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.

 

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.