9 Gift Ideas for your Expat Friends and Family

For the past few years I’ve been very aware of reducing the amount of stuff that I have, so my Christmas list usually included things I’ve needed but haven’t bought in October, November or December because I knew Christmas was coming up and I could get by without them for a few months. This year, on top of not wanting to have too much stuff, I have the added challenge of making sure everything fits into my suitcase size and weight restrictions.

So I put together this little list of gift ideas for expat friends and family. It might seem weird for a self-professed eco-geek to be putting together a list of ‘stuff’ but these things are all useful and mostly digital or endlessly reusable.

Stuff from home

There’s nothing like wrapping yourself in something familiar when things aren’t going well, which is why I’m so glad to have my HBC Point Blanket and self-made throw with me here!

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know my Maple Syrup supply is getting low and will need to be replenished when I’m back in Canada.

Travel Goodies

Gift Ideas for Expats

It seems to me that expats travel more than the average bear, so things to make that travel just a bit more comfortable are always welcome. I love my inflatable neck pillow, eye mask and headphones for long plane rides. I’m also a big fan of my sink plug and braided clothesline recommended on OneBag and my PackTowel for long trips.  My Pack Towel turned out to be so awesome that it’s now my main towel for drying my hair!

Passport Wallet

Gift Ideas for Expats - Passport Wallet

Along the same lines as the travel goodies, a passport wallet can be insanely useful for keeping passports and other travel documentation together. I made the above based on a pattern I bought on Etsy, but if you’re not handy, there are also tonnes of beautiful handmade ones on Etsy. I also like these from Bellroy and Pacsafe.

Travel Points

Gift Ideas for Expats

If you have travel points laying around and no plans to use them (which I can’t imagine anyone doing but, hey, you never know!) why not gift them to someone who wants to travel home to see their family?

e-Books

Gift Ideas for Expats

I never thought I’d convert to an e-book reader, but I did it and I’m glad. It means I could read as many books simultaneously as I like. Not that I ever do that, but it’s possible! It also means I don’t need to bring an extra book in case I finish my first. Books and gift cards can be purchased from Kobo and Amazon, but also from your favourite author’s or publisher’s website.

Music

Gift Ideas for Expats

Music iTunes or Spotify gift cards are always a great gift, no matter who you’re giving to!

Movies & TV shows

Gift Ideas for Expats

The holidays always make me want to curl up and watch some old but great movies and television series’. And a digital movie purchase or rental from iTunes, Google or Amazon means I don’t need to rummage around my parents’ basement for my old DVDs anymore! As an added bonus, these movies are available on your cloud, but can also be downloaded and viewed while on a long flight home.

Toiletries

Gift Ideas for Expats

I’m lucky that my favourite make-up and solid shampoo and conditioner are available where I live. When that’s not possible, why not gift these items to your favourite expat?

A Hug

Nothing is more lovely than a hug. Nothing.

How to make your own Granola

Making my own cereal was never a big deal for me since my grandma, Sybil made her own and taught me how to do it. We called it Sybil Cereal, and it’s still a staple at our house. So when I came across this granola recipe with two of my favourite things, coconut and maple syrup, I couldn’t resist trying it. It’s become a new staple in my breakfast rotation!

The beautiful thing about granola (and cereal) recipes is that they’re super adaptable. Don’t like sunflower seeds? Use a seed you do like! Don’t like raisins? What about dried apricots? Don’t like coconut? We can’t be friends anymore.

Granola

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
dash salt
1 cup raisins

Directions

Preheat oven to 120 C (250F)

Combine oats, nuts, seeds, coconut and brown sugar in a large bowl.

How to make your own Granloa

Combine maple syrup, oil and salt in a separate bowl. I usually just use a measuring cup, since it’s easier to pour with than a bowl.

How to make your own Granloa

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and mix.

How to make your own Granola

Pour onto a baking sheet. Spread it around into an even layer.

How to make your own Granola

Cook 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

How to make your own Granola

Remove from the oven and let cool. Resist the urge to snack.

How to make your own Granola

Stir in raisins until evenly distributed.

How to make your own Granola

Transfer to airtight container.

How to make your own Granola

Enjoy!

How to make your own Granola

A Day in the Life

It’s always fascinating to hear how other people live, so I thought I’d share a bit of detail of what I did yesterday here in the Netherlands!

A Day in the Life of an Expat

8:00: RB’s alarm goes off. He snoozes and I get up, make coffee and get myself some breakfast. I’m surprised every morning how dark it is at 8 am! I’m already ready to have the days start to get longer again.

8:16: Breakfast usually consists of homemade granola, plain yogurt and blueberries. Lately, I’ve also thrown some warm oatmeal into the mix. On cooler mornings, a warm breakfast is a bit like a hug!

A Day in the Life

8:20: After breakfast, my first order of business is to check if there are any interesting jobs that have been posted on the myriad of websites where jobs get posted. To keep this process efficient I subscribe to the RSS feeds with Feedly, where possible, and I have saved searches on these websites where an RSS feed isn’t possible.

8:55: Next on my daily to-do list is to check out whether there any interesting non-job-related articles in my Feedly. I’ve subscribed to a number of feeds about low-impact living, waste reduction, green tech, personal wellness, and expat life. I’ll read any who’s title peaks my interest, and, if they were interesting enough, I share them on twitter and facebook.

9:34: Thankfully my job search was fruitful today! I found a few jobs that I was interested in doing that I felt like I was qualified to do. Through the process of tailoring my resume and cover letters for each job, I discovered that two of them were perhaps not as good a match as I thought. I kiboshed those applications, which isn’t an uncommon thing for me to do. I’d rather apply to jobs where I know I can do a good job rather than wasting my time and the recruiters time! I finished the application for the job I thought was a great fit and submitted it to the company for review. Fingers crossed this is the one that gets me the interview!

A Day in the Life of an Expat

10:06: In my efforts to learn Dutch, I spend 15-20 minutes every day doing exercises with Duolingo. I’m going to start proper Dutch lessons at the University of Leiden in January, but until that starts, Duolingo has been a good tool to keep my vocabulary growing. My goal is to get my NT2 Staatsexam certification by the end of next year for both my integration and so that I can expand my job search to include Dutch jobs.

10:30: Now that I’ve passed the Theory Driving Exam, I’m taking weekly driving lessons with RB’s dad. We usually drive to Leiden where he takes me on some possible routes for my exam. I’m comfortable driving (I’ve been doing it for more than half my life!), but the compactness of the roads here and the slight difference in right-of-way rules make me glad for a bit of extra practice with an expert. I’m getting much better since starting my lessons, especially with roundabouts!

A Day in the Life of an Expat

11:44: Pretty much immediately after I got home from my driving lesson, I threw the previous night’s leftover soup in the microwave for lunch.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

13:02: In my weekly plan, I have a chore schedule for each day. Today was a sheet washing day, so I stripped the bed and threw the duvet cover and pillow shams in the washing machine. Since our drying space is limited, I’ll do the other sheets once the duvet cover is dry. Other chores I do every week include watering the plants, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the washrooms, and cleaning the kitchen.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

13:08: On days where I don’t run, I try to go for a walk. I love listening to podcasts and am much better at paying attention when I am wandering around. My current favourites are Radiolab, Undisclosed, the TED radio hour, Podquiz, and Grownups Read Things they Wrote as Kids. And I can’t wait for the next season of Serial!

A Day in the Life of an Expat

A Day in the Life of an Expat

14:03: After going for my walk, I stop in at the grocery store for food for the evening and to top up any foods we’re running low on.

14:14: Yesterday I finally stopped in at one of the local dentist’s office to make an appointment to get my teeth checked. I find talking on the phone in Dutch extremely difficult, which is why I stopped in rather than phoning. I have an appointment set up for next week!

14:34: My brief period of working in the startup community peaked my interest in computer programming. Since it’s something I’m interested in learning about it in my spare time, I found some courses on Coursera about programming in Java. Right now I’m following the Java Programming: Solving Problems with Software course from Duke University and will likely follow-through with the next course in the 4-course series.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

15:45: With my recent switch to self-hosted, I am working on making the blogging process more efficient for when I eventually start working again and can’t spend as much time on it. Yesterday, I worked on an unsubscribe page, and a potential new look.

17:01: I try to start dinner around the time that RB messages me to let me know he’s coming home since it usually takes about the same amount of time. When I was working I planned our dinners on Sunday nights, and it was so nice that I have continued to do that.

I usually try to cook one vegetarian dinner per week, and yesterday was the day. We had a veggie frittata with broccoli, zucchini, spinach, peppers and mushrooms. And cheese, of course. I can’t forget the cheese.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

6:25: Dinner time! RB and I agreed that this frittata had a bit too much going on and that I should eliminate the broccoli next time.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

18:58: RB and I usually spend the evening watching a movie and chatting about our days. Sometimes we’ll go for a walk, but since we’re coming into a crappy time, weather wise, I think those will be few and far between until spring.

22:33: I’m an early riser, so by the time 10:30 rolls around, I’m ready for bed. My bedtime routine includes brushing my teeth, using the bathroom, and some reading. Right now I’m at the beginning of Bill Bryson’s book, A Short History of Nearly Everything. I thoroughly enjoyed his book A Walk in the Woods, and I have a feeling I’m going to like this one just as much.

23:02: Goodnight!

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Sheets

A long time ago, my dad’s colleague, who has an apiary, gave him some beeswax to give to me. I’d made some hand butter before, and was keen to try to make lip balm as well. The lip balm was a bit of a failure, which is why I haven’t written about it… When I saw this facebook post, but I decided to use the leftover beeswax to make some reusable waxed sheets!

The reason my lip balm was a total failure was that I used the wax as it was given to me. It turned out to not be pure wax, but instead a mixture of honey, wax and random bits of hive and bees. So step zero for me was to make pure beeswax out of the mixture I’d been given.

0. Extract beeswax

Melt the beeswax mixture

You’re definitely going to want to use a pot set aside for this purpose only. I reused the one I used for my hand butter and have set aside for these types of things only.

From everything I read, it’s important to keep the mixture at a temperature high enough to melt it (around 65°C/150°F) but not so hot as to boil it. If you heat beeswax above 85°C (185°F), it could change colour.

Separate the wax

I found an old milk container in the recycling box and used that to collect the strained mixture. I used a few layers of cheese cloth as my strainer.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

Once the mixture has cooled, you’ll have a layer of wax and, as an added bonus, a layer of honey. The milk container worked well as a vessel since I could rip it apart to get to the wax.

Make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

Repeat

I found the first time I strained the mixture the resultant ‘wax’ was still quite flexible and contained other things, so I strained it a second time and was much happier with the results.

Make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

I saved the honey from the second time through the strainer, and it was delicious!

1. Cut fabric into squares

I used some leftover cotton fabric I had from my drawstring bags to make my waxed sheets. I cut them to be about 30 cm (15 inches) square, but the size isn’t too important.

Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or other protective covering before putting the fabric squares on it. As with the melting pot, if the wax gets on your regular baking equipment, it shouldn’t be used for baking again!

2. Grate beeswax

Since I didn’t have a second grader and didn’t want to buy one and store it at my parents house, I instead used some scissors to cut the wax into small pieces and spread them over the squares of fabric.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

Knowing the amount of wax per sheet is a bit difficult to figure out. I put too much on in my first attempt, but it’s not too hard to fix, as you’ll see from step 5!

3. Put in the oven

Heat the oven to 65°C (150 °F). As noted above, if you heat the wax above 85°C (185°F) discoloration could occur.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper.

I found this step didn’t take too long, maybe 10 minutes at most.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

 

4. Let cool

Once all the bits of wax have melted, take them out of the oven and let them cool.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

5. Fine tune wax

From the top, my waxed sheets looked great! From the bottom, it was clear I’d put far too much wax on the two sheets I had.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Sheets

The fix for this problem was really easy! I had 2 extra squares of fabric already cut, so I just put them under the original ones and put them back in the oven to melt again.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

To use these sheets, just place them over the container you’d like to cover, warm the sheets a bit with your hands, and mold into place. When you’re done, they should be cleaned with warm (not hot) soapy water and hung to dry. I wouldn’t recommend putting them into the washing machine or dishwasher for fear the wax would melt and get all over everything.

How to make your own Reusable Waxed Paper

Advantage: Canada – Multiculturalism

Advantage Canada: Multiculturalism

Canadian multiculturalism isn’t just a beautiful idea, it’s the law! It was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971.

The Government of Canada puts it well (albeit dryly):

“All Canadians are guaranteed equality before the law and equality of opportunity regardless of their origins. Canada’s laws and policies recognise Canada’s diversity by race, cultural heritage, ethnicity, religion, ancestry and place of origin and guarantee to all men and women complete freedom of conscience, of thought, belief, opinion expression, association and peaceful assembly. All of these rights, our freedom and our dignity, are guaranteed through our Canadian citizenship, our Canadian Constitution, and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Like in many other countries, immigrants to Canada tend to settle in the same neighbourhoods as their former countrymen and women. As a recent immigrant, I can completely understand this! There’s so much newness when you immigrate, it’s nice to have a few things that aren’t completely foreign around you. Unlike elsewhere in the world, however, immigrants to Canada actively take part in their new society. This tends to lead immigrants to Canada to achieve high levels of economic success, education and social integration. That also means that Canadians of all stripes tend to see immigration as a positive thing. Yay multiculturalism!

Canadians live by a set of values and beliefs which are open to a wide variety of cultural expressions and do not demand strict integration. What is asked of from immigrants is the same as is asked of all Canadians: respect for Canadian laws and institutions, acceptance of other cultures and participation in society.

It’s not much of a surprise, then, that immigrants to Canada tend to adopt “traditional” Canadian attitudes with their own cultural spin. My favourite example of this is Hockey Night in Canada that is broadcast not only in Canada’s official languages of French and English but also in Punjabi!

I’m not saying that the system is perfect. Like any rule, there is always an exception. But I think it’s a great example of how welcoming people from a wide variety of backgrounds can make a society even better.

Curious what else I think is great about the Canada? Check out my full list of Advantage: Canada posts.

An Afternoon in Rotterdam

Rotterdam was recently named one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2016 by Lonely Planet, so I thought I’d share my photos from the afternoon I spent there with my family a month or so ago.

Rotterdam has a very different look than most other Dutch cities, like Amsterdam, Leiden or Delft. This is because it was destroyed during the 2nd world war and as such there is a wide architectural landscape to the city. The city is now home to some world-famous architecture.

Our time in Rotterdam was somewhat limited, so we decided to do two things to get a sense of the city: a trip up the Euromast and a boat tour of the harbour. As an added bonus for the day, we discovered we could combine our tickets for both events in one combi-ticket!

Our first stop was the Euromast, a 101 m tower that was built in 1960 to mark the occasion the international flower and garden exhibition Floriade. The trip up afforded us some beautiful views of the city!

An Afternoon in Rotterdam

An afternoon in Rotterdam

After we’d had enough of the wind (it was really windy up there!) we came back down and walked through a beautiful park to catch our boat trip through the Rotterdam harbour.

The port of Rotterdam is the largest cargo port in Europe. The success of the port is due to it’s location at the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas channel, which leads to the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers. These rivers’  provide access to the heart of Western Europe through the extensive distribution systems, including rail, roads and waterways .

Our boat trip included pre-recorded tour information in Dutch, English, French and German. We travelled along the main canal as well as a smaller canal.

An afternoon in Rotterdam

I took about a million photos, once again, and here are some of my favourites:

AfternoonKinderdijk47 AfternoonKinderdijk48 AfternoonKinderdijk53 AfternoonKinderdijk55 AfternoonKinderdijk56 AfternoonKinderdijk59 AfternoonKinderdijk60 AfternoonKinderdijk63 AfternoonKinderdijk64 AfternoonKinderdijk66 AfternoonKinderdijk68 AfternoonKinderdijk70 AfternoonKinderdijk77 AfternoonKinderdijk78 AfternoonKinderdijk80 AfternoonKinderdijk82 AfternoonKinderdijk84

2015.11.23.Rotterdam

A New Dutch Bike

I finally broke down and replaced the Easy Rider. As much as I loved how old and rusty it was, it was time for an upgrade. RB and I had talked about doing some riding around here, and I just wasn’t sure that the Easy Rider would be able to get me home safely.

So please help me in welcoming Daisy, my newest bike!

New Bike

Daisy is a 7 speed,  53 cm Batavus Monaco in ice blue.

New Bike

She’s packed with awesome features, including a  Shimano Nexus gearing system, dynamo light in the front, solid achterrekkie (rear rack) and dutch lock, of course!

New Bike

New Bike

New Bike

I took her out for a nice long ride around the Brassemmermeer in August when my parents were here and the ride was smooth and easy. I can’t wait to take her out more in the spring when the weather gets better!

Sinterklaas has arrived!

Sinterklaas is celebrated annually with the giving of gifts on 5 December. However the Sint arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November. Since this is my first year living in the Netherlands, it was important for me to see Sinterklaas arriving in Roelofarendsveen. Despite some looming bad weather, the harbour was full of excited kids and their parents.

Sinterklaas

Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally came from Turkey as St. Nicolaus, the Bishop of Mira, however the current tradition has him arriving from Spain by steam boat. No one really knows why there was a change from Turkey to Spain, but historians point to the Spanish domination over the Netherlands in the past.

Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas was schedule to arrive at around 3, and true to his Dutch nature, he was right on time! Traditional Sinterklaas songs were being played, and most were singing along. It seems I have some learning to do before next year!

You can see in the video I took that Sinterklaas’ helpers are throwing bags into the crowd. These bags were filled with pepernoten, a type of cookie/candy associated with Sinterklaas. RB’s mom gave me a few to try, but I didn’t really like them. I prefer the kruidnoten, which are crunchy and taste like gingerbread. I could eat bags and bags of kruidnoten, and may still given that there’s still 3 weeks until Sinterklaasavond!

After his steamboat docked, Sinterklaas and his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, mingled with all of the children at the harbour. The Zwarte Pieten continued to hand out pepernoten and mandarin oranges, another typical Sinterklaas treat. One of the Zwarte Pieten I met 4 years ago recognised me and gave me one. It was delicious!

Sinterklaas

After making his way through the crowd, Sinterklaas mounted his horse, Amerigo, and paraded along the main road in town with Liefde voor Harmonie, one of the local marching bands. Because the weather wasn’t great, rather than gathering in one of the town squares, they made their way to the cafe beside our apartment to continue the celebration.

I was a scrooge and went home to have a hot cup of tea!

 

A Tour of my 2nd Dutch Apartment

Back in March I took you on a tour of the apartment that RB and I lived at the time. While there were lots of great things about it, there were less than great things about it. We are very happy to have moved into our current place!

We’re now super centrally located in the town; the shopping area is about a 2 minute walk from where we are, we are right next door to one of the local pubs where RB sometimes plays billiards, and all of RB’s family are within 1 km radius.

Our apartment has two levels, although it’s significantly bigger than our last apartment. Given the size and the layout of the main floor, we don’t use the upper floor all that often.

First Floor Layout

The door into our apartment leads to a small space where we keep our bikes and where we climb the spiral staircase to get to our living space.

Spiral Staircase

We recently purchased a new couch, chair, coffee table and rug for our living room, and we love them!

Living Room

We also found some lovely room chairs to go in our dining room. They were on sale, so we bought 8! We have the biggest common space of RB’s family, and have already hosted Easter and a get together when my parents were in town. The extra 2 chairs have already come in handy.

Dining Room

If you remember, the kitchen in our last apartment was about as small as the bathroom! Well, this is where we’ve made the biggest gains, in my opinion. There’s even room for an extra table!

Kitchen

Another great win for me is having a toilet on the same floor as our bedroom.

Bedroom

I didn’t take any pictures of the 2nd floor because right now it’s mostly just storage and laundry. We’ve got one bedroom already set up for when friends and family come and visit and we’ve got plans for a 2nd as well.

2nd Floor Plan

I think my favourite detail about the house is the little icons on the washroom and toilet doors. How adorable are they?

Toilet

Here are all of the photos I took of our main floor

Entryway     Entryway Hall     House Tour     Kitchen     Kitchen     Kitchen     Kitchen     Dining Room     Dinning Room     Living Room     Living Room     Living Room    Bedroom     Bedroom     Hallway     Washroom     Washroom     Washroom     Toilet     Toilet     1st Floor Layout 2nd Floor Layout

On Stress and Homesickness

I’ve had a rough few weeks. As much as I would like this space to be positive and happy, I also want it to be true to my life and experiences, and I’m in a bit of a lull at the moment.

I was let go from the job I was so excited to have found in the Netherlands. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I was confident that the work I had done was great and I was happy to work through the problems that arose. So it came as a complete shock when the co-owners decided to let me go. Even though they said it was everything to do with the timing and time commitment and nothing to do with my work, it was a still a huge hit to my self confidence.

I’ve been living in the Netherlands for 10 months, and this was the first time I really felt homesick. I wanted a hug from my mom. I wanted get my smiley niece out of bed and play with her. I wanted to play strategy games. I wanted to sit on my friends’ couch and watch american football. I wanted to be in a place where things were easy and simple.

I gave myself some time and space to heal. I didn’t push myself to get back to my social activities, like bootcamp, right away. I caught up on the new seasons of some of my favourite TV shows. I spent more than my usual time video chatting with friends and family in Canada. It wasn’t the same as being there in person, but it was a nice reminder that those friendships are still there despite the distance.

I got back into the weekly schedule I’d put together for myself the first time around, which included job searching, blogging, chores, and running. By the second week, I was feeling a lot more positive about myself and my capabilities as a person.

Then, this past Saturday after my post-run shower, I bent down to squeegee the floor and stood up too quickly. I’ve seen stars before after getting up too quickly, but I guess my blood sugar or blood pressure was too low, and this time I fainted, fell and hit my head pretty hard.

I’m fairly certain I gave myself a minor concussion. I was nauseous and dizzy, and there was a giant goose egg forming on the back of my head. An ice pack helped with the swelling, and the nausea and dizziness have gotten better with time. I’m needing to give myself time and space to heal again, but I’m frustrated; all of my homesickness is back.

So this week, I’m going to apply the lessons I learned three weeks ago and be easy on myself and my body. I’ll take small breaks from my job search and applications. I’ll try to be easy on myself if I can’t keep up with the schedule I planned for my blog posts. Rather than running, I’ll go for walks. I’ll keep video chatting with my friends and family in Canada. And I’ll look forward to my trip to Canada in December!

Have you ever had to deal with homesickness? How did you cope?