Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Remembering My Dad

This is weird, but I don't know that I have ever written about my dad here on my blog! His name was Kelly. He was beloved by everyone. People say he had one of those personalities that made him sparkle. You can just see it in the photo, can't you? I wish I had gotten to know him better, but sadly, he died when I was 5 1/2. 
Sunday morning we went out to visit the cemetery where my he, most of my grandparents, and great-aunts and -uncles are buried.
Cemeteries mow, but they do not keep the grass from growing over the headstones. It was a lot of cutting and ripping back sod; they were really badly overgrown. It's so morbid to come across worms and ants during the process. Burial is an interesting thing. While I was cutting through roots, pondering death and the literality of expressions like, "pushing up daisies," Coco and Theo were having a great time. They absolutely loved the cemetery. Many of the graves had pinwheels and other decorations for Memorial Day and they found it all very festive and enjoyable. Oh, the innocence of childhood. Sort of hilarious, really!
I realized that this was the first time I've been out to see my dad's grave in years and years and years. Certainly since we've been back in town, but I don't recall exactly the last time before that. It's not exactly a fun place to go. My dad was so young when he died, just 34 1/2 years old. He had a brain tumor and the same kind of brain tumor today is just as deadly as it was then. It's awful to say, but I find that oddly relieving. In the photo above, you can see how the grass was grown right up to their names. His mom, my sweet Grandma Marie, is buried in the same plot as my dad. The stones were covered in dirt and dust after we were done cleaning. Next year, we'll take a dustpan and brush to get all the dirt up and a scrub brush to clean them.
It's a really strange thing to hit the age when you've outlived your parent. For me, it was the spring before we moved to Minnesota. I find it curious that what followed was the most miserable, chaotic time of my life. But, it's also when we welcomed sweet Theo into our lives. So, while Minnesota was truly a living nightmare in some ways, it was also just as beautiful in that we had our sweet baby Theo there. It really was like yin and yang, the extreme delight and dramatic despair of those months.
Theo's middle name is Kelly, after my dad. He even looks like my dad. Staggeringly so! My dad's neck and belly and whispy hair in the photos above look exactly like Theo. When I look at Theo and see my dad's button nose, reddish hair and big brown eyes, it's stunning to think that I'm now older than all of the photos we will ever have of my dad. He was so young.
This is my dad holding me as a baby. He had outrageously good hair, did he not?! And I also look like Theo as a baby. So cute to see.
Here is my dad during his Navy days. And no, that is not a Hipstimatic filter - it actually was October 1969! ;)

I hope you had a chance to remember your loved ones this Memorial Day, particularly those who died while serving in the armed forces. Sending love and hugs as you remember the special people you've lost along the way. I know how it feels. xo

Friday, May 27, 2016

Have an amazing holiday weekend!

I'm so sad to see one of my favorite bloggers, Natalie Holbrook, throw in the towel. I went to look at her blog the other night and it had been switched to invite only. Then, I went over to her Instagram and saw a post that said "Isn't this a fine day to end a blog?" Much to many readers' dismay, Natalie said she was done. Basically, she's over it. Done with blogging. She said that she would be on social media here and there, but since then her Instagram has been switched to private as well. The image in the Instagram post was from the same photo shoot as the photo above, but she was looking at the camera, smiling and content, filled with vivacity, and there was a blurry taxi directly behind them. The perfect NYC capture.
I had linked to Natalie's blog, Hey Natalie Jean, in one of my Friday link lists not too long ago because of a post she had written about NYC Natalie and Moscow Natalie. She mused on how difficult the transition from NYC to small town Idaho had been for her. I think she really felt a need to be present and couldn't move forward and begin thriving in her current surroundings while still so attached to her blog, which she described as "a love letter from me and my family to NYC." I've sent her emails and left her comments that we should try to connect. Moscow is just a couple hours' drive from Spokane and I feel like we are dealing with a very similar reality. NYC to Moscow really isn't that different from Zurich to Spokane (we can just disregard the detour up north!), but I never heard back from her. We peculiar humans, who put down roots, wind up linking our identities so naturally to our surroundings, our lifestyle and all of the little, seemingly insignificant rituals and habits that make up our days. When you leave a city you love, and all of that is gone and lost, it's a dreadful limbo that follows. I wish Natalie all the best in adapting to her new life in Idaho. Her decision to quit blogging is a big loss for the Internet. I wish it weren't so, but I wasn't surprised, either. Her posting had become really infrequent. Such a loss!
On that note, I happened to notice that Natalie's blog was gone because J and I were talking about me, and this blog, and how it can continue during this time when we're not in Zurich and don't even know if we'll be going back. It's awkward: Being expats and our tongue in cheek refrain that we were "living the American Dream in Switzerland" were huge parts of our identities. That makes me ask myself, What is this blog without Switzerland? What am I without my life in Zurich? Honestly, I don't really know. But I realized that I just want to go back to doing my blog my way. I learned a lot at Alt Summit, and it's starting to get me some freelance social media and digital strategy work on the side. (I haven't billed anything yet, but I'm getting close! Please reach out if you're interested in social media management or digital strategy consulting:) But as far as my blog and my online space and what I'm doing here, I don't want to get bogged down by a bunch of rules and stringent branding and rigid requirements. If I'm perfectly honest, I find a lot of the wildly successful blogs, which I should be modeling my own blog after, completely boring. That's why I'll miss Hey Natalie Jean. It was personal and compelling and more than just pretty pictures and suggestions of things to buy. There was a lot of that too, of course, but it was mixed in with genuine content that followed a story. The true, unfolding in real time, story of her life.
When I first started blogging, my tagline was "beauty wonder love" and that's what I want to get back to. This is a place to explore beauty in terms of natural beauty, style and fashion, art and design. It's a place to marvel at the wonders of life, from sleeping babies and early morning snuggles, to literature and music, full moons and starry skies. And, of course, love. Love is all you need. It manifests itself in marriage and family, indulgences like Calvin Klein underwear and Prada perfume, and the process of self-discovery through meditation and yoga.

To those of you still reading, I absolutely love you all. The conversations we have here through the thought-provoking comments you leave, they really make my day. Every time! Thank you. More to come. :)

And...here's a bit of what's been catching my eye lately. (If you don't like these Friday link lists, let me know. They're kind of one of "the rules" I adopted from the experts;)

J.Crew is doing 30% off this weekend!

Quite possibly the most beautiful dessert ever. So pink!

Coco's summer sandals for the second year in a row!

It's back -- "essential to campfires, dive bars, and back porches the Northwest over"

Coco and I love this little girl!

Norwegian Air adds more US-European routes.

Can you even get over this headline?!

The difference between expats and immigrants. Do you agree?

So glad I'm not alone in being neurotic about this. One caveat: suitcase is okay, but only on the foot of the bed, and when the bed is made! ;)

And, last but not least, a clever tribute to the all the vets and armed forces on Memorial Day. Can you read it? Thinking of all the vets and soldiers today, especially my dad.

Have a great weekend and see you back here Tuesday! xo

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Palouse Falls


Last month, we decided to go see Palouse Falls. We had heard that the hike was easy, so we took the kids and my mom with us and headed out. Spring is the time to go. That's when Palouse Falls is rushing and most impressive due to the run off from the snow melting in the mountains. It's really breathtaking. The Palouse is so dry, there are no trees anywhere; nothing apart from rolling hills and fields. You drive for hours out into the middle of nowhere and there it is! So huge, so dramatic. So truly incredible. Do you see the tiny kayakers and the itty-bitty hiker in the photo? Unreal.
The hike is not easy. It is not for children. It is not for senior citizens. It is not for anyone. No sooner had we arrived than we saw a woman down on the trail below with a broken leg. The volunteer called out to her that help was on its way as we went past, presumably toward the trail, but nothing was marked.             
We really wanted to get around and see the river that runs into the falls, so we decided to go ahead. To get as far as the two photos immediately above, we had to do some pretty hairy hiking past "Continue at your own risk" signs and over what is essentially a big, gnarly rock slide. Once we were there, we had to stand out of the way while the helicopter came in to air lift the woman with the broken leg out. She looked to be in her early 20s. I imagine she will be paying those medical bills for the rest of her life as the signs clearly stated individuals are financially responsible for any rescue costs. Yikes. The river is impressive and beautiful, but getting there was starting to seem like a really bad idea.
By the time we'd scrambled over more rocks and reached the tiny six inch wide "trail" (really more of a death path) that encircles the bowl, we decided it wasn't safe to go any farther. So we headed back at that point. It was all quite confusing. No marked trails. No trails at all. It's such a popular place and so remarkable and celebrated. And yet, it's not developed or safe in the least.

Once we were back home and did a little reading up on it, we realized that the state has been trying to bar access and keep people out of there for quite some time. It's sad because Palouse Falls is an amazing treasure. If you go, just pack a picnic and stay at the observation area by the parking lot. It would be awesome if some money were put into developing and maintaining a trail, but it's worth it to go just to see it, minus the hike.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        


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.


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