Thursday, March 28, 2013

Norwegian Brown Cheese

My friend Nina from our mommy group is from Norway. One day over at her house for a playgroup brunch, she served homemade banana bread with this delicious brown cheese. I immediately loved it. A few weeks ago, her mom visited and she brought me a block of my own. It's a mix of cow and goat cheese and it's almost sweet tasting. Back in January several tons of brown cheese caught fire in a Norway tunnel! Thank goodness no one was hurt. But the loss in cheese was considerable. ;) I need to make some banana bread to enjoy with my brown cheese asap. Have you ever tried it?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Montessori: Literacy and the Alphabet

Early reading seems to be a priority for most parents of young children. So here are a few tips to help your child gain familiarity with the alphabet and how it translates into reading.

1). Focus on SOUNDS (In other words, skip the alphabet books!)
Most alphabet books focus on the names of the letters instead of the sounds they represent as visual symbols. We have a book called "I Spy in the Ocean" which is written, "I spy with my little eye, something that begins with the letter O." Then there is an octopus on the next page. Instead, I read it as, "I spy with my little eye, something that begins with 'ahhhhhh'" and I make the ahhhhh sound like o makes in octopus. See the difference? Which is more helpful when sounding out a word - the letter's name or the sound it makes? Obviously the sound. :) But most alphabet books aren't written with sounds in mind. So, don't bother buying them, and if you're given some, try to adapt them.

2). Keep it Lowercase
In the English language, 98% of letters are lowercase, and yet most books, games and reading kits for young children are all in uppercase. Why do they do that? If your child can recognize lowercase letters, he or she will be a lot better off.

3). It's a long road to books
When beginning reading with your child, realize it's a long way from learning to read to books. Start with the sounds. Print out on card stock each letter of the alphabet (1/2 page per letter) and teach your child to recognize them as sounds. In Montessori, we use sandpaper letters that the children trace, creating a visual, tactile and auditory experience all at once. At home, visual recognition is enough. And don't buy sandpaper letters to have at home. That is just overkill!

Once your child remembers the sounds, play games with them. Put 8 or so on the table and sit on the other side of the room. Have your child bring you the 'aaaaaa' (say the sound! a as in apple), then have your child bring you the 'ttt' (right against the back of your teeth. t as in top) and so on and so forth. 

4). Write first, read later
In Montessori, once a child knows about 8 or 10 sounds reliably, they move on to making or building words with the moveable alphabet. In the classroom, this has been supported by playing games with the teacher to cultivate the recognition of sounds and their placement in words. Then, once the understanding of words and how they're constructed is confirmed, they go on to reading phonetic words. 

5). Only go as far as your child goes happily
If your child is genuinely interested in pursuing reading at home, go for it! If they're resistant, stop immediately. It's not worth butting heads over, or worse, creating negativity toward reading in your child's mind. So once they've had enough, let it go. 

6). Keep it real
Don't be too tempted by iPad apps and computer programs that will help your child learn to read. Anything involving a screen means the child is not genuinely engaged, but rather responding to external stimuli. They don't have to use their own motivation or creativity because the app keeps the ball rolling for them. That's not how great learning and discovery take place. 

Do you have a preschool aged child? Is early reading a priority for you? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Have a healthy weekend!

This week was entirely consumed by Coco's sickness. She had the stomach flu and it was not a 24-hour thing, or even 72-hour thing. It lasted all week. :( Finally, today, we were well enough to get out and went down to the lake. I sat in the sun and and knitted while Coco napped happily in her buggy. Then, this afternoon, after my magical cure of Top Ramen and Coke, she came out of it and started taking interest in her toys and smiling and laughing again. I'm so happy to have our cheerful little lady back! But, don't worry, I diluted the ultra-salty Top Ramen broth with oral rehydration solution and the Coke, too. It was barely caramel colored! ;) Now that health seems to be returning to our house, this weekend we are going to take it easy and get outside for lots of fresh air. 

Here is what caught my eye this week...

Divorced and then married again (to each other)!

The most beautiful set of wooden blocks.


After having a sick toddler all week, I think this would be worth the money.


I'm so inspired by this family's small space living.

The importance of story telling.

Although I'm in a full embrace with domesticity now, it won't be forever. Grateful for the choices we can make.

I adore this song!

Have a great weekend, remember to wash your hands for a full 30 seconds with soap and warm water (get under your fingernails!) and stay healthy. Trust me, you do not want the Sydney strain in your house. See you back here Monday! xo

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Family Origin Map Art

I recently learned of these beautiful custom family origin map pieces by artist Emma of TerrorDome on Etsy. My friend Amyjo ordered one for her family of four after they got the ultrasound that their second child would be a girl! Isn't it fun to look at the map and see the birthplaces of the four family members? I love how they're all holding hands. It's such a sweet, simple idea and just as stunning in real life. 
If you don't have children, the artist also makes couples map origin pieces and butterfly pieces of places you've traveled. She uses vintage maps and cuts each piece by hand before arranging them perfectly in a shadowbox frame. Which one would you choose? 

(photos via Etsy)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Stay-at-Home-Feminist

The Mommy Wars have been a pretty black and white debate for the past few months, which irks me to the core because it doesn't mean you're a traitor to womankind because you want to be a stay-at-home-mom. Isn't that what feminism is all about: Choice? Then Lisa Miller came along and the next wave of feminism has been branded. She captures it perfectly in this passage:

"If feminism is not only about creating an equitable society but also a means to fulfillment for individual women, and if the rewards of working are insufficient and uncertain, while the tug of motherhood is inexorable, then a new calculus can take hold: For some women, the solution to resolving the long-running tensions between work and life is not more parent-friendly offices or savvier career moves but the full embrace of domesticity."

Exactly! I have fully embraced domesticity and I am not ashamed. What do you think? What is your ideal work/life balance? You can read the full article here. I loved every single word. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Date Night and Taking Care of a Toddler with a Stomach Bug


Poor Coco has been so ill the past two days. I have never seen her so sick in her life. It started Sunday evening when J and I were on our way home from the comedy show. Good thing we had fun, because when we got home it was all over! :( Click on "Read more" below to get the full story and hear about our date, too! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Have a green weekend!

Happy St Patrick's Day weekend! What are your plans? I'm disappointed that we aren't in Spokane for the annual family celebration (photo of Coco and I last year above), but J and I are excited to have a date Sunday night! :) We are going to a comedy show and for a drink beforehand. Our neighbors are babysitting for Coco and we can't wait to have an evening out together. 

Here is what caught my eye this week:

If the wage to child care costs ratio were weighed equally, I'm pretty sure Switzerland would be the bottom of the list!


Cheerful yellow kitchen.


What do you think of the new "The Sexes" channel at The Atlantic?



Sweetest note from father to son.

We are spending way too much on these every month.

I hope you have a fantastic St Patrick's Day! Wear green. :) See you back here Monday! xo

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Are you religious?

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for part of my schooling. I've never been passionately religious, but it's always been something I have cared about as a spiritual outlet and support system through difficult times. J was raised in an Evangelical Christian church, but never took to it himself,  so last summer we had Coco baptized in the Catholic church. Then last fall, J started taking classes at the church to convert and we were attending mass pretty regularly. But then a funny thing happened.

I became disappointed in the church. My experiences growing up in Catholic school as an altar server were really positive. There was a great deal of emphasis placed on openness and acceptance, service to others and humility. My mom studied at Gonzaga University with the Jesuits and her interpretation of Catholicism and everything she passed on to us was infused in spiritualism, having a deep personal connection with God and trusting in the mysteries of life. I just wasn't getting that here. I don't know if it's the fundamental difference between European Catholicism and American Catholicism or what, but I didn't even want to go to mass anymore. Everything seemed to be about guilt and shame and to me it seemed really negative. The offerings that were more positive seemed vapid and uninspiring, along the lines of "Jesus loves you," which in my opinion is rather ridiculous. 

So I find myself at an odd point in my spiritual life. I would like to give Coco a spiritual upbringing and a religious foundation, but I don't feel engaged or fulfilled myself. It's frustrating. The news of Pope Francis is really uplifting, though. I have high hopes that the church will give me the same inspiration it once did with him in the Vatican. 

So, I'm curious, are you religious? How active are you in your religion? Do you feel it's something important to model and teach your children? Or, the opposite? I'd love to hear your feelings and views on this one. It's a very interesting topic to me. Thanks! xo

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our Bird Feeder

We have a bird feeder hanging outside our living room window and Coco absolutely loves it! She is completely awestruck every single time a bird comes to eat from it. It's such a beautiful thing to see the world through the eyes of a child. Don't you agree?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stress Dreams

Do you ever have stress dreams? Back when I was teaching, I had total teacher stress dreams, like being late on the first day of school and having no lesson plan. When I had a particularly micro-managing administrator, I would even have dreams of being sent to the principle's office! (Something that didn't happen once during my own school days. ;)

Now my stress dreams are confined to one of two scenarios: missing train connections and rushing around an endless maze of stations and platforms trying to get somewhere, or being late for the airport with unpacked suitcases, frantically trying to throw everything into a suitcase that is too small, while simultaneously the pile of stuff that needs to be packed grows! It's horrible, but always such a relief to wake up and realize it's just a dream. 

Apparently the five most common stress dreams are 1). Missing a plane or bus. That's me ;) 2). Losing your car or having it get stolen. I had this one once, back when I was a car owner. 3). Tidal Wave. Oh my goodness, no thank you! That sounds genuinely scary. 4). Being back at school and not able to find your class or locker. Sounds pretty similar to my teacher stress dreams. and 5). House Fire. Yikes! Do you have a stress dreams? What kind?

(photo via tumblr)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Have a sunny weekend!


How was your week? Ours was really hard actually, but watching this NASA fly over video of the Earth from space is so relaxing and comforting to me for some reason. I was really happy to find it this week. :) What's going on, you ask? Marriage is a lot work, but in the first years after having a baby, it seems you have to completely find your way again. Naturally! It's a big deal to add a third person to a relationship, and the impact is so gradual that you might not even notice until things are a bit bent out of shape. It's hard to hit a rough patch, but that's something you can always count on in marriage. There will always be ups and downs. And the downs really can suck! :( So this weekend, I hope that we can get out in the sun for some long walks and enjoy each other. I'm also thinking it might be a good idea to order this book and get some perspective from the experts. Probably a good idea, but wouldn't it be nice if it could all just sail along effortlessly? ;)

Here are a few things that caught my eye online this week:

Downton Abbey, Season 4, Episode 1. (Don't worry. No spoilers!)

Don't say these things to a mom. Really. 

Are you a sloucher, too?

Homemade samosas, anyone? So easy!

I'm already complaining about allergies, this is next.

It's not a popular stance, but I find it so tragic that children are entirely without a voice in this debate.

However, as a stay-at-home-mom this is something I need to work on. ;)

Coco would love this sweet doll.

We need something like this after a fall off a chair last week! :(

Now that it's warming up, I'm excited to wear this perfume

And, that's all folks. I hope your weekend is wonderful! See you back here Monday. xo

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Save Money on Groceries in Switzerland

Groceries are definitely one of the greatest expenses of living in Switzerland. It's easy to spend 100 Francs ($105) at the grocery store and walk out with just one modest bag of groceries! Our budget for grocery and household up until very recently, was 1,000 CHF per month. That included groceries, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc. But then I read in Time Magazine that on average, 40% of food goes to waste. That statistic stuck with me, and I thought about it every time I threw away leftovers I had forgotten about, or a head of cauliflower I hadn't used before it went bad. Then, when I decided to go on the Holy Mama Yoga Retreat in May, I figured it was time for a little experiment. 

If 40% of food is going to waste, why not cut the food budget by 40%? It was a bold move, but so far it seems to be working pretty well. The first week was a total success and we actually had money left over at the week's end. Week two hasn't been so wild a success, but we haven't gone over by very much. Here is what I have learned so far.

Make a Plan
It is absolutely essential to make a plan! I use a recycled envelope and sheet of paper from the mail (why waste paper, right?) and fold one half of the paper into a grid. On the opposite half, I write the shopping list. I include vegetarian meals and one or two chicken/meat meals. Meat, even poultry, is extremely expensive here, so including vegetarian meals is key. Another important thing is that produce goes bad exceptionally fast. So I only shop for the first half of the week on Saturday, and then I go again on Tuesday or Wednesday for the second half of the week. I keep the meal plan and shopping list in the envelope along with a pencil and all of the week's receipts and take it with me to the store. Having it with me makes it pretty impossible to impulse buy. Only buy what's on the list!

Utilize the Frozen Section
Frozen berries and vegetables are awesome! I buy frozen peas, green beans, blueberries and spinach. The blueberries are a great snack for Coco plain, or they go into smoothies or pancakes. The spinach is awesome for omelettes or scrambles and Coco loves frozen peas plain, or steamed. I actually really like frozen green beans because they taste more like fresh green beans than canned green beans. I really miss the frozen French green beans from Trader Joe's. ;) Plus, frozen veggies don't have salt added the way canned ones typically do.

Make it from Scratch
Pie crust, cookies, pizza dough. Just make it yourself. It costs almost nothing when you make it yourself and it really isn't even that labor intensive. It just takes a little time. Or, if you want this pizza dough, a lot of time. But it's worth it! ;) 

Finally, plan on leftovers. For us, as a family of three, we plan on a meal that feeds four feeding us twice. Sometimes I'll give Coco a different vegetable, for example, peas when we're having salad. But mostly she eats what we eat. The first week, all of the recipes checked out and the portions were accurate so we got multiple meals out of them. This week, a few yielded much smaller portions than I had expected so we have gone over by about 20 Francs or so. Not a huge deal, but next week, I'll watch out for that. Here is the plan from week one:

Pizza & Sautéed Zucchini
Leftover Black Beans & Rice
Leftover Chickpea & Coriander Burgers
Leftover Chicken Parmigiana

There were even leftovers for lunch most days! It was awesome. I found most of the recipes by searching for "cheap, healthy recipes" and pinned many more to my Pinterest. Feel free to check them out! What are your tips and tricks for keeping the grocery budget down? What would you do with the money if you could cut yours by 40%? ;)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Best Double Chocolate Cookies of All Time

It's a good thing spring is coming, because if I make these cookies too many more times, I am going to be seriously fat. They are so overwhelmingly delicious. Is it any wonder when the recipe starts with melting a whole pound of chocolate? And then more chocolate is added later? Mmmmmm. You definitely want to make these!

Here is the recipe, from Orangette:

Chocolate Rads
Adapted from Bon Appétit a while back

These cookies are all about the chocolate, so don’t skimp. You want these to be, uh, rad, you know. It may be a tad expensive, but buy the good stuff.

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso
½ cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 cups good-quality semisweet chocolate chips

In the top of a double boiler or metal bowl set over gently simmering water, melt the bittersweet chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and eggs, and beat with an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow, about 3-5 minutes. Add the melted chocolate, melted butter, vanilla extract, and espresso powder, and beat to mix thoroughly.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into small bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula to just combine. [The batter will be fairly gluey and thick.] Stir in chocolate chips. Place the bowl in the refrigerator, and chill until the batter is firm but not too hard, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter with a spring-loaded ice cream scoop – mine has a capacity of 2 tablespoons per scoop – onto the prepared sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space around each blob of dough. With moist fingertips, press down on each blob to flatten it slightly. Bake the cookies until tops look dry and crackled, about 11-13 minutes. Do not overbake. Transfer the cookies on the parchment paper to a wire rack, and allow to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Remove finished cookies from the parchment paper, and store them in airtight container.

Note: These cookies freeze beautifully, and they can be frozen for up to a month. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving or eating.

Yield: About 35-40 cookies

Because I can't get chocolate chips here in Switzerland, (I know!) I used chopped milk chocolate for the chocolate chips. They turned out perfectly delicious. And we don't have double boiler, so I just boiled water in the bottom of one sauce pan, then put a smaller sauce pan inside it and stirred constantly until the chocolate melted. It worked like a charm! Since making these rads, the word "cookie" has entered Coco's vocabulary with perfect pronunciation. We may be in trouble. ;)

Sebra Design

I recently discovered the Danish company Sebra. Their designs incorporate everything there is to love about Scandinavian design. Isn't this crib gorgeous? It even grows with the child and turns into a junior bed when the front panel is removed. This photo is from Lovenordic Design Blog, where you can see lots of Scandinavian family home interiors. So much inspiration! 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Montessori Mondays: Making Discoveries

Children are so curious and always trying to learn more about the world. But, sometimes, without meaning to, we steal their thunder! Click on "Read more" below to learn more.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday...

It's Sunday and all sorts of weird things are happening!

It's sunny for the first time in ages. Wow. Sunny, but freezing, so I'm still miffed with the weather forecasters. ;)

Right now, it's 4:03 pm and Coco has yet to nap. Oh my! We are going to have one crabby baby on our hands in 90 minutes. I'd better be ready to feed her, bathe her and have her in bed by 6:30. You know those kind of toddler days?

The nine hour time difference between Switzerland and the West Coast of the States is really getting to me today for some reason. Sometimes I just want to chat on the phone with someone, but everyone who I might chat with is really far away. Oddly, I don't seem to talk on the phone with my friends here. And Sunday is strictly a family day anyway, so even if we did talk on the phone, we wouldn't on Sunday. That leaves only the folks at home and with the nine hour time difference, there is almost NEVER a good time to talk. Woe is me!

Coco chipped her tooth earlier! It's a very tiny chip, but I think she will have her first dentist appointment sooner than most children. I'm not taking any chances with her teeth. It would be so awful for her to have a discolored front tooth throughout her entire childhood, wouldn't it? :(

The J key on our computer popped off when Coco dropped an empty glass on it. Just glad that the glass was empty and that the J key is one that you actually don't use that often. What can you do? ;)

I'm thinking enough of this weekend business already! Let's get the week started. How's your Sunday going? xo

(photo via)

Friday, March 1, 2013

TGIF!

Did you have a good week this week? Ours was mainly consumed with adjusting to J being back at work after two weeks of having him home. That meant a return to early mornings and the usual grind. It was fine, but we all felt ever so slightly under the weather for most of the week, so I can't decide if I should go to my ballet class tonight. We shall see... In any case, yippee! The weekend is here. 

Another project I got started last week was the bold decision to slash our food budget by 40% over the next four months in order to fund the Holy Mama Yoga Retreat. We ate so many fantastic recipes I found (see more on my Pinterest) and I devised an envelope system for the week including our meal plan, shopping list (only buy what's on the list!) and budget with receipts. One week in and I am so happy to report that we came under budget, which I never thought possible in this most expensive city in the world. ;) I used the excess to buy Coco a little stroller for her baby doll. All in all, totally rad! Next week, I plan to share with you more of the recipes and methods I'm using to save money on food. I won't lie; I'm blown away to think that I was able to cut our budget by so much. And it feels amazing to not be wasting food. So more on that next week. :)

In the meantime, here are some things that caught my eye around the web this week:

I'm a huge fan of the I'm Not Angry Mark.

These baby knits kill me with their cuteness!

It's warming up soon. Make gingersnaps while you can! 

Essentials to have on hand to throw a party in minutes. 

Hurrah! Maybe people will stop assuming J is gay. ;)


Fun arts and crafts idea for kids.

This App is actually for real.

How to be more productive (i.e. How to have your cake and eat it, too! ;)

This gem of a video made me smile. Way to go, Luvs, in promoting breastfeeding in public! :)

I'm very excited to get some seedlings going for planter boxes.

I love this happy song and find myself humming it all the time lately. 

Have a lovely weekend and see you back here, Monday! xo

(Photo via)

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