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.

Mauritius was a Dutch colony, a French colony, and a British colony, so it has legacies from all three. The Constitution is written in English, their Civil Code is written in French, and you can visit the old Dutch capital of Mah├ębourg (pronounced my-boor) to see its famous Monday market. What's most impressive is that everything exists and flows together in harmony, and it seems like the rest of the world could learn a lesson or two from them. The official language of Parliament is English, but if you want to speak French instead, that's fine. The air is sweet here (not surprising with beaches on one side and sugar cane on the other), and the mood as you walk around town is mellow and pleasant, so it fits that there are no religious conflicts or dramatic political upheavals here.

A delectable result of this melting pot of cultures is the food you'll find in Mauritius. Our hotel breakfast buffet offered proper French brioche and croissants alongside the masala chai and sambar, and all were delicious. (They even had fish ball soup for the Chinese guests.) Delicious and cheap street food abounds, and it's generally clean and hygienic (even the seafood). A big bowl of fried noodles cost about a dollar at a street stand, and you can get a delicious plated meal of tender chicken brochettes (skewers), frites (fries), and salad for about five dollars at a stand in Grand Baie. (They say Grand Baie is more touristy, but we felt very much like we were surrounded by locals when we were being serenaded by karaoke on our way to Super U, the big supermarket, and ate at a little stand next to the bumper cars there.)

If you're looking for a very calm swimming beach, Trou aux Biches is perfect for little kids. (And just to be clear, Pointe aux Biches and Trou aux Biches are referring to deer.) Mauritius has the third-largest coral reef in the world, so the waters are already super calm, but this beach literally has almost no waves at all. So, if you have little ones who are terrified of waves (ahem, like mine), this beach should be perfect for them. There are also big palm trees so children can play in the sand in the shade. Oh, and all beaches in Mauritius are open to the public, so you're welcome to go exploring any of the beaches on the island without worry.

We booked our trip to Mauritius on a whim (we had to get from Germany to Taiwan, so we just looked at all of the flight specials leaving Frankfurt), but we discovered it is even more awesome than we realized. According to Time, scientists discovered a hidden continent beneath Mauritius. The island is the only known home of the famous dodo bird, which weighed up to a whopping fifty pounds. (Hence their popularity with the hungry sailors stopping by. Yet another reason the poor bird never made it.) And CNN hailed Mauritius as "the best Africa destination you know almost nothing about."

To paint a more accurate picture, Mauritius is pretty darn impressive, but like all places, it isn't perfect. However, the only downsides we discovered were that Port Louis (pronounced poor Louie), the capital, can be a bit congested (but the so-called traffic is nothing compared to the 405 in L.A.), the beaches are beautiful but often have coral bits and pieces mixed in with the fine sand (water shoes would take care of this), and pools are often not heated at the hotels (talk about first-world problem, right? But if a heated pool is important to you/you're going in the winter, tripadvisor actually has a running list of hotels with heated pools.) But these are pretty minor if they are what people gripe about.

(Quick aside: this reminds me of when I moved to Manhattan Beach, a very pleasant part of Los Angeles, and read the crime report in the local paper. It mentioned someone stealing a tomato out of someone else's garden and tossing it back when the owner appeared. I figured if that was in the crime section, I was moving to a pretty safe place.)

So, back to Mauritius. No place is perfect, and we barely scratched the surface with our little ones in tow, but Mauritius is worth a visit if you're able to make it over. The weather is pretty nice, too. Here's today's forecast:



If you're in Europe, discount airlines like Condor often offer cheap flights, and we stayed at a hotel with hotel points for free, so it was a relatively cheap trip for us. (We are normally frugal parents and travelers, but we spent so little money on the island, we felt okay about splurging on stuffed dodo bird toys for our daughters at the airport, which we would normally never do.)

A few people have asked about how we finance our travels because we aren't fancy six-figure-income folks (hint: we stayed for five nights for free using hotel points), so I'll be going over that in my next post. Happy June, everyone!

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.

09 April 2017

how to stop terrorism

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"we live on such a beautiful planet 
but in such an ugly world." 
samantha morrison  

First, there was the Nice attack in France last summer where a man drove a 19-ton semi through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 and injured 434 innocent people. We were headed to Paris to live for a month soon after and were a little nervous but decided to go anyway. (It was fine.)

Then, we were really saddened by the Christmas market terrorist attack in Berlin in December where another guy drove a semi into a crowd of people and killed 12 and injured 56. These were again just innocent people trying to be merry during the holiday season. We were living here in Darmstadt (a small town in Germany), so the Christmas market again felt very close to home.

And now we hear about this senseless attack in Stockholm, and it just made my stomach drop. We were in Stockholm in August, visiting friends and marveling at how beautiful it was with its islets and sparkling blue water. My daughter saw her first "wild" swan floating just outside of Gamla Stan (the old town).

How can someone be so angry that they want to kill innocent people? People you've never met who you know nothing about? What do you have to tell someone to make them believe that murdering all of these people is not only acceptable but desirable? And maybe saddest of all, what does someone have to go through to want to do such a thing?

Terrorism is incomprehensible to me, and I can't imagine wanting to hurt innocent people. But here is some empowering advice for us all.

From Bruce Schneier, one of the most respected writers on terrorism:
most importantly, we should refuse to be terrorized. Terrorism isn't really a crime against people or property; it's a crime against our minds. 
If we are terrorized, then the terrorists win even if their plots fail. If we refuse to be terrorized, then the terrorists lose even if their plots succeed.
So, let us not be afraid. Let us live our lives with heads held high.

If we're in an airplane, and someone tries to threaten everyone, we must all start throwing objects at this would-be terrorist and do everything we can to stop them. We cannot let a few individuals ruin everything for everyone else.

28 March 2017

living in germany = eating vegetables

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When we imagined a sabbatical year in Europe, we pictured something idyllic like this. It felt both far away and that it would last a long time. And yet, here we are, getting ready to leave already. A month ago, we already had to submit printed letters to both my daughters' schools and to the "castle" we live in to give the required three months' notice that we were leaving. 

When we got here, it felt like we were never going to leave. Now, we have 58 days left in Europe. (Not that I'm counting.) 

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So, we've been in Darmstadt, Germany, for half a year now, and it took us almost that long just to live here legally with all of the necessary paperwork filed and to find great schools for both of our daughters. 

We joke that we should have lived here longer for it to be worth all of the set-up time, energy, and trees killed, but I don't think we would choose to live in Germany again. And before anyone gets offended, I will say we have learned a lot from living here, have made some lovely friends, and have really enjoyed many aspects of life in Darmstadt. 

So, here's our recap of life in Germany:

10 February 2017

carpe kairos

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My dear friend, Heather, gave me some much-needed inspiration.

We're always told to carpe diem (seize the day!), especially as parents of young children (enjoy every second!), but a day is a long time to try to wrangle any control over. A moment, though, feels more attainable. And Heather shared with me the expression:

carpe kairos

Instead of trying to seize an entire day, we can hope to grasp a moment. One moment at a time.

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Chronos is clock time; kairos is the way time feels. Moments rather than measured time. And more than any old moment: the perfect moment. When chronos time slips away, and time stops for a moment, that's kairos.

I hope we've all experienced this. You're walking along and notice something beautiful—sunlight pouring through trees, a smile, a melody, whatever moves you—and time stops for a moment.

At best, a perfect moment gives you the feeling that all is right with the world. That everything is going to be okay. You can exhale and let everything else go.

Kairos.

One of my favorite kairos experiences was sitting in an open tree house in Thailand high over swaying palm trees watching the water sparkle in the distance below. Time didn't exist.

Kairos.

And seizing it even feels too forceful, too harsh. My goal now is simply to be paying attention, to be present and aware enough so that when a blip of kairos happens (my four-year-old suddenly snuggles up to me and says, "I love you, Mama," or my one-year-old claps and squeals with glee when she sees me), instead of being distracted or worse, irritated by an interruption (cringe!), I can stop and breathe in that love and hug my girls and feel gratitude for that moment.

These moments may last but seconds, but they feed our souls and can sustain us through the days when life (and chronos) weigh us down. These are the moments that make a life. 

So, let's not try to carpe diem today. Let's tone it down a bit and carpe kairos instead.

04 January 2017

four days in paris with young children


This is for my dear friends, Cara and Evan, who are headed to Paris tomorrow with their 3- and 5-year-olds, but I figured I might as well share it with you, too, in case you have little kids and are planning a long weekend in the city of lights.

We spent the month of September living in Paris with our 1-year-old and 4-year-old, and we fell in love with the beautiful city. With two little ones in tow, our trip wasn't one of leisurely riverside evenings sipping wine (maybe one day!) but one of going to playgrounds every day and seeking out kid-friendly museums, activities, and restaurants. And Paris was much more family-friendly than I'd expected.

So! Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly discoveries in what we feel is the most beautiful city in the world. Enjoy!

28 December 2016

inspiration from amy

Amy Degenkolb, our inspiration for today and the new year
My dear friend, Amy, is a ray of sunshine, and her take on Trump is so uplifting, so empowering, and so doable for us all, I had to share it:
I know it must be hard to be in a foreign land while watching America get ready to be handed over to Trump and his terrifying cabinet. It is hard being here and feeling like there is nothing I can do about it...to have family and coworkers and acquaintances that voted for Trump...that voted against me.  It's crushing to know those people voted for someone who is openly a bigot and who picked a VP that believes all gays should be behind bars.  The energy on this side of the pond has been demure.  
I decided the day after the election that I had 2 choices...I could wear all black and be really depressed and let my voice be silenced, or I could wear the brightest clothes that I own, put my rainbow earrings back in, wear my safety pin, and try to help people smile every day.  
I baked brownies for all of my neighbors (even the ones that voted for Trump).  I hung extra holiday lights.  I made my holiday card be about peace and love.  And I am currently making a pair of hot pink sequin suspenders to wear anytime the world could use more glitter.
Rock on, Amy. Spreading love never looked more sparkly. :-)

Happy new year, everyone! May your 2017 be full of love and sparkles.

P.S. I should mention that life in Darmstadt is also much better now. It just takes time to make friends and settle in to a new home. Thanks, everyone, who connected us with friends and family in the area. It's amazing how many people had friends and family nearby/how interconnected our world is. Thanks for enlarging your friend and family circles to include us. :-)

06 December 2016

theskimm


I took a course in college about how sensationalized the news was, even in print, and I pretty much avoided consuming news from then on. Some people are news junkies (ahem, my partner), and I've heard about the major world events (like Castro passing away) from him. But I still had this feeling I should try to be somewhat literate in world affairs on my own.

Enter: theskimm. My friend forwarded it to me when I told her I barely had time to shower when taking care of a toddler and a baby, and I asked how I could possibly be a truly informed citizen of the world. She said this was one daily email that gave you the highlights in an intelligent way.

So far, it's perfect. A digestible quick read that gives context for why something might matter in a pithy and often entertaining way.

So, if you're a busy human being with no time for BS (aren't we all), check it out here and let me know what you think.

Cheers to efficient time management.

20 November 2016

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

- Friedrich Nietszche