All about hosting a foreign exchange student

When I first started thinking about hosting an exchange student last spring, I searched and searched for information and resources. And while I did find some great blogs and forums I was still starving for more information.

I’m at the halfway mark of my first year hosting and while I’m in no way an expert host parent (How could you be? Every kid is different!) I thought I’d share a little bit about my experience.

First – if you have ever thought it would be neat to host, but think you can’t because {fill in the blank} – definitely look into it further!  I am a single mother of 2 that works full time and hosting works for us. I have seen it work for big families, small families, single parent families, families with little babies and more.  The main requirements are a bed of their own, a place to study, reasonable transportation and 3 meals a day. They have their own funds for extracurricular activities, toiletries and clothing, outing with friends and other necessities.

These students are usually 15-17 years old and are required to have decent skills at English and good grades at home.  The overseas partner will take a lot of time interviewing and making sure the students have the right mindset for a year away from their natural family.  My student says it was mindboggling how many questions she had to answer during the interview process.

My student is a full year student and she will stay with us for the whole year – no trips home. Nope, not even for Christmas.  The only exceptions might be a death in the family or perhaps an illness that is easier/cheaper to treat at home than in the US.  With that in mind one of the most important parts to a good year is making sure you embrace your student as part of the family and encourage them to do the same.  The more they can participate in even mundane things like grocery shopping or your company picnic, the more they will be able to immerse themselves in their experience and benefit from it.

Speaking of family  – you definitely don’t treat family like guests, right?  Don’t treat your exchange student like one, either. Your student will settle in better if you help them understand what their chores are and how things work in your house, what foods they can help themselves to.  I talked with one student recently who was so glad that her host parents gave her chores, because it made her feel like part of the family.  I took F to a family reunion just a few days after she arrived – yikes!

At the same time – these ARE teenagers. Be prepared to parent them just like you would your own kids.  You’ll have to remind them about stuff, counsel them about friends, sign school papers and monitor grades, and be ready with a big hug if they get homesick.

I was lucky enough to skype with my host daughter for several months before she came. When she got here we felt like we knew her already (my boys skyped too, of course).  Now I call her my “daughter from another mother” and don’t even want to think about her going home.   I know Ian will cry for a good week at least.  We watch Buffy and Vampire Diaries together, and this weekend we all started knitting projects.  She loves my cooking and I’m compiling a cookbook for her to take home.  We have inside jokes and can not only talk about anything but also enjoy a comfortable silence.

The benefits for the students are clear – they are able to improve their English schools, learn another culture, and experience US high school life.  When F started school she was not only in love with football games and pep rallies, but also the cafeteria, lockers and heaven help me, cross country.  F has been amazed by how much volunteer work is necessary here – helping to pack Christmas food boxes at a local assistance organization was a real eye opener for her.  She has also learned Southern English, and can almost say y’all correctly.

The benefits to host families are less publicized but just as wonderful. We have learned about other cultures as well – how Swiss francs compare to USD, how to count to 10 in German, how school and holidays and meals are different in Switzerland.  But even more – we have learned that the world is a big place and most people are both very much like us and very much unlike us.  I already see my boys (and me) becoming more open minded and understanding of others.  Hopefully, we will never be the people that talk LOUDER to people for whom English is a second language.  I think we have learned how to understand when people need a little extra clarification.  This does not, however, stop my sweet boys from yelling “OMG, don’t you speak English??” when F says something a bit off track from standard English. We’re getting there, though!!!  (She just rolls her eyes at them, by the way, because she is truly a big sister).

My boys are already adamant that we again host next year – I am 99% sure that we will.  I have a few things that need to be sorted out first, but we love the experience and can’t wait to meet our next student/family member.  We know we already have a family for life in Switzerland and look forward to visiting in a few years.  Who will be next, and what will we learn?

My kind of day!

Today is rainy and gloomy and we have nowhere to be.  This morning I slept in a little (never, ever enough) and was able to have coffee alone before the kids woke up. That right there is a win.

Then we ran some very quick errands and have been relaxing ever since.  I do have some chores to do, but the world won’t come to an end if I skip them today. So I have knit a little (and taught my exchange student, F how to start a ruffle yarn scarf), read a little, made some bread, surfed a little and now I’m drinking some wine.  I’m happy with all my food choices so far today too.  I think after dinner we’ll either watch Buffy or Vampire Diaries.

I really like days like this.

ruffle yarn

I have also clarified some goals for the month:

  • NO credit cards at all unless there is an actual emergency.
  • Stick with my calorie counting and no-fast-food resolutions (and get my ass to the Y and TKD classes!!!)
  • Try to keep my grocery budget around $100/week. More on that mess later.
  • Complete at least one crafty project.

That’s all pretty reasonable, I think!

I am participating in the NaBloPoMo challenge for January and posting every day this month. However, I have never been a consistent blogger so most of my posts are probably going to read as more a journal entry than a useful bit of information for your life.  I think that’s OK, because my purpose right now is to get into the habit of writing every day.  It gets easier as time goes by, I imagine, and my style will get more defined. I just thought I’d mention that, since right now I might seem to be rambling a bit. :)

First day back to reality

I take my vacation at the same time every year. I’m off from right before Christmas more or less through January 2. And I swear every year I walk back into work and it’s like I never left . Today was tough because of the timing – there was NO traffic downtown, it was like everyone was taking off but me. And the sky was cloudy – followed by rain in the afternoon.  Ouch.

At any rate, I did OK with food but totally bailed on going to the Y.  F (exchange student) was watching the boys since aftercare was closed and I just didn’t feel right going to work out while she was babysitting.  I know that sounds like a total excuse, but… oh well!

I forgot to mention one of our big resolutions – no fast food for an entire year!  For the purposes of the resolution, I am counting fast food as anything with a drive thru, pizza and delivery.  We can go to sit-down restaurants on occasion, though.  This will save money and help in the goal for healthier food.  I got buy-in from the boys by telling them that if we make it a year without fast food, I’ll buy them an X-box. The savings should MORE than pay for one.

However to make this pledge/resolution work – I need to have not just menus planned but also a few back up meals on hand.  Sometimes I am just too wiped out to even cook what I planned, so I need a few easy ideas up my sleeve for those nights.  So far, so good, though and we’ve made it since December 22 without any convenience foods!

I’m going to spend some time this weekend mapping out 3-4 backup food plans to keep on hand that work within my own food goals. Pasta is so easy but doesn’t really help me in the weight loss realm.

Happy New Year!

I started my day by weighing in – I now have my official starting point for this year.  I’m not happy about the number, but it is what it is and it’s where I’m starting for this new year.  Then we had bacon and eggs and went to Mass (it’s the Solemnity of Mary, a Holy Day of obligation).  I had no problem getting up early because we were all bed between 9 and 10!  I’m not much with the staying up til midnight.

For once, we didn’t have any errands to run after church – so we came home and had smoothies for lunch. The boys didn’t like them at ALL, even though theirs just had blueberries and coconut milk.  Weird.   That’s fine, more blueberries for me. Those things are spendy!

My days feel all messed up – I have to go to work tomorrow so it feels like Sunday, but then there’s a weekend right after that, so yay!

Dinner will be Sirloin Dijon from Everyday Paleo, but I’m going to cook a little spinach in bacon instead of the brussel sprouts.  All of this plus a little Cabernet puts me right at my calorie goal and more or less at my macros so I feel like I’m off to a good start.

My project this evening is getting my thoughts together about how the kids can help more. Currently A helps with taking trash out, but Ian doesn’t do much at all and he’s plenty big enough to.  I mean, they both pick up when asked but it’s always a big drama – I’d like to get to maintenance mode especially with busy season coming at work.

One other thought – my elderly (18 this month) cat is acting a little different. Not sick, but different. He’s never been a bed or lap kitty but lately he is sleeping in my bed and today he’s been on my  lap twice. I’m loving it but also a little taken aback by it.  Maybe his old bones are just seeking out more warmth in the winter.


Reviewing my top 5 reasons for losing weight

I think that defining my reasons for a change will help me stay motivated and on track.  Vaguely mumbling “well, it’s time to lose some weight!” to myself has not yet been useful or helpful so far.  So, in no particular order,  the things that I plan to keep in mind this coming year:

1 – I can’t sleep for crap.  I snore, I toss and turn and per my Fitbit, I wake up way more than I should. I get a good night maybe every 7-10 days.  This turns into a downward spiral because when I am tired, I crave carbs and sugar.

2 – Extra weight kind of hurts.  Things feel wrong, my knees throb and of course if clothes are too snug that feels awful.

3 – Oh, the clothes.  When my XL comfy shirts are getting tight, we have a problem.  Not to mention I want new clothes, but don’t want to buy new stuff in case I lose weight and waste money… it’s just a drama.

4 – General malaise and achiness. Not so much a weight thing, but if I gain it’s typically because I’m eating things that aren’t so good for me (or too much of anything). That makes me bloated and tired, plus I have lower energy from carrying around more pounds than I should.  I want to work out but I’m too tired – it’s a vicious cycle.

5 – Social discomfort.  I know, I know, I should feel at home in my skin no matter what. I don’t, though. I’m not one to worry much what others think but when I see my face in a picture and it doesn’t look like me, or I realize my clothes look awful or I look down and see a poochy stomach – I don’t feel comfortable at all.

So – my reasons may not be your reasons – you may read them as trivial or shallow. I don’t really care – I need to motivate myself with reasons that matter and you do, too.  I want to feel good, look good and sleep better. Tomorrow when I begin, I am going to try really hard to keep these things in mind when faced with food that doesn’t get me closer to my goals.  I have a menu planned out, the food shopped for and  a work out schedule mapped out but that will not do much good at all if I can’t keep my motivation in sight.

A strategy for my weight loss project

Or at least a working strategy for the month of January.

I’m an accountant/software consultant and January is typically my roughest month at work – worse than even March and April. If I can make a strategy that works this month – a month in which I could happily order a pizza every night and mainline chocolate – then it should be pretty reasonable for the other 11 months.

I tend somewhere between Paleo and Nourishing Traditions for my ideal template, although I have a tough time getting there.  I love the idea of mainly meat and veggies along with some cheese (duh), occasional legumes and sourdough and white potatoes/rice a couple times a week.  I’d like to avoid packaged/processed foods and most sugar and bread.  I do like my red wine, so that will stay. Sorry/not sorry.

I struggle with a lack of planning, so my downfall is that I totally space out and order take out after a rough day.  I am going to focus on planning my meals and making sure I have everything for the meals plus one or two emergency meals that fit within my template.  I’ll try to share my daily meals here starting  January 1 and also recap how well the plans worked.  I have been shopping on Friday but have decided Wednesday might work better going forward.

I’m going to log calories on My Fitness Pal, at least until I get into a groove with portions and servings.  I am aiming for about 1650 calories a day with macros of about 30 carb/30 protein/40 fat.

As for fitness – I have 2 loves that I have slacked on for the last 6 weeks. I am a level 2 green belt in Taekwondo and will head back to class with my kids starting Monday. I’d like to attend class 2x a week with an eye toward testing for level 3 green in February.  I love weight training too – I plan to hit the Y 2-3 times a week in January. For now I’ll do the machines which are better than nothing, and finish reading Starting Strength so I can move to barbell training within a month or two.

OK – that’s what I’ve got!  I think I’m happy with the plan, it’s specific and doable.  I have  my menu for the week starting Thursday mapped out and I’ll go shopping tomorrow. I have almost all the crap out of the house… OH! I did decide once a week I can have something totally yummy and unhealthy (like birthday cake, or leftover frozen peppermint cheesecake or…. )

It’s been a great year but…

For one thing I haven’t written since early January! I feel like I’m more than a little off kilter and need some accountability to get back on track. What better time than the new year? That’s not cliché at all, is it??


I need to lose about 50 pounds so my goal is about a pound a week in 2015. I also want to find my way to healthier food for all of us. What’s funny is I wasn’t sure at first about writing about weight loss – what if my family and friends saw? But then I realized – I’m pretty sure they know I need to lose weight. It’s not like it’s a secret.  I have a lot more to say about the subject so I’ll just leave that here for now.


I’m nowhere near needing Flylady but I’m no Martha, either.  I’d like some better processes.  I love the card system but it’s too much for daily stuff.  Also – I NEED to get my kids helping more. They’ve gotten a little better but I think they can help a lot more than they do.


I am going to step up my coupon game!  I also want to pay some things off – couponing and smart shopping will help with that, too.

I know we all go into the new year with grand plans, but I really do love a fresh calendar .  I think the simple act of stating my intentions can help me use the new year as a good time to stop some bad habits and replace them with good ones.


Bubble wrap insulation for windows – it really works!

Right now we are enjoying some incredibly cold temperatures in the South.  I know that people who are used to colder temps think we are kind of silly when we do get cold weather. I’ve heard plenty of transplanted Northerners say that we’re overreacting but we’re not, I promise.

Our houses aren’t built for super cold weather. Our roads are filled with people unfamiliar with driving in snow or worse, ice.  Speaking of ice – that stuff is way, way scarier than any snow.  Ice will keep me home way before snow does.

I live in a 60 year old house.  Like many older homes, it’s not very well insulated, plus the windows really need to be replaced.  I have lived here for 11 years, and of course there have been some cold snaps in that time.  Tonight, however, is supposed to dip down to 5 degrees and beat the former record from 1970 – before I was even born!

School was cancelled today, based on predictions of an ice/snow event that pretty much missed us. The record low temps have not missed us, though, and I spent most of the day at home doing weatherproofing that I was too sick to do this weekend.

Over the weekend, I unhooked my garden hoses and wrapped the faucets with insulation to protect them.  Ace was sold out of the nice faucet covers, of course. That’s probably good because one of my hoses would not come off at all.  I googled solutions endlessly but finally decided to just cut the hose off as near to the faucet as possible.  After I wrapped them, I duct-taped a grocery bag onto them.  Ugly, but hopefully effective.

I have 2 spaces that are super cold – my main bathroom, and the playroom/laundry room area. I am not sure why my main bathroom is so cold – the window is smaller than those in the bedrooms, and it’s right between them. But that room is famously chilly.  I know why the playroom is cold – it is directly over a  badly insulated carport and has huge, poorly designed old windows. Duh.

Now – on to the super cold windows.  I think if I can get the windows under control the house might be OK. I have louvered windows in the playroom/laundry area.    They need to be replaced, but that’s super spendy – meanwhile, they are kind of perma-stuck with the slats open and a bit drafty.

I tried the bubble wrap fix in my bathroom first.  I saw a few pins about this, and they said I just needed to spray the window with water to make the bubble wrap stick.  I didn’t have a spray bottle (really, do I have anything I need for this weather??? so much for all the prepper sites I follow!!)  I used a sponge to dampen the window panes instead. Worked like a charm.  I cut the bubble wrap to fit the windows, smoothed it into place and it adhered nicely to the damp panes.

This is just regular small bubble wrap that I use to wrap for ebay shipping.  I have heard that large bubble wrap works well too – so you might just scavenge from packages if you don’t want to buy rolls of it.

So far, it’s sticking even through my showers, and the room feels WAY warmer than it did before. I wish I had done some sort of comparison with a thermometer, but I do know that it feels much more comfortable than it before, even in this frigid weather.

bubble wrap window

I didn’t have enough bubble wrap for the 3 windows in the back. I know you’re wondering why I didn’t run out for more – but really, Ace Hardware was a dark and scary place on Saturday when I went hunting for faucet covers. Not happening again – I decided to test my creativity instead.  So I hung blankets and quilts over 2 windows and used the remaining bubble wrap on the laundry room window.

Because of the weird louvers I could not figure out how to effectively use the water method.  I said to heck with it and used packing tape – it’s not like these are top-notch windows I want to keep.

Bottom line – the back rooms are staying around 64/65 degrees even as the temp drops drastically so I call that a win!  I watched the temp increase about 1.5-2 degrees within an hour of putting up the bubble wrap. It’s currently 12 outside, and dropping, and my heat pump is set at 69 with auxiliary heat kicking in frequently. I refuse to go above 70 just on principle.

Tonight I’ll move the boys to my bed, to maximize the warmth benefits of the family bed.  I’ll open a stream of hot and cold water from my faucets, and hope for the best from the rest of my old house!

Weekly Habit # 2 – Clear and wipe the counters daily

kitchen counterOh my goodness – I started this series several weeks ago and meant to make it weekly, but the holidays slapped me upside the head.  Seriously – I’ve had some busy Christmases but this one took the cake, and that was even after I let go of a number of obligations.

I even had to let go of my Christmas journal. You know how it is when you want to do something, but don’t have time and then start the avoidance cycle? That was me with this blog – I felt bad for not keeping up with my journal so I found excuses to do other things.

On the bright side, I’ve had some seriously relaxing do-nothing days which I think I needed.  I’m coming up on busy season at work, so this chance to be a total couch potato was apparently what I needed.

Getting back on track for the new year – first, refresh yourself on habit #1 – Reboot your dishwasher daily.

Have you been doing this? I have for the most part, although holiday cooking got me a little scrambled for a few days.  But it’s interesting how once I set out to make it a habit, the idea of taking a quick few minutes for dishes became both easier and more important.

The habit for this week will build on the dishwasher habit:  Clear and wipe your kitchen counters daily.

It will probably help if you take a little time to declutter them, identify any appliances or decorative items that you can stash, sell or donate, and then do a nice deep clean. Get some hot soapy water (or whatever is recommended for your counters, I don’t want you to mess them up) and scrub all the corners.  Move stuff out of the way and get behind and under everything.

Once that is done, it be easier to wipe down quickly at least every morning or evening.  I’m going to use some sort of spray for daily use but then try to scrub once a week.  My counters are formica from the 50s (don’t be jealous, it’s ugly) (P.S. the picture above is NOT my kitchen!! just an aspiration) and not super easy to clean.

Planning to clean daily also means I won’t let stacks of stuff pile up – even when I stay on top of the dishwasher, stray items tend to wander onto my counter.

Keep rebooting your dishwasher daily – I think adding these 2 habits together will make for some super peaceful mornings when school is back in session.

Who’s up for this habit?  Post a comment if you’re going to join in!