Embracing Butter

This week’s cake creation: Rustic Chocolate Cake

Rustic Chocolate Cake

(This photo is not mine – it’s from the blog where this recipe is originally found, Eat Drink Binge

One of my secret talents is being able to look at a cake recipe and know before baking whether it’s going to be a good one. Only rarely am I wrong, and I can generally tell by the ingredients and how they are listed. Call it sixth sense, call it random, but I like that I can tell if a cake will be good – because really, who has time to bake a bad cake? I certainly don’t.

This cake was no exception. It turned out perfectly – the layers didn’t fall apart. The Whipped Chocolate Ganache frosting actually did, to my surprise – turn out to be a thick, mousse-like frosting that held the layers together perfectly. And the remaining darker ganache draped across the top of the cake lusciously.

It looked like a masterpiece and tasted the same. It was a perfect chocolatey that was sweet but not so sweet that it will kill you. And pretty, but in a slightly messy, naked-cake kind of way. My kind of pretty, that is. I veered away from the recipe only a bit, by making fat chocolate curls to put on top of the cake instead of shards the recipe calls for. I also refrigerated the Whipped Ganache Frosting a bit longer than the thirty minutes recommend in the recipe. It just wasn’t ready sooner. Remember that recipes can be tweaked – good bakers know when to flex a bit to make sure the result is just right.

So if you’re looking for a yummy chocolate cake that’s a crowd-pleaser and fairly fool-proof, this is a good one. It will cure and chocolate craving and give you the satisfaction creating something beautiful with just a couple hours of work. And while I generally like to focus solely on baking when I bake, this one got baked while I was Face-timing with family back in the US, managing my three kids, and chatting with friends online.

You can find the receipe here, so go for it!

 

Why Women Should Date Like Men

Hot guy

I work with singles through my budding matchmaking and dating events business. I’ve got loads of single friends. I am also single myself at the moment. Which means I spend more time than I like to admit digging into the topics of dating and relationships. One can learn about breaking up without breaking down, getting the girl, making “any man want you,” and everything in between. While there is a lot of good advice out there for both men and women, I’ve noticed some things that seem to be missing.

For one, men could stand to be taught how to keep a great woman once they manage to attract one. There are all kinds of articles and YouTube videos teaching guys how to attract a woman, how to get her interested, and how to keep her on her toes. But when it comes to actually maintaining and building a healthy relationship that will last, things seem to get a little quiet. So stay tuned for this topic to be covered another day.

I also don’t often see women encouraged to date more like men. Yes, I said that we ladies should date more like the boys when it comes to relationships. And that’s today’s topic. I’m not saying that we should be more masculine. No way. Women should be women. I’m also not saying that men get it all right. They don’t. But men tend to go about the romantic world much more relaxed than we do, and we can learn from them.

There is one simple thing I’ve noticed that men do differently than (most) women when it comes to relationships. They put themselves first. No, it isn’t rocket science. But it’s a simple mindset difference that I believe keeps men more grounded when it comes to dating. Men – and I’m talking about confident, masculine men – will not let the woman in their life completely rule their life. And women – well, some of us get it right and focus on #1 first. However, more often than not I see women put themselves and their lives on the back burner as soon as an eligible and interest bachelor enters the picture. I’ve been guilty of this myself, and it is draining and simply doesn’t work.

This plays out in a couple of different ways. First, guys tend to pursue serious romantic relationships only when the other areas of their lives are in order. And it makes sense. It’s hard to focus on building a relationship with someone if you have major life issues to take care of (again, I’m guilty of this as well). It’s also not as fun getting to know a new person if you’re stressed with other areas of your life being out of whack. Your life doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you have any major things – health, family, financial – issues getting in the way, then try to tackle those first before embarking on your mission to finding a partner. Trust me, the results will by far be better.

Secondly, confident men don’t let their woman become the center of the universe. Take notes on this one – it’s even more important than having all your ducks in a row. Think about it – do you think the guy you’re dating, or maybe the last guy you dated – spent anywhere near as much time as you did thinking about, talking, and maybe even crying about you as you did him? I don’t think so! Men keep it cool – partly because it’s their nature, and partly because it just makes sense to not give another person in your life power to control your happiness. We women should do this to, but so often we let our emotions take complete control over us and our love interest takes center stage of our lives.

So my advice is to keep it light, have fun, focus on yourself above the guy. And for God’s sake – if you don’t have your sh** together, get it together! You’ll be more fulfilled, calm, and fun. All of which are qualities that will up your value on the dating market and make you that much more of a catch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemon Velvet (Birthday) Cake

Lemon Velvet Cake

We celebrated my oldest son’s birthday this past weekend. And luckily, unlike last year’s birthday, this year’s party was a lot of fun. Last year, the celebration was largely ruined by a wild child friend of my son’s named Franz who’s antics wore me out for the entire rest of the evening after the party. To be fair, the kids all had a good time last year – but the other mom who was with me and myself were wiped beyond belief and hoarse after yelling at the wild Austrian-German kid who wouldn’t listen to anything we said.

This year we did not invite Franz, and we all had a great time. My son had three friends over – one American, one American/German, and a German kid. We had cake, went bowling, had dinner, then played at the park (well – they played at the park, while I got showered and dressed to go out – yes, mother-of-the-year, I know!). All in all, it was a fun time. Happy kids, happy birthday boy, and happy parents.

And like every birthday in our family, cake was the center of the celebration. Somehow last year he ended up with two cakes (one amazingly wonderful lemon cake made by my daughter and The Austrian (yes, that one – the ex whom I am still crazy about), and another Oreo cake. Both were beautiful and delicious.

This year was no different. He got two birthday cakes (although this year I was my daughter’s baking buddy). They were Red Velvet Cupcakes (not pictured) and Lemon Velvet Cake (in the photo above). Yes, velvet was the theme, and both were delicious. It was a flavorful, dense cake that we filled with the leftover Cream Cheese Frosting from the cupcakes, and topped with a glaze and strawberries as a garnish.

And yes – with two cakes, we were all pretty sugared out by the end of the weekend. But wow, they were yummy. And my ten-year old was a happy kid. So if you need a good birthday cake recipe, do give the Lemon Velvet Cake a try. It’s a good one. And good cake makes for a good birthday in our world.

Dating with kids (never a dull moment)

love picture

When I jumped – for better or for worse – back into the world of dating after nearly a decade of marriage, I realized two things quite quickly. One, that the players had changed. A lot. Meaning that the boys I’d dated before becoming a wife in my early twenties were no longer the boys I was used to. Those boys had grown up and were now MEN. Which meant this was an entirely different ballgame than the one I was used to playing. And there were new a few new rules to learn. There was a bit of a learning curve there, but thanks to good dating advice out there, this wasn’t too big a hurdle to jump over.

The second big challenge change in dating after divorce was that this go-around, there were new players who were part of the game. Namely, my three children. That’s right – this once single-no-kids woman had turned into a single-with-kids team of four – myself, my daughter, and my two boys. Meaning that anyone I date not only dates me, but in a way, my three no-so-little tikes as well. That’s right – men who date women with children not only have to woo the woman, but they have to charm the kiddos involved as well. It is not for the faint of heart.

And it goes the other way around. As a woman with children, I not only have to make sure that I bring my best to the table, but I have to make sure that my entire “team” is presentable. No self-respecting man wants to be a part of a chaotic circus act of a family. So essentially, I have to make myself attractive, and since my kids are part of the package – they have to be “attractive” as well. Or at least not repelling to eligible would-be suitors. As one of my sisters once said, “Make sure your children are assets, and not liabilities.” She was right. Your children should make potential suitors want to be part of the picture, not run away in fear.

Sound exhausting? It is. There are babysitters to organise (and pay), and getting yourself ready for a date while getting kids ready for an evening with a sitter can have you harried. At times you may even have to answer to your kids. Trust me, answering to your pre-teen daughter about who you are out with and why you got home so late last night is more difficult than any parental inquiry you had as a teenager! You will also get uncensored opinions on the men in your life from your children, which can be both funny – like the time my daughter posted on Twitter about my ex buying me flowers for my birthday – and insightful. Kids often have a sense for situations and people and wisdom beyond their years. Their vibe radar is good, so do hear them out – they may pick up on things that you are less sensitive to.

Despite the extra work that comes along with dating as a single parent, it is also fun. And believe it or not, there are some perks. For one, having kids tends to weed out the slackers and players (generally, not always!). Remember – guys dating women with kids are also dating the kids in a way. Not everyone can handle this, especially in today’s world of extended adolescence among adults. So men who put in time and effort to get the know your kids and you are worth keeping around. And if you’re dating a guy who not only works to get to know your kids, but puts effort in impressing them as well? As long as it’s genuine, my dear – you may have a keeper on your hands.

Another plus that comes with dating as a parent with young kids is that you’re busy. Maybe even very busy. Which keeps you interesting – you’ve got more going on than the other single ladies, and this can be a factor that for a lot of men makes you stand out. This busy also makes you less likely to obsess over a guy. Of course, we all have our moments of irrational female behavior. But in general, as a parent with kids you have a lot less time to obsess over the man in your life (although let me be real – I have been known to obsess about the love interest in my life at time or two). But between work, children, and taking care of yourself, as a single parent who is dating, it is difficult for a man to become the center of your universe. And that’s a good thing!

 

Barcelona!

Barcelona street

Ahhh, lovely Barcelona. How I adore you. I first visited the Catalan capitol back when I was 21 years old. Yes. I was a cute little blonde baby when I first visited and fell in love with the city … I’d been working in south Germany at the time and needed a break from the staunch Deutsch and bad weather. Visiting a girlfriend in sunny Spain seemed to be the perfect thing to do. And indeed it was! That summer I fell in love with the city (I may or may not have fallen in love with a French actor at the theater festival that summer as well … ) …

Barcelona Port

… And that love (for the city, not the silly French actor boy) was the reason I had to go back and see if it still held the same magic for me as it did back then. You know we humans work – we tend to glorify and magnify things of the past – former lovers, homes we used to live in, places we’ve visited. I had to see if I’d done this with Barcelona or if it was in fact that amazing – yet understated – a place.

Back then, at age twenty-one, I’d taken a train from Germany, through the south of France, all the way to Spain. It was a long and hot but beautiful and fun summer trip. This time, with children and a job and much less time than back then, I took a flight instead (which I crazily almost canceled out of fear of flying, but more on my crazy phobia another day … )

Barcelona bakery

Essentially, I had to go back to see if the city really did still captivate me. I’d tried to escape there for a weekend back in 2012, but that trip was apparently not meant to be, as the flight was canceled an hour before it should have left Berlin. But no canceled flight this time. Two and a half hours in a plane and I was there. Back in what I remembered as one of my favorite cities.

And did it disappoint? No, it did not. Barcelona has the same feeling about it as it did then. That and maybe a few more tourists. But the interesting thing about this trip, is that now that I am older and (hopefully) wiser, I could finally articulate why I like it so much. It isn’t just a feeing any more as it was before.

Place Royal

 So why do I love this city, you may ask? Well, because it’s beautiful but messy. Chaotic but calm. Relaxed and easy-going, yet somehow productive at the same time. In fact, when I describe the city, in a way I am describing myself and that is probably why I feel so at peace there. And unlike many other pristine European cities, Barcelona has a rugged charm that is hard not to love

Talya Sagrada

 While other cities are nice to visit as one would a museum, Barcelona is a place you come to LIVE … To eat, drink, dance, enjoy, and bask in the sun by a gorgeous blue sea (as long as it’s not cloudy, that is). And that, my friends, is why this place is in my world, second-to-none (and why I CAN’T WAIT to bring my children back with me in the summer so that they can enjoy it as well!).

Making life beautiful (even in the midst of chaos)

Life is Beautiful Rose Vienna small

“She couldn’t go back and make the details pretty, she could only move forward and make the whole beautiful.” ~ Terri St. Cloud

That line is essentially how I feel about my life summed up in one sentence. Like most of us, I had a less than perfect upbringing – in fact, I grew up in what I would call a pretty dysfunctional family (sorry to my parents if you’re reading this – I know you didn’t do it on purpose!). Of course it wasn’t all bad, but in general the dynamics in my family were pretty much a big hot mess. Maybe I’ll delve into details another time, but for now rest assured that while at first glance I may seem to be an all-American girl who grew up in a field of country flowers without a care in the world, I most certainly did not.

And like many of us, when I grew up, married, and had a family of my own – I repeated many of the same patterns, bringing the same mess into my adult life and passing it along to the next generation. In short, I married a younger, more Southern and less-educated version of my dad. Which, as with my formative years, wasn’t all bad, but it most certainly left a lot to be desired. So much that three babies and roughly a decade later, I ended the marriage – not only because I wanted to spend the rest of my life happy and sane, but also because I wanted to break the cycle of mess that would have been passed down to my children had I stayed in that relationship.

If you’ve read or even just skimmed this tiny little budding blog, you may have gleaned that my divorce ended up in an even more chaotic mess than most do. In fact, it was a total disaster which resulted in over two years of legal fights, multiple thousands of dollars and Euros being spent, and costing me a good three years of mine and the kids’ lives as well as the delicate skin around my eyes (I swear the crows feet I now have were not here pre-court drama). Yes, cycle-breaking has its price, and it ain’t cheap.

Now that the dust had settled on the past few years of chaos and as I approach that much-feared age 40, I’m reflecting on my life as a whole. And since making this year’s single resolution of wanting more happy days than sad, I’ve found myself more introspective than ever before in up to now. In fact, it’s safe to say I’ve never been introspective, as I am much more of a doer than a thinker, but these days I am. Thinking about where to go, what I want, who I am, and how to make my life – and the life surrounding my children – the best possible for the next however many years.

So how am I doing this? Good question! I’m still on the journey of course. I’m no beauty-happiness-successful liver-of-life expert, and I am certainly not one of the many mindfulness gurus out there. But having gone through what I’ve gone through the last few years has taught my a little bit about resilience and how to pick yourself back up after a fall.

I love a good list, so here you go:

  • Time Alone – you need time alone to rest and recharge on a regular basis. On a practical level, this means regular alone time – I spend a weekly evening out by myself (either at the sauna, shopping, or watching a movie). And with kids this takes planning and money (babysitter), but it is so worth it and a must to stay sane and happy. At a deeper level, ‘time alone’ for me personally right now also means a break from dating, so that I can regroup and focus on myself. Easy? Not really, because I love attention from men. Worth it and part of making my life beautiful? Absolutely!
  • Looking at Reality – getting REAL about where you are is important, especially if you want to move forward. It can be painful, but being honest with yourself about where you are emotionally, financially, professionally, and in any other way helps you see what is working and what is not. If you want to make life beautiful, you have to accept where you are currently so that you can appreciate how far you’ve come, enjoy the now, as well as look towards the future.
  • Cleaning House – Once you’ve taken off the rose-colored glasses and know where you are, it’s time to get to work. No one said making life grand was easy – and there can be blood, sweat and tears involved. In my life right now, I’m fixing my finances (AKA, paying off the last of the hefty court fees incurred during the 2+ years of custody court, increasing my monthly income and getting out of debt). I’m also getting fitter – running almost daily now so that I am physically and mentally strong after the last several months of lazy. So for me, cleaning house means shaping up the money side of my life and my body, for you cleaning house may mean something different. We know the areas we need to work on – and as challenging as it might be to get started, it’s worth the effort. My only word of caution is to take it easy – depending on the amount of “cleaning” required if your life, this might take time. Please do not beat yourself up if things aren’t fixed immediately. Beauty takes time!
  • Dreaming – We all know that you can’t live without hope. And I connect hope and faith with dreaming. But somehow the older and more beat-up by life we become, it’s easy to forget that dreaming is an essential part of living a great life. Or at least should be. Right? Of course right. Lately I’ve been digging deep to tap back into the dreams I had back when I was younger – yes, tapping back into my 20-year-old self to see what dreams I wanted back then that have come to life (some have!), and which are still there and should be resurrected. Of course, some dreams aren’t meant to be and that’s fine – but it’s important to at least ask yourself, what is it that you want to be, or do, or create? If you haven’t asked these questions in some time, do it!
  • Go easier on yourself (and others!) – I’m laid back on the outside – but those who know me well (my girlfriends, my children, my exes, my mom), know that I can be a control freak and more demanding than my calm exterior belies. The idea of self-love and self-compassion used to be foreign to me. I grew up in Protestant-land, where you worked hard, tried not to “sin,” served others, and essentially weren’t a good person unless you were a martyr. But love yourself? No – only self-centered heathens and maybe Catholics live that way. Really. But I recently read an article (or maybe saw a video, not sure of the source) saying that if Jesus urged us to “Love your neighbor as your yourself,” well – if you don’t love yourself, it’s pretty simple – you won’t be able to love others. The idea hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and I realised that if I don’t love and care for myself, there is NO WAY I can love the people in my life. Doesn’t matter if those people are my children, my neighbours, friends, or lovers – until I love me – they won’t benefit from knowing a woman who can love them well. (More on this in a book called The Gifts of Imperfection, for anyone interested – great read from a woman who has been there).
  • Bring beauty into daily life - There are a flowers (I now by them weekly and they adorn our table – tulips are currently in bloom), almost daily time at my favorite café (thankfully I live in Europe, the land of cafés, and I work from home so I can enjoy this little luxury). Regular time with my kids (no matter how busy we get we do dinner together almost every single night), and we have special weekend routines that bring so much joy. Beauty is of course many things to many people, so whatever beautiful things – or rituals – make you happy, by all means bring them into your life. Even if they might seem a tiny bit silly. That’s ok! My silly beautiful thing right now is a gorgeous ivory tulle skirt. It’s pretty much a tutu for grown-ups, and my pre-teen daughter makes fun of me for it, but tulle is not just for tiny ballerinas and Sex and the City characters, so once it’s warmer I will wear it. :)

So that’s it from me for the moment … I would LOVE to hear from others – how do you make life beautiful? Please tell us in the comments section below. Don’t be shy!

The Best Burgers in Berlin

Yellow Burger

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good hamburger. Not like, but love. If I had to choose between a Michelin star restaurant serving haute cuisine and a really good burger joint, I’d more than likely choose the latter (although I would be happy to visit the former for dessert and wine after the burger!). It might be because I’m American and it is therefore in my blood to love the combination of juicy red meat, cheese, and bread, I don’t know. And I don’t really care. All I know is that while I’m not a huge carnivore who needs meat daily, I do function best with a good burger once a week.

Thankfully, you no longer have to be in the Land of the Free to get good a hamburger. Yes, some of the best America has to offer has expanded beyond it’s borders and even gotten better along the journey. In fact, the best burger I have ever tasted (and believe me, I’ve had more than a few!) was right here in Berlin.

Yes, you read that correctly. The best burgers I’ve had were in Berlin, at a place called Yellow Burger Manufaktur, or simply Yellow. Even after my three-month stint in the US to get my kids back, where I ate as many burgers as I could get my hands on (food is a pretty good distraction from stress), I cam back to Berlin and went straight to Yellow. I even told the guys that their burgers were better than the ones I’d had in the States – which was quite the compliment of course. They loved it, and I meant it.

But even though Yellow is my favorite, it isn’t the only place to get a good good burger in Berlin. One of the original and also one of the best, burger places is the now quite famous – at least to those familiar with the food scene in Berlin – Bird. The Bird has been around for some time, and although their burgers are served on English muffins instead of hamburger buns, they are still quite yummy. And greasy and filling – so be sure to go the Bird VERY hungry, or you might not be able to finish your meal. Also, be sure to reserve a table at The Bird, because it fills up quickly most nights and unless the weather is nice enough to wait outside with a drink, you’ll be sorry you didn’t get your name on a space.

The third burger place I count among my favourites here in Berlin is in Mitte - Tommi’s Burger Joint. It’s not one that lures me in as often as Yellow or The Bird, but if I’m in Mitte and hungry, I will swing by. This burger is a good one because they do something wonderful with the bun – I think it might be toasted with butter – so that with melted cheese and yummy beef makes for quite a good burger. The only drawback here is that their fries – unlike those at Yellow and The Bird (both of which are fresh cut and flavourful) – leave a bit to be desired. But the service is friendly and the burger good, so worth checking out!

Hello to a New Year – welcome 2016!

New Year 2016I love new things – new ideas, new places to see, new friends, new foods – new anything is generally well-accepted, as long as it’s something good. So of course I love a near year as well – the feeling of a new beginning and a fresh chance to make changes, .

Of course technically speaking, nothing magical actually happens as we switch from one calendar page to the next, but with the start of a new year comes the excitement and anticipation that you have a new opportunity to do or be something you haven’t yet dared – or managed to make happen. It’s also a time to reflect on where you’ve been, where you’re headed, and what changes you need to make to get there.

I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I think I was a teenager before I had even heard of the concept. Like everyone else, I come up with a few some years, but they are usually forgotten by February, or March if I’m really in a roll. I made a list last year and shared them with a friend, who did the same – then we both forgot about them (although interestingly enough, about half the resolutions did happen in the end).

But this year I did make a few resolutions, and I intend to – at least try! – to keep them. I won’t share the specifics here (sorry, some things have to stay private!), but they cover family, business and writing goals, relationships, and a push to pursue some of my bigger life dreams. To take some of the pressure of myself in case they don’t all become reality, I divided them into two lists – a “must do” and a “would be nice” list. The most important action items being on the first list, the others on the second.

The theme of these resolutions? Happiness. This year, I want to have more happy days than sad days. That’s it. 2015 was not the worst year of my life (that would be 2013, for obvious reasons), but it wasn’t the best either. Some great things happened, but it was a challenging year and with a bit of quiet reflection in the last days of December, it became clear that overall, there were quite a few more sad days than happy.

So the decisions and actions I’ll be making – and taking – this year will be connected to that simple wish of having more happy days this year than last. I’ll keep you posted on the progress! :)

 

 

 

 

How I keep a clean home when crazy busy – or crazy and busy!

clean house picture

I have very little free time, as I am sure most – if not all – of you reading this can relate to. Between raising my three children, working full-time, building my matchmaking business, and the rest of life (being a friend, a girlfriend, and also carving out time and space for “me” time) – there isn’t much space in the margin for anything else.

So maintaining a perfectly clean home? Doesn’t happen. One of these days I will hire a housekeeper to come in regularly and keep my home clean. But for now, while I’m what I call the single-mom-building-a-business budget – AKA, not a ton of extra cash – I can’t have it all. So for now I enjoy using the money I would spend on a cleaner on my café visits and on treats with the kids instead.

While I don’t keep my place Donna Reed spotless, I do keep it in pretty good shape. Only on rare occasions would you would find chaos ruling, with mounds of laundry on my bed or dirty dishes ruling the kitchen. That generally only happens when I’m sick and don’t have the energy to keep things up.

How do I do it? I keep a loosely structured, weekly cleaning schedule and tweak as needed. I also enlist the help of my children. They earn monthly pocket money through chores that are done weekly. Things like vacuuming the floors, Swiffering (no, we don’t mop), dusting, cleaning the bathroom, and window washing each have a price attached to them, and at the end of each month money is paid out based on the work that was done.

We keep all of this written down. It’s a must, because at any give moment my brain is likely in five different places, so remembering who did what and what they should be paid for it is impossible. A simple monthly chart lists the week, the job, the amount given per job, and a space for the initials of the person who did said job. At the end of each month we tally up who did what, and pocket money is then given according to the jobs completed.

I learn by doing, so it took months of trial and error to create a fair system resulting in a clean home and a happy mom and kids. But I am glad I did, because this works like a charm. No more fussing and whining about who does what or who gets paid what. It is all documented, and money is not paid by anything arbitrary like age or behaviour, but for the actual tasks done. It’s great and it works well for the bigger weekly jobs.

For smaller daily chores - such as setting and cleaning the table at meals, helping with laundry, taking out trash, etc, we have a simpler way. Each child has a job that is their responsibility for the week (or for several weeks, if everyone is happy and does not want to change jobs). And this is also attached to a reward – not cash, but our weekly Friday family movie and pizza night. And it also works.

This weekly cleaning and pizza “system” also took a bit for me to make work. Originally these daily tasks were not connected to an incentive. Which means my children got their movie night regardless of whether they’d helped out with family chores. So quite frequently, I was doing my work and theirs, and still paying for pizza and running to the movie store so that they had their fun family night.

Clearly, this did not work for very long, and tweaking was needed. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for initiating the change to a better way, because it was my BF who pointed out that things could be better. Of course I was offended by his observation (have I mentioned that I am highly allergic to anything that even hints at criticism? I am). But he was right.

When I finally recognised that I was rewarding my kids for working only when they felt like it, I made a change and passed the responsibility of making Friday night fun to the kids and contingent upon them getting their work done. And in the meantime, things work – the kids know what is expected of them and they generally do what should be done. And when they don’t – well, they get less cash and mom has more  cash for cappuccino.

And voila – it works! Clean (note that I didn’t say perfect) home, happy kids, peaceful mom. Of course, if I am sick one week or have a crazy busy work week, then I will let our work slide. And on rare occasion I will still call my awesome cleaning lady in for support. But in general, keeping a task-reward system and tracking what is done has saved my sanity – and ensures that we live in a comfortable apartment where chaos and mess are kept in check.

One of my favorite weekend get-aways: Vienna

Vienna Market

One of the benefits of living in Berlin is that traveling to other cities in Europe is easy and generally very inexpensive. You can get to most other European capitals within a couple of hours and for roughly a couple hundred Euros, so city trips are pretty doable (even more so if you have a boyfriend who flies you in for a weekend – ha!).

wine stand Vienna

Which brings us to Vienna, one of my favorite places to escape from the chaos of Berlin – and, let’s be real – the chaos of my life with three children. It’s a one hour flight away – meaning that you board your flight, have a drink and a snack, and by the time the flight attendants have cleared everything away you’ve already started your descent towards Vienna. Lovely, really – especially for a person like myself who no longer loves to fly as I once did.

Vienna building

This city is a bit like a fairytale land. It was an imperial city after all, part of the Hapsburg Empire. Within the city you have palaces, you have stately buildings and gorgeously manicured parts, and yes, you even have a square called “Ballhaus Platz,” as well as a ball-season (January and February every year) to match. And outside the city, you have a river and rolling hills covered in vineyards. You even have gemstone mines within an hour’s drive of the city. See? A fairytale land.

Ballhaus Platz

Vienna is also fun because it’s quite “southern” in nature: the people, the language, the climate, the culture. Those familiar with The South and the charm that comes along with that region will know what I mean. And it makes sense – geographically, Austria lies is in southwestern Europe (it’s officially part of central Europe, but look at the map – it’s south-ish). And its people reflect this – they have their own dialect of German that is, well … southern. Words get slurred together a bit and syllables tend to disappear. Not joking.

Forum fountain Vienna

Beyond the dialect – which I have a hard time understanding, as it’s not the German I am used to in Berlin – the attitude of the Austrians is also quite southern. I don’t know enough to make a judgement call and say they are a lazy folk, but I will say that things are generally more relaxed  than with their northern neighbors. There is also a stronger emphasis on friendliness and hospitality, which I appreciate, especially in contrast to the fairly rough Berliners.

Volksgarten Vienna

So if you are ever looking for me and can’t find me in Berlin, chances are I’m either somewhere near the Mediterranean (it’s been way too long since I’ve been in that part of the world, so it’s coming up soon) – or in the little gem that is Vienna.

Volksgarten Roses Vienna