Goodbye, blog…

…all good things must come to an end.

So they say, right?

I’m not sure who ‘they’ are but they sure do have a lot to say when tough decisions are placed in our laps.

I have loved writing this blog and other articles over the last few years as we transitioned from being a French family to a Swiss family.  I never, ever expected to have 4000+ followers and travel internationally to discuss my role as a blogger. It was fun, inspiring and exhausting all in one.

I started this blog to keep myself sane during our international move but it ended up being a gateway for me into more assignments and projects in Switzerland. All of this has been amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing.

A little over a year ago, I was proposed the opportunity to go to Pyeongchang for the Olympics and Paralympics. I went back and forth over the logistics and in the end, it just didn’t work out.  I was gutted. I love the Olympics and it was Bucket List-level on things I wanted to do in my lifetime. But, the decision was made and it was the right thing to do.

Fast-forward one year later, and I am back involved in large international sporting events. I’ll say more about this at another time but for now, the time for shutting down this blog and putting this chapter behind me has come.  I have received comments about why I’m not posting as much and the answer is honestly, I just haven’t had the time!!! I’ll still have things to say and I’ll keep my Instagram and Twitter going  but I will be closing my Facebook page and this blog in the coming weeks.

What started as a project to keep me sane as we switched countries and cultures has given me career opportunities of a lifetime. I could not have foreseen this coming but I welcome the challenges and work ahead!!!

As always, stay safe and explore the world. Not to lose yourself but to find out who you really are.

Sincerely,
Jennifer HART

 

 

 

International Women’s Day is for Men, too

Today is International Women’s Day. I’m sure if you have access to social media of any sort, you’ve been made aware of this by now.  Mixed amongst the endless positive ‘we will change’ claims, protests for pay equity and ending sexual assault, and the rising hashtag movement of #MeToo and #TimesUp messages, you will find the usual ‘but when is it Men’s Day’ questions.

I’m not going to go down the road of screaming ‘every day is Men’s Day’ because that isn’t the point of today. It’s not like IWD isn’t FOR men, as well. This isn’t an event happening in a vacuum. Today is about women and men and all the gender variants in-between taking a stand together. Saying collectively, we have had enough of 52% of the population being treated with less than they deserve.

This is a day when the men out there that feel uncomfortable when other men make sexist jokes can come out and say ‘I don’t like that, either’.

This is a day when our sons can learn that growing up to to be a strong man also means to be supportive of the women in their lives.

This is a day about being a collective voice against oppression of females as a whole.

This is a day about challenging systemic and institutionalised sexism.

This is a day when you can decide that ‘locker room talk’ is completely unnecessary and degrading.

This is a day when the world can realise that ovaries are not a requirement for saying ‘sexism is messed up and must end!’

This day is focused on women but it doesn’t exclude men. Other men, the ones concerned about losing their power against women, have changed the conversation to make people think that.

This isn’t a day about ridding the world of men and chopping off their whatnots so women can take over! It’s infuriating that women cannot speak about wanting equal pay and to not be raped without these sentiments clouding the topic.

This is a day for all of us to say, we want a better future.

International Women’s Day is not about Girls vs Boys. This is a day about Girls AND Boys coming together to say enough is enough and have each other’s back in saying so.

#LikeAGirl #ItsOKtobeanAlly

 

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart

 

Living Abroad: Olympic Confusion

I know it’s been a while. Things have been hectic and my thought processes on writing have been all over the place as additional work has come my way. It’s been hard to sit down and focus on my own writing when I have too much going on in other parts of my life. Perhaps I should work on finding a better sense of balance but until then, all I can say is I haven’t left, I’m just quieter than I was before!

So here we are smack dab in the middle of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. I was offered a position to travel to these olympic games but had to back out for many reasons. I will forever keep that feeling I had when I was selected and received the offer out of a pool of 100K+ applicants!! Those moments don’t leave us easily 😉

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As a huge sports fan, particularly of winter sports, I love the Olympics. I love having time dedicated to watch the elite of the world push themselves harder and faster than ever before. Sports are a huge part of my life and the Olympics warms my heart!  However, there is one increasingly difficult situation that continues to face my little international family as each Olympic games passes us by: who do we cheer for????

In our early years abroad, it was clear to Mr H and I whom we supported as our national identities were solid. He was staunchly British and I was Canadian. Yes, my mum and dad also have other passports, but I was Canadian through and through. But over the past decade and a half, we’ve changed. We have foreign-born children who don’t necessarily identify with OUR countries and cultures and we respect and understand that. We have spent more time outside of our home countries as adults than we ever did IN them. We have chosen to put down roots in Switzerland where we feel at home and part of Swiss culture. We are, to put it very mildly, confused.

Most days, we can avoid this. When the Olympics pops up, we come face to face with this very question: which country has our hearts the most?

Personally, in winter sports, Canada is currently still my number one but what I’m also learning is that I’m extremely happy when Switzerland wins, as well.  The recent mixed curling final that saw Canada come face to face against Switzerland was bittersweet for me. I felt joyous that Canada won and gutted that Switzerland lost. At the Opening Ceremonies, I cheered for the arrival of Canada, Switzerland and Malta. My husband cheered for the arrival of Great Britain and Switzerland. Does this mean we finally have a common country to cheer for?!?!

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Our children cheer for Canada and Switzerland. They cheered for France once when there weren’t Canadians involved in an event at Sochi 2014. They happily congratulate their Papa when Team GB does well but they don’t feel connected to it (although watching Elise Christie baff it today was gutting for everyone). Whilst I cannot seem to cheer for the USA (sorry, Dad!!) I do throw some serious weight behind how much I want Lindsey Vonn to triumph!!

Maybe someday we will all have the same team to cheer for as we all seem to be gravitating towards the Swiss. Unless it is hockey. Hockey will always be a Canadian sport to me and my heart 😉

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Happy Olympics-watching, everyone!! From the Hart family to yours, we hope all your teams do well…we just hope some do better than others – ha!

 

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart and unknown (hockey image – happy for a credit to be attributed here)

 

Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

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Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

Looking for Early Skiing in Europe – Try Glacier 3000 in Switzerland

On your marks, get set, SKI!

It’s that exciting time of year when skiers and snowboarders begin the process of ‘hurry up and wait’ for the winter season to commence. If you are desperate for some early ski season action, look no further than Glacier 3000 in Switzerland. Located at 3000m/10,000ft, the glacier has one of the longest ski season in Europe and will be opening THIS weekend: 28th October, to be exact!

Glacier 3000 is situated 7 minutes away from the Swiss town of Les Diablerets (a firm favourite on this blog), 90 minutes from Geneva international airport and is accessible by train, car and bus. What are you waiting for? Let the pictures speak for themselves…I see that 50cm/20inches of fresh powder fell this week!

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Enough snow for you? Photo credit: Glacier 3000
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Snow, snow everywhere…  Photo credit: Glacier 3000

 

So, who’s ready to hit the slopes this weekend? I know I am…!

 

Photos: banner – Jennifer Hart, Glacier 3000 original source click here

Why Hygge Should Be More Than A Trend

Though there are many ways to describe hygge, we see it simply as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness. Contentment. Good feelings. A warm glow. Certainly, hygge is intrinsic to the Danish lifestyle, but this feeling of well-being, so deeply satisfying and cozy, is something we all experience, each in our own way. 

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I feel blessed in so many ways that I often find myself thinking “what would my life be like without all of different these people in it?” Growing up in a small town in Canada, my mother and three of my grandparents were all foreigners. I think this influenced me to both crave exploring the world myself and cultivate relationships from people of varied backgrounds.

My sister-in-law is Danish and I accept this does NOT make me an expert on the cultural word of the moment, hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) , it DOES mean I have watched, learned and embraced what she has shown me over the last 12 years. She presented me last year with a book on hygge and I’d like to take a few moments to discuss why this Danish custom, in so many ways, should be how we embrace life and not just a passing trend.

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Swiss-infused hygge with a slice of Bündner Nusstorte, a roaring fire and a cup of tea in my husband’s London 2012 mug! (for the Bündner Nusstorte recipe link click here)

Hygge began to noticeably gain non-Danish popularity a few winters ago. A quick search on Pinterest will garner thousands of results, normally photos of a warm winter scene with hot drinks, animals, soft lighting and books. With its focus on a cosy and present lifestyle, I can see why people have begun to gravitate towards it. Well-being is something we often overlook to a fault in our modern, busy lives. We are always plugged in, switched on and overly stimulated.  We take our coffees to go, eat in our cars and read books on screens (OK, full disclosure, I do this too even when I’m in hygge-mode).  All this rushing but for what purpose? Is it making us happier? When do we make time for ourselves? To nourish our souls and bodies as they should be?

Hygge is not so much a word as it is actions and feelings: switch off your phone, put comfortable and cozy clothing on, light some candles, light a fire, grab a blanket and book and relax.  We need to take time for ourselves to reconnect with our deep emotions and push out the intrusions of daily life. Take a moment to sit and truly enjoy a hot drink with a piece of cake or pastry without guilt.

If you still struggle with what hygge would mean for you, think of it as taking time to not only ignore push notifications, but to not receive any in the first place.  Why do we feel guilty when we switch off our phones?  Why must we make dramatic announcements about how we are leaving social media to be happier? We should be able to do these things without explanation. That is hygge to me.

We should all thank the Danish for putting into writing the very thing we all need to be doing!

Now go turn your phone off and put the kettle on!

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  Fotolia – Alena Ozerova, Jennifer Hart

Living Abroad: The Problem With “Best and Worst Expat Locations” Lists

“No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson

I read a post recently that was making the rounds on Facebook about how awful life is in Switzerland for foreigners. This wasn’t, sadly, a shocking post for me to read as I have come across too many of these to count over the last 5 years relating to Switzerland and internationals living/working here. Depending on your life, you may or may not be aware that international/expat-focused websites, as well as reputable news agencies, love to publish annual lists entitled something akin to ‘Best and Worst Places for Expats To Live’. These lists often accompany anecdotal ‘evidence’ positioned as truthful information to support whatever their survey monkey results found. There are some disturbingly common themes in these types of articles and I’d like to confront them head on.  I am a FIRM believer that your experiences living abroad are highly influenced by your own actions and when I come across something along these lines that continues to perpetuate the idea that one person’s take on a short-term assignment abroad will speak true for 100% of the people that move there, I get frustrated, sad and angry.

Switzerland is the fifth country I have lived in. It is not perfect but it has been my favourite place to call home.  It trumps Canada, where I was born, England where, you know, fish and chips are available ALL THE TIME, France where the Eiffel Tower makes every picture look better and the USA where I learned about deep fried cheese curds. It is better than all of that (to me) but it wasn’t Switzerland that made that so, I also had a hand in making this the best place for me.

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This is not the worst country in the world to live…

So, if everything is so great for me in Switzerland, why does it pale in comparison to somewhere like Singapore that often tops the Best lists, or at least rounds out the top 3? Well, it’s easy. Comparing a country like Switzerland where someone will relocate and live in a local community, immersed in a culture and language they don’t know, is unfair vis-a-vis countries like Singapore where people are relocated to a prefabricated community compound. You cannot, and should not, compare the two. Relocating to a compound gives you ready-made friends, already international in nature and most likely aware your arrival is imminent. These pre-fab friends come with insider knowledge that helps you to avoid the pitfalls of international relocation that befall many of us. I have seen Facebook status updates from friends that received welcome gifts from their new Irish neighbours in Malaysia and a welcome basket waiting at the home for friends relocating to Dubai. Whilst we didn’t experience any of that, we did get an offer to use pots and pans from our Swiss German neighbour in case we hadn’t unpacked them yet…same-same but different?!

Now, I’m not about to fall into the trap of saying one is harder than the other and that ALL people that relocate to Asia move to prefabs and that ALL people that relocate to Europe do it solo because it just isn’t true. Local-base relocations are not harder, they are just different and that difference is never accounted for in the Best and Worst lists. Local moves do require more effort to break into a community because you are unlikely to spend your time living on the outside of local life. At some point you must integrate and there in lies the problem with comparisons. When you move somewhere where you know you will never blend in, you give up the hopes of that and settle fully into international/expat life. Expat parties. Expat friends. Expat schools. Expat life. When you move somewhere and WANT to fit in, you are swiftly and painfully confronted with the realisation of how hard it is to make friends as an adult. I have discussed my own failings on this topic here.

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I was definitely lonely at times in Paris…having a dog helped that 🙂

So before you move abroad and before you trash another country online, take a moment to get to know yourself because you will make or break your stay in many many ways. Yes, the culture may not be ‘you’ in the end but there are always silver linings and ways to make things work. Knowing what you are willing do beforehand will help you out. I repeat: You MUST know yourself before you accept a local life assignment abroad. Are you a go-getter? Are you willing to put in hours of effort to make a social life? Are you willing to do EVERYTHING to make your new life work? Or, will you arrive and complain then send an angry article off to be published about how crappy life is abroad? Will you blame the locals for not falling at your feet to become friends with you? Will you expect them to wake up one day and think ‘omg  is that a new American neighbour I see?! We must become best friends!’ (this won’t happen). If you aren’t a go-getter, perhaps think twice before accepting a local-based assignment. Try somewhere that will put you on a compound or near one so your lifestyle won’t change much, just the scenery.

International/expat life is not easy, even though it looks quite glamorous. It has changed me in every single way and I’m forever grateful. However, that change comes from the hard times that challenge you. Expat lists mean nothing about how you will respond to a place, trust me.

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‘Hello, WISCONSIN!’ My old home where almost 20 years later, I still am in touch with most of the amazing friends I made there.

Alas, I leave you with some Forrest Gump mama-style wisdom. Life is like a box of chocolates, it is true. But are you going to be the kind of person that throws the whole box out just because the strawberry creams are hiding in there somewhere or are you going to give it another chance in the hopes that you come across a little slice of heaven? I know what I would do…

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia