20 November 2016

"A person's maturity 
consists in having found again 
the seriousness one had as a child, at play."

- Friedrich Nietszche

10 November 2016

40 days in Germany

I've been in Germany for 40 days. And Trump is now the president of the United States.

* Warning: lots of ranting ahead. *

I voted for Bernie Sanders, thinking he'd probably lose to Hillary, then I voted for Hillary, predicting Trump would win. But I still couldn't believe it when it actually happened. My partner said the polls all said Hillary was a clear victor. Goes to show how reliable polls are.

I'm still in shock, and taking care of little ones full-time has taken a toll on my brain and my sanity. I'm sorry, but some people are just not meant to be stay-at-home parents. The impatient perfectionists are a good example.

After forty days here, my initial thoughts on Germany (in my bitter state) are that they are absolutely unyielding when it comes to rules, yet this rigidity doesn't yield a perfectly running system. If it did, I wouldn't mind. Instead, everything takes forever, and mistakes abound. Even our amazon packages have been late/wrong/a disaster here. We aren't allowed to open a bank account with any bank (other than Deutsche Bank) because we haven't gotten our resident visa yet. But we can't get our appointment for our resident visa because they're understaffed. We've been on the "emergency" list for a place in school for my daughter for five weeks. How long would it take if it weren't an emergency?

The temporary place she's been won't take her for the remaining six months we'll be here, so we're still waiting to hear back from the ministry of education. We were told they literally call every single school to see if there is a place available. Which is crazy for a so-called modern country. But fine, let's assume that's really happening. Does it take five weeks to make these calls?

We've also been waiting the same five weeks for our residency visa appointment. Not for the actual visa; just the appointment. To see if we can then get a visa. We're approaching our 90 days in Europe, so if our tourist visa expires we'll either have to leave the Schengen region or pay 20 euro per person to extend our visas. Even if it's their fault we haven't gotten our resident visas.

And my younger daughter was lucky enough to get a spot in the university's bilingual preschool, HOWEVER there is what feels like the eternal "settling in" period, which started last Monday, October 31st, and will last a month. A month of settling in. It means we go together for an hour each day, and then we go home. (That is NOT what I call childcare, for the record.)

This week, we were supposed to increase the time to 1 1/2 hours (woo), but on Tuesday, we waited for two hours to go see a doctor to get a note saying my daughter was healthy enough to attend school, and we missed our allotted sliver of time. She got a bunch of shots (without which the doctor would not sign off), and we're scheduled for a bunch more.

(We have always done the immunizations on schedule, but we've been away from home since July, so I guess we've fallen behind. It's a bummer because our family pediatrician (who is awesome) said we could just catch up on everything when we went home, but I guess that won't fly here. So, even though we're paying for both our health insurance in the States and additional health insurance here (because our American one wasn't good enough, apparently), we are probably going to have to pay for everything out of pocket, too. Sweet.)

So, we missed Tuesday's hour of daycare and went Wednesday. I got to sit outside for 1 1/2 hours while my daughter played happily in her class, but I wasn't allowed access to their internet, so I got to just sit there and wait. And I was scolded for parking my stroller in the wrong place.

Today, we were supposed to up the time to three glorious hours, but since we missed Tuesday, the teacher said we'd do the 1 1/2 hours again. Except that this morning, while we were on the bus on our way to school, we got a call saying the teacher was sick, so my daughter couldn't come to school at all.

And the teacher will probably be sick tomorrow, too, so my daughter probably shouldn't come tomorrow, either.

We also got our daycare bill, and we were charged almost 70 euro for October 31's one hour of settling in. And we'll be charged full price for November, even though I'm not getting any relief from my full-time mommy gig. Really? How is that okay?

It was a rough day. I even had the classic ninny crisis of a chipped nail to top it all off.

So, feeling lonely and frustrated and tired of the dark skies, I decided to throw myself a pity party, thinking about how my partner has his labmates, my older daughter has her (revolving) playmates from her temporary kindergarten, and my younger daughter has an actual group of classmates she'll be with for the school year while I had nothing. Get out the tinny little violins and start the concert...

I did meet one mom at a park playground who took a photo of her son and my younger daughter playing together in the sandbox, and I gave her my card and asked her to email me the photo. I said we just arrived two weeks ago, and she could be my first friend here. Guess that wasn't the right thing to say or else I just wasn't appealing enough as a potential friend because she never emailed. Maybe she lost my card. Or maybe she's racist. Hey, you never know. And it's easier to blame racism than, say, my personality.

Then, my older daughter decides to tell me I should go back to California, and she and Papa and her sister will stay here in Germany. You don't want Mama to be here with you and Papa and your sister? She shook her head no. Ouch.

So, I was pissed at Germany with its nitpicky tunnel vision. And did I mention it's cold and grey and rainy? It even SNOWED on Tuesday. The one day we ventured to a neighboring town to go see the one bilingual English-German international school in the area. If my older daughter went there, it would take us an hour to get there by public transport, so I could potentially commute four hours to get my daughter to and from school every day. Good times.

We talked about getting a car, but considering how slow/paperwork-ridden/ridiculously complicated it is to do anything here, I can't begin to imagine what it would take for foreigners to buy and register a car, get insurance, and then sell it in six months. It would probably kill us.

I fantasized about moving to Taiwan and quitting this German sabbatical. We have to give two months' notice (of course) to our castle and the school my younger daughter attends, but we would still have 4 1/2 months left, not including the summer. It would still be worth it. The girls would learn Chinese, the weather would be warmer, I'd speak the language and even have friends (!!!) to spend time with. The food would actually be delicious... We didn't need to stay here. Why suffer? What were we trying to prove?

But quitting didn't feel so good.

So, tonight, I asked my older daughter why she said she wanted me to go back to our place by the beach while she and the rest of the family stayed here, and she explained that she wanted me to go bake some banana bread for her because she missed it. (We don't have an oven here in our lovely castle but tiny kitchen.) I just about died laughing and was relieved that she didn't want to get rid of me as an unsatisfying mother. She just missed my baking. Or, my banana bread, more specifically.

Funny how food can make us feel at home (or the lack of familiar food can make us feel so homesick).

So, with a bit more perspective, I'm giving Germany my full effort. Once my daughters both actually go to school, I'm going to start taking German lessons. Maybe I'll make a friend there.

And if I'm totally lonely and miserable, maybe I'll write an incredible novel. (Again, once my daughters both somehow go to school.)

And going back to Trump, I was in a dark dark place but am fighting to be positive. One person can't ruin a country. Even Hitler and Osama needed help. And I'm not saying Trump is Hitler or Osama; I just mean that everyone who is afraid that he will single-handedly ruin America and take the rest of the world down with him can hopefully rest assured that it would take a lot of people to carry that out.

So, our responsibility as Americans and conscientious citizens of the world is, as Hillary said, to keep fighting for what's right. If we all remain vigilant and involved, I believe we can keep moving forward.

Everyone says stupid things and makes mistakes; we should all be given room to learn and grow. So, looking on the bright side, maybe he'll surround himself with capable, intelligent, open-minded people (and thus won't have to make any big decisions on his own), and he can just be the loud and charismatic mouthpiece.

I'm still hoping good will come of this. Maybe he can be the unapologetic scapegoat the country needs to do some of the things no one else wants to do. The world seems to be moving towards a more inward-looking period (see: Brexit), and maybe the US, too, needs to look inward and focus on the repairs needed in our own country. Obama started the process of lessening the US's role as the world protector, and maybe it'll be a good time to withdraw troops from around the world and start bringing everyone home.

Start focusing on our domestic problems and needs: homelessness, education, infrastructure.

You know, rebuild this country and make it great again.

Okay, sorry. Not funny right now, but I fight to remain optimistic and see possibility in every situation.

I know I'm just showing my ignorance and naiveté now, but I want to believe that the US, truly a global leader, will keep its head up through thick and thin.

And just maybe, when confronted with hate and anger, we need to be even more idealistic and loving and generous. We have to focus on something positive, or we'll never make progress.

So! Maybe we really will come together as a country and move forward. You never know.

There's always an upside. Sometimes, you just have to dig deep to find it.

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.