Embracing Butter

Life …

“Expat Burnout” and when it might be time to go home

marcus-zymmer-189542

I’ve been living abroad for seven years now. Make that seven years and five months, but hey – who’s counting? At this point, I am. For the most part, I love living outside America. I’m a bit of a wanderer by nature (I blame my Aquarius start sign as well as my nomadic upbringing for this), but at some point there comes a time when even the most adventuresome of us want to put down roots somewhere. After the better part of a decade here in Germany, I think I’ve reached that point.

All expat experiences are challenging. Moving to a new country with a different language, a different climate, different way of doing life, is not easy. My experience was also a bit more challenging than most – in addition to raising three kids alone here in Berlin for the most of our time here, I also went though one of the nastiest divorces ever, which included a child kidnapping case (google my full name and you’ll see ALL the details of this misadventure, thanks to the US government and their sharing of public records).

That life-draining and life-altering experience is I believe what made me go from crazy-in-love with Berlin and never wanting to leave, to the point where I am now. Which is some days is get-me-out-of-here-ASAP! Of course there are still good days – days when I don’t want to leave my life here in Europe, in all it’s cappuccino-fueled and wine-soaked Old World beauty. Those days though are few and far between. Most days I’m griping about how little personal space there is, how rude Germans can be (yes, the Germans I used to love!), and how I just can’t be bothered with the difficult German language or endless bureaucracy any longer.

Apparently I am not alone in feeling this way. A quick Google search last night showed me that things like “expat burnout” and “expat depression” are real things that people face at times when living abroad. Especially when they have been abroad for a long time and are kind of done with their life abroad. Of the several interesting articles I found written on the topic, my favorite – and the most applicable to my experience – is one posted on a website called Expat Info Desk. They give four signs it’s time to leave your life abroad, and what do you know – I can relate to all four. It’s as if I wrote the article myself – or rather, a neutral, honest bystander saw my life from the outside and wrote about where I am.

In short, as much as I love so many things about living abroad – I love the culture one is exposed do, I love the different languages you hear at any given time, I love love love the wonderful foods and desserts and travel and clear water of the Med that you don’t have in the US. But you know what? There are things that I love about and miss where I come from. For example – there is space enough for everyone so you don’t get mauled while waiting in line at the bakery or supermarket, because people generally know how to stand in lines and wait their turns; the bureaucracy isn’t time-sucking and mind-numbing as here. There is a also general sense of responsibility and caring for others in America that I’ve not found here in Europe.

Beyond the lovely parts of life in Europe and the easier living that can be found stateside, another and even more important factor is people. Since we’ve been abroad, I’ve missed two funerals, three weddings, and countless other celebrations and birthdays. This is not to make myself sound pitiful, as I had a reason for moving here and I take full ownership of that decision and I do not regret it. But at some point you realize that once you’ve reached the goals you set out to reach, you no longer have a reason for being where you are. Continuing to miss the lives of those closest to you and yours is not something you are willing to sacrifice any longer, which means it might just be time to start packing bags. Or at least starting on a game plan for the near future.

Learning to make REAL Apple Strudel

apple strudel

I love to bake. And I love to eat. I also have a special place in my heart for all things Austrian, so when I came across the Cafe Strudelka’s Apple Strudel baking lesson recently, I signed up immediately.

For a bit of back story, you have to know that I’m getting tired of (AKA, so done with) Berlin. I’ve been here seven years, three of which were spent in an exhausting, traumatizing and expensive fight with my now (thankfully!) ex-husband. Ever since then the city which I once loved and thrived in drains me. But it’s not quite time to move on, so in the meantime I’m filling my days with things that I love.

Which brings us back to baking Apple Strudel. If you’ve never had it, you should. It’s a lightly sweet dessert made of a deliciously thin, buttery dough filled with apples with a touch of cinnamon and maybe a few raisins. Strudels can also be filled with berries and other fruits, and savory versions exist as well.

I first saw strudel being made at Vienna’s Schönbrunn palace years ago. It was both impressive and intimidating, because to make the lovely dessert, the dough has to be spread out into a paper-thin, large disk. You work the with your hands in a somewhat similar fashion to pizza baking, but as the dough is soooo thing it is a challenge.

At Strudelka the course was small and fun. A welcome drink of sparkling rosé, also from Austria (I think!), was given. I was hoping for seconds but we each just got our one glass. The owner and strudel teacher is from Austria and learned to bake from her grandmother, so I knew we were in for a treat.

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The six of us in the class that night did it all. From prep – mixing together ingredients for the dough and letting it rest for an hour, to chopping apples and dousing them with apple cider vinegar to break them down before baking, to sautéing Semmel (Austrian bread crumbs) in loads of butter for the topping.

In about an hour and a half we each had our very own, authentic and very yummy Apple Strudel. We ate a piece – some of us had two – together with coffee, and we got to take the rest home. Which means – apple strudel was both the midnight snack and breakfast the next morning.

Strudel in the making

Conclusion? Fun class to take if you want to learn how to make a real and pants-tightening classic European dessert by a pro. But as delicious as it was, I still prefer to eat my Strudel made by someone else – in Vienna.

Last week’s cake: Rhubarb Streusel

Rhubarb cake edited

 

Despite the fact that I’ve been baking for the better part of thirty years (yes, I am that old!), there a few things baking related that intimidate me. These include, but aren’t limited to, because I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, the following: Italian buttercream, meringue (made it successfully but avoid it like the plague), choux pastry, and anything with rhubarb in it. Yes, rhubarb has, up until a few days ago, always been an ingredient I feared.

In my mind, rhubarb has always been something of an exotic ingredient, only used by the most seasoned of bakers and therefore not something I should dare mess with. Silly thinking of course, but hey, we all have our quirks.

Since I grew up primarily in the South, I’ve always been most comfortable baking with ingrients, recipes, and techniques used in the South. Think lots of sugar, butter, the occassional bottle of red food color, pecans, cream cheese, sweet potaotes, etc., etc. Basically, if one of my grandmothers or friends made it, I was certain I could too. But that rhubarb neighbor was part of another baking world (I’d seen it baked with by a neighbor during our family’s short sting in Seattle when I was a kid) so I just wasn’t comfortable with it.

But all that changed last week, when I decided it was time to face the fear of the ingredient that looks like pink celery.  And it was high time, as rhubard grows in abundance in Germany. It’s easy to find, fresh, local, and cheap. Yet it still took me nearly seven years of living in Berlin to make the jump! Again – silly, but oh well.

Germans make great rhubarb cakes, and this time of year you see plenty of them at bakeries, cafés, and any sort of school potluck or social outing. So that was always my excuse actually – the Berliners have rhubarb baking down pat, so why bother using it myself? Well, this year enough was enough so I found a great recipe on Pinterest from The Busy Baker.

As it turns out (see photo above for proof!), the rhubarb is super simple to bake with, and the cake turned out delicious. Moist, sweet, tangy, and nicely browned because I baked it in my cast iron skillet rather than the cake pan the recipe calls for. So if you aren’t afraid of rhubarb, or if you are and you’re ready to get past it, I’ve coped the recipe for you below.

Try it out and let me know how it goes!

 

Rhubarb Stresuel Cake

You’ll need:

For the cake:

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream (full fat is best)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp unsalted butter (for greasing the cake pan)
2 1/2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb

For the streusel topping:

2/3 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup white sugar
4 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 175 Celsus)

Wash 3-4 stalks of rhubarb and chop them into bite sized pieces (you’ll need about 2 and a half cups of chopped rhubarb to cover the cake.). Set them aside in a bowl while you prepare the cake batter.

Add the butter and the sugar to the bowl of your stand mixer and beat them together until the mixture is fluffy and becomes a pale colour (about 4-5 minutes). It’s important that the butter is at room temperature before you begin. This will allow it to integrate properly with the other wet ingredients.
Feel free to use a hand mixer if you prefer.

Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat them in on medium speed until the mixture is smooth. It’s a good idea to scrape down the bowl periodically to make sure everything is incorporated evenly.

Add the milk and sour cream and beat in these ingredients on low speed until they’re combined.

To a separate bowl add the flour, the baking powder and the salt and mix these ingredients together with a fork or a wire whisk. Once they’re all incorporated, dump the flour mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer with the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer on low and watch the batter come together. As soon as you see the batter form with streaks of flour throughout, turn off the mixer and remove the bowl.

Over-mixing at this stage can cause an overly dense and dry cake with large air bubbles, which
you definitely don’t want. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides
of the bowl by hand and gently fold in the remaining flour. Be sure to
stop folding as soon as everything is combined.

Grease a 9×13 rectangular cake pan with some butter and pour the batter into the pan, using the spatula to push the batter into the corners and even out the surface. Don’t worry, the batter will seem thick but it’s supposed to be like that. You can also use an iron skillet. I sprinkled sugar on top of the butter instead of flower for some extra sweetness.

Spread the rhubarb over the top of the batter.

In a clean bowl mix together the flour, sugar and cinnamon for the streusel topping.  Add in the melted butter and mix everything together with a fork until the mixture becomes crumbly.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 47-50 minutes. When it’s finished baking the topping will be slightly browned on top, the rhubarb will be bubbly, and when you insert a toothpick into the centre of the cake it will come out clean.

Let cake stand for at least 20 minutes before cutting, and ENJOY!

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.

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.