Sharing Our Stories

The longer I live overseas and raise TCKs, the more I firmly believe my husband and I must tell stories from our childhood. We must connect them to our family “back home” in some way. I also am coming to realize the importance of getting the stories from our parents when we are back with them. These stories are like a tapestry that is woven together to make a beautiful rug to hang on the wall.

I’m a mono-culture kid and knew my grandparents (well one set) VERY well. I spent countless summer days out on the farm searching for adventure with my cousin in the back woods. We were explorers looking for fossils in the creek bed – lost in our own world. We helped gather the eggs in the extremely pungent smelling hen house, stack hay in the barn, and feed any orphaned lambs that ended up in the house. My life was drastically different than my children – but they love to hear stories about that life – especially if they involve mom getting stuck in the muddy garden and having to be pulled out with a 3-wheeler (those were the days before the ATV), only to loose said boots.

And though my husband’s life is similar to my own children – he is a TCK; there are some differences…like furloughs in Germany where he went to a very small country school and learned how to buy cigarettes (those were the days they sold them in vending machines on the street); or the time they returned to the field and he sat in class for months staring blankly as he didn’t understand anything the American teacher said. Stories connect the past with the present.

That’s why I think it is important to learn the stories from our parents and grandparents. Take the time to sit and “interview” them when we have those opportunities. Make the most of those few weeks/months we have with them to hear their stories.

Summer is approaching and many of you will be headed back to visit family. I challenge you to sit down and write out some questions you are curious about. Write them down….you’ll forget them if you don’t because we know how we get all caught up in the cuteness of the baby nieces and nephews to remember what it was that we wanted to know. And as you are listening to the stories, record them – make a video or write it down. Then share them with your kids…I believe it is one way we can link our children to their extended family that they see every few years.

Stories help us explain to our children who we are and ultimately who they are – and possibly help them see that their own stories will only add more color to the weaving pattern of the family tapestry of life.

Need some help getting started on questions…here’s some I thought up:

  1. What is your fondest memory during your childhood days?
  2. What was school like for you? Did you go to a public school? a country school?
  3. How did you get there? Any story you can remember about a time going to school?
  4. Did you date (insert mom, dad, grandma, etc)? How did you meet?
  5. Ask about important historical events that would have happened during their lifetime and ask what they remember of that day….how did it affect them?

The Big “D” Word

MaDonna:

This post was from a few years ago – I updated it a little, but I turned to it as we are starting to prepare for a move and I will be starting this scenario very soon….but have decided that it is a good idea to declutter at least once a year or even twice. HA!

Originally posted on raisingTCKs:

Doesn’t the picture above just make you exhale – to feel like you could sit and stare at the sunset, to forget all that is going on around you? Yep, me too – in fact I’ve learned that some of the clutter that is going on around me is to my own doing – to my own collecting. This has become my equation:

Sell + Trash + Giveaway = Declutter.

To some that is a dirty word. I have to admit, I once could barely utter that word. I remember when we were first newlyweds and my husband got all excited about the first move and used the “D” word. I cringed.
“But, we might need that!” I said with clinched fists.
After about the, oh let’s say, the third move I had come around to liking the word. Declutter meant less to pack into a box and less to unpack…

View original 358 more words

Book Review: Picture Books

This month I’ve joined an online group called ReFoReMo (Read For Research Month). It’s a group that has dedicated to read and research picture books for a month. I’ve joined because, well, it’s something I’d like to do and am working towards….publishing a picture book. Anyway, in my researching I’ve discovered a few gems that would be helpful to TCKs. Below are three that I’ve found so far.

1. THE NOISY AIRPLANE by Mike Downs illustrated by David Gordon

Not all TCKs begin life in an airplane. Some are toddlers when they take their first flight. This book is a great book to introduce the experience of riding in an airplane: the loud noises, the bumps, the meals, and riding in the day and in the night. I highly recommend it if you are a parent about to take your TCKs on a long flight for the first time.

 

2. THE LEAVING MORNING by Angela Johnson/paintings by David Soman

This book focuses on the morning of the move. Although, the family is probably not moving to a new country – kids can relate to the feelings of saying good-bye to friends, neighborhood acquaintances, and even family. It’s a nice book that might help younger children understand the process of moving.

 

3. THE COLOUR OF HOME by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Little Hassan is new to the UK from Somalia. When his teacher gives the class time to paint, Hassan’s painting begins to tell the harsh story of his family and what he witnessed. I added this book for two reasons because 1) sometimes our children witness some harsh realities of life – even dangerous ones and 2) I felt this teacher was a good example in finding a way for this child who spoke no English to communicate. Although, it is not probably a book you would want to read to a younger child, it is a good book to read as an adult or an older child.

*Please know that in no way am I suggesting ways to counsel children who have gone through traumatic experiences. If your child has encountered such experiences, please seek professional guidance and help. And if it is a student, please talk with the parent/guardian first.

Book Review: RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen

RED BUTTERFLY

by A.L. Sonnichsen

Description:

Kara lives with her American mom in Tianjin, China. Her mother brought her home eleven years ago after finding her abandoned, but for reasons Kara doesn’t understand or fully know they are not able to travel too far outside their small apartment, let alone move to Montana where her dad lives. After her older sister comes to visit, unpreventable events occur that causes a domino effect in Kara’s life. She uncovers answers to her questions and learns to thrive in new, and sometimes quite scary, environments. The story is told in moving (sometimes to tears) verse.

My thoughts:

I’ve included this book on my list of TCK books because Kara is a TCK. From the beginning you sense it. She’s Chinese, but her mother is American. She looks Chinese, but feels American on the inside. Isn’t that what a lot of our children feel like? The author knows this feeling because she herself grew up in Hong Kong.

It’s also an adoption book – as there are some deep issues touched upon. We “hear” Kara’s thoughts about all that is going on around her: her fears, her questions, her sadness. I think I’ll let the book show what I’m trying to say. You’ll get an idea from this excerpt – which is one of my favorites.

Misplaced

On my way home,

like always,

I inspect

each

passing

face,

realizing

one of them

could be

her.

Sonnichsen understands adoption as well as a mother can. She and her husband adopted their oldest child while living in China.

I totally recommend this book, especially if you have internationally adopted. It is truly a good read. My only warning is that you set time aside, as it will be hard to put down. It seriously is that good.

An Expat Kind of Lantern Festival

Last week I went to the Lantern Festival with my youngest daughter. We saw many intricate designs. What interested me more than the historical pieces of the festival, were the poetic journey of a man traveling away from home – away from his home country. They seemed to reflect what many of us, as expats, could possibly feel at different seasons in our lives overseas.

I’ve written out the translated poem from Chinese to English (don’t get excited, it was there on a sign and I had taken pictures). They also provided what they called a “Poem Appreciation,” but was like brief summary of the meaning of the poem. I’ve also written that below the two poems.

So, enjoy the pictures of the life-sized lanterns and the poems that describe the scene of each picture.

 

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Za Shi “Poem”

by Wang Wei

You, who have come from my homeland,

Ought to know well the happenings back home.

On the day of your departure,

Pray tell – Have the plum blossoms outside your window bloomed?

Meaning:

Such is the joy of the man in a foreign land to meet a fellow countryman. Yet knowing not where to begin his enquiries. He starts off by asking after the smallest of things, subtly revealing his deep love for his homeland.

 

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Hui Hsiang Ou Shu “Returning Home – A Random Musing” by He Zhi-Zhang

I left home a kid and returned an old man,

My accent is unchanged yet my hair has turned white;

A child who meets but does not recognize me,

Laughingly asks “Where do you come from?”

Meaning:

People age easily, yet their homeland remains unchanged. Returning to one’s homeland after decades abroad, one cannot help but feel familiar yet distant at the same time. An innocent remark from a guiltless child draws attention to the poet’s complicated feelings in a poignant yet humorous manner, leaving readers with a lasting and profound impression.

Don’t you just love that no matter what country some one is from, they understand some of the same feelings you may have towards “homesickness” and missing friends and family?

 

 

Hiking….with kids

Hiking with kids requires a different set of goals and guidelines. I recently took the girls out by myself. We were out to conquer the little mountain that overlooks our apartment building. Please note that hiking here is steps, lots of steps.

Jie Jie has almost mastered the stairwell using one hand on the railing. This mountain is just steps leading and winding up the side of the cliff with no railing. Let’s just say, we all got a workout and I learned a few things along the way.

If you want to read more about what I learned and how you can plan a nice hike with your children read the article I wrote for Multicultural Kids Blog here.

Chinese New Year – Lantern Festival

I’ve been quiet these few weeks due to working on my other writing projects and enjoying Chinese New Year. A few nights ago I took Mei Mei to the Lantern Festival in Taipei. They did a fabulous job with such details. I really loved how they had a walk through history. Enjoy!

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“Hua Mulan Takes Her Father’s Place in Battle”

"Zheng He's Expedition"

“Zheng He’s Expedition”

He’s known in this part of the world, and in other parts as well, as the “pioneer of the Age of Discovery.” He made his expeditions starting in 1405.

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“Qin Shi Huang’s Dedication to Politics and Economics”

Qin Shi Huang Di is famous for the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, as well as unifying the country of China.

"Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch"

“Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch”

And a bit of history of the island of Taiwan.

They also had some that Mei Mei enjoyed more than others…

20150306_18522320150306_184205Later this week I’ll post a few more that resonated with me as an expat raising TCKs. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

 

Surviving Gray Clouds

“Winter Blues” by MaDonna Maurer

It’s February, and Chinese New Year is fast approaching. This time of year means beautiful colors, loud noises, and yummy eats. The bright and beautiful colors on this little island does not mean the sun. It is usually gray and dreary this time of year – oh, and cold. It has always struck me funny that this time of year is also called “Spring Festival” when it feels nothing like spring. Okay, the cherry blossoms are sometimes in full bloom. So, if you have any nearby you can gaze on those beauties, but in my experience from the past few years it has been gray and cold the entire Chinese New Year.

If you can’t tell, my attitude is totally affected by the weather. I need the sun. I live in a place where the sun disappears from January to March/April. It is a time of year where one learns the art of wearing multiple layers of clothes to not look like they’ve gained 5kg. It is also the time of year that my hot water kettle is always ready to make a cup of tea or hot chocolate. The blankets are thrown on the chairs and couch, not for decorative purposes, but for convenience. Okay, I may have a hidden desire for my living room to look like one of those country home magazines, but who am I kidding? They look like someone tossed them quickly as they scrambled to the next warm spot – their bed.

I remember the first time I realized that my attitude was being affected by the weather. It had been raining nonstop for about a month. I had young kids, so we didn’t go out so much. One afternoon the sun crept out and blazed an electrifying orange streak across the gray. I immediately exhaled, relaxed, and felt my skin and eyes smile. Trust me, you may not see your skin and eyes smile but you can feel it. I felt like a new person with tons of energy and I know my kiddos were excited to have that mom back!

After a bit of research, I discovered that we need a daily dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is free when you have sunshine. When you don’t, you have to go out and buy some. Well, that made sense to me. I bought some Vitamin D the first chance I got.

All that to say, I’ll be taking my Vitamin D tablet this evening.

Your Turn: Do you see a pattern in your life where weather affects your attitude? Share you story below. I really do love reading your comments.

**Please note that I wrote this a few days ago when it was super cold and dreary. Now? The sun came out and I had a little skip in my step walking from the subway station home from school. I love free stuff! 

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How do you Thrive Overseas?

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Photo by MaDonna Maurer

For the past few years I have chosen a word to be my theme for the year. Gone are the list of resolutions. Instead, I just choose a word. This year it is THRIVE.

Since I’ve chosen this word about a month ago, I’ve been spending time thinking, “How does one thrive in a country not their own?”

Here is what I came up with – though it not an extensive list, it is a start.

Get out – Maybe you just arrived, or maybe you are stuck inside with your kiddos, but either way you have to open up the door and step outside. Go to a local park or a playground to let your kids run around. Take time with your ipod and go for a run/walk by yourself. Sometimes we just need to unplug, and we know that exercise is good for the mental health, too.

I’ve found that living in the city has taken a toll on us. We need to get out of the city regularly, so we’ve planned times to go to the mountains or the beach every few weeks. Being in nature is just good for the soul – so even if you can’t get that far away, be creative and try to find some place where you can be outside and get some natural Vitamin D. Plants don’t thrive without some sun – and neither will you.

Get connected – Find friends. Be proactive (and this is very difficult for this introvert to do). The reason you have to be proactive is that most likely, they will not find you. They have their circle of friends, their needs are met. I have found that this circle of friendship is open to others, but the outsider has to break in. Ask someone to go for tea or a coffee. Ask them over for a dinner. Meet up to go to the beach or to the mountains. Either way, make some friends – local or expat, but really a mixture of both is even better. The locals can teach you so much more about the country you are living in and the expat can relate to your blunders and heartaches. The catch to thriving in this connecting way is to make sure that your connections encourage and strengthen you, not bring you (or the country) down. Most of the time, these friends end up being extensions to your family tree.

Get positive – This can be tagged to the last thought. It’s easy to find the negative in a culture you don’t understand completely. Sure maybe the people stare, touch, want pictures, or maybe the country is dirty, smelly, just a hard place live. Try to look past all of that to see the beauty in the place. Find others who know the beauty of the people and places and connect with them. If you really despise the place you are living in or agitated with the people, you won’t connect, you won’t go out, you just won’t thrive. Something has to change – either your location or your attitude. You attitude is a whole lot cheaper – just saying.

Please note that you will have days where things are hard – this is normal. It isn’t your culture, and you won’t understand and will get fed up, but DON’T stay in that place. Don’t let those days become weeks and then months – you will find yourself wilting. And a wilting flower is not very pretty to look at…

Get the language – I put this last because, well you can get out and start to get connected before you “get the language” like a pro. Trust me, charades and mime like gestures has gotten my cabinets filled with food many of times. And though smiling and nodding to the neighbor and her toothless grandmother can begin a connectedness, it isn’t going to go any farther until you learn the language. And this takes lots of work, but so worth it. If you have kids, it’ll amaze you how fast they pick it up and end up being your walking translators – but don’t let that become your crutch. Sign up for a class, get a tutor, have a language exchange with another mother – just get out there and learn the language. All this to say, if you can understand and be understood you will thrive – but just as a seed takes time to bloom, so to will language. So be patient with yourself, but keep pushing yourself forward.

It’s not easy to thrive in a country that is not your own, where your comfort food from “home” can’t be found, or where you find you can’t be understood at the local market – but it can be done. And though I’ve lived overseas for some time, I still have to work on the above list because well, to be honest, I do slip back into old habits once in a while – and my kids do make very good translators these days.

Your Turn: What has helped you most to thrive where you are? Please share in the comments below.

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Todays posting was inspired by Velvet Ashes, The Grove.

Joy…sometimes you just have to choose it

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy – time with family, gifts, laughter, food – oh, the food, and the time when many celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yes, Christmas is the time for joy, but sometimes it’s just not all that joyful or peaceful. I find that can be true for the expat. Like…

It is hard to be a single living in a foreign country during this holiday. I remember…

It is hard living in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. December 25th is just another workday, just like all the rest.

Some years the entire family is sick… (I’m sure we are not the only family that can relate.)

You grew up in a place where “White Christmas” was not just on a postcard, but now you live in the tropics where it is warm all four seasons. Or you grew up where Christmas was spent celebrating on the beach and now you need to wear three layers in the house because the radiators just don’t kick out enough heat to your liking.

And the family Christmas picture. To take one that has everyone smiling and looking at the camera is next to impossible. My photographer friend posted on Facebook their “other Christmas pictures that didn’t make the photo for the Christmas card” to show all the drama behind the perfect shot that did. (We haven’t even really tried this year yet…that is on my list to do this week.)

This year we went “home” for the holidays…home to my husband – well sort of “home” since he’s a TCK. Honestly, we’ve all had some culture shock moments at one time or another. We’ve been upset or frustrated sometime during this holiday of peace and joy. Yet, at each of those times for me (yes, I’ve had multiple) I have found myself having to make a choice…to choose frustration, anger, or to find and choose JOY. Let me give you an example.

Germany is known for their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets). They are beautiful, full of food and crafty trinkets to buy. It was on my list to do while we were here. Oma found one that was nearby. Perfect! Except, we had also planned for that day a visit to an aunt and a little shopping to kill time before the market opened. All this, and our kids were still on jetlag! We had taken the train, so we were bound by the train schedule. We had given ourselves less than an hour to eat and roam around the lit-up booths. I was disappointed, but decided not to say anything.  Instead chose joy and thankfulness as I grabbed my mug of gluehwein (spiced wine, or what I call Christmas in a mug) and marveled at the scene around me. I was surrounded by beauty – white lights outlining the buildings, the market stands, the trees; Christmas music playing; people laughing and smiling; and my kids enjoying their second round of warm waffles because you know bribery helps during those times of jetlag. Yes, I could have stood there angry at the less-than-perfect situation, but instead I wanted to make a memory that I could look back on and smile.

We did end up catching the later train, so we could have time to eat in a relaxed manner and enjoy wandering around and looking at each booth.

Here are some pics of that magical evening:

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Life-size nativity set up on a staged area.

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Can you see the remains of a castle on top of the hill? One of the many things I love about Europe in general…all the history!

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Kids with Oma finishing up the first round of waffles. Notice my cup of gluewein on the table?

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*This post was inspired by Velvet Ashes’s The Grove and their theme of Joy.