“WOW” Moments

Uh oh, don’t tell my husband, but I am at it again. Being generously released by my family to go on a 24 hour mama getaway, I have spent hours walking along the beach in wet, stormy, weather thinking through and releasing angst, worry, frustrations and the feeling of “being spread too thin” that I’ve felt over the last number of weeks. Now, I find myself dreaming again.

I have spent a couple of indulgent hours camped out with one of my favorite travel blog writers Jenn Miller. She blogs at www.edventureproject.com and writes frequently at www.bootsnall.com. A mama of four, she is witty, candid and brutally honest about the joys and challenges of a location independent/ travelling family lifestyle (seven years so far). She is deeply committed to her own journey and heart transformation along the way, and as she is a little further along in parenting and life, I appreciate her insights and experiences.

While I am dreaming about future trips and places I want to see as a family, I am much more realistic about the hard work that pursuing those dreams will be. Last I heard from my husband, he’s pretty happy to stay put for a while…. I get it, logistically it a lot of work, but on a deeper level, it is a lot of work dealing with the inner change and transformation that inevitably goes on when you open yourself up to so much new. To say that “travelling changes a person,” is an understatement.

While I am thoroughly enjoying the conveniences of my life right now, places and people far away are deep in my thoughts. My heart is in Nepal these days, I have good friends living there, and as a nation, it is in a poor state. Post-earthquake they are struggling, and after having finally adopted a constitution, India has blocked fuel for over three months, which means basic aspects of life (education, service, transportation) are limited, the economy is taking a nose dive, and there is talk of civil war. Eighteen months ago, I could not have pointed Nepal out on a map, and now my heart is full of compassion for those living in such complicated times. WOW. I have been changed, stretched, and challenged in so many ways by experiencing life in a place that I left nearly one year ago.

On her Edventure blog, Jenn was discussing supporting small, family, run resorts over large hotel chains as a way to support local economy. I was reminded of the wonderful place we stayed in near Khao Sak National Park in Thailand. The hospitality of the family we stayed with was beyond anything we experienced. Every morning, we would kick the kids out of the bungalow so we could have a few quiet moments to talk and plan the day, and the owner of the resort would entertain our kids: giving them food to feed the fish in the pond, letting them play with the dogs (our kids still talk about Coco and Cookie), and showing them around the resort. The last night of our stay, they invited us to join them for barbeque. “Um, sure, what can we bring?” “Nothing,” they replied, “you be our guests.”

We went out adventuring for the day and came back wondering what dinner would be like. While our kids were wowed by the full can of pop they each got, we were surprised by the mountains of food that kept coming. We feasted on coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves, steamed in bamboo cane, salt crusted fish slowly roasted on the barbecue, piles of pork and chicken barbecued to perfection. It was one of those moments of being so overwhelmed by the ridiculous generosity of someone else, all you can do is humbly say “thank you.” WOW. What a gift to encounter such generosity from a couple of strangers in a foreign land. These encounters are equally as life changing as living amongst the heartbreak of poverty.

These treasured moments and life changing experiences make me love travel. Being open to whatever comes your way is good for the soul, however stretching it may be. I will confess I am a little bit addicted. Currently I am sitting in a coffee shop, borrowing free wifi, listening to the chatter of conversations around me and fifties music on the overhead speaker, and realize I could be in “Any-land, Anywhere”, and it gives me a little thrill. WOW. (I am actually only 90 minutes from home, and right now that feels just right.)

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Socks, socks, everywhere socks…

I’ve had a blog post brewing in my mind for many months, but haven’t been able to put pen to paper, or fingers to keys. I wanted to continue with the theme of our family’s adventures, but somehow that seemed a bit lacking since our adventures this summer were not exotic or very dramatic. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great summer, and once again I was surprised by the “frenzy of fun” that summer brings. Out of town guests, extended family visits, spontaneous camping trips, evening lake dips, and many, many days at the beach. It is quite remarkable how we manage to pack so many great memories into a handful of weeks.

My thoughts lately are not about upcoming adventures, but about how to wade through the mix of emotions and reactions that seem to hit daily, or at least weekly. I assume to a large degree, it’s another wave of reverse culture shock.

The increased press (and FB posts) regarding the Syrian refugee crisis over the last few weeks, have made me feel so empty as a Canadian. It jarred my deepened sense of compassion and desire to respond to issues of social justice. Yet, as a Canadian, I am so, so far away, and with that feel cocooned from any real sense of crisis. The upcoming election is on the forefront of most Canadians’ minds. The general feel is that people are pretty disheartened about what any government might bring. Supporting the economy and preserving the environment are big on the agenda. Taxation levels are always a hot topic, and individuals and families feel the effects of those to varying degrees, however I wonder how much we forget what happens with those dollars. Personally, I’m feeling very grateful for clean public spaces, public libraries, and recreation centres. Our roads are upgraded and improved regularly, public transit is available. We have vast, wide, open spaces and a great deal of safety and security. Do we take it for granted? Yes, of course, that’s normal when it is part of our culture and heritage, but it saddens me, when concern over these things trumps other issues like millions of people being displaced on the other side of the globe.

It probably didn’t help that I went to both Walmart and Superstore today, and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of “stuff” available to purchase. Racks and racks of t-shirts and socks; rows and rows of shampoos and beauty products. I just kept thinking, surely there are not enough people in this town to warrant stocking so much stuff! It was the socks that did me in. One rack stuffed with at least 10 packages of “3 pr Black Sport socks”. This company has 400 stores in Canada (I googled it), so at any given time in Canada alone, there are 4,000 packages of “3 pr Black Sport socks” available for purchase from this company. And we are talking one company, there are at least ten other stores in my city where I could buy a similar package, never mind the fact that there were at least 15 other styles to choose from. Google says this company has 11,500 stores worldwide (all stocking hundreds of black socks?) Does the world really need to produce so many pairs of black sport socks? And if so, ok, leave it at that, but wool blends, white sport socks, casual socks, dress socks and ankle socks? I can’t help but think that someone’s job for twenty years in Bangladesh or Cambodia or Vietnam, has been to sew the toe seam of thousands of black sport socks. Surely they’ve been wondering, “Why does the West need so many socks?” The abundance is crushing. I don’t even go near the yogurt section at the grocery store.

In my reverse culture shocked state, it seems like a lot of priorities are skewed. I’m experiencing it too, “is it really THAT important that my daughter has the 72 page notebook, and not the 60 page notebook?” It’s just so easy to get caught up on all these important things: meetings, deadlines, decisions, uniform requirements, correct school supplies. I get it, I’m swirling around in it, but keep thinking… really????? Isn’t this all a bit distracting? Aren’t there real things that we should be thinking about, praying about, using our money towards? I’m not passing judgment, but am certainly reeling from the effects of being out of this line of thinking for many months, and having to navigate my way again through these cultural norms.

It’s been six months since we’ve arrived back in Canada. I’m so grateful to be here. So grateful for hot showers, good friends, a vehicle, my first language, easy access to nature, and foods that I love. It feels familiar and right and “home”. That being said, I am also experiencing the cost of living here. A good friend warned me that there is a cost to living overseas, and there is equally a cost to living “back at home”. In many ways, I’m taking stock, I’m counting the cost. I know gratitude will get me through on the days when the cost of living in such an affluent, and overly abundant country will overwhelm and burden me. For now, I’ll continue to live with  the tension in me, and work on not being distracted by stuff, and try not get caught up being too busy to care.

I bought the socks.

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No problem having gratitude here. China Beach, BC

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Westcoast Meiers

Meiers on the move…one last time….for now.

We did it. We finally landed in a ‘new to us’ place to call home, a little over two months after arriving back in Canada. And we signed a lease, which means we aren’t going anywhere for 12 whole months! It’s been nearly a full year since we packed up and jumped on a plane to Kathmandu. I feel like if I could talk to my one year ago self, I’d say, “YOU”RE DOING WHAT??? You’re packing up your entire family, and going to a country that until a few months ago you couldn’t even locate on a map?” Funny enough, a lot of people did say that, or indirectly at least. Most often it was a jaw-dropping, eye popping, “Wow, that will be an adventure!” I could usually hear the murmer of  thoughts, “I’m so glad that’s not me. That sounds nutso!” Hmm…apparently there are some smart folks out there. It’s been a little nutso.

Was it all worth it? All the moving, packing, transition, change, cultural shock, travel, re-entry, more cultural shock, more transition, unpacking, and moving again. Of course I would answer, “YES!” in a heartbeat. Totally worth it: the adventure, the food, the heart wrenching realities, the beautiful landscapes, the opportunity to meet new people doing awesome work, the stretcccchhhhing, indeed worth it! I would also  say that it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Just overall fatiguing, tiring to the core, the heart, mind, body and soul. My emotions have been pulled in every which way (the onslaught of emotions that hit following the earthquake in Nepal- the last place I had called “home”- caught me way off guard) as I re-enter here in Canada: a mix of excitement, relief of familiarity, yet confusion about the disparity between standards of living and the flow of money and time.

Would we go again? Yes and No. Yes, for sure we love to travel, we love to see our kids travelling, experiencing different cultures, and want to see and taste more of the world. We also fully recognize that we love to be rooted in a community of people and friends, as well as have a place to call home. So it is both, and I am going to learn to live with that. Many smart people, this time we are listening, are saying, “take time, rest, reflect, arrive.” So for now, no, we are not going anywhere, anytime soon, and yes, we will very likely go again.

It’s been fun to see the process of arrival through my kids. We moved only three days ago, but they have been equally as keen as I have to set up their little worlds and make this their home. The reader has found the old books, and discovered a new spot to do Math (totally self-directed- believe me, I have NO energy for school at the moment). The busy boys have been taking ownership of hacking bushes and ripping brambles, doing the much-needed yardwork of a new house. Shelves are decorated fancy and quaint, jewelry and old dresses have been found and put on display, special spots have been created for weapons, toys and other favorites, playmobile “set-ups” have made their way into corners and behind couches. I’ve even spotted some crafting, colouring and building already happening. When asked about future desires for travel; the common answer is “I want to stay here forever”. Hey kids, I totally get it.

The gift is that the house is in a new location for us. So what am I doing? Looking at maps, exploring backroads and trails, and finding new places to go on adventures and discoveries. At the same time, I get to come back to our home, cook with our dishes, sit on our couch, plan out our interior design, think about plants in our garden, read our books and re-settle into our “for now” life here in Canada.

The best way I can describe it is: Settled, but interested in the world beyond. Content, but keeping eyes enthusiastically open for new possibilities. Resting, but willing to say yes to the next invitation. And internally at peace enough to stay in that place for as long as needed.

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I’m planning on doing a whole lot of gazing out of these big windows. You can’t see it here, but there’s a nice bit of ocean to stare at too. Thankful!

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Thrashing About in Canada

These days I feel like “Meiers on the Loose” would be more aptly named, “Meiers Have Got a Screw Loose.” We have been back in Canada just a little over a month, and this transition has rocked me as much as those first couple of months in Nepal. It is a mix of re-entry, reverse culture shock, personal expectations, living out of suitcases and not having a permanent home or routine to ground us. Most days I feel like I’m on a theme park ride, desperate for it to stop, so I can get off and find my footing again.

I look around and see the glorious Westcoast beauty: April winds causing the pink blossoms to snow down daily, the shades of green on the newly budding trees and bushes rival the hues of the rice fields in Nepal, arbutus trees, and ocean waves and rocky shores are all delightful to the eye. It is all so beautiful, but the colours and sights are blended into a blurry haze as I take another spin on the tilt-a-whirl of life.

During the week we arrived, three babies were born into our community. Three wee ones, singing “new life”, and three post partum mamas tucking in to take time and space to recuperate, rest and be restored before re-entering life again. I feel both like the new babe: “announcing the arrival of Lisa”, a new-to-me girl who has been shaped and transformed through this experience overseas, and also like those new mamas: raw and vulnerable, walking in a daze of post-partum disorientation, with each new encounter feeling the stunned, “do you have any idea what I’ve just been through?”

There are others who are in a similar place of transition, friends about to embark on a move to Eastern Europe, others making their way back to Canada after years in China, others pressing on with vision and moving to a remote village in Nepal, and many moving within Canada. Sometimes I wonder if I am feeling the tumult of everyone else’s transition as well.

This morning I read this little treasure. A friend is describing a moment in her dream:

When we were caught in the undertow at the bottom, she asked me “how do we get out of this?” I said, “Make yourself float on top of the water, and swim really gently.”

The wisdom of this sentence immediately struck me at my core. Mostly, I have been thrashing about, banging my head and heart on rocks and swallowing buckets of water, trying to cling to rocks and branches- anything to stop being tossed about, repeatedly engulfed by waves of fear and uncertainty. What have I been learning (and re-learning)? That all that thrashing about just makes you tired, really, really tired.

I love the image of floating and swimming gently with the rapids, to look up and see the wild beauty all around, the blue sky, the breeze. Perhaps I’ll find a friend or two floating nearby beside me, and then I’ll be able to breathe again.

 

That time we accidentally travelled around the world.

A few years back, I was chatting with my eldest daughter, sharing my dream about wanting to travel around the world in one year. I had been absorbed in reading blogs about family travel and was excited to have our turn. I shared with her that I had no idea when or how it was going to happen, and she in her six year old wisdom told me not to worry, that maybe instead of a year trip, we could make it our family’s life plan. I embraced it immediately and we inaugurated our “Travel Around the World in our Lifetime Plan” with a spontaneous day trip to Saltspring Island. Not too far, but a beginning. So, instead of being disappointed about the unlikelihood of ever making the “dream” come true, I let the “dream” go, embraced the concept that as a family we want to see the world, and decided to include travel adventures as part of our lives bit by bit. Smart kid.

Fast-forward three years, and we are discussing our route from Thailand back to Canada. We were debating flying to China to visit friends and then head east via Hong Kong to the Westcoast, or flying west to Germany to visit family on our way back home. For various reasons we decided to head to Germany (cousins to play with, aging family members, cheese, beer, pretzls … sorry China friends we do love you, but…!). As we booked our flights (via Iceland) it dawned on me, “Hey, this means we’re literally travelling around the world!” It was such a funny realization because we didn’t plan for a “Round the World” trip at all. It just sort of happened. Vancouver to China, China to Nepal, Nepal to Thailand, Thailand to Germany, Germany to Iceland, Iceland to Canada- all west bound flights! Funny.

“But,” I thought, “this isn’t how I imagined it, we are only seeing a tiny bit of the world, we aren’t seeing anything in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re barely landing in Europe, we’ve missed half the continents, this isn’t really a round the world trip!”

On one hand I was laughing that we accidentally made the “dream” come true, but on the other hand, wrestling with discontent that it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. I could feel the dissatisfaction and angst in wanting to keep chasing the elusive “dream”, continuously thinking about where, when and how we would travel next.

But the reality is, we don’t want to right now. We’re tired from ten months of transition, change and plane jumping. We want to settle down for a bit, we want to build relationships within our community again, we miss our friends and family, we want and need to take stock and re-evaluate.

I’ve decided to embrace it. To say to myself, “What if this is it? What if this was our “Round the World trip”?” I can check that dream off the bucket list, and in doing so I make room for new dreams to grow. Instead of chasing an ideal, I look at our lives contentedly, full of gratitude for the amazing opportunity we have had as a family.

(And I’m quite sure my six year old was right, this travel thing is going to be a lifetime family plan. Their must-see lists are growing: England, Russia, Namibia, South Africa, Guatemala, France, and we haven’t shown them anything in South America or the Pacific Islands!)

 

 

Streamline: to make (something) simpler, more effective, or more productive

I’m sitting in the air-conditioned lobby of our hotel, on our last day in Thailand, sipping a lime smoothie (lime, ice, soda, water, salt= amazing!), while the kids splash with Daddy in the rooftop pool. We spent the morning unpacking, sorting, tossing and repacking our stuff again. All of our prized possessions are now in five suitcases, one duffle bag, and two carry-ons; weighed in, lined up and ready to go. We have streamlined a lot, and picked up more on the way.

I’m speaking of our stuff, but this can also be applied to our minds and hearts during these last nine weeks of the “travelling” phase of our adventure. Living with one another in close proximity, frequently on the move, and continuously adapting to new locations, has required us individually to streamline a lot. We’ve had to toss a lot of expectations, ideals, wants, needs and personal autonomy out the window, in order to make this family travel gig “simpler, more effective and productive.” Flexibility has been essential, yet often very challenging! I have a whole new appreciation (and shock and wonder) for families who choose a “nomadic” lifestyle. During a low point last week, the only thought in my mind was “adventure is totally overrated, I’m exhausted!” That being said, we also picked up a lot of good stuff along the way. We have made a tonne of memories, spent endless (will it ever end??) hours together, we have seen amazing and beautiful places, tasted strange and delicious foods, learned a lot about travel, ourselves and one another. It has been an opportunity of a lifetime!

Our last few weeks have been in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. We were pretty tired when we hit Chiang Mai, and although we loved the laid back vibe of the city, the location of our accommodation made getting food and transportation a challenge. Each day felt like a lot of work. We spent one week at a Retreat Centre for families, which was a wonderful gift.   Daddy tucked away to write his final paper for his school requirements, and my sole responsibility of watching the kids at the pool for a few hours each day, meant that I had plenty of time to reflect and process our time in Nepal. The days cycled through swim, play, eat, and sleep. It was perfect. Chiang Mai was a fun place to check out markets and temples. We went to the Zoo a couple of times and spent a full day at the Elephant Nature Park.

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Giraffes, hippos, monkeys and pony rides at the Chiang Mai Zoo.

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We got up close and personal with 40 elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.

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Bravely feeding the elephants.

 

Arriving back in Bangkok, we landed close to downtown with great street food outside our door and easy access to the skytrain system. With a pool at the hotel, it’s been great to mix shopping and sight-seeing, with staying close to home, playing in the pool, and eating delicious Thai street food.  A great way to end our trip in Thailand.

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A longboat tour of the Chao Phraya River and it’s myriad of canals.

 

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Fresh fish for sale at the Taling Chan floating market.

 

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We finally got our seafood fix! Prawns, crab, scallops and mussels. Wow! (and a cute photobomber)

 

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Spent a full day at Kidzania. Edutainment at its best. My kids turned into policemen, firefighters, factory workers, pilots, restaurant cooks and more. So fun!

 

Reader tip for the day:

As we planned the trip, I thought the deal breaker would be accommodation, ie. are there enough beds/ is there enough space for all of us? Admittedly six in one room is not ideal for weeks on end, but the two most important things for us have been access to good food and ease of transportation. Our current room has one bed for mom and dad, and the kids are sleeping on a blanket on the floor with their sheet sleeping bags. It’s totally doable for a week. However, this mama is not happy to have the family eat processed food from 7-11 every day, and the kids don’t do well to have to sit in traffic, taxis or walk for long periods of time. We’ve definitely noticed that the most relaxing phases of this trip have been when those two elements have been taken care of.

We are jumping on a plane again tomorrow (our seventh out of ten), for a long haul flight to Germany. We will be in one location for almost a month. I’m so excited to unpack the bags a bit, stretch out, eat bread and cheese, go for a walk in fresh air, drink from the tap and have some alone time! I am overzealously planning homeschooling and meals I can cook, but I’ve learned that there is a good chance I’ll have to streamline my ideals and expectations again, so I’m ready to be flexible and go with the flow. That’s what seems to be required of this adventure thing, and as hard as it can be sometimes, I know it’s worth it.

 

Do my kids even have a clue??

Today is our last day at the beach in Southern Thailand, tomorrow we fly north to Chiang Mai to enjoy an entirely different aspect of Thai culture. As we spent our last morning at Bang Lut Beach, north of Khao Lak, I try to tell them, “Hey kids, this is our last chance to swim in the ocean in Thailand.” They acknowledge what I’ve said of course, but happily continue doing what they are so good at doing. Not thinking about anything else, but being fully present in the moment, and enjoying it to the full. They see water; they swim, they see beach; they build sandcastles. They aren’t concerned with geography, distances, time zones, future jobs or where to pay rent.  They are playing, splashing, laughing and loving every minute of it.

I on the other hand look out at the expanse of turquoise and the white sand as far as I can see from left to right, and yes, I could be in Mexico or Costa Rica or Hawaii, but I’m not, I’m in Southern Thailand!  I am fully aware of the unlikelihood that we will be back swimming in these oceans anytime soon. I recognize the gift that these days of endless beaches have been. I am the one pinching myself constantly with, “how in the world did we get here?”, and “wow, we are actually doing it!” We are actually living out the days we dreamed about, the locations we booked, the places we hoped to see. It’s incredible. The weird thing is, is that it’s requiring all of my brain power and self-discipline to actually be present. My mind is skimming off into a million different directions, thinking about the near and far future, and the overwhelming minutiae of what it all entails.  I feel the sand between my toes, and see the blue before my eyes, but I have to focus hard to really see it all, to feel it all. I watch my kids, and try to take my cues from them.  Laugh, splash, play, repeat.  Enjoy the gift.  My kids don’t have a clue what a gift all this really is, but that’s the beauty of it. They just take it, open it and enjoy it to the max.  I’m learning, but slowly.

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I have to head off now, we promised the kids one last, family, sunset swim this evening.  I am going to try to experience it fully and enjoy every moment of it!  What a gift!

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