I’ve always loved to be in gardens, but I’ve never really been a fan of actual gardening. This is because my mom used to make us pull weeds in the Texas heat with all those sticker-burrs and fire ants.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate gardening a little bit more. It’s fun to plant seeds and see things grow. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing your part for the world of the globally mobile by putting down some roots, even if they become the victim of forgetful watering.

A few weeks ago, I found myself the reluctant recipient of a community garden plot. I say reluctant because, to be honest, I wanted the plot when I applied for it a year ago, but then realized it was a good thing I didn’t win that lottery because there’s no way I had time to tend a garden. As the year passed, so did my gardening ambitions.

But there it was in my inbox - Congratulations! Welcome to the Community Garden!

Great.

Surprisingly, my reluctance turned, quicker than I had expected, into enthusiasm. Maybe I could turn this little plot into something. Maybe. After a few days of indecision, I went and bought some dirt and some seeds. Then I dragged myself over to the weedy patch of neglected earth and started working….and learning.

And who would have guessed - when you dig in the dirt and think about, "How'd we get here?" you end up with an all new opportunity to reflect on life overseas. Here are few of the lessons that have come to me between rocks and ants and mystery sprouts.

Don’t overthink past decisions.

You’ll do all sorts of weird things in the midst of transition (like apply for a garden plot) that will later seem ill advised. That’s okay. Maybe they will indeed turn out to be questionable or maybe they’ll turn out just right. Either way – it’s how you choose to handle them in the moment and going forward that really matters.

Remember you have choices.

Nobody says you have to do anything forever. What freed me up to finally say yes to the garden plot was the realization that I could say yes now and if it didn’t suit me – turn it over to someone else later. This is a good reminder for this lifestyle. While it’s not always easy (or even possible) to bailout entirely, remembering that we have choices is a nice reminder that we keep moving because we choose to, not because someone’s making us.

Nobody knows what you like except you.

Plant whatever you want to. I knew we would be traveling a lot this summer and I dreaded the idea of a bunch of herbs and vegetables growing wild and crazy so I just bought some flower seeds. This is an important point to remember when we’re setting up home somewhere else. There’s value in listening to the advice of those who’ve gone before us, but ultimately our responsibility is to creating a home that feels right for us, not for the Jane-expat next door.

Mistakes are part of the process.

Accept a certain degree of “failure.” Something’s eating the leaves of my sunflowers. Part of being a gardening novice is not-knowing. I really have no idea what I’m going to end up with or, frankly, what I’m doing at all! As expats, we benefit from accepting that we’ll make mistakes along the way, learn from them and grow to do better next time.

Surprises can be the biggest delight!

Getting this garden plot was not on my list of things I wanted to do this year. Last year it sounded great, but now I am in a completely different frame of mind and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to care for it. But in saying yes, I found the little moments that make the garden worth it a million times over – watching over the growing flowers with my daughter, picking weeds and getting dirt under my nails, watering in the quiet space of the late afternoon as people wander home from work or school. The surprise is that it’s become my thing. Totally my thing that I care for and nurture – an unexpected gift hidden in plain sight.

And that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? We think we’ve got this thing all figured out, but then right in front of us are more lessons hiding in the weeds of the everyday experience of living around and around the world.

How are you weathering this latest transition or planning for the emotional ups and downs of the one just around the corner? Check out my coaching programs here and latest seasonal offers here.

Last night my husband and I drifted off to sleep talking about where we might live next. We have two more years here before we move and since our oldest will be in high school by then it feels like there's a lot more to figure out.

But, in all honesty, this has been pretty much how we fall asleep every night since we’ve known each other. Having lived overseas off and on for the past 20 years (has it been that long!?) hasn’t done anything to alleviate the slow list of countries, their advantages and disadvantages easing from my sleep-drunk mouth as I settle into my pillow.

I think the final words last night were something like, “Latin America…sure. Maybe. Or maybe somewhere in Europe.”

I thought we were done with the conversation, but clearly my brain wasn't.

The Dream

We were driving, driving, driving – all packed in the car. Me, my husband, our 3 kids and (interestingly) my mom. It was a beach town. Hilly and beautiful, but full of people and obstacles in the road.

I was trying to find a parking space. “Get that one!” my Mom says.

“No. It’s too small. It’s only for those small cars.”

“But it’s so close.”

“I know, but I tried it. It’s too small….I’ll try again…yep, too small.”

Then more driving. The roads are getting trickier and curvier. There are steeper cliffs and tighter turns. There are more impossible parking spots. The view is nice though.

Finally, we come to the perfect spot, but the entry into the spot is super steep and at a jack-knife turn. I look over to see a family (coincidentally the family of another expat friend I’d just been talking to last night) standing in the parking space.

“Oh, they’re in our way. I’ll just get out and ask them to move.”

I get out. We all get out.

Then I realize I haven’t put on the parking break. The car begins to roll. I’m too late to stop it! It goes sailing, down the hill and over the cliff crashing into an antique store at the bottom of the hill.

“Crap!” I think. I check to make sure we’re all okay.

And then we just stand there watching.

We weren’t even all that afraid. No one freaked out. One guy stopped and took a photo.

We were just there watching and thinking, “Hm."

Hm...indeed.

The other day my mom sent me a photo of a basket of peaches.

I want to be that basket of peaches.

I want to be the prickly, sweet way that they smell. I want to be the juice that seeps through the corners of the dry, crinkle sound of the paper bag that first housed them on the side of a two-lane road somewhere between Fredericksburg and Austin. Bluebonnets long since faded and replaced by green that won’t be brown until August...on a good year.

I want to climb inside the basket and feel how they’re both scratchy and soft at the same time. Like the little pig I once named Wilber…before I really understood what happens to Wilber.

I want to walk into HEB and pass right by the Georgia peaches that sit there in that big, wooden, less-expensive crate with the bright yellow sign that says, “Buy me because I’m cheaper!” and go straight for the smaller ones in the less visible display next to the limes and lemons.

Sure they’re smaller. Bring it on! Don’t Mess With Texas.

When you pick them up in your palm you already know they’re just right without even giving them a gentle squeeze. There’s always a stack of lunch sacks waiting just right on top or maybe sometimes in that little wooden holder.

Do they bring that holder out just for peach season?

Who would put peaches in a plastic bag?

Who would call tortillas, soft tacos?

Who drives by Dairy Queen without stopping for a Blizzard (small, extra Heath)?

But back to the peaches.

I want to hold the fruit in my hand and gently turn the knife around and around along the middle, making a meridian. Lots of meridians to cross between here and home. Lots of lines. This one in the peaches is perfect.

I want to be that moment, after the knife, when if it’s just the right peach, on just the right day (which is always June), at just the right time (which is always 3:00 in the afternoon) when you hold each side and twist. Snap. Not quite a snap though. More like a deep, just-waiting-to-give release.

And now it’s two sides. Eat one. Slice the other. Peel or no. That part's up to the consumer.

I want to be those peaches because in them there are so many memories. It’s like if I become them, crawl inside and live from them all the things that seemed so simple are still there.

Time stands still in those peaches.

If you’re American, you probably remember the school presentations where a local firefighter would come and teach you what to do if you ever found yourself on fire – STOP, DROP and ROLL.

The likelihood that most of us will find ourselves literally on fire, is probably quite slim. The metaphorical fires of our lives, however, burn bright and strong. What do we do about those?

I’d like to propose a new, grown-up set of words: STOP, LISTEN, and CHOOSE.

STOP:

Every one of us has encountered the moment inside when we sense something’s up. That split second when we know that something doesn’t feel right or when the moment feels totally meant-to-be. It’s a sense in the pit of our belly. The first step in addressing our personal emotional fires is therefore – simply to stop. A simple pause, a brief reflection on the moment, three deep breaths is all it takes. Pause. Wait. Be still.

LISTEN:

Your body likes to tell you things. Butterflies in your stomach. Tension in your neck. A smile creeping across your face. Tears, just on the brim. In that pause, allow yourself to listen to what your body is telling you. What emotions are represented in the way your body is speaking? Are your tears those of gratitude, sadness or frustration? Did that smile touch off a memory? Do these sensations trigger a string of related thoughts or cause you to lose track of your thoughts all together?

CHOOSE:

And now what do you do? Here’s where you can make a choice about how best to incorporate what you’ve observed from stopping and listening. Is there something you need to say? How do you say it? What actions, if any, should you take in this moment? Do you need more time to be still? Perhaps a deeper listen? The choice is yours.

Life doesn’t have to be a series of fires you're scrambling to out put.

Stop. Listen. Choose.

 

 

Summer can be a wonderful time to pursue coaching. Seems strange, right? For many expats, summer is the transition season - which means a lot of upheaval and uncertainty.

But over the years I noticed that my clients do some of their most creative and insightful work over the summer months. Here's why:

When we transition, travel, visit family or return home - everything looks different. Often we see our former selves, our former lives in contrast to who we've become as expats. We're asked to explain why we do what we do and for how long we'll continue. We see opinions and habits and perspectives that can feel shockingly different from our own. It can be really overwhelming. We're bombarded with opportunities for reflection. And, if we can harness that a bit - we begin to see shifts we'd like to make or changes that have long been on the horizon. In short - we see more clearly the things we'd like to work on.

Moreover, this time of the year can also mean that we lose our alone time. We experience a great reduction in personal space. Whether we're sleeping on couches or sharing bathrooms - we often find we're without the solitary moments we need in order to feel like ourselves. Coaching gives you 45-minutes per week that is only about you and what you want to work on. Scheduling that time, even when things are hectic, can be an incredible gift and a really powerful way to guarantee some self-care.

This summer, I'd like to make it easier for you to have the time to make the shifts and changes you've been hoping to make.

I'm offering 7 discounted coaching spots from May 1 through August 31, 2017. Each participant will receive six, 45-minute coaching sessions at my regular 4-session program rate of $500. This program is not eligible for additional discounts. All sessions must be completed by August 31. Complete your initial registration here.

Questions? Feel free to email me directly.

Thinking about joining my upcoming Mindful Parenting Workshop in Tokyo? Wondering how you might put the skills you gain to use?

Here are a few highlights of how becoming more mindful has made a difference in my life with kids.

Top 10 Mindfulness-Saved-Me Moments in Parenting

  1. When shopping for 2 hours in the same store while trying to breast feed, change diapers and keep my 3 month old from crying.
  2. While straddling my kicking and screaming toddler so that I could brush his teeth.
  3. When sitting in a chair rocking and rocking and rocking for hours hoping the baby would fall asleep.
  4. When they have a really bad day. When I have a really bad day.
  5. When my child says, “Let’s run!” “Let’s race!” “Let’s play cars!” for the one hundredth time that day.
  6. When my child says, “You’re my favorite person in the world mommy. Will you be with me forever?”
  7. When my son almost died in a foreign country.
  8. When my husband doesn’t do it the “right” way…or when I don’t.
  9. When they say, “I wish we just stayed in one place,” and when they say, “I hope we do this forever.”
  10. When the Internet tells me something I do (or do not) need to know about raising children…always.

There are still a few spots open in the workshop so click here to register today or on the link at the top to learn more! Also be sure to check out this free download of my chapter on mindfulness and parenting from Raising Kids in the Foreign Service.

* Please note: If you're coming to this post from the Tokyo Mother's Group Newsletter link - the information contained in the newsletter is not fully accurate. This event is a workshop (not a summit) and it is NOT being held at the US Embassy, but rather the Embassy compound in Roppongi. Please see below for full details. Thank you! Hope to see you there.

It’s such a cliché, but every parent knows it’s true – time goes too fast.

Author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, published the video above a few years ago and it brings me to tears every time I watch it. As adults, we often lose the ability to see that living is now, that the moment we need to pay attention to is happening right in front of us, that the answers lie, not in tomorrow or the next day, but in what’s in our hearts at this very moment.

When we become more mindful, we wake up to what is happening around us. We can put a child’s eye to the moment – not to forsake all the things we’ve learned in life thus far, but to open up to new levels of creativity to solve challenges we face each day.

Most people know this, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

My Mindful Parenting Workshop is designed to give you that starting point.

In this workshop we will:

  • Explore the link between mindfulness and creativity
  • Create a vision for how you hope to parent when you’re at your highest and best
  • Learn 6 simple mindfulness techniques for in-the-moment awareness
  • Practice an easily accessible tool (The Critical Moment Dialogue) for connecting to your vision and choosing the best action for you when you're facing difficult situations.

This workshop is about:

  • Brushing up on skills you were born with
  • Developing new skills to see possibility when you’re feeling stuck
  • Reminding yourself that you have everything you need to be exactly the parent you want to be
  • Connecting more deeply with life as it happens
  • Sharing with others and creating community around a common goal - becoming a more mindful parent

This workshop is NOT about:

  • Telling you how to parent
  • Making you feel alone
  • Pointing out mistakes you’ve made
  • Giving “expert” advice on what to do with your kids
  • Creating a problem-free existence

The spirit of this workshop is one of learning. I take the approach that we are all in this together. I have children, but I am not a parenting "expert." I’ve been fortunate to have developed my mindfulness practice personally and professionally (as a clinical social worker and certified life coach) over many years, beginning right after my oldest son was born almost 12 years ago. It is a daily journey.

Moreover, I am committed to offering an open, supportive and thoughtful small group experience. It's not always easy to decide to learn new things, to stretch yourself or to admit that some days it all just seems like too much. My intention that this space is supportive and open to all.

I know you will like what you learn here and I'm certain you’ll find it 100% applicable to your daily life.

The content for this program comes from the Personal Leadership framework for intercultural communication. PL is used throughout the world in schools, universities, international corporations and community programs. You can read more about it here. Read my recent blog post on the PL facilitator's training here.

Mindful Parenting Workshop Details

Date:

Thursday, May 11 & Thursday, May 18 from 9:00-11:00 AM

Where:

US Embassy Compound – Roppongi

Workshop Fee:

$60 USD (¥6,000 if paying cash at the door)

Register here.

NOTE ABOUT PAYMENT:

If you'd like to pay online now using credit/debit card or PayPal, you may do so by clicking the Buy Now button below (no PayPal account is needed). Please note that if you use a non-US based card, the fee will be converted to your card's currency and additional fees may be added.

Alternatively, follow the link to the registration form (above) for information on other payment options.




When my oldest son was two and a half, we were putting in a new garden. Part of the process included shoveling loads of rocks from a giant pile into the garden beds. Despite his diminutive size, my son shoveled and shoveled all day, dirty sweat dripping from the tips his long golden curls, dust covering his oversized, white t-shirt, smudges of sand in every rolling crevice of his pudgy face. And he just didn’t let up. He had some monster baby steps to take that day.

I like to tell my clients that baby steps count. They usually respond with a shy laugh. The idea, I think, is that somehow baby steps (even if they do count) are not really up to the level of grown-up accomplishment. Perhaps taking baby-steps is for people who can’t quite make it, I can imagine them thinking.

But what I really want them to hear is that baby steps are a key element to success. Referring to something as a baby step does not diminish its capacity for significance or greatness. In fact, just the opposite is true. Here’s why…

The lead-up is huge.

Think about all the time that an infant puts into deciding to walk. She gets up, she falls down, she starts over. She tries again. She thinks about it. She employs trial and error.

The determination that it takes to get up the nerve to try something new is part of the process. You do the exact same thing in preparing for your baby step. All that work - the lead-up, the trial and error, the critical thinking - is an integral part of the process of doing something challenging.

Everything a baby does is badass.

This is a fact. Babies and toddlers accomplish so much in all those tiny steps! We don’t ever tell them, “Not good enough today baby. You were a little wobbly on the sit down.” Never. We recognize that they’re doing something new and that that alone is worth recognizing.

The same is true for you. We all live each day with our own set up hang-ups and baggage. Sure, we’d like to believe that every last thing we accomplish is done with complete confidence and ease, but that would ignore the fact that life is filled with an amazing number of challenges, shifts, changes, let-downs and surprises. Sometimes “just” showing up means you’re accomplishing some pretty amazing feats.

Babies are freakishly strong for their size.

Right?! Like my son with the shovel – they have no sense of what could possibly hold them back. Babies get a lot of shit done from their pint-sized frames. In fact, the higher, the heavier, the louder – the more committed a baby is to taking it on.

You too are stronger than you think. Anyone who’s ever faced a major hurdle and found themselves quick on their feet, anyone who’s taken on an unbelievable upset with grace and anyone who’s sacrificed their comfort for that of a friend or family member – knows this. When you take on something really big – you find strengths you never imagined you had.

Babies go for it, regardless of the outcome.

Babies might learn what to fear, but at the outset – they are amazingly fearless. They don’t worry about falling because somewhere deep down, their instinct tells them that falling is part of the process.

Hey! You do that too! Even when you think you might not succeed, you try. You give it your all because you know that living from your values, connecting to your authentic self and finding purpose means sometimes you have to be daring.

So there you have it. Baby steps. Every single one’s worth it…so start counting.

 

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I cannot wait to tell you all about the training I went to in the US last week!

I’m a highly visual person. My brain works like those scenes in The Lego movie when the master builders start making new creations. Often it feels like things are just floating around and then the missing piece is discovered and then suddenly –click, click, click – it all comes together.

I’ve been feeling on the verge of that sort of all-clicking-together sensation for months. Last year I listened to this podcast on the Personal Leadership framework for working across cultures on the Tandem Nomads podcast. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of PL before – it combines all the different sectors of my professional experience and it also aligns brilliantly with my personal spiritual and world view. As I learned more about the PL method, I knew that I wanted to become trained as a facilitator and begin integrating the work into my personal and professional life.

Finally, last week I attended the Personal Leadership Training of Facilitators program on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

I'm so excited about this that I find it a little bit challenging to find the words!

Perhaps it’s best to simply sum up what PL is.

The Personal Leadership framework was originally created in the mid-90s by three intercultural trainers/educators who felt that the individuals with whom they worked needed a better way to handle the challenges of intercultural communication. They found that being kind and smart and interculturally competent wasn’t necessarily enough to give people the tools they needed to deal with complex problems in culturally complex settings. So they set about developing a set of guiding principles and practices to help people.

Perhaps the primary context for PL is not that it’s simply something we do at work or with a particular team or group of people in a designated setting. PL is a framework that you can use across your life. PL is supported by two foundational principles - mindfulness and creativity. It is based on the assumption that paying attention to the world around us and approaching challenges from a place of creativity can guide us to making better decisions. Establishing these principles as the way in which we engage with the world enables us to engage from our highest and best selves.

This is something that seems obvious, but one of the things I’ve often run into as a coach is that knowing this and actually doing it can be incredibly difficult for people. The creators of PL recognized this as well and so they established some practices that could help people get to this point. These practices are based on research in multiple fields including - leadership development, intercultural communication, positive psychology and whole-person self-development, among other areas.

Personal Leadership is put into action through the practice of 6 simple tools – Attending to Judgment, Attending to Emotion, Attending to Physical Sensation, Cultivating Stillness, Engaging Ambiguity and Aligning with Vision.

Our training was designed to help us learn how to integrate the PL practice into our own personal and professional experience and to give us tools, activities and a framework for bringing these practices to the people we serve.

As I mentioned before – it was awesome!

The highlights for me were:

  • The incredibly well done integration of the personal and professional aspects of PL. I’ll admit my one hesitation before registering for the training was that the spiritual nature of the practice (no doubt there is one) would detract from the training platform. In other words, despite being a very spiritual, somewhat dreamy person myself, I worried that there wouldn’t be enough science, research, fact or practical application to support the training. It’s not that I didn’t think PL was based on those things….I just wondered how you could successfully bring both. Our training team did an exceptional job with this. In the sense of content – this was classic training format. There was a lot of play, but we were there to work. We were held accountable and we had things we were required to do - most importantly, to show up fully.
  • The combination of multiple learning formats throughout each training day. This was key to supporting us in being fully present with tons of information. There was never a dull moment. In fact, I’d say it’s the first training I’ve ever been to where I don’t remember feeling bored at one point or another. I was never bored. Every moment was thought provoking and engaging.
  • The people. It’s probably not surprising that the Personal Leadership framework attracts people you’d like to be around. This training brought together incredibly thoughtful, insightful, smart and reflective people. There was so much humor and camaraderie combined with real reflection on everything from personal experience to social justice. The space felt really safe. I love my fellow participants. It’s one of those moments where you realize if you’d never had the experience you’d never know these people…admittedly I have those experience a lot in this lifestyle. This one was particularly special.
  • Also, the Whidbey Institute is incredible! Being close to nature, eating from the earth and having so much stillness enriched our learning and, for me, was very much needed after 18 months in the world's largest city.

Really I could say so much more...but I'll wrap up here...

Over the next several months I’ll be working to integrate the PL platform into some of my coaching programs and into my group work and workshops. If you’re part of the US Embassy community in Tokyo – I have an hour-long mindfulness program coming up in April. I’ll be integrating some PL components into that. I may also be doing a two-hour mindfulness program with FEW Japan sometime in late Spring or early Summer. We’re still working out the details, but I plan to include some PL perspective in that as well. I'll post more info on that here when I have it.

Mostly I’m hoping to simply be creative with this! To play and to see where all this leads. I’m looking forward to trying things out and working with some individual clients to support them in engaging a PL practice in their own lives. Stay tuned for specific opportunities, but feel free to email me if you’re interested in learning more. I'd be happy to offer individual coaching or to design something for your group. In other words – let me know if you’d like to be a guinea pig! This is amazing work and I'd be thrilled to have you along on the journey.

A couple of weeks ago Dana Nelson, an American psychotherapist living in France, reached out to me about the possibility of doing an interview for her new podcast program - Mindful Expat.

Of course, my interest was piqued and after taking a look at Dana's website - my answer was an enthusiastic yes!

I highly recommend you subscribe to Dana's series. She offers thought-provoking topics and a laid-back approach to looking at how we grow, connect and stay in-tune in an international lifestyle.

You can take a listen to my interview with Dana here.