Thanksgiving for pyromaniacs

Hello, lovelies, can you believe it's already December?! We just got back yesterday from a spontaneous mini-vacation in Barcelona, which has inexplicably left me feeling jet-lagged despite the lack of time difference (I'm blaming it on 10pm dinners—how do those Spaniards do it?). I can't wait to tell you all about it, but first I wanted to share a little something from our Thanksgiving celebration last week.

For CM's birthday this year, my parents sent him a special pot for making Feuerzangenbowle (Fire Tong Punch, obvs), a traditional German Christmas punch. My first reaction was that a kitchen appliance was a completely bizarre present to send someone who is living out of suitcases while his belongings are in storage on another continent, but then I realized I was being narrow-minded and that it was actually totally brilliant and a perfect excuse to get tipsy and light things on fire.

Here's how you make it. You pour 2–3 bottles of red wine into a pot on the stove. We used Beaujolais Nouveau ('tis the season), but you could use any kind. Throw in a couple cups of orange juice, slice up an orange and a lemon, add a cinnamon stick, a handful of whole cloves, and a couple star anise, and heat it all up together. Your kitchen will smell divine.

Then you pour the hot wine mixture into the special pot, which sits over a little tea light to keep it warm. The pot comes with a metal grate that you set across the top. On top of the grate you put a sugar cone (Zuckerhut—literally translated, Sugar Hat), which is a thing you can buy in the Austrian grocery store for precisely this purpose.

Then you pour highly alcoholic rum (we used Austrian Stroh rum, it's 160 proof!) over the entire sugar cone so it gets soaked through.

Now here's the fun part. You light that rum-soaked sugar on fire! Turn out the lights so you can admire how pretty it is.

The sugar caramelizes and drips slowly into the punch, making it oh so delicious.

Once the fire's out, you drink.

Or, alternatively, if it's not fiery enough for you, you can also pour more rum onto the lit sugar until everyone screams that you're going to burn the ceiling.

THEN you drink.

If you want to try it but you're not in Feuerzangenbowle country, you can buy a set here, although if you don't feel like paying $99(!), you could also use the fondue pot gathering dust in your cupboard and just buy the $10 grate to put on top. You can also buy a Zuckerhut here or you can make your own. For best results, you should use something like Bacardi 151.

Photos by CameraMan with a couple iPhone shots of my own thrown in.

Happy weekend!

My dears, what do you have planned for the weekend? Apple picking? Pie baking? Thanksgiving planning? We've vowed to have a productive weekend, tackling projects that have been on our to-do list for far too long. It won't be all work, though—I'm sure we'll still manage to fit in a walk and some Christmas market exploration.

Some links for your Friday:

This is fueling my retirement dreams, in which I become a goat farmer, renowned for my delicious cheeses (it could happen).

This made us cry-laugh so hard.

This makes my nerdy side (is there a non-nerdy side?) so very happy.

We watched this documentary on Netflix this week and loved it.

I've been listening to these guys lots (did you see them on Jimmy Kimmel?). Fun fact: Rhiannon Giddens sang the title role in Susannah when we were in grad school together (square-dancing hussy).

Totally into this new video series.

Pretty please to have this life.

Here's a gratuitous photo of Lola being adorable:

Taken by CM (she's generally only sweet with him)

Hope your weekend is full of lazy mornings, productive afternoons, and Glühwein evenings. xoxo LMB

Home on the Road: Erin Morley

Home on the Road is a series in which I interview opera professionals about how they survive their nomadic lives. You can find previous interviews here.

© Wesley Johnson
I'm delighted to bring back the Home on the Road series, which has provided me so much comfort whenever I'm tempted to shake my fist at the sky screaming, "Where are all the role models????" (which is fairly regularly).

I first met soprano Erin Morley way back (cough, cough) years ago at Wolf Trap, and she is having much-deserved huge successes all over the world. She just finished up a run of Konstanze in Abduction in Paris, and now she's in rehearsals for Gilda in a new Rigoletto here in Vienna (lucky us!).

I'm so happy Erin agreed to chat about how she's handling life on the road, traveling with a 3-year-old, and keeping her marriage strong. Enjoy!

LMB: Can you give me a few stats: how long you've been on the road, how much you've been at home in the last 12 months, how much time you've been able to spend with your husband John during that time?

EM: I've been singing professionally (i.e., out of a young artist program) for about 4 years now. New Haven, CT, is home for us; in the calendar year of 2014, I will have been there for 3 months total. This year is actually the most I've ever traveled, and I've been planning for this year for quite some time. I'm quite lucky in my family situation right now. My daughter Maria is 3, so she's able to be with me all the time. My husband John is a professor at Yale Law School, and was able to arrange his teaching schedule in various ways that allowed him to travel with me for much of this year. We've spent only two months without John this year. (THANK YOU, YALE.)

LMB: Do you have any stuff you always bring with you to make your temporary home feel more like a real one? Or any special routines to help you acclimate quickly in a new place?

EM: Family calendar, refrigerator photo magnets, Maria's blanket, and $5 Home Depot paper blackout blinds for Maria's room . . . What's far more important than these things, however, is maintaining schedule and family time. We read scriptures together as a family, we pray together as a family, we eat dinner together when possible. When we do these things, it feels like home.

LMB: What special things do you do to get Maria acclimated to a new place, before you leave home or once you've arrived?

EM: We try to focus on the positive aspects of an ever-changing environment, and we make absolutely sure that some things in her life are never-changing.

For instance, we talk to Maria about the city we're going to see, starting several weeks before leaving. We talk about special things she might like to see there (and show her pictures), and people she might get to meet there. We've tried to condition her to love all people and not be afraid to befriend them (although she seems to have come to this earth that way anyway!), and to like new experiences, new apartments, new places.

But we also emphasize the things that can and should be constant for her. Most important to me is that she always knows and feels that her parents love each other, and love her. This requires a certain amount of attention on the marriage. Date night every week, and regular emotional check-ins. Also very important to me is a consistent sleep schedule and general time organization within the family unit. I try to arrive in a drastically different time zone at least 3 days before my work starts, so that I can help Maria get over jet lag, help orient the family, have a chance to feel settled and secure before work sets in and my energy is required there. The faster we can adjust to a new time zone as a family, the easier it is on everyone.

LMB: Your family is such a beautiful example of really doing it all: 2 major careers, a child, a strong marriage. Do you think you've found that elusive work/life balance? What has helped you guys in making it all work?

EM: The work/life balance is a lifelong quest, to be sure. Our situation is constantly evolving, especially as our daughter gets older. Planning for these trips takes an enormous amount of time and organization. When I accept a job, I consider a million different factors. Besides voice and career considerations, John's needs, Maria's needs, childcare situation, time away from home, etc . . . all of these things come into play. John may need to talk to Yale about a leave of absence, or pushing the year's teaching into one semester rather than two. If he can't leave, we look at his schedule very carefully to make sure he can visit often enough. On rare occasions, I've decided to leave Maria home with John and nanny because it's better for everyone, but those periods must remain short. Relationships must be maintained, or the balance is upset.

In my opinion, the biggest factors to a successful balance in a situation like this are your choice of spouse and your choice of nanny. This is the "team." I must sing the praises of my husband for a moment, because he has supported my goals from the moment he met me. He has been an incredible partner. On those occasions when I have to travel without him, I feel his absence acutely. He bears a large part of the parenting load, he cooks dinner almost every night, and he also maintains his own high-pressure career.

However! Odd as it may seem, the nanny truly sits at the top of the food chain! We have a saying in our house: "If nanny's happy, everyone's happy." We make sure to provide our nanny with time off, social opportunities, and the tools to have a life outside of our family. We also require a lot of her within the job. She must bring a positive energy to the house, and we need to be able to trust her and rely on her with no doubts.

LMB: I am the absolute worst at packing, and I don't even have kid stuff to pack. How do you pack for several months away? Any helpful tips?

EM: My best tip for packing for long trips with kids: Start thinking about it at least two weeks before you leave. There is so much to prepare. My second best tip: Take a round of antibiotics with you.

LMB: In order to have the career that you have, you have to be willing to be away from home most of the time. How have you made peace with that? What makes it worthwhile for you?

EM: I've not yet had to confront the prospect of traveling for long periods of time without my family. I've thought about what we might do in the future, but I have to take things one step at a time. For now, I'm quite satisfied with the situation I have. It's of the utmost importance to me to have balance in my life. Being a mother and a singer. I need to be both. Both of those occupations are in my DNA; I feel like I'm meant to be both. This is where I find the peace.

It's absolutely true that both occupations are full-time, and so by definition, I spend less energy on my job than I'd like, and I spend less energy on my family than I'd like. However, the benefits to my family are greater when I'm singing: mom is happy and balanced, my family gets to see the world, Maria is having a very unique international education . . . Likewise, the benefits to my singing are greater since I became a mother: I don't have time to obsess over my job like I used to, I'm physically more active, I have a whole team to support me (and distract me when needed!) on the road, and I have a rich pool of experience to draw from. When Maria was born, it was such a beautiful change in our lives that I found myself saying, "Being a parent is the secret to life!" Now I never let myself believe that my career is more important than my family. And if I start to toe that line, Maria brings me back down to earth. :)

Traveling and not being able to be in your comfort zone, it makes you appreciate what you *really* need to be happy. For us, that's being together, nourishing the marriage, having a very reliable and full-time nanny, having a place of worship (we're Mormon, so this is pretty easy anywhere in the world), forming relationships with colleagues and friends from church, those are the things that keep the peace.

LMB: Any other advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out? Or advice that you did get that has been helpful to you?

EM: Organize your time. Don't try to be a mom and a singer during the same hours of the day. This is when guilt takes over, and everything suffers. Maria is out of the room when I'm practicing. Likewise, I don't answer my emails or look at my music when I'm "momming". ;)

John, Maria, and Erin

Maria and Erin in the Met dressing room during Rosenkavalier

Many thanks to Erin! It's so inspirational to hear how people in our business are making this crazy lifestyle work. You can find out more about Erin at and follow her on Facebook for updates.

Winter is coming

This weekend's Christmas market excursion

It's getting chilly here in Vienna, perfect weather for wrapping your hands around a hot mug of Glühwein while you wander the Christmas markets. The Viennese are completely undeterred by the cold weather—nobody's hibernating just yet. From what I can tell, the key to enjoying spending time outside in the late fall and winter comes down to a simple question of wardrobe, as so many things do.

I should point out here that I am no stranger to cold weather. I spent the first 11 winters of my life in a drafty old New England house, hot water bottles warming my flannel sheets at night. Then there were those 4 unforgettable winters during my undergraduate years in Wisconsin, where my wet hair would freeze on my way to class and flannel-lined khakis were my favorite J. Crew purchase. And, for the past several years, even though I've lived in sunny Houston, cruel fate (aka the Met schedule) has brought me to NYC for a good portion of every winter, where I seem to slip on ice on my way to work on a frighteningly regular basis.

Somehow, it was only last winter that I realized I didn't have any warm clothes. I had finally bought a down coat that was long enough to cover my butt, and instead of reveling in how warm and toasty it made me, I started focusing on all the parts of me that were not warm (that is, every part of me that was not covered by my new coat). I suddenly realized, while talking about it over dinner, that I was cold pretty much all the time during the winter, and that maybe, just maybe, it didn't have to be like that. I happened to be having dinner with a Uniqlo Heattech aficionado, and the rest is history.

Of course, Rome and my winter wardrobe weren't built in a day, so I've been gathering essentials over the past year: Heattech t-shirts for layering (spread the gospel), a hat that covers my ears, Heater Hog shirts and ear warmers for running, flannel pjs and furry slippers for at home, woolly knee socks to go under boots, sweaters, and my most recent purchase, fleece-lined leggings (which might actually change my life). Next on my list: shearling-lined boots, a giant cozy scarf that can double as an airplane blanket, and warm gloves. Let the temperatures drop. I'll be ready. (But do tell me if I'm forgetting something! I will stop at nothing until I've achieved Ultimate Coziness.)


Photobooth on my birthday this year

Friends, I am going to let you in on a top secret marriage tip. Though in the interest of full disclosure I feel I must qualify that my research is purely of the anecdotal variety and based only on my own experience, I'm pretty sure this one is going to blow your mind. Are you ready? Here it is.

Spending time living in the same place as your spouse will make your marriage better.*

Mind blown, am I right? I mean, who knew that spending time together could actually strengthen our relationship? Obviously I knew that I was happier when we were together, and it seemed like that was probably true for him as well, but somehow I did not make the cognitive leap that we would also grow closer than ever and better attuned to each other's needs. Weird.

Over the course of the almost 7 years we've been together, CM and I have spent an awful lot of time apart, sometimes as much as 6 months out of the year. We spent 165 days together in 2010, 200 in 2011, 183 in 2012, and 186 in 2013. It was after that all-time high in 2011 that I ambitiously added #85 to the Bossy List: Spend at least 250 days with CM in a calendar year.

Well, I am ecstatic to report that, as of November 8, 2014, I can now cross this item off the list. Better yet, we have no plans to be apart for the remainder of 2014, so we are definitely going to top 300 this year. That's completely unheard of, and it's a direct result of some hard choices we made that are paying off in spades.

85. Spend at least 250 days with CM in a calendar year.

*This is only true if you really like your spouse, I should probably mention. If not, it could have the opposite effect.


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