Book Review: Dutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

DUTCHED UP! ROCKING THE CLOGS EXPAT STYLE is a compilation of short stories and articles written about living as an expat in the Netherlands. The stories come from women who have and are living there as foreigners. These stories are well-written and very entertaining – even to this expat who does not even live in Europe.

I truly believe that if one finds his/herself moving to the Netherlands that this book should be on their list to read before moving there. The stories in this book are not just entertaining, but helpful to those learning to navigate through the culture, the language, food, and yes even help with the washing machine manual. I found myself wishing I had had a book like this for living in Asia when I first made the dive into living abroad.

 

An Expat’s Letter to Santa

MaDonna:

Okay another older post….but one that is lighthearted and one I had fun writing. I think I’d add Anti-jetlag vitamins since we are headed to Germany to visit family there. Jetlag and kids during the holidays is tough on the attitude.
What would your Letter to Santa look like this year?

Originally posted on raisingTCKs:

Dear Santa,A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

I’m sure you are one busy man this time of year. I can’t imagine, as I only have three kids, not millions to check on. I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time, as I know you have quite a few of these letters to read. So, here it goes:

This year I’d like…

1. Language – the ability to communicate clearly with the locals around me. I know I could study more, but if you could just give me the language, then I would be able to understand the man on the phone telling me that a package has arrived for us and I need to get it soon. I’d also like to be able to read in this new language. It would be so helpful with the public notices in our elevator, especially today when the water went off during my shower…

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A TCK’s Christmas Tree

MaDonna:

This is an older post, but I wanted to bring it out of the dark and dusty closet.

Originally posted on raisingTCKs:

Last time I talked about the Expat Christmas Tree, all the ornaments that we have representing the places we were at during the holiday season. Those ornaments are mine and my husband’s, not our kids’. They will have the opportunity to have them when we are finished with them one day.

My kids have their own ornaments. This is a tradition that my mother started years ago with me. When I was young, I received one ornament each Christmas until I left home.

She has carried out this tradition with my children. They each get an ornament each Christmas.

It is not anything huge or grand, but it is to them.

Each year we let them hang their ornament on the tree. They look at the train or the princess in detail and talk about the year they got that. They hang up their precious ornament with care. They brag…

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Expectation

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It’s the season of Advent, a time of expectation, a time of hope, a time to put up decorations, make cookies, and this year it is a time to pack and get ready to board a plane to Germany to visit family. So much excitement and expectations going around in our little apartment.

The biggest expectation comes from my daughter with special needs, little Jie Jie. She wants snow. It doesn’t snow in Taipei. She hasn’t seen snow in about five years, I think, but wants it so badly. Everyday she either prays or asks us to pray for snow at Oma and Opa’s. Her expectation has really gotten me thinking on a deeper level.

1. She prays consistently. She has been praying everyday – sometimes more than once a day – for the past week that there would be snow. This is a long time for her…She understands that God is who she should ask for things that are dear to her heart.

2. She believes. Sometimes after her prayers she will go to a window and look out at the city below. Then with a bewildered look she turns and silently asks “Why?” Other times, she gets excited and pretends to throw snowballs. She knows that God is going to answer her prayers…we’ll have to wait and see how. It could be a “No” – and we’ll have to deal with that if that time comes. But for now, I am enjoying it. I love the excitement she draws out of her siblings as they begin to think about the possibility of building a snowman or getting to maybe try cross-country skiing for the first time.

I’m challenged by her, though. I mean, here is this nonverbal child for the most part who is intellectually disabled praying consistently in belief that God can do this. Do I consistently pray for people or situations? And if I do, am I praying in belief that God can change a heart towards him or turn a hard situation into something beautiful? Or do I get sidetracked by all the “To Do” lists I’ve created, the prepping for this trip, or the many worries and doubts that tend to fog my mind. Or has that expectancy I once had  waned-out due to lack of persistance or dare I say, belief?

Well, those are my thoughts this evening as I sit quietly alone staring out over my screen at the just decorated Christmas tree.

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Grove. This week’s theme was “Expecting.”

Counting My Gratefulness…round two

A year ago or so I wrote this post.

Last year I was…

whining, complaining, surviving – and then God smacked me over the head with pictures on Facebook of others who were far-off worse than myself. Families who had lost their homes, lost family, lost everything. That was the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines.

I hung up a “Blessings” poster on the wall. I got the whole family involved… some evenings might have involved some twisting of arms, but they did it. It was so good for us all!

I wanted, and still do want,  my kids to have a thankful heart – to be grateful without me telling them that they should be. I don’t want them complaining about the small stuff. That chart, I believe, has helped all of us to find something each day to be grateful for.

And this evening, I’m grateful that my kids are usually….

  • happy to get a piece of chewy-type candy from our guard (really he is just an elderly man who sits on first floor to sign for mail). I’m grateful that they don’t complain about not getting the imported candy.
  • super stoked, though, for the times they do get the imported candy.
  • always excited about a bag of new-to-them clothes (read secondhand).
  • most of the time grateful for whatever is put on the table to eat.
  • happy to do odd jobs for little cash – they’re learning to appreciate the value of saving money.

I don’t have perfect children, by any stretch of the imagination. They are normal children who are sometimes ungrateful, who whine, who try to bribe me to get their way, who disobey, who test my nerves – but they have their shining moments. And it is in those shining moments that I can see God working in their life. That He is walking them through the process of life – and teaching them to be thankful. I know He’s been teaching me!

By the way…..here’s a recent picture of our Blessing Chart from last year. I’m pretty sure I’ll be putting up a new one at the beginning of the calendar year. I believe we’ve just started a new tradition.

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What do you do to teach your kids to be thankful? 

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes this week at The Groove. This week’s theme is “Thank You!”

Allowing Bravery

This week I was challenged to start writing again – 5 min. a day. To set my alarm and to write. It’s baby steps, but I believe it will push me forward. So, this weekend, I’m linking up with The Groove, over at Velvet Ashes. I haven’t linked up with them since this summer, but this week’s theme challenged me. It’s on Bravery.

I read some really good posts that challeraged me (challenged-encouraged?) One was finding bravery in the Bible and the other was on the practicality of bravery – that full-force out-of-this-world bravery. It all starts with baby-steps. Yep, you should go and read those two posts now. You can thank me later.

But….they got me thinking. At midnight – okay 1am, I’ll be honest. I know I should have started that 5-min. alarm a few hours earlier…

I always wanted to be married to a brave man. One who wasn’t afraid to go out and fight for me and the kids. Someone who would do what is right even when it was hard. A man willing to obey God completely. A man of integrity.

I got what I asked for. He is all of that – and I’m so thankful…most of the time. I say “most of the time” because you see, there are times that his bravery calls me to be brave – and that just doesn’t always “feel” cozy and safe. In fact, it feels more like a couple of liters of icy-cold soda poured over my head on a freezing-cold day. It’s extremely uncomfortable, makes me shiver to the bone, and it’s sticky.

But, as his wife, his help-mate, I should be encouraging and well, helpful. I should be a support during those times when he needs to be brave. But the biggest question that loomed over my head tonight was simply this:

Do I give my husband permission to be brave?

Do I allow him to do the hard things? How do I react when he confronts me on issues? What is my facial expression when he gets a new idea to try at school or for our ministry – that I think is too much work? What do I say when he tells me he’s looking at property, new apartments, and/or a new “job”?

Do I immediately tell him “NO way” or do I listen completely and humbly to what he is saying. Do I let him stroll easily in obedience or am I pulling and yanking his arm to slow down because either I’m afraid or just down-right don’t want to do it?

Challenging isn’t it? I’m challenged to not let my first reaction be a negative one, but to instead, respond. To stop and listen completely. To pray about it, to seek God’s wisdom – especially on the major issues that require bravery. Although, I am finding out from experience that bravery isn’t always a move. It is obedience to God ~ even in the small stuff.

How about you? Do you allow bravery in your home? I didn’t even start with the kids, but do we allow our kids to be brave? 

School Reports and TCKs

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Believe it or not, I finally unpacked the last two boxes that have remained sealed and stacked in the very back of our closet. We moved over a year ago. Of course it was the two boxes I dreaded to open. They were labeled: “Stuff from top of Desk” and “Stuff from top filing cabinet”. Which pretty much means all the junk I was too tired to sort through before we moved. Tell me you do it too. Just dump everything left into a box and seal it up to sort later.

Yep, I had a box of paper trash – but there was some good stuff, too.

I found mementos to put into the kids’ scrapbooks. Yea, I’m a wannabe scrapbooker – stress on the wannabe. 

I found a couple of books that my husband has been looking for – Oops!

I found school reports from a few years ago. As I put them with the others I remembered when my husband, who by the way has been a school principal for many years, told me to buy a folder with clear plastic sheets. One for each child. This was to be their “book” of school reports. For Ge Ge and Mei Mei, I have their Kindergarten graduation diplomas (I know such a huge deal), all of their report cards for each grade and any standardized test score results filed away in this simple book.

Why?

Simple. It is a clear record for any new school they may attend to see that…

  • They have attended school and which grades they have completed
  • Their scores in each subject for each grade
  • Their behavior and character – from what the teachers have written on the reports

As parents living overseas, most likely our children will not attend the same school they started Kindergarten in. I mean my son has gone to four different schools already – but honestly that is on the low end for TCKs. Many of them change schools every two years or so. It can be difficult to supply all the necessary records for the next school, so having all the reports together helps when it is application time.

As for Jie Jie, my daughter with special needs. I have set hers up a bit differently. Her report cards look different. Some years it is test results from the hospital where they have tracked her physical, cognitive, and self-help development. I also have her IEP (Individualized Educational Plan )from the local Kindergarten, as well as her more recent IEPs. This is mainly for my benefit as I can look back at all that she has accomplished and to plan for the coming year. Though special education classes are rarely found in international schools, this record has also been beneficial for the times that she has had a new teacher.

My school report filing system is simple, but it works ~ so long as I remember to put the report in the book and not just toss it with the other papers piled on the desk.

Your Turn: What do you do to keep track of all the school reports for your TCK(s)? Please share in the comment box below.

 

 

Learning Simplicity

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Birthdays. That word seems to have lots of emotion attached to it, doesn’t it? Think for a minute. A child begins counting down the days until the BIG day comes immediately the day after their birthday – unless you celebrate Christmas and then there is a mini-break. They are excited for the presents, the cake, the anticipation of it all. As we get older, many of us (not all) dread watching the number of candles added to the cake until it looks like one big fireball about to explode. Parents of the birthday child…well, planning out a party can be stressful, especially if you live overseas you have this idea of making the party a top-notched one right off a Pintrest page.

I admit, I have tried to be one of those moms. I have lugged party hats, plates, cups, napkins, banners, etc for all three kids half way around the world. I have a patient husband. I loved making the cakes, decorating, and planning the games to all go around the theme. Then the day of the party would come, and I’d be nervous – I’d be smiling and laughing, but deep inside I just wanted it to end. I was afraid it would flop. I know silly me, it isn’t about the party, but about the child… A few years ago, I caught on…sort of. My son got older and didn’t want the theme. He just wanted his friends, cake, and playing at the park. It was one of the best parties for me. It was easy and the kids still had a blast. Same for Mei Mei, simple with friends equaled fun.

But, what do you do for a child who has no friends?

Jie Jie has no friends. Really. She has tons of people who love her and who she loves dearly. These people range from adults, kids in her school, to people at church, but she doesn’t have friends. This isn’t a huge issue until her birthday comes around and I try to plan a party. I think her last party was when she was in Kindergarten and we invited her class – the special ed class in the local school. Of course, it was themed – Penguins!

Then we started homeschooling, and I’ll be honest every year I dreaded her birthday. Each one reminded me what she lacked – and it wasn’t just friends. I’d be reminded that she was one year older and farther away from the learning curve of other kids her age. Both facts punched the gut and I couldn’t plan anything. So, the past few years we’ve just gone out for supper and had some cake with a few presents. Then guilt would pour over me for not planning a nicer party for her. Nasty cycle.

We just celebrated her 11th birthday last week. A week before her birthday, I felt the pressure, the dread. My husband informed me that we were having a party this year. I asked, “Who are we going to invite?” He told me, “No one, we are going to have a family party.” I’ll admit, I dragged my feet and didn’t think it was going to be much fun – but then he made me go out with him to buy presents. We bought her a calculator, a flashlight, amongst some other things. We talked about what we could do – like games to play, simple decorations, and planned a trip to the zoo for that weekend. Amazing how attitudes can change once the focus shifts to more positive thoughts. My husband is such a great and wise man.

The day of her birthday, I brought her and the kids home early. We frosted the cake and set up the game, “Pin the Tail on Bullseye” that my sister had sent to use for her birthday last year. Ge Ge blew up the “Toy Story” balloons, also from last year’s package that we hadn’t used. When my husband got home, the party began. We all played the game, ate cake, and watched her open presents. We took her out to eat for supper and the restaurant sang to her and gave her a birthday balloon. This past weekend the five of us went to the zoo because that is what she wanted to do. She wanted to see the giraffes.

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It was the best birthday party we’ve had in years for her. You know those moments you sit back and watch the world around you – in amazement of your family and how grateful you are for each one? That was sentimental me this past week. I know that she would have had a blast with just cake and presents, but playing the game and laughing together was what I needed. A reminder that simple pleasures like a party is good for the soul.

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So, how do you do birthdays? Do you go all out (don’t worry, I won’t judge you…in fact, I applaud you!) Or do you do simple family birthdays? Do you have a child with special needs? What do you do? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Changing the Way I View Good-bye

“Good-bye!”

I’ve never really liked that word, though I’ve written quite a bit about it. I’ve written about how we should teach our kids to say it, how important it is, a great tool to use to go through it, and how I just feel that it stinks. I mean it sounds so final and ending. When I moved to China I learned the word for Good-bye (再見/zaijian) really meant “see ya later!” ~ my translation, but fairly accurate as it has a meaning of seeing the person again. I remember grabbing that meaning soon after my arrival. It was the bandage to my bleeding heart just after having left my family. The hope that I’d see them in a few years, that the good-bye was not final.

But, what if something happened to one of them and it was my final Good-bye?

The thought had plagued my mind at various times that were usually not convenient – like staff meetings or in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. This thought turned into a fear. The definition bandage was not enough. I needed something stronger. Out of my comfort zone, away from dear friends and family who had always wrapped up my fears with encouraging words and support, I clung to God’s Word. Hebrews 11:13-16 spoke loud and clear to me.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

(Heb 11:13-16, NIV)

Note that this passage is in the middle of the “Great People of Faith” list in Hebrews. Namely, Abraham came to mind. He left his home and family and just started out on a journey that he had no idea where he was going or when the traveling would end. Yet, he went in faith. I am no Abraham, but his example encouraged me to stay where God had placed me.

My fear became reality.

Death eventually did come. My grandfather. My grandmother. My own father. Each was difficult. There was grief. A few days before she died I talked on the phone with Grandma, the tomboy of a grandmother whose farm had been my second home. We both knew it was coming, and yet she encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. We talked like we’d see each other again. I grieved, but understood and knew that we would see each other…one day.

A few years later, the phone call came that my dad was on his deathbed. He had battled leukemia for many years, and it had began to attack his body again. His immune system was shot – pneumonia snuck in. My siblings shared with me on the phone that he was peaceful those final hours. My mind raced to the last time I had seen him just five months earlier. I remembered as I hugged and told him good-bye wondering if it would be my last. As I hung up the phone I realized that my dad knew it would be. I remembered the look in his eyes as it seemed he wanted to tell me something, but being a man of few words he patted my back and choked out “I love you.”

As the years pass I know I’ll experience more deaths. We are mortal. It is part of life. Through these years of moves and watching countless others move out of my life, the Chinese meaning of Good-bye has changed from a bandage to more of a reminder of the passage above. Taipei is not my home; nowhere on this planet is really my home. I’m just a traveler passing through this life until the Lord decides to take me to my real home. A place where there is no more tears, no more pain, no more Good-byes!

Until then, I feel that I must live the life that God has asked me to live – not for myself, but for Him who through his death and resurrection made the harshest of good-byes of this earth just a “see ya later!” I know there will still be grief, but in the midst of that grief there is hope – that sure knowledge of knowing what will come. And for that I’m forever grateful for his saving grace.

This post was inspired by The Groove and is part of a link-up with Velvet Ashes. Thanks for letting me share a bit of my heart today. Please feel free to comment below or to contact me via email.

 

The Transition for the Child with Special Needs

I just wrote about helping your children transition from the summer holidays to going back to school. You can read that by clicking on “The Transition“.

How about kids with special needs? They may need a little more time and creative ways to help them with this transition. Below are just some additional ideas to help them adjust to the transition.

  • Talk about it. Talk about what school looks like. Talk about their friends and what they will do while they are there. Even doing some role-play activities to help them get into the mindset will help.
  • Count down – Make a simple chart with the number of days left until school starts up. Let your child mark off each day. HINT: Don’t start too far away from the first day as it might be too overwhelming. You know your child, so adjust accordingly.
  • Visit the school: If the school allows it, make a trip to the school to go and see the classroom, to reconnect BRIEFLY with the teacher. (Hint: Don’t stay more than 5-10 minutes. Teachers love to see you, but they do need to get their work done.)
  • GRACE: Give your child grace and give yourself grace those first few weeks that school starts back up. Remember that sometimes change and transitions are not always what we hope or dream they will be – but they eventually do adjust.

I know I need to get started with this transition with Jie Jie. Otherwise she just may think that I threw her into the Arctic Plunge Swim.

If you have a child with special needs, how do you help them get ready for going back to school? Please share in the comments below.