Things to Know About (my) Expat Kids

Ask any parent why they decided to move overseas, and “for my kids” usually ranks at or near the top of the list.  “A chance to expose our kids to different cultures and experiences” is one of the main reasons parents choose to take an expat assignment. It was definitely near the top of our list!  Raising third-culture kids (TCKs), i.e. children that spend at least a portion of their childhood outside their passport country, presents a unique set of challenges. In many ways, expat kids are just like any other group of kids.  But in some ways, they are very different from their peers back in their home country.  Like all of my posts, this one is written from mainly my personal experiences of parenting young kids in the expat environment.  Some expat parents will find different challenges…

1.  They are worldly, yet naive.  They can navigate public transit systems, different languages, cultures, and quickly become politically savvy. (My 7-year old has very pointed opinions about US transportation policy…)  They understand that their current home may be different than their passport country, but they may not be able to fully appreciate those differences.  Our kids are easily overwhelmed by the buy-buy-buy consumer-oriented culture in the US.  If I walk into Target, I love seeing all the choices and selection!  But my kids quickly shut down.  It is too much for them – almost sensory overload.  On the other hand, they are genuinely surprised to find out that their peers in the US may have NEVER left America, or flown on an A380! (The latter is particularly shocking to Isaac.) They cannot comprehend why American kids don’t travel internationally like they do.

2.  They can be great on long international flights, yet a two-hour car ride can seem like forever.  To make the trip from our home in Dublin to Amarillo, Texas – our hometown, takes 3 flights and appx 22 hours doorstep-to-doorstep.  (In the expat world – this is a comparatively short trip.) Generally, my kids are GREAT on the long-haul flights.  They know the security drill, how board the plane, put their headphones on, and settle in the long flight.  They may watch Doc McStuffins ad nauseum, but they are much better behaved than some of my adult seatmates.  At the same time, a two or three hour car ride with them can take FOREVER. “Are we there yet?  I need to go to the bathroom. Why can’t we watch a movie?” and on and on and on!  It is all in what you are used to.

3.  They are incredibly resilient, and their bonds with their siblings are very strong.  There’s nothing quite like uprooting your kids, and throwing them into a country where they know no one to encourage resiliency!  I won’t lie – the transition is really tough.  On the other hand, their bonds with their siblings strengthen during this period.  Isaac and Liesl are very close, and I attribute most of this closeness to the fact that for the first 6 months or so, the only playmate they had was each other.

4.  They can easily assimilate into different cultures – almost like chameleons.  Expat kids grow up shifting between cultures, as they travel home, to other countries, and back to their country of residence.  They may meet many kids in their school that are also expats, but from a different country entirely.  Once they get the hang of it, they can blend into most any group, and easily take on the characteristics of that group.  When we were in the US last summer, I thought everyone would find Isaac and Liesl’s Irish accents so cute.  Only one problem. Within 24 hours of us returning to the US, their accents were GONE.  I was shocked at how fast they were able to switch back to “American” English. They had both completely adjusted the tone of their voice – almost subconsciously.  The only thing that gave away their expat-ness was their vocabulary for different things, “car park” instead of parking lot, “lift” instead of elevator, “to mind” instead of “to watch”.  But even those linguistic differences quickly disappeared.

5.  They are scarily, eerily good at saying goodbye.  This is probably the strangest one to experience.  It is written about in expat parenting books, and although you can be prepared for it – seeing how quickly your kids can say goodbye to friends and family and move on with life is both rewarding and scary.  To my kids, they don’t seem to notice the physical distance between themselves and their cousins, or the time spent apart.  Partly because technology has made the world much smaller.  It’s hard to miss your cousins when you can Skype with them whenever you want.  When we are saying goodbye at the airport, I’m usually much more emotional.  Is it because I know how far the distance truly is?  Or is it because I wasn’t accustomed to saying goodbye as a child?  Seeing the detachment that expat kids can show makes you worry – will they ever have a sense of home?  Will they be able to put down roots as an adult?  At the same time, it makes you proud that they understand that saying goodbye quickly and often just comes with the territory.

What are your thoughts?  If you are the parent of an older TCK, are the challenges different?  What should I be looking out for?

P.S. If you are considering moving abroad with kids, or having a child while living overseas, I highly recommend reading Third Culture Kids. Some people give the book negative reviews saying the book itself is too negative, but I think that more information is always better than less. I also really liked that this book did not assume that every expat family was financially well-off.  It covers a variety of situations from corporate expats to military families to missionaries.

London!

A few weeks ago, we took a quick trip to London.  Can you believe that we have lived in Dublin for over three years, but hadn’t been to London yet?  My sister and mother were going to be in town, and my brother-in-law would be passing through London on his way back from the middle east, so we decided to take a long weekend all-together in London (minus Brad, who was in the US for a conference).  We flew out on Friday, and back on Monday, so we didn’t have a ton of time, but we certainly packed in the sights!  A few highlights:

Friday afternoon:

We took in Hyde Park.  I love urban parks in Europe.  Quiet, sophisticated, relaxed…there is just something about the parks in Europe that is missing from US parks.  We had lunch at the Lido Cafe near the Serpentine Lake, and then found a chicken coop, playground (shocker!), and then an adorable ice cream truck.  The weather was cool, but felt so much warmer than Dublin without the brisk wind off the Irish sea!

Saturday:

Did I mention that we forgot that it was a three-day weekend in London?  Ooops.  Luckily, the kids wake up at the crack of dawn (and the dawn cracks early this time of year…) We made it to the Natural History Museum before 10:00am.  We had to walk through what felt like miles and miles of empty queues, but the museum staff said they queues would be filled before noon.  We spent about 2 hours looking at their awesome dinosaur exhibit, and their life-size model of the blue whale.  There was so much more to that museum that we didn’t see – I’d love to go back.  As we left, I looked back towards the entrance, and sure enough, there were people queued to enter.

In the afternoon, we went back to Hyde Park to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.  If you are visiting London with kids, I can’t recommend this playground enough.  (And we have been to plenty of good playgrounds.)  It had an enormous pirate ship in the middle of an even bigger sand pit.  It also had play structures for older kids and little kids, plus picnic areas, a cafe, toilets and changing facilities.

Sunday:

We got a later start on Sunday, as we had brunch with Taylor and Evan, and then decided to take the bus from Marble Arch to Westminster. It was a regular London bus – I can’t remember the route number, but it was like a mini-tour of sights in London!  We saw Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square – where we saw one of the more memorable sights of our trip.  As we were making our way through the square, a group of men came running through the intersection clad in nothing but multicolored briefs. “Look!! Mom!! Those men are running in their UNDERWEAR!”  And to every person who has asked, “What did you see in London?”  my kids have answered, “Men running in their underwear!”

We saw the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben, but the crowds were absolutely HUGE.  So we quickly decamped to see the Tower Bridge, which the kids really enjoyed.  We ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant – Perkin Reveller.  Great food, lovely design, and wonderful service – especially for the kids.  Near such a major landmark, and in the height of tourist season, I had decidedly low expectations, but it was a great stop.  Highly recommended!

Sunday Evening we rode the London Eye.  Naturally, it hadn’t rained all day…until about 30 minutes before we rode the Eye.  Sigh.  The views were still great, and the kids liked riding in the pod.  (Pro tip:  Paying for the “Fast Track” tickets is worth it.  Instead of waiting in a loooooong line, (in the rain!), we collected our tickets and waited about 15 minutes before boarding.)

So there you go – a very quick trip to London! We packed in a bunch of sights, some good family time, etc.  One thing I realized over the course of the weekend is that the kids are not ready for a “walking” city like Rome or Paris.  I had to haul the stroller up and down the stairs of the Underground, and as much as Patrick insisted (loudly!) that he could walk, he just isn’t ready for walking-sightseeing.  A few more years perhaps!

Friday Finds

Hello all!

I met a friend for coffee this morning at this tiny, but amazing, coffee house.  I loved this poster they had tacked to the wall.  Life would probably be more enjoyable for all of us if we had more talking and less wifi.

The weekend is upon us.  Do you have any plans?  After a crazy week, our weekend is almost completely activity-free.  I feel like the weekends are either one extreme or the other – super busy or super quiet.  The weather was beautiful all week long, but the rain has returned just in time for the weekend. Oh happy day.  All that greenery and verdure has to come from somewhere, right?

Kids & Family

Do your kids watch Doc McStuffins?  It’s made right here in Dublin and just won a Peabody award!  Congrats to Brown Bag Films!

My kids love poetry.  Did you know that April is National Poetry Month in the US?  (I didn’t.)  This is a great article about using poetry with kids.   We enjoy reading poems at bedtime.  The ones by Robert Lewis Stevenson are some of our favorites.

Technology

Are you apart of the “Oregon Trail Generation“?

Is Intel just throwing money at the tech industry’s diversity problem, or will it move the needle?  Only time will tell.

Expats & Careers

I feel like I’m in the middle of reinventing my career plans (see this post).  Apparently it’s a theme in expat life.

Is becoming the trailing spouse the graveyard of ambition?  (The title seems negative, but I found the post to be really good.)

I have followed Zoe Rooney for awhile.  I loved her thoughts on soft skills and web development.

 

That’s all from me.  Have a great weekend everyone!

x Rheagan

Technology Tools for Expat Life

Many of the questions that I am often asked about living overseas have to do with technology and connectivity.  How do you stay connected to people in the US?  How do you call home? Move money back and forth? Get your mail?  Technology has DEFINITELY made living overseas easier.  Like everyone in the US, we use Google chat, iMessage, and Viber to text internationally.  I love being able to text my siblings just like I would if I were back in the US.  Once you get past texting, the recommendations are less clear.  We have gone through a fair bit of trial and error before landing on these suggestions. I thought these tools might be helpful for those considering a move overseas or an international assignment.

Mail

Some expats have their mail sent to a relative’s house, or have a relative or friend check their PO box.  If you don’t have a relative to do this for you, (or you would rather not), consider using a mail forwarding service.  I know several people that use US Global Mail, and have been very happy with the service.  They can provide you a US address for shipping, bills, etc.  You get a PDF scan of each piece of mail, and then tell them what pieces to send to you or discard.

International Phone Calls

We primarily use Skype to call/video chat with friends and family in the US.  In addition, we paid for a Skype local (US) phone number, in our parents’ area code in Texas.  You can set it up to forward to your international phone at no charge to the person calling you.   That way, we can always give a US phone number to people who need one.  Our skype number is forwarded to Brad’s Irish cell phone.  We also get email notification when a voicemail has been left on that phone number (which we can access online.) Sometimes the call forwarding doesn’t work perfectly, or we get a notification that we got a voicemail, even though the phone never rang, but it hasn’t ever been a major problem.  It can also be helpful to give to vendors that require a US phone number.

Calling while in the US

Expats tend to take longer trips home than most people.  When we come to the US, we try to stay at least 3 weeks.  If you are taking a long trip back to the US, you don’t want to pay international charges to use your non-US SIM card. Solution: embrace the pre-paid SIM card!  I think that pre-paid cell phone service has an unfair bad rap in the US – as in only teenagers, drug dealers, and those with dodgy credit use pre-paid service.  But it is a great option for expats!  We use a pre-paid T-Mobile plan when we are in the US.  It provides both Brad and I with US cell phone numbers, and  we just switch out the SIM cards, and away we go.  This helps us avoid costly international charges, and our friends and families can reach us via our US numbers whenever we are in the country.  We top up at least every 90 days so that we can maintain our US numbers. (The most difficult issue with this arrangement is keeping up with the *tiny* SIM cards!)

Smartphones:

We use unlocked smartphones so that we can use both US and Ireland SIM cards.  Electronics are generally cheaper in the US (no VAT!), so buy the phone you want before moving overseas. On the other side, phone plans are much cheaper in Europe as compared to the US.  You can easily find a monthly plan or a pay-as-you-go plan.  In fact, Brad and I still use our pay-as-you-go plan, because the company will direct debit the monthly payment, and there are never any surprises about the bill.

Banking:

If you are like us, your US expenses don’t end simply because you are living overseas. Getting paid in another currency adds to the complexity.  You still need to do online banking, pay bills such as credit cards, mortgages, or student loans.  Or perhaps you want to buy something from a US merchant and have it sent to a destination in the US.

VPN – If you haven’t done so already, pay for a virtual private network (VPN). You can set it up to give you an IP address in the United States (or any other country, for that matter).   This will come in handy when you need to access US-specific sites that are not accessible outside the US.   We use WiTopia personalVPN Pro, and have found it to be very reliable.

Currency exchange.   If you are living overseas, at some point, you’ll either need to move dollars to your current country, or vice versa.  For that, you can use a wire transfer through a bank, which can be very expensive, or a currency exchange service.  We use XE Trade to move euros to dollars to pay US expenses that we might have, or to move money into savings accounts in the US.  It isn’t instantaneous, and takes a few weeks to set up the accounts (to prove you aren’t laundering money!), but it is reliable and fairly efficient at moving money between currencies.  There are other foreign exchange services, but we have found XE Trade to work best for us.  Also, it pays to check around for terms and conditions of different currency exchanges.  The best service for your needs may be different, depending on how much money you are looking to move around and into which currencies.

Hopefully these tools will make an overseas move smother, and a bit less frustrating.  Did I miss anything?  What other questions do you have about living overseas?

My thoughts on Freelancing

I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. Too risky. Too solitary. Too much work for too little reward.  Moreover,  I was never SO passionate about what I was doing that I wanted to work on it all.the.time. which is how I saw most entrepreneurs I knew.   When I was a senior in college, I took a class on entrepreneurship.  It fulfilled an elective requirement I needed, and met at a convenient time.  It was a masters class, with a fun group of students, a good professor, etc.  Most of the students in that class were there to work on their (already-hatched) business ideas, but the main thing I learned was, “Never in my life do I want to be an entrepreneur.”  I went on to work for a large engineering firm, and then to graduate school – all with the aim of returning to the corporate world.

Did I ever mention that moving abroad takes all those life plans and tosses them out the window? When we decided to take the opportunity in Ireland, our understanding of Brad’s work permit was that it came with permission for me (his spouse) to work as well.  Although that is technically true, I must have a work permit in order to work. To get a work permit, you must first get a job, and the vast majority of employers I spoke with only wanted applicants that had existing work permits, since the process takes about 12 weeks to obtain a new one.  It was a Catch-22. I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a work permit, but the only way to get a permit was to get a job. When I finally obtained the all-important work permit, I ran into further problems.  Most employers, when they saw “USA” on my application, assumed that I did not have permission to work, because I am not an EEA (European Economic Area) citizen. Never mind that I had the all-important permit, they couldn’t get past one line on the application! I have continued to apply for jobs with some success, but have not yet found the right opportunity. (As an aside, this experience of trying to get a job overseas has given me a completely new perspective on immigration issues.)

In an effort to not go stir-crazy with 3 kids under foot (hence the picture above, with the dollhouse for added effect), I started teaching myself how to design websites in WordPress. At first, it was just to tweak items on my personal site.  Then I did a project for a local PR firm, and then another friend asked for help on her business’ site, and now I am working on several sites.  Despite the frustration of looking for full time jobs, my freelance web design business has been growing – with very little advertising or effort on my part.  Just word of mouth. As happy as I should be with this development, it makes me uneasy.  Why is that? I guess I feel this way because I never considered going into business for myself at all, and certainly not in web design. I look at friends and former classmates, and I’m wistful for their careers. I see the life that I willingly stepped away from, for the chance to move overseas. Career path! Responsibility! Salary! Entrepreneurship is never where I expected to be, and sometimes feels like a waste of my skills.  I struggle to decide – should I pour my energy into my freelance business, even though there are plenty of competitors out there?  Should I expand my skill set with more coding skills, even though those tasks can easily be outsourced? I worry I don’t have enough passion, or insanity, to make this gig work.  All the entrepreneurs I know are 150% invested in their work.  What if I’m not?  Is enjoying what I am doing, serving my clients well, and being happy with myself, is that enough?  Or do I need to have the desire of world-domination? (Ok, probably not that.)

On the other hand, should I focus solely on my full time job search, and hope that someone will be able to look past my nationality, and see the value I could bring to their organization? If I were to decide to return to the full time workforce after a few years of freelancing, would employers discount my experience? I worry it could be viewed as “well that’s nice, but it’s not a real job”, but maybe I just don’t have enough faith in myself to sell it as a valuable experience – which it is!  All of this leaves me with a conflicted relationship with freelancing. I worry that it is a waste of time because it doesn’t look like the career I always imagined. And yet, I really enjoy it because it challenges me in new and different ways.

For those of you who are entrepreneurs – are you comfortable in your decision? For those of you thinking about freelancing, what has held you back from jumping in?

Friday Finds – Easter Edition

Hello friends!

Happy Easter or Happy Passover to all who are celebrating this weekend.  Is it “Spring Break” where you live?  Here in Ireland (and in most of Europe), students have a 2 week break over Easter.  So life has slowed down a bit, as people enjoy some time off, or leave for a bit of sun!  Fun fact:  You can only buy brown eggs here.  They don’t sell white chicken eggs, so if you want to dye Easter eggs, you either have to buy duck eggs or dye brown ones.  Once dyed, the brown ones have these beautiful deep colours, like the ones above.  A few links for your weekend.

These jokes made me laugh. Or had me stumped. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Do you think America is obsessed with STEM Education?  Is this a good or bad thing?

Expat parents will enjoy this one.  I loved the analogy of the three concentric circles.

I thought this was an April Fools Joke, but no!  You can actually rent-a-ruminant (a goat!) to clear your unwanted grasses in shrubbery!

Need to kill some time tomorrow?  Here’s a good list of Easter crafts and other ideas for kids.

We’re off to Portugal on Monday.  In theory, we hope to escape the Irish weather and see a bit of sun.  Of course, the forecast in Portugal is for rain next week! Fun times ahead!

Have a great weekend.

x Rheagan

Photo credit: Deann Barrera via Flickr

February Blues

February is the worst month ever.  Seriously.  Especially if you live in Ireland.  (Or anywhere in the Northeastern United States!)

When I first moved here, a fellow expat mentioned that February was the worst month to live in Ireland.  I didn’t pay much heed to her comment at the time.  It was my first February in Ireland, I was 8 months pregnant with Patrick, and basically focused on getting to the end of what had felt like a very LOOOONG pregnancy.  But by the next year, I completely understood what my friend Andrea was talking about.  February is the worst.month.ever.  It is cold, and windy, and still full-on winter here.  The month still feels quite dark and dreary.  It’s not that the weather or lack of sunlight is so much worse in February than in other months, but it is the 4th month of wind, rain, and cold.

November is cold, but the holiday season is just around the corner.

December is full of fun, holiday cheer, and plenty of activities to get you out of the house.

January is “new year, new you” and usually starts out with enthusiasm, which quickly wanes.

…..And by the fourth month, we have all had enough.

It always seems like something goes wrong in February.  Last year, all 5 of us got the flu for TWO WEEKS. (The first year I had not gotten a flu shot – that worked out well!) This year, it’s been a pile of frustrations that have slowly been accumulating. So tired of it.  Also, February is the beginning of spring in Texas, and pictures of sunny days fill my social media, which makes me even crabbier.  Before I moved to Ireland, I thought Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was a myth.  I was wrong!  SAD (worst acronym ever) is very prevalent here.

So what am I doing about it this year?

  • I think that at least knowing that February is rough helps me prepare for it.  When the bad thoughts start to pile up, I think to myself – only a few more weeks until March.
  • Get outside, weather permitting. It was sunny last Monday, and the schools were off for mid-term break, so the kids and I went on a walk in Phoenix Park.  It was cold.  And windy.  But at least the sun was shining, and we all got a bit of fresh air.  It also helps me to see that my kids are just as happy hunting for sticks, while tromping through the mud, as they are running around at the beach.
  • My parents are here!  (Ok, so this really isn’t something that I’m doing, but it helps that my parents are joining us for a few weeks.)
  • I’m taking Vitamin D.  Because the angle of the sun is so low here, we do not get as much Vitamin D as someone who lives in say, Texas. It may have a placebo effect, but I don’t care.  I do feel a bit better taking it.
  • We booked a trip to Portugal over Easter. Having something out on the horizon to look forward to, helps tremendously.  Every time it starts to sleet (again), I just think, “Only 48 more days until we go to Portugal!”
  • And speaking of getting away, Brad and I are going to Berlin for a long weekend. Well, Brad has a conference. I’m taking advantage of my mother watching the kids, and tagging along. It will still be cold and dark, but at least I’ll be seeing new sights.

Is February bad where you live?  What do you do to banish the negativity?

Only 6 days until March.

Politics in Ireland Part 2: Voting

Last week, I wrote about an overview about Politics in Ireland.  This week, I’m writing about another interesting topic in Irish politics: Voting.

1.  For starters, although Brad and I are not Irish citizens, we are still eligible to vote in local elections.  These elections are the equivalent of municipal elections in the US.  When we first moved here, a local elections official dropped off a voter registration card for us.  We tried to explain that we were ineligible, since we weren’t citizens.  He looked at me as if I was nuts, and told me that “Of course you can still vote in the local elections!”

2.  There is no “Absentee” voting.  If you aren’t here on the day, you don’t get to vote.  Period.  To some degree, this makes sense. There are between 1M and 3M (depending on the source) Irish passport holders living abroad.  About 770,000 of those individuals were born in Ireland, and most of the rest are 2nd or 3rd generation Irish.  If everyone who holds Irish citizenship was allowed to vote, even if they never intend to live here, then a huge portion of the electorate would be making the decisions that they themselves do not intend to live with.  Given the size of the diaspora, it makes little sense to have them all vote.  I know there is an equally valid counter argument to this viewpoint, i.e. the American absentee ballot system, however this policy does go a long way to explaining why voter participation is so high (appx 64% in 2011) in Ireland.  Use it or lose it!

3.  For voting, Ireland uses the “Single Transferable Vote” system.  As a voter, you pick your top 3 candidates, and the order that you select them.  If for some reason, your #1 candidate does not have enough votes to win his/her seat, your vote is transferred to your #2 choice, and then to your #3 choice, if necessary.  It seems complicated, but once you understand the system, it actually seems quite fair.  The STV system eliminates the challenge that many American voters feel about voting for a third party candidate, the feeling that they are “throwing their vote away”.  With the STV system, you get to choose more than one candidate for the seat, thus improving your chances that at least one of your choices will emerge victorious. You can read more about STV here.

4.  Less “Election-Night” hype.  When the polls close for an election, the ballots are locked away until morning, when the vote counting starts.  There is none of the all-night parade of electoral commentary.  The votes are counted with representatives of all parties present, but there is not as much media fanfare as there is in the US.

5.  Again, all politics is local…really local.  When was the last time your congressional representative showed up at your front door?  Any candidates drop by to personally introduce themselves in the weeks leading up to the election?  Unless you happen to live in Iowa or New Hampshire, your answer to these questions is likely “Never.”  In Ireland, door-to-door canvassing is an integral part of campaigning.  In the last elections, last spring, we had candidates from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Socialist, Green Party, Labour, Sinn Féin, and an independent candidate come by the house (that I know of).  I am certain that I would never get that kind of interaction with my state or congressional representatives in the US.  Brad and I created a list of questions to ask the candidates – mainly questions about the building of a new school (we have totally turned into THOSE voters!)  The level of interaction definitely has its downsides – like constituents calling their representative to complain about every little thing.  But still, I like that the politicians aren’t as distant from their constituency.

Next week, I’ll write about some of the downsides of Irish politics, and European politics in general. (Hint: it’s sloooowww.)

Make your own Italian and Breakfast Sausage

A quick post this evening, due to a discussion I have been having with fellow expats about how to adapt US recipes to the available ingredients in Ireland.  Of of the most common food-related questions I hear is “where can I buy Italian sausage?”  or “Can I buy Jimmy Dean here?”

In Ireland, sausage usually refers to either blood sausage, or “white” sausage, both of which are served at breakfast.  There really isn’t a Jimmy Dean-style breakfast sausage equivalent available.  Italian sausage is also hard to find here. You can make your own sausage with a few basic ingredients, and no scary equipment.  I buy ground pork, or “pork mince” at my local butcher or Polish grocery store.  I find that the ground pork I get at the Polish grocer is the best. For both of these recipes, I try to make the sausage at least 24 hours before I need it, as the time gives the ingredients time to come together.

Below are two recipes I use to make my own sausage.

Italian Sausage

Yield: 3 1-pound portions

3 pounds (1.5 kg) ground pork
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder – if you can’t find onion powder, either omit, or add extra garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed.  I usually throw in about a teaspoon of whole fennel seed as well.
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix ingredients together, separate into three 1-pound (500g) portions.  Freeze until needed.

Adapted from this recipe.

American-style breakfast sausage

Yield: 1-pound breakfast sausage

400-500g ground pork
1.5 tablespoons of sage
1 tablespoon of dried marjoram
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1/4 teaspoons of red pepper flakes
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2-3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Mix ingredients together. Once combined, I roll this sausage into 3″ logs, and freeze. When I want sausage patties, I let it thaw slightly and then slice, and cook.

Both recipes are really flexible.  I add additional spices, or omit spices, depending on what is in my cabinet at the time!

How to take an infant passport photo

You have this beautiful new baby, and now, you’re itching to GO somewhere.  Or maybe you have a wedding to attend. Or a distant relative to visit. Or maybe you live overseas, and you want to take your baby back to your home country to meet the rest of your family.  You’ve looked at flights, vacation schedules, travel advice, and decided to go for it.  Now you just have to get that tiny, floppy, bundle of joy to open her eyes, look straight at the camera, keep her hands out of her face, to take that all-important passport photo.

Wait…what?

All persons on international flights require a passport, which sounds all well and good, until you’re faced with actually getting your infant’s photo taken.  The main requirements are:

[checklist icon=”fa-camera” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]In front of white or off-white background[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Both eyes open[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Neutral facial expression[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Fully facing the camera[/li_item]
[/checklist]

Source: US State Department

It is harder than it appears, especially with really young kids.  Did you know you can take your own passport photo pictures?  I have done this several times, and it is so much easier to do at home than trying to get it done at your local drugstore.  We took Isaac’s passport picture when he was 3 weeks old for a family trip to Spain.  We took Patrick’s picture when he was 6 days old for his Consular Report of Birth Abroad (equivalent of a US birth certificate), and passport.  Liesl was 13 months when we got her passport, so it was a bit easier.  Here are some tips and tricks for taking the getting a decent passport photo of your infant at home:

1.  Cover your changing table in a plain white or off white cover (no print or major texture), or use a sheet as a cover.

2. Place your baby on the changing table.  (I use a changing table because the concave shape of the pad prevents the baby from rolling to one side – thus improving the chance that you’ll get a picture with him looking directly into the camera.)

3.  Stand on a chair and take the picture from above. It helps to take the photo in a well-lit room, so that you don’t have to use a flash.

4.  Go to a Passport photo template website, such as epassportphoto.com, and load your picture.  The online service will help you size the photo to the correct dimensions.  You can choose to download the file for free (to print at your local photo kiosk), or you can have them mail you the photos for a small fee. There are several of these websites available, but we have used ePassportPhoto several times, and have been really happy with the results.

Don’t worry if the picture isn’t great. Kids passports are only valid for 5 years, and by that time, they will look so much different than they do now, no matter how good or bad the picture was.

Above is Isaac’s passport photo from his now-expired passport. (Yes, all my kids had GIANT hands and feet as newborns.)  We had to renew his passport at the US Embassy last year.  Those 5 years went really fast!