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)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Do You Let Your Guests See Your Mess?

Last weekend, some friends of ours saw our house for the first time - and it was a complete mess! It was embarrassing, yes, but in the end they didn't care one bit and we had the best time chatting and drinking wine and beer on the patio late into the night. After they'd gone and a new week was underway, I realized that the mess more than just a mess...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Montessori: 1000 Books per Year

What are your favorite childhood memories? Many of mine involve books: going to the library with my mom and brother, snuggling up together and reading The Wind in the Willows before bed at night. One lovely book memory in particular is being at Lake Coeur d'Alene, lying on a blanket in the shade under a big tree, just after a lunch eaten in swimsuits following a morning of swimming, listening to my friend Rachel's mom, Elizabeth, read A Girl From Yamhill out loud to us. I thought it was the best story ever, and Elizabeth was quite the talented and engaging read-aloud reader. The sun was filtering gently through the green leaves and we could hear the soft lapping of the water at the lake's edge down the hill from where we were resting. Heavenly!

Today, Beverly Cleary turns 100! I loved this article in the New York Times about her life's work. My favorite part is when Cleary denies that Ramona Quimby is modeled after herself. "I was a well-behaved girl," she said, "but I often thought like Ramona." Didn't we all!

The article becomes more serious when author Nicholas Kristof writes, "Cleary says that when she goes back to Yamhill, everything seems the same as ever -- except that now the kids aren't playing in the streets but are inside watching television." That's crushing to read. Especially after loving and relating to her accounts of childhood play so deeply and intimately. It's depressing to think that today's children aren't getting those experiences. Not only are they not playing outside as they should be, but they're not reading either. Kristof points out that "We measure child poverty by household income, but a better metric might be how often a child hears stories read aloud." Wow.

This is something J and I have been discussing lately, but Kristof's article sealed the deal for us. We decided no more iPad on road trips. It makes everything easier, sure, but at a cost we're no longer willing to incur. Instead, we downloaded some audiobooks and when he and Coco went skiing at Schweitzer, a 2 1/2 hour drive each way on Sunday, he and Coco listened to Frog and Toad and Beatrix Potter tales all the way there, and all the way back. He said it was so fun, and they talked and laughed together. J and I had both become a bit sad and alarmed at how completely engrossed in the iPad Coco becomes. It's like she's not even there when she's using it. And, following a road trip and lots of iPad time, she was always in a foul mood for days afterward. Phones and tablets and screen time with children are the slipperiest of slopes.

Before bed at night, we read Coco and Theo each three books. If we read minimum three books per day, that is over 1000 books per year. It sounds like a lot, but it isn't really. It's just 15 minutes a day. That's all! Yesterday, J took them to the library and got stacks of new titles. Right now, Theo's favorite book is Counting Kisses. If he sees it, he reaches and whimpers for it until we read it. For almost a year, we had a to read Alfie and the Big Boys as one of Coco's three nightly books every single night, but she's finally expanded her repertoire.

Do you read together with your children every day? Do they get plenty of time outside? How does their childhood compare to your own?

PS - The Quintessential American Bedtime Story, Little Kids Like Reality and The Best Thing You Can Do To Help Your Child Succeed in School.

(Photo via NPR)

Monday, April 11, 2016

I am a Triangle: Thoughts on Repatriation and Reverse Culture Shock

I haven't felt like myself since we left Zurich. At first, a lot of things could account for this phenomenon: new baby, chaotic, miserable work situation, moving across the US just 11 months after we moved across the world. Those things definitely don't make for feeling like oneself. But then, the dust settled, we got into a routine, and the feeling persisted. So I went searching. We really are so lucky to live in the age of the Internet. It can be downright magical.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spring break, baby!

Next week is spring break and we are headed to Oregon! I am so ready for a change of scenery, but my allergies are already giving me grief up here in Spokane, so I'm popping some Zyrtec tonight in preparation for Oregon, officially the worst place in the US for allergies. Ugh. Do you have allergies? Are they getting bad where you live? That feeling of being a zombie after taking allergy medication is bad, but not as bad as lying awake all night itching, am I right?

J has planned a few hikes for us to do, including Eagle Creek in the Gorge. Also, we're going to Enchanted Forest on Sunday! It will be Theo's first time. I have my fingers crossed that Coco is big enough to go on the log ride, and I can't wait to watch the two of them walk through all of the fairy tales together. It's going to be the cutest.

It's always a little sad every time we go back to Oregon, though. It has changed so much and so rapidly since we moved to Zurich in 2010. When I think of Oregon, I think of mellow days, greenness and moss everywhere, rain, good people with open hearts who are concerned with the greater good. It's a lot flashier and fancier than it ever used to be. In some ways, I love it. Hello, excellent theater, restaurants, shopping and galleries! In other ways, it just feels like an extension of California. Hello, impossible rents, traffic and frenetic pace. Sigh.

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

Case in point.

Visual guide to which muscle you're stretching.

Washington summer bucket list.

Foods before they're harvested. Beautiful!

Lemony deliciousness.

What's really missing?

This funny gal is just brilliant. (The bit about the cat food!)

I got this amazing stuff for J for his birthday. So good!

And, heaven in a bottle.

Finally, National Geographic is showing some respect!

Happy April Fools' Day! See you back here Monday. xo

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Have you ever lived in a haunted house?

Coco and I arrived at our home in Minnesota on a Friday. We had flown away from Zurich without J because the doctor wouldn't let me fly past June 23rd. Coco and I stayed with a good friend of mine in Minneapolis, whom I’d actually met in Zurich, when we first landed. I liked to joke that her house was our decompression chamber, a place to make the transition from Zurich to Minnesota. In retrospect, it wasn’t a funny joke at all. It simply highlighted how little I knew about what we had gotten ourselves into coming home. Re-entry is no small thing. But thank goodness I had no idea. How could I have possibly gone through with any of it if I had known what was coming? 

Friday morning, following a fun week with friends, Coco and I pointed our car north and drove to Duluth, watching the temperature gauge plummet like a rock thrown into deep water as we got closer. J and I made the move to Duluth thinking we’d settle down and call it home for at least four or five years. The city had charmed us in ways both big and small. We fell in love with Chester Bowl, a little tiny ski hill right in the middle of the city, where middle school-aged cadets would take kindergarteners and preschoolers up and ski down with them. The single chair lift didn’t open until school let out and it only operated for a couple of hours. Then all the kids would pile into the lodge, drink hot chocolate and eat hot dogs. It seemed like Norman Rockwell’s America. The other thing that stole our hearts was Lake Superior. It’s like looking out across an ocean when you stand on its shores. In the winter, the lake freezes, but before it does, there are a couple of weeks of steam. It’s almost magical to think that the air temperature gets so cold to cause steam to rise off of a lake that’s only 44 degrees Fahrenheit (6c) to begin with, but it does. Once the lake finally freezes and when the wind causes the sheets of ice to shift, piles of broken glass collect on the beaches.  The ice groans and squeaks until it can’t take the pressure anymore. Then it crunches into brilliant sparkly, geometric piles. If the sight of it doesn’t take your breath away, the cold will.

We never ended up going to Chester Bowl once. It just was a few blocks from our house. It was the end of June, 50 degrees and raining when Coco and I arrived. We got our suitcases into our cavernous house and set up the new bedframe we’d had delivered in advance from IKEA. Our shipment from Zurich wouldn’t arrive for at least another two weeks and all of our things in storage out in Oregon wouldn’t be there until J arrived, flew to Portland, loaded them all up and drove back a few weeks later. I laundered our new linens and Coco and I went to sleep that first night on a brand new bed in an otherwise empty house. 

It was around 3 am when Coco woke me up, pointing to a spot in the middle of the floor saying, “Why is she here, mama? I don’t like her here!” I didn’t fully come to, but instead tried to stroke her temple and cheek brushing her hair out of her face in an effort to get her to go back to sleep. She would not be placated. “Why is she here?” she asked again, at which point, I was fully awake. I sat up in bed and reached up to turn on the overhead light. “There is no one there. See, sweetie?” I said, my heart pounding out of my chest. “Let’s go back to sleep.” Then I turned off the light and willed myself to take deep breaths. I slept the rest of the night with my back turned to that spot. 

For a while, I explained away the feeling that someone had just entered the room, or the figure I thought I saw in my peripheral vision, due to the novelty of it all. We were settling into a new space in what felt like a new country. It made sense. Once the house was fully furnished and all of us were there, I just tried to ignore it. 

Weeks went by and we brought a new baby home. The first night in our house with sweet baby Theo, I woke up three times to see a little old lady, leaning over the side of the bed peering at him excitedly. The third time I screamed and woke up the baby. It was just a nightmare, I told myself. The lack of sleep was the perfect explanation for these apparitions. Then, fall settled in and Halloween was just around the corner when finally J said one day, “Do you ever see things in this house?” to which I responded simply, “Yes.” And then we didn’t talk about it anymore.

But it was out. We still managed to deny it a bit, but it was out. J felt that when he was in the woods, or down by the shore, that he also saw things then. We were sleep deprived, we were in a new place, we were really, really stressed out. Surely a logical explanation could be made. 

One night, I woke up and saw a little baby, fully clothed in very old-fashioned clothing, sitting in our bed, looking at me. I was half asleep, but I wondered why Coco had a little bow in her hair in the middle of the night, and why her hair was so short. Then I sat up and looked down at Coco’s head, with her long blonde hair glimmering against my pillow in the light sneaking in through the blinds from the street lamps. I put my hand on Coco’s back while starting at this little baby girl in front of me. My next fatigue-addled thought was that it must be Theo, but I turned and placed my hand on my much smaller baby boy and looked back to see that still, this little baby girl just sat there, staring at me. She was the little girl Coco had been talking about that first night. Poor little mite! How dreadful to be stuck between two worlds with no mama and no family. I gasped and she disappeared right before my eyes. I lay down with a sigh and stared at the ceiling for a long time. I listened to the rhythmic breathing of my two little babies on either side of me. I counted the dots stretching across the ceiling from where the light came through the blinds. Despite all the stress and chaos in our lives at that point, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that my children, J and I were all healthy and alive. For months after I saw that little baby girl, I thought every day how thankful I was that we were all healthy and alive. Because being healthy and alive meant that we could get out of there, out of that situation, out of Duluth. Eventually, we did. 

One day, not much later, I was doing laundry with Theo in the bouncy seat in the basement. I was pretreating a stain on Coco’s leggings in the utility sink when I felt someone right behind me. I spun around and saw an old woman in a nightgown with long, silver grey hair in rag curlers. I screamed and she brushed past me. I can still see the ecru lace on her nightgown, the wrinkles on her face.

Before everything had really become unbearable; before we knew we’d be leaving Duluth quite soon, our landlord had some ghost buster types come through. They brought sage and clanked around with weird wire instruments. They walked through the house and stopped right where Coco had pointed that first night. They told me that it was a very active spot. We had two ghosts, they said, an old woman and a baby, but they didn’t seem to be related or aware of each other. They said that the old woman liked to wander outside and went in and out through the laundry room. When they went through Coco and Theo’s room, they said the baby was sitting in the crib with Theo while he napped. “Don’t be frightened,” they told me, “she just likes being with him. She is very innocent and loving.” That night, after they left, we had dinner and went to bed. I barely slept. The old woman was in and out of our room all night long. I didn't dare open my eyes, but I could feel her come and go again and again. She was angry and didn’t want to leave, but just before dawn, she did. I never saw or felt her presence again. The baby stayed. She didn’t understand. There we were with two children, loving them, caring for them. I think she felt like she was part of the family. I saw her in our bed a few more times. And then we left. While I was packing one day, I told her we were leaving. The last day, when the floors were still drying from the mopping, I said goodbye to her and locked the door for the last time. 

Originally, we had wanted to leave Duluth the way we had gone there and drive south to Minneapolis to stay with our friends for a couple of nights before Coco, Theo and I flew out to Spokane and J did the drive in the moving truck. But we didn’t have enough truck space in the end, so we left straight from Duluth. We spent the night with the only good friends we had made there. The next morning, everyone hugged and said their goodbyes and we literally pointed our vehicles west and set out. It was cold, 50 degrees and so foggy you couldn’t see the lake. I drove our car pulling a U-Haul trailer and J drove the Budget truck. We drove out past the edge of town and watched Duluth recede into oblivion in the rearview mirror. We crossed the state line and our spirits lifted. We watched as the temperature gauge climbed higher and higher. The mountains rose all around us, we entered the west’s embrace and all of the ghosts of Duluth were behind us.  

(Photo of my friend's mother, that scared me half to death that spring when it appeared our of nowhere in my phone thanks to the auto-download feature on WhatsApp;)

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