In two weeks from today, it is Thanksgiving – that most American of traditions and by far my favorite holiday. I believe deeply that gratitude is the cure for all the things that ail us. With that in mind, I’m restarting the gratitude project, maybe a little late this year, but still every bit as valuable.
Let’s start today by thinking why we are grateful to be women.
With the political news in the U.S. this week, many of us are discouraged, angry, sad. Others are satisfied. Many of us feel devalued and unheard. Wherever you are on that spectrum today, you are welcome here. Pull up a chair – let’s talk.
We always have more in common than seems apparent in the moment, so let’s see each other with open hearts and open eyes today. Let’s listen to our sisters, mothers, friends, and daughters. Let’s hear all the things that make women remarkable, strong, resilient and capable.
If you would like to join me for the next two weeks, I’ll send you a quick email prompt for gratitude every day until Thanksgiving. Sign up here.
I’m leaving Peru. The packing is not done yet, and chaos still abounds, but I am here – in the midst of it, trying to ride the waves of emotion as they come. Sadness. Excitement. Regrets. Elation. I don’t really like all this feeling. I much prefer putting all feeling and experiencing off to a more convenient time – maybe a few years from now. This life we chose doesn’t give us that luxury. Next year will have it’s own waves to ride. And the year after that will too.
It’s a circle really – New place excitement, homesickness, culture shock (of the ugly expat kind), acceptance, finally making friends, new assignment decisions, excitement for the new place, packout, sadness and goodbyes. Repeat every 2 or 3 years.
I have no glib “3 rules to make goodbyes easier” for you. When the goodbyes are easy, I think it means we held back. We didn’t bring our best self, let it all out, share our gifts, work like crazy to make a life here. So what I may offer instead are ways to make the goodbyes hard, and the rewards high.
Be vulnerable. Share. It seems that we always get closer to friends right as we are about to leave. I have wondered if it is because we are vulnerable and open only at the end, when we know we are leaving anyway.
I was at a brunch a few weeks ago with some ladies I had not met yet. I was less than a month away from leaving, and here I was, meeting people I wanted to get to know better. I could have met them all earlier if I actually joined the expat group I always intended to join.
Learn the language, learn the customs, go where the locals go.
I have always said that I would not be the expat bubble kinda expat – the one who goes to the expat school, the expat club, speaks only English, lives in the expat neighborhood. And yet, I understand the allure of the expat bubble – I live much of my expat life in that comfort.
Still, the rewards come when I get in that terrible looking taxi, speak my terrible Spanish, and go in search of the best lucuma, the cobblers’ market, the place where locals buy their fish. We could never fool ourselves that we could live like a local, and making local friends are challenging in some places, but the rewards are so high when we try.
Move in. Unpack every last box. Hang the pictures. Walk the neighborhood. Smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the wave coming. It can be the ride of your life.
Half of 2016 is gone. But half still remains.
I set four goals for myself this year. They were audacious goals – goals that needed me whole attention and focus to become reality. They were possible, achievable.
Now, halfway through the year, I drew a trophy next to one goal, postponed another for at least a year, and have to rethink the other two with new benchmarks.
Goal 1: Our house was completely dejunked. I went closet-by-closet, drawer-by-drawer, and bookshelf-by-bookshelf through every room of this Lima house and sold, gifted, and trashed over 2000 pounds of our belongings. I’m pretty proud. For any expat in a pack-out year, this is a very big deal, as we pay for anything over our weight allowance.
As encouragement for anyone who wants to try this, I will tell you that it was not easy. There were times that I had to get a box out of the house with all speed before I could look at it again. I also didn’t do it alone – not everything in the house is mine and while I made decisions for my kids (they are 4 and 6) I didn’t make decisions for my husband. That is hard.
I will also tell you that it gets easier with every decision. I often went back to a shelf I thought was done, only to notice that one or two things really were not as important as I initially thought. If I can give advise, it would be to do it one room and one shelf at a time.
Sadly, the whole process will have to be repeated once we return to the United States and rediscover the stored belongings we have not seen in four years. I have a feeling it will be easier – if I didn’t miss it in four years, there is clearly no reason to keep it.
Goal 2 has gone completely in the wrong direction – it will have to be put on hold until next year. When I decide to scrap a goal, I always wonder whether I’m not just justifying poor decisions on my part. This time, my reasons are solid, and I’m even more excited than I would have been to reach the goal.
I can no longer reach goals 3 and 4, bar a miracle. While I believe in miracles (two of them live in my house), miracles are not the most inspired way to compel myself to action. I’ll keep these goals, but I’ll lower my measurements. (One of those goals relate to how often I write in this space. I’ll do better. )
Despite my questionable success, I still think setting goals are worthwhile. Knowing what I want from my year allows me to make decisions that supports my values and moves our family in the right direction. I’m grateful for what I was able to do, and excited for the rest of the year.
My word this year is margin. I have created much more margin in my physical space, and as it always happens when I make space, beauty and joy steps in to fill it. Onward friends – this work is always worth it.
Since my boys were very little I have tried to instill small routines in our lives to help them mark time and build a family culture that allows them to feel a sense of belonging. Some rituals have changed… I no longer nurse babies to sleep, or read Goodnight Moon repeatedly snuggled in the rocking chair. These days, they prefer their stories scary, all together on one bed while they jockey for the best position with Dad.
The one family ritual that has been unchanged no matter where we are is family pizza movie night. In Egypt, my oldest (then two) loved helping me to put anchovies on his pizza. (And sadly, he no longer eats them now.) We bought dough from a local bakery – it was always a rather buttery pizza, and the movie of the night was something animated and (usually) Pixar.
While on evacuation in Arlington, the pizzas where often from Trader Joes or a local pizzeria. After all, we had a limited kitchen. The movies where chosen from TV – a luxury for my little guys who have never had a cable subscription!
Here in Lima, I learned to make my own dough, and top it with spanish chorizo and many many olives. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my husband was diagnosed with a wheat intolerance. By now, the ritual is important enough that I have spent many hours perfecting pizza dough that tastes not “good for gluten free” but really good.
We all look forward to pizza movie night. It is the one reliable part of our week, no matter what else is going on.
Want to learn more about family rituals and resilience? I’m teaching a webinar on resilience on March 10th at noon EST. Would you like to join? It’s Free! Sign up here
What makes me lose my way is usually not the life changing stuff, but the small things. Challenges always abound. The to-do list has become a to-do book. Parenting, career, moving, all the things that make our lives beautiful also make it hard. But this month, there was an apparent outbreak of recluse spiders in my house. (Yeah, not amused.) And a broken air conditioner in a hot, el Niño year Lima.
So one, particularly hot day, I stop grumbling by our local market – the only place I can find non UHT milk. There I see this bunch of fresh radishes. They look crisp and cool to my sunburned eyes, and so I bring them home.
I get home, and while my husband makes drinks, I get butter and the local pink salt from Maras, used since before the Inca. Grab the radish by the stem, drag through the butter, dip lightly in the salt. Bite. It takes a while to eat a plate of radishes. We talk. My heart rate slows. We sit around our kitchen table, crunching radishes while the sweat run down the back of my legs.
Those sharp salty radishes are my reset button. My sense of perspective returns, my grateful heart feels restored.
So maybe that’s what resilience is. The ability to sit at a table with the ones we love, slow down to eat radishes and to remember who we are. The ability to reset, see the miracle in the ordinary day, and accept the gift of a cool, crisp radish.
PS: I’m teaching a webinar on resilience on March 10th at noon EST. Would you like to join? It’s Free! Sign up here