Book Review – The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater

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.

My Japanese Toilet Teaches Expat Life Lessons

Untitled design (1)

My 3-year-old is scared to death of Japanese toilets. Maybe you’ve been to Japan so you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you haven’t, but you’ve heard about them. I mean, they’re kind of like Japan’s most famous weird thing…from the perspective of the non-Japanese out there, that is.

She’s scared because our first night here she stared down into it as my husband did his best to decipher the various buttons. A face full of toilet water will do that to a toddler. Nothing we’ve been able to do can convince her they’re safe. My friend tells her daughter it’s a car wash. I like that idea, but it hasn’t turned things around for us. I’m afraid there’s no going back.

But, I’m not one to typically avoid the daunting…at least not for long. This week, 2 months into our life in Japan and armed with Google translate (although without a face mask, which would have been, in retrospect, a good idea), I decided to get to the bottom (figuratively!) of our Japanese toilets.

I soon discovered that the steps for figuring out my Japanese toilet were not unlike some of the biggest keys to mastering transitions as an expat. In fact, I found 4 specific expat life skills just waiting there for me on that piece of porcelain!

One: Start with what you know. No matter where you go in the world, you come in with a pre-existing set of skills, habits and bits of knowledge. Despite what it might feel like, you’re not born anew as a baby every time you move. So remember to always start with what you know, access those skills first and offer up those abilities when possible (especially when you feel new and a bit like you have nothing to offer). In the case of the toilet – I can read hiragana and katakana (the two Japanese phonetic alphabets). With this I was able to know – that button turns on the bidet (ビデ) and that word says おしり (which I can lookup…and which I now know means buttocks).

Whew! Two items deciphered – now to phase two.

Two: Pay attention to the clear and easy. So often we are so blinded (and frankly, blindsided) by our moves that we don’t even notice the things that are clearly marked. We forget to pay attention to things like hunger, exhaustion, illness, frustration or sadness. These normal experiences can get buried under the sea of the unfamiliar. We benefit from finding ways to take time out to pay attention to these emotions, physical feelings or logistical questions. What’s this got to do with my Japanese toilet? Well, the toilet comes complete with a few illustrations. So, the photo of the butt with water spraying up should be pretty obvious. Push that button and I doubt the results will take you (too much) by surprise. When in doubt – go with the obvious.

But, what if even after using the skills you already have and reading the clearly marked signs, you still feel lost?

Three: Get help with the confusing stuff. I’m a firm believer in the power of community. It’s not always easy to ask for help. We’re often trained to believe that it means we’re weak, stupid, lazy or needy. I’m here to tell you that that is simply not true. We need others. We need community. We need helpers. My clients (and friends) that are able to reach out for support consistently adjust to new experiences better than those who suffer their troubles alone. In the case of my Japanese toilet, Google translate was my very best friend. She mostly gave me helpful answers and only occasionally (I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?) provided complete mistranslations like “toilet seat flights.” On the other hand, if this thing flies I’m totally signing up for that adventure!

So you’ve moved, you’re unpacked and you’re flying off into expat happiness on your Japanese toilet seat. But wait! There’s one more important step to mastering transition.

Four: Just go for it. Sometimes you’ve just got to get in there and do your best. You will get lost sometimes. You will feel like crap sometimes. You will definitely feel lonely, lost, confused and completely out of sorts. But, you will learn and you will get better every single time. As for the Japanese toilet? Well, go ahead and sit down…it can’t be that bad of a ride.

Wanna’ get better at tapping into your best expat self? Check out The Expat Activity Book on Kindle and paperback and my latest coaching offers here.

 

 

What Does It Take to Make Friends?

10 Best Habits of Socially Adaptable Expats (2)

Whenever we transition to a new place I find myself continually amazed at how adaptable to new social situations the typical expat is. I’m certain that not everyone is an extrovert or 100% comfortable in large groups or even small coffees, but I do see people, repeatedly, stretching the limits of their comfort zones in an effort to make new friends.

I think most people, especially those for whom this extroversion doesn’t come naturally, have to practice at it. Most of us probably start out completely overwhelmed, but little by little we learn what works for us and we find ways to meet and greet and form friendships in ways that we wouldn’t have done if we’d never left the comforts of our home countries.

But what is it that makes someone easy to get to know? Why is it that some people seem to move so seamlessly into conversations with others? What skills do the most adaptable expats employ in conversations with new people that solidify their chances of turning a casual conversation into a lasting relationship?

In my experience, the most adaptable expats approach new relationships with a combination of the following 10 skills. Which ones do you use? Which ones do you think you’re ready to add to your personal tool kit?

  1. Make a habit of being curious about other people. There’s nothing quite like knowing that other people are interested in what makes you tick. When you ask people about themselves, it’s a compliment. So while you’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell your story, make sure to take time to get the scoop on someone else’s journey as well.
  1. Be self-deprecating. Moving is hard. Transitioning from place to place can leave us feeling overwhelmed, scattered, lost and alone. Even the most skilled expats struggle from time to time. Being able to admit your faults, failures and discomforts shows your potential friends that you’re human and that makes you more approachable.
  1. Be honest, but tactful. When you’re meeting new people, they are trying to feel you out, get to know you and understand what you’re all about. And, of course, you’re doing the same to them. It’s normal that you will have some interests that overlap and others that differ. There’s no need to pretend you like or are interested in something that you’re not. So, be honest…but remember, be mindful of making your differing perspective seem like a criticism of your new friend’s preferences.
  1. Think of the other person’s feelings. It comes quite naturally to most of us to ask people about the practical aspects of their lives – When did you arrive? What type of work do you do? Do you have children? However, many of us struggle with the more personal questions we need to ask in order to build relationships. How are you hanging in? Are you missing home? Are you feeling stressed? People who develop the skills necessary to comfortably ask more personal questions are laying the groundwork for stronger and deeper friendships.
  1. Say something complimentary. You are going to meet people with whom you have very little in common, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be nice. When you meet someone, be on the look out for the things that impress you about that person. Make sure to share your impressions with the people you’re getting to know. Everyone likes to know they’ve been noticed and sharing your positive impressions helps people recognize that they’ve truly been seen.
  1. Follow-up. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of the transition process. We meet so many people in the first few weeks we’re in a new place. Countless times we say things like, “We should get together,” or “Let’s grab coffee sometime.” Expats don’t have the luxury of letting these invitations go. So, if someone strikes you as being an ideal new friend – take a couple of minutes to email, call or text him or her. Don’t let the opportunity to deepen your relationship pass you by.
  1. Say “yes,” to invitations or offer alternatives. Try to say yes to as much as you can – especially in the first few weeks. Of course, it’s incredibly important to make sure you allow plenty of alone time to adjust at your own pace, but saying yes to outings or activities once or twice a week can be a great chance to strengthen new relationships. If you’re genuinely not interested in the activity (like, say, scuba diving), suggest an alternative (“Hey! I’ll happily sit on the boat and drink beer while you dive in that shark infested water!”).
  1. Branch out from “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Challenge yourself to come up with new and creative questions that will stand out and make your interaction memorable. Jot them down somewhere, commit them to memory and be prepared to practice them in new social settings.
  1. Use social media to find like-minded individuals. I think one of the most exciting changes to living as an expat, has been social media. When I studied abroad for the first time in 1997, there was no Internet, no Facebook and no Twitter. Now you can get to know people even before you arrive in a new country! It’s a great way to start to put a face to your name and begin the process of seeing whom you might connect with once you get where you’re going.
  1. Know yourself and be confident in what you have to offer in a friendship. I saved the best for last! This is the most important one. People who really know themselves and who are confident about who they are, are easier to trust, easier to get to know and usually easier to be around. Make a habit of personal reflection. If this is a struggle for you – seek the support of a coach, read self-help books that can help you learn the skills you need, practice journaling or talk with friends and family who know you best and who can help you in learning more about yourself.

Link-UpImage

All The Many Ways You Feel…

My Beloved Emotional Roller Coaster

So we made it! We’re back in Japan after fifteen years away and we’re back abroad after about 18 months in the States. There’s no other way to say it – YAY!! It feels so good to be back to our typical way of living.

I think in some sort of way I didn’t know it would feel this way. Maybe I didn’t even know how much I was missing our international life. Somehow I’m not sure I realized how being back abroad would feel more like home than “home” really did.

But you know what? The most awesome part of all of this is that despite feeling so good about being back – I don’t actually feel perfect! I don’t feel good all the time! I haven’t slipped peacefully back into life here oblivious to the ups and downs of culture shock. What I am doing is feeling all up close and personal with the whole range of thoughts and emotions that come from living life as an expat. Most of them are actually really nice and happy and welcoming, but some of them are, naturally, not sweet and cozy emotions.

Like anyone who is going through a major transition sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed, turned around, confused and exhausted. I’ve been doing this long enough that these feelings aren’t plaguing me all the time, but they’re there – sometimes really big and loud and sometimes just quietly in the background.

As strange as it may sound, I’m finding old friends in the whole host of emotions that live inside me when we’ve moved to a new place. These emotions are so familiar to me during transition. Even when they don’t feel so nice, I’m finding now more than ever I’m able to say, “Oh, it’s you again Anxiety-About-Getting-Lost-Down-Unfamiliar-Streets? Welcome home!”

What surprises me this time around (this is my sixth international move), is that these emotions don’t scare me anymore. I know they’re here. I know they’ll likely be gone soon and I know they may reappear from time to time. They are actually a part of me and a part of my expat experience that feel completely familiar. With all the new stuff, there’s something really nice about experiencing something I’ve known before, even if it is a handful of emotions most people would try to avoid.

And so, with the ups and downs and all the in-betweens, I think I can officially say – we made it! I’m home.

That Was Then…This is Now

That was then...

In less than one month we leave for Japan – almost exactly fifteen years from the day we left. So much has changed. The person I was then – a 23 year-old, recently married, college grad who was just beginning a career (in the end, a rather short-lived career) as a teacher – is both intimately connected with and very, very distantly related to the person I am now.

Japan will be the first foreign country I’ve ever called home and then returned to, to call home again. And like those before and after shots of people who’ve lost a hundred pounds or gotten complete make-overs, I have this sense of all of the emotions and thoughts and assumptions wrapped up in my first time there running parallel to what my experience will be like this time.

For the most part I’ve been ecstatic about our return. Our time in Japan was a good one. Not without its challenges, but good nonetheless. Living in Japan was the first significant opportunity I had to learn to let go of what I thought to be true and accept a different, subtler truth that comes from recognizing for the first time that we all live completely from our own perspective. Of course that journey’s ongoing and has been paved with ups and downs, but without a doubt one of my biggest personal mantras was born out of my time in Japan –

The minute you’re certain you know, you stop knowing anything at all.

So there’s this strange dynamic to going back this time. Having lived in Japan before, I know so much more about what it’s going to be like. That’s comforting. But I also recognize that the key to survival is recognizing that my assumptions and beliefs must be filed away for reference, not written out like a game plan for my survival. Things will be different. I’m different. This has seemed a bit daunting – knowing what it’s going to be like and simultaneously remembering that things will have changed. However, I’ve recently come to the realization that this filing and sorting of past experiences is something most expats (myself included) do all the time.

I can most easily relate this to what it’s like to go home. In the course of our international adventures, I’ve come and gone home from Austin countless times. In the early years, it would upset me that it wasn’t the same, that I wasn’t the same, that things felt different and that for all the ways I felt perfectly at home, there were all these ways in which I could never feel the same sense of belonging again.

However, with time, I’ve learned to see and then file my assumptions and beliefs away. I don’t ignore them, but I don’t live by them either. I can pull them out, check their validity, wonder about their reality, but I don’t have to use them as my only guide. Keeping my eyes and heart wide open without needing anything to be a certain way, seems to work much better for me. I can’t say it is always easy…but there’s no question it makes me feel happier, more at peace and more satisfied with whatever actually unfolds before me.

I think this is one of the biggest keys to living more mindfully as an expat. When we develop the ability to know that things may not always turn out the way we expect them to and when we learn to recognize that our past experiences provide us with only part of the insight we need to understand our current situation, we can more fully settle into a place of curiosity and contentment. From that place, we’re more open to appreciating what we may find upon landing in a new home- regardless of whether or not we’ve been there before.

Japan will be like this I think. It will be both somewhere I know and somewhere completely unfamiliar. My mental file will help me make sense of things when I need it to, but some of the aspects of Japanese culture and language that I most remember will likely turn out to be irrelevant this time around. In fact, even some aspects of my own personality will fit (or not fit) differently than they did before.

So, with just a couple of weeks to go, I’m comforted about returning to a place that holds so many memories and excited to know that there will still be so much learning left to do. And then there’s sushi…so, you know, how complicated can it all really be?

This blog post is linked at these great expat websites. Click on the links below to find it and other great expat blog posts! #MyGlobalLife Blog Link-Up and #ExpatLifeLinky

Link-UpImage

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Is a Move on Your Horizon?

1

Somebody pinch me. We’re moving again. I recently thought it would be kind of interesting to count how many times I’ve moved in my life. I gave up around 28. I figured more than that and I was probably splitting hairs. At any rate, this summer will be my sixth international move, my fifth with my husband, and our third with children.

I’ve written a lot about the weird combination of normalcy and complete disruption that permeates this lifestyle. Personally and professionally I see expats deal with incredible stressors and keep on thriving. What is it that makes some people seem to ride this mental and emotional roller-coaster with such ease?

In my experience, people who handle transition the best are often using what I like to call The Three R’s – Rest, Regroup and Reclaim.

  • Rest – Okay, so this one might seem obvious. All of that packing and moving and traveling and (jeez, what a nightmare…this list could go on forever) is exhausting. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but it really is tiring beyond belief. And it’s not just because transitioning makes you busy. It’s also because mentally and emotionally we’re constantly stretched to our limits. However, individuals who are able to maintain a certain degree of down time get through this process so much easier. I’m not just talking sleep here. This can be taking time for exercise, going out to dinner or coffee with a friend or your partner, neglecting the to-do list for an afternoon or quietly reading a book. Our minds, our hearts and our bodies need this time. It’s essential to maintaining clarity and a sense of calm in what is often an incredibly un-calm place to be.
  • Regroup – Transition can throw us into a sort of tunnel vision. We get our “shoulds” and “have tos” stuck in our heads. Sometimes we don’t even really pay attention to our to-do list, we just do the things that are on it, automatically, absent-mindedly. However, the most successful expats I’ve worked with are ones that regularly and willingly take a second look at that long list of tasks and throw out the things that aren’t necessary. They’re also the people who take time every few days to ask themselves, their family members and their partners if they’re still on the same page. They’re incredibly open to admitting if Plan A isn’t making sense anymore and they then move thoughtfully to Plan B. Expats who regroup are able to reduce stress because flexibility and openness are a natural part of their transition process.
  • Reclaim – I love this one! There are so many seeming rules to this lifestyle. For every person that tells you to make local friends, there will be someone else who encourages you to create a community of fellow expats from your home country. For each parent who swears by the local school system, there is another that cannot imagine anything other than an international school. We’ve all been trapped in the middle of these competing narratives. In my own experience, however, the most well-adjusted expats are the ones who are able to reclaim their own narrative. These individuals are able to view the competing options and opinions as pieces of information, but don’t feel compelled to make decisions based on the views of others and they repeatedly reclaim their story when they feel like they’ve swayed from what is most important to them.

So, what does this mean for most of us – especially if we read this and realize we’re not exactly living by The Three R’s?

Here are some things you can do to give your Three R’s a boost:

  • Write The Three R’s on a sticky note and place them somewhere visible as reminder to reevaluate on a regular basis. Or, click here to print my snazzy reminder notecard.
  • Spend time each day, even just a few minutes, thinking about how you feel about where you are and what you’re doing. If you like to write, journal about this. If writing’s not really your thing, then just go for a walk or a drive or even just sit for a while and think about The Three R’s.
  • Ask yourself some questions like the ones listed here.
  • Make a coffee date with your partner, best friend or confidant. Talk it out.
  • Work with a coach. Learn more about my work here, see what packages I offer here and check out my latest summer discounts here.
Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Home

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.

My Tana Kitchen (Home Poems)

6a0133f3e55887970b0176166f4e52970c-800wi

One of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of the Families in Global Transition Conference this past weekend was the way in which personal narrative – both written and spoken – was taken as an essential part of processing the expat experience. I’ve written about personal narrative before and in The Expat Activity Book I even provide an exercise on using one’s story as an insight tool, but there was something incredibly moving about being surrounded by people for whom the process of transitioning one’s story from the heart to the page was seen as a given.

One of the most memorable moments of the conference for me was when I attended the Writing Your Way Home: Capturing a Sense of Place session led by expat writer Nina Sichel and Tales from a Small Planet Literary Editor Patricia Linderman.

During the session we were prompted to write about a place that we had called home. The clock had already started ticking when I scribbled “Tana Kitchen,” down in my notebook.

As I began to transport myself back to the kitchen in our house in Antananarivo, I couldn’t believe how quickly the memories started coming and how emotionally charged the process of writing about it even for just five minutes became. It was impossible to hold back tears. Our kitchen had been my entry into every single day of my life in Madagascar. And the experience of mentally and emotionally revisiting that space holds important keys for me even now.

As I’ve taken more time since the conference to write about my Tana kitchen, I’ve come to realize that I want the process of discovery through story telling to be accessible to every expat. Moreover, I like the idea of supporting people through that process. As a coach, it is something I want to increasingly make a part of my practice.

So, what about you? Do you have a place that moved you…or moves you still? If you revisited it in writing, would it give you new insight, growth or perspective?

I encourage you to give it a try. Close your eyes. What do you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? What do you come to know about yourself and your experience when you go there?

And for now, let me invite you into My Tana Kitchen.

The first place I stepped into upon our arrival “home” to Madagascar was that kitchen.

I can close my eyes now and feel my feet that first jet-lagged morning stepping from the hardwood floor of the entryway onto the tiny, grey, perpetually dusty, black grouted tiles of that kitchen. The floor was always so smooth, but really, no matter how much we Lalaina cleaned it, always had that layer of dust.

But not the red dust that settled everywhere else, this was a grey, speckley dust. Maybe it was dehydrated mold. Is that possible? Mold was always an issue in that kitchen.

We had so much light in our Tana kitchen. An entire wall of windows and then, nestled with just enough space between our ridiculous American fridge filled with French things and vegetables and UHT milk in boxes, and the old sideboard, was a big French door with a view to our hulking, green generator, some pavement, a 10-foot, red adobe wall and the mango tree.

And we’d always want to leave that door open even though the screen had lots of holes and mosquitos would sneak their way in through them. We’d want to leave it open because that’s where you’d watch the rain roll in. And that’s where Lalaina would sit and close her eyes in the afternoon and rest, but never nap. And when the rain would finally shift from rumbling to falling, you’d want to wait as long as possible to close up the door because the breeze through the curtains and the musty, wild smell of the rain felt so good. But then the dusty tile would start to get wet and slippery and you’d finally give in.

Those ugly pink curtains will never leave my mind. Who chooses the curtains in these houses? So much pink…accented with gold. Why? I guess I think maybe the thought was that a woman would be spending lots of time there. And she’d like pink. Funny. And the salmon-colored tile of the countertops…impossible to roll out a pie crust there. Pie crust? Hm…maybe I am the woman they thought might be spending a lot of time in there.

And then there was that big oak sideboard. You know, I kind of liked it. It was the old-school Embassy stuff. The stuff that’s so old that it’s now retro and kind of nice and quirky. Not like the new old stuff from the 80’s that is now, quite simply, just old. Anyway, the top drawer, where we kept all of our Ikea forks and knives and spoons and the tea ball that I move from home to home and never use, was broken. So every time you would open it, it would fall out. Swish, Dunk, Ting! Swish, Dunk, Ting! It saved our toes though. It never fell out all the way. Of course, this was unlike the stools.

Three very heavy, pale-oak-colored Malagasy stools perpetually took up more space than necessary in that kitchen. Utilitarian. And heavy. I’m not kidding here. I mean, really heavy. In our first few weeks one fell on Sam’s toe and he lost his toenail. And my shins were banged up for almost two whole years of running into them as I rounded the corner and, for some reason, forgot that they would be there. And they always made this deep, low screeching sound as they slid across that slightly dirty floor. We were always scooting them around because they were always in the way. And yet we never got rid of them. Utilitarian. They were useful. For sitting on to rest without napping and for teetering upon to get a glass from the high shelf.

From that kitchen, every little corner of that strange house was accessible. If not by sight, then by sound, I knew where everyone was.

In the morning, I would watch as the guards made their way around the house, inspecting things like the pathways of lizards, the stealing of mangos from the part of our tree that hung over the street and the breaking down (once again) of the generator. And I could hear parties from next door. And the clarinet sounds that would blow through our 30-foot jacaranda trees as our musically gifted neighbor filled his free time with song. When friends would come over I could see them asking the guard for entry. “Madame Amy est ici, Madame.” Madame Lourdes. Madame Lisa. And on and on.

And then in the evening, as the children bathed and did homework and I cooked yet another meal from the small list of ingredients to which we ever had access and the chirping of birds gave-way to the creaks of nighttime insects, I’d hear the front gate squeak and “Bonsoir Monsieur,” meant my single-parent day had ended and my back-up was there to embrace save me. All from that kitchen.

That kitchen let us in and let us out. Each morning I would open the metal-latched, heavy wooden, pink-curtained window above the sink. Click. Thudunk. And all of these things would come into my life. And the day would be good because it was consistent and peaceful and nature would be right at the very edge of our shelter…and sometimes even come right in. And then each night, as we prepared to settle down under mosquito netting, we would ask the world to wait safely outside. Thudunk. Click. Locked back up again. The sun would come up and then again it would start all over. One day after the next.

And even though we’re gone now from that home, I realize we’re always surrounded by these bookends. Click. Thudunk. Thudunk. Click. We arrive. We stay. We leave. It’s the life. And while it might be hard sometimes, all this coming and going, it’s packaged nicely when you think about it. There’s one side. Then there’s the next. And oh, how nice, all that stuff in the middle.

Expat Life Linky

Welcome 2015!

AWESOME

Happy New Year from World Tree Coaching! As I find myself today coming out from the isolation of having been home with my kids for almost three weeks, I realize I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.

Actually, I was realizing that all along. Only now that I sit down in front of my computer and take the steps to get organized do I realize what all that entails.

While I’ve been pretty quiet on the blogging front these past couple of weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the New Year and what this time of year means to most of us. Even if you’re not a resolution-maker, there’s something about the New Year that forces us to examine the past and look ahead to the future.

Right now all over the internet you’re going to see post after post telling you exactly how to create your resolutions, keep your resolutions, fine-tune your resolutions, pick the best resolutions….and even some that will tell you to ditch resolutions all together. So much telling!

In light of so much telling, I’m going to try not to get too tell-y or preach-y here. But, I would love the opportunity to remind you that genuinely reflecting on who and where you are is a good thing. In fact, whether you’re really a resolution-maker or not, probably one of the best things you can do for yourself in 2015 is take a nice long look in the mirror and get up close and personal with the person looking back at you.

So in the spirit of curiosity and inquiry (not telling), I’m just gonna’ pose a few questions…

Is it possible that all you really need to get started on 2015 is to love yourself a bit more?

What would happen if you were to stop putting yourself down, comparing yourself to others and wishing things were different than the way they really are?

What if, even though there are things you’d like to do differently, you told yourself that you’re really enough just as you are?

Imagine confronting life’s challenges (spoiler alert: there’s no escaping the hard times) knowing that yes, you are really doing all you can.

And, what if, after taking more time to know and be yourself, all that other stuff you’re adding to the resolution list seemed so much clearer?

And what if all this wasn’t just silly, cheesy, random fluff?

It’d be pretty amazing, wouldn’t it?

Throughout 2015, my goal will be to continue helping people rediscover that they’re enough…more than enough really. I want my clients, my friends and my family members to know that their challenges and their strengths work in tandem to create a fully capable and loving person. Confession: I even want to keep reminding myself of that.

So, Happy New Year from World Tree Coaching. May your year be filled with plenty of time to be you. And, in being you, may you find the clarity, hope, love and fun you’ve been searching for.

I’m currently scheduling clients for February and March. If you’d like to work with me in 2015 – click here to learn more.

That Was So Embarrassing!

My husband once asked the staff at a hotel in Guatemala if we could have more Satan paper in our room. He meant toilet paper.

Sound familiar? As expats we perhaps have the longest list imaginable of embarrassing moments. It feels at times like we’re living in a never-ending cycle of “Gotcha!” I mean, seriously, where are the hidden cameras?!

Frankly, it sucks to feel embarrassed. Your face gets all red, your palms sweat, your heart races, imagines of crawling under the covers and going back to bed loom large.

The good news is – we’ve all been there. Embarrassment is just part of the human experience and while you can try to minimize embarrassment or the effects of it, it’s fruitless to try to completely eliminate it from your life.

But, would you believe there’s even more good news? Check this out (and read the full article here):

Researchers have found that people who display embarrassment at their social transgressions are more prone to be liked, forgiven, and trusted than those who do not, and, as a result, their embarrassment saves face (Keltner and Anderson, 2000). Even teasing and flirtation, which provoke and evoke embarrassment in the targeted person, are motivated by the desire for increased liking (Keltner & Anderson, 2000). So embarrassment is a good thing, even if at the time you experienced it you wished it never happened.

Could it be that embarrassment may be one of the major keys to living a deeper more fulfilling life as an expat? I’m thinking maybe so…

Think about it this way – every time you say the wrong word in a foreign language, inadvertently commit a major cultural faux pas, wear the wrong shoes in the wrong place at the wrong time, shake hands instead of kiss, laugh instead of cry (or cry instead of laugh) or many of the millions of other things that can happen in this crazy cultural mix – you’re telling those around you – I’m Human!! You’re presenting yourself as real, authentic, natural and willing to make mistakes in the process of getting it right. How’s that for awesome!

So, go ahead and march right on out of the bathroom in your potty shoes (ooops, that may have happened to me more than once in my Japan days)! Smile, genuinely say sorry, and keep right on moving towards your much improved You!