10 January 2018

happy 2018

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Happy new year, everyone. Here is a fabulous reminder of how to keep things in perspective and really live life from a 27-year-old woman the day before she passed away. Enjoy.


Holly Butcher
A bit of life advice from Hol:
It’s a strange thing to realise and accept your mortality at 26 years young. It’s just one of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; Until the unexpected happens. I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and grey- most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life. I want that so bad it hurts.
That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.
I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy.. I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.
I haven’t started this ‘note before I die’ so that death is feared - I like the fact that we are mostly ignorant to it’s inevitability.. Except when I want to talk about it and it is treated like a ‘taboo’ topic that will never happen to any of us.. That’s been a bit tough. I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit.
I have dropped lots of my thoughts below as I have had a lot of time to ponder life these last few months. Of course it’s the middle of the night when these random things pop in my head most!
Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days.
Once you do that, get out there and take a freaking big breath of that fresh Aussie air deep in your lungs, look at how blue the sky is and how green the trees are; It is so beautiful. Think how lucky you are to be able to do just that - breathe.
You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.
Let all that shit go.. I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.
I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise - Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things ... until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.
I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion. Appreciate your good health and functioning body- even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is. Move it and nourish it with fresh food. Don’t obsess over it.
Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body.. work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. That way you might realise just how insignificant and unimportant having this stupidly portrayed perfect social media body really is.. While on this topic, delete any account that pops up on your news feeds that gives you any sense of feeling shit about yourself. Friend or not.. Be ruthless for your own well-being.
Be grateful for each day you don’t have pain and even the days where you are unwell with man flu, a sore back or a sprained ankle, accept it is shit but be thankful it isn’t life threatening and will go away.
Whinge less, people! .. And help each other more.
Give, give, give. It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself. I wish I did this more. Since I have been sick, I have met the most incredibly giving and kind people and been the receiver of the most thoughtful and loving words and support from my family, friends and strangers; More than I could I ever give in return. I will never forget this and will be forever grateful to all of these people.
It is a weird thing having money to spend at the end.. when you’re dying. It’s not a time you go out and buy material things that you usually would, like a new dress. It makes you think how silly it is that we think it is worth spending so much money on new clothes and ‘things’ in our lives.
Buy your friend something kind instead of another dress, beauty product or jewellery for that next wedding. 1. No-one cares if you wear the same thing twice 2. It feels good. Take them out for a meal, or better yet, cook them a meal. Shout their coffee. Give/ buy them a plant, a massage or a candle and tell them you love them when you give it to them.
Value other people’s time. Don’t keep them waiting because you are shit at being on time. Get ready earlier if you are one of those people and appreciate that your friends want to share their time with you, not sit by themselves, waiting on a mate. You will gain respect too! Amen sister.
This year, our family agreed to do no presents and despite the tree looking rather sad and empty (I nearly cracked Christmas Eve!), it was so nice because people didn’t have the pressure of shopping and the effort went into writing a nice card for each other. Plus imagine my family trying to buy me a present knowing they would probably end up with it themselves.. strange! It might seem lame but those cards mean more to me than any impulse purchase could. Mind you, it was also easier to do in our house because we had no little kiddies there. Anyway, moral of the story- presents are not needed for a meaningful Christmas. Moving on.
Use your money on experiences.. Or at least don’t miss out on experiences because you spent all your money on material shit.
Put in the effort to do that day trip to the beach you keep putting off. Dip your feet in the water and dig your toes in the sand. Wet your face with salt water.
Get amongst nature.
Try just enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo.. enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.
Random rhetorical question. Are those several hours you spend doing your hair and make up each day or to go out for one night really worth it? I’ve never understood this about females 🤔.
Get up early sometimes and listen to the birds while you watch the beautiful colours the sun makes as it rises.
Listen to music.. really listen. Music is therapy. Old is best.
Cuddle your dog. Far out, I will miss that.
Talk to your friends. Put down your phone. Are they doing okay?
Travel if it’s your desire, don’t if it’s not.
Work to live, don’t live to work.
Seriously, do what makes your heart feel happy.
Eat the cake. Zero guilt.
Say no to things you really don’t want to do.
Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life.. you might want a mediocre life and that is so okay.
Tell your loved ones you love them every time you get the chance and love them with everything you have.
Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it - in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.
Anyway, that’s just this one young gals life advice. Take it or leave it, I don’t mind!
Oh and one last thing, if you can, do a good deed for humanity (and myself) and start regularly donating blood. It will make you feel good with the added bonus of saving lives. I feel like it is something that is so overlooked considering every donation can save 3 lives! That is a massive impact each person can have and the process really is so simple.
Blood donation (more bags than I could keep up with counting) helped keep me alive for an extra year - a year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend it here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life.
..’Til we meet again.
Hol
Xoxo

26 November 2017

deutschland detox

our German forest (just outside our front door!), taken by our dear friend, Cara Yoder Matzen
It's Thanksgiving, and I have so much to be grateful for.

We've been home for almost three months now, and it's striking what sticks out as being different in the States.

When we got to Germany, we were blown away by the antiquated practices that didn't allow us to use credit cards and required us to fill out paperwork for the air we breathed (almost). People expected face-to-face meetings to get things done, and handwritten notes were the norm. Our fridge was so tiny, it made minibar fridges look spacious, and our kitchen had no oven and fit one person comfortably. So, we had to go grocery shopping every day or two, and we ate simply.

But we got used to life there and embraced the slowness and simplicity of it, and now, I'd say life in the US is easier and more convenient but not necessarily better. Yes, I spent three hours a day taking my daughter to and from school using the public bus, but I got to read a lot of books. And we didn't have a ton of friends or any family around, but we spent a lot of nice family time together. And most importantly, we had hardly any stuff, and our lives were really simple. We had a mostly white flat (with wood floors), and it felt more spacious and open than our current house, which is larger but cluttered with too much stuff.

Now, if I go to a regular grocery store, I'm overwhelmed by fifty different shampoo or cereal options. In Germany, there were usually a handful of choices, which offered enough variety for us. Consumerism is a LOT stronger here. Americans have more stuff, and we're encouraged to keep on buying more/newer/better of everything. (Hello, Black Friday and Cyber Monday and every other promotion to get us to buy more.) Which leads to more stuff. You see the problem.

In Germany, I basically wore jeans and a black shirt/sweater. I added color with scarves and bright socks hidden inside my black boots. I never had to think about clothes and got to have something in common with Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. Wearing the same "uniform" every day frees our brains from decision fatigue and allows us to think about potentially more important things than fashion.

Back at home, I am surrounded by decades of clothes and accessories, and it's not even 80-20. It's more like I wear 5% of what I have, and I've already donated a ton of it. I read Marie Kondo's books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, and both were wonderful. The basic premise is that if you can let go of all of that clutter/STUFF that isn't serving you, you'll make peace with your past. Pretty powerful, no? She says it can take six months to truly clear out the old, so I'm comforted that I'm still "on schedule." (Type A? No, of course not...)

But the craziest change I'm discovering is that the German mentality rubbed off on me, and I find myself thinking and saying things that are laughably German. I carry groceries in my arms if I don't have too much and park a lot farther from my destination than I used to-- unthinkable for California's driving culture, but it feels normal now. My daughters and I now say "ow-ah" for a booboo or ouchie because that was how the Deutschies pronounced it. I wear the same things over and over again and ignore everything else. (Which means I should get rid of it. I know.) And we don't do as much. And even though we don't need to anymore, we're still grocery shopping twice a week.

So, our lives are simpler now, and we keep trying to simplify even further. It's made for a more peaceful existence, and I have Germany to thank for that.

We haven't been social partly because we've been trying to clear all the junk out of our house but also maybe partly because we're used to being just the four of us. This weekend, we worked on our house, my five-year-old started riding a pedal bike by herself, and that was about it. Oh, and we put up our first Christmas tree. We never bought one because we were never home for Christmas; we were always at one of our parents' homes. But living away from friends and family, we bought a little potted Christmas tree in Germany (the land of Christmas), and it was lovely. So, this year, we bought a full-sized Christmas tree to have at home, too. My daughters were ecstatic, and my partner and I love how cozy it makes our living room, too.

I used to always have fairy lights (aka: Christmas lights) up in my bedroom. I think I want to fill my house with them now! Except, wait, I'm trying to get rid of stuff... But Marie Kondo says we should fill our lives with things that bring us joy (and chuck the rest), so maybe I *can* have my fairy-light-filled house after all. (I just have to actually chuck the rest...)

19 November 2017

a grief all modern humans share

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My beloved 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Krieckhaus, and I have been emailing recently about life, and he shared this excerpt from Francis Weller's The Wild Edge of Sorrow with me.

I'm lucky that I always have somewhere I can turn to expand my mind, and this really made me brain explode a bit. This is a grief that we humans share, living in the modern world, and he describes it so well.

As we approach Thanksgiving, let's see how we can change this.


It can feel daunting to read something like this. A heavy weight sits upon us as we think of our lack of village. But that is temporary, like everything else. We can start to build a village, start welcoming people, and creating this community wherever we are with whatever we have, right now.

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26 September 2017

home and spg

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We're home! Isn't it beautiful? This is San Luis Obispo, California, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the coast, and it's a paradise I'm lucky enough to call home.

I started this blog in 2008, and I've never gone this long (almost four months!) without posting anything, but we basically didn't have internet in Taipei for the month June (it only worked late at night at our airbnb), and then were backpacking around China for July and August with what felt like dial-up internet access in the hotels (plus no access to google, Facebook, etc.). Then, we came home to a dirty, messy, cluttered house (thanks, renters) and have been unpacking, organizing, and cleaning from the end of August until the end of September (and we're still not done).

So, long story short: sorry to have been MIA for so long. Blogging for fun definitely takes a backseat to all of the other needs and to-do items. But we're back!

And we're very happy to be home. I promised in my last post to talk about how we non-6-figure-salary folks are able to travel around the world in relative luxury. First and most obviously, we spend less time in places like Basel, Switzerland (hello, supermarket sushi for 50 Swiss francs) and more time in places like Tanzania and Indonesia. But we aren't just slumming it in India and China, either. We've spent time in Japan and London, too, where price tags are eye-widening.

Here are the four things we do to make travel affordable:

01 June 2017

mauritius

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Greetings from Mauritius!

In case you aren't familiar with this little island, it's just east of Madagascar (which you may remember first as a movie about New York zoo animals being stranded in "the wild" and secondly as the large island off the southeast coast of Africa).

People describe Mauritius as the world on an island, partly because the people here are multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural, and multi-religious, and partly because of the diverse flora and fauna. But I think of Mauritius more as a series of pleasant surprises that challenge your assumptions and toss them out the window.

Here I am in Africa, for example, expecting to see African people, but instead, most people look Indian (Southeast Asian Indian) (and almost all of the guests in our hotel were Indian, too). The official language of Mauritius is English, but these Indian-looking people speak French instead. And while the endless fields of sugarcane might suggest some kind of slow pastoral scene, the airport is dazzlingly efficient, the highways are as nice as the German autobahns, and the buses are more punctual than the ones we had in Darmstadt.

10 May 2017

what if?

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Our American democracy doesn't seem to be working right now.

People don't feel represented by those who are supposed to represent us. Our votes don't feel counted when we collectively choose one candidate but the mysterious Electoral College gives us someone else. And when we look to our nation's leaders in Congress who are supposed to be moving us forward into a brighter tomorrow, it looks more like a bunch of children sticking their tongues out at each other and saying, "If I can't have it, then you can't have it, either!"

01 May 2017

tokimeku

We're starting to pack up to leave Germany (in 25 days!), and I learned a wonderful Japanese expression for this decision-making process:

tokimeku

This is roughly translated as "Does it spark joy?"

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If yes, then keep. Add to your joy.

If no, then toss. (Or give away, recycle, donate, etc.) Be free.

So simple.

Less clutter = more happiness.

Tokimeku.

15 April 2017

world peace day

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The UN declared September 21st International Day of Peace, and that's great.

Today is my birthday, and in wishing big, I'd love to see another World Peace Day. I think we could have more than one World Peace Day, and wouldn't it be great if it were January 1st? It's easy to remember, we can start the new year on a peaceful path, and maybe like some new year's resolutions, it'll hold for a week or maybe even two. Or maybe World Peace Day could turn into World Peace Month, World Peace Year, and then World Peace Decade.

My partner says having a day or even a week of peace wouldn't necessarily get rid of the problems that underlie the fighting and resentments, and this is true, but maybe even a brief respite from fighting would give people a little room to breathe and calm down. Think a little more. And perhaps reflect on what a nice change peace is from fighting.

And while we're at it, we could have a minute of silence at noon, for example, to truly have world peace (and quiet). We could meditate on being kind and peaceful and creating a safe and harmonious world for our children.

I figure why not? Let's declare another World Peace Day and then another and another and see what happens.