Thursday, July 31, 2014

Anniversary of the best fight I ever picked.

Yesterday was the six year anniversary of the night that Dan and I met at a small historic bar that sits in a tiny alley in Philadelphia. I overheard someone say that the name of the song being sung at karaoke was from "St. Elmo's Fire," when it was clearly from "The Breakfast Club," and I intended on telling the person so. Turns out that person was pretty cute. 

Best fight I ever picked, that's for sure. 

And so began a year and a half of long distance dating between Philadelphia and Chicago, before our nuptials at Philly's City Hall, six weeks before moving abroad. 

Turns out you can meet your soul mate at bar after all. 

Six years and one baby later we celebrated with some macarons and wine from Ferney-Voltaire. They have officially become my second favorite macarons behind Ladurée. That's kind of a big deal. 

We should probably go watch "The Breakfast Club" to honor our beginnings, but really we're pretty pooped. I guess that's what happens when you get old. Or maybe we'll just save that for when we can celebrate with drinks at McGillin's again.  

A la prochaine friends...


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries: Dan on Understanding

Head on over to my Instagram account (@outlawnotahero) today to see Dan's second entry for the Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries: All the Love! Today's entry is on the theme of understanding. You may recognize the scenery as we took the pictures for his entry while in Levanto, Italy. (Can you tell we love that place?) The slings were lifesavers as traveling in Italy with a stroller would have been hell. So. many. stairs. And. steep. cliffs.    

A la prochaine friends...


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pen Pals

I've been anxiously checking our mailbox the last few days, in wait of a very important package...from my pen pal. 

My mom.

Every month, for the second gardening season in a row, my mom takes pictures of what was once considered just the yard where I learned how to pitch a softball, but is now, without a doubt, a garden. Some would be more inclined to call it an orchard. I prefer to call it "The Beach Orchard."

In May of 2012, I convinced my parents to let me plant two fig trees in their yard: a Negronne fig, and a Brown Turkey fig. Aside from a few seemingly dead tulips bulbs that I sneakily planted, that was all I was allowed to play in the dirt for the 2012 gardening season. 

In 2013, after an unplanned six week stay at my parent's, the garden variety of what was now half-jokingly being called the garden had grown to include three more fig trees (two of which I had propagated, and one purchased, a Peter's Honey Fig), about 75 gladiolus bulbs, Dahlias, an Improved Meyer Lemon Tree (potted), a Mandarin tree (potted), an Elberta Peach Tree, A Bing Cherry tree, a few hydrangea bushes, some mint, and a slew of geraniums. In my time there I also sprouted two apricot saplings from seed, an avocado pip, and about 7 grapefruit saplings from seed. 

So yeah, my pregnant little self got to dig in the dirt a lot...with gloves on of course. 

It was so much fun having all that time to garden with my mom, especially since I was still at the "if I walk a block by myself I might faint or vomit or both" stage of my pregnancy. With gardening I could sit down in a chair, have a nice cup of coffee or tea, take a break inside and come back out was fantastic.

The thing that sucked though? Having to leave all that hard work behind and not being to care for it...or see it blossom...literally. I would Skype with my parents once we returned to SwitzerFrance, and they would "take me out into the garden" to visit with all my plant babies, but it wasn't enough. So my mom decided that she would be my gardening pen pal.

Every month, she goes out with her trusty disposable camera (yeah, they still make those), and takes pictures of my plant babies and sends them to me. I anxiously await that envelope every month, as I love to see how tall and lush everything is growing in the sandy South Jersey Beach soil.

And I think I've created a gardening monster, as each time it seems there are a just a few more fig trees than there were the last time. It's a beautiful thing.

And even though it makes me more than a bit homesick every time I peruse and obsess over the current month's pictures, I love seeing how our garden is growing. It always gets me really excited for our next trip back, whenever that will be, and the at least 5 trips that will take place to the garden center. I'm so proud of my mom for doing such an amazing job of taking care of all of the trees and flowers that have turned their yard into a garden, and I can't wait until the next time that I can go play in the dirt back at the beach. 

But I think the bigger question is, how long will it be before she'll let me start The Beach Orchard Vineyard?

 A la prochaine friends...


Monday, July 28, 2014

And by Sunday Projects I mean Monday Projects...

Yesterday we started a project I've been wanting to do for some time now: drying fig leaves and herbs for the off season months. Well, after a day filled with cooking, neighbor visiting, and gardening, we just plum ran out of time. But that's ok, because projects can wait, Sunday Funday cannot. 

We weren't able to hang the hooks I originally wanted because we actually grabbed the wrong ones at the store, but I figured we could MacGyver our current setup to at least get a jump on the drying process.

After collecting 16 leaves from one of our community fig trees (yes, we actually have two community fig trees, isn't that lovely?), I soaked them in some cold water to help remove some of the sap (that sap is vicious!), rinsed them off, and laid them out overnight on two tea towels to dry a bit. 

This morning I hung some gardening twine from the underside of a bookshelf and began to group bundles of fig leaves together by tying them with the same twine. I don't know what the magic number is for perfect drying, so I tried a couple of different combinations. Then I harvested some mint, rosemary and chives from our terrace orchard garden, washed them, dried them, and hung bundles in the same manner. 

Looks pretty good if I do say so myself. 

Not to mention the house now smells like rosemary, which in my book is always a win-win. It makes me feel like fall is right around the corner, even if it's really about 6 blocks away. 

I've read that in order to dry properly the bundles should hang for no shorter than a week, so I'm thinking that somewhere in the next week or two they'll be ready to store in glass jars. We'll see though. I'm hoping to spend the next two months rotating different leaves and herbs to dry. This really makes me feel like a mountain woman, like we're planning for a winter of being cooped up in the house and surrounded by two feet of snow. (I wish. Le sigh.) I'm just so happy to know that we won't be wasting our herbs this year, and that they can go into lots of comfort food this fall and winter, whether surrounded by two feet of snow or not. 

Next week I plan to get some fig leaves from the other community fig tree in town, and harvest some basil, sage, and parsley from our collection. Hopefully by then we'll have the proper hooks in place. Long live homesteading projects! 

A la prochaine friends...


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday's Project: Drying Fig Leaves and Herbs

I'm really excited about today's project, as it's one I've dabbled with in the past, but haven't committed to doing the right way. I've been saying for the last few years, "this year, this is the year we'll really do it." So this year, we are. 

Today we will be hanging a few hooks in our house, stringing twine from one to the other, and beginning to dry some of our herbs, and most importantly, fig leaves. 

Every year I find that I let some (or a lot of) our herbs go to waste, and it always makes me sad. It just feels like such a waste. Especially when those herbs could be used in cooking or tisanes once the weather turns cold. 

What's a tisane? I asked the same question a few years back when I noticed them on the shelves at the bio. Essentially think of a drink that is made just like tea, but doesn't actually contain tea leaves in it. Drinks made with dried flowers, dried herbs, etc., but without tea leaves, are tisanes. So that post I did last summer on Fig Leaf Tea was actually a Fig Leaf Tisane. (Hashtag whoops.) Semantics aside, it was still delicious. 

So that brings me back to this project. The other day I made a delicious fresh fig leaf and fresh mint tisane that was out of this world. Drinking it made me feel like I was at a spa. And I thought to myself, now is the summer to dry all these leaves I've wanted to, so that once the leaves have fallen off of the trees outside I can still enjoy a nice tisane. I refuse to feel the pangs of regret at yet another winter of no fig leaf based tisane drinks, or having to buy dried herbs!

We're starting off small, as this is the first batch, but we should be able to get a couple of drying rounds in before the fall hits and the leaves begin to drop. In today's round we're drying fig leaves from a few of our local trees, as well as mint, rosemary, and chives from our terrace orchard garden. If our drying process yields enough by the end of the summer, I may have a small amount available to offer to some fellow fig-loving-tisane-drinking-readers, if you'd be interested. 

Never had a tisane? Try one out! You can make them with so many different herbs or flowers, dried or fresh, and many have some great health benefits if consumed regularly/properly. Always either ask your doctor before consuming, especially if you're pregnant, and do a quick Google search as some have cautions. Check out my fig leaf tea tisane from last summer here, or try adding a sprig of mint (about 10-12 leaves) into the tea ball with a chopped up medium sized fig leaf for the heavenly drink I had the other day. 

Check back for more updates on our drying process!

A la prochaine friends...


Saturday, July 26, 2014

...and then this happened.

We had a really productive day today. We started our day out with a good family run, got in plenty of snuggle time with our little Smaug, ran errands, and said hey, let's go see about getting our little dragon some blocks to play with. Unfortunately blocks for an almost 10 month old were not to be found at the shop we went to, but instead we came home with this:

French Monopoly!!!

Mama and Papa need to treat themselves from time to time as well, am I right? 

Now, I hadn't played since I was about 10 years old, but Monopoly has always been on of my favorites. We love board games here at Chez Duggan, so this was a natural choice. And bonus: it'll help me with my french language skills, as we played it almost entirely in French. 

I will say though, I was one part disappointed, 1 part surprised, and one part excited to see that the streets were not that of Atlantic City, but of Paris. 

As far as the modern version is concerned, I'm a little disappointed with the quality of the pieces in the game. I don't know if this is true for all modern versions of Monopoly, or just the French one, but the one my parents bought in the late 80's was just made better. The real estate cards in this version are like flimsy business cards, as are the "Chance" and "Community Chest" cards. The individual player pieces seem lighter. And the board is definitely thinner. But, it was Monopoly, I could buy Avenue des Champs-Elysees (but was beaten to the punch by Dan), and we were able to play it in French, so overall I'm very happy with our new purchase. 

And I have a feeling there may be a Sunday night rematch, as I really hit rock bottom in tonight's game. Mortgages everywhere! Repeat jail time! Not being able to make the rent! Merde can get real in Monopoly land real quick. 

Happy Saturday!

A la prochaine friends...


Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Finds: Bohemian Beach Babes

Friday Finds: Bohemian Beach Babes

This time of year always makes me a bit homesick. Having spent half of my life at the beach, once the weather warms up I want nothing more than to grab my beach chair, a big bottle of water, and some yummy snacks to keep me company while digging my feet in the sand. Add some teeth rotting salt water taffy and some sea glass searching, and I'm a very happy girl.

This week I'm getting back to my bohemian roots and daydreaming about packing up this weekender bag from Nena and Co. for a little getaway to my parent's house. I'd love to start the day by doing some early morning yoga on this cool Magic Carpet Yoga Mat, followed by a nice big green juice. I just might splurge on this Aztec print towel from The Beach People, called "the Roundie," because life is too short for ugly beach towels. I don't typically wear jewelry on the beach, but I might make an exception for this gorgeous ring (which happens to be on sale right now FYI) from Satya Jewelry. Or maybe I'd just save it for dinner on the bay. I've also been coveting one of Satya's malas for the past couple of years, which would pair nicely. I've been in love with this dreamy Caftan from Emerson Fry since forever (well, at least since her last colorway), and I just can't say no to it in blue. This Bobbie Brown Beach Body Oil would be great for some post beach relaxation while getting Oswin dressed in these adorable Ikat Harem pants from Cleobella.  And even though this SHABD x Sakura Bloom sling sold out in under twenty minutes, I can't help but obsess over it and hope they choose to do a second collaboration (pretty pretty please). I'd use it to take Oswin out for a little early evening stroll on the boards and watch the sun set with a nice cup of fig leaf tea, made from the fig trees in my parent's garden. And since I'm never without my camera, an updated camera strap would a very happy mama make.

What are your favorite bohemian picks? I'd love to hear about them! 

A la prochaine friends...


Thursday, July 24, 2014

...and finally, Levanto.

I guess it's high time I wrap up talking about our June trip to Levanto, Italy, now that it's almost August, huh? Yeah, probably a good idea.

Our trip to Levanto (and Vernazza, Cinque Terre) was a short one, but it was so worth it to get away for a few days. Levanto is such a gorgeous city in the Liguria region, and we'll definitely be returning. We rented a huge-for-us-apartment in the new part of town, but were able to explore the old part of town on our last day there. The Old Town felt like something straight out of a Hercule Poirot know, the ones where Jane Birkin plays a simple and ugly girl (as if!), but then actually ends up being some sexy femme fatale who was behind the murders all along? 

(I honestly feel like that happens in every Hercule Poirot movie. Or maybe I've just seen the same one a million times.) 

In Levanto the cliffs are steep, the beaches are a combination between sand and rock, the mansions in the old part of town are massively impressive...

...and the water was just exquisite. The Mediterranean is typically a cold body of water, but it was certainly the warmest I had ever felt it to be on all of our past dips.

Both the private and public beaches were really nice, and each came equipped with lifeguards, which doesn't always happen on free Italian beaches. We found Levanto to be a really family friendly city, and there were kids playing soccer (everywhere) and fishing off of the rock getty.

There was also one particular babe getting her first taste of the Italian Riviera.

She loved it. I swear.

We were there just before high season, so it wasn't overrun with people yet, which was nice.

Next time I hope we can stay for a longer period. Maybe for forever. I kid, sort of. I'd love to stay long enough to get a few lazy beach days in, and still be able to hike in Cinque Terre. We hiked on our first trip back in 2010, but didn't get very far as the trail was closed between Corniglia and Vernazza. Maybe we'll even try to start in Levanto, as there is a trail that takes you to Monterosso, which is the northernmost of the five villages.

Until then, I'll just keep looking back at our pictures and daydreaming about the views and foccacia. 

A la prochaine Levanto! We miss you so!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What we've been up to lately...

I've taken a bit of a blogging break this past month to focus on some projects here in SwitzerFrance, the main one being the process of baby proofing and de-cluttering our space. 

It's been an amazing feeling to find ways to preserve and display our sentimental treasures, organize our important paperwork, and find objects at the back of closets that we thought were forever lost to the armoire gnomes. 

I've often heard people talk about how once you have kids, you start to accumulate SO MUCH stuff, everywhere. Maybe Oswin is too young for that to happen yet, and only time will tell, but so far I find that the complete opposite has happened. If anything we're paring down what we own to make sure that it's deserving of the "real estate" that it possesses, because we just don't have the room for things that don't. I'm essentially going over everything that we own with a fine tooth comb, and as can be expected, it's taking a long time. I'm also not great at saying goodbye to things, which is where Dan has really been a big help. This process has helped me to put into perspective those things that are important for us to hold onto, and those which can be disposed of or donated, sometimes with a little nudging from him. 

It's also meant that we get to a do a bit of redecorating, which is a lot more fun when you can really breathe and relax in your space. Our bedroom has never felt quite right, and we're trying to change that. I'll make sure to do a "house tour" once we're all done, because I think this is going to make our already awesome alpine chalet that much cooler. 

The hardest part of this has really been the baby proofing. We have a lot of breakable treasures, and trying to find a locale to hold things that we use everyday, like coffee mugs, crystal glasses, and cast iron pots has been a very big challenge. And then there are things like our first floor's marble steps, and the second floor's wooden ones. And the windows without screens. And other things that have started to keep me up at night because I have no idea how to make them safe for our little adventurer. Luckily she's only just starting to move around on her own: she can crawl backwards, and sometimes take a "crawl" or two forwards before face planting, but I know that won't last long. Before we know it she'll be off and running...probably for the china, if I can't work this situation out.

Part of me wishes we could just hang 15 shelves all at about five feet in the air. The other part of me knows that Oswin would probably be able to eventually problem solve how to get to said aerial items. No, it looks like there is no way to avoid the "what stays and what gets wrapped in storage until she's a teenager" stage for our kitchen goodies. 

So how did you do it? Are there other options aside from turning our home into a factory storage area? Have any of you had luck with being able to teach your kids that there are some things that they just do not touch? I'm all ears over here!

A la prochaine friends...


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries: Understanding

As many of you may recall, Dan and I have each been chosen to be sling diarists for the Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries Volume V: All the Love. This is my second of six posts that I will be sharing here on the blog (you can find my first post here), and Dan will be sharing his over on Instagram a little later on. Today my post will center on the theme of understanding. Thank you all, new readers and old alike, for following along on this journey with us.

My sweet little Oswin,

I am often not understood. I wouldn't say that I'm misunderstood, as this would point to some level of understanding between the two conversational parties in question. No, I would lean more towards the path of being not understood.

As an expat, I've found myself butchering the French language for the last 4 and a 1/2 years. Sometimes I get on these streaks where I do really well, and can actually have conversations with native french speakers...most of the time I'm just barely getting by. 

Why? Because for me, French is a difficult language. I try very hard. I study. I sing the french nursery songs with you. I can read you some french board books and read them well. I haggle well at the flea market, here known as les puces. But, the rest of the time is a struggle. The pronunciations for me are incredibly difficult. I find that in French it seems that for every word, there are three different pronunciations for the same spelling, and one of the possible pronunciations is a curse word. Somehow I always manage to say the curse word. 

Like that time I asked for an "assful of olives" at the market. 

Mon dieu.

I've found that where my verbal skills often lack the ability to be understood, I've been fortunate enough to be met with immense understanding from those who don't understand me. They see the struggle and still, to this day, the palpable nervousness that is felt when I am left to the ordering of things in French. Or asking for directions. Or simply trying to hold a simple conversation about how big you've gotten since our neighbor saw you last. And yet, rather than scoff at me and treat me poorly for not being fluent, or for being a foreigner, they appreciate that I'm making an effort to assimilate, and they are kind. And patient. And will play the game of charades that often results by trying to have my needs met or be conversationally understood. They sympathize and empathize with my moment, and as a result, I feel empowered to try again the next day, even if it means a little pointing at the particular cheese I'd like from the counter. 

I've learned a lot from the French, in particular from our wonderful neighbors. I've never been made to feel like an outsider in our teeny tiny town, even if I am embarrassed by the low level of French that I can speak. People still include us and greet us with open arms, well, actually more with bisous, despite the fact that I can't hold a lengthy conversation with them. Lately I've been thinking about how this translates back to you Oswin, because we are often trying to understand what your different sounds, cries, and actions mean. Just when we think we've gotten you figured out, you go and grow up just a little bit more, and we are sent back to the drawing board. I often look at these instances as reminders of myself trying to make it as an expat: we're both trying to speak a new language, trying have our needs met, trying to put ourselves out there so that others may get to know us. I want to empower you to find your voice, just as my daily encounters with those in our small flower village continually help me to find mine. I want to show you the same patience they have shown me, as we continue on this journey together.

Don't forget that as you learn to find your voice, that you should reciprocate the same respect that understanding is built upon towards others. Be kind, always. Be kind, but know when to stand up for yourself. You can be kind and strong in this life. Learn to listen. Truly hear people. You don't have to agree with everything someone says, but listen and respond accordingly. Your Papa is very good at this. Having varying opinions and ideas is the spice of life, though too often it's seen as something more vile. A conversation can still be a conversation of varying opinions, if those involved let it be just that. Empathize, put yourself in their shoes, and help others when you can. Spread goodness and sunshine everywhere you go, even when rain clouds are present.    

You are learning so much all the time, from the English we speak in the house, to the french that you hear when we're out and about, to our "cooking lessons" while I make your lunch, and Papa reading you his favorite Calculus Book for Infants (maybe that's why you sleep so well at night?). As you get older, you'll not only be trying to be understood and understand others, but to understand yourself as well. Understanding yourself can come in different forms, and doesn't always come easy. I spent so many years going down the paths I thought I was supposed to take, that when I realized they were not my true desire I felt completely lost. What I didn't realize at the time was that feeling lost is sometimes that best thing that can happen to you. When someone is lost they often wander, and when we wander we often find new interests and experiences that lead us to truly know whatwe want out of our one precious life. I didn't feel like I began to truly know what I wanted for my future until a short period before meeting your Papa, and then it all seemed so natural to me. I found the things that were interesting to me, I pushed away the ones that no longer served me, were no longer positive for me, and things fell into place. If you had told me seven years ago, when I was still in graduate school, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life teaching yoga, planting fig trees, and being a stay at home mama, I wouldn't have believed you. I hope that as you get older you learn to listen to that little voice inside of you that says, "Yes! Do this!" You may not know why, but if it peaks your interest and passions, learn more about it. Educate yourself on the topic. Learn all you can. Integrate it into your life. Try it on and see how you feel. Because understanding yourself, and the things that will get you out of bed in the morning, is one of the most beautiful gifts that we can give to ourselves. Create a life that you love. Make it yours. And everything else will fall into place.    



Sling pictured: Simple Linen Baby Sling in Driftwood by Sakura Bloom