Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What I Learnt Taking Part in NaNoWriMo

Regular readers will know that during November I've been taking part in NaNoWriMo - in essence writing a 50000 word novel. And I'm pleased to say that I did it! I signed up on a whim thanks to Nomad Mom Diary, and even though I was determined to give it a go, I wasn't wholly convinced I would get 50000 words together on the topic of my expat life. The elation when the word count ticked over from 49999 wasn't as high as I had imagined it would be back on November 1st. For two reasons.

Firstly, there is lots more writing to do and it still needs an awful lot of editing and crafting to create a novel that I would be happy for any one of you to read. Despite working for many hours, it really is a long way from being a finished product. Some of you have asked 'when will we get to read it?'. I'm guessing about 2020…..

Secondly, the 50900 words I have written so far were hard. Not as in a struggle to get words on paper, but an emotional struggle to relive events of the past and get them written. My life has been pretty uneventful, nothing out of the ordinary, no extreme events that warrant a best selling book. I had a happy childhood, I went to university, spent a year in Toulouse, messed around for a bit retrying to deicide what I wanted to do with my life, decided on a career in Human Resources, met a Dutch man and moved to the Netherlands and had three sons. That's it in a nutshell.

Photo Credit: Pear38
As I was writing some parts of those 50000 words doubts took over - was there really a book here to write? But I kept going, because even if there is nothing I have written over the course of November that is worthy of gracing the pages of a published book it was actually a therapeutic exercise. I have realised that there are some events in my forty years of life that have happened which I haven't put to rest, I haven't given it 'closure' as the Americans put so well. Taking part in NaNoWriMo forced me to confront some ghosts, brought emotions to the forefront that I didn't realise I still had about things I have been through. I felt anger, hurt, sadness, regret, happiness and joy whilst writing. I have had tears streaming down my face whilst typing. Life is very much about the details and not what you can wrap up in a nutshell. It's about the emotions. It's about the relationships.

Some of what I have written will never see the light of day - that would be unfair to loved ones - but the act of writing about some things was enough reward in itself in some cases. Writing about some events made me feel like it had just happened, all over again, and I found myself feeling furious at some people in my life. It really has been a tough writing journey. And it made me think over and over about the words from writer Jo Parfitt about your best writing coming from writing from a place of pain. Truer words have not been uttered! Raw emotion makes for good writing.

My memory databanks have been working overtime during November. One memory has sparked another and I have been amazed by the depth at which some things were buried. NaNoWriMo pulled them all out to the surface, things I haven't thought about for years.

I have also been incredibly grateful during this last month for the journals I have written over the years. There are gaps in my memories, or things were not as I remember them. Or I have long forgotten the details. Rereading my journals helped me get right back inside the moments of my past. I have relived happy and sad times through my journal writing. It spurred me on to get back to writing in my journals more in the present. I have been seriously neglecting them over the last year and I have vowed to correct that. Every day there are moments worth writing about - things that seem so mundane and uninteresting yet in five years time they will be confined only to our memories. Our routines change, our daily lives evolve with the months and we won't remember how our days looked when we look back in a year. Yes, seems like I am back to that theme of capturing the moments…..

Monday, 25 November 2013

NoGuPoMo: Not Every Culture Forces their Kids to Share

The end of NaNoWriMo is nigh for sure....whilst I finish my novel off (yeah, I know I'm fooling no one...) I'm delighted to share this week's guest post from Mama Mzungu, aka Kim, an expat who left the US to live in Kenya. You can find out more about her story over on her blog. I'll leave you to read her great cultural post about sharing…..I would love to hear what you think about this - I found out that I'm parenting Kenyan style…..

"Mo-oommm...  But it's not fair!!!" whines every pre-schooler from Fresno to Philadelphia.

"Well, sorry dear, life is not always fair."  replies every harried mother, settling the issue at least in her mind.
Asking children to share is cultural
Photo Credit: Anissa Thompson
But the thing is, despite their proclamations, American parents work tremendously hard to try and make life as fair as possible for children.  They break up fights and force apologies.  They enforce the "take turns" policy.  They repeatedly implore their little charges to "share nicely," and they dole out consequences when someone is being too selfish. They ask "who had it first?"

I suppose this would be my modus operandi as well.  Though with only one kid there were less opportunities to enforce this system of fairness.  And by the time I went from having one child requiring entertainment to two children requiring a referee, I had been living in Kenya for the better part of two years, where such a regime of benign rights-based interventions does not so much exist.  So, I've, somewhat subconsciously, adopted the Kenyan system, which is this: Everyone defers to the noisiest (generally youngest) child.

When we first moved to Kenya and Caleb ran around with a mixed-aged group of friends, I observed this in practice.  Caleb and another child would want the same toy, and Rukia (his care giver) would almost always ask the other kid to give Caleb the toy.

It made me cringe.  I assumed she forced the other children to give him the toys because well... the toys were his... and I somewhere I suppose I feared that she deferred to his whims because he was the lone mzungu child.  When this happened I would always intervene, telling Caleb his friends were "guests" and we needed to give them a turn with the toy too. I'd force him to give the other child the toy.

This invariably resulted in a full scale temper tantrum.  After being told by Rukia that he could have the toy, I'd undo that, making it worse.  Everyone would stop and stare at his meltdown, and my lesson in sharing and being a good host would get drowned out by the screaming. I was left feeling like I did something wrong, but had at least imparted an important lesson that I hoped would eventually sink in.  I had restored life to a more "fair" balance, even if I created more chaos.

But my reaction was out of step with the culture.  For Kenyans, it seemed that preventing the chaos was what was most important. The child who is the least able to weather the disappointment of losing a toy, the one who is least capable of understanding mine/yours/who had it first, basically the youngest, is the one who wins. Because when he wins there's less noise for everyone.

Kenyans, by asking children to put others before themselves learn, not that they have rights, but that they have a responsibility to keeping the peace for the group.

What I had failed to realize was that Caleb was getting his way because he was the youngest child in his group of playmates.  When a child younger than Caleb entered his group of friends, even he was asked to defer to the littlest playmate.

To Americans, this probably seems supremely unfair, but it's really just a different set of rules and, amazingly, the older kids simply learn to sublimate their own needs.  And that's probably not such a bad thing to learn how to do.

Now that Emmet has grown to the age in which he has toy preferences, a strong will, and an impressive

set of lungs, we've asked Caleb to generally defer to the baby.  I know that this is VERY much against American sibling rivalry advise, which says that if you don't want the older child to resent the baby, you can't always let the baby win.  But so far - and probably because the culture reinforces this different set of rules - Caleb is with the program.

The problem is that we are currently back in the US, where babies are expected to understand, or at least play along, with the take turns/who had it first policy.  Forgetting for a moment where I was, I recently asked Emmet's cousin to give up a toy Emmet was crying for.  His mom, carefully reminded me that her son had been playing with it first.

And that's when it hit me:  Here in the US we really do see each child, and even baby, as having particular individual rights. When those rights are violated we work to restore order and fairness.  We hope that our children learn to share, but they certainly learn that some justice is owed them.  Kenyans, by asking children to put others before themselves learn, not that they have rights, but that they have a responsibility to keeping the peace for the group.

I don't think one way is necessarily better than the other, but, like all parenting practices, they make sense given their context.  But, I have to say, having experienced both, the Kenyan way is definitely less noisy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Relocation Advice from a 3 Year Old

Photo Credit: Chris Schauflinger
My three year old declared today that we need a new house. I asked him why he thought that and his response was simply,

"Sometimes our house is a mess."

Obviously that's not true. Not all the time.

Okay, admittedly sometimes our house is a mess. It's clean (thanks to weekly help) but it can be a big mess. Usually between the hours of seven in the morning and seven in the evening when there are three messy munchkins up and about.

So, anyway, to escape the mess (which I add he is at least a third responsible for if not more) his solution was to get a new house.

Then he added,

"We can take our house apart and then take it to France and put it back together again."

So, from what I gather, if we lived in France our house wouldn't be a mess, and it's not our house per se he takes offence to.

So there you have it, my three year old relocation specialist. We expats have been making things much harder for ourselves than we need to. Remember these wise words next time you have to relocate.

Lou Messugo

Monday, 18 November 2013

NoGuPoMo: Capturing Moments That Count

Over half way of NaNoWriMo now....... can't stop I'll put you in the very capable hands of The European Mama for today's guest post.

I have a confession: I am not a big fan of today’s Carpe Diem philosophy.

I know my children will grow up fast, I see it right before my eyes. I know that moments with them are precious. I know how my son’s head smells, how beautiful my little girl’s eyes are and how quick my big girl is on her feet. I notice all that and more. After all, I am their mom - and a highly sensitive person (HSP).

But what the Carpe Diem is telling me, is: “You’re not doing enough! You’re not “there” enough!”, or “You don’t have enough time, and you’re not using it properly!”. Carpe Diem, while claiming to be a philosophy that is all about slowing down, is in truth about “not enough”, as Brene Brown would say. It is about scarcity. It is about pursuing an ideal that doesn’t exist.

Because it tells us that each moment is precious, and that is not the case. As a child, I would say: “This day should be crossed out of the calendar. Like it never existed.” I still feel like this about some days. The days where I didn’t get enough sleep and my body shuts down on me. The days that are so loud from temper tantrums and cries that my ears and my head hurt. I get my share of such days, too. After all, I'm a mom, and a HSP. What is my philosophy, then?

I love taking pictures. And maybe photography is a good metaphor for the way I see life. Because I know that especially with my digital SD card, I can take thousands of pictures, but not all pictures are worth taking. Not all pictures we take are worth keeping.

Some of these pictures can be improved. They aren’t perfect but there is something particularly interesting about them, and they can be made into something exquisite. But the truth is that so many the pictures we take are bad, especially if like me we’re amateurs.

Some bad days can be improved, but others are just bad. For me, turning a bad day around makes just as much sense as going shopping when I hardly have money for food. I’d rather wait them out and wait for a better time. I refuse to spend my time and energy on a day that isn’t worth it.

I don’t want to freeze time. I love the changes I see in my children and revel in them. I love when they can do and talk more and more. I love seeing my wonderful children slowly but steadily changing into wonderful adults. I’ve never regretted my children getting older because while our relationship will change, I know that it will still be there. I will still be their mom.

No, I don’t want to freeze time. I want to capture moments that matter.

 You can find The European Mama on Instagram and on Facebook

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Blog Giveaway: The Amsterdam Dungeon

If you can be in Amsterdam at any time before 31st March 2014 and are looking for a bit of a thrill in your life, then I have just the giveaway for you - a family ticket (four persons) for the Amsterdam Dungeon.

The Amsterdam Dungeon experience is an 80 minute journey into the darker side of Amsterdam's history. By way of live actor shows, special effects, story telling and a roller coaster ride, all of your senses will be on high alert for the funny, scary experience that shares 500 years of history with you. You can read much, much more over on the website about the details but I am assured there is both screaming and laughing involved.

So, now to the important part - how can you win this family ticket? Easy, here's how.
  1. Use the Rafflecopter form below to "Share an experience where actually you'd rather have been locked in a dungeon". Let me give you a couple of examples to help you - in my case I would rather have been in a dungeon than holding back contractions for 30 minutes when my first son was ready to be born because there was no hospital staff available to help deliver him. In my husband's case he might well rather be in a dungeon than visit a certain Scandinavian furniture store on a Sunday morning. This is the only mandatory action.
  2. Go like my Expat Life with a Double Buggy Facebook page to earn extra points.
  3. Tweet about this giveaway for extra points.
  4. The competition ends on Pakjesavond - 5 December to add an extra 'present' for one lucky winner just as Sinterklaas returns to Spain.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to meet The Amsterdam Torturer?
Make sure you're entered in the competition for a family ticket!

Friday, 15 November 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #19 - #21

Catching up fast with my 365 Grateful Project. Here's the next couple of moments I have stopped to focus on how grateful I am for them.

#19 Seeing your children get along, even if it is for a few minutes, is always a lovely thing for a parent. Watching my 2 year old trail after my 3 year old to copy his every move is mostly heartwarming to see. Until my 3 year old utters 'poop' and my 2 year old copies him that is….. This however was a nice moment to hold on to.

#20 Without sleep I don't operate. Like most people. However, sleep has been a hot topic in our house for around seven years now. Luckily, I realised whilst watching my little one drift off to dreamland, the sleep situation is better than it was, say, two years ago. If only he'd sleep so soundly in his own bed….

#21 Some days I am just so grateful that my trusty IPad lets me dig up a wealth of information and allows me to stay connected to loved ones. Friday was just that sort of day where the internet was a goldmine and gave me peace of mind. 

What are you grateful for right now?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Happy Depressives of the Netherlands

If you are raising children then the Netherlands is the place to be. Year after year, the country rates high in global surveys and research about the happiness of children.

In April this year a United Nations report concluded that Dutch children are in fact the happiest in the world. That is an impressive title to have under your belt isn't it? Not only did the Netherlands top the list of countries, it was the only nation to rank in the top five in all elements of the study: material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviour and risks, and housing and environment.

And hold on to your hats, because it's not just Dutch children who are happy. Women in the Netherlands are happy too. Dutch women are independent, can choose who they marry, are free to make choices about work and the home and live in a liberal, free country. In short, women here in the Netherlands feel a high degree of control over their own lives. That is according to Ellen de Bruin who undertook extensive interviews and research to reach this conclusion.

Her conclusions, captured in an article for the New York Times, suggest that the idea that a Dutch woman feels no pressure to put on airs and graces, embrace glamour and bow to peer pressure contributes to an overall feeling of happiness.

Then we have the 2013 World Happiness Report where the Netherlands sits proudly at number four in the happiness league. The fourth happiest nation in the world people. Clap on the back for the happy Dutch people, scooping up imaginary happiness awards left, right and centre. 

But wait. There is some serious bubble bursting going on in a recent report that suggests that the Dutch are the most depressed in Europe. The report is based on the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 and is one of the most comprehensive and prestigious carried out of its kind. There really is no knocking it. Everyone is suddenly talking about the depressive nature of the Dutch. Are the Dutch bi-polar?

To clarify, the definition (taken from the editor's summary of the PLOS report) of depression is:

Not so happy
"Depression—an overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness that can last for months or years—can make people feel that life is no longer worth living. People affected by depression lose interest in the activities they used to enjoy and can also be affected by physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep."

Depression is something that is on the increase across the world and is receiving more and more attention as the consequences become fully appreciated. But why have the Dutch been singled out as being more depressive than other nations? How can a country that pulls in medals in the Happiness Olympics suddenly hold the title of the European Champions of Depression?

This conclusion is nothing new. There is a history of depression in the Netherlands. In 2007, the Dutch were the third most depressed in Europe. But it would seem that things have got worse not better.

Psychiatrist Jan Swinkels told the Volkskrant that we shouldn't place too much importance on the results of this research. He claims the Dutch are indeed a somber group but culture plays a big role and there is no more help needed here than in neighbouring countries.

I can add some personal experience to this discussion. A Dutch company doctor working in an international organisation explained once that in his experience it is usually the Dutch and other northern europeans who are the ones sitting at home on sick leave with a burn out because they struggle to deal with the more relaxed attitude to work of other European nationals. In other words there is a serious culture clash in the working environment. The countries he mentioned generally fare very well in the happiness research.

Is Dutch happiness so precarious that anything disrupting the usual balance causes a hurtling into depression? Do the Dutch have high expectations that cannot always be met? Is it as some suggest related to the gloomy weather in the Netherlands? This latest report suggests that the even gloomier, darker days in countries further north in Europe play an insignificant role in the depression levels so it is unlikely that this alone explains anything.

I don't have an answer, and so far I haven't seen anyone else offering a nice perfect fit answer. But of course it is possible to be both a happy nation and one with a slightly higher level of depression than surrounding countries, without being bipolar. Depression is a very individual state, as is happiness.

On a final note, do you remember how this blog post began? "If you are raising children then the Netherlands is the place to be." Well, actually that wasn't strictly true. That statement applies to Dutch children. If you are an expat parent, you shouldn't live in the Netherlands. At least, that's the message from the latest report from the HSBC Expat Explorer's survey. When it comes to raising children overseas the Netherlands plummets to 19th place (of 24). That is not a good result. Not good at all. Not for the country that is used to picking up all those happiness awards.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #15 to #18

Welcome to the next instalment of my 365 grateful project - a small (or large) moment a day I have gratitude for. You can read here why I started this project.

#15 probably needs a little explanation. We've decided it's time to dump the double pram (farewell, little Donkey) and buy a lighter, single buggy. So off we traipsed to Baby Park in Gouda to test out some prams. I was grateful that at least one of us had some technical expertise - fathoming out how to fold some of the prams needed the kind of technical thinking mind that I just don't have.

#16 some time back we bought my eldest son a halfhoogslaper and the idea was to put curtains around his bed so he could escape under there for some quiet time. However, I couldn't find anything suitable pre-made so luckily my husband's stepmother stepped in and made this cool spiderman set for him. He loves it! And I'm incredibly grateful that we know someone who has the seamstress skills that I lack. Me and sewing machines are not good friends…..

#17 When you are two geared up with new wellington boots, the rain is an adventure. A huge, knee high puddle kind of adventure.

#18 The best bits about motherhood really are about the little moments. This moment last week was one to cherish. Since my six year old has started reading and writing in school he takes any moment he can to show off his skills. His brothers are a captive audience when he announces he's going to read them a story.

Monday, 11 November 2013

NoGuPoMo: Expat Stresses by Your Expat Child

Whilst I scribble away furiously (or pound at my keyboard) here is another guest post. This week Your Expat Child writes about the stresses that expat life can bring, debunking the myth that expat life is one big holiday......

What stress can an expat possibly have?

I don’t assume that everyone who visits this site is excited and thrilled by an overseas move – searches that arrive here indicate that this is far from the case.

Moving overseas causes stress and anxiety even when you are excited about, and fully onboard with, the relocation. But if you don’t want to move to a particular country, or you feel you have to move abroad to keep your partner happy and in work, then the stress can become out of control.
Stresses can happen any time, any place, anywhere

Even if you’re already living overseas the stress of expat life can take its toll. Life and all its ups and downs carries on regardless of where you live. Perhaps your children aren’t coping in school for whatever reason, maybe you have aging parents thousands of miles away to worry about or you’re finding it impossible to find work of your own or even make friends.

Living overseas is not a holiday

Forget all those people who exclaim jealously that you’re living in so-called ‘paradise’ (ie anywhere other than your ‘home’ country!) and therefore can’t possibly have any ‘real’ problems. They are wrong. Expats have exactly the same problems as anyone else, big and small. Just because we live overseas it does not mean that we are on one endless holiday. Life goes on.

Just dealing with basic aspects of daily life in a different country can be difficult: What are the rules of driving at this junction? Am I allowed to park here? What is the postman saying to me? Is that milk or liquid yoghurt I’ve just put in my coffee because I can’t read the label? Of course, we soon get used to all these kinds of examples but it’s never at the same familiar level as dealing with stuff at home. There is a constant, low-level pressure at all times.

Difficulties are not location dependent

Illness and accidents can happen anywhere. These would be stressful enough in the home country. Negotiating a foreign healthcare system is hard work, however well-prepared you are – and that’s on top of the worry you’re already feeling.

Depression isn’t location dependent. It can happen to anyone regardless of where they’re living. It doesn’t matter if you live somewhere sunny and warm, with your own pool and home help. If the chemicals in your brain unbalance, you  become depressed: it’s got absolutely nothing to do with lifestyle.

Expat child stress

Not every child copes well with moving around, either. Of course, this depends on your child and your own situation. If you’ve emigrated permanently then it is unlikely to be as much of an issue than those who have to move countries every couple of years or so. This way of life appears to be easier when the child is very young, but once they’ve started school most kids prefer to stay put. Even if they seem to cope well, keep a close eye for issues that may arise. You know your child best. They may well appear resilient and fully able to cope, but problems may be developing under the surface that become more obvious as they grow. And then the teenage years hit!

Yes, yes, we know that we’re giving them a fantastic opportunity to see the world and experience other cultures. They have the chance to try activities, food and see places many others only dream of. But all a child really craves is stability and security. While they’re very young, you provide that for them. However, as they get older they look to their peers for this. Their friends become more important than you… and then they, or their friends, move away. Sometimes you have to put their needs above your dreams.

A friend of mine relocated every year or two throughout her childhood. She says it was OK when she was very young but became intolerable once she reached about 10 years old. She loathed always being the ‘new girl’ at school. She went from being a straight-A student to not working at all. She didn’t bother to make friends as she knew she would be leaving again soon. Now an adult, she is very settled, but it’s taken her a long time to reach contentment. She rarely, if ever, travels anywhere now and is a real ‘home-bird’.

Not all overseas relocations are ‘heaven on earth’!

You can find more advice, tips and insight from Your Expat Child on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Bonfire Night - It's a British Thing

Today is Bonfire Night. Well, it is in Britain at least. It's a cultural event that is laden with nostalgia for me. Neither my brother nor I live in Britain anymore, so this is an annual event that we generally miss out on. But the memories are fond.

At this time of year as kids in Britain we would wrap up in woollen scarves, hats and gloves and stand excitedly in the dark waiting for the lighting of the bonfire; for the moment when the flames would spring in to life and the wood would start to crackle, for the moment that we could feel the heat on our cold, red cheeks. The guy perched at the top of the fire would eventually fall and burn, the effort of making the figure disappearing literally in a puff of smoke. The crowd would cheer.

Once the bonfire was in full flame, we would turn our excitement to the fireworks which would be next on the evening's agenda. In the meantime we kept ourselves warm by filling our tummies with soup, a jacket potato or a hot dog or hamburger. To finish it off there would be a toffee apple or Bonfire toffee.

Then the firework display would start and the crowd would "ooh" and "aahhhh" in unison as Catherine Wheels spun, spider fireworks trailed their orange legs across the dark, starry sky and Roman Candles sent shooting stars heaven bound. We would wave our sparklers around, writing our names in light. The bangs, whistles, screeches and crackles echoed across each other as the firework show came to its finale.

Bonfire night every 5th November sticks with me, the date holding a feast of childhood memories for me, like a box of treasures I can open every year on this day.Since I moved to the Netherlands in 2000 participating in Bonfire night has become harder and I have only been in the UK to celebrate 5th November twice since 2000. As my children grow up this is a track record I aim to change so that they can learn and take part in a little piece of British history and culture.

For Bonfire night really is an important,  traditional English thing. Some people back home have asked over the years "Don't they celebrate bonfire night in Holland then?" No they don't. Of course they don't - the Dutch, in general, have never heard of this 5 November malarkey. After all, Guy Fawkes made no attempt to blow up the Dutch parliament, he set his sights only on the British government. It means nothing outside of Britain.

He in fact had a cunning plan to get rid of the protestant monarch of the time by blowing up Parliament and King James I with it in 1605. The aim was to replace the head of state with a catholic one. Luckily for King James I the gunpowder plot was discovered (the anti-terrorist unit being on full alert back then too by all accounts) and the plotters were arrested and swiftly executed. End of Guy Fawkes and his friends.

On 5th November 1605, the first 'thanksgiving' was celebrated and marked with the ringing of church bells and the lighting of bonfires. Hence, why the British, over 400 years later, still light bonfires on 5th November and put an effigy (the guy, named after Guy Fawkes) on top of the fire. We do it because the fireworks represent the foiled gunpowder plot - that, and it's really pretty, and a good excuse to stand about outside in November and complain about the British weather.

This year however, we plan to rekindle a little of this British family tradition but this time here in the Netherlands at the British Society's Bonfire Night event in Amsterdam. It'll be an exciting first Bonfire night for my three sons, and I can stand outside in November and complain about the Dutch weather. All in all, a little piece of cultural Britain in the heart of the Netherlands.

Monday, 4 November 2013

NoGuPoMo: Being A Bilingual Parent by Dad's The Way I Like It

I am delighted to be able to share a father's story here about raising a bilingual child in Wales. I'm delighted for two reasons: firstly it's nice to get a father's perspective and secondly my grandmother is Welsh, as is my father. I have lots of family living in Wales who speak Welsh so this is a particularly interesting post on a personal level too. Growing up my Dad used to try and add a few Welsh words to our vocabulary, always telling us to shut the door in Welsh (cau'r drws) and getting us to count to three (un, dou, tri,) which sounded like 'in the tree' to us......

And so with no further ado it's over to Jonathan of Dad's the way I like it.

Welsh School Text Book
Photo Credit: C Hargraves
"Learning any language can involve a fun journey and a few challenges along the way. With learning Welsh, minor milestones that stick out in my mind include things like the first time I left a voicemail message in Welsh, being brave enough to select ‘Cymraeg’ (Welsh) as the language to use on ATM machine and running a Welsh language football podcast for about a year.

I moved to Wales in 2007 and live in an area where the majority of the locals speak Welsh as their first language. I’ve learnt the language thanks to Welsh for Adults courses available at the university where I work and regularly use Welsh in my working life. However, it felt like I was starting off on a new journey once we decided to raise our son bilingually. Indeed, it has been an exciting journey for both myself and my wife that has brought with it some exciting challenges and opportunities.

When reading about bilingualism before our son’s birth, I was struck by the number of different ways in which children can be brought up bilingually and the different dynamics this can involve. Colin Baker’s book A Parent’s and Teacher’s Guide to Bilingualism was a real eye-opener and full of useful tips for a range of situations.

As I am from Scotland and my wife is from England, our decision to bring up our son in Welsh wasn’t motivated by a desire to pass on a culture and a language that had been a part of our own upbringing. What we wanted was for Welsh and English to be part of his upbringing so as he could be fluent in both the native languages of Wales and become aware of the importance of both within Welsh culture. As Welsh is the first language of the majority of people in our village and the local area, it seemed the logical thing to do.

For me, becoming a bilingual parent has helped to enrich my Welsh vocabulary with words and expressions that I hadn’t ever learnt in classes. Some friends kindly gave us a book entitled Magu’r Babi: Speaking Welsh with Children that features entire sections on topics such as ‘Codi gwynt’ (bring up wind), ‘Taflu i fyny’ (throwing up) and ‘Cosi traed’ (tickling feet). Thankfully we haven’t had to use phrases from the second of those three categories too frequently so far!

Bringing up our son in Welsh as well as English has also meant that both my wife and I have been trying to learn some Welsh nursery rhymes. There are some that we have come across that are basically just Welsh versions of popular English nursery rhymes such as ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

In some ways, I feel that singing Welsh versions of nursery rhymes that exist in English is almost cheating so I’m keen to learn some Welsh nursery rhymes that don’t seem to have English equivalents  such as ‘Dau gi bach’ (Two Small Dogs). I’ve already purchased two CDs of nursery rhymes in Welsh that I have been listening to in the car on the way to work. With it being quite at the moment and having to roll the windows down, I think I could easily end up embarrassing myself if I start singing along too loudly!

My wife has got a bit of  a head start on me with the nursery rhymes as she’s been going along to a ‘Cymraeg o’r Crud‘ (Welsh from the Cradle) course that is aimed at people who speak little Welsh themselves but want to be able to use it with their baby. It seems like fun too as the classes often involve arts and crafts as well.

These classes and indeed becoming a mum, have been a real spur for my wife to learn more Welsh. As
Welsh School Book
Photo Credit: C Hargraves
she hasn’t got to know as many Welsh speakers through work, she hasn’t had the same source of motivation as I’ve had. From the day of my staff induction at Bangor University, I learnt about the status and importance of the Welsh language and started learning Welsh within a matter of weeks.

For me, learning Welsh has provided all sorts of opportunities that I would have not had access to had I not decided to learn the language. For example, I have become interested in the local music scene and been able to follow a Welsh language drama series called Rownd a Rownd that is filmed in a village where I lived for three years. Almost two years ago, I also made an appearance on Welsh language television channel S4C in a comedy sketch show where I had to speak French to a plastic pigeon.

I hope that my son and indeed my wife will discover all sorts of fun and exciting opportunities through learning Welsh just as I have. In a few weeks time, we will all be going to the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (a week long annual Welsh speaking cultural festival). To mark the occasion, I’ll be doing a bilingual (Welsh and English) blog post about this and my initial experiences of speaking Welsh to our son."

This post is republished with kind permission from Dad's the way I like it. You can connect with Dad's the way I like it on his Facebook page or on Google+.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #8 to #14

You can read why I started this project in the first 365 Grateful Project post . Here's the next instalment from the last week - all the little things each day I had gratitude for.

I don't have a photo for grateful moment #13. In fact, the only moment I was grateful that day was when it was over….. not a great day but if anything it makes me more grateful for the days that follow that are better!

Friday, 1 November 2013

An Expat Book Review: Harvesting Stones by Paula Lucas


I have just finished reading the expat memoir 'Harvesting Stones' written by Paula Lucas. It's an autobiographical expat tale like no other I have read. 

The story begins slowly, almost too slowly, on a farm in California with the rather uneventful childhood days of Paula. The relationship between her parents is functional, and Lucas' upbringing is Catholic and rather dull. With every page that I turned the tale snowballed into an even bigger, more unreal story. Only it is far from unreal - it is an honest, brutal account of real life events. And that is why as each chapter progressed my sense of urgency to reach the end of the book grew, I wanted out of the nightmare that Paula Lucas was living. I couldn't sleep another night without reaching an ending, that whilst not exactly happy, was at least an exit. 

Paula met a man, like so many of us have, and the relationship went from wining and dining to living together, from San Francisco to a life in the Middle East. There were signs early on that Ty (not his real name) was somewhat of a social chameleon, that he was hellbent on moulding Paula into his vision of a wife. I found myself willing her to get out whilst she could, say no to his plans for the future. I screamed in my head at her. But Paula got caught in the spiral of their relationship, like a whirlpool that whisked her helplessly deeper and deeper into a bottomless hell. They married and after their first child was born, Paula began to see the true beast unleashed upon her. 

As the years went by, and with two more sons to protect, Paula went through a living nightmare. She was physically and mentally abused. She was locked in her house, locked out of her house, her children punished for hugging her, she was beaten, financially paralysed. Her three children were physically, sexually and mentally abused. Her life was threatened on more than one occasion, once in a car accident and another time with a knife whilst her son was forced to look on. 

He told her, "I will hunt you down and slaughter you like animals no matter where you are in the world."

Her American passport, as well as those of her sons, were hidden by Ty. The American Embassy could not issue new ones without the consent of both parents. Her husband's family turned a blind eye. Nobody could or would help. She was trapped, convinced the only way out was in a body bag.

It took a superhuman burst of courage and determination to get out. And a thief in Germany. Paula got her three boys to the United States, but the battle didn't stop there. Thousands of dollars of legal fees later, after numerous court hearings and evaluations, restraining orders, a temporary life on the move and in shelters Paula and her boys finally started afresh. She was lucky to have the help, love and support of good family and friends. Not all victims of domestic violence are as lucky as Paula (and yes I know how ironic that sounds) so Lucas made a covenant with God that if she should escape the hell that was her life in the Middle East with her tyrant husband she would help other Americans overseas in a similar situation. 

And that is exactly what this remarkable woman did. Whilst living in a women's shelter, she founded the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC). Last year she set up the Sexual Assault Support & Help For Americans Abroad Program (SASHAA). She wrote this book, put her own story out there, to highlight a little known or cared about issue. And this is not an issue that is constrained to the Middle East, American women in Europe can also find themselves trapped, in the impossible situation of needing permission from a child's abusive father to take them back to the safety of the United States.

I have gasped, held my breath and shed tears whilst reading this book. It is harrowing. I can only imagine the daily terror that Lucas went endured to keep herself and her three sons alive. This book is a chilling account of life as the victim of an abuser. It is a tale of extreme bravery, courage and the love of a mother for her innocent children. It is written in a wonderful style that makes it very readable but this book is by no means an easy read. It is a memoir that will continue haunting, long after the last page is turned. 

You can learn more about Paula Lucas and her memoir on her Facebook Page and website. Furthermore you can read the first chapter here.


Photo Credit: Thiago Mendes
I, on a whim, decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo. That's National Novel Writing Month. That means during this month I will be furiously writing and typing 50,000 words that will eventually turn into the book I have planned to write for a long time. This is turn means I will be a virtual hermit in November and will not be writing any blog posts. Nor sleeping.

However, do not fear. Some wonderful bloggers have stepped into the void to contribute great blog posts on a range of topics from bilingual children in Wales to the stresses of expat life. It's going to be good - I'm calling this series NoGuPoMo. That's November Guest Post Month. And it features amazing bloggers that I have had the good fortune to meet along my expat blogging journey: Dad's the way I like it, Your Expat Child, The European Mama and Mama Mzungu