Thursday, November 20, 2014

Old Town Warsaw...

A few snaps from a rainy day in Old Town Warsaw from last weekend's trip.  Along with my last work flights also came my last personal flights, and this trip was to celebrate a bit of a family reunion.  My cousin who was not too much older than my own daughter when I first met her, was doing her PhD defense…public audience.  I'm pleased to report she passed with flying colors, and that I've gotten a little wiser on the preservative qualities of natural extract on fruits such as apples and bell peppers.  

I'm not from Warsaw but over the years, it's become a bit of neutral ground for meeting up with family and events and I've grown to love the city.  They say Warsaw will do that to you…Seven and a half years ago we got married here and it's amazing how much the city has grown and rejuvenated itself in that time, making this trip such a nice blend of family, memory lane and also, discovery...





Because it was family that was mostly on tap, this wasn't a tourist trip, and the touristy things we tried to do seemed to get thwarted by rain or schedule or just still the classic adventure of doing things in Poland.  And to some degree, it's refreshing to see that westernization hasn't stamped out all of the character - want to visit the Royal Palace? Sure - except that it was closed because the cloakroom was full and it was unclear when it ticket sales would re-open.  He he - yeah, try telling that to three toddlers.  Want to take a trolley ride through Old Town? Sure again - except the trolley wouldn't start and the driver offered a refund or we could all get out and push the trolley through old town cobblestones to try to give it a running start.  Being the good Poles that we are, we opted for the running start.  It worked...

Though rainy, it was still mild - which has been the case this year in Europe more broadly though something tells me the cold is coming soon.  When talking about fall, just about any Pole you meet will sigh wistfully and mumble something about "Zlota Jesien", or "golden fall"… it's just a Polish thing.  Everyone does it.  It's because of all the birch trees that really do turn gold and lucky us, we still caught the last pieces of that gold on the trees before the winds took it all down…

And just as we were leaving they were dressing the city in layers of white and red, in preparation for the Independence Day celebrations that take place on November 11th - this year all the more poignant for the 25th anniversary of the elections and fall.  We like Independence in Poland so much we did it not once but twice…and that's something worth celebrating...




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

7 Tips for Stressless Holiday Cards...



This year, I'm on top of it, or at least trying to be.  As in, already picked out my holiday cards and photos and pretty much gotten all of the addresses corrected and uploaded on it.  But after having done these the most stressful way possible for pretty much the last five years in a row, I've gleaned a few tips over the years.  I know the holidays seem a way off (at least they do to me, despite the fact that downtown Copenhagen is decorated to the hilt!) but with diplo-tot #2 on the way right after the holidays, and lots of trial and error up until this point, here are my tips for going about holiday cards in the stressless way:

1.  Start Early...
As in today.  I've done all of our holiday cards through Minted since their designs fit with my aesthetic, and they have several components that allow me to work on cards in bits and pieces over time.  Start a short list of favorites; upload a few photos you're thinking about using, start going after those missing addresses....once the holiday season actually starts, doing these things becomes more harried, but broken up into small chunks, its much more doable.

One thing I've learned over the years is that cards always take me longer than I think...I pick a design but the photo doesn't look great in it...I have a great horizontal photo but actually need a vertical one...that kind of stuff takes time.  If you're dead set on a photo, Minted will actually place it in cards for you so that you start to visualize it all before you even make your short list.  I've also learned that especially when we live abroad, things can take longer than we thought for shipping, so starting early gives us plenty of margin for anything unexpected (like getting a batch of cards with all the text missing!)

2. Make an address folder...
I actually just keep a folder in my email with "Contact Information" changes so that once it comes time to do a card, I just have all my address changes for the year all in one place.  That leaves me with only a handful to chase down come holiday time, rather than trying to do all of them at once. One of the best time savers...

3.  ...And a photo folder...
Most years, this is a little easier since we've had a photographer take some photos by this point of the year, and that session tends to be what we pick from.  This year, we somehow didn't get around to it so I made a separate folder where I filed away a few photos of our own that could work.   This gave me the flexibility I needed when we started to play around with designs.  And also made me realize that from this entire year, there are exactly two photos of all three of us together!  It made choosing easy, but reminded me to get in the frame with my family a bit more too.

4.  Use recipient addressing...
And speaking of addresses, if the company offers recipient addressing, use it.  No question.  I am rather excited because this year Minted added "the beautiful envelope" option, which jazzes up those holiday envelopes one step further.  I'd like to point out that when we did our wedding invitations, this kind of "digital calligraphy", as they called it, set me back about $3 per envelope and Minted is offering it as part of their free addressing service,  Win-win on all accounts for me here.  Not having to address several hundred envelopes is definitely something I look forward to, and they're still going to look prettier than if I had done them myself.

5.  To be or not to be (religious)...
Christmas actually means something very specific to me from a religious perspective, but it doesn't always to everyone else.  We live around the world and come across all types of people and cultures, and we go as wide as possible for our holiday card, but at the same time, I can appreciate that the holiday season means different things to different people.   We choose a neutral new year's theme for our main card.  But I always order a small batch of religiously themed cards that I use as inserts for those who share my faith.  It's just an extra small touch that's important to me personally, but in a way that doesn't make it stressful for others.  This year, angels from one of my favorite carols are on tap!

6.  Order extra...and order your stamps the same day...
It's the rule that follows me around no matter what.  We always need more than I think we do - two years I've had to go back and do rush orders for just a few more cards.  That makes no financial sense and it's nervewracking.  When doing cards, there always seem to be a few mistakes, a few people you forgot, and a few new friends you make.  Order extra cards, and take a few extra envelopes while you're at it.  Keep tabs on how many domestic and how many international addresses you have; and plus up domestic stamps in case you run short. That way you have everything ready to go once the cards arrive - no waiting at the post office!

7.  Give yourself a cushion...
For some people, it's just about starting early (see tip #1!) but at the same time, one of the things that keeps me less stressed about cards is that we always choose a New Year's theme.  Which means, in my mind, if the cards arrive to people sometime between December and the end of January, that's fair game. It's built in flexibility for when things get busy...or unexpected...or you know, you have a baby or something...

Holiday cards are pretty important to me - and we really do take the time to write in and sign each one.  For other kinds of cards, we might let that personal touch slide, but this is truly a time of year where we are grateful for the family and friends surround us and we put pen to paper to tell them that. The above steps keep this something to look forward to, rather than something to stress about - so now this is just a question of finding a few blustery afternoons with mugs of spiced wine or cocoa to start the holiday spirit!

This post was written in collaboration with Minted Stationery.  See the sidebar for 15% of your holiday order!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Until next time, Roma...


Today I take off for the last round of trips….Warsaw….London…Paris…and then grounded! Looking forward to a little less time at the airport, but at the same time, going to miss my clients and my destinations.

A couple of weeks ago said good-bye to Rome - one of my favorites hands down.  And I love that no matter when I go, it always seems to be at least 70 degrees.  Nothing wrong with that…

I still love how Italian hotels almost always have breakfast included - and this one had a rooftop terrace to go with it.  Just about the only thing better than 70 degrees, is 70 degrees while you eat breakfast outside in a garden rooftop terrace.

Since I'm usually not in Rome for very long and at the days are packed with meetings, I try to stay by the Spanish Steps when I can.  Touristy? Sure.  But that doesn't mean it's not full of gems, and for an evening walk after work, it's a perfect way to stretch your legs.

And one of my clients is right around the corner from Harry's Bar.  Again, touristy? Yes, but I don't care, I always have a little love for institutions.  Especially those that serve aperitifs!

Even the drive to the airpot doesn't disappoint.  Rome, I'll miss you  - the great thing about eternal cities though is that they'll always be an opportunity to go back!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Denmark Derby: Frilandsmuseet, Lyngby…


We've had a rather successful fall in Denmark this year. Last year, I seem to remember fall being much more brief, with less leaves and colors.  Maybe I was traveling during the critical times or maybe it was just one of those years where storms took everything away quickly.  But this year has been full of mild days with just enough chill to remind you summer was gone, and an abundance of colors - both of which make getting out and about more fun.

One of the best museums here in the Greater Copenhagen area is the Frilandsmuseet, which is actually an extension of the National Museum here - their outdoor campus if you will...


The "museum" is actually a huge outdoor area where they have relocated multiple variations of Danish homes from different eras and styles for you to walk around and see.  Some of them will look like they're right out of Babette's feast...you'll totally realize where the movie is coming from.  The houses are darling, but inside they also give you a sense of what is really was like to live in the Danish country side before Copenhagen was hip...


But perhaps most importantly in the eyes of diplo-tot, this place has ponies...and horses (and also duck and sheep and other assorted livestock)...and the opportunity to ride both.  We are deep into the "I want a pony" phase around here, which was only intensified after our most recent Frilandsmuseet visit.  I've tried to explain why a pony wouldn't quite make it in our postage stamp yard but that doesn't seem to sink in, so I suspect that we'll be back for more rides...

Fishing for rubber duckies came a close second (especially since the prizes were bubbles - does it even get any better?)... 



You could easily spend an hour on a quick walk here in just a portion of the museum or really do the whole day.  There's a small concession stand in the interior (with some fine apple cake I might add) or you can pack a picnic and eat in the table area, which is what most families seemed to be doing.  We've been several times now and entered the park from multiple points but if you want to truly give yourselves the grand tour, just bring good walking shoes. There's much to see here and lots of twists and turns you didn't see coming.  Best part? 100% guaranteed that any littles will be wiped at the end of the day so just enjoy the very quiet ride home.





Monday, November 3, 2014

Love, actually...


It's one of my favorite movies, especially this time of year, even though I think it has some of the saddest portrayals of real relationship issues in it.  But one of the best scenes in the movie is both the start and end when they bookend the airport arrival experience.  You know, when all the people walk out and have someone waiting for them and it's seemingly a tidal wave of occasions?

Last week I got off the plane in Paris, much delayed, past midnight.  There was another flight that landed with us, I don't know from where - not sure that it matters actually... But based on the scene that unfolded, I would venture to guess is was perhaps from Syria or Kurdish parts of Iraq....when the exit gate security doors opened, the lights from all the phones was nearly blinding...there were young girls in full traditional wear with plates of sweets....enough flowers to stock a royal wedding....and families on either side of the barrier.  Half landing, the other half waiting. 

Even though it was after midnight, there were so many children there, and it was clear that some people were either seeing their children for the first time in a long time, or some, such as grandparents, were meeting for the first time altogether.  Literally hundreds of families embracing and crying and laughing... I think whatever problems might have brought such an emotional reunion seems to float away in that arrival hall.

By the time I stop flying next week, I will have had well over a hundred flights this year. I know that there are bigger road warriors out there, but still, when you fly on an average of what works out to be once every three or four days, you stop paying attention so much.  It becomes about getting on the plane, off the plane, doing what you came to do and repeating the whole process to get back home.  Sometimes you have to see arrival through the eyes of someone else, to recall that flying allows you to come out of the sky and on to the ground, arriving at an entirely new place.  And for some, an entirely new life...