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Friday, 31 May 2013

A Very Special Friday with Varya of Creative World of Varya

I met Varya through the Multicultural Kids Blog and I am deeply impressed by her creativity and her great ideas for different art projects to do with children. Varya is also mom to a spirited little girl who I am sure has inherited her talent and creativity from her mom! Please check out Varya's blog- I am a  follower, and maybe encouraged by Varya's posts, I'll try my hands at different art projects? Thanks, Varya for the great post and the inspiration!

How to decorate a bag for birthday present

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My daughter loves painting. Painting is very relaxing for her. She can created for a long time and she uses a LOT of paper. I always feel bad to throw away these creations and a while ago I decided we will just upcycle them - make wrapping for presents, re-use for other craft and recently we also started decorating bags that we carry presents in for her friends' birthdays.

In China everything comes in beautiful packages. Sometimes the package is much bigger than the content! Over the past few years I have collected various paper bags from different occasions. However, these paper bags have designs and names of the shops and it isn't always appropriate to use them.
So here is a very simple idea for you and your child to utilize any paper bag and reuse it! Whenever we talk about reusing (upcycling) my daughter's art, we also talk about how we don't waste resources and that reusing something helps us protect the environment.

This craft is appropriate for children from 2.5 up. Though if a younger child is interested - you can always involve him/her into the peeling and sticking process!

You will need:

1 paper bag with handles (we removed them first and put them back in once we were done)
Some of your child's pictures (drawings, paitings, finger paintings etc)
Double-sided tape

Variation: Make your own paper bag from upcycling materials, such as soft carton boxes, thick construction paper!

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How to make it:
- Apply double-sided tape on the edges of the bag and randomly in the middle. Remove the paper gradually as you stick on the pieces of paper.
- Stick the pieces of paper in order to cover the whole bag. The more colorful your child's pictures are - the more fun the end result is!

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The bags are ready to be used! These creations are always a big hit with friends and family!

I hope you enjoy decorating your own paper bags!

Varya blogs at The Creative World of Varya about encouraging  creativity in children. Being an early educator and a mother of 2, she strongly believes each child is born with talents and abilities which we - parents and educators - should help them discover and nurture. Everything that she writes about is based on her personal experiences throughout the years of teaching and parenting.
Varya works with children from birth to 6 years old, parents and pregnant women. You can connect with Varya on FB (http://facebook.com/xiaomeishujia), Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/vasate), Twitter (http://twitter.com/Varya) and Sulia (http://sulia.com/littleartists).
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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Multicultural Blogging Carnival: Food Traditions

blini with ham, cucumber and chives

It's Multicultural Blogging Carnival time again! And, again it is hosted by Annabelle of the Piri-Piri Lexicon, and I say kudos to Annabelle for hosting two great blogging Carnivals in such a quick succession. 

This time's topic is Food Traditions, and I think I just may have the perfect recipe for this very occasion.

You see, I am lucky to come from a family where food was very important. It was also very delicious. My parents are both great cooks, but their approaches are totally different: My father looks up new recipes, invents new meals, and just loves to cook. My motherused to cook a lot when Poland was communist and there was nothing in the stores- croissants, bread, you name it, she made it.  After the fall of communism, she happily let my father cook. 

But there are dishes she still makes and when she makes them, it's something special. Take her borscht, for example. We have it every Christmas and the accompanying "uszka" (dumplings filled with wild mushrooms) are a source of fights between my brother and my father ("What you only made 150???? When are you going to make enough?). I must add that they are very hard to make. And how do I know? Because I help making them.

But for this Carnival I will be submitting another of my mom's recipes: blini, thick pancakes with buckwheat flour and yeast. They're not only delicious, but  also pretty much symbolize everything about how our family makes their own traditions out of every culture they've encountered. We eat them for Christmas and Easter.My brother wishes we would eat them every day.

This recipe comes from my Ukrainian grandmother, who married a Polish man and lived in France. It has been passed on to my mother, who is Polish (with some Jewish roots) but lived in the Netherlands. She married also a Polish man who grew up in France, and it has now been passed on to me: a Polish woman, who spekas German and lives in the Netherlands. I have been craving blini for long time (because I wasn't able to try them for Easter), and this Carnival gave me the perfect opportunity to go and try it. 

They were a delight, light and fluffy and delicious! So, without further ado, I'm giving you the recipe.

You will need:

200g all-purpose flour
200g buckwheat flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter (+ a lot lot more for frying)
approximately 3/4 liter of milk
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
30g fresh yeast (I used two packages of instant yeast, they were 7g each).

Some fillings: caviar is supposedly the best but I don't like it. Other options: fish (such as salmon or hering), ham, hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, sour cream or creme fraiche, onions or chives. Sweet blini are also not unheard of!

If you're using fresh yeast, dissolve it in a cup of luke-warm milk. Add sugar, and wait until bubbles appear. If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.

Seperate egg white from egg yolk, melt the tablespoon butter.

In a large bowl, mix 100g of each flour. Add the milk and the yeast, the melted butter and egg yolk. Add milk until you'll get a batter that is as thick as pancake batter. Don't add salt just yet! Set aside until doubled in size.

Add the remaining flour (both wheat and buckwheat), salt, again milk until you'll get a pancake-like texture. Beat the egg white until stiff and carefully fold it under the batter.

In a pan, melt some butter and with a ladle pour some batter into the pan. It should be quite thick. Wait until the edges become brown and then turn and fry the blini on the other side.

Serve unfolded, with your favourite toppings: My favourite is the one pictured in the photo above: with ham, cucumber, sour cream and chives. My brother loves to add eggs, my parents prefer the fish.

It is a perfect dish for children because you can let them choose. The blini I made on Monday made my whole family very happy and completely satisfied by blini craving. Until next time. Enjoy!

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Monday, 27 May 2013

7 tips for finding your blogging inspiration

I am very surprised that almost 2 years into this blogging thing I have never run out of ideas for blog posts. On the contrary, somehow every day, I come up with something new to write about. I could write 5 different blogs and always have blog post ideas. My friend asked me where I got my blogging inspiration from. My answer was that the inspiration is everywhere, but that’s not very helpful, is it? So, I decided to write a list of things that inspire me to write. 

Also, I am currently taking part in the Social Media School organized by my friend Renee of Zestee Concepts. Last week’s topic was blogging and as homework, we have to write and share one blog post with the group and I thought this post would be a good idea. So here are some tips where to look for inspiration.

1)      Your life
If you pay attention, crazy stuff happens to you every day. Sometimes it is something you see while shopping. A discussion that you have overheard. Something that made you happy or it made you mad. Especially all the things that push you out of your comfort zone and that change your outlook on life. I had the police being called on me, I had to learn a new language and navigate through a totally new healthcare system and get used to new cultural norms. All of this is pure blogging gold! Of course, it doesn’t have to be so traumatic or life-changing. Sometimes, even the smallest events can make you write if you let them.

2)      Your family and friends
Often it’s a good idea to share something personal. It can be a family anecdote, the hilarious thing your children did this morning, or something you can write with a specific person in mind. For example, one of the reasons I am writing my blog is so that my family back home can see what I am up to. When a friend was going through difficulties, I thought up a list of things to do to help a friend when they’re in need and you can’t help them because you live abroad.  If Manuela hadn’t asked me her question, I would never have considered this to be important. But since she did ask, I wrote this post because maybe more of you will have the same question. Other friends also make me think about new blog posts by asking questions and sharing their experiences. Above all, my children are the driving force behind this blog. They teach me something new every day and I want to share that!

3)      Other bloggers
I am sure if you have a blog, you’re reading other blogs, if not to see what others are writing about your niche. I am sure some of them make you think, some of them will make you angry and sometimes you feel that you just couldn’t agree more! All of this is a great source for potential blog posts! Other bloggers are crucial for any blog and are responsible for many of my blog posts. Also, have you considered taking part in blogging carnivals or writing guest posts? Try that and you could suddenly find yourself writing even if you didn’t want to! Last but not least, the community feeling that comes from communicating with other bloggers through Facebook groups or in real life, can easily make that sparkle become a full-blown blog post. This is not only the case for blog content, but also for writing styles and blog layout and design! I try to read many blog on many different topics. Some of them are not related to my niche, but they always give me something to think about and then my thoughts may just turn into blog posts!

4)      Books and films
Sometimes you can read a book or watch a movie, and find yourself thinking about it, and end up writing a whole blog post, even if it’s not connected to your niche. If you’re blogging in a certain niche, you’re probably reading books about that niche, am I right? If you’re finding yourself pressed for more blog fodder, try writing a review of the book you’re reading, or the movie you’re watching! I read two books on multilingualism and wrote the reviews as well! I am a book addict. I will devour each and any book I can get on my hands. And I love watching films and TV series. Recently, I have read “Loud Hands. Autistic People Speaking”. It is in equal parts inspiring and gut-wrenching, and I have found myself thinking again about topic such as being different and alternative forms of communication. I am sure that I will write something that has been inspired by this book very soon- I just need some time to process this. Also, even if you’re reading books and films unrelated to your niche, it can give your brain a break and thus more energy to write.

5)      Your head
The cool thing about blogging is that it allows so many different perspectives! If you show 10 bloggers an apple, you will end up having 10 different blog posts, all of them inspired by that apple. For example, you can write an article how apples make you happier. Or a blog posts about how your child got apple smashed all over the table. This is less about reality, more about perspective- the way you see the world, the way you make connections in your head. Sometimes two things come together in a very surprising way, such like for example winter and an employer getting fired. Or photography and laundry. Just let your thoughts run wild for a while and see what happens. The results can surprise you!

6)      Your hobbies and products you love
Hobbies are great for blogging because it is something you love doing. There are hobbies that make great blogging topics for every blogging niche (such as photography or design), and there are hobbies specific to certain blog niches (such as learning languages, being an expat, technology). Fact is, you can make a whole blog out of your hobbies! Or you can incorporate your hobbies into blog posts. Hobbies can be also useful for blogging because they clear your head for new ideas, especially if they’re not related to your blog. Products are another great, if rather unexpected source of blog posts. What about sharing a great product you have encountered, or events you have participated in? You can also write product reviews. Let your readers know what you have (or haven’t) appreciated in a product and why!

7)      Your blog and its readers
If you find yourself lacking for blog posts ideas, look at your older blog posts. You will find that they need to be corrected, or explained in further details or tackled under a new point of view. The additional benefit of doing this is that it allows you to keep your blog updated at the same time! And this is true for content as well as for design- maybe you can try to give your blog a makeover! Go and read the comments, check the discussions going on your Facebook page. Check what people say about your niche. Often your readers ask inspiring, important questions. You can use the input for further posts! Or you can ask a question and make a post from the answers! The possibilities are many. Readers are an invaluable part of every blogging community. I love and read every comment and reply to it. Some of them make me think about what I am writing here. Others just want to say that they liked my posts- both are a great source of inspiration! I will also have a guest post by a reader coming very soon! How exciting is that!

What are your sources of inspiration for your blog posts? What do you do when you find think you have nothing to write about? Please share!
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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Sometimes, it takes a book to explain one word...

My friend Roberta said something about some words needing a whole book as an explanation. I got inspired, and though such a quote would look great on a meme.

What do you think?
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Friday, 24 May 2013

A Very Special Friday with Annabelle of The Piri-Piri Lexicon

You have already met Annabelle. She first interviewed me on her blog, and then agreed to sponsor my first giveaway! Annabelle is French, her husband is Portuguese, they speak English together and they live in Germany. All of these languages and cultures are present in their family! Annabelle used to be a researcher on multilingualism and is very committed to raising multilingual children, and she is also an extremely talented craftswoman who makes multilingual and eco-friendly postcards, wedding invitations, mini business cards (which I love and use myself!). In her post, she tackles the difficult culture shock and gives awesome advice on how to get out of it! Thank you, Annabelle! 

Culture  shock: our 3 steps to get out of it

Culture shock does exist. It is not just something you read about and think "yeah, it won’t really apply to me". You can get culture shock when you move within Europe too. It is not limited to cultures which are worlds apart.

As a French student going to live to Britain, initially for 9 months, I am not sure I ever felt any kind of culture shock. Sure, I felt homesick on a few occasions but these only lasted a few hours (or days at the most). I quickly made a great group of friends and life seemed quite easy.

As a family moving to Germany, things are very different though. Culture shock has hit us all, maybe unexpectedly, in the last few months. Hopefully, we have hit the bottom of the culture shock phase and are now on the way out of it. It may have taken longer than some studies describe (often around 6 months) but several family worries made us hit that low point over the past few weeks (or, dare I say it, months).

When we first arrived and for the first few months, we were definitely on that honeymoon phase, discovering our new city, setting up our new home, adjusting to our new life. We were out every weekend, cycling around, visiting new neighbourhood, food markets, parks, etc. The fact that we arrived in the spring was good too as we enjoyed the nice and warm weather straight away. It was a great change from North East England. Friends and family came to visit. We were busy and loving it.

But as time passed and we settled into a new routine, our new life started to take its toll. Two years in, we still know few people here. Germans are not the warmest people and getting to know them takes a lot of effort. Getting invited to their house is even harder even with kids around. They don’t really do small talk unless they are genuinely interested in you. Added to the fact that I work from home, and so meeting few local people through work, it has been difficult making friends.

The realization that this culture shock and our new life here was not going very smoothly has taken time too. Now, it is taking all of our combined efforts to pull ourselves out of it. Beyond the typical advice of getting out, creating situations where you will meet people, here are some steps we are taking to get out of this phase and make it work here :

- Quality time with the family: we are making a conscious effort to plan weekends and holidays with plenty of fun and quality time for us all instead of staying at home and feeling sorry for ourselves.

- Language lessons : of course, we need to improve our German even more. We both did take lessons when we first arrived but for various reasons, they were not ideal. We are having a rethink and getting organised to start new ones. Yes, language lessons are great to meet people in the same situation, but if you are not learning much language, it defeats the point too.

- Focus on what matters : we are trying to develop coping mechanisms for the things that annoy us here (letting go, anyone ?) or find alternatives for what we don’t like. Talk, talk, talk with people who understand or who feel similarly. But also, don't forget the friends back home. And focus on what matters most : our family’s happiness.

Annabelle is a 30-something French passport-holder married to a Portuguese-passport holder (aka P). They met and lived in England for 13 years (so feel a connection with the British too). Their daughter (aka LJ) was born there and they moved to Germany when she was 13 months old. She considers herself a part-time stay-at-home maman. In a former life, she used to be a researcher in language acquisition and still do bits and pieces related to it. She also runs a small business from home that sells eco- and multilingual- friendly paper goods They speak 4 languages on a daily basis and aim to raise our daughter as a young global citizen.  You can find Annabelle on her blog, The Piri-Piri Lexicon, Facebook and Twitter! And don't forget to pay her a visit at PaperPapelPapier, Annabelle's very awesome multilingual cards business! 

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Mother tongue vs. family languages

It is carnival time again! This time, I am taking part in the Multilinual Blogging Carnival, hosted by Annabelle of The Piri-Piri Lexicon. If you write about multilingualism, you can take part, too, by submitting your blog to the Carnival site. I haven't written anything about multilingualism for a while, so I am taking this opportunity to write about mother tongues, and whether the term is useful for multilingual families. Thank you, Annabelle for the idea- and for hosting this month's carnival!

What is mother tongue? I have found many definitions of this term. The three of them include: the language that your mother speaks (in Polish we say “język ojczysty”, your “fatherland’s language), your strongest language, and the language you have learned as a child. It is also often described as the language that you dream in, the language that comes most easily to you.

If you ask a monolingual person this question, the answer will be easy. Since they speak one language, that language meets all the three definitions specified above. However, if you ask a multilingual person what their mother tongue is, the answer will be more complicated.

If I would take into account the language my mother speaks, I would have to say say: “Polish and English, and French and German, and some Dutch and some Italian”. Notice that I don’t speak all the languages my mother does. Now, what about my father? Then I would have to say: “Polish and French and English, and German, and Russian, and some Spanish and some Italian”. I don’t speak all the languages my father speaks, and I speak Dutch, and my father doesn’t.

As a child, I learned 2 languages, Polish and German. Even though I identify more with Polish, and wouldn’t call myself a native speaker of German, I speak it at a much higher level than all other people who learned a language later in life. Are both my mother tongues?

What about the strongest language? Speaking is one thing, but what about writing or reading? Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa describes the experiences with her three children and she asked them what their strongest language was, in terms of speaking, reading and writing. Surprisingly, all children gave different answers when it came to choosing their strongest language. Also, while one preferred using one language to speak, the other was more apt in reading or writing in this language. The answers were never the same. As for me, my Polish is still best, in terms of speaking, reading and writing. My spoken German is just as good, even if I am not as fast of a reader in this language because I haven’t read much in German lately. My written German is fine, even though I prefer not to use it for writing. I read in English just as well as in Polish, and my written English is good enough for blogging and communication purposes. So even though I learned German earlier in life, English is catching up fast due to the fact that I spend a lot of time communicating in this language.

As for the language of dreams, I can dream in Polish, German, English and (surprisingly) French, but never in Dutch. I count (and this includes counting months, weeks, etc.), in Polish .You could ask me how many apples there are on the table, and I’d go: “jeden, dwa, trzy”, and look up to you, and say: “three”.

So, maybe the term “mother tongue” is not very helpful when describing the linguistic situation of multilingual families? I propose the term: “family languages”, which has the benefit of being inclusive of all the languages spoken in the family. For example, my family languages are Polish (because I speak it), German (because my husband speaks it), English (because my mother speaks it and I speak it), French (because my father speaks it and I have French cousins), and yes, Dutch (because while we don’t speak it at home, our children do and they are part of the family).

The term “family languages” instead of “mother tongue” doesn’t make us choose one language that we speak best, and it allows us to include all the languages that we use in a family, no matter what the fluency in speaking, reading, or writing. Also, it includes all siblings who have different language abilities and preferences.

What do you think?
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Monday, 20 May 2013

The 3 letter pig

Today will only be a short litte post since it's a holiday in the Netherlands and the girls are at home. But I wanted to share this little "art project" (which is so simple it doesn't really deserve that name) because it is fun and simple and involves letters. Using letters, you will be making a pig.

You probably know this one, but if you don't, you'll be surprised how funny it is. Of course, it is even more fun when done on paper, but Paint is not that bad, either! So, here we go!

First, you need to draw a capital "E". Like this:
This will be the nose!
Then, add a capital "M", just above the nose. Like this:
The "M" will make the ears!
Now, the pig needs some legs. So, to make the legs, add 2 sets of capital "W's", like so: 
And now you have the legs!

And, the last thing you need a small e to make the cute little pig tail! See here:
And now the pig has a tail and you're almost done!

Now the only thing left to do is to connect all the letters!

Add an eye, and you're done!

I kind of think this is a very very cute pig, and so easy and fun to do! Enjoy! 
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Friday, 17 May 2013

A Very Special Friday With Leanna of All Done Monkey

Today is definitely not my kind of day. First, the workers came to do something in our house. I was home with the children, the workers were, well, working, and everybody was loud so now I have a headache. The fact that I didn't sleep well last night doesn't help. Also, outside it is raining. Again.

Luckily, Leanna came to the rescue with this great post. In it, she describes her husband's experience of being corrected.... by a three-year old. I met Leanna through the Multicultural Kids Blog and she is a kind, wonderful person. Check out Leanna's blog ,with the great name, All Done Monkey- it seems that after the interview with Adam we're not done with monkeys just yet!

When Daddy Has an Accent - Alldonemonkey on The European Mama

We knew this moment would come, we just didn't expect it to come so soon. Sometime before his third birthday, our son began to correct my husband's English. "No, Daddy, it's party," Monkey insisted, though this is what my husband had said. 

My husband has a very light accent in English, but it does show up in certain words, like "party," which is exactly what the hippos in the book were trying to do. To Monkey's ears, it sounded like his father was having the hippos go "potty" - an entirely different story! We are raising our sons to be bilingual in Spanish and English, using the One Parent One Language (OPOL) method. Since I am from the US, I speak to the boys exclusively in English, and my husband, who is from Costa Rica, speaks to them only in Spanish. Although we are lucky enough to travel to Costa Rica periodically, for the most part our Monkeys are immersed in the English-speaking environment of the US. And, of course, so are we. Which means that although my husband has made an heroic effort to speak to the boys only in Spanish, they do regularly hear him speak English as well - to me, to friends, to people on the phone. And - much more rarely - to the boys.

One instance when this tends to happen is at bedtime. We have had a lot of luck finding books in Spanish for the boys to read, but of course many of their books are in English. And so, at night Monkey is likely to ask us to read him books that are in English. When it is my husband's turn to do bedtime, he usually translates into Spanish as he reads. These days, however, Monkey is at an age when he likes to hear a story told the same way every time, and so my husband will often oblige and read the books in English. But since Monkey spends most of his time with me, he is used to how I read the stories, including how I pronounce the words. And so lately he has started to correct his father, just as he would correct him when my husband skips a part of the story or teasingly begins to talk about the Dog in the Hat instead of the Cat.

To Monkey, the above exchange ("party" vs. "potty") was insignificant, but to my husband and me it was a sign of things to come. How will our Monkey feel about our accents as he gets older? Will he be embarrassed of my Spanish, or try to help my husband with his English? I suspect the next turning point will come when he starts school and begins to care about what his friends think. Will being different make us the "weird" parents or (fingers crossed) the "cool" ones? More significantly, how will our son see himself?

Something in our favor is that we have many friends with accents, since they come from Mexico, Colombia, the Phillippines, Iran, and India, among others. So hopefully having an accent will seem as normal to Monkey as not and just one more difference to enjoy rather than ridicule. Do your children correct your accent? How can we use it as a way to teach about heritage and diversity?

Alldonemonkey.comLeanna is a stay at home mother to a sweet, funny, rambunctious three year old boy and his adorable, smiley baby brother.  She draws inspiration from the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith and tries to raise her Monkeys in a fun, spiritual, loving environment.  She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, are raising their boys to be bilingual and bicultural but more importantly to be “world citizens.”  Having studied anthropology, history, and library science, Leanna now trolls the internet and Pinterest for recipe and craft ideas. ”All Done Monkey” is her attempt to make sense of it all.
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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

“The Five Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make On Social Media” by Molly Quell- Review and Giveaway!

Social media consultant Molly Quell (who also happens to be  my friend) wrote a book about mistakes small businesses make on social media, and I was very lucky to be able to review this book.

Molly is an experienced social media strategist and has worked with countless businesses of all sizes to boost their social media presence or learn how to use social media to their best benefit. In her job, she has seen and corrected tons of mistakes, and in this book, she shares these tips with us.

“The Five Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make On Social Media” is divided into 5 chapters, each one of them dedicated to describing one mistake and finding ways to correct it. Some of them are obvious. Others I found surprising. For example, did you know that you don’t have to be everywhere on social media? That not every company needs a Facebook profile or a Twitter account? Do you know what is the best time and frequency of posting? Why appearances are important? Molly’s book answers all these questions, and more!

The big advantage of this book is the fact that it is comprised and to-the-point. You will find only the most useful information there. Of course, it doesn’t go in depth about social media but that  was never the point. Instead, “The Five Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make On Social Media” will provide quick answers to any questions a social media user may have.

All in all, this is a very helpful book. If you’re a small business just starting your social media journey, or a more seasoned user who still has some questions, this book is for you. Even if you’re an experienced user of social media, I would advise you to read it anyway, because some answers may just surprise you! Personally, even though I don’t have my own business, I found this book very helpful and it answered many of my questions I had about social media in relation to my blog.

I was lucky to read this book, and now you can do it, too! Molly has agreed to give coupon codes for the first 10 people who’ll comment on this post. The code will allow you to get 50% off when buying her book!

To enter, please leave a comment and answer the question: which aspect of social media do you wish you knew more about? Please leave your email address in the comment as well so that I can contact you and send you the code! Alternatively, if you're not comfortable with leaving your email address, you can contact me at olencja.ba@gmail.com- just let me know that you're one of the commenters and I'll email back the code as soon as 10 people comment! Thank you!

Molly Quell is a social media consultant who has lived and worked all over the world. Born in the US, she currently resides in the Netherlands where she focuses on helping small businesses and startups develop their online presence. When she has time, she writes and has been published in a variety of newspapers and magazines. She has just published her first book on social media, The Five Biggest Mistakes, available for sale on her website, where you can see her other professional work: www.mollyquell.com. 
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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Nominated for the Sunshine Award!

The sun must be shining on me regardless of the weather because I got nominated for the Sunshine Award, which is a blogger-to-blogger award for blogs that inspire and bring sunshine into people’s lives. It is a great honour and I accept! As with these awards, there are rules:

1)  Thank the blogger who nominated you: what you to Madre Exilio over at Madernidaden2lenguas! Check out her blog which is amazing and in two languages- not an easy feat!
2)      Post the award images in your blog. See above!
3)      Tell 7 facts about yourself:

I love living abroad but I miss my family and my city
I spend too much time online (something I’ve been trying to avoid)
I love going for walks
I think a lot, sometimes too much
I love dancing and would like to start a dancing course
I enjoy learning new things, such as languages, activities and exploring new interests
I love being a mom!

              4) Nominate 5-10 other blogs and let the writers known about their nominations!

De Su Mama- I simply cannot tell you enough how much I love Vanessa’s blog! It is beautifully designed, and full of great recipes, ideas and thoughts.

Diary of a Nomad Mom- Lynn’s blog makes me laugh with every single post. She is funny, she is clever, she is inspiring.

Kids Yoga Stories- it is because of Giselle I started doing yoga with my children. They get it more and more every day!

Bilingual Monkey- because of all the great tips and funny posts that you can find there!

Invading Holland- Stu’s blog won the Bloggies this year, and apart from that, he’s absolutely hilarious!

Adventures in Integration- Nerissa has helped me a lot with blog promotion, and her blog is also full of useful tips and funny stories of her life in the Netherlands

Mama Mzungu- Kim’s blog has inspired me to become a World Mom’s Blog contributor. Her thoughtful and funny posts on parenting across cultures always make me think- and inspire me to write more posts!

Learning to be the Light- I am a huge fan of Christi’s writing. It is beautiful, thoughtful and funny all at once. She covers important topics such as being a step mom, multilingualism and her life in general.

Dutch Australian- Renee is a friend of mine, and I think she has superpowers. She has two girls, works as a social media consultant and photographer, runs a professional parents website and blogs at Dutch Australian. Oh, and she also runs a great social media class I am currently participating in.

Discovering the World Through my Son’s Eyes- Frances’s blog is well worth a visit. It discusses multilingualism, but you will also find many crafts, arts and ideas for multilingual learning at home or in the classroom!
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Monday, 13 May 2013

Can the Dutch health system make pregnant women feel guilty?

When I called the nice assistant at the birth centre I planned to give birth in and enquired about pain relief options, she gasped a little, and then uttered the m-word: “medicalized”. It sounded cold and distant and basically insinuated that a medicalized birth was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. When I went to my 6-weeks post partum appointment a while ago, the midwife felt sorry for me because I was not able to have my “dream” birth in the birth centre.

So I wasn’t, but I didn’t feel guilty, but why would I? Aaah, I see. Because the birth wasn’t “natural” enough. I totally get it that in many countries women feel that they don’t even have the chance for having a natural birth. I get it that women are made to feel guilty for even wanting a natural birth. In the Netherlands, midwife-led birth is the norm. I had friends who had homebirths (and I had planned one myself), I have friends who had successful VBAC’s (vaginal birth after caesarean). I have friend who had a natural, pain-relief-free birth with twins. All of these friends are very happy with their birth experiences. Good for them!

But I also have friends who were not satisfied with their experiences because they were refused pain relief. Friends who had to fight for their elective C sections with a breech baby because the midwives insisted on trying to deliver them naturally first, or friends who laboured for hours before they had the C section. I have heard stories of infections and defects missed or misdiagnosed. And, stories like mine- where people felt sorry for me because I was in the hospital, and making women feel guilty just because they chose to have pain relief.

I used to read homebirth stories from Birth Without Fear or similar websites. Then I discovered a great site called Happy With Hospital Birth with stories by women who gave birth in the hospital and were actually happy with their choices. Amy Tuteur of the Skeptical OB started a website called “Birth Without Guilt”, also collecting stories from women who were made to feel guilty about giving birth in the hospital, having an epidural, C section or induction, or then bottle-feeding their babies. I'm afraid that in the Netherlands, where natural births are the norm, many women would be made to feel guilty for similar reasons.

Who is to judge for women’s choices as to where and how their births are going to take place? I was happier with the hospital stuff, who took care of me and my baby than I was with my midwife, who dumped me for something that wasn’t my fault. The midwives also weren’t happy with my choice to have a doula. I then realised that for me, it is not the place of birth that is important, and not what happens during birth if mom and baby are healthy, physically and mentally.

When my doula asked me what was important to me during labour, I answered: “The right people”. The first time around, I had no one to support me, even though I was surrounded by people. The second time my husband was there but he was anxious and afraid, and also had to take care of Klara. The third time, the girls weren’t with us, and we had a great doula whose support was absolutely invaluable, and who also motivated me to get pain relief.

So, who’s to judge me for my birth when I was absolutely satisfied with my experience? I still have to smile when I think of Markian’s birth.

Maybe, instead of judging women for their birth options, maybe we should ask whether they were happy with the choices they made? and if they weren't, maybe we could ask what went wrong and support them better the next time? Instead of just assuming that all women want natural births, we should accept their choices no matter what they are?

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Sunday, 12 May 2013

It doesn't take a village to raise a child. It takes the world!

Even though I am artistically challenged, I made this meme. Do you like it? Do you agree with it?

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Friday, 10 May 2013

A Very Special Friday with Adam of Bilingual Monkeys

This Very Special Friday is different from the others in that it's not a guest post, but rather an interview. But I am beyond excited because the man I am interviewing is no other than Adam Beck of the really cool website Bilingual Monkeys! Can I have some applause here? 

I came across Bilingual Monkeys a while ago, and found myself inspired, informed and entertained.  Adam's blog was actually responsible for my own blog posts (see here  and here) Adam is a great writer, he gives fantastic tips, is extremely committed to raising bilingual children, and he makes it all seems easy!

So, here he is! Ladies and Gentlemen! Please give a warm welcome to... Adam Beck! (more applause, please!)

1. Tell us more about yourself, please. What is your background? When did you catch the multilingual bug?

I’m originally from the United States—from Quincy, Illinois—and I’ve lived in Hiroshima, Japan since 1996. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in English and Theatre Arts and I worked for many years as a playwright, director, and drama teacher, particularly with children. When I came to Japan, and began working as the ESL and drama teacher at Hiroshima International School, many of my students were bilingual. This is when my passion for supporting bilingual children first started, and has since continued with my own children and as a tutor of bilingual kids in Hiroshima.

At the same time, I’m now a freelance writer, serving as the chief editor of the English content for the Hiroshima Peace Media Center, blogging at Bilingual Monkeys, and writing novels.

2. When and why did you start blogging? Has it been an enjoyable experience? What are your favorite posts? Where do you draw inspiration from?

I launched Bilingual Monkeys in the fall of 2012. A couple of months earlier I had finished my first novel, which took several years to complete, and I felt like I needed a change of pace before beginning a new one. As I had gained good experience in my work with bilingual kids over the years, and thought that sharing this experience might be of benefit to others in the world, starting a blog seemed like the right step. I enjoy blogging a lot, and the feedback I’ve received from readers has been very positive, very gratifying, but I must admit that producing high-quality content on a regular basis is a continuous challenge. I feel like a mouse on a mousewheel!

My blog posts are generally inspired by my own experiences as a teacher and parent. Although my circumstances are naturally different from other parents, the practical challenges of raising a bilingual child are similar for all, and this, I think, is why my articles can resonate with parents everywhere. At the same time, I try to write with a sense of humor and readers seem to enjoy this aspect of my blog, too. In fact, my most humorous posts have been among my most popular, like “I Want to Be Bilingual”: Letter from a Newborn Baby http://bilingualmonkeys.com/i-want-to-be-bilingual/ and How to Fail Miserably at Raising a Bilingual Child http://bilingualmonkeys.com/how-to-fail-miserably-at-raising-a-bilingual-child/. These posts are hard to write, but I feel a thrill, as a writer, when I can successfully convey serious points through humor.

3. What reactions have you received when you tell people that your children are bilingual? Mostly positive or negative?

In Japan, where almost everyone is monolingual in Japanese, bilingualism is rare and highly admired. In addition, because English is studied widely here, but few people learn to speak it well, this make a child who’s bilingual in Japanese and English even more unique. Although my kids attend a Japanese public school, and so supporting the English side of their bilingual ability isn’t easy under such circumstances, the fact that English skill is highly valued in Japan is certainly an advantage when it comes to my children grasping the value of their minority language.

4. What is your experience of raising children in another country? Did you experience culture shock? Did your wife and children? How do you deal with cultural differences?

As I’m now a long-term resident of Japan, and my children were born here, we’ve never really encountered any sort of “culture shock” as a family. The only culture shock we experience, in fact, is during our infrequent visits to the United States!

In terms of cultural differences between my wife and me (and between the whole country and me!), as the years have passed, I’ve gotten a lot more patient with the sort of situations that would once provoke irritation or frustration. It helps enormously, too, that my wife and I have a very similar outlook when it comes to parenting and raising bilingual children.

5. You seem to be a busy parent. How do you juggle your job, being a father, and your children’s bilingualism?

The fact that I’m the main source of my children’s exposure to the minority language, and yet not the main caregiver, makes their bilingual upbringing a significant challenge. It certainly helps that I’ve been working from home since they were small, but finding sufficient time for both my children and my work is a daily juggling act. The truth is, I’m constantly dropping balls and picking them back up again when I’m able. But one ball I always keep aloft is their daily dose of exposure to English.

6. What is your biggest challenge in raising bilingual children, and children in general? How do you deal with it?

Because my kids attend a Japanese school, and their time at school, and time spent doing homework for school, will continue to increase as they get older, my toughest challenge will probably always be the limited amount of time I have to nurture higher-level literacy skills, particularly their writing ability. But I try to remain mindful of this challenge and I make persistent efforts, each day, to advance their literacy development.

7. What is your advice for parents raising bilingual and multilingual children? Is there one secret for successfully raising multilingual children?

My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids http://bilingualmonkeys.com/my-best-tips-for-raising-bilingual-kids/ offers a lengthy list of ideas that I consider important—and it’s the full combination of these strategies, really, that leads to success. However, if I had to point to one key practice, it would be this: read aloud to your children in the minority language from day one and continue this practice, day in and day out for at least 15 minutes a day, as long as you possibly can—even after the children have begun reading on their own. I’ve written a lot about the great power of reading on my blog, such as The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child http://bilingualmonkeys.com/the-secret-to-raising-a-bilingual-child/, and I urge all parents to put books and reading at the very heart of their efforts.

Adam Beck, a writer and long-term resident of Japan, is the blogger behind Bilingual Monkeys http://bilingualmonkeys.com/, a site of “ideas and inspiration for raising bilingual kids (without going bananas).” You can also find him on Twitter!
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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Sit! Drink! Milk!

So, last time I reported on Klara’s progress, but what about Julia? And I fail to mention her progress just at the time when I decided to give her more attention. But this is only because Julia’s speech development is pretty much normal, while Klara’s was slow. But I totally forgot that even normal speech development is nothing short of amazing.

So, Julia can walk now. She still looks like a little duck, but it is, I must tell you, a very cute little duck. She has learned to walk just shy of her second birthday and with new-found ability, her speech, while it was on an age-appropriate level a while ago, has now exploded.

Listening to her, I feel like being commanded around all the time: “eat!”, “sit!”, “drink!”, “Pajamas!”. Sometimes, there are fun little sentences: “Mama, eat!”, “Sit here!”, and so on. I love listening to her talking and talking all the time!

She does talk a lot. Quite a big part of her talking is not understandable, just babbling. Other times, it sounds like whole, grammatically correct sentences, mostly in German (“Was ist das?”). When she wants something, she says: “Ich auch”- talking about herself as “I”, not as “Julia”. Sometimes, she does the same thing in Polish. I suppose that I spend the most of my time with her and so she learns Polish the usual way, while her German mostly comes from Klara, whom she wants to emulate.

What I find the most astounding is the fact that Julia can pronounce the different “sh”-sounds in Polish, clearly and without any problems-Klara still struggles with some of them. I’ve been trying to teach her letters, and it seems to be working, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

I am very impressed with the speed at which Julia is learning, her vocabulary often being enriched by up to three words a day. It may be normal, but for me, this is fantastic!

And, last but not least, there is the beauty of her. While she was a small, elfish baby with a hair colour that didn’t resemble anything at all and didn’t really grow until she was maybe a year and a half, she has developed into a stunning toddler with huge grey-green eyes, curly strawberry-blonde hair and a smile that makes hearts melt.

I know that every mom see her child as beautiful but it doesn’t happen often that your child gets photographed by strangers.. but this is also a topic for a different blog post. 
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