Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Intriguing Personality Test

My two sisters and I are all extremely different, despite the fact that it looks like we all planned our matching outfits on this day! Juliet, on the left, is the oldest and she is very much a leader. She likes to take charge and isn't afraid to take risks. Juliet does not enjoy being on stage or hitting the dance floor so much. Amy, on the right, is very steady, responsible and risk-averse. Amy is one of the best dancers I know and she's a very talented photographer. And then there's me in the middle. I've always been the really outgoing, love-being-on-stage, loud, life-of-the-party type. I treasure being alone and writing. Every individual has a rich inner life, and our outward personalities only tell a small part of our individual make up.

Last fall, I applied for a job and got through the first couple rounds of interviews no problem. Then, they wanted me to go online and do an assessment before making me an offer. I went on and took the test in a bit of a rush, which probably wasn't smart. And I couldn't help but try to answer the questions the way I thought the company might want me to answer them, rather than how I really felt. So, although I was a bit disappointed when I didn't get the job, I wasn't that surprised and I made it my mission to find the assessment, which really felt more like a personality test.

After some scouting, I found the book, StrengthsFinger 2.0, which includes a code to take the online test in the back cover. The questions were ranking statements from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." The one that stood out to me the most in my memory was: I enjoy telling jokes and stories at parties, to which I responded strongly agree. After ranking all the statements, your results are generated as your top 5 strengths and the book discusses each strength in depth.

I was surprised and interested to see that my strengths were 1. Strategic 2. Empathy 3. Input 4. Individualization 5. Connectedness. And after reading about them, I felt like I had a good idea of what I do best - and I could easily see how I ended up working as a Montessori teacher. ;)

The author points out right at the start that we have to stop spending time and energy trying to fix our weaknesses, and instead put our efforts into cultivating our strengths. Such a smart and positive approach, don't you think?

Have you ever taken the Strengths Finder test? How has it helped you personally or professionally?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Montessori Monday: Limiting Choices, The Clothing Edition

Imagine this: Your preschooler is finally at the point where he or she can dress independently and you're so excited, because this means that mornings will be a bit easier and there is one less thing that you'll have to do for them. They go into their room and moments later, they're calling for you because they can't reach this or that item. Or, they emerge a while later dressed in a sundress and sandals on a winter day.

In Montessori, we follow some pretty fixed rules when it comes to cultivating independence for children. Firstly, we prepare the environment. In the classroom, this means a clear and orderly system of organization in which everything has a home; that tables, chairs, shelving and so on are all child-sized and accessible to children; and we make sure that everything is beautiful, inviting and attractive. Then, through a set of simple rules, we limit children's choices. (More on those rules in this post). It works wonderfully!

We do these things in order to set the children up for success and all of these same principles can and should apply to all areas of your child's life at home. So let's break it down with regard to clothing and dressing.

Child-Sized Furniture
Although Coco's rooms have both had closets since she's been old enough to dress herself, we decided to invest in a child-sized armoire from IKEA for her hanging clothes and shoes instead. If you don't want to spend the money, or don't have the space, you can also install a hanging rod lower in your child's closet, but the clothing must be at their level and accessible. Along with Coco's armoire, we got the matching chest of drawers. She can open and see into both drawers without pulling or tip-toeing which also makes it much safer than a tall chest of drawers. 

Everything has a Home
I'll be doing a full-length post with interior closet and dresser photos on clothing organization soon, so stay tuned for that one! But, the general idea is that clothing is organized by type and folded so that it can all be seen. I follow the same drawer layout for Coco's and Theo's dressers so there is no confusion when putting clothes away on laundry day.

Beautiful and Inviting 
Children take pride in their room and their space when we help them cultivate an attitude of caring for their environment. Choose furniture and objects that they'll like, or let them help you choose their own furniture and decor. When they love it, they'll naturally want to care for it. 

Limiting Choices
This really is the point of this whole post, but it wouldn't do to just talk about this one piece without the preparatory pieces above. So once you have accessible, organized and attractive clothing organization in place for your child, make sure that only appropriate choices are available at any time.

Appropriate choices include
  • Seasonally Appropriate - As the seasons change, go through your child's clothing and remove anything from rotation that is not suitable for the weather. It's only fair to do this, because children want to choose their own clothing and feel independent in dressing themselves. If they go and do what we've asked them to do, it deflates their sense of pride and accomplishment when we then tell them they made poor choices. If, on occasion, you get into a power struggle over clothing, depending on the circumstances, let it slide. For example, if your child refuses to wear mittens, just say, "Okay, I'll put them in my bag in case you change your mind." Chances are they will and it will be their own choice to put them on rather than a struggle. But, if it's genuinely unsafe, obviously we have to keep our children safe.
  • Clothes That Fit - Coco will insist that things she loves still fit and will try to squeeze herself into them and I always let her do this. Most recently, she wanted to wear a pair of wool tights I had handed down to Theo to layer under his jeans on cold days. I told her they were too small, but when she insisted, I let her wear them anyway. When she got home, she commented that her tights wouldn't stay up at all during the day! She hasn't tried to wear them since! ;) Just this morning, I noticed that the sweet dress she chose for today has gotten too small. But I didn't say right then and there that it was too small, or ask her to change. I just made a mental note and when I see it come through the laundry, I'll take it out of rotation.

It's important to make pulling clothes out of rotation easy by having a small bag, box or bin to put pulled items in right in your child's bedroom. It should be somewhere you can easily get to it, but where your children can't (we keep ours on the top shelf of the closet in their room). Every six weeks or so, go through and take out anything that doesn't fit anymore. Or, when things you've mentally flagged for removal come through the laundry, just fold them along with everything else and then put them in the box instead of their former home as you put everything away. Coco is getting better at hanging clothes on hangers and putting her things away after we do laundry, and even Theo likes putting folded clothes away in his drawers. Because I know she'll be upset to see me put things in the box in the closet, I'll often put these aside and do it when she doesn't see.

When you limit your child's clothing choices, you really set them up for success. They'll get the satisfaction and confidence that comes with independence in dressing and they'll always be comfortable and appropriately dressed. This sort of independence goes a long way in helping children feel capable and build self-esteem. And that is good all around!

Friday, January 20, 2017

On This January Day

I majored in Political Science in college. Then, because I wanted to live abroad, I went into teaching. Overseas, I saw that people don't live the way we do here in the US. I experienced exceptional quality of life, a feeling of true safety and security and excellent healthcare, which was structured by the government in such a way that we never had to worry about being bankrupted by medical bills. Granted I only lived in one teeny-tiny utopian country for five years total, but it changed me. It changed what I thought was possible and it changed what I think people deserve. Since returning to the US, I have felt a constant sense of insecurity. People seem downtrodden and hopeless. Seeing homeless people and vets asking for money at highway off ramps was downright shocking when we first came back. We've dealt with unemployment and underemployment and going back to school and changing careers in mid-life. This has given us a comprehensive tour of the US healthcare system, so-called safety net and social programs. It has been horrifying.

I mentioned almost a year ago that we were huge Bernie supporters in this house. We took both of our kids to the caucuses (Theo in the hiking backpack!) and we were so excited about the possibility of a Bernie Sanders presidency. And then things just nosedived and I found it all so depressing. I buried my head in the sand.

All of this time, my only way to cope has been to bury my head in the sand and pretend that none of this madness is actually happening. When I say "madness" I mean that Donald J. Trump has been elected as President of the United States by spouting a populist message that is completely contradictory to his policies and actions since being elected. And that people on both sides of the spectrum are being aggressive, hateful and angry in their speech and actions. To me, it feels almost apocalyptic. And try as I might, I'm not having any success in finding ways to be the love to drive out the hate, or the light to drive out the darkness, as Dr. King suggested.

But, I realized this morning, that burying my head in the sand is no longer an option. I'm very concerned about the future. I'm worried about healthcare, the environment, growing inequality and greed, and quality of life for common Americans. Bernie Sanders got on Instagram this morning and said,
This is going to be a tough day for millions of Americans, including myself. But we cannot throw up our hands in despair. We have to fight back as effectively and as vigorously as we can. We are not giving up.
I realize that some of you may be really offended that I've chosen to touch politics here on Swiss Lark. And if you're a Trump supporter, I know that a lot of what Trump says can sound really good: Lofty ideals, Unity, Make American Great Again! But, since his election, his actions have spoken louder than his words. His cabinet picks are divisive, he has attacked news and media outlets and suggested that intelligence agencies are incompetent. I fear that insular rhetoric and nationalism are going to reign large in a Trump presidency. And I am worried for the future. I'm just not quite sure how to fight back effectively and vigorously yet.

So, I'll leave you with these two fantastic, insightful, intelligent links:

The Internal Invasion, by David Brooks.

Requiem for the American Dream, with Noam Chomsky.

Thank you for reading. xo

(Illustration via Maira Kalman)

Have a fantastic weekend.

This week, I've been reminiscing so much about Coco's baby days at our lovely little apartment in Zurich. I love looking through photos of those days and thinking about how amazing it was to be a new mom and taking care of a little tiny baby for the first time. She was such an incredible baby. So much personality and wit and smarts, right from her very first days. Just look at that face! She's a gem. That's for sure.

What are you up to this weekend? We are just hanging out and hoping that all the inch-thick sheet of ice will melt enough to chip it off of our walks following the freezing rain earlier this week. Talk about fun, right? ;)

Here's a bit of what caught my eye around the web this week:

For mamas of girls. LOL.

And just re-read this lovely piece. (For the mamas of boys;)

Let the debate rage on.

Eyeing this sweet top for spring.

We made this kid cult favorite last week. The kids did not like it. :( Fail!

Out with almonds, in with Doritos.

Will you be marching, wherever you are?

Bumpy Re-entry.

Inspiration for small space living.

And some more!

Also, re-reading this book ASAP.

I hope you have a good one. See you back here Monday! xo

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Alike (or Different) Are Your Children?

It seems positively ridiculous to me now, but while I was pregnant with Theo, I assumed that the new baby would be just like Coco! I looked forward to evenings watching TV with him sleeping in my arms and wrestling-free diaper changes.

Then, I was about half way through Theo's pregnancy when Coco really hit the terrible twos. She wasn't napping at all and she refused to ever sit or stay still on the bus or tram. It was so exhausting - and embarrassing - to chase her up and down the aisle of the tram, all the while being chided by disapproving old ladies. I avoided going anywhere beyond walking distance with her unless I absolutely had to.

I remember looking at J one night after we'd finally gotten her to sleep and and saying, "You know, this baby sure is lucky he's already in there, because I don't know if I could reasonably get pregnant right now knowing what it's like to have a two-year-old!" And now, when I think of that, I just have to laugh!

In all fairness, it's pretty natural to assume that your second baby will be like your first baby, but Coco and Theo are so different! He was never a fan of sleeping in my arms while I watched TV, but preferred to be put into bed in the evening. And, just a few hours after he was born, I literally had to pin him down to change his diaper! He was wrestling me from the first change.

As they get older, it's amazing to see their distinct personalities emerge and grow. Coco is so high-energy, she never stops talking and she loves a big party! Theo is quite her opposite. He is very mellow and relaxed most of the time. He still isn't talking very much, and he takes about an hour of being held by me, taking it all in before he gets comfortable at a big party. But somehow, it almost seems because of their differences, they compliment one another so well. We love watching them play or dance together, and while their approaches are unique, they share a love of being outdoors in all seasons and weather. It's pretty magical!

Are your children alike, or different? In which ways? What about you and your siblings? Join the conversation in the comments below. xo

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Year Organizing

I've already got organizing and decluttering on my mind in preparation for our next move. While we love our little house and the price is right, the neighborhood is a bit fringy and the school for our particular address is not the greatest. So, with Coco starting kindergarten next fall, it seems that a move is in order this upcoming summer.

Moving is the absolute worst. Every single time we move, I think to myself, "We actually don't have that much stuff. We've done such a good job of keeping our clutter down." And every single time, I am completely wrong. You know that phase in the move when you feel like you've packed just about everything and yet the house still feels as full as it did when you started? I would like to avoid that. So I've been reviewing my favorite organization and decluttering books beginning now. Over the next six months, I plan to purge and prep big time and make our lives more minimalist. Hopefully, it will make the move easier.

Organizing for your Lifestyle by Jane Stoller

This book, written by an expat living in Zurich, is perfect for the business traveler. Her approach is maximalist, but with pristine organization and no clutter. Think of a kitchen with all the best appliances and gadgets, but with none of them crowding up the counters. Everything in its (labeled) place is Stoller's approach. It makes packing for trips (and unpacking on the return) an absolute breeze. She has found ways to streamline and maximize efficiency in all tasks, from laundry to bathroom storage to getting dressed every day. Perfect for the meticulous organizer or novice organizer alike. Stoller has basically created a room-by-room guide to total organization.

Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

I first read this book over ten years ago. It focuses a lot on schedules, but really is all about life organization. The follow-up book, Organizing from the Inside Out focuses more on physical objects, but I find that the time management piece can be a game changer over all. Morgenstern starts the book with a little anecdote. The sun comes out and she thinks it would be wonderful to go for a walk with her baby. By the time she finds and gathers everything she needs - or thinks she could possibly need - the baby has fallen asleep on the floor and it's raining again. Her point: if you're organized, you won't miss out on moments like these. She carries the reader through a series of questionnaires and visualization exercises to determine the type of life they want to create and organize for themselves. Super awesome for the planning and strategy phase of your clear out.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This book has been the gold standard of decluttering books for the past few years, largely because Kondo's approach is so different and whimsical. Rather than focusing on practicality, Kondo is concerned mainly with joy. Does an item give you joy? If so, keep it, and if not, toss it. Toss, of course, can mean recycle or donate etc, but her maxim is that you do not ever keep something because it's valuable or might be useful or you might need it someday. You only keep things you love. This book is great for people who have a hard time letting go of things. Her follow up book, Spark Joy, is a beautifully illustrated guide with step-by-step tips on implementing her organization strategies once you've cleared out.

Because I love the look and feel of a minimalist, tidy, clean and clutter-free home, I really want to pare down our belongings yet again. It makes such a huge difference in my mood and stress levels to have things orderly and neat. But, it's easier said than done, especially with children around. Being calm and present with one's children is all the more reason to do it. And the thought of a less painful move is really getting me motivated! ;)

How do you keep clutter to a minimum? Do you clear out every month? Once a year? Consistently throughout each week? Please share your tips in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Leaving Facebook

I left Facebook back in mid-October. The election season was in its final, crazy days and I was completely overwhelmed by the acrimony of the posts I was reading every day. Even the posts I agreed with seemed so bitter and hostile. I couldn't take it anymore. So I decided to take a break from Facebook - until after the election was over. Whatever made me think it would be better after the election is beyond me, but that's what I told myself.

I removed the Facebook app from my phone, as I've done before for other breaks, and told myself I could check it periodically, but only on the computer. Then, a funny thing happened. Once I got past the first few days of wanting to open Facebook during idle moments, like waiting in line at the post office, or on a break at work (the addiction is real) I didn't feel the need to go online at all anymore. Not anywhere. I wasn't terribly interested in Instagram, or this blog, or anything. It was like white noise.

It was so nice.

I didn't feel like I was missing anything, but a few friends in far-flung places got in touch to say they missed me on Facebook. So, shortly after election day, I went back on to give it a try. The level of hysteria and vitriol was at an all-time high; it was much worse than before the election. I made a remark that was misinterpreted and gave way to what felt like personal attacks from friends who I thought knew me better. And that was it. I decided I was done and I would never go back. And I haven't.

It's really horrifying to say, but after I went off of Facebook, my life, the actual life I live day-to-day and that is ever-present in front of my eyes, came into better focus. It's not healthy to be so distracted by social media, and yet when you are, you don't really notice. I found I had so much more time after I left Facebook, and I hadn't even considered myself that heavy of a Facebook user! Clearly I was. I found renewed interests in puttering around and staring out the window. And then, I started to hear my own thoughts again. My own ideas, my very heart's desires and my own soul's yearnings. These things had been dulled and drowned out by the constant barrage of other people's opinions and thoughts. Hearing my own thoughts again translated into wanting to blog again. I'll never go back to Facebook.

If you're thinking of calling it quits on Facebook, here are a few articles and resources to help you on your way:

Hooked on Our Smartphones. Curbing all phone use, including Candy Crush, is my next goal to conquer.

Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry? When you remove yourself from the online anger, your blood pressure goes down instantly.

The Importance of Staring Out the Window. I found this gem of an article after discovering my rekindled love for staring out the window. Too good.

The Skimm. If you worry that you'll miss out on news on Facebook, sign up for this daily skim of the world's news. Besides, news on Facebook is notoriously unreliable anyway!

Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Self-Esteem - And How to Stop It.

Have you ever taken an extended break from Facebook? Or quit all-together? I'm so curious to know if Facebook and Social Media are generally more positive or negative forces in your life. Please chime in in the comments below. xo

(Image via Lucy Houghton)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Are you traveling or doing something special this weekend? We had planned to go down to Oregon for a dear old friend's baby shower, but between finding a place to stay and the insane amount of snow that fell in Portland, it's just as well that we're not going. But, what a bummer anyway. The upside is that we now have three days stretching ahead with no plans, Homeland starting up again and a nice stack of firewood on the porch. Things could be a lot worse. ;)

Here's a bit of what caught my eye this week:

I'm using (and LOVING) this free daily goal tracker.

Theo's favorite toy these days, by far.

Things that make you grow. (Love this:)

As much as I love Homeland, I have felt increasingly guilty for loving and watching it. Turns out I'm not alone.

Your best life is waiting.

French school supplies.

Afternoon slump? Try this.

How to change your life.

Yay for polka dots on polka dots.

This photo is giving me major wanderlust.

Learning and teaching resources on MLK, Jr.

Have a wonderful long weekend! See you back here Tuesday. xo

(Photo via L ' Essenziale)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Weaning a Toddler

I have officially been pregnant or breastfeeding (or both!) for six solid years. Tomorrow, January 13th is the actual day that, six years ago, I took a pregnancy test at 5 in the morning, still warm from my bed and jet lagged in our little tiny apartment in Adliswil. We had just gotten back following a trip to Spokane for Christmas and I wanted a baby so badly I could hardly see straight. I had woken up and just knew that I was pregnant before I had even opened my eyes. So I jumped out of bed, grabbed a pregnancy test and within seconds, we saw two pink lines. Oh, the joy and wonder that followed.

Six years. Two babies. Two continents. Four homes. All of it either pregnant, or breastfeeding, or both.

Weaning Theo has me all emotional. We actually started weaning back in October, but now we're nearly there. I'm not even sure that I'm producing any significant amount of milk, or if it has just been mainly comfort for him the past few days, but I can feel that it's different somehow. We're down to once a day, before bed. On the one hand, we need to be done. Theo's forgetting how to latch and he approaches it like a straw. On the other hand, I'm going to miss snuggling up with him and hearing him ask for "nay" (his word for nurse). I'll miss the way he holds onto my hair, or strokes my arm or face while he nurses. It's the most loving, tender time we share and I hate to think of it being over. But then he starts doing this weird thing that isn't quite biting, but sort of feels like chewing or grinding and I just want to scream!

So it's time. I know that. And yet, it's hard because it feels like the end of an era. It is the end of an era! As a new mom, you hear again and again that it goes so fast. And then, in the blink of an eye, you see what all those people were getting at. My babies are no longer babies. They'll never be babies again. And I really don't know if we'll have another baby. This might just be it. What a lot to say goodbye to.

I never had to wean Coco. It happened naturally because I was pregnant with Theo. After the first trimester, my milk stopped producing and neither of us had a choice in the matter. But this time is different. It's harder. And knowing there is no new baby on the way to nurse and hold onto makes it harder, too.

I'm getting more and more ready. Time is flying. Spring is actually right around the corner. The days are gradually getting longer even though the temperatures are positively frigid. I have some travel coming up in February without the kids and J and I'm mentally preparing myself that that trip will mark the end of "nay." I think I'm almost there.

If I'm perfectly honest, I'm ready to see what's in store for us after "nay." We know we'll be moving out of our sweet little house and current school district ahead of Coco's starting kindergarten. This sweet tender time, "The Time of 'Nay,'" while it has been good and wonderful, is reaching the end of its line. Nothing lasts forever. I have this incredible feeling, very similar to the way I felt right before I met J, that we're on the edge of something even more beautiful. So I'll just have to let go and allow it to happen. Onward and upward!

How did you wean your baby or toddler? Was it hard for you, or were you relieved to be done? I would love to hear all about it. xo

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Winter Beauty Trick: Sleeping Masks

Don't you agree that keeping your skin hydrated and happy during the winter can be so challenging? This winter in Spokane has been bitter cold. The other morning, it was actually -1 Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) when we got in the car. The cold and the dryness combined were making my skin red, swollen and blotchy. I had to do something, but what? After a little Googling, I discovered sleeping masks, or beauty packs. Have you heard of them? They're masks that you put on before bed and leave on overnight to work their magic while you sleep. 

I tried out three sleeping masks over the past few weeks. Here's what I discovered.

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