Category Archives: Conversations

Be kind to your children at Christmas…


Before Christmas – or the Holiday season – children get very tired. There are many things going on at school: tests, exams, assemblies and all kind of celebrations.

During this time of the year, schools observe an increase of injuries on the playground, children get easily sick and this all can take a heavy toll on the whole family.

One of our favourite poems for this season is “Be kind to your turkey this Christmas” by Benjamin Zephanaiah. I got inspired and composed this very short poem that I dedicate to all the parents (please be indulgent: English is my fourth language…).

I’d like to make it longer… so, here is my challenge for you: If you can come up with some lines, please add them in the comment.

I will add them in the most homogeneous way (I promise that I’ll do my best!) and re-publish the poem at Christmas on this site adding all your names.


Be kind to your children at Christmas

they’re doing their best and that’s enough

we all need a break

so do it for their sake:

take a moment and “see” them,

do listen and hug them

there’s a lot going on and it’s tough.

 (by Ute Limacher-Riebold 😉 )

Be kind to your children at Christmas,

they do so much to make you proud,

kids of an expat, linguistic acrobat!

take time to be there for them

praise and support them

expats are the best – shout it out loud!

(Chris Drew)

Savour every moment

Cherish every kiss

These are the things

One day you will miss

Laughter, tantrums, smiles and tears

Bring so much joy yet so many fears

The patience given and the kindness fed

Will contribute to good lives led

One day you will take a breath

And they will all have ventured beyond

Nurturing their fledglings in their own back pond

(Chantal Vasile)




Bildschirmfoto 2015-12-17 um 08.18.13



It’s (not) all in the question…

Do you sometimes struggle with getting informations from your children about how their schoolday was, about how they feel or what they’re up to? Sometimes it’s difficult to get real answers. Not only from our children…

If we ask “How was school today?”, “How did you like the film/play?”, “How was your work today?” we usually get short answers like “good/fine/ok” which doesn’t really tell a lot. Sometimes the intonation of the answer helps us to find out the nuance of what the respondent means, but we can avoid the guessing-game by using the right questions.

In her article “25 ways to ask your kids ‘So how was school today?’ without asking them ‘So how was school today?’“, and the follow up post “28 ways to ask your teens ‘How was school today?’ without asking them ‘How was school today?’” Liz Evans gives many great examples of engaging questions to ask our children – but these questions can also be used for engaging with our partners, friends, collegues.

What they all have in common is that they are open questions. – When we ask questions about school, work, training etc. what we really need to do is to engage in a conversation with our children, friends or partners.

Questions like “How was your school/day today?” or “Did you have a nice day at school/work?” can be answered by a single word or a short phrase. The same applies to questions like “How old are you?”, “Where do you live?” etc. These are closed questions: they are easy and quick to answer and the control of the conversation stays with the questioner.

If we use open questions, not only we get longer answers, but we hand the control of the conversation to the respondent. We want our respondent to reflect and think, and he will (most probably) tell us his feelings and opinions.

  In English, open questions begin with what, why, how, describe etc.   What did you like the most at school/at work etc. today?   How did you keep focused on that task?   Describe what this topic means.   Why do you think this task was difficult? The 3:1 formula

During a conversation a great balance is asking three closed questions and one open question. With closed questions we start the conversation and summarize the progress, whereas open questions give us the opportunity to get the other person thinking and continuing to give us useful information.

If we master the art of using the right questions, we’ll most probably manage to get our respondents to ask us open questions too, which will give us floor to talk more about what we want. How? By intriguing them with an incomplete story or benefit.

But it’s not all in the question

One of the common mistakes is to ask questions at a wrong moment, for example when our children just walk out the schoolgate or are busy doing something else, when our partners just come home from work etc..

Most of us need some time to unwind and re-order their thoughts before we are really ready to tell more about our day and engage in a conversation about it. – Some of us can do this on our way home, others need a bit more time.

No matter if we want to know how the school day was or how the meeting went, it is always advisable to create a pleasant context, either sharing a meal or while doing an activity together: cooking, doing craftworks, playing a game, going for a walk or a run etc..

Finding the right moment requires empathy and flexibility: our children will most likely be the most loquatious when we’re busy with something else, when it’s bed time or time to leave etc. It’s not always possible to pause and give our full attention. Therefore it may be a good idea to arrange fix moments during the day where everyone has the time to share and is ready to give each other his or her full attention.

About St Nicholas and his legend

A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from t...

A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sinterklaas or Nikolaus, San Nicola etc. in European countries is based on the legendary figure of St Nicholas. Born in 271 AD to a rich Greek family in Asia Minor in in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), he was very religious from an early age. His parents died by an epidemic while Nicholas was still very young and he was raised by his uncle (also named Nicholas), the bishop of Patara. ” He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader and later ordained him a presbyter (priest). “(wikipedia) Nicholas decided to distribute his wealth to the poor and become a priest. Later he became the Arch Bishop of Myra, a place near the city of Anatolia in Turkey.

He had the reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him and became the model for Santa Claus (celebrated on 24th or 25th December), whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas in turn comes from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”.

The fame of St Nicholas’ good deeds began to spread across the Mediterranean and he became known as a patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, archors, travellers and of the city of Amsterdam. Therefore this figure has a special meaning to the Dutch and to the children.

There are many legends about St Nicholas. One tells how a terrible famine struck the island and a malicious butcher lured three little children to his house, killed them and placed their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, saw through this horrible crime and resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. In another version (from the 11th Century), the butcher’s victims were three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them and intended to turn them into meat pies. Saint Nicholas saw through this and brought the men back to life. – These kind of legends seem to have originated some of the well known helpers of St Nicholas in many European countries.

The legends with the most likely historical basis are those with St Nicholas being the helper or being the secret benefactor:

Nicholas heard about a man who had lost all his money. He had three daughters who were old enough to get married but had no dowry.

This family was so poor they had nothing left to eat. The daughters were going to be sold as slaves because they couldn’t live at home any longer. They were very sad. They wouldn’t be able to have families of their own. And they would have to be slaves—no longer able to decide where they would live or what they would do.

The night before the oldest daughter was to be sold, she washed her stockings and put them in front of the fire to dry. Then all of them went to sleep—the father and the three daughters.

In the morning the daughter saw a lump in her stocking. Reaching in, she found a small, heavy bag. It had gold inside! Enough to provide food for the family and money for her dowry. Oh, how happy they were!

The next morning, another bag with gold was found. Imagine! Two of the daughters would now be saved. Such joy!

And the next night, the father planned to stay awake to find out who was helping his daughters. He dozed off, but heard a small “clink” as another bag landed in the room. Quickly he jumped up and ran out the door. Who did he catch ducking around the corner? – Nicholas, the young man who lived with his uncle. “Nicholas, it is you! Thank you for helping us—I hardly know what to say!” Nicholas said, “Please, do not thank me—thank God that your prayers have been answered. Do not tell others about me.”

Nicholas continued helping people. He always tried to help secretly. He didn’t want any attention or thanks. Years passed and he was chosen to be a bishop. Bishops look after their people as shepherds look after their sheep. And that is what Nicholas did. When there wasn’t any food, he found wheat; so no one went hungry. He always helped people in trouble. All his life Nicholas showed people how to love God and care for each other.

Everyone loved Nicholas. After he died, they told stories of the good and kind things Nicholas had done. Sailors took these stories about Nicholas everywhere they went. Some of the stories were about his special care for children—helping and protecting them when danger threatened. And so more and more people learned about good, kind Nicholas. They wanted to be like him. He is an example of how we should live. And that is why he became a saint. (Carol Myers)

Take a (Easter) Break

My daugther did tell me something the other day that made me think. We did a role play and she was the doctor. When I told her that I had headache, a running nose and was quite tired, instead of prescribing me some medicine, she told me this:

“You should play more with your children and not spend more than 30 minutes on the computer per day. And you should drink lots of tea and rest, rest a lot!”.

These 30 minutes on the computer are the maximum I allow my children per day during the week, so this timeframe seemed very obvious to me. But the way she said this did hit me. She had this precocious, admonishing gaze, that made me feel guilty and I suddenly pictured myself as an old woman who’s taking advice from her daughter. I had this strange fast-forward feeling that I have everytime I observe my children having these leaps forward in development.

Actually, I did work a lot lately. I’m working and writing a lot, not only for this blog, and I was pretty busy the last couple of weeks so I think my children did see me on the computer way too often.

Therefore I’ll take her advice, drink lots of tea, rest (a lot!), spend as much time with my children as I can do and work only 30 minutes a day on the computer. – I will still read and answer your comments, but I’ll not write any post for the next few days. It’s Easter Break anyway and we’re supposed to spend this time with family, right? And even if you’re not celebrating Easter, you’ll maybe find a way to spend more time with your children too, just for them. Just for you.

Please watch this very inspirational video, and maybe you’ll join me and take a break too?