Monday, May 23, 2016

Making Pavlova

Have you heard of Pavlova? It's a ridiculously delicious meringue-like dessert from Australia. I had never heard of it until Coco was a few weeks old and my dear friend Laura-Ann was hosting one of our weekly mama meet-ups at her apartment in Thalwil. When we arrived, she announced that she had made a Pavlova for us (which elicited gasps of joy from my friend Amyjo) but that it had fallen, so we'd just have to settle for some store bought treats. Oh well! Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I needed an idea for a dessert for the Mother's Tea at Coco's school. Laura-Ann recommended Pavlova and sent me the recipe. I decided to go for it. If it fell, I could always just stop in at Trader Joe's for some store bought treats, right?
Being married to an Aussie, and having lived there for many years, Laura-Ann loves Pavlova enough to have a giant framed Pavlova poster hanging in her home! She snapped a photo of the recipe part of the poster and sent it to me. Her mother-in-law doesn't like the particular poster Laura-Ann has, however, because above it says, "New Zealand's National Dessert" and her mother-in-law, of course, considers Pavlova to be Australian. The official jury is still out on that one, but both New Zealand and Australia consider it their own.
Beating egg whites just right is a fine art and one that always intimidates me. So, before I started, I watched this video to brush up on the main points of what to watch for and when to stop. Coco and Theo were absolutely fascinated. And I'm happy to say that the egg whites came out perfectly! Has anyone tried this glass bowl for the Kitchen Aid? I love the look of it!
Once I turned the Pavlova out onto the baking sheet, Coco and Theo got down to the important work of licking the whisk and spatula. 
The recipe Laura-Ann sent is in Celsius. First the oven is heated to 300 Fahrenheit, then as soon as the Pavlova is put in the oven, you lower the temperature to 285 Fahrenheit, and after 15 minutes, down to 250 Fahrenheit for another 1.25 hours. According to Laura-Ann, the most important thing when making Pavlova is leaving it in the oven afterward. You switch off the oven, open the door to vent and leave it there to cool completely. 
Once it's cooled completely, top with whipped cream and berries or fruit. Then it's ready to serve. I had absolutely no idea how to serve it, but I just grabbed a pie server and cut wedges and it worked out fine.
It's almost magical how the outside is crunchy and hardened, while the inside is soft and airy. After I served it up and took a bite, I realized that not only had I never made a Pavlova before, but I had never even eaten one before! I was instantly a devoted fan. I've already made two more since the Mother's Tea. It has been a huge hit with everyone. 

Coincidentally, after the Mother's Tea, my mom got her May issue of Better Homes & Gardens and Pavlova was the cover story! Their version has rosewater in it. I may just have to try that next! Rosewater is one of my favorite things of all time. Have you had Pavlova? If you try it for the first time, I highly recommend Laura-Ann's recipe! Make sure to let me know how it turns out! Enjoy. xo 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reverse Culture Shock: The Pledge of Allegiance

Today I am subbing at my old middle school. This is the last school I attended in Spokane before we moved to Portland. It's also where I met my beloved friend-to-this-day, Kate. It was so weird to walk in here this morning and see the familiar hallways and lockers as I checked in at the office. I actually have super good memories of being a student here, so it has been a fun day so far. The building is an awesome mid-century gem with slanted rooflines and exposed beams and really sleek and attractive cabinetry and woodwork. Sadly, most of it has been covered up or ruined by new lighting and technology, but a lot of the bones are still there and if you look closely, they look great. The view of the water tower above is what I saw every afternoon as I labored through my boring-as-could-be 6th period Math class. Ha! Talk about a trip down memory lane.

I got all settled into my classroom for the day and looked over the notes and lesson plans the teacher had left for me. The first 20 minutes of the day are homeroom, now called Home Base. Sidenote: I've noticed that lots of things have been renamed since I was in school. For example, a quiz is now called a "check-up". Goofy! But, I digress. So, after I took role, the students were to work on homework or play games quietly as it's Friday. So far so good. Pretty soon, the loudspeaker came on and a woman announced, "Good morning, students! Please rise for The Pledge of Allegiance".

Then, just like something out of a North Korean war documentary, all of the students stood up, turned toward the flag, placed their hands upon their hearts and recited The Pledge of Allegiance. Wow. Just wow.

I've never really considered the act of reciting The Pledge of Allegiance at school before. But after being abroad, it's like I am seeing it as an outsider or foreigner - and it is freaky! Stop and think about it for a second. Every day, across America, students stand, place their hand on their heart and pledge their allegiance to the flag. They essentially worship the flag. It's the essence of militarism and nationalism. Isn't it?

This is not my first subbing job, far from it. But every single time students rise for The Pledge of Allegiance, I am totally surprised and weirded out by it. Have you ever given this any thought? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Series: Expat Mamas

Deciding to raise your family abroad is a pretty big deal. As a compulsive over-thinker of things, I decided to get inside the brains of several women raising their families far from home and ask them all about the nitty-gritty parts that are neither fun, nor exotic, nor easy. All too often the idea of living abroad is romanticized as some extended vacation, which it is not. But, that doesn't mean it's not worth it, just that it's not perfect.

Over the next few weeks, I'll share stories with you from Australian, British and German families in the US, as well as American and Australian families in Switzerland. I can't wait to see what you think! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Travel Tips for International Flights with Kids

International long-haul air travel with babies and small children can be really intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. I consulted with a few of the many expat mamas I'm lucky enough to call friends and assembled a list of tips and tricks to make international flying as painless as possible.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Have a fab weekend!

Are you doing anything special this weekend? We are headed to Seattle tomorrow. J's summer job is a non-traditional work week with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, so we are taking advantage of our last traditional weekend and getting out of town. We are super happy with the Tuesday/Wednesday summer weekend because it will make camping and hiking easy and crowd-free, but it will also make it harder to do things with friends. This weekend we are staying with our neighbors from Zurich who moved to Seattle in October. Coco, J and I are all so excited to see them after so long! We are also going to visit my cousin and his wife and their brand new baby girl who's just a few weeks old. Getting away and a change of scenery is always so nice. Wish us luck for an effortless early morning departure and an uneventful drive. ;)

Here's a bit of what's caught my eye the past couple of weeks:

The photo above is from Russ & Daughters' beautiful Instagram.

When the expat parent is left behind.

Coco would look so darn cute!

Fingers crossed these savory muffins will make the morning rush a little smoother.

The colors of Naples.

My friend Morgan and I got into a Twitter convo about grey hair this morning!

This utterly swoon-worthy perfume is at the top of my mother's day wish list.

How to be simply happy. (J and I loved this!)

I Had a Baby in Europe; Here's What It Did to Me. (Excellent!)

I've fallen in love with this kitchen appliance all over again.

And, in case you missed it, new from Minted: gorgeous custom name labels.

I hope your weekend is completely awesome. See you back here sometime next week. I'm still figuring out the best posting schedule that allows me to be really present and engaged with Theo, Coco and J. Bear with me! xoxoxo

Thursday, April 28, 2016

On Forcing Change - and Why You Needn't

Do you ever find yourself getting anxious and impatient when working toward a goal or trying to make a change? It's very easy to do. All around us are stories of overnight successes, or movies and books in which the path of a character is so clear with obstacles overcome so naturally before ending happily with no loose ends. In our own lives, it's really easy to feel like change is occurring at a glacial pace, but I assure you it is not. The Facebook "On This Day" app does an excellent job of reminding us exactly where we were and what we were doing on this day in past years. For example, April 28, 2014, J, Coco and I were returning to Zurich after our amazing Italian road trip. I wrote, "So thankful to be home. No wait at the Gotthard Tunnel AND a blue parking space on our street. Incredible! A little sad to think that Coco and I will be on US soil in just 8 weeks. Zurich really feels like coming home. <3"

Incidentally, that is not a day I need to be reminded of, but rather one that I've thought of often over the past two years. I distinctly remember my gut sinking when we crossed the border into Switzerland. It was a rainy and misty day, chilly compared to the sunny Amalfi Coast. We were tired and worn out as you always are at the end of a trip. We crossed over into Switzerland, the Swiss flag flying all around us. We paid in Swiss Francs at the McDonald's (only on road trips!) and saw the Swisscom service re-appear on our phones. It felt so good, so right. It was like burrowing into a warm cozy womb. I knew right then, sitting in the McDonald's, watching Coco play in the play area, that we were making a terrible mistake.
Fast forward one year later to April 28, 2015. I posted this photo of Theo in that dreadful, freezing Minnesota kitchen, with the caption, "It won't be long now! (He *just* started crawling!!) #pullingup #walkingsoon #sweetbabytheo"

Just look at that gorgeous boy who was still in utero the year before! He has changed and grown so much. Today, he's running full speed and pulling his sister's hair. Although I realized that day in the McDonald's that we were making a mistake, I understand now that I tried to force the change anyway for two reasons. One, because it really did seem too late, and two, because I believed it was the right thing to do. No. Not the right thing; I believed it was the only thing to do.

Without even realizing it, we humans operate on and make choices in our lives based on truths we hold to be fact. These are undeniable personal truths, akin to needing air to breathe, or the sky being blue. Two truths I now understand I was operating on back in 2014 were that 1). Our time in Zurich always had to be temporary, and 2). It's a non-negotiable requirement to live near family.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know just how jarring and disorienting it was to have these held truths clash with reality. It's no surprise that I've been anxious to get back to Zurich since before we left.

The big lesson I've learned over the past two years is that if we can pay attention to, and trust the process of change, the actual facts will challenge our held truths in the little moments that reveal our true desires. The moment I unpacked our iMac in the US and had to order a new power cord from Apple because the grounded Swiss plug wouldn't work with adapters was a revealing moment for me. I completed the call with Apple and then, instead of throwing away the useless Swiss cord, I tucked it carefully back into the box, just in case we needed it again some day. Another revealing moment was when we got to Spokane. I couldn't bring myself to committing to life here in any significant way. We could have bought a house, but we didn't. We decided to rent and then J decided to go back to school for some further qualifications that would work here - but also back in Switzerland. The actions in these moments revealed our true desires.

Once you understand your true desires, you can often uncover the held truths that may be holding you back. Despite understanding this, I'm still unraveling and separating the actual facts from my held truths. Watching Coco and Theo run full speed all over the park the other day, I realized that the change and transition we're going through is actually progressing exactly as it should and there is no need to force or rush anything. Change only feels slow while it's happening, when we don't know where it's going. I trust that once I'm looking back on all of this, I will see that the path was clear, the obstacles overcome naturally, and that it all happened quickly, the happy resolution leaving no loose ends.

What true desires do your actions reveal to you? Do you operate based on held truths that aren't actual facts? Do you trust the process of change? I'd love to hear your insights. xo

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Staying Present & Swirling Thoughts

Warning: This post is a bit rambling. So, Friday is the full moon. This photo, which is one of my favorites, was taken during the full moon on my birthday. That night was not only a full moon, but also a lunar eclipse, so we drove out into the dark fields of the Palouse to watch it. Then Theo got fussy and needed to nurse before we drove back home. J snapped this photo through the sun roof. It was so dark out there! We were all blinded by the flash for a few minutes. It was a memorable night.

Leading up to the full moon this week, I decided to prepare a full moon ceremony. Have you ever done one? It's very easy and a great way to let go of old stuff that's holding you back or no longer serving you. First, you write down on a piece of paper all of the things that are making you angry, sad, occupying more of your brain space than they deserve, the things that you're ruminating over without really getting anywhere. Then, you go outside under the full moon and ask for release. Grab a match and burn the paper. Feel the things on it evaporate away into the atmosphere and leave you forever. It sounds totally new-age-y and ridiculous, but it's just another method of setting intention to let go. When we set intentions, magical things tend to happen. And letting go is so crucial. How can you welcome new thoughts and patterns into your life without making space for them?

So I've had this in the back of my mind for a few days now, and I've really been asking what I want to let go. Then, do you know what I did this morning? I got rid of the Facebook app on my phone. I really want to be more present in my everyday life and, honestly, that stupid app has been holding me back in a major way. It is a major MAJOR time sucker. Especially for people like me, living in a place where they feel a bit out of place and not terribly connected; it gives the illusion of being connected. It's been the best way to stay connected to my life in Zurich, but I'm not truly connected. I'm staring into a tiny screen. That is obviously problematic. I was lying down for a nap with Theo today and had this flash of recognition in which I saw J and I in a decade or so, remembering life with little kids and missing it so much. It was one of those jarring thoughts that strike just as you're falling asleep and wake you with such force that it's hopeless to try to go back to sleep again without doing some serious deep breathing. I didn't get my nap.

Let's be real here: We cannot - and will not - ever enjoy every moment with out little children. I get all panicky and anxious every time a well-meaning old woman tells me to cherish every minute, or I read another Huffington Post article about treasuring every last second. I love my kids, but it's impossible to do that! What we can do, though, is be present for every moment we share with our children. Then, when it's all in the past, we can rest easy knowing that we were there, not staring into our iPhone.

Sometimes I think it's hard to be a stay-at-home-mom because you naturally get bored. It's isolating when you're at home; you don't have the buffer of busy-ness and distraction to keep your mind occupied. Consequently, the mind wanders, it questions and examines, and that can be really unpleasant. So, stay-at-home-mom or not, if your mind has been wandering, asking big questions and you're feeling some ennui, the full moon might be the perfect time to let some of it go and make way for time and attention to be present and experience more joy. What do you think? Will you try it?

Also, this Tweet! ;)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Introducing Minted Name Labels

I have been searching the past few months in vain for attractive machine-washable children's clothing labels. Honestly, I came up with nothing. So when Minted contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked me to test out their new name labels, I was delighted and responded with an enthusiastic YES! Minted's name labels are dishwasher-safe, waterproof, laundry-safe and non-toxic. Best of all, thanks to their community of independent artists, their designs are gorgeous and second to none.
For Coco, I ordered smaller name only labels and matching larger labels with space for a phone number or email address. That's a must for more expensive items, like her new Patagonia fleece that is meant to last at least two years! ;)
Coco, like all four-year-old girls, loves princesses. If you can believe it, she is going to Princess Camp at her ballet studio this summer, so I went ahead and ordered her a set of princess labels as well. They also feature enough space for a phone number or email address (I blurred it for the sake of privacy) and I love the customization options, including an array of hair colors and skin tones.
For Theo we got the cutest little train labels. With summer coming up and swimming lessons and possibly some more days at daycare, I really want all of his clothing to be labeled. I also got him the larger version in the tugboat design with space for a phone number to go on his fleece and snowsuit, scooter and balance bike.

There are so many cute designs, it was hard to choose! I love these unicorns and donuts for girls, and how sweet are these airplanes and pirates for boys? Minted ships worldwide and is currently offering 15% off site wide with the code SPRING16. Happy shopping!

(This post was sponsored by Minted. I received product in exchange for this post. All photos and opinions expressed are my own. No further compensation was received. Thank you for supporting the brands I choose to work with and making Swiss Lark possible!)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Züri Sächsilüüte (Zürich Sechseläuten) -or- The Exploding Snowman Day off of Work

One holiday that we never participated in much in Zurich was Sechselauten, or in Swiss German, Sächsilüüte. It happens on the third Monday in April every year and in our minds was mostly just a lovely and welcome three-day weekend! But the actual reason for the day off of work is an elaborate celebration to usher in summer. There is a big parade in which the guilds march, which is rather hoity-toity. Then there is the burning of the Böögg. What is a Böögg, you ask? Why it's a giant snowman packed with explosives and perched atop a huge bonfire, of course! The apex of the day is when the Böögg is lit and everyone waits to see how long it takes to explode. The results are said to predict whether summer will be rainy or beautiful.

Sechseläuten translates literally as "six o'clock people" because the guilds made workers work until dark all year long, except in summer. During summer the law was that work had to end with the six o'clock bells, therefore, the celebratory factor came in because summer was the only time of year people had non-working daylight hours. Cheers to that!
We never once attended the burning of the Böögg, even though we lived so close to the Sechseläuterplatz just in front of the Opernhaus. In the photo above, you can see the street that we lived just a few meters off of down the tram line. From right there, you could catch a tram, ride 4 or 5 stops and be at Fröhlichstrasse, our tram stop. Or you could just walk 15 minutes or so. It was that close. Crazy!
But, as you can see, Sechseläuten is not baby-friendly. We took Coco to the parade a few times and she loved that, but the burning of a very tall bonfire topped off with a snowman filled with explosives? No, thanks. I think we always thought we could go when Coco was older, but I also can't really say I regret not going. Some holidays and customs you adopt and some you don't. Today the Böögg took an unprecedented 43 minutes until it was so thoroughly burnt that the head fell to the ground and finally exploded there. It looks like it's going to be the most miserable summer ever in Zurich. Shoot!

Have you lived abroad? Which holidays and customs did you adopt? Which ones didn't take? 

(Posters from Compostella+Perrot, Böögg aerial photo from Luzerner Zeitung, exploding Böögg photo from House of Switzerland)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Have a happy weekend!

Are you going into the weekend feeling good? With a clean house and healthy, happy kids, I am feeling just great. This evening, I'm looking forward to a hot yoga class that is set to music. Fitness has been one of my goals since the new year, but it's been really sporadic despite my efforts. Do you find it hard to be consistent with fitness amid all the other responsibilities in life? How do you squeeze it in?

It just seems like there was so much amazing stuff on the Internet this week! Here's a bit of what caught my eye.

I love the story of this expat-repat family and how they made their happiness work back home.

Coco and J have the sweetest bond.

One of the most delicious things you'll ever eat, straight from Brazil.

So outrageously cute!

Perhaps the weirdest thing I've ever seen. HA!

Old school cleaning tips.

I am in love with this gorgeous house.

Clever sandwich-free lunch ideas.

I laughed so hard reading this in bed that I almost woke up Theo.

Time to have Coco start carrying her own!

My most sincere thank you for all of your comments, Tweets, shares and emails on this post! I am continually inspired by all of your wonderful knowledge and beautiful insights. Thank you for reading - and responding!

I hope your weekend is joyful and restful. More and more, I find that staying present and practicing an attitude of gratitude make all the difference in feeling happy. What are you feeling grateful for today? What beautiful moment will you take notice of this weekend? I hope it's a good one! And see you back here Monday. xo

(Photo of Coco playing at the Chinagarten Spielplatz. Dwell home spread via Apartment Therapy)

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