delftse Hout, but the Grote Plas is the largest swimming lake in the park. With lots of sand to play in, shady trees to hide under, and grass to picnic in, it’s easy to while away a summer day.
There are two options for restaurants in the Delftse Hout, Knus and Het Rieten Dak. For families, Knus is great. It is overlooking the lake further along from the beach and has a nice playground to keep the kids occupied while you enjoy a cool drink. Although the beach is not as nice as the Grote Plas, you can jump into the water right from the restaurant. They also offer waterbike and rowboat rentals by the hour.
These last three lakes I haven’t visited yet but definitely plan to this summer. Maybe you have been and can tell us about it?
Zwemvijver Wilhelminapark (gemeente Rijswijk)
Put Te Werve (gemeente Rijswijk)
Dobbeplas (Nootdorp, gemeente Pijnacker-Nootdorp)
If you enjoy swimming outside but prefer the comforts of a swimming pool, there are two swimming pools that I know of that also have an outdoor pool which is open in the summer:
Zwembad de Waterman in Wateringen
Zwembad de Hoge Bomen in Naaldwijk
Waterspeeltuin Tanthof (gemeente Delft)
A lovely and very shady place to spend an afternoon playing with water. There is a man-made creek with running water to float a toy boat down and go chasing after it. The stream ends in a small pool just deep enough to splash around in. There is playground equipment in the park and a petting zoo close by. Although there is enough to do for a family of all ages, I would say this is a particularly good option for toddlers simply because the water is very shallow.
Waterspeeltuin Delftse Hout (gemeente Delft)
And here we are back in the Delftse Hout for the water park. You can find the entrance close to the petting zoo. There is a small entrance fee, but personally I think it is well worth it. The park is kept clean, and there are toilets and a small café on the premises. Since there are so many options here for playground equipment, water fun, and sandcastle building, it is easy to spend the whole day.
Burying your sibling in the sand is optional.
Waterpeelplaats Tubasingel (gemeente Rijswijk)
I haven’t been here yet but can’t wait to explore it or hear all about it from a Delft Mama.
Unfortunately, a lot of the smaller lakes become infested with Blue Algae in the warm weather. The local government tests the water regularly and does make efforts to clean the water, but they are not always successful. If you want to make sure your lake of choice is safe to swim in before you go, see www.zwemwater.nl for the latest information.
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.
There are so many authors and readers in our Delft MaMa community that I felt inspired today to write about women writers. Books have always been one of my passions. At one stage growing up, I would finish my homework and then devour a book a night. These days, I do not have the luxury of finishing a book a day, but I generally manage to carve out some time from my busy schedule to read. Believing in the power of literature and being enamored of a wide range of authors, I, however, find it jarring to see how much the literary world still reflects biases in our society. Female authors are reviewed less often reviewed than their male counterparts, and fiction written by men or about men is more likely to receive literary awards. Furthermore, a large swath of popular novels by women are deemed less worthy of praise than more “serious” literature, generally written by men, as shown in this exchange.
With so many exciting and excellent female writers to choose from and with the summer holidays around the corner, I decided to make a short list of some of my favorite works of fiction from the last fifty years by female authors. Over the upcoming holiday, perhaps you can spend some of your well deserved rest and relaxation time discovering one of these gems. The list idea is inspired by the Guardian’s weekly Top Ten book series, which I also highly recommend.
I will start my list with a Arundhati Roy, an Indian author and activist, whose first work of fiction in twenty years will be published next week. Before you dive into her new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I would recommend taking the time to read her spellbinding The God of Small Things. Set in Southern India, this novel shows how a series of prejudices linked to class, gender, and religion combine to produce a tragic outcome. Its evocative, lyrical prose is made all the more vivid by the fact that the story is told through the eyes of two children, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel. This evocative book was the first Indian novel to win the Man Booker Prize, and I am sure it will linger in your mind long after you reach the last page.
Elena Ferrante’s engrossing Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) follow Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila) from girlhood in a tough Neapolitan neighborhood through many twists and turns to arrive at old age. Ferrante masterfully paints a portrait of a friendship that is both a source of strength and anguish and examines the inner lives of her characters with lucid intelligence. Ferrante has never revealed her identity, considering her biography irrelevant to her fiction. Unfortunately, a journalist recently reported to have unmasked the “real” Elena Ferrante, an endeavor that many describe as sexist.
Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories offers a refreshing perspective on traditional European fairy tales and their underlying themes. Carter’s heroines are not helpless damsels in distress but strong, independent characters that define their own destinies. Her depictions bring to light the sensual dimensions underlying most of these traditional tales and her gorgeous, gothic prose is a joy to read.
Another collection of short stories that I would strongly recommend is Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. These excellently crafted stories delve into the everyday of lives of people, most often women, to find deeper meaning. The prose is subtle and minimalist, especially if compared to that of Carter, but the stories manage to pack a true emotional punch. For example, the poignant “People Like That Are The Only People Here” brings the reader inside the painful reality of life for parents of a child diagnosed with cancer.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale become a bestseller again. Atwood’s dystopian vision documents the life of Offred in Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship that subjugates women. The story is a page-turner and a frightening prediction of where the dogma of limiting women’s rights and wilfully destroying the environment could lead. If you are interested to find out more about this prolific Canadian author, the New Yorker recently published an intriguing profile of Atwood.
Another page turner, but one based in the past rather than an imagined future, is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Mantel plunges the reader into the intrigues of King Henry VIII’s Court and brilliantly portrays the ambitious Thomas Cromwell. Her prose is vivid, and the tale is thrilling enough that the reader never feels overwhelmed by the large cast of historical characters. Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies both won the Man Booker prize. The third and final part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to be released.
Penelope Fitzgerald only published her first book at the age of 58, but her late blossoming career left us with a remarkable body of work. One case in point is The Blue Flower, a short but elegant novel that immerses the reader in moments of the life of the 18th century German poet Novalis. Fitzgerald shares a multiplicity of sensations and meanings through a series of vignettes, but the tale retains an aura of mystery that will keep you searching for what the blue flower truly represents long after you have put the book down.
On the fence between journalism and fiction writing is the work of Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Fiction Winner. In Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, Alexievich weaves together interview segments to show how the collapse of the Soviet Union impacted everyday citizens. Many qualify Alexievich’s work as oral history, but she prefers to call her literary technique, “a novel in voices.” No matter how you classify the book, it offers a remarkable and compassionate portrait of post-Soviet society.
I have read all of the extremely talented Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works, and my favorite is her powerful account of the Nigerian Civil War, Half of a Yellow Sun. Rather than focus on battles or glory, Adichie offers a devastating assessment of the disappointment and violence wrought by this conflict. You may also be familiar with Adichie from her TED talk on why we should all be feminists.
The list would not be complete without a work by the brilliant 1993 Nobel Prize laureate, Toni Morrison. Beloved, a virtuosic novel in every sense, tells the tale of former slave Sethe and her process of “rememory.” It is even more tragic to note that the book is based on an actual case from the 1850s. For those interested in the topic of the value of work or how work relates identity, I also encourage you to read a short piece by Morrison from this week’s New Yorker.
Additional resources :
For the very ambitious, the New York City Library created a list of 365 Books by Women Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day All Year.
Danielle Dutton recommends her top ten Top 10 Books About Wild Women.
Marta Baussels lists 10 Inspiring Female Authors that You Need to Read.
The Delft MaMa blog is celebrating its first anniversary this April. Agnès Batllori Benet and I started this blog with lots of plans and even some structure, but most of all we learned most valuable lessons on the way. Agnès is moving onto other challenges while Marie Kummerlowe will take her position as one of the blog leaders.
During this past year, we have been lucky to have such great diversity of writers joining us regularly and temporarily and this is something we’re very much looking keeping this up in the future as well. Tuesdays blog posts will be published on Fridays from now on biweekly alternating with the mom of the week, which will have a bigger team of writers behind it as well.
Currently most children are enjoying their May holidays, which include the celebration of King’s Day. The toddler playgroups on Tuesdays and Fridays will go on normally during the holiday weeks, so if you’re looking for a few hours of downtime with other parents while kids are getting to know each other, that’s your place to go. If your plans aren’t still locked down, but you find yourself in the need of a day trip idea within the Netherlands, check out the DMM Pinterest page made just for this. For crafty parents (any skill level) the 2nd of May DMM is organizing a mosaic workshop. Also, don’t forget DelftMaMa Cinema Club is always open on Facebook for new and familiar faces! More ideas on what to do throughout the year, subscribe for the Delft MaMa newsletter at the bottom of this page!
Happy Spring everyone!
With lots of love to each and everyone,
Tarja van Veldhoven
Note: this is me navigating clumsily in the realms of bilingual parenting. Not an advice whatsoever. If I’d like big words, I’d say don’t try this at home, but you’ll might have to. So let me know in the comments, theories, practice, shoot away!
I’ve been struggling with the languages lately.
Well, with my mother language. My children do understand both, Dutch and Hungarian well, but since we live in The Netherlands, they don’t speak nearly as much Hungarian as Dutch. They don’t sound like other 5-6 year old Hungarian kids. It’s all very understandable and “no wonder” – to me – but I do have a hard time explaining it to grandparents, my parents.
A hard time.
And I’m sure a lot of us had the firm belief – before actually getting children – that we would take advantage of the bilingual parenting, and the thousand and one positive effects of it as well – when it came to that. Living in a different country than our own expands our minds to other cultures and solutions, so it’s highly recommended (if at least for a while). Then you get kids, and you are still positive and enthusiastic – all the while you have a hard time keeping your eyes open. As those little feet start to run, not so subtle comments and advises might start to flow from “back home”. About remembering your roots, history of your nation, and gifting your beautiful mother language to the next generation.
Well, I for one, agree with them.
But why leave everything to one person? Let’s delegate here. I’d certainly would like to do all of the above, with the involvement of my parents and extended family – even friends with kids. It’s a big responsibility to be the sole language provider.
I say that, all the while I feel like I have been doing it all by the books (and will continue to do so):
- Talking in the second language at all times with the children.
- Reading in the second language every day.
- Playing a round of Q&A in the second language every now and then.
- Only watching TV-shows, movies in the second language.
- Having other children around can who only communicate with the second language (that’s a tough one).
- Taking trips and meeting with others who enjoy speaking that other language.
- Sending letters with snail mail to other Hungarian children who live abroad, in other countries.
But all this is not enough, as they are not forced to speak Hungarian with everyone. I’m not making them answer me only in Hungarian, because I want to communicate with whatever means we have. I want to teach the LOVE of this, the feeling of being understood, without the pressure “you have to say it right”. Am I nuts? Most probably.
Creating is always way out there beyond understanding
But I also don’t like the idea being left alone in this quest, all by myself, while it’s apparent that in mixed families it’s harder to keep the minority language alive. So family “back home” needs to step up.
But how, right? Distance is at play here, grandparents (at least my parents) find more than enough reasons not to travel, and with school being mandatory from age 5, we are also bound to dates.
Well, I’m not slowing down just because of some rocks on the road. Lately I’ve been asking around a number of Hungarian mothers living abroad as I felt the time has come for us to focus and try something new. They were big help – everyone had theories 🙂 We just throw ourselves in deep water, and we see how this will turn out – because so far there was only talk. Now comes action.
The first step is as follows:
- My parents do come to visit, and on a couple of days they take our daughters with them
- The kids and grandparents will be immersed into their little Hungarian bubble for a couple of days, and…
- A very good friend of mine and her own daughter will come to our house – and we all spend a couple of days together.
This is how it’s going to go down in the spring holiday, and we are all psyched. It’s really exciting for me, my parents, my friend. The kids of course (!) are more than okay with this, it’s actually funny, we talked about it like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course they know everyone well now, do fly like birds, and have been practicing sleepovers for two-three nights with oma and opa. So, it’s all good.
When this first tryout works, we’ll go for the longer immersions:
- a week in the summer holidays, later two,
- an exchange later on with my friends and their kids,
- the focus here is on kids with whom the only mutual language is Hungarian. Those pen pals are in for a treat – they can be exchange students at our house, without all the usual bureaucracy.
All in the name of the second language.
Past experiences and the bright future
Myself, I remember I had relatives relatively far from home as a kid, so once (!) we’ve spent a week there with my sister without “papa-mama”. That was fun, although we were also older, maybe 8-10 years. And there were no language barriers, but it’s always exciting being without parents, isn’t it? It must have been fun for my parents too 😉
Being Hungarian means being restless and impatient for life, so (along with my parents) we can’t wait that long. My girls are now 5 and 6,5 years – and although they are super verbal (the older is speaking since she grew lips), and they do understand just about everything you throw at them in Hungarian, speaking is a different matter.
What are your practices, dear fellow mothers of the bilingual realm? Let me know in the comments! Talk about theories, your practices, experiences – I’d love to read your wisdom.
Can you believe it’s Christmas this weekend? Again. Right?
All the Christmas preparations are coming together in our house, and that reminds me: we’ve a digital goodie that became a new tradition. A couple of years back the New Year’s Eve was a bit different from ‘just’ dressing up, decorating the house, eating the ‘usual’ salty Hungarian cookies, playing board games and drinking champagne.
What set it apart was that we would also watch a “year video”, to see what happened to us that year (nota bene: only that made it to be filmed). Now it’s a tradition, no way out of it. 😉
The year video was a huge success. We were all remembering stories, little details, fun adventures. Some things didn’t make into a small video during the year, so they came to light now. Suddenly we had long conversations bloom with parents, children, siblings alike.
Living far away from one’s family has the effect that your lives develop in (unexpectedly) different directions. The little things in our daily lives go unmentioned, however strong our connections are through Skype and such. The video really helped to spark that connection again.
I got another surprise: grandparents wanted to watch the video again, although for me it felt long. And they wanted to do so right away! Wow, talk about a great audience! 🙂
I say long, because we are not used to watching anything longer than three minutes on the web (actually, most people spend 1:30 minutes, and click away) – unless it’s super-interesting or hilarious. I compare that kind of watching with watching home videos, because of their long history being generally torture to watch. That is: too much zooming, panning, too little action and too much waiting for that aforementioned little action.
The point is, the year video was more than 15 minutes, and it was a success nevertheless. I was a bit nervous about it, but I got shushed, when I tried to apologize for the length of it.
No one minded the 15 minutes length, because it was personal for everyone in the room.
And for those who were not in the room, for the other side of the family far-far away it was also a delight. They were too very happy to see how the kids were growing and what happened to the house in the time they could not see it for themselves.
Although I could scare you off with an (otherwise wonderful and super thorough) article at Videomaker… just have yourself a two-three hour window in the next couple of nights (I know I’m asking a lot from you!), ie. let someone else cook/shop/bake for a change.
Follow these tips to create a “year video”
- Sit down in peace and quiet. Choose – even randomly if you have too much – video files from your mobile or camera to use.
- Put them next to each other chronologically in an editing software (like PowerDirector by Cyberlink).
- Trim away the “waiting for action” parts, and be ruthless about it: the finished video will be longer than you think!
- You can always get fancy with titles, but generally a simple “January”, “February”, etc. will be enough to mark the months, no need to spend too much time on that
- Make sure you have a fade-in and fade-out for your clips (audio too), so it’s not too jarring to watch, on the other hand, if you…
- …put FUN songs “under” the video, you can get away with it. It’ll glue the clips together, and the peppy sounds will make everyone happy. Make sure you are not sharing socially if it’s copyrighted material. There is a whole hell loose because of that, but it’s a rant for another day, really.
- Don’t sweat it. It’s far better to be READY than be PERFECT – a decade late. Use the 20-80 rule: 20% of your action will give you 80% of the results you seek. You can always spend weeks on polishing something, but let’s face it: who has the time?! Yes, professionals, they do – they also have a price tag (just go ahead and ask me already 😉 !)
- Use the “fun” parts the most, and make sure close your video with that – like a bloopers reel, that can really leave your audience “high”, wanting more.
- The best is if you choose clips you really loved filming, and you want to remember. However, the little gems that are one-offs and don’t fit anywhere: they shine in a good video compilation.
This list is of course not going into details, you know I can’t hold your hands through the process. For that, check that Videomaker article, it is great. Still, give it a shot, it’s really not that hard. And if you feel like it’s overwhelming, just start early next year – you can’t go wrong with it. You’ll always wish you would have done it, so give it a go. Let me know in the comments how is the process going, and in the end how did the audience cheer!
As I wrote a couple of months before, cooking/recipe exchange is a method of making friends. While having Taiwanese food is soothing for my homesickness wherever I am abroad, discovering international food is always a fun way to explore different cultures and meeting new friends.
DMM playgroup is such a wonderful place for both kids and moms to begin a new life with meeting many international families from all over the world. I had great fortune to have met an amazing Delft mama who was so kind and generous with open arms to invite us not long after we arrived in Delft in 2014.
Tarja is amazingly dynamic mom with connection and creative ideas. With her Finnish background and living in The Netherlands for nearly ten years, she has accumulated incredible amount of life stories and experiences to share. Despite the fact that she has three kids to take care of, Tarja has been helping other new moms to orient in Delft. I was one of them.
Two years ago, starting from a small ingredient—fresh yeast, that Tarja bought in a local shop, she came up with an idea to invite some mom friends to explore cooking together. She initiated the “international cooking club”. We were 4 moms with all different nationalities to share our own home recipes from the USA, Chile, Finland and Taiwan.
I’ve always been fascinated by different spices and ingredients, cooking styles, tools and so on so forth that you can apply in the kitchen. Learning cooking different cuisine was so much fun for me, as well as spending quality time with those lovely ladies. We have developed a very special bound with one another by sharing our foods, rotating in each mom’s kitchen. Visiting kitchens with international ingredients and tools is part of the cooking adventure!
It was more than just cooking. We always started with morning coffee since the cooking club took place on one weekend morning. Our kids sometimes played together in the garden while moms worked in the kitchen. And after two hours of teaching and cooking, we always put the food on the table to share a simple lunch together. I’m now having a big grin on my face just writing and thinking about it. This was indeed one of the highlights of my Delft mama life!
Our cooking group remained small and private. It became our own friendly gathering. Our recipes brought our taste buds traveling from Finnish cinnamon buns, to Chilean empanadas, to Chinese stews, to American pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cookies and to Spanish omelet and cold vegetable soup, etc.
I have developed great interest in exploring international cuisines since. I found through cooking, my social circle expanded and I saw more nice charismata in each one of the moms that participated.
In Chinese we have a saying goes, “there is no feast that doesn’t end”. It means that we have to say goodbye from time to time to friends and families. Especially with international backgrounds, sometimes families have to move to places wherever the jobs relocate. It’s sad to leave. However, I have saved up so many sweet memories from the feast that I have enjoyed so much within our own little “international cooking club”.
Just two months ago, my family had to leave Delft, our dear lovely home for more than two years. It was not easy for me, especially for our son who has lived the majority of his life in Delft and built his friendship connection, including with Tarja’s kids. We are now only three weeks newly settled in Shenzhen, China. I’m waiting for the new kitchen to be set up according to my needs and I can’t wait to try some of the recipes that I have learned with those dear mom friends from Delft. When there’s a special occasion, we are going to open the peach jam that we made in one of my last cooking lessons.
We couldn’t bring Delft to another country nor transfer our friends to a new city with us, but we have kept memories and friendship. I believe our Delft experiences will last as well as precious friendship. I know we will make new friends where our new home is. But the old friends remain in the depth of our hearts. We don’t just think of them, fortunately we can also have a taste of the good old times of Delft next time when I cook something that I have learned from my Delft mama friends.