Yearly Roundup

31 December 2015

Dear friend,

Here we are at the end of another amazing year. I honestly can say that I have never been so tired as I am now. I was so ready for this break. Being a mum is certainly one of the hardest jobs in the world but also one of the most rewarding. I know I don't always get things right but when I look back on our year I know that I'm not doing too bad. 

Our year at a glance

Autiquotes: Quotes about Autism

30 December 2015

My aim is to spread a positive message about autism through my writing and to help my son to grow up in a world of understanding, compassion and acceptance.

Being a special needs parent is...

Dear friend,

Being a parent is amazing, exhausting, awe inspiring, confusing... full of contradictions. It is everything and nothing like I expected. When my son was 5 he was diagnosed with autism, one of life's curved balls and we had to learn to parent a little differently. Lots of friends sent us a poem to read. It was called; Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley. Ironically most people who sent this did not have children with special needs.  I think it was a well meaning attempt to empathise with how I was feeling and perhaps they felt it had added significance as I live in Holland.  

Initially I loved the poem however, over time I have become less comfortable with the hint of disappointment expressed. Here is my attempt to describe my feelings...

Our experiences are unique and it is how we choose to respond to them that defines us. We need to trust that in the end we will all arrive at the place we need to be.

There comes a time when you have to let go, face the fear and embrace the unexpected! One thing is certain, I am going to make dam sure I enjoy the ride!

I posted a version of this post in March 2015: What is parenting from a special perspective. It was published in The Mighty.
The post was revised in November 2016.

Weekly roundup #17

28 December 2015

Dear all,

Wow this week went fast. We were really lucky to get to spend Christmas in Middlesbrough with my family and friends this year.

We arrived just in time to celebrate Grandad's birthday with a family meal in the pub. The boys were really happy to see grandma and grandad and had lots of fun with their mad uncle and cousins. 

Silent Sunday

27 December 2015

Christmas memories

25 December 2015

Dear friends,

What better way to celebrate Christmas day than a look back at Christmas since becoming a Mother. Some of my happiest memories brought together to share with you all. I hope you enjoy my rather indulgent Christmas day post. Happy Christmas everyone!

Silent Sunday

20 December 2015

Happy Christmas everyone!

Weekly roundup #16

18 December 2015

Dear all,

This was a weekend of Christmas Markets. First we visited the market in Leiden on Saturday and then on Sunday we went to Haarlem. It has really helped to get me in the Christmas Spirit, well the mulled wine did! And it was just what I needed after an extremely busy week at work. The end of term is always a hive of activity. Time with the boys has been short but we have been grabbing quality time together and playing Monopoly Junior most evenings after dinner. It is such a fab game!

Family Fun: Monopoly Junior

14 December 2015

Dear friend,

The little man was very lucky to receive the game Monopoly Junior from Sinterklaas. He played it for the first time at school and came home full of enthusiasm about it then Hasbro games had some great discount offers this month so Sint obviously couldn't resist!

When I was younger we often played games together on Sunday's. We'd usually go for a run out somewhere in the car then return home windswept and energy used up. The games would come out and Monopoly was a firm favourite. I was always the dog, mum the iron, dad the top hat and my brother the car no-one ever wanted the boot or thimble. I have mixed memories about Monopoly. My mixed feelings come from the fact that I was am highly competitive but never won (I blame it on being the youngest).

My little man was super excited with his gift but the big lad was slightly more skeptical. He thought it was too young for him. Perhaps the 'junior' tag isn't right for a 9 1/2 year old. But he decided to join in with some persuasion.

The board is very similar to what I remember but simplified. The design is bright and colorful and modern. The squares have been updated there is a computer game shop which was popular with the boys.  I did rather miss the stations. But this simplified version is much clearer and easier to follow. The playing pieces aren't metal but plastic but have been updated, we now have a dog, cat, car and boat. In our house the fights are always over the dog. 

The rules are simpler as is the money (only 1M value) but it does still require some reading of the chance cards. I think once your kids get to know the game this will become easier as the themes on the cards are repetitive. 

It is a great game for promoting social skills, literacy and numeracy. The ease of the instructions make it accessible and winnable for everyone, regardless of age or skill. The game can turn around at any minute with those pesky chance cards (yes I lost!) Most importantly it is super fun for all the family. Highly recommended for younger kids but I can see the big lad losing some interest later. Overall a brilliant game and a great early introduction to Monopoly, I wish we'd had this when I was young, I might have won!

Lots of fun for everyone!

I added my post tot he following fantastic links:

    The Twinkle Diaries

My Sunday Photo

13 December 2015

Christmas market at Kasteel Keukenhof. 

Weekly roundup #15

11 December 2015

Dear all,

This has been a super exciting week for all kids in Holland as we celebrated Pakjes Avond (present evening). On the evening of 5th December there was a loud knock on our door and two very excited boys ran to find 3 sacks of presents on the doorstep. My goodness we must have been very good.

I couldn't wait any longer and on Sunday morning (after making the lego dimension portal for the boys) I got to work on our Christmas tree. I went for a different design this year with new lights, copper baubles and beads hanging down rather than round. I love it. The Christmas decorations are minimal but the candles are plenty and it is really gezellig.

Family fun: How to make Reindeer Christmas Cards

7 December 2015

Dear Friend,

This year I really wanted to add the personal touch to our Christmas cards and what better way to do that than by making your own. Then I read a brilliant post by the lovely Aby aka You baby me mummy; 15 awesome Christmas Cards to make with kids. Aby had done all of the leg work for me as here I found the ideal card for us. A beautiful reindeer card, I love reindeers and it is a simple yet effective design that we could all help with!

How to make Reindeer Christmas cards:

  • Buy card packs (or make your own). I bought these from my local thrift store, they were a bargain at only 59 cents per pack of 8 cards. 
  • Cut squares of white paper slightly smaller than the card. 
  • Draw a border around the paper with gold pen.
  • Set out the paper on the table and make four finger prints on each piece (or 3 or 5 according to the number of people in your family.) 
  • Use acrylic paint and high quality thick paper. Tip: The finger prints worked best when we used less paint, brush the paint onto your finger sparingly then print or wipe the excess paint off on the side of the dish/on some paper.
  • Leave the prints to dry.
  • Use permanent marker to draw on eyes, antlers and ears and red felt pen for a nose.
  • Write the Chistmas message using gold pen.
  • Finally stick the paper to the cards.

Tip: use special scissors to make a zigzag line for a different look.  

Tip: Use googly eyes to decorate some of the darker reindeers.

We were really happy with the finished product and I hope our friends and family will like them too. 

Silent Sunday

6 December 2015

Weekly roundup #14

4 December 2015

Dear all,

Hurray, I am very relieved to report that our bathroom is finally finished. It is such a joy to be able to shower at home and not have to rush to the Mother in laws every evening. I think she is probably relieved too! 

The boys asked to have a gourmet evening on Friday much to my delight, any excuse for family fun time and we decided to make Friday a Family night, packed with yummy food, board games and lots of fun. A brilliant start to the weekend. 

Autistic people do show empathy

2 December 2015

Dear friend,

I love our conversations around the dinner table. I really feel it is so important to sit around a table on an evening share a meal and talk together. It has become one of my favourite times of the day, especially on a day that I work because this is maybe the first 'proper' conversation I have had with the boys.

I don't know how it is on a morning in your house but I am normally found rushing around, making sure they're dressed, have eaten their breakfast, the dog is fed, school bags are ready etc I sometimes feel like an army sergeant barking commands at his company, poor kids. Anyway, I digress...

The other evening at dinner we were trying to sort out our schedule for the week. The boys regularly announce that "Mark is playing tomorrow" or "I am going to Dave's" and we are generally OK with that but we like them to 'ask' as there may be other plans. At first I found this strange as I was used to the mum's arranging the play dates not the kids but I have learned to go with the laid back flow here and as long as the boys are happy that's fine.

The little man announced that he had a friend coming to play tomorrow then the big lad said, oh yes I have 'friend' coming too. But he didn't look very happy about this so I asked the question; Is there a problem because you don't look very happy about it? What he said next totally knocked me off my feet.

I don't really want to play with 'friend' he is not really one of my 'best' friends and I find him a bit annoying but no-one really wants to play with him and I think that's not nice for him so I think that I should. 

I have read so many times that autistic people lack empathy. This can be linked back to the work of Simon Baron-Cohen on Theory of mind.

Yet, I do not believe this as here is another example of my big lad demonstrating perfectly that he does have empathy for others. In a previous post I have also discussed how he almost seems to feel the emotions too much.

Theories develop as understanding grows and Simon Baron-Cohen and his team are conducting further research at Cambridge University into Theory of Mind. It appears that empathy has now been broken down into two distinct areas:

ToM is the ability to attribute mental states to others, to infer what someone else is thinking or feeling. It is one of the two major components of empathy, sometimes known as 'cognitive empathy'. The other major component is known as 'affective empathy', or the drive to respond with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental states. Our work is showing that in Asperger Syndrome it is primarily cognitive empathy that is impaired, whilst affective empathy is intact. In classic autism, both components of empathy may be impaired.

If I understand this corectly then my big lad is showing signs of affective empathy, responding with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental state. 

For me, however this is just another example of the complexities of autism and a reminder of how no two autistic people are ever the same. But ultimately it a moment to feel immense pride that my son is growing up to be such a kind and caring person.

Family Fun: BBQ Party

30 November 2015

Dear friend,

We are massive board game fans. I love it when I come home from work and one of the boys asks, do you want to play a game mum? Playing games together is a great way of getting quality time. We regularly play after dinner.

One of our favourite games at the moment is BBQ party and it is in the running for game of the year in Holland (according to the TV advert). If you are looking for a fun game for Christmas I would highly recommend it. Here's why...

The game looks great. I love the BBQ design and the food pieces are well made and a great size too so no worries about breaking them.

Silent Sunday

29 November 2015

Heusden in the Netherlands.
This photo is unedited.

Weekly roundup #13

27 November 2015

Dear all,

The end is in sight our bathroom is almost ready! I can't wait! It has been a major challenge as both the big lad and I have had a rather nasty case of the tummy flu. But this week I had a treat, a fantastic weekend away with friends. A girls only weekend of chatting, drinking wine and shopping. It was just what the Dr ordered. We stayed in a B&B near Den Bosch that was styled beautifully and set in fantastic surroundings. I am super proud of myself, speaking Dutch, comfortably all weekend as I know I wouldn't have had the confidence or ability to do that a year ago.

Book Corner: Love Monster

23 November 2015

Dear friend,

I love reading and spent many a happy hour as a child curled up under my duvet, torch in hand reading fantastic tales that exported me to magical lands, other times and took me on great adventures. I want to pass that love of reading on to my children. I love it when you find a book that also teachers them something and I think my book of the month does this brilliantly.

Book of the month: Love Monster.

Love monster by Rachel bright.
Harper Collins. ISBN: 978-0-00-744546-2

Silent Sunday

22 November 2015

Weekly roundup #12

20 November 2015

Dear all,

This week began in a flurry of excitement with the arrival of Sinterklaas in Holland. It was a super weekend with a good mixture of Sint madness and relaxation too. We remain shower less although work is now well under way. All the business has meant that we haven't had as much Family time but the boys have been enjoying playing Board games after dinner and I have tried to switch off, log off and be more in the moment with my boys after work. I have felt the pressure this week. This weekend I am having a well earned weekend away with some friends and I can't wait...

Groundhog Day

18 November 2015

Dear friend,

Sometimes having a child with autism is a bit like being stuck in Groundhog Day. Here I was in another waiting room, biding my time while my son receives therapy.

It took me back to one of my very first posts. A piece that I wrote a long time ago near the beginning of our autism journey whilst sitting in a similar waiting room and reflecting on our situation.

What if anything has changed since this point?

My original post:

Today I sat, once again, and waited for my son to finish his physio therapy. I spent the time flicking through a magazine but not really reading. It was simply a mask for my thoughts. Perhaps I should be glad of this time, a much needed spare moment to myself. In the past I have been. But today I felt myself wishing that I could be anywhere else in the world.

During my day dream I was watching him play football, at swimming club, at street dance or at band practice. For most children of this age their world is just beginning to open up and new social horizons are being explored. I would love for my child to experience their world; somewhere he does not feel confusion, anxiety, uncertainty and simply 'unsafe '.

Instead I bring him here in an attempt to help him understand his "busy body" then I take him home and allow him to play for too long on his computer.

What remains the same?

Our big lad still has autism. You may think this is a strange statement, given that Autism is a lifelong condition. But after diagnosis (AD) I did daydream that they'd got it wrong. Wishful thinking perhaps but this was echoed by some family members and then supported by sensationalist journalism with articles claiming a cure had been found or a child had miraculously 'grown out of' their autism at age 9 etc

The big lad is still having therapy. We still sit in waiting rooms whilst these amazing people do their best to help our son.

The big lad remains at 'normal' school. We were advised to move him to a special school but ignored this advice because we felt he was well supported and happy where he was. The special v normal school debate is a difficult and highly individual one which must be based on the needs of the child. This is something that I still worry about. I have got no doubt that we made the right choice but we need to carefully monitor the situation to make sure it remains the correct option.

We are still a happy family. The boys have a great relationship. The little man adores his big brother. I feel having a sibling has been of great benefit to the big lad's social development.

Hubby and I are still together. We had heard that a large proportion of marriages fail. At times it has been tough but we have pulled together and we make a great tag team for each other.

What has changed?

Therapy has changed. There is not as much (no physio or speech therapy) and he doesn't have it all the time, he has it when it is needed. There is more time for him just to be a child.

We have changed. When I read this post I recognise the mother who was doing her very best but who felt overwhelmed and I can feel a hint of sadness and pain in the writing. A sense of loss. But the person who wrote this around 4 years ago no longer exists. Hans Asperger called it 'Looking with open eyes'. Instead of us looking at how we can change our sons behaviour (essentially cure him) we are looking at what we can do to support him, understand him or teach him.

Asperger talked about a need for the teacher to themselves become 'Autistic'. Perhaps that can also apply to parents of autistic children as five years later hubby and I regularly ask the question; Do you think I am autistic too?

I am no longer frightened of what the future will bring. Nothing has turned out as we imagined and whilst we are realistic we are also optimistic. I am inspired by people like Temple Grandin and Steve Silberman who are looking at autism in a more positive, almost revolutionary way. Not as a problem to solve but as a group of people or a person to understand and value! A powerful message.

The big lad has changed. He has grown in confidence and developed into a funny, caring, kind, handsome, crazy, sensitive, computer loving, tenacious young boy who we are extremely proud of.

This isn't Groundhog Day this is Thanks Giving.

It is a time for me to give thanks for my fantastic son, amazing supportive family and the wonderful people who have all helped us to arrive at this place where our future looks so much brighter!

Family Fun: Sinterklaas arrives in Holland

16 November 2015

Dear friend,

Saturday brought much excitement to our house. The little man has been asking for weeks when Sinterklaas will arrive and this weekend much to his delight, he finally did. For those of you that don't know what Sinterklaas is, it is a Dutch children's festival that is celebrated every year in Holland on 5th December. (If you want to find out more you can follow this link to wikipedia.)

The build up to Sint began weeks ago:

The little man made his list with Papa, he couldn't wait!

Silent Sunday

15 November 2015

Due to all the questions I have added a link to an article: What the bleep is Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet?

Weekly Roundup #11

13 November 2015

Dear friend,

What a great week! The tooth is feeling much better and I can eat again. Hurray! We had a visit from fantastic family friends from England who I have known all my life. I loved showing them around and it made me really look and appreciate what an amazingly beautiful place we live in. Even though the weather hasn't been great we still managed a few trips out and had a lovely afternoon at the tea house in the park.

Family fun: Chocolate chip cookies

9 November 2015

Dear friend,

My nick name is kitchen princess as my cooking skills are not great but I still love to bake with my kids. I often use the easy method; a mix in a box, especially when we are short of time like this week when I had yet another hospital visit.

In Holland you can get some great baking boxes. Here we used a mix by Home Made. The instructions were super easy to follow and it only required water. Great if you're short of time or skill like me. I promised the little man I'd make it up to him next week!

Making Chocolate Chip Cookies

My little chef. I love his outfit. He won it during a game of bingo at Centre Parks last year.

Silent Sunday

8 November 2015

Weekly Roundup #10

6 November 2015

Dear friend,

This week I have been recovering from my dental surgery.  The swelling has finally gone down and I am able to start eating more than soup and yoghurt. It has been a busy week with work as it was parents' evening. I don't like working late because that means I only get to see the boys for about an hour before bed but thankfully it doesn't happen too often. And as usual we still managed to squeeze in lots of family fun!

Family fun: Making toilet roll animals

2 November 2015

Dear friend,

It was half term last week and for us that means extra long cuddles in bed and late breakfasts. The little man couldn't wait to get started on making these toilet roll animals from Trash 2 Treasure so here he is still in his tiger onesie (so cute). 

Making cardboard roll animals

I like using craft packs as I am not super creative and we don't have lots of craft materials hanging around our house but I do want to make things with my kids so they enable me to do that. 

The trash 2 treasure pack cost 3 euros. Excellent value considering the good quality materials supplied.

Silent Sunday

1 November 2015

Weekly Roundup #9

30 October 2015

Dear friend,

This weekly roundup is really almost 2 weeks as the first week was our half term holiday. I was torn between wanting to rest and recuperate after a busy half term and our recent illnesses and not wanting to waste our days away doing nothing. I think we found a happy medium. Fun days at home, crafting, playing games and visiting the library and a museum day, beach walk with kite flying, indoor playground visit and a cinema trip. Wow I think we need another holiday now!

Dad's no shit approach

29 October 2015

Dear friend,

Have you ever noticed how people have a natural positivity, a built in need to tell each other things will be ok. I'm all for positive thinking and I will often be the one found handing out tea and sympathy and uttering reassuring words to friends, family etc I have changed my mind!
Why today?
Well today I had my wisdom tooth removed and I really wish someone had given me it straight; look Catie this is going to really, bloody hurt!

I knew I was in trouble when the dentist announced, this is a nightmare! A procedure that normally lasts 20 minutes took almost an hour. Bloody typical! I walked back to the waiting room, ice pack firmly in place. Hubby had the good grace to look suitably shocked when faced with a stunned looking Quasimodo but played it down in his usual fashion; I thought you'd been ages.
No really!!!

During the car ride home I relived my horror with a smattering of very colourfully descriptive language much to hubby's amusement! But seriously, does this only happen to me? Given the easy route or the difficult I always seem to opt for the hard version.

I was transported back in time (possibly through the haze of pain) to car journeys to or from hospital with my father. His approach to nursing was quite unique. When faced with an injection, procedure or operation he not only gave the facts he embellished them. His favourite answer to the question, Will it hurt? No, of course not, well it won't hurt me (with a huge grin). He would then go on to tell you how massive the needle was or some horrifying tale of auntie so and so's second cousin once removed who had his finger cut off with a rusty knife.

I'd either be laughing or so worried about the massive needle (that ended up being a fraction of the size he'd said) that it was not as bad as I'd thought. Even if it wasn't good I wanted to be brave for him, not to let him down. Come on you big girls blouse, he'd say. That's the voice I heard when the last piece of my tooth was stuck close to the exposed nerve and the dentist was considering giving up.  Not the oodles of lovely people who'd said, you'll be fine. Don't worry.

Pretty words aren't pretty if they aren't real and true.

I have decided to call it; Dad's no shit approach and it got me thinking of other occasions we could use it. I think I could start some successful campaigns;

1) Childbirth: the pain isn't over as soon as the child's born. No you'll feel like your peeing fire for weeks.
2)  Injections; not just a scrape!  Injections pinch like hell and then leave you with a dead arm for a couple of days.
3) Tooth extraction; akin to being beaten around the face with a crowbar!
4) Mamogram: like someone running over your boob!
5) Smear test: having your insides scratched by a rusty nail.
6) Stitches: the needle stings like a bee then when it feels like part of you has died they try to pull your skin off.
7) Wart or verruca removal: actual torture through burning, painful for hours.
8) Eye drops; like getting shampoo in your eye.

I'm not so sure it'll take off...what do you think?

Disclaimer: I wrote this at 3 severe pain!

Family Fun: Halloween Pumpkin decorating

27 October 2015

Dear friend,

As hubby works in the flower business we always get great pumpkins but this year he surpassed himself. I decided to be a little bit more adventurous with our pumpkins. I usually do the standard carving which is great and always pleased the kids but I let myself be seduced by the amazing things on Pinterest. I asked the boys to take a look and choose a design they wanted to try. The little man picked, Minions, naturally and the big lad went for a mummy. Take a look at what we made.

Minion pumpkin

Family fun: Naturalis

26 October 2015

Dear friend,

We have been talking about visiting Naturalis for ages and finally got around to it during the half term holiday. Hubby took a day off and we had 2 free museum tickets from the post code lottery to use so what better way to spend a day? The natural history collection at Naturalis is the 5th largest in the world with over 37 million objects and it is right on our doorstep, in Leiden. 

The boys were excited to see Freek from the Dutch TV program; Freek's wild world but I was totally amazed at the sight that met us at the entrance. Nature's theatre: An exhibit of just about every species of animal and insect you can think of. It was totally amazing. The big lad and I spent ages finding the names of different animals and their countries of origin from the large catalogues of information displayed.

Next we headed down to where it all began the Primeval parade and took a look at the truly fantastic display of dinosaurs, prehistoric animals and their fossils. It fascinates me that these things are millions of years old, how privileged we are to be able to see them up close. But I don't think the boys really understand that yet.

The longest skeleton was that of the Camarasaurus, at 18 metres the head looks over the second floor. It was excavated in America and brought to Naturalis in 1996, where it was put together. The boys looked tiny next to it.
I was really impressed with how interested the boys were. The little man loved the information points and my big lad let me wax lyrical about fossils and how they were formed.

The Earth gallery has a huge rotating globe in the middle put together from satellite images. It is the very realistic and also the largest of it's kind in the world.

The Super senses  exhibition was the most fun. Here the boys were able to investigate how animals rely on their senses and how they are far more developed than our own. We got to smell, hear, taste, see and touch lots of cool things. The boys especially liked making monkey noises.

We loved the Dodo skeletons, what a rare find! My favourite exhibit was Triceratops live part of the Research in Progress exhibition, palaeontologists are currently at work in America recovering 3 possibly 4 Triceratops (1 young) that were found during the recovery of a T-Rex. The T-Rex is due to be displayed in 2016 but you can currently see part of a Triceratops skull. The Giant Japanese crab was also a sight to behold and the little man liked scaring mum with the bird eating spider and posing with the flying squirrel (or squirrel from Mario as he liked to call it).

What an amazing day and great value too at 9 euro per child (adults 12 euro). I would highly recommend it and we will definitely be making a return visit to see the new dinosaurs exhibition. 
Our Family fun, museum visit was a huge success! 
Don't you just love making memories with your kids?

Liked this post then check out more of my EXPAT series here.

Silent Sunday

25 October 2015

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