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

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.


26 September 2017

home and spg

home via
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


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?

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


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


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

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.


15 April 2017

world peace day

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

"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

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.) 

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

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.


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.


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.


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!