14 October 2016

75 days away from home

image via
At 50 days on the road, I was in Paris and emailed my dear friend, Val:
We've been on the road for 50 days now, and holy moly, we've been like a tornado ripping through nine states (Mississippi was more of a drive-by, though), four countries, seven flights (well, five, but two had two legs), twelve cities, etc. On good days, it's amazing. Aria and Téa play in a picturesque playground sandbox with the Eiffel Tower in the background while Andres and I sit on a shaded park bench and sigh at how awesome everything is. On bad days, Aria is tantruming, Téa is crying because she's hungry, Andres and I are grumpy and tired and lost, and it starts to rain. We've had plenty of both kinds of moments, but there are definitely far fewer of those perfect moments! (Of course, they weigh a lot more, so one five-minute awesome moment can carry us through a tough day or two...) ;-)
Now, at 75 days away from home, we've settled in our home for the academic year, but we don't know anyone here yet, and it's colder and grayer in Germany. (Let's all play our pity violins for the wimpy Californians.) There is a ton of paperwork to fill out, and while we have a place at a bilingual school for our younger daughter starting October 31st (yay!), we have been jumping through hoops in search for a school for our older daughter and are now on the wait list for an emergency place with the ministry of education.

The upside is that we live in what I call a castle because it is old and gorgeous and looks, well, like a castle.

And the way I figure it, we'll either make great friends this year or we'll bond as a family.

So, for now, we'll be donning puffy jackets and bundling up, and we'll try to remember to do our next sabbatical somewhere warmer. :-)

P.S. If you speak English (or Chinese or Spanish) and live in (or near) Darmstadt, send me a message at serendipityberries@gmail.com, and let's be friends! Any other expats around? We haven't seen any friends since August, so we're due for some socializing. (And if you happen to have kids who could play with my 1-year-old and/or 4-year-old, that would be awesome, too.) :-)

04 September 2016

time and money

You're probably familiar with that old joke about how young people have time and energy but no time, middle-aged people have money but no time (or energy, especially if they have kids), and old people have time and maybe money but no energy. That money and time balance seems hard to strike, and my partner and I have been talking a lot about this since we started our sabbatical year away from home.

We're lucky in that being an academic means you're never going to be rich, but you'll also always have enough to live. For us frugal folks, my partner's salary has been plenty, and now that I'm not putting all of the money he earns towards growing my business, I'm actually doing better for our family by making nothing (rather than by creating debt). Yay for small incremental progress.

Seriously, though, my partner and I are really starting to see the benefits to having a state job, where the salary is lower but the benefits are better. The famous study that said the ideal household income was $75,000 has now been raised to $83,000 (and up to $92,000 for pricey California), and we haven't hit any of those thresholds, yet by living simply, we've been pretty happy.

So, more money, more problems? It would seems so, according to the study. More money doesn't make you happier; your happiness levels off (or plummets) as your income increases. So, cheers to freedom and free time and having just enough money to enjoy life.

24 July 2016

search inside yourself

Chade-Meng Tan was one of the early Google engineers, and he created a course for Google employees that helps them be more effective both at work and in their personal lives. As someone who works constantly on being less reactive (think before acting), I especially appreciated his "Siberian North Railroad" concept. Basically, instead of riding emotions like a horse that leads you wherever, you learn how to steer and control the horse. :-)

10 June 2016


I was just introduced to Duolingo (thank you, Sarah!), and it is amazing. Free, fun, addicting even—and you really start to learn a language. Starting from zero knowledge of German a week ago, just spending maybe ten minutes a day has gotten me to supposed 20% fluency. Seems too easy to be true, but it is certainly encouraging. How is this possible? Ich habe keine ahnung (I have no idea)!

In any case, it would be a great way to keep those foreign languages we studied in school from falling into the forgotten unused pile of our brains, and it'll be a fun way to learn new languages, all from the convenience of our homes on our own schedules. And did I mention it's free?

Have fun!

03 June 2016

clearing space (a.k.a., you don't need a fancy title to be valuable)

Transitions are often challenging, especially when they involve dramatic identity shifts. After a break-up, it can feel naked to suddenly be single again. After delivering a baby, one theory says many women experience post-partum depression because they feel this literal emptiness in their womb where a little moving being had once been. Similarly, I had been feeling stripped and aimless after I sold my business. I had post-start-up depression.

My husband said I was seeking a rebound when I said I wanted a job title, and he was totally right. So, instead of just climbing aboard the first train to go by or rushing to start some new training program, I decided to just clear the space for the right career path to unfold.

I realized that part of why I didn't get any closure was because when I sold my business to my partner, he did not host a going away dinner or anything for me. Our tradition was to host goodbye dinners for people who had been with us for two years or more, for example. We wanted to honor and thank them for giving so much and being a part of our mission and success. But for me, since I was the one who usually organized these affairs, there was no send-off. I wasn't even included in any further team meetings. I had to tell everyone I was leaving in an email.

It felt like the message was that it didn't matter that I started this business. That I put in my family's life savings into what I believed was possible. That I worked tirelessly and didn't even get the famous one-dollar salary. I worked for free for four years and gave my baristas bonuses whenever there was a bit of money leftover (and often when there wasn't). My partner said he was busy (he always is). And his girlfriend made jade necklaces for everyone on the team-- except me.

So, one way to read this was that my contributions didn't matter, and I didn't matter. The other way to read it was that everything I created felt so ingrained in everyone that I was invisible. That everyone bought into the idea of profit-sharing and contributing to the community and felt it was their idea. To me, that is success. I was able to find people who are better than I am at everything: coffee, baking, business, managing, etc. And amazingly, for someone who knew nothing about business when I started, my little business lives on without me. And it has the same integrity and solid values I held as all-important.

So, it took a while, but I'm much more at peace now.

I just heard about a friend of a friend who is running around like the proverbial chicken-with-head-cut-off, trying to figure out whether she should start a food truck business. Everyone is telling her it will be a ball and chain, she will not get to spend time with her children and husband, and it will be VERY difficult to make much money, especially compared to her former corporate salary. When we spoke, she was very determined and not open to suggestions, and honestly, I think it's ego and fear.

I recognized it because it was exactly what I went through when I sold my business. If I'm no longer a business owner, then what am I? Who am I?

It's like we need a job title to feel important and successful. Well, I'm here to tell you that isn't true.

You don't need a fancy title to be valuable.

We all contribute to the world in different ways, and if we make our corner of the world a bit better in some way, that you are making a positive difference. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom not making a well-deserved penny from it or on the opposite end of the spectrum in a high-profile position, you can be creative and improve life on earth (or not). Let's focus on what we can do and are doing.

If you're not sure which direction to move in, instead of running around frantically (like I did when I was younger), just wait. Wait until something becomes clear. I don't mean sit around and twiddle your thumbs, hoping lightning will strike the answer onto the ground in front of you. I mean, just keep doing whatever makes your heart sing. (I enjoy blogging for fun, so here I am.) If you have the luxury, do what makes you happy.

When I first met my husband, I wasn't looking for romance at all. After not finding great friends in L.A. and then finding tons of party friends in San Francisco, I just wanted to connect deeply and meaningfully with real, solid friends again. So, we became friends first, and by the time we started dating, I had no emotional baggage or hangups from previous relationships, no lingering drama or webs to untangle.

The space had been cleared for a healthy love relationship to grow, and I'm so grateful I did that.

So, now, instead of in the romance department, I've cleared the space to discover (yet again but hopefully for the last time) my calling and trust the universe that the right profession will show itself when the time is right. In the meantime, I'll just be here, peacefully waiting in the open space, so when the right opportunity comes along, I'll be rejuvenated and ready to dive in wholeheartedly.

27 May 2016

keep 'em separated

I've decided to split my parenting self and my traveling/philosophical self into two blogs, largely because people who are traveling and backpacking might not be so interested in the latest parenting literature out there, and weary mamas and papas with newborns might not want to hear about adventurous travel in India (which is where this blog is headed).

So, if you are interested in parenting content, you can go here from now on: joyfulzenmama.blogspot.com.

(I'm hoping to be a joyful zen mama as much as possible.)

And if you're more interested in travel and life musings, you can stay right here.


06 May 2016

two DYI mama hacks

Some DIY hacks just aren't repeatable, hence the proliferation of pinterest fails. But these two super simple ideas are pretty much impossible to screw up, so let's go save a little time, money, and breastmilk.

1. You can buy a fancy Faucet Extender for $10 on amazon, or you can use a shoe horn and a rubber band for free (or for almost free if you don't already have a random shoe horn sitting around). 

I know. It isn't that expensive to buy this gadget, but hey, ten bucks is ten bucks. My daughter loves this thing. I don't have yet another baby/toddler thing to get rid of as my children grow up. And free is awesome.

02 May 2016

super juice pulp recipes

We've been juicing almost every day since January (and love it), so we've tried a LOT of juice pulp recipes. 

Let's just say that a lot of them aren't the tastiest things we've ever had. Unless you enjoy the taste of a freshly mowed lawn. But! The good news is there are a handful of recipes that we've really enjoyed.

If you have a bread machine, this is a great recipe that requires almost no work. I also like this recipe because it slices thin like sandwich bread, and it's versatile: we've doctored it up to be cinnamon raisin bread, and it works just as well with a bunch of savory spices, too. By itself, it tastes like a honey whole wheat loaf and is delicious enough to eat plain.

We added raisins and cinnamon in this loaf.

25 April 2016

magic mochi custard cake and how to create your own recipes

My latest baking craze has been mochi custard cake, and I've made it for pretty much every event I've attended for the past two months. Which means I've baked it pretty much weekly, have dialed it in, and it's pretty much idiot-proof now.

It's also magic, because you dump in what feels like a bowl of slightly lumpy milk, and it separates into a layer of mochi on the bottom and a layer of custard on top. Plus, both the bottom and the top add a bit of crunch in contrast to the chewiness of the mochi and the creaminess of the custard. All together, your mouth gets to have a creamy/cruncy/chewy party of textures, and it is delicious.

19 April 2016

free international wire transfer and airbnb discount coupon

Since we're moving to Germany, we had to wire transfer our deposit for our apartment, and rather than paying our bank $50 (no, thanks), I started researching a bit. It turns out there are several companies out there who charge WAY less for this service, and with a coupon, you can send money abroad for FREE (up to 3000 pounds).

If you need a free wire transfer, here is a coupon code for TransferWise. And if it doesn't work because you're trying years from now, feel free to send me a message at serendipityberries at gmail, and I'll get you a new one.

And I just booked a flat in Paris for the month of September, and I got another coupon. So, if you're new to airbnb and would like $35 off your first stay, here's another coupon. (And if that doesn't work, I'd be happy to get you a new one, too.)

Happy travels (and international living)! Hope this helps make your journey a bit easier.