FAMILY REUNION

Since the beginning of September we are the proud parents of our fourth boy and our children are the proud brothers to a brother from a different mother and father. I am talking about Joey, our Korean exchange student who will live with us for the next 10 months. If this wasn’t enough to adapt to, my parents from Germany arrived at roughly the same time for their first ever visit to Canada.

This is what you need to know about these two grey, but still highly active grandparents:

My father speaks basic English only, my mom speaks none. My husband speaks only English and with my parents limited English skills the three of them form a harmonious trio. I often wonder why my parents haven’t taken a language course at Community College!  Let’s hear the logical reason from my mom:”Why doesn’t Dominic (aka husband) learn German instead?”

My Dad conveniently forgot his driving licence for this trip, my mom doesn’t drive at all. They brought a Vancouver travel guide, but so far forgot to open it.

Therefore, I am the chosen tour guide. For the last two weeks Mrs. Google and Mr. Tom-Tom have been my closest friends – together we navigate the big unknown!

My parents are still young enough, very active, healthy enough and like going places. My mom is right when she says: “We didn’t come all this way just to sit at home.”

Needless to say, life as I know it has come to a standstill. I don’t know about you, but with my parents to visit I am doing things I normally wouldn’t consider doing – like sitting in the BIG RED TOUR Bus, exploring the sights in Vancouver.  But I must admit, sitting on top of the bus was an eye opener. Now I know that Vancouver is not big, not old, not historic, but its beauty comes from its location: The scenery is mind boggling wherever you look!

On Granville Island Dad was magically drawn to the Kaiserhaus Bratwurst und Sauerkraut. But surprisingly he opted for the sweet sour Chinese noodles instead. He recognized the dish from his Chinese restaurant back in Germany. My German Mom, the more adventurous part of the duo, opted for French Crepes (?) instead.

I also persuaded them to go on a beautiful bike ride along the river dykes in our neighbourhood. This round trip normally takes me three hours, but with my active 60 plus bikers in tow it took us nearly six hours! I must hand it to my mom: after cycling during the immense lunch time heat, after giving her German buns a grilling workout and her hard assed daughter only allowing one pit stop, I only heard her complain once! Aren’t they amazing? I am exhausted, I don’t get things done, and our children have to walk home from school alone because I am so preoccupied with their grandparents.

The only ongoing complaints about their trip are the ridiculously high prices for alcohol. This German couple can’t refuel on coffee and hot chocolate alone! And when they finally find a pub they get a near heart attack when they receive the bill for two pints of beer: $16.00! With this fatal beer experience they figured: “We could have gone to Scandinavia instead – drinks are as expensive there, but we are much closer to home!” Of course they are kidding, they won’t find their grandchildren there!

After two weeks of non-stop action I finally followed Dominic’s advice: I will put them on the train with the city map in my father’s hand.  Mom remembers the one place closest to her heart: Robson Street!  A happy place for strolling shopaholics!

On this note I will raise my glass to my very extra-ordinary parents who have their flaws, their die-hard habits and who can drive me crazy to say the least!  But they are my parents, I feel very blessed to have them- and I love them for who they are.

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Childhood Memories, Nordseeinsel SYLT: Blessing or a Curse?

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This awesome picture is my Past

Dear Island, You are responsible for shaping my early childhood memories.

I blame you for setting a high standard for every other island I visit.

You are the reason why for example I prefer eating shrimp fresh from the boat and not at a fancy restaurant.

Subconsciously you make me compare every beach I walk on. Every other one is too hard, too dark, too muddy or has too many pebbles.

My mother is convinced your wonderful, healthy air is responsible for my overall good health (North Sea air contains a high amount of salt- which in turns equals healing power!)

This is not your fault – I should blame my parents for dragging me to you, year after year. But even now, as a “mature” woman the love affair continues. I left Germany over two decades ago, today I live in Vancouver, but the memories remain!

It has to stop, right here and now!

Believe me:  Nothing compares to you- nothing compares to these wonderful Nordtfriesen islands up in the top left hand corner of Germany.  The Friesen-style houses only look good on the islands; sunsets look spectacular when you watch them from your Strandkorb with a glass of cooled white wine in your hand.

Friesen House

You are the love of my life, always will be, but it’s time to give something else a chance to shine, to  be extra-ordinary!

The following is your lesson I have to learn from you:  If I want to fully appreciate the beauty of something else I have to stop comparing!   Sylt, you are not better, you are only different!

Sylt, I imagine we can form a harmonious partnership – but this may also be the reason why I never attempted to live with you! In my mind you are perfect- and I don’t want to be disappointed. I’d rather live with the illusion than be proven wrong by reality.

Instead of living with you permanently, I will enjoy you in short spurts whenever I return. And when I visit you it will be with another bottle of wine from “Gosch.”(The islands most popular fish and wine bar) It’s fun to watch the rich and beautiful (in Germany that is) strut their stuff.- Or shall I rephrase this: the many wanna – be rich and of average looks waddling past.  The idea of paying to walk along the beach is still unheard anywhere else in the world, but then, you have your reasons for charging us!

This was then, this is now:

Pender Island is one of the Southern Gulf Islands, lining the coast of Vancouver.

Like the rest of Vancouver, Pender is understated. If Vancouver holds the trophy of one of the worst dressed city in the world, Pender Island needs an award for “Easy Going” and “Hippy Chic”!

These two islands are worlds apart – but oh so special in their own unique way!

On Sylt you are judged by the clothes you wear, the size of your wallet and the colour of your AMEX card.

On Pender you don’t show off, you are not here to shine with your new trophy wife – you come here to just be yourself!

Pender is a rough beauty, raggedness on an unprecedented level.

Nothing cries “chic” or “sophisticated” here. Nothing eludes arrogance. Everything is so nice and refreshingly normal on Pender. Let it be the local residents or the day visitors.  I have seen and tasted more organically produced fruit and veggies on Pender, I have noticed more hand produced – or – crafted items here than I have ever noticed on my childhood friend.

If Pender is the rare diamond found on water, then Sylt is the fine cut and polished sister. And I love them both!

Extra-Ordinary places are found around the world and yes, my heart is big enough to carry them all!

The Move

(Warning, this is a long one, but it is the introduction for everything that will follow…)

Our whole family recently moved from The Netherlands to Maple Ridge, BC, Canada.

Our family includes the American husband, our teenage son (15 years of age) our pre-teen (12 years) the youngest one (9) plus my German self. Reason for the change in scenery was our search for adventure, more space, wild nature and the language. And frankly speaking, after 12 years in the Flatlands of Europe, we just learned everything there is to know about the Dutch-Way-of-Life. Prior to our departure we both operated successful businesses- my husband as a self employed business coach and trainer, me as the proud owner of Strawberry Lounge.

What you are about to read is not an account of the vast differences in Dutch vs. Canadian attitudes or culture. Far from it- I am going to de-mystify the belief that

“You can only move countries, (or continents in this matter) prior to the arrival of your children or when your children are younger than elementary school age”.

We heard about this as well. Unconvinced about this wives tale we were more worried about the following two scenarios.  First, love would strike any of the boys and second, our own increased age would label us “unsuitable to be of any valid contribution to the country”. If we wanted to make the move, we had to move now.  We didn’t have any family, friends or business connections to rely on. It was up to us to make it happen!

On arrival to Canada we explained to our children they had one of two choices to make. To either live in the past or to give it an honest shot here in Maple Ridge. The Netherlands was the past, Canada is the present and will be our future.

Six months down the road we figured it out.

Our kids are happily settled in their Elementary or High School respectively. Each of them took their time to adjust to their new life. Unsurprisingly, our youngest son had the least trouble. Only two days after arrival he found his soul mate just two doors down the road. The middle son took his time and spent a couple of weeks on facebook, posting openly his mistrust and hate about his new home.  But let me tell you, after spending a birthday party with his new class mates it is all easy going with him. He happily mingles with his new mates on his way home, turned into an enthusiastic street hockey player and entertains the whole street in our den. And our teenager? God knows- he is a young man of few words.  But what we can gather from his tidbits, he thinks it is cool here. He also joined the neighbourhood street hockey team. To earn some money he scored himself a baby – sitting job, earned himself a cool mountain-trail bike doing chores for an elderly gentleman and made friends with other like minded souls.  He is good! When our boys talk about their previous life and their friends left behind, they sound fine. We can’t hear regret or sadness in their voices.

Let me share with you what helped make our transition so easy:

All of us speak English. Due to our back grounds we brought up the children tri-lingual. Daily life is easy with the same lingo. Watching TV, reading books or mingling doesn’t cause a problem. The school system is fabulous: The Canadians don’t believe in holding a child back. If any problems are encountered they get help along the way as much as possible. Both younger boys get extra help twice a week with their writing and grammar skills. Brando, the oldest, actually excels in every given subject! If you decide to move countries, make sure you are familiar with the new language.

Find a house and neighbourhood for the whole family.

Our original plan was to live in isolation, to live with as much space as possible. We lived like sardines in The Netherlands. Canada is the second biggest country in the world. Why should we cramp our style here? For some strange leap of faith we decided to buy a house along a totally different spectrum. We both fell in love with our new residency, situated in the heart of a neighbourhood.  Honestly, this is the best thing we have ever done!  Our new neighbourhood swarms with children and their parents are extremely nice and entertaining too. Thankfullywe have more boys than girls on top of our ridge and the ages range from seven to 14 years of age.  Each of our boys found the right match.

Our street is a cul-de-sac.  In the afternoon and early evening hockey nets are spread across the street to slow any traffic down. During hot afternoons our yards are transformed into battle grounds for water gun fights, they serve as backdrops for movie making, for hide and seek games or any other creative gimmick to pop into the heads of the boys. If the weather god plays tricks on us we have Plan B. All the houses have an entertainment system in their basements.

All parents have an unspoken agreement: We feed whomever we find in our house. Due to this arrangement our kids discovered KRAFT DINNERS and fell in love with MACCARONI & CHEESE. Because all our neighbours are so nice we often find ourselves sitting on someone else’s terrace having margaritas or drinking beer. Or, everybody else finds themselves on our deck outside. Quite often we throw our goods together for an impromptu BBQ. To make good things even better, one of the neighbours owns a swimming pool with the sign “open to all” attached to it!

Just a short, but very steep bike ride down the hill you can find the HOT ROCKS, three big rocks in the middle of a river.  This local swimming hole is ideal when it gets hot and for anybody brave enough to brace glacier water. Brrr, it is freezing, but refreshing.

Talk and talk some more! 

Find out where to find the deals!  Moving is expensive, especially when you make the plunge across the big ocean. All big electronic household items are rendered useless coming from Europe.  We could save cash by simply asking what item to buy from which shop. On a food related basis, I interviewed every female I came in contact with to share her secret shop for purchasing fresh produce and general survival items.  Everybody pointed me to the Superstore and the Farmers Market. Acting upon their recommendations I got a free savers card from each store to take advantage of their weekly specials.

 Watch what you are buying

North American food tastes different than Dutch and German food. God knows what they put in their bread, canned soups or drinks. Actually, I don’t want to know. All I know is that it takes time to adjust to the new cuisine. Bottom line is, adapt or start spending BIG for the flavours you are used to from Europe.

But, as I just mentioned, every EU import is very expensive. The Knorr and Maggi sachets have to wait for a special day, e.g. Canada Day.  A cheaper option would be to send a stress call to family or friends in the old country and ask for a care package.

Instead of spending big money on food one can opt to split the budget and shop big for clothes instead.  All the famous US labels like Ralph Lauren, T.Hilfiger, The Gap, Lands End or Banana Republic have Outlet stores – everything can be purchased for a fraction of the Euro. These shops also offer discount coupons on line when you purchase for the first time in their store.              Another good money saver is a Garage Sale. Dominic ( my husband) found us a “Broiler King” state of the art BBQ, a sturdy oak outdoor garden set, various chairs for our terraces, hockey equipment and a Nerf gun- all this for the tiny fraction of the retail price.

As a recap, these are our tried and tested recipes for establishing ourselves in the new country:

Talk and talk some more.  Let everybody know you have arrived. Open up your house for visitors. Canadians take their volunteer work seriously. I joined the ranks. So far I volunteered for school projects and for a two day community event. Both occasions are fabulous to meet and mingle with mothers, get to know the school and make new local acquaintances. Dominic and myself network at various events to get to know the movers and shakers of the business world and we visit lots of free social events to get to know as many individuals as possible.

We obviously have to put in the effort.  But we are more than happy and willing to do so.  You have to make the first step, the first commitment and the rest will follow automatically. The Canadians make it surely easy for everybody. They are welcoming, friendly, open minded, honest and easy going. Step by step we are building our new circle of friends and acquaintances here. It is effortless, fun and rewarding.

Somebody said: ‘”Home is where the heart is”.

Dominic and myself believe this. Accordingly, we pass the following message on to the boys:                      We are happy wherever we are, because we want to be!