Archive for 'Home'

Feeling At Home: Celebrate Your New Space

Posted on 17. Aug, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Relocation

When you relocate to a place where you don’t know a soul, move-in day can be a pretty anticlimactic affair. After all, you don’t (yet) have friends and colleagues who you can invite to a housewarming party, so how do you celebrate this new chapter in your life?

From solitary ritual to big move-in celebration, here are some suggestions to suit introverts, extroverts and everyone in between!

Incense and candles

Design a ritual


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Feeling At Home: What Are Your Anchors?

Posted on 14. Aug, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Relocation

Over the years, and because I’ve always led a fairly nomadic lifestyle, I have assembled a collection of items that help me feel at home pretty much anywhere – they are my anchors, and together they form what I call my “self-care package”. Pictures, cat, colour (more…)

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Create The Mood You Want In Your New Overseas Home

Posted on 12. Aug, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Relocation

One of my favourite subjects!

I love using decorating and interior design to create an environment that inspiress, supports and replenishes you emotionally. I used to work in this field and my greatest joy was helping architects, designers and clients create precisely the mood they wanted in their homes.

It’s fun, creative and most of all it can boost your morale like nothing else, especially when you’ve just landed in an unfamiliar place!

Pillow covers - home


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The Expat Life: Cooking At Home

Posted on 17. Mar, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home

As we all know, the topic of food is central to many an expat conversation. These days, it seems like cooking at home is very much on people’s minds. It is no secret that I love cooking, so maybe that is why I have been getting so many questions recently about how to cook at home when a) your food budget might be shrinking and b) you cannot find the brands and convenience foods you are used to buying in your home country.

Here is what I suggest:

Buy local and in season
Yes, this may mean you have to go without tomatoes or peaches during the colder months. Let’s face it: out-of-season produce is likely to be expensive and often does not taste that great anyway. The local selection will be slimmer in more extreme climates but you might find some inspiration online thanks to produce calendars such as this one.

Buy “real food”
I was tempted to insert Michael Pollan’s famous quote “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” here, but the fact is that if you live far, far away from home, she may not recognize most of what is on offer at your local market! So, more to the point: cut down on processed and packaged foods and cook from scratch as much as possible. Your pocketbook and your health will thank you.

Add local or regional recipes to your repertoire
What better way to showcase local ingredients and vary your menus? To put a different twist on the same ingredients, you can also experiment with the cuisines of neighbouring countries, or countries with similar climates. If you live in Italy, do not limit yourself to Italian food – try some Greek, Moroccan or Lebanese recipes. Just moved to Russia? You may want to look up a few Swedish recipes.

Here are three cookbooks that I find wonderfully inspiring. They bridge the gap between cookbook and travelogue, combining fascinating cultural insight with beautiful pictures- and of course, delicious food.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.
I have been cooking from this book for several weeks and I still cannot get enough of Thai salads and Vietnamese noodle dishes. A lovely break from the heavier winter fare I had been cooking up to now.

Saha: A Chef’s Journey Through Lebanon and Syria by Greg and Lucy Malouf.
I love Lebanese cuisine, so flavourful and versatile! Saha also explores lesser-known Syrian and Armenian recipes. If you enjoy Mediterranean flavours, this cookbook is a must-have.

Olive Trees And Honey: A Treasury Of Vegetarian Recipes From Jewish Communities Around The World by Gil Marks.
Note that there is no need to be either Jewish or vegetarian to enjoy the recipes in this cookbook, which cover an amazing range of culinary traditions from Yemen to Georgia to Spain. This book was recommended by Havi Brooks over at The Fluent Self and I have been cooking from it for months. Love it!

Bon appetit !


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The Expat Life: Love (Or Hate) At First Sight

Posted on 06. Jan, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Relocation, Reviews, Tools & Resources

Funny how your perception of a new place can be forever coloured, for better or worse, by your early impressions.

For me, the decisive factor is often the quality of my interactions with local people. After just a few days in Vancouver, I knew that I would be happy living here. Everyone was surprisingly welcoming and helpful, from the immigration officer who greeted me with a big “Welcome to Canada” and sounded like he really meant it, to my next-door neighbours who insisted on having me over for Christmas dinner very shortly after I moved in.

I could hardly believe it, especially considering that I had just moved from Paris where there is quite a bit more, ahem, protocol and reluctance to approach strangers. So on went the rose-tinted glasses and I set out to discover what other pleasant surprises the city held. Call me a Polyanna if you must, but I am sure that it helped me make new friends quickly. After all, a smile is more attractive than a scowl, isn’t it? Naturally, this only led to more “Wow, people are really friendly here!” and “What a nice place to live!”

Unfortunately, self-fulfilling prophecies also work the other way around.
If you spent your first six weeks trying in vain to reach particularly inefficient utility companies, you may be dreading what the next three years are going to be like. If your new home is broken into within days of your moving in, you may start seeing your new country through the prism of fear and distrust, which will compromise your long-term enjoyment of living there.

If this is your case and you wish you were thousands of miles away from your current location, how can you make things better? Here is a suggestion, broken down into four steps:

1. Allow yourself to be upset. Acknowledge the fact that you are furious, shocked, on the verge of tears… whatever emotion is present, allow it to be there. You may have noticed that I am not a fan of “Shoulds”- as in “I should be able to handle this better” or “I should not be this angry”. Please do not beat yourself up for feeling what you are feeling.

2. Dig a little deeper. Are you furious because you fell prey to a scam and now feel that you cannot trust anyone? Are you shocked because you witnessed something incomprehensible or incompatible with your own values? Are you on the verge on tears because you feel completely overwhelmed and do not know who to ask for help? You get the idea. Try and see what lies underneath the main emotion you are experiencing.

3. What would be most helpful right now? This is not about looking for quick fixes. It is about giving your emotions what they need most, so that they can dissipate or at least become more manageable. If you are experiencing distrust, you may need reassurance. If you are struggling to understand something, you need an explanation or some way to make sense of it. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may need support, clarity and simplification.
What small, practical steps could you take toward helping your emotions dissolve?

4. Keep separate things separate. Hopefully the simple steps above have helped you distance yourself a little from your raw emotions. From this vantage point, try (I am not saying this is easy!) to keep in mind that these emotions are temporary. The negative experiences you had were isolated events. They do not get to have a say in everything you do, nor do they get to define all your interactions with the country.

In other words, if the cable company kept you on hold for two hours before hanging up on you, your anger does not get to seep into the non-cable company-related areas of your life. It does not get to tell you: “Oh, the nerve! What kind of place is this? What are we doing here? I am feeling terribly resentful and I sure hope you do too- so please do NOT enjoy the local food while you are out tonight and do NOT say hello to the neighbours if you run into them, because remember, you are really angry and besides- these cable people, what idiots!!!”

Yes, in my view, anger is a little petulant, not to mention long-winded, but you see what I am getting at: it makes absolutely no sense to miss out on enjoying delicious food or a friendly chat with your new neighbours just because your anger wants to follow you everywhere, like a black cloud over a cartoon character’s head. If at all possible, leave it at home and enjoy yourself instead.

I wanted to add a little anecdote to end on a lighter note, but this is getting quite long already. So I will tell you my story illustrating all of this in the next post. If you do not want to miss it, remember that you can subscribe and receive new content as I post it, either by email or via the RSS feed. (← now was that a smooth transition, or what?)


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The Expat Life: Weekend Plans

Posted on 06. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Musings & Inspiration

What are you up to this weekend?

Will you be working on a personal project, or exploring new-to-you parts of your host country?

Many different cultures and faiths are holding celebrations at this time of the year. Don’t miss the chance to witness (better yet, take part in) time-honoured traditions such as Sankta Lucia day in Scandinavia, Eid Al-Adha in the muslim world or one of the many Christmas Markets around the world, to name but a few.

If you are getting your home ready for the holidays, you may want to drop by Alkemie, The Kitchn or Apartment Therapy for some home decor and culinary inspiration. These blogs are full of fantastic ideas, from thrifty to decadent, and are sure to get you in the spirit of the season in no time.

As for me, I will be indulging my creative side this weekend. I would like to finish my main art project, a charcoal and ink drawing on papyrus, in the ancient Egyptian style.
I might also make a big vat of mulled wine and invite friends over for an impromptu get-together.

Have a great weekend and don’t forget to explore, be curious and enjoy your surroundings- this is what expat life is all about!


Related post: Travel Opportunities

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The Expat Life: New Holiday Traditions

Posted on 18. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Musings & Inspiration

With the holiday season fast approaching, some of you may already be planning this year’s celebrations. Your new location may have impacted your family traditions, for better or for worse.

Are there some holidays that you have given up on celebrating because the people who make it meaningful are not there, the weather is “wrong” or specific foods are not available where you live?

Conversely, have you adopted some traditions from your host country? Even more creative, you could consider starting new traditions entirely of your own design!

How much tweaking, borrowing from other cultures and reinventing are you willing to do before you decide it is too much effort, or before the holiday loses its significance?

This is an opportunity to reflect on what is most meaningful to you during the holiday season. What does really matter to you in these celebrations? Is it family; togetherness; good cheer; nostalgia; legacy?

How are you expressing these important values the rest of the year, in other aspects of your life?


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The Expat Life: Travel Mementos In Your Home

Posted on 15. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Musings & Inspiration

Does your home décor read like a map of the places where you have lived? What mementos have followed you from one location to the next?

Do you gravitate toward beautiful objects that you can display in your home, such as artwork, decorative pillows, rugs or throws?

Are your shelves full of tongue-in-cheek souvenirs and little knickknacks?
Do you have a specific collection that you keep adding to when you change locations? I particularly liked the suggestion of this Apartment Therapy reader who buys a Christmas ornament every time she travels. I love simple traditions such as this.

As I left behind pretty much everything I owned when I moved to Canada, I do not have that many keepsakes in my home: a small sculpture of a cedar tree from Lebanon, a few Egyptian statuettes, half a dozen books I bought in Paris the week before I arrived in Vancouver.
I thought I had packed my little Dala horse from Sweden for the transatlantic move, but it is probably stored with my childhood toys somewhere in my mother’s garage in the South of France.

These are my little treasures. They have been packed and unpacked many a time over the years. I just cannot imagine leaving them behind. The memories they evoke give me a sense of belonging, a sense of home.

What are your treasures? How do you give them a place of honour in your home?


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Book Review: The Power Of Full Engagement

Posted on 21. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Home, Reviews, Tools & Resources
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Last week, we were talking about the importance of balancing stress and recovery, so that you can focus and feel energised when it counts.

If you would like to learn more about these concepts and the research behind them, here is a good resource to design your own energy management plan: “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

According to Loehr and Schwartz, there are four dimensions to optimal energy:
– Physical energy
– Emotional connection
– Mental focus
– Spiritual alignment
In each of these dimensions, we must learn to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Most of us tend to expend too much mental and emotional energy, without sufficient recovery. Conversely, we do not train our physical and spiritual muscles enough to build optimal capacity.

The energy management strategies proposed in The Power of Full Engagement are based on alternating energy expenditure and recovery, much like you would alternate weight training and rest if you wanted to grow your biceps.

The book is ostensibly aimed at corporate employees, yet anyone who wants to increase their energy levels can apply its principles.
The authors draw on their many years of research and experience training elite athletes and executives. Worksheets help you identify your strengths / weaknesses and allow you to design daily rituals that anchor your energy management plan.

I have been incorporating new, simple rituals in my workday for a week now. I take short breaks every 90 minutes. I make a point of eating a proper lunch. I do not work past 8:00PM. Yes, all of this is common sense, yet given my tendency to push myself until I burn out, it looks like I can use a bit more common sense in this department!

So far, my energy levels have indeed increased, and creative ideas seem to come to me more easily. Time will tell what the long-term gains are, but in the meantime, I do recommend reading The Power of Full Engagement if you would like to create better flow in your life.


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The Expat Life: Travel Opportunities

Posted on 16. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home

One of the major perks of expat life is the opportunity to explore your new country and to discover nearby destinations. What exciting adventures are there to be had near your new home? Do you have a wish list of must-see cities, historical sites and natural wonders?

Of course, just because you are living abroad does not mean that life is one long holiday! When things get busy or stressful, it can be hard to find the time, energy or motivation to get away. Those of you who travel frequently for work may simply prefer not to board yet another plane come the weekend, choosing to stay put and rest instead.

However, one frequent reason why expats do not travel as much as they thought they would is that they do not make it a priority. You can always go on that day trip next week, right?
Well, next thing you know, your international assignment is over and there goes your chance to see Angkor Wat or to participate in the Oktoberfest in Munich. So do not delay- if you have always wanted to travel somewhere but have not got around to going there yet, start planning today!

As an aside, I will admit that I am guilty as charged: I have not left Canada much at all since I moved to Vancouver, BC seven years ago. That is about to change, though, as my travel bug has been complaining loudly for the past few months and must be indulged. A trip to Lebanon is in the works; stay tuned for more details.

What about you? Have you made travelling one of your priorities?
If not, how could you make it possible to go on an adventure within the next month?
If time or other constraints prevent you from leaving town, what could you explore in your current location that would give you deeper insight into local culture? What are you curious about? Keep your mind and your eyes open and you are sure to make wonderful discoveries!


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