Always Grateful

Always Grateful

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.

How to make goodbye harder

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.

Make friends.
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.

Join groups.
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 Full – 2016 so far.

Half Full – 2016 so far.

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.

%22You are what you are today because of the choices that you made yesterday; if today isn't the best day of your life, make choices today that will change your tomorrow!%22 - Rudelle Thomas`.

Pizza Movie Night

Pizza Movie Night

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.

blog-4262While 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 

The lesson of the radish

The lesson of the radish

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.

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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 

Just the beginning

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This is me, at the Johannesburg airport, saying goodbye to my family and life in South Africa. I was mostly excited about the new adventure.  I knew my parents made this decision with my best interest at heart.  Just blocks from my boarding school in a quiet tree lined neighborhood of Johannesburg there were taxi shootouts. It wasn’t safe to be on the streets.  Oh, and my dad told me cars were cheap in America.  What teenager doesn’t love that prospect?  While we lived in different countries before that, the move at seventeen was where my expat journey began.  See that smile, that exuberance?  It was a while before that girl came back, and like anyone who has moved will tell you, she was never the same girl again.

We all carry with us pieces of every place we have lived and every culture we faked our way into until we understood enough to make it day to day.  And every time we leave, those pieces we carry make us foreign, different, and less able to fully be one of our peers in the next place.

It is impossible not to search for connection, for belonging.  So in every place we make friends.  We develop shared jokes and inside stories.  We attend the same events and learn the same language.  We shop together; maybe we vacation together.  When you become a mom those friends become your support network, you sounding board, your advice when you don’t understand the pediatrician, your source of referrals when your elderly dog gets sick.

Next, predictably, one of you moves on.  You throw the best send-off you can.  You try not to make teary goodbyes. You tell each other you will see each other again – maybe together at another post, maybe a vacation, maybe home leave.  You know, even if you do, it will never be the same again – the morning walks, a glass of wine after dinner, seeing each other at the school drop-off line.

For our kids, it is similar.  Maybe the conversations are different, the shared jokes generally about poop. (Forgive me; I have a four and almost six year old.  The jokes are all about poop… Unless they are about gas.)

As they get older they ask me about other places they have lived as they spin the globe.  Did I have a best friend in Egypt? Did you love me when I was a baby in America?  Can we have bunk beds in our next house?  Will my teacher move too?  Who will move first, my friend or me?  Will they speak my language at school?

This is why I learn everything I can about resilience.  If moving is the one of the most stressful life events (lists I’ve seen rank all the way from eighth to third), we need to be prepared.  Every kid needs resilience to negotiate growing up but our expat kids need it even more.  We share rituals, we tell stories, we talk about emotion, and we try to be consistent parents.  We learn more geography than ABCs.  My son may not be reading yet, but he can find the obscure countries where his friends live easily on a map.

I work hard to build in the rituals and discussions experts tell us will make my family more resilient.  I also do it for that girl in the picture, so that she can keep seeing joy, opportunity, and beauty.

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 

January reads

If you have read this blog for any length of time you probably know that I LOVE books. This year, I’d like to recommend some of my favorites every month. I will share books related to expat life or books on living with simplicity, beauty and joy. On occasion I may throw in a fun read or something we’ve enjoyed as a family.

Since I’m organizing for our next move, (and in keeping with having more white space) I want to share some finds with you.

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SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck by Julie Morgenstern.

This book is great when you feel stuck. Many things that may have served you well in a previous phase of your life, no longer work. (I’m looking at you Finance books on the bottom shelve!) Even if these things were once valuable, they are no longer relevant or useful. By opening up space and time, you free yourself to become unstuck. The concepts apply to your physical environment, time and habits. I found the section on cutting down your calendar and to-do lists to be particularly challenging and also insightful. She shares some really graceful ways to escape commitments that no longer work and to say no to filling up your calendar with activities that don’t fit you life.

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I’m sure you’ve heard about the phenomenon that is Marie Kondo and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” My initial take on this book was laugher, laughter and more laughter. It was quite clear that Ms. Kondo did not have children or live with a husband who has collections of fraternity t-shirts, pens, books, favorite rocks… Not that we have any of that. Ahem.  If you read the book on the premise that you can only control yourself and your own stuff, it is an inspirational read.

She scoffs at most conventional wisdom –  she insists “tidy a little every day and you’ll be tidying forever.” She advocates “a once in a lifetime event of putting your house in order”, and then simply putting things back where they belong in daily life. While I never seem to have a block of time big enough to do a whole house (see comments on kids etc above) I have found myself walking through the house mumbling “don’t put it down, put it away.” This “once” philosophy doesn’t really deal with toys or outgrown clothes very well either, so I think an annual or semi annual “event of putting your house in order” is probably more our speed. In a way, expat life makes it easier: we are forced to declutter and tidy every three years when we move (oh weight-limits, how I love and hate you.)

Her advice to tidy by category instead of location is inspired. For example, I keep some pens, markers, office and art supplies in my bedside table for journaling, in the backpack I take with me when I go to work elsewhere, in the dining room where I have my “office” and in the kitchen where I have our household files. I can’t really admit to the number of scissors I owned. I’m trying to stick with a portable version now and just take it from room to room.

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Her signature question is “does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, you get to keep it; if no, you discard. This works beautifully for clothing and books. However, spatulas don’t exactly “spark joy” but if I’m to feed the family breakfast, the spatulas have to stay. (Wait, maybe I need new spatulas?)

In her follow-up book she addresses the problem by discussing a screw driver: it may not spark joy, but it does a job well. (Of course, she continues to thank the screwdriver and praise it for a job well done. Okay.) Spark Joy contains some great illustration of her folding methods (a little vague to follow in the first book.) I would say get this one from the library.

If you have read the Kondo books, you may enjoy this article

Happy Reading!

Margin – my 2016 word

Margin – my 2016 word

January is such a great time to dream big dreams about the life we want in the coming year. Did you write all those birthdays on your new calendar? Set those resolutions? Dream big dreams?

Here at Vitalmommy headquarters, it’s a big year. We will leave Peru for Washington DC and a year of preparation before returning to Cairo! We are excited – both about a year home, and about our next adventure.

Instead of a long list of resolutions, I made just three goals this year: one for me, one for my family, and goal for my business. Of course, many things have to happen to achieve any one goal, but I think having these three goals memorized and ready will act as a great filter when making decisions on how to spend my time, energy, and resources.

Another great filter is to choose a word for your year. This year, mine is “margin.” I want to have more white space on my to-do list, more margin in our home life and finances, and more margin to do what is truly important to me in business. Oh, and of course I’d love a little margin when it comes to packing time and our ever-looming weight restrictions!

For many years I set my goals based on a few questions, one of which was “what made me crazy last year?” In previous years it has been everything from not knowing what’s for dinner, to my chaotic closet, to lego everywhere, to the paper the mailbox seems to discharge all over my house daily.

Since I’m sure you struggle with some of the same things, I thought it would be fun to take you on my journey for the next few months as I simplify and get organized for our upcoming move. I’ll share resources, how I have conquered (or am conquering) this obstacle, and maybe even a few checklists or worksheets you may find handy. I hope it will help you in your journey as well!

Now I have a question for you! What is it that made you crazy last year? Is it moving year in your expat life? Tell me about it; I’d love to know how I can help you out! Send me an email here, and I promise I’ll respond to each one!

Here’s wishing you lots of white space to have beauty and joy in your life this year.

Making plans

Making plans

I am a planning junkie.  One of my favorite things about December is the arrival of shiny new blank planners, and all the big dreams I write in them for the coming year.

Every book and class on planning emphasizes that you should start by reviewing your current year.  This is the part I usually neglect.  When I started my planning process for 2016 a few weeks ago, I wanted to forget 2015 all together.  We had some lovely travels, and some exciting things happened, but what I kept getting stuck on is that there has been no certainty for us this year.

Here, at the beginning of December, we still don’t know where we will live next year.  For a [control freak] planner like me, this is excruciating.  Do I keep winter clothes (for some posts I don’t have nearly enough, for other it will mold unused in a box.) Do we need a new car?  (Some posts yes, some no.)

I just couldn’t get past what was disappointing about this year.  And that is where I got stuck – I couldn’t remember anything else that happened.  So I started looking though some pictures.  I looked back at my planner and journal.

And that’s when it hit me.

Planning the new year without reviewing the old, is like drawing out a very detailed map to your destination without having the starting point.

Looking back at the year, the goals we met or didn’t meet, the exciting and the ugly, what we know now, and what we realize we may never know, all of that shows us where we start.

What I found was a year full of family, new discoveries, and tenuous steps in a new direction.  True, there is no tada! photo op at the end of any of it yet, but look at everything that started this year:  my coaching practice,  my oldest son’s school career.  My Spanish is almost comprehensible. (Ha! I never thought I’d say that.)

That canopy walk?  Well, I’m [a bit] afraid of heights.  And what I tried to do there was put one foot in front of the other.  Enjoy the awe of where I was – high above the trees of the amazon rain forest.  All without looking down and giving in to the fear.  And isn’t that what big dreams and plans and goals are all about?  One foot in front of the other, enjoy the journey, don’t give in to the fear.

I have some exciting plans for 2016, and I can’t wait.  But this time is about 2015.

How are you celebrating 2015?

PS: If you are looking for some guidance in planning your year, I can recommend Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever and Leonie Dawson’s Shining Life and Biz workbook.  I’ve done and loved both, though they are very different.  This year, I’m also doing Molly Mahar’s Holiday Council, but it already started, so keep it in mind for next time.

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

As we share our gratitude (and turkey) with friends and family, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for reading this blog, and for supporting our journey.

Writing here is always a learning experience, and I have grown so much through sharing our lives and the lessons in this space. I hope that I can continue to be of service to you.

In gratitude,

Hannelene