Have a cozy weekend

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The sky is overcast, the trees are ablaze with color and I’m craving my favorite bowl of chili. I didn’t realize how much I love autumn until I moved to Switzerland. That’s one thing Southern California just doesn’t get right. I may be wishing for California sunshine the rest of the year, but not when it’s October in Geneva. I’m happy right where I am, thank you.

Here’s to a cozy weekend wherever you are…. meanwhile, a few links to get you there:

Do you have an ear for languages? Test your skills.

The coolest bars around the world (we went to #2!)

These are the hot shoes for fall

The best-selling travel gear on Amazon

Share this with the new mothers in your world 

No more monsters under the bed…

Everyone is talking about this article (go Lupita!)

In case you missed it: Our trip to Grindelwald

 

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On what bébé eats…

 

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…or rather, what he doesn’t eat, since our baby prefers to spit out everything we try to coax into that sweet, little mouth. Homemade applesauce? Non. Pureed sweet potatoes? Non! Baby cereal with banana? Merci, mais non! Wah!

I was discussing this with our pediatrician yesterday when she produced a pamphlet on introducing foods to your baby. In it, I found proposed daily menus for a six-month-old palate according to season.

For example, since it is autumn, he might be interested in some pureed pumpkin with veal over polenta. Or maybe he’d like some fennel bulb mixed with a little pear? Salmon mousse over rice perhaps? I had to laugh out loud (and cry just a little), because I don’t eat that well on a daily basis.

Also the implication is that someone, and it is usually Maman, has to stay at home to make the salmon mousse. Gerber doesn’t have that flavor.

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I am a stay-at-home mother. I’ve never held a full-time job in Switzerland, so it was an easy choice to make. What has struck me is how many times the pediatrician/physical therapist/specialist has said “It would be best if you are at home with the baby and not working” in response to my questions. This is simply how this society functions. Luckily, we can manage to be a one-income household, but I’m sure this cannot be said for all of Geneva. And that is a lot of pressure on parents! (Especially mothers who have a reputation for raising well-behaved, little gourmands.) Oh la la.

 

I hope you are eating well wherever you are today. For now, a few links:

A fantastic fall list with no pumpkin spice anything

Watch this short film and you will be moved

My favorite jacket for autumn travel

A primer on how to eat a plant-based diet

Northern California still needs your help!

Do you do couples costumes?

Some seriously cool pumpkin carving ideas

Europe’s best winter getaways (yes to #5)

On wholeness

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Coming off of an awe-inspiring weekend in Grindelwald, I entered a week that felt heavy with unsolvable problems (the fires in Northern California, to name one).

Yet the older I get, the more comfortable I have become with “heaviness” being a part of life. I don’t intend for that to come off maudlin. I think the only way to explain myself is through this quote:

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.

-Hugh McKay, the author of The Good Life

What makes you whole? Travel contributes to my wholeness, as does the stress that comes with it (two times the stress for each additional child you bring with you!). Meanwhile, here are a few links for your weekend:

You can help Northern Californians. Here’s how.

I am endlessly fascinated by the idea of living in a ‘tiny house‘…

…that is, until I come across a big house I want to live in

These pants would be perfect for long flights

I don’t have a TV, but this is the one I’d buy

Let’s book a trip to Italy!

Or Palm Springs!

We should all be ok talking about this

The importance of making your bed (your mother was right all along)

 

Quintessential Switzerland: Grindelwald

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Three years ago today my husband and I got on a plane to begin a new life Switzerland. An experiment we’d try for a year, we said. Don’t pack too much, we said. Don’t get too comfortable, we cautioned. We’ll have our fill of adventure and be back before we know it. Yet, here we are still trying to fill that bottomless pit of wanderlust. And we’re doing it with a baby in tow.

So, it seems fitting that today I’m sharing with you one of my favorite places I’ve found in this gorgeous, green country: Grindelwald.

Nestled in the Bernese Oberland, the village of Grindelwald lies in the shadow of three of Switzerland’s most iconic mountains: The Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The Swiss believe that the Mönch (monk) sits between the Eiger (ogre) and Jungfrau (young lady, or virgin) to protect her from being attacked. This kind of menacing, mountain lore exemplifies why this area is so quintessentially Swiss. Almost too Swiss. Like, are you for real? People are actually yodeling and herding sheep down the street? They are in Grindelwald.

If this is the kind of Switzerland you crave, skip Zürich and Geneva; go straight to Grindelwald.

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We arrived Friday afternoon in time to explore the village and check into our hotel. The Sunstar Grindelwald was perfect for our needs. Indoor pool, spa, fireplace, mountain view balcony and crib on-site is what we needed to attempt vacationing with a baby — a concept I’m still not convinced exists. Still, we got pretty close in Grindelwald.

(I’d like to reiterate that a room with a balcony is the best amenity when traveling with a baby, since you can easily get stuck in “nap prison.”)

On Saturday, we took a train that looked straight out of a toy store from Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg where we kicked off a two-hour hike to Männlichen. We were interested in taking a second train to the Jungfrau peak — the “top of Europe” — but didn’t realize that we needed to purchase the $120 tickets in advance. With the sun shining and fresh air in our lungs, we quickly forgot that the hike was “plan B.”

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We stopped for lunch at one of the many mountain-top restaurants and ordered bratwurst, schnitzel and the locally-brewed Rugenbräu. With a backdrop of the Jungfrau behind us and a hearty meal in front of us, a group of diners spontaneously burst into a chorus of yodeling. Play the video below with the volume up; the scene pretty well sums up our weekend!

We awoke to an overcast Sunday, so we decided to get above the clouds and try the First Cliff Walk. Despite the unnerving suspended bridge and dizzying panoramas, the walk was surprisingly child-friendly (though I wouldn’t attempt a stroller). We felt a bit like we’d mounted Everest without all the hassle and money and oxygen tanks. When we got back into Grindelwald, we celebrated by having a decadent lunch at Cafe C Und M.

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We always say “we’ll be back soon!” when we visit places we love as much as Grindelwald, but the truth is we don’t know. Life keeps getting (happily) more complicated as a family of three, so we’re trying to live in the now. I hope we will be back, but if not, we squeezed every sun-soaked drop out of our weekend in Grindelwald.

Where have you been traveling? I think October is one of the most beautiful times of year, no matter where you go. Meanwhile, a few links for the week:

Seven feel-good books for fall reading

An Asian-inspired soup recipe I’ve just got to try

What one frequent flier packs

A thought-provoking article in the wake of Las Vegas

And how you can do something about it

How to make a modern family road trip more fun

Have you been to any of these 50 romantic spots?

 

The importance of the unexpected

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While reading a New York Times article this weekend on “How to Bring your vacation home with you,” one thought struck a chord with me:

…Research seems to support the idea that the best way to maximize the benefits of your vacation is to take shorter and more frequent breaks. Perhaps. But my personal and clinical experiences suggest that there might be something more to the effective vacation than just the proper length: namely, the importance of unexpected, immersive experiences.

The writer, a psychiatrist, argues that experiencing the unexpected while on vacation has a more profound effect on us than taking more time off. I believe it. I’d further argue that if you share that moment with someone, the two of you are bonded more deeply.

My husband and I love to talk about the time I got lost in Marrakech’s medina (and had to pay a child to show me the way!). Or the time we camped in a rainstorm in Italy. For some reason, those moments are lodged more deeply in my memory than the Paris restaurant I booked weeks in advance or the Thai museum I’d researched to death.

The only difficult part about this realization is that you cannot manufacture unexpected travel moments. You simply have to be open to receiving them when they present themselves. How about you? What unexpected experience has left an indelible mark? Meanwhile, a few links to kick off your week:

Where “arctic” and “cruise” go together beautifully

Apparently, October is the best month to visit Europe

Do you have a food allergy? You may have outgrown it.

My current conundrum: Parenting and screen time

Eyeing these sherpa-lined sneakers for fall trips

What stranded in an airport looks like today

Would you visit a stargazing preserve? I would!

Is this the next big travel trend?

Three times in the past month I’ve listened to friends speak excitedly about their future travel plans: Driving the French countryside, seeing Scotland for the first time, staying on a Greek island. “Where to travel next” is one of my all-time favorite conversations; but, what struck me is that all three are saving these trips for their maternity leaves.

As in, right after having a baby!

These friends work high-powered, stressful jobs where time off is limited. Even while on vacation, they are still expected to answer emails and calls from bosses. So, they are looking to maternity leave to truly “check out.”

Forget babymoons. Are “maternity leave vacations” the next travel trend?

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I did not have a maternity leave as a freelance writer, but I do have experience in traveling with a baby. It can be done. It can even be enjoyable. Here are my tips:

Travel insurance. In case of sickness, colic, allergies, you name it. Always purchase travel insurance if your trip includes a baby. Read this article as a starting point.

The baby’s age. The sweet spot is eight to 12 weeks. Infants this age have usually received their first round of vaccines, are eating around the clock (so they don’t experience jet lag) and are good at falling asleep anywhere. Also by eight weeks, you will feel that you’re actually getting the hang of this parenting thing.

Mode of transportation. Taking a road trip is a great option because you can pack a car full of supplies and creature comforts. I’d recommend not planning a road trip longer than six hours in one day, since you’ll likely be stopping every two hours and that extra time adds up. If you want to roam further, book a non-stop flight.

Lodging. Relaxation and amenities should be at the top of your list. If you want to stay in a hotel, get an apart-hotel or suite so you aren’t forced to tiptoe around a tiny room every time the baby is napping. A kitchen would be a major plus. Balcony, too. If you want to rent a home, pay to have the refrigerator pre-stocked. The less on your to-do list, the better.

Location. Now we’re getting into the fun stuff! I’d recommend the beach, the mountains, the country — some place where all you have to do is look out the window to feel like you are on vacation. A place where taking naps, walks and eating well are easily accomplished. Not a place where you need to get out and see “sights” to enjoy yourself.

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For the winter baby. I’d recommend Jake’s Treasure Beach in Jamaica. It’s as close as you can get to an all-inclusive hotel without scrimping on charm. There is a pool, a spa, three restaurants and the beach at your doorstep. Each room stands alone so you’ll never worry about waking your neighbors. There are direct flights from Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, New York and more.

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For the west coast baby. Glen Oaks in Big Sur, California. Although I’ve not had the chance to stay at this down-to-earth roadside hotel, Big Sur is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever visited. Glen Oaks is nestled in the redwoods with upscale dining, hiking trails and ocean views nearby. Spend a little more to stay in one of their cottages — complete with fireplaces, kitchens and outdoor soaking tubs. (Babies aren’t allowed at the more famous Post Ranch Inn and Ventana. Book a babymoon there!)

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For the adventuresome baby. OK, you really want to see some stamps in your baby’s passport and you don’t care if it requires a little extra juggling. How about a place that caters specifically to new parents? At Manoir La Jugie in the French countryside, parents will be treated exercise classes, massages, babysitting services and daily gourmet meals (plus wine, of course). Parents even meet with experts to discuss their well-being and future health goals. Babies can be up to the age of 18 months, so I’m going to earmark this one for the future. Requires a flight to Paris and three-hour train ride to Limoges.

For any baby. The easiest and possibly most budget-friendly option is visiting a place where family or friends reside (like we did!), so they can cook you dinner, hold the baby and let you take a nap. It will feel like a five-star hotel, trust me.

Did you travel after having a baby? Where did you go? Wishing you a relaxing weekend!

On how to win an argument in Switzerland

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While waiting in line at the bakery this weekend I witnessed one of the rarest creatures in this country: A public disagreement. It’s the second one I’ve seen in my nearly three years of living in Switzerland and the two were eerily similar. They both involved the unspoken rules of waiting in a queue.

Our neighborhood bakery was especially packed that morning. Children were pointing out which pain au chocolat they wanted, women in dark sunglasses were picking up fruit târtes and dogs on leashes were nipping at each other. Bakery employees were filling orders as fast as they could and dolling out change at two cash registers. Somehow, one line had become two and some customers were receiving their orders more quickly than customers who had been waiting longer.

A particularly harried woman snapped at a man in glasses ordering a spinach quiche.

“Non! Je viens devant vous.”                 No! I am before you.

He snapped back.

“Si, bien sûr! Nous sommes égaux.”     Of course not! We are equal.

Clearly disgusted, the woman turned to the customers next to her and began loudly complaining that the man was malpolie. Impolite. Her volume was meant to reach his ears as she gathered support from her fellow customers. In a sense, she was rallying the community around her to ostracize the non-rule-follower. To shame his disorderliness.

He quickly left.

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I’ve come to recognize this as a Swiss move that speaks volumes about the culture.

I’m certainly not arguing that an American would handle it differently or even better, but that it takes an outsider to recognize these cultural themes. For the Swiss, the country runs on order, conformity and a sense of “this is how it has always been done.” Which is why the country is so free of crime, so clean, (and perhaps) so wealthy. They like their rules and they like everyone to follow them. It starts in line at the bakery.

How are you this morning? Eating quiche? Here are a few, fun links for Tuesday:

Uh-oh. You don’t want to see this on your boarding pass.

An inclusive list of how to support those reeling from natural disasters

Do you know all of these classic, American breakfast foods?

Why I’m adding Grasse, France to my travel list

Are you terrified of getting married? A psychoanalysis of fear.

I’m not going back, but I’m taking inspiration from these back-to-school lunches