About Emily Smith Pearce

I'm the author of _Isabel and_the_Miracle_Baby_, a middle grade novel, and _Slowpoke_, an early reader.

Achtung, Baby: A Conversation with Author Sara Zaske

Achtung Baby_cover2


If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may know that my family and I spent 2010-2012 in Hannover, Germany. Sara Zaske is an American friend I met during that time, through the local SCBWI chapter (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Sara lived in Berlin, a couple of hours away, but we managed to meet up once and to keep in touch over the years.

Sara is living back in the States now and has written a book called Achtung, Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children. She was kind enough to share a little about her journey with me.

Me:        What years did you live in Germany, and what kinds of schools did your children attend?

Sara:      We moved to Germany in January of 2009. My daughter, Sophia, was two and a half. We left in June 2015, almost six and half years to the day. When we left, Sophia was nine and my son, Ozzie, who was born in Germany, was five.

From the start, we tried to send my daughter to a bilingual kita (day care center), but she was really the only one fluent in English. After my son turned one, we were lucky to find an international kita with spots for both of them. This kita was truly bilingual. Still, both my kids still learned German without any formal instruction mainly because it was the language of play. Now that I think about it, the way they learned the language is further evidence that young kids learn best through play. My daughter also attended three years of public Grundschule (elementary school) which was all in German, all the time.

Me:        Was there a moment when you first arrived that stands out to you in terms of noticing parenting differences? For instance, on our very first day we went to a biergarten with friends. I remember being shocked that they let their kids wander off out of sight to a nearby playground. Mine were 2 and 5, and I reluctantly let them go with the other kids, but I felt nervous the whole time.

Sara:      That’s funny! We had a similar experience during our first days in Germany. I saw two three-year-olds and a five-year-old run off to a playground behind a wall – and no one thought it was important to go watch them!  The other story I often tell is this one:

I was at the playground with my daughter – we were new to Berlin and she was still very young, and I saw a kid — maybe age 8 or 9 years old — dangling from a high play structure on the outside, where you aren’t supposed to go. He still had a good 10 to 12 feet below him. I got up and yelled “Achtung!” (my limited German included this phrase learned from the U2 album) and I looked around for his parents. All the other adults were sitting at the edges of the park drinking coffee. No one seemed concerned. By the time I turned back, the kid had dropped down into the sand. He looked at me like I was the crazy person and ran off.


Me:        Have you found it challenging at all to retain some of the parental wisdom you gained in Germany? Are some things harder to implement? Do you get pushback? For example, for us, walking around in Charlotte can be dangerous. It’s not uncommon for cars to pass a stopped school bus or to sail through a crosswalk with a traffic guard holding a stop sign in the center of it.

Sara:      I find it very challenging, especially around giving my kids the chance to walk around their own neighborhood by themselves. It’s now a little easier since they are older (my son is 8 now, my daughter 11), but when we first moved back to the US, Sophia was nine and was the only girl her age biking to school by herself. My son started regularly walking to school at age seven. I think it took extra courage for him to do it because none of his peers were walking to school (Most would have been doing that in Germany at that age). He also knew other American parents didn’t approve. Still, he had a strong desire to be independent, and he’s done great.

Me:        What’s the best thing you gained as a parent from your time in Germany?

Sara:      Living in Germany really shifted my perspective on what it meant to be a parent. I thought it was my job to keep my kids completely safe and try to ensure their future success. I took some time, but I eventually realized that those two things are not only impossible, they are not my responsibility. My job as a parent is to help my kids learn how to do things themselves, including how to manage risk and chart their own course for success – and then to let them go.

Me:        What was the most surprising thing  you observed about German kids and their parents?

Sara:      Letting kids light off massive fireworks. Heck, letting adults light off massive fireworks! New Year’s Eve, what the Germans call Sylvester, is celebrated in Germany by every man, woman and child bringing out the biggest firework rockets they can find, sticking them in empty champagne bottles and lighting them off  — in the streets of major cities! I still think it is too dangerous, and yes, there are German kids out there doing it too right there alongside their parents.

Me:        What do your kids remember about your time in Germany? What was the transition to living back in the U.S. like for you and for your kids?

Sara:      We’ve been back about two and half years. My kids remember many things, partly because some of their formative years were spent in Germany – and partly because we talk about it a lot!

Some of the transition back was nice: seeing family and friends and for me, finding it so much more comfortable to be in the culture I grew up in. I had missed the casual American friendliness, though at times I find it odd that I’m making small talk with strangers!

We had some difficulties coming back, of course. Most notably, we found so many barriers for kids to simply playing with other kids in the US! Children aren’t outside here anymore, the playgrounds are boring, and the schools provide very little recess and opportunities to play and socialize compared to German schools. However, on the whole, my kids have adapted– and we work hard to give them time to play and opportunities to be independent. I like to think their experiences in Germany made them stronger, more confident – and more adventurous.

Me:        Thanks so much, Sara! Can’t wait to read your book. You can find out more about Sara, including links to articles and video appearances, at her website, www.sarazaske.com.



Cashmere Dyed with Food Coloring



Hey folks! I know it’s been a while. Just don’t seem to have enough hours in the day nowadays to blog as much as I’d like to, but I had to share this. I dyed my favorite cashmere sweater with food coloring.

The sweater had been getting kind of dingy, and although it’s machine washable (a-MAY-zing!) and had cleaned up well several times, eventually, the dinge was stuck and not coming out. I became embarrassed to wear it. And I looove this sweater. It’s Boden, was secondhand to me, and has held up beautifully, especially compared to other sweaters.

I knew food dyes could dye cashmere, having done it before on a smaller scale (see here , info on dyeing animal fibers here, and info on overdyeing here). I did some research on dyeing whole sweaters and found this post to be particularly helpful. I decided on a deep aqua and took the plunge, using (this color). I think I also added some Easter egg dye (pink?), but honestly, I can’t remember at this point.


I am really happy with how it turned out. The color is really intense though a bit mottled in spots, but for me, that’s part of the charm. The one thing I wish I could change is the fact that the thread didn’t take the dye. This is really to be expected since sewing thread is usually some combo of cotton and polyester, fibers that don’t take dyes in the same way animal fibers do. All in all, though, I’m just glad my favorite sweater has a new life.


In other news, I’ve been reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Watching The Crown and Younger.

In general, I’m feeling the need to rearrange, weed out old stuff, mend things, and change things up—i.e. wearing jewelry that hasn’t seen the light of day in ages, mixing and matching new outfit combos, switching purses (which I do infrequently). What about you? What’s new?



Kid’s Artwork on a Mug


Well, I didn’t mean to be gone all summer, but it was a little busy. How was yours?

This project was actually an end of year gift for a very special teacher who happens to love llamas. My son was always drawing llamas and writing llama sentences for extra credit, so we decided her gift would be made from one of those drawings.

LLama 1

I took his drawing above, took a picture with my iPad and imported it into a drawing/ painting app (Procreate—yeah, not the best name but a good app). He used the stylus to “trace” his drawing and fill it in, and he chose the green background.

I uploaded the image into Shutterfly to have the mug made. We were really happy with how it came out. If anyone has suggestions of other places to have artwork turned into gifts, I’m all ears. I actually wasn’t that impressed with the variety of options out there.

What are you watching and reading? Currently I’m into Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. Somehow it’s just what I need to unwind in the evening. Movies: loved Wonder Woman and especially The Big Sick (an indie romcom, if you haven’t heard of it). As for tv, I got really into Grantchester and Poldark over the summer, and have just started watching Hinterland. It’s good but it’s a little too creepy sometimes, so I can’t watch it too late at night. Also just finished Anne with an “E.” Let’s discuss. Spoiler alert! Consider yourself warned.







Okay, here goes.

I have mixed feelings about Anne with an “E.” The casting, acting, sets, costuming, and cinematography are all really top-notch, but I’m not loving the giant liberties they took with some of the story lines. Especially the fact that they make Anne’s trial run with the Cuthberts so high-stakes. It makes Marilla and Matthew look like heartless, cruel jerks just for the sake of drama. And the whole losing the farm thing and Gilbert’s family situation and the shady characters coming in at the end. Come on! The books were never about major dramas, for the most part, and it doesn’t feel true to them to up the ante so much. Also it kind of kills me that Rachel doesn’t make the dress with the puffed sleeves. That was the thing that really made Marilla crazy about it! You can probably tell I’m a devoted Anne of Green Gables fan. I’m definitely feeling the need to introduce the kids to the older series (with Megan Follows and the dear late Jonathan Crombie). But despite the writing shortcomings in Anne with an “E”, it was fun to watch, too.

Anyway, in the comments, tell me what you thought of it. I’d also love recommendations for other shows and books.



Blue Cashmere Patchwork Blanket



Hi everyone! What have you been up to? Besides work and regular life, I’ve been working on a revision of my nonfiction project. I finally seem to be getting somewhere with it.

And then there’s this blanket, which came together pretty quickly, all things considered. Like its sister blankets, it’s made from thrifted cashmere sweaters. These are so cozy and very popular in our house.

In other news, just finished reading How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky. It’s a collection of her advice columns (she’s the author of New York Magazine’s “Ask Polly”). I enjoyed it a lot, especially the one about making friends as an adult. The columns are more like essays, really, and if you liked Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, you may enjoy this one, too, unless you’re offended by lots of strong language.

Other things I’m enjoying: rooibos teas from Adagio Teas: green citrus, caramel, and vanilla chai.

Anybody watched the new Anne of Green Gables TV series? Haven’t tried it myself, but I’m intrigued. Okay, gotta run. Hope to be back soon.


Finished Scrap Quilt


The thing about documenting projects on a blog is that I can actually see how long things take me. Yipes! I started this lap quilt over two years ago. But on the bright side, I’ve actually finished two quilting projects in the same month. A record!

I got bogged down in the quilting of it. It’s my first attempt at free motion machine quilting, and I struggled a lot with the technique. I still haven’t figured out what all was going wrong, but I finally made peace with it and decided I could accept the deeply flawed quilt stitching. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I ever would’ve finished it. Let’s just say it’s a good thing you can’t see the back of this puppy.


Now that it’s all finished, I am really loving this piece—the deliberate wonkiness, the way the colors and patterns play against each other. My nine-year-old started designing it when he was seven. He had some strong opinions about it. The scraps are from all sorts of things: his baby quilt, his crib sheets, vintage family fabric, a friend’s crib sheets, his baby sling, a friend’s baby quilt, various craft projects, and on and on.

My favorite way of seeing this quilt is wrapped around my little guy like a cape. If you want to see this quilt in an earlier stage, click here.

For more of my patchwork and quilting projects, click here.


Green Apple and Aqua Quilt


Ever notice how some people have a kind of family color palette? They pick out clothing and decor with the same basic colors again and again. For me, that palette is blue and orange. I can’t seem to get enough of different variations on that theme, both in clothing, decor, and even in my paintings to a certain extent.

I always think of red and blue as being my parents’ family colors, and for my in-laws, at least for the women, green apple and aqua are a recurring theme. My daughter has in the last few years adopted that color palette as her own, and I love it.

She came up for the concept for this quilt/ duvet cover—the colors, the shapes. She picked out most of the fabrics, with a few scraps coming from friends and family. I put them all together, and I’m pretty happy with it, if I do say so myself. It took me two years plus to finish this project, though of course I was doing lots of other things in between and lost interest several times.

I’m so glad it’s finished!





Gluten Free Chicken Pot Pie


Little Miss got a hankering for chicken pot pie the other day. I envisioned us making the  pie together, but wouldn’t you know, she had to leave for an afternoon event, and I ended up doing 88% of the work myself. Same old story, amirite moms?

So by the time we sat down to eat the pie, I was all, “I’m never making this again!” It was a lot of trouble.

But then it was so delicious, I may have to revise my stance. Maaaaaybe I’ll make it again, but only if someone else does 50% or more of the work.

The best part was our nine-year-old lapped it up without a word. He’s very suspicious of new recipes and also usually complains about vegetables all mixed up together (Onions?! How could you?!).

The crust did fall apart—you can see it’s laid on top in wedges—but who cares? It really was fantastic, and you would never guess in a million years that it’s gluten free.

A few notes on the recipe. I didn’t have any tomato paste and wasn’t sure I wanted it in the pie anyway, so we skipped that and didn’t miss it. Also didn’t have peas (skipped) or heavy cream (substituted milk) or sherry (substituted white wine). No problemo!

The recipe as in the book How Can It Be Gluten Free? doesn’t seem to exist online, but if you follow their recipe for a single GF pie crust here and the filling part of the recipe for chicken pot pie here, you’ve basically got it. Just use the America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour mix instead of all-purpose flour in the filling and you’re good to go. If you’re not gluten-free, you can just use the original ATK recipe, obvs.

Happy New Year! Hope your holidays were great. I’m glad to be gearing up for our regular routine and looking forward to doing a little culling of books, clothes, toys, etc.



Rey Costume (The Force Awakens)


Is it a belated Halloween post? My preparation for the premiere of Rogue One? Or just my warrior outfit for the challenges that lie ahead?

How about all three?

Wow, 2016. What can I say? Are you as exhausted as I am with the onslaught of awfulness?

Despite everything, playing Rey for a day was wicked fun. Once again, this costume is a mish-mash of altered thrift store finds. The trickiest part was finding the right fabric for the drapey scarfy thing that goes on top. No, that curvy thing behind my head is not part of the costume. It’s a lizard made from a seed pod (a gift to us from friends).

For more not-exactly-from-scratch costumes, click here.

Watching: Recently finished The Crown on Netflix. So, so good if you like period stuff about aristocratic/ royal types. Reading: Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, a light-hearted history of early New England colonists—amazing how resonant many of the issues still are today. New-to-me blog: Blue Collar Red Lipstick –fashion by a  professional and classy yet quirky dresser who relishes a good thrift find.


Natural Beauty Care Products



I don’t know about you, but this fall has been a little stressful. Hope everyone is practicing good self-care—getting rest, exercise, eating well and all that good stuff. I figure it’s a good time to share a few of my favorite natural beauty products. I find it can be difficult to find information about ones that really work and aren’t ridiculously expensive.

What do I mean by “natural?” Basically, less full of bad stuff like petroleum products and chemicals that might be harmful to us in the long run. I’m by no means a purist about this. I’ve taken a very slow approach of changing one product at a time.

I started out with shampoo and found it was really tough to find something I liked, didn’t have parabens, and was reasonably priced. Later I realized a lot of this had to do with the fact that it’s difficult to make liquid shampoo shelf-stable without a lot of preservatives. In the end I switched over to shampoo bars by Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company. In the beginning, your hair will feel a little bit different, but it’s really not a big transition, and I’ve been very happy with their products for the last few years.

When I switched to bar shampoo, I quit using conditioner almost entirely in favor of good ol’ white vinegar. I keep a plastic bottle of it in the shower, along with an upturned plastic cup. When it’s time to rinse, I pour about a tablespoon or so into the cup, fill with water, and then dump it over my head. The vinegar smooths the hair shaft down so you get much fewer tangles. I finish off with a tiny tiny dab of stay-in conditioner (Say Yes to Carrots or an even tinier dab of coconut oil).

I’ve tried a few different natural deodorants before with really lousy results, so I was thrilled to discover (thanks, sister-in-law!) Piper Wai, which smells great and works really well. It’s NOT an antiperspirant, but I don’t sweat much at all with it, and odor has never been a problem (as far as I know—lol!). Full disclosure: I don’t sweat much to start with, and I DO use a traditional deodorant in certain settings, i.e. wearing a silk dress at a wedding where I danced the night away.

Lastly, there’s MyChelle moisturizer, which uses the better kind of sunscreen in it, the barrier kind rather than the chemical kind. It doesn’t make you look or feel pasty. I’m a convert.

What about you? Have you tried and liked any natural care products? I am still on the hunt for something natural that will help me style my fine floppy hair. No luck so far with anything I’ve tried.

In other news, yes I’m still writing as much as possible and making progress on my projects. Currently reading I Will Always Write Back and watching Younger. Also glad Jane the Virgin is back. Working on some Halloween costumes I hope I can share soon. Cheers!


Cashmere Patchwork Throw #2


I’ve missed you, readers! I’ve been busy with work, writing, and taking care of the family. Meanwhile I have been crafting, but mostly on big projects where my progress has been slow.

Here’s one project that’s actually finished. If you’ve been around long, you may remember my previous similar project in different colors. This one is very much the same, made from thrifted cashmere sweaters.

It’s crazy hot in North Carolina, but this throw is already in high demand around here. There’s just nothing like wrapping yourself up in cashmere.

Read or watched anything good lately? I loved the indie film Sing Street, about an Irish 80s teenage band, created to impress the hero’s love interest. Also enjoyed reading The Nest, a funny novel about grown siblings fighting over their shared inheritance.

I’ve been thinking about my fall wardrobe and new ways to mix things up. For one, I’m working on getting things fixed that have needed it for some time: shoes, boots, clothes needing alterations, beads that need restringing. Have to replace some buttons on a sweater and am even going to attempt repairing some cashmere sweaters that have a hole—wish me luck! I’ll be reporting back on that.

Loving following Sherri Lynn Wood’s Instagram feed (@sherrilynnwood). She’s an artist/ quilter, and I always love her style, but this summer is special—she’s been doing a residency at the San Francisco dump (yes, the dump!) where she’s been uncovering amazing finds to make into quilts. I can’t wait to see her finished products. Nothing I love better than watching treasures be uncovered and made into art.

That’s all for now. Hope I can make it back here in the near future!