Tag Archives: love

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.

* 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.




Last year, in the space of 9 months, we lost my step-dad and both of my maternal grandparents. They were all people who’s influence in my life cannot be overstated.

You know those people who say or do something and you go back to it forever? The people whose words you access when you’re struggling with a decision? The individuals whose embrace, quiet reflection or gentle laugh brings you home even when you don’t know where you are?

Even some of their tiny, little throw-away sentences, things they probably would not even remember having said, now have permanent real estate in my brain. “I can’t really get on board with hell because I know some really nice Hindus,” or “I wouldn’t worry about it. You were dating. That’s what dating’s for.” I’ve filed them all away for reference. Small things may even have become the guiding force of my views on big things like love and spirituality.

I hold on to the fact that if I close my eyes I can still hear their voices. In that sense, they’re not really lost. Of course this means no hugs. But they’re not gone. Mostly I just refuse to believe that they are. I can still know them. Because of the millions of words exchanged between us over most of four decades I can still hear their responses to specific situations. It’s like my own secret panel of advisors.

This is kind of true for all my friends in far off places too. No, it’s not the same, but it’s not completely different either. There are moments when I know a dear friend is sleeping in her corner of the globe. I won’t wake her, but I know what she’d say and what she’d do if she were here. She (the many, many she’s all over) has her own stock of advice that I need to take and embraces that I need to accept. She’s another member of this invisible panel of advisors collected in my deepest thoughts.

And come to think of it – this isn’t just about the people either. All the little rincones of the globe hold their reflections that guide me too. I bet it’s the same for you. When you walk outside in Japan, sometimes you think, “This day feels like Madagascar.” Each place we’ve been has a reflection, a memory, some words of wisdom locked away to guide us.

We move to all these places and we meet all these people, but they don’t leave us.

We close our eyes and we can tread the same path from the fruit stand back to the office without even thinking. We hear the same car sounds and smell the same mix of exhaust and sea and in those moments all the things we learned come rushing back. The one thing she said that day, in the car, in the summer of 1984 that changed your whole perspective of the world. A clink of a glass, the scent of a loved one’s perfume, the feel of someone’s hand in your own – each little memory deepens the map in your mind that leads you back to wisdom.

So it’s not all lost, just a little bit different.

Just because you go from place to place doesn’t make you lost either, maybe just a little bit different.

There’s a lot of wisdom stored in those mental maps you’ve collected. Go ahead. Close your eyes and find it.

christmas-gift

My husband and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts anymore. Actually, we haven’t for years. It was a gradual process that has turned out to be one of my favorite details of our holiday celebrations. The process was accidental at first, but the reasons for our decision are rooted in our desire to live more from our personal values and not from outside expectations.

Of course, like anyone, we have moments where we struggle to find the balance between our values and the demands of a hectic international lifestyle, but this no-gifts philosophy has been a real success story for us. Here’s why.

I come from a gift-giving family. My husband does not. I enjoyed the process of finding the perfect opportunity to share something special. My husband approached it with dread and shame. He never felt like he’d live up to what I’d chosen for him. It was stressful. Something about that seemed really wrong. A gift shouldn’t make you feel bad. So we started to make gifts more simple. Nothing fancy. Maybe a just a book. Socks are fine.

Then, when our children were born their excitement at opening a special gift seemed like a gift to us. Nothing either of us could receive would measure up to the delight of seeing what Santa had placed beneath the tree. We started to get forgetful about our own and we realized it didn’t necessarily matter.

And so the gifts started to fade. They seemed less like a priority. We moved to just filling our stockings. That’s funny too because we realized – we take good care of our needs. We don’t need each other to buy our socks, or underwear, or Chapstick or purse-sized packets of tissue. That’s a lot of effort to fill your sock with stuff you can throw in the Amazon cart when you have a few minutes at work. Why are we doing this again?

About six years ago we started hosting Christmas Eve for our friends and their children. That was always fun. It enhanced the feeling that the real party wasn’t in the presents, but in the company.

Then one Christmas season, 4 years ago, it all seemed to click – we decided to throw a huge Christmas Eve potluck for our friends and neighbors. There were around 80 people and we immersed ourselves joyfully in the planning. The love we felt in setting the stage for a memorable evening for a group of diverse people from all over the world spending Christmas at a remote corner of the globe superseded any gift we could have cobbled together.

That gift – the gift of sharing together in welcoming friends – is now the most special gift that we offer each other.

Habit and tradition are hard to overcome. This is where people often have their values challenged – at the intersection between doing what feels right for us and what we’re told we should do.

The holiday season – whether Thanksgiving, Christmas or the New Year – is a natural time for self-reflection. This year, how will you turn away from the shoulds and must-dos (even if they’re part of tradition) and live more from your values? What do you think you might be willing to give up, if it meant you’d find just a little more happiness or peace under the tree?

curiosity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about curiosity.

We're born to explore and question and discover. In fact, it's through curiosity, along with a healthy dose of trial and error, that we become the people we are.

Unfortunately, we all get a bit freaked out by the trial and error part. Curiosity is awesome until we realize it can get us in trouble. Curiosity killed the cat.

And so, with time and the ups and downs of life we start to silence our curiosity. We fear what we will find on the other side if we question what we see before us. Who are we if we really examine how we feel about ourselves, if we analyze the judgments we make about others and if we peel away the layers of the world around us to reveal what’s underneath? We don’t like it. It scares us.

True curiosity requires the ability to be shocked, saddened, found wrong, and dismayed. It also means you’re ready to be forgiving, dedicated, thoughtful and kind.

Curiosity settles once and for all that life is not this or that, but rather that…and maybe that too…and also that. Curiosity says – I’ll take all that! Sign me up! Join me?

It shows us the awe-inspiring nature of the given moment.

It reminds us we're one of many, while providing the gift of bringing us together.

Curiosity means more reading, more talking, more connecting, more watching, more thinking, more feeling, more wandering. More growing.

Curiosity takes guts, but you’ve got them. I just know it.

Be kind to yourself.These past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I’ve been familiar with Dr. Neff’s work for several years now, but this is the first time I’ve read the book.

Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. I know I’ve become much more self-compassionate over the years, but I didn’t start out that way. It certainly didn’t come naturally to me.

I think having kids switched on a light bulb in my mind, but I also started practicing mindfulness meditation the year after my oldest was born so perhaps the two are linked. At any rate – I started realizing that, more than anything, I wanted my children to be accepting of who they are. Of course, I also want them to learn to be kind to others, to be prepared to learn new things, and to see the ways in which their own choices are intricately woven into the experiences of others.

But I came to realize that the two didn’t have to be separate. You can be true to yourself and still see that your natural habits (perhaps impatience or irritability under stress) might negatively impact others. By being kind and accepting of yourself you give yourself the gift of learning – of saying to yourself, “You know, I can see it’s super hard for you to take a deep breath here, but I think you’ll feel better if you do.”

Anyway, all of that made me realize – if I want that for them, I should probably be making some efforts to do the same thing for myself.

Here are some of the ways I’ve brought more self-compassion into my own life in the past few years:

  1. I take breaks when I need them. This is a hard one for me. I like to be “doing,” but accepting that sometimes taking a break makes me more able to accomplish the tasks I have before me has been huge.
  1. I make every effort to approach myself without judgment. I have personality traits that can make life difficult for me. I can be impatient and I am kind of an anxious person. But instead of criticizing myself for these traits, I try to remind myself that I can respond differently to these natural tendencies if I choose to. More than being something I need to change about myself, these traits are things I need to know about myself so that I can make the best possible decisions for my life and in my relationships with others.
  1. I practice developing a relationship with all of my emotions. There are no good or bad emotions – just the way we feel at a given moment. But, it’s true that some emotions feel good to us and some feel awful. It’s not always easy, but I try my best to welcome all of my emotions as they come.
  1. I seek out the support of people I trust. This has been a big one. For much of my life, I felt the need to hide what I was truly feeling. I tend to be a pretty happy, optimistic person, but no one has only one channel. I don’t think when I was young I ever learned how to really express the whole range of emotions well. Fortunately, in my mid-twenties I started experimenting more with being open about my experiences (both positive and negative) with others. It was amazing to see the benefits of this. I found it alleviated some of my stress and worry, it strengthened my relationships with others and it made me see other people, as I had always wanted to be seen – as someone with a diverse range of feelings.

These are just a few of the ways that I’ve been able to be more loving with myself. We have a tendency to think that in order to succeed we need to be hard on ourselves, but contrary to what some people might assume – these shifts have enabled me to become more productive, more creative, more connected to the people I love and more able to see both ups and downs as part of the inherent human condition.

If you’re interested in becoming more self-compassionate, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Neff’s book. It is full of wonderful information about the science of self-compassion, but it’s highly accessible and also includes real life examples (including her personal story and struggle with self acceptance) and exercises you can do to boost your self-compassion. You can also test your level of self-compassion with her online quiz.

Be sure to also check out my blog post on how to take a break when you need one.

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Sweet sadness

Sweet sadness.

This may be the most quintessential expat emotion.

It’s the simultaneous desire to go and to stay. It’s loneliness wrapped in joy, blanketed in longing, softened by comfort.

Going somewhere can be so sweet - the new adventure, the new friends, the new food and culture. But staying is so sweet too – all those nooks and crannies you’ve come to love, your friends, the strange things that are now familiar. It’s nice to make a home some place.

And going somewhere is sadness too. Saying goodbye to what’s behind is sad. Saying hello to something new – being the stranger, the language-mangler, the wrong-way-doer – is sad sometimes too.

Sweet sadness.

And what’s to be done about it?

Perhaps the only thing is to feel it. Really feel it. Cry and smile at the same time. Admit that this up and down is both good and bad. Know that the coming and the going both matter. Recognize that you are the person you were and the person you’re going to be. You’re both people…even right now. That’s sweet sadness.

Sometimes we’ll say, “This life is so awesome! I’ll do this forever!”

Sometimes we’ll say, “It’s just too much. I am alone. I can’t do this forever!”

But maybe most of the time we say both. It’s okay. Let’s just admit it’s complicated.

Today I had sweetness in a café lunch overlooking the quiet bustle of a Japanese shopping street with my beautiful three-year-old daughter who says smart and funny things and is right before my eyes becoming my very best friend in the world.

And in her I see my mother’s dimples. And then there’s the sadness. I am here in this new and sparkling world of an often-mysterious culture and an unforgiving language that is the backdrop of cute things made of paper and incense and she, my mother, is back there newly widowed, returned briefly to her hometown to care for my grandparents as they enter what is likely the final months of their lives. And maybe part of me knows that part of me should be there. Sadness.

And the two things are mirrored – mother and daughter and daughter and mother. And it is sweet to be here. And it is sadness not to be there. Those things are both happening. There’s no other way to look at it. It is sweet. It is sadness. Sweet sadness.

So I say – I’ll have both – the sweet and the sad. Because in the end, I think, it must be so much deeper and bigger and fuller than simply having it all just one way.

Seychelles Mama

I don’t usually review books here, but increasingly I feel drawn to create an archive of book reviews. I read a lot. Maybe it’s a good idea. People often ask me if I can recommend books about the expat experience or about mindfulness. It dawned on me while reading Tracy Slater’s memoir The Good Shufu that it encompasses both of these elements. So, book recommendation it is.

Slater’s memoir is many things – a beautiful love story, a recounting of deep loss, a journey of someone who must surrender to losing parts of her identity and open to gaining others, a detailed account of her culture shock experience and a tale of friendship and family in unlikely places – but at it’s heart and in each of these different stories, it is a story of waking up.

Here are some lines that capture what I most love about The Good Shufu. I’ll tell you why in a second.

Slater writes,

“But I was learning that in real, messy life, sometimes you can’t fully smooth down the future before it arrives.”

“Perhaps utter vulnerability and pure peace really could coexist, surrender sometimes culminate in quiet joy, not destruction.”

“Now, the friction was between everything being the same and different at the same time. But wasn’t that life? To hold two contradicting truths at one time and to keep on holding them?”

“I spent so much of my early adulthood terrified of losing myself, grasping on to some illusion of having firm control over life, an unshakable plot. But I’m starting to realize that you can’t properly find yourself if you haven’t let yourself get lost in the first place.”

I think one of the reasons these lines speak to me is that Slater is so able to say what so many expats feel and she says it so well. The expat experience is one of constant contradiction – the feeling of not wanting things to change, but knowing we have no option, the desire to be both “home” and “away from home” at the same time, the sense that we’re making a huge mistake and yet somehow feeling that all this mobility just feels right.

It’s nice to read about someone else’s journey and feel we have common ground, to know that we’re not alone in what we experience. However, I think the true gift that we gain in reading The Good Shufu is that Slater teaches us, by sharing her own journey, that it’s not enough to simply recognize this duality – we must wake up to it, get up close and personal with it, and listen to what it may be teaching us.

Slater experiences this herself. It begins to happen when she falls in love with a Japanese man while teaching English to Japanese businessmen for a summer. And she doesn’t just fall. This is real love. The sort of thing that you know is real in some deep-down, never-noticed-before place in your heart even though you can’t figure out why it’s real because…were you even looking for this?

The journey continues when month after month and then year after year she begins to see herself accepting a life that she never envisioned – a life that most definitely wasn’t part of her plan. What she experiences is not all bad or difficult, much of it is better than she ever could have dreamed, but it remains in almost every way, not what she had planned for.

And she sees all that. She reflects on it. It’s not always easy, but she wakes up to it. The contrast, the duality of existence that we feel as expats, provides her with a gift – a new awareness that the storyline can be written, loved and accepted without judgment, as she sees fit.

And this is what Slater shows us over the course of The Good Shufu – that you can have a plan and be laid flat by unpredicted circumstances, that you can feel tremendous depths of sadness while being wrapped in the arms of the person with whom you feel the most joyful, you can be convinced you know the right way while simultaneously being shown you have absolutely no idea. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s not only okay – it’s a chance to live more deeply, more authentically and more in-tune with what’s happening around you.

So why should you read The Good Shufu?

In this funny, conversational and completely down-to-earth memoir, we learn one woman’s story of finding love in and acceptance of the inherent duality of the expat experience. We learn that true contentment can be found in ourselves and in others even when we, or they, stray from our original story line. The Good Shufu is about seeing and learning to accept all the ups and downs and pure confusion that come with real life and knowing that somewhere in there there’s a story worth coming home to.

But above all else, The Good Shufu teaches us the importance of remembering to take a long hard look in the mirror and out the window because there are answers all around us…if we can just let go long enough to truly see.

Get the book here.

outlander quote (1)

The quote above is from the third book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I never thought it would be my type of thing, but the books have captured me completely. It's not really all that surprising though - it's exactly my type of story. They're historical fiction, full of love and war and family. They remind me of my teenage Alexandre Dumas obsession. And they’re about a time traveling Adult Third Culture Kid. I’m hooked.

And lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of these people we become as expats. I can think about myself in all of these different stages in my life and see all the ways in which I’ve changed. Our lifestyle, however, makes this so much more complex. I’ve changed in ways directly related to the life we’ve been living as we move around. I find I’m really happy with those changes. I’m at a place in my life where I feel confident about who I am, but there are times when I’m thrown off kilter. Often those times involve “home” – past surroundings, past relationships, past habits, past roles.

You can see why the lines above struck me.

A major part of making life as an expat worthwhile is agreeing to do the work of constant rediscovery. We have to show up every day prepared to examine how we’re adapting and changing to our new surroundings.

This work can be hard. We get lost in all of this moving. We don’t always know where our old selves stop (or if they do) and where our new selves begin. We must learn to take time to know ourselves inside and out and we must access incredible amounts of curiosity, self-compassion and patience in order to begin to accept all the many parts of ourselves. We need guidance and support and persistence on our journey. We need the comfort of knowing that we’re doing it right. And we are doing it right – as long as we’re being kind to ourselves and others, I don’t think there’s really a wrong way.

So we plug away. Move after move. Trip home after trip home. New friends. Old friends. New sights. Old sights. New house. Old house. New job. Old job. Hard transition. Smooth transition. Forever.

But here’s what I’m convinced of – if at some point we ask all the questions and take time to hear all of the answers, we realize that home, true home, is the space we’re able to create for ourselves in our own hearts. Lucky us – the heart just happens to be the most portable home around.

Just ask...

I love the New York Times Modern Love column. If you’re also a fan, you may have seen Mandy Len Catron’s piece – To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This. In the essay, she talks about a study in which strangers ask each other 36 questions. The New York Times reports that the study, by psychologist Arthur Aron, is designed to see if feelings of love can be accelerated.

The original piece was so popular that the New York Times published the list of questions and now is offering a free app to help people answer the questions with a partner.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows how much I love lists of questions. So, you can imagine, when I first saw the article I thought, “How fun! Maybe we should do that.” Despite the fact that I’m already in love with my husband (going on 17 years!) I thought it could be kind of cool to go through the questions together. But then I forgot about it.

However, last weekend, after wrapping up the dinner portion of our date night and deciding to head over to our favorite coffee house for a little dessert and decaf, I remembered the questions. We decided to give it a go.

We started off rather casually. We already know each other so well. But as we got deeper and deeper into the list, something happened. We started to answer the questions in a whole new way. Often we started off saying, “Well, you already know this but…” Then we found ourselves adding layers of thought and emotion to the stories that maybe we hadn’t previously considered.

Having each other’s undivided attention, we began to tease out the hidden feelings behind some of our responses. Our respective “worst memory ever” and “most embarrassing moment ever” became almost like new stories. More than just facts now, they were filled with new insight and new reflections.

It really was an incredible experience. We feel like we share everything and yet I know we both completed the questions feeling like we expressed thoughts, ideas and emotions that we hadn’t previously voiced. More than once we teared up. More than once we told each other something we hadn’t said before.

What we did most of all was listen, reflect, respond and reach out to each other. We don’t technically need a list of 36 questions to do that, but somehow the questions provided an additional layer of focused task and permission. Our life is full – with work and 3 kids and moving all over the world. The questions removed us a bit from the day to day. They were about us and they enabled us to focus completely on each other.

Most of the time it feels impossible to give our undivided attention to our friends and loved ones. Even those of us who truly try to, still fall short. But what a nice reminder these questions were. When we ask and then wait for a response, we have the power to deepen our relationships tremendously.

I highly recommend checking out the article and spending some time with the questions and someone you want to know better...or someone you already love. You may find you learn something you never knew about him or her...or even about yourself.