Cultural Exchanges are Lifelong Experiences


My Swedish tour guides 2010 (L to R) Former au pairs: Lisa (2008), Emelie (2006), Maria (2005) and Malin (2007).

After nine years of participating in a cultural exchange and childcare program through Cultural Care Au Pair and hosting au pairs from all over the world, I became a student of exchange when I traveled to Sweden and was able to spend time with four of my five former Swedish au pairs. What I experienced was what I expect many of my au pairs have experienced in their travel to the USA to join our family.  Excitement, trepidation, awe and delight.  We had been planning our reunion day for weeks now and I couldn’t wait to see the girls and catch up on each others lives.  For some it had been three years since we’d last seen one another, others only a few months but regardless of the amount of time since our last visit, seeing one another again was a joy and a trip down memory lane!

Welcome to my Swedish cultural exchange – meet my tour guides!

Maria was our au pair in 2005.  She was our second Swedish au pair but the first to care for two children.  My daughter was just 4 months when she arrived and she managed the two with grace, a sense of humor and passion for sports that made her an instant hit with my older son.  She embraced participating in our family activities and was always up for anything – swimming, sailing, skiing or snow boarding.  She introduced us to the Viking game of Kubb and Glogg, a Scandinavian warm mulled wine holiday drink that has become a part of our annual traditions. She returned home to Sweden and settled into Stockholm where she currently is a sales manager for an online wine distributor.

Emelie was our au pair in 2006.  The baby was now on the run as a fast moving toddler and my son was exploring the world of elementary school.  She arrived with a great sense of humor (thank god!), a passion for sports and an incredible talent for drawing.  She fascinated my son and daughter with her images of Star Wars and Dora the Explorer characters and played more games of soccer, basketball and baseball in the back yard than any of us could keep track of.  She never seemed to tire of it and always had a smile on her face.  Emelie introduced us to Swedish rain pants for children and was game to take the children out in all kinds of weather – rain, shine or snow – everyday.  This was our first introduction to the idea that there isn’t bad weather, just bad clothing – an old Swedish saying and we too fully embraced the idea. She returned home after her year to attend dental school.

Malin arrived in 2007 and my son fell in love.  She was blond and beautiful (his comments) and she charmed the pants off of him with her willingness to make legos and play basketball in the driveway.  She never tired of playing dress up with my daughter either and cast a spell over her with the all magical power of nail polish.  Like all of the girls, Malin made the most of the opportunities to travel and see the USA.  She returned home to attend Uppsala University to study the legal system and had expressed interest in becoming a police officer.

Finally, Lisa was our au pair in 2008.  An elementary school teacher by trade, she decided to participate in the au pair program when she was 23 because an earlier attempt had been thwarted by love in her late teenage years.  Lisa arrived determined to make the most of her exchange experience and brought a sense of calm to my hectic household that I have always appreciated.  She was a teacher through and through and we all learned a ton from her!  She returned home after her year and resumed a teaching position as a Kindergarten teacher where she dazzles the young children with her creativity and calm daily.

With everyone traveling in from different parts of Sweden we decided the best place to meet was my hotel.  I waited in the hotel lobby like an expectant parent pacing the floors and when they walked in I was overcome with emotion.  They all looked the same (stunning of course) and sounded the same but more grown up and confident.  They were excited to show me their city and so we set out on a walking tour of Stockholm.

What I noticed immediately was how fashionable everyone looked despite it being only 20 degrees outside and how many people were out and about on walking the streets. The girls reiterated to me the old Swedish saying – “no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes” with the requisite jup that sounds like someone is inhaling a yup under their breath.  I was also impressed with how clean and stylish everything was.  From the bathrooms in restaurants, coffee shops and even the airport to the city architecture, Swedish design was in full force and everything was clean, colorful and stunning.

On our travels around the city we passed the Royal Palace where just this summer the royal couple were betrothed, the Grand Hotel, the Vasa Museum and Gamlastan where you got a sense of such rich history and culture.

After many years of sharing tidbits about American culture and history with each of them during their year with our family it was a very cool experience to be on the receiving end of their local knowledge and desire to show me around their beautiful city.  We enjoyed a traditional Swedish lunch of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, lingonberry sauce and gravy and caught up on each others lives.

Yum! I couldn’t resist a photo.  I have made these with the girls at home (here’s a great meatball recipe) but there is nothing like having the real deal in Sweden.  After catching up with one another we set back out and continued our travels.

We stopped for godis (candy) gifts to bring home and enjoyed a Swedish fika of coffee and candy.  We laughed with one another about different experiences from each of their years each and it was as though a day had never passed.  For some of the girls it was their first time meeting in person for others it was catching up as old friends.  For me, it was seeing my Swedish au pair family come together in their home country.

I look forward to sharing a visit back to Sweden with my husband and children next time and taking several weeks to travel the beautiful country.  In the meantime we will continue to stay in touch and plan future visits.

Now that I am home and preparing for the holidays, I see signs of my Swedish girls and other au pairs all around.  From the St. Lucia advent candle holder, to the Dala horses that decorate our living room to the Svenska and German soccer jerseys the kids adorn playing basketball, there is so much we have incorporated into our life as a result of our cultural exchange experiences.

In a week my daughter’s class will celebrate with a St. Lucia party and she will be able to share her knowledge of this rich cultural tradition because of her connection to our Swedish au pairs.  I continue to appreciate all that my family has learned and benefited from hosting au pairs for nine years- from help with childcare to language learning and cultural exchange.

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5 Lessons Learned From Running the Diva!

It’s been 3 weeks since I ran the Diva 1/2 marathon in Uniondale, NY and I am here to report it was Divalicious!  I am not sure if that is even a word but it was truly fabulous. This is where I thank everyone who helped me achieve my dream – “thank you family, friends and colleagues who encouraged me to stick with my “crazy” goal” – and officially put everyone on notice that I have set a new goal….the Boston Marathon April 2011!

Say what, you say?  Yes, it is true.  I said it.  My husband called my bluff of completing a full marathon by the time I turn 40 (ahem, next June) and in a romantic turn of events said he would run Boston with me every step of the way.  Gulp.  Slight panic. Ok – small smile, I think I can, I think I can.  Remember what I learned in my journey to the Diva.

  1. Do something physical! Every person should do something big and physical with a lot of other likeminded people of all shapes, sizes, interests and backgrounds.  Running the Diva 1/2 with 2800 women was AMAZING.  To share words of encouragement, laughs, and stories of personal journeys and triumphs with total strangers was empowering for everyone.
  2. Set a goal and don’t give up until you accomplish it! You can accomplish anything by having the discipline and tenacity to see it through to the end.  Take a big hairy goal and break it down into smaller bite sized goals.
  3. Just keep showing up! Woody Allen says 80% of success is just showing up so I keep showing up to boot camp class and training sessions!
  4. Create a community. Surround yourself with a community of people who will encourage you to keep going when you might otherwise have been inclined to give up.
  5. Believe in possibilities! Recognizing your own potential is about realizing the possibilities that lie within and unleashing them.

At this point it is too early to say I am looking forward to it.  That would be a big lie.  But I know I can do it with the right training, encouragement and determination.  And because how cool would it be to cross the finish line with my fantastic hubby.  Wish me luck!

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Diva 1/2 Marathon Here We Come!

So I have been holding my breath for about three weeks in anticipation of today.  It’s 6:30am and when I had all intentions of sleeping in late, here I am tired and a bit groggy but too anxious excited to sleep.  You ask why?

We leave this morning to travel to Long Island, New York to participate in my first half marathon.  The Diva 1/2 Marathon will bring women (and a few brave men) from around the country together to run 13.1 miles through Eisenhower Park.  I chose this 1/2 marathon mainly because it is flat but also because I loved the idea of running a race with the comradery of (mostly) women who are all on a journey of some sort, much like myself.  And when you finish you receive a big honkin’ medal and tiara from a NYC fire fighter.  What a hoot!  It is so over the top and designed to make you feel like a princess that it seemed perfect.

If only my college field hockey coach could see my now she would think the world had ended.  Mental toughness was not my forte when it came to long runs.  And when I say long, anything over 1 mile qualified. I often finished timed runs at the same time as the goalies who don’t spend entire games running up and down a field.  Charlene, the assistant coach was sure I would be cut from the team because I was so slow!

So while I’m not really here to prove anything to anyone (but myself), what this journey has taught me is that anything is possible.  My DH is coming too to be my one man cheering squad – and I know seeing his face in the crowd when I might be feeling tired and sore will be just what I need to keep going.

A big thank you to my support team – “SUPER FUN GRANDPARENTS” who will take care of my dear children with the help of my wonderful au pair, and all of my family, friends and colleagues cheering me on through FB, emails of encouragement, and calls.

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5 weeks and counting…Diva 1/2 Marathon Update

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.” George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Five weeks and counting until the Diva 1/2 Marathon in Long Island, NY!  I am nervous and excited at the same time.  It’s hard to believe that in March I couldn’t run further than 3 miles.  Going from couch potato to a marathon runner in 6-months seemed a distant pipe dream but thanks to amazing online resources, inspiration from friends and colleagues and personal determination the final stretch of training is here. 

Marathonrookie.com offered some fantastic tips on what to eat, how to train, proper hydration and most importantly the right gear – sneakers, running shorts and shirts, water belts etc.

This weekend I will run 11 miles.  Next weekend 12 and then it will be time to taper off.  I can hardly believe it.  What I have learned through this experience is that marathon training has been part of a larger life journey on my way to turn 40.  Pushing myself beyond what I thought possible has been a great lesson – anything is possible when you put your mind to it.  If you can run 3 miles, you can run 6.  If you can do 6, you can do 9.  You get the picture. 

As I prepare for the runs ahead, I seek inspiration everywhere I look.  I found this quote and love it.  Harvey Mackay is also someone who I find inspirational – both professionally and personally now that I have learned he is a nine time marathon runner.  This week’s column resonated even more because he makes the connection between running a marathon and working in business. I hope you find inspiration in it too: How to succeed in the marathon of life?  

Where do you turn for inspiration in reaching a goal?  How do you hold yourself accountable?

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Swedish Deliciousness – potato salad without the fuss and mess of mayonnaise!

Got to love a Swedish Chef!

In the summer there is nothing more American than potato salad.  It’s a regular staple at all BBQs and is loved by all, except those who hate mayonnaise.  My brother-in-law is in this category.  If you tell him something has mayonnaise in it he won’t touch it.  While I am not a lover really or a hater for that matter, I steer away from this summer salad on hot days for fear of it going bad in the heat.

So imagine my delight when Maria, my Swedish au pair in 2005, introduced me to her potato salad recipe.  All the deliciousness without the mess – perfection!  I fully admit that I have adopted this as my favorite potato salad and consider it a cultural benefit of hosting an au pair. 

Many of my friends have asked for the recipe, so here it is for everyone.  While I am no culinary master in the kitchen, what I love about this recipe is the lack of measurements.  Put in as much or as little of any of the ingredients.  Taste it and see if it needs more of anything.  Voila.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

4-5 potatoes

2 garlic cloves chopped up

Salt

Pepper

½ bunch of leafy parsley chopped/diced up

1 package of baby tomatoes cut into halves

1 cup of white vinegar

¼ cup of olive oil

Note: these are estimations based on making a small-medium bowl of potato salad.

Mix vinegar, parsley, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and baby tomatoes.  Bring water to a boil.  While water is boiling cut up potatoes into bite sized wedges and place into water to cook.  Potatoes are done when you can easily stick a fork in them.  Once potatoes are fully cooked, drain the water and mix them into the bowl of other ingredients.  Season further to taste!

I hope you enjoy the Swedish deliciousness!  Let me know what you think or feel free to share one of your favorite recipes.

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I Survived! A Chronicle of My ½ Marathon Training Program

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor is my new theme song.  And not because I have been jilted by my lover, but because I am training for a marathon and just hoping to survive it all! 

I “officially” began my formal training program last Saturday for the Diva ½ Marathon in Long Island, NY October 3rd.  It is 10 weeks and counting until the big day.  Before three months ago the furthest I had ever run was 3 miles (while I was in college) so the idea of running 8.5 miles was a tad incredibly daunting.  Do I dare mention that it has been a few many years since college?

But successful running is ½ mental and ½ physical.  So I am tackling both.   I have slowly started tackling my fear of running and begun building up my strength and endurance.  I am throwing out my “stinkin’ thinkin’” and replacing it with positive affirmations.

In June I ran 6.5 miles and now I can happily report I survived 8.5!!!

I want to scream it out loud and tell everyone I know because I am in a state of disbelief but that would be too embarrassing.  My dear husband is very supportive but quite frankly doesn’t understand the need for grandstanding.  He’s a New Englander through and through.  But for me it’s so unbelievable that I must document that it happened and quietly but happily blog about it.  So for my humble followers aka friends and family I hereby apologize and thank you in advance for your indulgence.  I DID IT!!! I DID IT!!! I DID IT!!!

There was one tough moment when I asked my running partner exactly where we were running to only to realize we were running from one town to another.  Gulp.  Really?  She told me later it was probably better that I didn’t realize exactly where I was going from the get go because that might have been too tough to handle.

Doesn’t God work in mysterious ways?  So I’m not religious at all but she might be onto something.  I felt great through the ½ way mark (4.3 miles) but then wanted to die a little for the next two before the thrill of accomplishment carried me the final 2.2 miles.  It was a glorious feeling – just completing something that at one time seemed so far out of reach is a natural high worth experiencing.

This Saturday I face my second 8.5 run and I’m up for the challenge.  The goal is to complete it.  My running partner, mentor, coach and YMCA Boot Camp instructor Beth Schultz was a true inspiration – she pushed me when I told her I wanted to walk (kind of the whole time) and we had a wonderful time. 

Ok – wonderful is a bit much but I did Survive!

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Summer on the Water: A Cultural Experience!

Sailing is one of my great distractions passions in the summertime.  As a child I was lucky enough to spend my summer vacations on a little island called Fisher’s Island, an idyllic island off the coast of Connecticut.  It was where I first learned to sail a Sunfish Laser sailboat and caught the sailing bug.

I consider myself blessed to have married a man who loves being on the ocean and sailing even more than I do.  So summers for us consists of spending as much time on the water as possible.  It was inevitable that our children would become sailors too.  They have been joining us on sails since they were 6-months old.  

When we began hosting au pairs nine years ago we began introducing them to the sport.  Because of our au pairs, Ty and I have been able to race in the some amazing weekend regattas knowing that the kids are in good hands.  And they have come and cheered us on and celebrated our finishes at the races alongside the kids.  We consider all of them a big part of our crew.

Our au pairs have been able to see a part of Massachusetts that others do not – the beautiful coastline.  And they too have become intrigued by it.  Dare I say love it too?  There is no better way to pass a warm summer day than aboard a sail boat, picnic packed, cool drinks on board, and the wind at our backs.

So this is one of the ways we love to embrace cultural exchange in New England – on the water with no distractions other than the occasional book, bird on the horizon and fish in the sea where we can share adventurous stories about sailing the waters of Massachusetts and beyond.

This past weekend Romina met Die Fledermaus, our J35 sail boat.  She was a bit nervous about getting sea sick too but she had nothing to fear.  We took a lovely tour of Marblehead harbor and Children’s Island and were able to appreciate this beautiful seaside town.

Approaching Die Fledermaus

The kids enjoyed time exploring the boat – being on look out and testing out the mast for sturdiness.  Check, check, and check!  

We spotted a seal bobbing its head up and down in the water by the shore of Chandler Hovey Park.  We even came across some beautiful little coves and stopped into Marblehead Lobster Company for some fresh swordfish for our dinner that evening.  While waiting for the fresh fish to be cut up, my son found a rock and enjoyed a few peaceful minutes of skipping rocks.  Sister, not included!

This area holds lots of family memories for us.  My husband was born here, his grandparents lived here, and this is where he proposed to me twelve years ago – right at the lighthouse.  So, while we share much about the ocean, sailing and local history, the sailing experiences become a part of our au pair’s year and memories too.

First outing on Die Fledermaus was a big success.  Evidence below!

Romina's first visit to Die Fledermaus

I think I'm enjoying Die Fledermaus?

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