Making All Kinds of Summer Memories

There’s no other way to put this – I’m really, really, really into summer. I love the heat. I love the food – eating fresh and light from the garden. I love making a meal out of chips and guac and a nice cold beer. And then there are the long, long drawn out evenings. One of my all time favorite feelings is being tired and worn out from a day in the sun.

So many of the details of my summer memories are wrapped up in my childhood. Growing up in the Texas Hill Country gave my brother and me (and all of our friends) the pleasures of Hamilton Pool, Barton Springs and Pace Bend. And when those places got too crowded or it was too far to drive or it was late at night, there was always swimming at a friend’s pool (or even occasionally in a rumored-to-be-water-moccasin-infested tank…for the under-informed, a tank is what we call a small pond that cows can drink from). We also had lots of lots of barbeque and tacos and chips and salsa and burgers on the grill and Blue Bell. And, well, it really is very, very, very, very hot – it creates a certain way of being…lazy, and relaxed, and kind of tough in a weird sort of way. When I’m here in Texas in the summer I feel completely defined by this part of my past. There’s no place I’d rather be and I spend a lot of time watching my kids as they learn to navigate these weeks of summer that we always spend here.

For those of us nomads that are parents, there’s a point at which we ask ourselves what we’re going to do to make sure our children feel that somewhere is home. For my husband and me, the single most important factor is that our children feel that home is where we hang out hats. The walls may be different, the beds not “truly” our own, the sights and smells and sounds a cacophony of the new and strange, but if we’re together (the five of us) that’s all that really matters. We take time to make traditions that fit our mobile lifestyle and we stick with them through thick and thin.

But in addition to creating a sense of family that goes wherever we go, we’ve also committed to making our hometown (for my husband and me that’s Austin) feel like home. It’s exciting to see that as our children get older, they’re collecting experiences that lay the groundwork for their own fond memories of this special time. The experiences are their own and different from mine – different camps, different places to swim, their own friends and interests, but they’re punctuated by the many things that are familiar to me – the same food, the incessant heat, the long, long evenings that seem to go on forever.

Watching all of this come together (the combination of our never-ending moves abroad along with summers spent back home in Austin) fills me with an incredible awareness of how very special and unique our lifestyle is. I feel the passage of time and know that summer days that seem so recent are now twenty or even thirty years ago for me. I know for sure that my own love of this place with its heat and water and good food and long days is being instilled in them. At the same time, I note with such a full sense of peace and satisfaction, that they’re so blessed to have this and to have all of the other intricate and complicated parts of their international life too. I can’t help but be excited in advance for the incredible mix of memories they’re creating – here in the Texas Hill Country and in so many little corners of the world. Love. Love. Love. Summer.

photo 3-2

 

Baseball…and Other Things That Never Leave Us

Earlier this week my son’s baseball team had the first game of their end of season tournament. This event, and well everything that has happened in the last five months, is so outside the purview of things I ever imagined happening. I assumed we would be wrapping up our family’s final months in Antananarivo. Who knew it would all end up this way.

But, back to baseball. I’m finding myself preparing to miss this weekly ritual that has taken up so much (and by that I mean A LOT) of our time in the last couple of months. The dust of the baseball fields, the now familiar layout of the dugouts and batting cages and concession stand on several acres of land that, up until recently, I’d never been to.

I’m also really struck by the now so well known faces of the parents in the stands. Shockingly, in most cases we don’t even really know each other’s names (mostly we’re so-and-so’s mom or dad). But we’ve developed this sort of easy camaraderie around the ups and downs of the 8U Rangers Georgetown Youth Baseball Association team. With the incredible background of the last 5 months for us, I appreciate seeing these people I barely know a few times a week. And I like them, even in the limited capacity in which I know them.

I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the constant cross-cultural adjustment of our lives as expats. Because everything is always so unpredictable, we tend to see even limited contact with people as significant to the broader need for interpersonal connection. The longer we’re in this life the more I realize that even these seemingly small relationships with people we very well may never see again matter.

This idea serves as a daily reminder of the importance of connecting with others – from a smile genuinely offered to the young woman who serves your coffee to a heartfelt thank you to the loved ones that always seem to be there when we need them the most. And that, in turn, reminds me (as oh so many things do) what a blessing it is to live this life of wandering. For it is in the constant presence of everything new that we surely learn to appreciate the many truths that through time and distance never change.

 

Adventure on Your Own Terms

Recently, I found a box of old photos and letters from the early days of my international adventures. Those were such crazy times. No village was too remote, no sea too shark infested, no meal too meager. As backpackers, my husband and I really loved to rough it. One of our favorite tasks was to see how long we could go on as little money as possible. We were disdainful of tour groups, convenience and any mode of transportation that gave you your own private seat or didn’t include caged (or free roaming) chickens.

While we’ve long-since left behind the backpacker lifestyle, I’m often reminded of the competitive edge that this type of experience implies. It is, in a sense, the “Go Native!” philosophy of travel. It’s the idea that if you don’t strip yourself down and challenge yourself to some predetermined standard of awesomeness, you’re not really living at all and that the experience is without merit or value.

For the record, I’d like us to do away with that notion. Here are my top five reasons why:

  1. Life is not a competition! Yes, life is to be fully lived, but you can only know what full living is when you ask yourself how you want to live. Wanna’ go climb Mt. Everest? Go for it! Prefer to climb the small hill outside town to get a better view of the countryside? That’s fine too. No one person lives the expat life better simply by doing more, having “bigger” adventures or taking on more risk. It just doesn’t work that way. So stop comparing yourself to others and pack your suitcase just how you like it.
  2. You like what you like. I’m all for trying new things. In fact, I love to try new things. But, I wonder why we so often force ourselves to keep doing things we don’t really like. You might move to Japan one day and you might really, really hate sushi. That is fine. Be kind to yourself. Own up to it. Move on.
  3. Your priorities and interests change. We all know this is true, but so many of us feel like if we trade a sleeping bag on the floor of a random person we met on a train for a comfy bed in an actual hotel that somehow we’re selling out. This is not a sell out. This is you deciding that you want a good night’s sleep – nothing more. The same goes for transportation, food, and the amount you’re willing to spend for comfort, ease and safety. It doesn’t mean you’re old or boring or uncool, it means you have preferences. That’s all.
  4. You can’t actually Go Native. This is true. To the extent that any of us are native to any particular place on Earth, we are all unique. We can strive to understand others and help others better understand us. That’s the best we can do. We can always do better to be present in whatever place we seem to have landed, but the minute we think we have arrived is the minute we cease to continue to get to know the new things we see.
  5. You’re evolving and so is everything around you. Life is in a constant state of flux and this is even truer when you get out of your element. There is so much that is unpredictable in the great big world out there. And – look at you! You’re adapting to every twist and turn and always doing the best you can with the information you have available. What more can you hope for? I say cut yourself some slack and enjoy the twisty ride!

So – adventure on! Near or far, here or there. In all ways, exactly as you are now, with an eye on how you hope to be tomorrow.

When In Doubt…There’s Always Flash Mobs

When you move a lot you find surprising ways to perk yourself up. Your typical habits for brightening a rainy day may not exist…no Starbuck’s, no lunch with your very best childhood friend, no quick cup of coffee with your mom, no browsing the crafts aisle at Target. Did I mention no Starbuck’s?

So, you find other ways to celebrate life. One of my favorites? Watching flash mobs on YouTube…especially ones that involve marriage proposals…although anything that combines both smiles and tears can be a winner. All it really takes is 3-4 minutes and the decision to let yourself smile (or cry) and you’ll be all lemonade and absolutely no lemons!

This one’s been making the rounds quite a bit. I love it! Happy Friday Everyone!