How to settle as an EXPAT

27 July 2016

Dear friends,

It is my anniversary, I have been living in Holland for eleven years. Eleven years that have passed in the blink of an eye but have also been an entire lifetime of experiences...

Looking back I have no idea how I did it but in the space of a single year I had major (life changing surgery), got a new job, sold my home, moved country, got married and fell pregnant. Oh, yes this lady never does anything by halves.

It was a time of intense happiness and excitement and the first year certainly felt like a holiday. We spent our weekends visiting beautiful places and living in that wonderful bubble of a new relationship. But there were also moments of utter despair and loneliness. My new hubby worked in the UK during the week and some family members found it hard to accept my desertion which caused a rift and when my son arrived it almost broke me...

Eleven years later and I can truthfully state that Holland is my home. This is where I want to be and although it does scare me that I might end up that funny english woman, sitting alone in the corner of the old folks home, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Recently during a conversation with the tribe (#tribalchat) one member shared her feelings of loneliness, living as a new EXPAT.  Another tribe member advised that she talk to me about how I did it. So how did I settle into my new life and what exactly have I learned over the last eleven years?

Tips for living as an EXPAT...

  1. Embrace your new home: You are in a different place, sounds obvious but embrace the new food, language, customs and don't try to recreate how you lived at home. Of course I still love some home comforts every now and again, who doesn't but allow yourself to try new things and avoid making comparisons.
  2. Make International Friends: Find people in the same situation as you, who know what you are going through. Join an EXPAT social group or if you have children a baby group for Internationals. I did this and met loads of new friends which helped me to feel less isolated.
  3. In the beginning it may help to: Live where there are other EXPATS. I didn't do this so it was quite difficult to socialise with my colleagues outside of work.
  4. Have realistic expectations: I thought I would be able to speak dutch fluently in the first year. Eleven years later and I am getting there. Know that shopping, going to the Doctor, talking to neighbours etc will be more difficult and you need to have confidence.
  5. Learn the language: being able to communicate with others made me feel much more at home. I still struggle with this as I often feel that my language is not quick enough to show off my personality and humour!
  6. Get out in your host community! Don't lock yourself in the EXPAT world, get to know the local people, join in with the celebrations, be involved with your community.
  7. Use technology: Become best friends with Skype or FaceTime.  Use Social Media to find local EXPAT groups and stay in touch with friends at home so you still feel part of their lives.
  8. Be prepared for culture shock! Try to visit your new home often before moving. Learn about the country you are going to and their customs.
  9. Discover some favourite places. Find some places that you love visiting and when those home town blues strike go out for the day and remind yourself what you love about your new home.
  10. Be patient! In order to settle in and feel at home, keep your sense of humour and know that adapting will take time...

Don't forget to unpack your bags mentally too. Accept that this is your home and embrace it!

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

19 July 2016

Dear friend,

Oh My Goodness, these blogging tags are like buses, you don't get one for ages and then two come along at once. But (1) I am very nosy and love finding out about my fellow bloggers and (2) I can not resist a good chance to talk about myself question. And when this second nomination for the sisterhood of the World Bloggers came along from one of my lovely Candid Cuddle buddy, fellow autism mummy and all round brilliant person Michelle  aka Rockin Random Mom, how on earth could I resist. So here goes people my Sisterhood of the Word Bloggers tag...

And the Awesome Questions Are:

  1. What was the last thing you ate? We had takeout from the Chinese for dinner. We live around the corner from one and it is so tempting to order especially when you walk the dog and you can smell what they are cooking - Yummy! In defence we were busy with some house renovation.
  2. When was the last time you had Me Time and what did you do? - a few weeks ago my best friend came to visit and we had an afternoon/evening to ourselves it was bliss! I grab my me time when the kids are at school and I'm home (I work part-time) it is usually watching Game of Thrones or Grimm in peace!
  3. What is the craziest pick up line that was tried on you? When I met my hubby he squeezed up next to me at the bar and asked, do you like nice things (I was holding a Louis Vuitton purse) he then smiled at me and said I like nice things...
  4. What was your best date ever? I love the beach. In Holland we have beach cafes and I love going to the beach cafe for dinner, sitting outside and watching the sunset with a nice glass of Rose. Happy days...
  5. What was the scariest thing you ever did? Moving to live in a new country. Leaving my family and friends both terrified and excited me, it was such a strange mixture of feelings. I can't quite believe I was brave enough to take that step but I was in love...
  6. What is your favorite thing about motherhood? Cuddles... no contest...
  7. What is your least favorite thing about motherhood? Being taken for granted
  8. What is the worst book you’ve ever read? It would probably be some boring journal of teaching that I had to read as part of my course a dry and boring manual full of long words. If I don't like a piece of fiction then I'll stop reading it...
  9. Celebrity crush? Kit Harington, Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. I was a really late comer to GOT and watched the whole of series 1-5 whilst recovering from my hysterectomy. 
  10. What’s the last song you heard on the radio? My boys listen to a radio channel in Holland called Slam FM they play dance/techno music. DJs are very big in Holland and my kids always have to have Slam on so it was definitely a dance music track but I have no idea which one. My taste in music is very eclectic ranging from Adele to Prince to Bon Jovi and Ella Fitzgerald. 

My not so awesome questions are:
  1. If money was no object, what would you do all day?
  2. Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
  3. What is your favourite memory?
  4. What has been your biggest challenge?
  5. What does your perfect day look like?
  6. University or life experience, which do you feel best prepares you for life?
  7. What is the one thing that should be taught in school that isn’t already?
  8. If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?
  9. Describe yourself in 3 words.
  10. Which animal best defines you and why?
Here is how it works: Please give me a mention for nominating you. Answer my questions. Then think of your own 10 questions and nominate 5 fellow bloggers to answer them... Easy peasy, enjoy!

Book Corner: Barry the fish with fingers

18 July 2016

My book corner choice this month is: Barry the fish with Fingers by Sue Hendra

Have you ever heard of a fish with fingers? Well neither had we until we came across this crazy but fun romp from Sue Hendra. Little Man couldn't resist choosing this one the last time we were in the English book shop and it has become a firm family favourite...

Meet Barry the fish. Barry is no ordinary fish, he is a fish with fingers which proves very popular among the other fish who have never seen a fish with fingers before.

Parenting from a special Perspective: Little Hearts Big Love

11 July 2016

Ever wondered what it is really like to parent from a special perspective? Parent to a Special Needs Child? Where do you turn for help? What challenges do you face? What has surprised you? What have you learned? Every month I will be featuring one of my brilliant fellow SEND bloggers and sharing their reflections on raising a child with special needs. 

Welcome Louise. Louise is a mum to two little girls. Her eldest daughter was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and her youngest is heart-healthy. She blogs about parenthood and life as a heart family over at Little Hearts Big Love and is passionate about raising awareness of congenital heart defects.

1. When did you first realise your child has hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS)?

We first found out about Jessica’s heart condition at the 20 week scan, and it was confirmed by an echocardiogram later that day.

2. How did you feel when you found out that your child has HLHS?

Devastated, bewildered and scared.

Parenting from a special Perspective: Little Hearts Big Love

3. Where did you first turn for help?

We were given contact details for the charity Little Hearts Matter ( which is aimed at helping to provide support and advice to children who have single ventricle heart conditions and their families. Their antenatal pack was especially good for helping us find out more about what options we had; what the future might hold and helped us to understand a little more about our daughter’s heart condition.

4. What advice would you give a parent who suspects or has just found out that their child has HLHS?

Get in touch with Little Hearts Matter – they are such a good source of information and support. Make contact with other heart families – there are several forums on social media and it really makes such a huge difference to know that you are not alone in the journey.

Finally, know that the choices you make are the right ones for you and your family.

5. What exactly is HLHS? Did you know what it is when it was first diagnosed?

It’s a congenital heart defect where the valve between the two left chambers of the heart is blocked causing the left ventricle of the heart to become very small and underdeveloped.

In the normal heart, the left side of the heart pumps the blood around the body and then the deoxygenated blood returns to the other side of the heart where it is pumped to the lungs to pick up oxygen before going back to the heart and then around the body again.

With HLHS, the blood is unable to travel through the two left chambers of the heart and into the aorta to go around the body because of the blocked (or absent) mitral valve. In the womb, there are bypass systems which mean the blood can still get to the aorta, but these close shortly after birth and so without surgery, babies with HLHS will die.

The surgery for children with HLHS is done in three stages and effectively replumbs the heart so that the right hand side of the heart is able to pump the blood around the body and then it travels to the lungs under its own pressure before returning to the heart to be pumped around the body again. Basically the right hand side of the heart is doing all the work. Children with HLHS effectively only have half a working heart.

In Jessica’s case, her anatomy was further complicated by her having a restrictive atrial septum which meant that the prognosis was particularly poor. We were initially told that post-birth surgery was very unlikely to be successful – thankfully we were offered in-utero surgery to open up Jessica’s atrial septum and give her a chance of being able to have surgery after birth.

Parenting from a special Perspective: Little Hearts Big Love

6. What are the biggest challenges facing your child and your family?

On a daily basis, the biggest challenge for Jessica is energy levels. Her oxygen levels run at about 80% and she can get breathless and tired quite easily. She also gets cold easily (which causes her to go quite blue) and this is particularly noticeable when we take her swimming (she needs a wetsuit to help keep her warm). Minor illnesses can also hit her hard – coughs, colds and sick bugs have all been known to result in a hospital admission. Thankfully most of the time though she is well and happy and over the last couple of years hospital admissions have been few and far between.

In the immediate future, the biggest challenge facing Jessica is her next open-heart surgery – the third of the three procedures that replumb her heart. We don’t yet know when this will take place, although it may well be before she starts school in September.

7. What has been the greatest help for you, your child and your family in overcoming these challenges?

My faith and the support of my family and friends. Knowing that there are so many people out there who have been thinking of us and praying for Jessica during all the hospital admissions and surgeries has helped immensely.

8. What has surprised you the most about raising a child with HLHS?

How normal family life is most of the time. All the little everyday things that once I barely dared to dream of are a reality. I’ve also been surprised about how much joy I have found in the journey because of being forced to live in the moment. It’s made me appreciate the little things even more and enjoy them because I really don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

9. What’s the main bit of/the best advice you’d give another parent who has a child with HLHS?

Connect with other heart families – knowing that you are not alone on the journey helps immensely and having others to be able to talk to during the tough times is invaluable. Focus on the here and now and don’t let the fear of tomorrow rob you of the joy of today, but at the same time know that it is okay to fall apart when it all feels too much. Let others help ease the load where they can.

10. Generally, what have you learnt about parenting, life, people or children from your experiences as a parent of a child with additional needs?

That people cope with these kinds of things not because they are superhuman, but because they have to. It is amazing how strong you can be when you have no choice but to be strong.

Louise's blog; Little hearts big love shares reflections on life as a heart family as well as posts about normal everyday family life, days out, crafts and reviews. She hosts two regular linkies – From the Mouths of Babes each Monday which is all about sharing the things kids say and Heart to Heart on the 15th of each month where heart families can link up posts.

Thank you very much to Louise for taking part in the series. I love how she shows strength and sensitivity at the same time and particularly loved her final paragraph, it is so true!

Autiquotes: Quotes about Autism

9 July 2016

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.

Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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