The Plastic Challenge

It is week one of my four-week-long challenge to be “single-use” plastic free for the month of July.  I heard of this challenge through a message I received in my inbox from an organization called: The Story of Stuff Project. My own “story of stuff” happened a year and a half ago when my husband, Jacob and I decided to sell all of our “stuff” in exchange for a trip around the world. I met a new friend in Sayulita, Mexico, where we are now living, and when she heard our story she recommended I read a book titled, The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard.

After having only read the introduction, I was horrified at the truths she revealed about the extraction and waste of natural resources in the name of our “stuff”.  However, I was also completely inspired; in which case, I found myself on their website signing up to receive emails related to environmental activism. They soon extended this challenge via email and I accepted. I, then, immediately thought I had better know what the heck, “single-use” actually means if I am really going to live by the pledge:

“I pledge to avoid single-use plastic, to reuse or recycle the plastic that I do use, to educate others about plastic waste, and to take action to make plastic waste a thing of the past”.

As I looked around my house and surrounding environment, I was startled to realize that single-use plastic is quite ubiquitous in my world; a world where I thought I was living virtually free from it.

I always thought of myself as an environmentally conscious person proudly using a re-useable water bottle. I avoid soda so have no reason to buy that in a plastic bottle. I rarely get to-go beverages so the plastic smoothie cups with straws, coffee cups/lids and stirrers are easy to avoid. I always (well, 8 times out of 10 if I’m being honest) bring my nylon grocery bags to the store and fully rinse out all plastic containers that can be recycled (to rinse or not to rinse? here is an article from Mother Jones on that). I am guilty of buying zip-lock bags but use and reuse them till they no longer zip or have holes.

All of these habits are good but then I started to become aware of all of the plastic that I use that I have just taken for granted. For instance, I got out of the shower earlier in the week and began my hygiene routine when a sudden awareness hit me: “CRAP! Q-Tips?? Damnit!” those innocent, little things that I use daily have a plastic stick between the two cotton balls. Wow. My next thought was about the fact that I live in Mexico. In our little beach pueblo, there is a movement to put pressure on restaurants and their customers to stop using straws. There have been graphic images floating around the local Sayulita People Facebook group of poor sea turtles impaled, in various ways, by straws (I consider the sea turtle my brethren so it’s doubly effective for me to see a picture of a sea turtle with a straw up its nose). So, what about Q-tips? Do those little beasts end up in the ocean and become lethal to its life if I throw them away too? Are there brands of Q-tips in Mexico with sticks made of paper? I don’t know stay tuned…

cheese packaged in plastic
non-reusable plastic is everywhere

Next on my list of “single-use plastic” shocks is the amount of packaging I have NO control over like packaging for cheese. Oh sure, there is some cheese, in the states especially, that can be purchased in a Ziploc bag. At least then the bag is re-useable but really, I think most cheese is wrapped in a sort of glued-together plastic bag. Once I tear into that plastic to get at the cheese how can I reuse that? I can’t, it goes in the trash. What else can I do… is it recyclable? There is no little recycle triangle on it so I assume it is not?

Our kids had a couple of friends for a sleepover the other night. “Let’s get ice cream!” They screamed.  “Do you know how to ask for a taste in Spanish?” I asked, “Sure, get more than one taste if you can’t decide” I said. After choosing our favorite kind and purchasing our cones, I walked away with three tiny, plastic taster spoons. I took them home to wash, I’ll think of some way to reuse those puppies. Then I pictured the size of the bag containing these single-use, plastic spoons that this establishment must have order to keep enough on hand for their customers. If I, one customer in one minute, used three then that’s a big bag and a lot of plastic.three plastic taster spoons

When I posted on Facebook that I was undertaking this challenge and threw it out to others to follow, one good friend of mine suggested to request meat to be wrapped in butcher-paper as an alternative to using a plastic bag or plastic wrap. Rachel, I am sorry to tell you, this is no longer a trusted solution. I know, what? Jacob researched it and it turns out that most butcher-paper is now coated with polyethylene (plastic) instead of wax. The wax-coated paper could be composted but the new improved, leak-free, plastic coated paper cannot. Now, you can still find the wax coated paper and could ask your butcher if they know the type that is used in their store. I’d love to hear what you find out. I’m going to have to figure out how to ask that question in Spanish, yikes.

This week I have done pretty well at avoiding single-use plastic that is except for Wednesday. Wednesday, I got busy in the morning and lost track of time. In my rush to get out of the house and get to Buscerias for groceries (a larger

5 plastic bags filled with groceries
One small stop at the grocery store and 5 plastic bags

town 20, sometimes 40 minutes away depending on traffic) I forgot my nylon grocery bags. There go 5 plastic bags!

I also had to take our car to get an oil change. Figuring out where to do things like this in a foreign country where you speak only a little bit of the language is tricky, so it took me an extra long time to find a place. So, after the oil change and trashing 5 plastic, single-use bottles of oil, I was starving and had drunk all my water. Thus, I made a purchase of a plastic bottle containing mineral water and a plastic bag of nuts. Mission fail.

This week I realized I am not as much of a recycler as I thought. I’m more of an un-recycler striving to do better. So, on to the next week and more awakenings that I am sure will make my head explode and heart sink but I have hope I can make a ripple with this challenge and my public process around it.  I hope you will join me in this mission.

plastic container to hold a sample of granola
A portion of granola came in this plastic container attached to my yogurt, also in plastic. This non-recyclable tray is now my bead tray for when I am making jewelry.
cobble stone street with multicolored flags hanging across.

You Are What You Speak

I have struggled with what to write, to find my voice for this post and tell the story of our lives in Sayulita for the last three weeks.  My block is partly due to the all-consuming news of the inauguration, Spanish language acquisition and because part of our story is about sickness. Stomach bugs, flu bugs and cold bugs (I’ve been down with the flu for the last three days).

As you know from my last post, landing in Sayulita was less than smooth. Turns out, according to some people we have met through the girls’ school, we are not the only family with a horror story upon arrival. It seems adversity is how Sayulita greets its new transplants. Our party hostel gave us quite the introduction to this beach pueblo and the wave of nauseous fear was unavoidable.  What did we do? Despite the numerous warnings that this is a busy tourist town, I expected a magical, peaceful vibe and this was not it. Will I like Mexico? Two days in and I was already puking and now, for the past three weeks, we have each been sick with something. Is it Sayulita? Is it back to school? Is it Mexico?

I decided its airline travel and back-to-school. There are many tourists and transplants here that traveled during the holiday break and unknowingly brought back bugs. I know it is not just Sayulita because I just read an article about the Norovirus ripping through the US. Ok, so each little bug makes the immune system stronger, right?

Mackenzie and Quinn stand in front of a blue wall with a big white fish painted on it.Other than sickness, we are also finding our rhythm. The girls started school and quickly made friends. We discovered that Quinn was in the wrong grade and moved her up to the second grade where she is thriving. Our house on the hill is an oasis and in the perfect location to get to most everything in town.  Sayulita has calmed to a buzz rather than a roar.  I discovered that the beach is gold and not just figuratively. There is a mineral in the sand that shimmers like gold when the sun hits it just right. Pyrite maybe?

Mostly our focus has been on language, not only learning Spanish but also thinking about language in general. Language is connection and division, survival and desolation, inclusion and exclusion. While walking home the other day the song, “People are Strange” by The Doors popped into my head. You know how it goes:

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger. Faces look ugly, when you’re alone. Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted; streets are uneven when you’re down. When you’re strange. Faces come out of the rain. No one remembers your name. When you’re strange, when you’re strange, when you’re straaaange.”

(its in your head now too, isn’t it? You’re welcome.)

I thought about this song, not for reasons related to the angst of my young adulthood, but for the fact that I cannot speak to the local people here on a level other than basic needs for food and shelter. I cannot really know the people and their culture because I cannot speak proficiently to the locals living it nor can I reveal my true self to them. There is so much richness that is missed when you cannot speak the language. While it is almost impossible to speak the language of every country, some statistics report that there are over 400 million Spanish-speaking people in the world. It is the second most widely spoken language after Mandarin. So then why, being a person from a country that shares a continent with Mexico, can I not speak Spanish?

Well, for one thing I chose not to learn it in high school or college when it was offered. Really, the time to learn a second language is not solely in high school; the time to start is in elementary school. When we are born, our brains are primed to learn any language, in fact, multiple languages.

English is the most widely spoken language in the world; so why should we become bilingual? For me, it is the simple fact that the ability to speak another language helps to develop relationships and empathy for a person of another culture. According to a study I recently read, proficiency with at least one other language can not only help keep your brain strong but creates an opportunity for your personality to be more open and flexible. This same study also looked at how language impacts culture and identity in German speakers versus English speakers.  Interestingly, in the Germanic language, the speaker often describes several events in one sentence and the verb for the main event is at the end. Often, this can change the entire picture that is being painted and, to fully understand, the listener must keep track of the whole idea. In general, this is how many German people view the world. They see the whole picture and take the long view when making decisions.

“Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth” ~ Mark Twain

Conversely, in English, the action of the sentence is right up front and superfluous information is very often not included or is at the end (the woman walked to the store before going to school). Many English speakers are action oriented or focused on the consequences of the action taken now rather than the possible outcomes down the road.

We are in Mexico not only to have the experience of living in another culture for an extended period of time but also to become functional with the Spanish language.  I wonder how the Spanish language impacts Latin cultures. We have discovered that many words used in Spain are not used in Mexico. I imagine this is true for many other Spanish-speaking countries as well. Additionally, how is the culture impacted when the country becomes influenced by another language such as English?

We knew upon arriving to Sayulita, that this is a Mexican beach pueblo highly impacted by Caucasian, English-speaking ex-patriots. In fact, I noticed that if we want to speak Spanish we have to search it out a little. While we are shopping or dining or conversing on the streets with a native person, they sometimes assume we want to speak English and often will begin in that tongue. We have to press forward in Spanish, even if it is broken and takes a minute to find the words, as sort of a message that no, even if we are Gringos we want to speak Spanish here in Mexico. That sounds crazy to me. While we were living in Sevilla, Spain, I was desperate to find someone who spoke English so that I could get medical treatment but here it seems I need to assert myself in order to speak Spanish.

On my first day of Spanish class, my instructor told me that from the start, we should establish ourselves as a Spanish speaking family no matter how broken it sounds. Otherwise, we will be boxed into the category of English-speaking ex-pats and it will be assumed we don’t want to try. On the other hand, I heard that the local Mexican people want to practice their English skills too. Their ability to speak English means more money for their families from tourism.

Back of man and woman at women's march holding a sign "the heart has no borders"It is no secret that there is much controversy in the US related to Mexico and immigration. The political sound bite “America First!” might sound good but I wonder if we can take a more German approach and see the potential pitfalls of cutting ourselves off from our Southern neighbors. Becoming a bilingual country filled with diversity (not that isn’t that way already) can make our brains and hearts more flexible, more open to seeing people as potential friends rather than strangers. I can’t help but wonder if anxiety has taken hold of our country. The classic behavior trait of a person who suffers from anxiety and panic is to isolate and close one’s self off to society in avoidance of those tense feelings in the body.   However, all this does is create more anxiety because the fear of the outside world has been built up to an unrealistic level. For me, I am striving to become bilingual so that I can talk to my neighbors and be influenced by the beautiful Mexican culture. I want to be able to integrate that into our life and raise children who are open to embracing all people and able to speak with ease, to at least 400 million people from a culture other than their own.

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is a direct reflection the character and growth of its people” ~Cesar Chavez


Home for the Holidays

We have been home now a couple of weeks. Our feet on the ground after three flights and 20 hours of travel from New Zealand felt really good. As we came in for the typical bumpy landing in Denver, Quinn was about bursting out of her seat, her eyes wide, breath held and body unable to be still. Several family members greeted us at the airport with joy and hugs. What a great way to arrive after thirteen months away. We went to dinner together and I watched as our daughters moved back and forth between their grandparents, Aunt and cousin fully glowing in the love they gave and received. It was really beautiful.

It was surreal to be back in Denver, both familiar and unfamiliar.  We woke up on our first morning home at my sister’s house. The first thing the girls wanted to do was ride their bikes (the first thing I wanted to do was drink coffee). Watching our daughters riding and running (Quinn needs some practice on her bike!) around the neighborhood, I suddenly saw how much they have grown. Maybe their growth was so very evident because of the juxtaposition of this scene with the image I have of them doing this same thing before we left. Maybe it is watching how gracefully they are navigating our reentry, Mackenzie speaking so maturely about our trip and Quinn exuberantly sharing funny tales. All I know is that our daughters have grown and not just in height.

So what is next? Well, Mexico. That’s right. Mexico. Sayulita, Mexico, a little surfer town north of Puerto Vallarta, to be exact. During our journey, Jacob and I continually spoke about our desire to fully immerse in the Spanish language and how important speaking Spanish will be for our daughters’ futures. Jacob and I both loved traveling in Spain, particularly the city of Sevilla (or Seville in English). While we were there, we daydreamed about staying for a year to continue to improve our language skills while the girls attended a local school. Because the international bilingual schools in Seville are expensive and about 20 minutes outside of the city, I began searching for a bilingual school in other Spanish speaking countries. We wanted a place that would allow us to walk the girls to school, live somewhere warm and somewhere with lakes, rivers or an ocean. Eventually, I found Costa Verde International School in Sayulita, Mexico. I have to thank Facebook for this discovery. Posts by a friend of a friend would often come up in my newsfeed and they were always of pictures of kids on the beach somewhere in Mexico. After a little investigation, I found out they were living in Sayulita. “What school is in Sayulita?” I asked myself. I did a Google search, read through the school’s website, requested enrollment information and then put the idea on the back-burner. Jacob and I just weren’t sure. We wanted to continue our journey. After all, we had only been traveling for a few months at that point.

As our year began to come to an end and we had made it almost completely around the globe, we knew we had to make a decision about the What’s-Next plan. I reached out to the school to find out if they had openings for the girls to start in January. We spoke to a family member who had recently traveled there and found out that her partner has friends living in Sayulita who also have a daughter Quinn’s age that they recently enrolled in the school. We found out that one of my friends has connections with people who are at this school and after talking to these various people, we began to feel more comfortable with the decision to go to a place we have never seen. However, it wasn’t looking promising. The admissions person wasn’t sure there would be a spot for Mackenzie to start in January. After receiving this email we spent the next few weeks tossing around other ideas of where to go and what to do. Could we delay until August? Put the girls in school to finish up their current grades? Was that a good idea for them? For us? Could we find temporary jobs? Should we find temporary jobs? We sat on pins and needles feeling the pressure to make a choice, the pressure to have an answer and wishing for the mail to deliver a package that had the solution. Shortly after an emotional meltdown, I received notice from the school that a space had suddenly opened up in Mackenzie’s grade and we could have the spot if we wanted it. Hallelujah! Our package came and with it the realization that we just didn’t feel finished with our personal journeys, with the opportunity to explore, with growing new patterns for our family, or engaging with another culture. So, here we are taking another leap of faith, trusting in ourselves, and for me, trusting in the Universe and our path.

We are in Denver until December 29th to reconnect with as many friends and family members as possible. We are getting our ducks in a row for the next chapter of our Seize-the-Davi journey. We have rented a cute little casita two blocks from the beach and a ten-minute walk from the girls’ school. I hope to keep writing and catch up on stories from the last quarter of our journey as well as share whatever stories we create while in Mexico.

Thank you for following, for supporting, for putting positivity, love, thoughts and prayers out into the Universe for us to receive. We have felt them all. I hope we always remember to seize the day. I hope we have taught our daughters to seize the day. I hope we have inspired others to seize the day and to follow your hearts because our hearts always know the answer that our monkey minds are trying to find. We just have to quiet the monkey long enough to listen and then go for it.

Hot Springs.NZ

crowded street full of traffic in Lima

Objects in Mirror Are More Similar Than They Apear

“We are having a major problem with our Muslims in this country right now”. “There is a big fight about holiday celebrations in our schools” “there’s no more Christmas plays because the Muslims don’t want them” “We are a welcoming country and have lots of immigrants. We haven’t had problems with our Chinese or Aborigines.”

It has been an interesting political time to travel around the world. Most people we meet want to talk to us about the upcoming election in the US and mostly about Donald Trump. This particular dialog that is written above, was from a woman in Australia who must have been relating to our white commonality and felt free to share her views. Maybe she believes we have a “Muslim problem” in the US too and thought I would share in a dialog disparaging all Muslims. In actuality, her statement shocked me and made me feel highly uncomfortable. These emotions sent out red alert sirens and cut off all access to the language centers of my brain. I had no response. All I wanted to do was buy tickets for our excursions not engage in a political discussion about religion in schools.

I understand the argument in favor of the Australian woman’s opinion. It is likely something along the lines of: why should we, the majority population, give up our Christmas plays in schools just because a family who holds different religious beliefs moves into the neighborhood. Jacob and I had many long discussions about this as we drove through Australia. There is no easy answer. One solution would be to eliminate all holiday celebrations from state funded public schools. Another solution is to tell the minority population to put up or shut up. Neither seems like a solution that would leave either party feeling heard, acknowledged or respected. I was raised in the Christian faith so Santa Clause, Christmas Trees and Christmas plays were perfectly fine for me. It never occurred to me that someone else in the room was sitting through it because they had to or might have been feeling confused as to why their own religious celebrations were not reflected in the school community. This is called privilege. The world in the majority population goes along just swimmingly for its members. I get to have my religion reflected in schools, I get to walk through stores with no one paying me any mind, I get to have the floor when I am speaking and show anger without someone wondering if it is “my time of the month”, I get to marry who I want. For me though, living with this much privilege is like driving a car with a huge blind spot.

I can’t even begin to know what it is like to be a Muslim in the world right now but I do know what it is like to be targeted with cruelty from others and to feel ostracized even within my own family for holding different religious views. It is from these experiences that empathy is cultivated and I can begin to widen the view out my car window. I remember reading an article shortly after a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France this past summer. The article was a about a woman who was made to remove her “burkini” while playing at a beach. I get it, the so-called Islamic State claimed the attacker as one of their own but does this really mean that all people who wear a “burkini” are potential terrorists? I wish those officers had put themselves in that poor woman’s shoes. The choice to wear loose fitting clothes and a headscarf is about modesty and covering those parts of the body that are deemed only appropriate to show in private. It was like asking that woman to strip naked on the beach and because the officers did not hold the same beliefs they had no clue what they were asking and could only see their point of view. I can imagine how I would feel: violated and abused and targeted for something I had nothing to do with orchestrating.

I feel so grateful that we enrolled our girls in school in Cape Town, South Africa. Many of the families at the school are Muslim and we were there when Ramadan began. This allowed Jacob to have a really wonderful conversation with a new friend from the school about the meaning behind Ramadan. We learned that Ramadan is not just a time for fasting but also a time for reflection on how privileged one is who has enough food. By fasting, the Islamic faith teaches, on a very real level, what it is like to be hungry and then from this place remember to be grateful for the many blessings in their lives. How beautiful! I do not have to follow this religion to appreciate this message.  The fact that this holiday was reflected at their school was a gift to our girls and opened a comfortable dialog about Islam with their Muslim friends.

I truly believe that the woman from Australia was speaking from that part of herself that felt under threat by the changes that were being requested by the Muslim community. I imagine her outrage was coming from a place of fear. Possibly fear that said, “I am afraid my kids will lose their connection to our religious beliefs if they do not get to have Christmas celebrations at school” and maybe the counter argument is something like, “When the only holiday that is recognized in schools is Christmas, I feel scared that my kids will never find a way to fit into this new community.” Is it possible to make room for all? Is it possible to learn to vulnerably communicate in this way? Brené Brown has written several books on this subject, one in particular is titled Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Parent, Live, Love and Lead. In it, she says that real courage is in our willingness to be vulnerable and to honestly communicate our feelings especially when they are fear and shame. This is when we can be real, this is when we can take off our boxing gloves and get down to what is really driving our anger.

I will probably always have a blind spot, we all do but if I can find a way to relate to the pain another is expressing, even if it is being expressed in anger, I can start to learn that my car is not the only one on the road. I want to drive on highways where every driver is looking out for others because they are each able to notice the different cars sharing the road. Then, when one unknowingly cuts off another, that driver kindly and vulnerably acknowledges that, “I didn’t see you and I am sorry” instead of flipping the person off and saying, “well, get out of the way this is MY road!” That brief conversation with the woman from Australia was a missed opportunity to be an ally for marginalized populations. I wished I had explored why she was angry with the Muslim community and also taken the opportunity to point out their possible perspective.   Perhaps this small dialog could leave us both feeling a little more connected, a little more open to a different view and willing to share space with each other.

“Connection is why we are here; it gives us purpose and meaning to our lives”

~Brené Brown


“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom”  ~Bob Dylan



What Would KK Say?

I am sitting on an airplane on the way to Bali while attempting to write this article. There is occasional turbulence bouncing the plane. I hate turbulence. It makes my blood pressure rise, my tummy jump, and stories of our certain doom run through my mind painting vivid pictures I wish were not there. I close my eyes and put my attention on the sensation of my breath as it goes in and out of my nose. For the next few minutes I try to let go of the scary pictures, let go of the doomsday thoughts and try to keep focused on my breath. My mind interrupts frequently; it incessantly tells me, “I hate this. I hate turbulence. If the plane were not bouncing like this I would not be feeling this way”. Jacob gets my attention to check if I am ok but for some reason this annoys me and in a harsh whisper, I give him some snappy, dismissive comment. Then a memory pops in my mind and I think, “What would KK say?”

KK is an exuberant Buddhist Monk and one of the meditation instructors at the two-day meditation retreat that I attended while visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was a silent retreat, which means that no one spoke for the entire two days. Though, I admit, I did giggle and speak with my roommate in the evening before going to bed and I am glad I did because I made a new friend from Australia. However, for the most part, I spent two days in silence learning the basic teachings of Buddhism and skills for meditation. A week later, I took Jacob, the girls and Todd and Sherry (Jacob’s Aunt and Uncle) back to the Buddhist University that sponsored my retreat. Many of the temples around Chiang Mai provide something called a “Monk Chat” to foreigners, a sort of meditation and Buddhism Q & A. Prior to Todd and Sherry joining us in Chiang Mai, we had all agreed we wanted to experience one of these Monk Chats. Because I loved my retreat so much, we decided it needed to be the one at the university temple named Wat Suan Dok. KK happened to be the chosen teacher for our chat. Later, we processed the experience at dinner (while a woman sitting at the adjacent table entertained us by producing several loud farts) and this question was born: “what would KK say?”

So what would KK say about my relationship with airplane turbulence? He would tell me that it is not the turbulence that is causing my suffering (or the woman farting) it is my thoughts and emotions causing my suffering.   I am the one with the thought “I hate turbulence”. It is this thought that causes my body to go on high alert and flood with the fight/flight hormones that induce the feeling of anxiety and panic. This, in turn, allows more and more intense stories to have power in my mind and my anxieties continue to rise. AKA: suffering. The turbulence is just doing what turbulence does; I am doing the rest.  KK would tell me that first and foremost I must practice or train my “monkey mind”. To do this I must sit in a meditation for just ten minutes twice per day, like the one I previously described. Then, when I am on an airplane freaking out about turbulence, I will have more awareness about my thoughts and emotions and improved ability to consciously choose my reaction (especially my reaction to Jacob). I will have an understanding that I am in control of what makes me suffer and with this mindful awareness, it is up to me to make the decision to let the monkey have his way and keep on suffering or calm down through conscious focus on my breath.

These concepts are not new to me. I have been using these skills for years in my psychotherapy practice under the name of “mindfulness”. What I have discovered over the years is that I, as well as many of my clients, spend a heck of a lot of time in pain about the past or in pain about the future. So much time is spent lamenting the past and worrying about the future that many of us lose our ability to experience life RIGHT NOW. I have learned that much of our stress comes from these worries and can cause depression, anxiety and panic. Instead of noticing the pain, we try to numb our suffering with substances, incessant web-surfing, shopping, you name it; whatever it takes to get away from the stories in our head, we will do it! What a gift it is to discover the calm of the present moment and use breath as the anchor to bring us back from the stories in our minds. My horrific scenes about plane crashes are an example of worrying about a future that is: a. unlikely to happen and b. I have no power over.  Mindfulness and meditation practice helps me become aware of the rollercoaster of fears created by my untrained “monkey mind”.

Living in the present moment is what we have been doing for the past 10 months. Living right now, day to day. Well, at least that is the opportunity that this trip affords us and I will admit, I have not always been there moment to moment. Sometimes I have drifted to the past full of pain or longing and when I finally came to, I realized I had missed the experience right in front of me. During our travels in Thailand I spent several days feeling irritable and snappy until I finally stopped and listened to my thoughts and realized that they were full of worries about the future and causing a bummer of a rainstorm on my parade. The end of our journey is nearing as well as the deadline for our “reentry” plan. My anxious thoughts were saying, “What are we going to do? We sold our house? What were we thinking? We have nowhere to land. What about jobs? What about schools? Will we be able to create a life that is still filled with travel and exploration?”

The timing for my meditation retreat couldn’t have been better. Not only was I reminded that I already had the mindfulness skills to calm my anxiety but KK reminded me of one very important lesson taught by the Buddha:

Life is impermanence.

Everything changes moment to moment. My anxieties are reasonable. They are trying to move me forward to a solution, however; they do not need to cause me suffering and they are impermanent if I only just let them pass. That is not to say that I shouldn’t be working on a reentry plan.  No, it is more that the worry is actually blocking me from thinking clearly and rationally about our choices. Our moms would tell you that we most definitely have a place to land should we need one and our education tells that that we will most definitely have jobs; it just might take a little digging to find the right one.

Suffering comes in many different packages from unresolved wounds, work and parenting stress, to worries about the future.  It makes us less effective and sometimes say and do things we regret.  Buddhism and meditation is not a religion per se, although many would argue with that notion but according to KK it is more of a philosophy of life. It is a way to decrease our psychological pain by understanding that we are each responsible for our own actions and reactions and any suffering that comes from those is ours. KK watered down the Buddha’s teaching by simply saying:

Do Good
Don’t Do Bad
Purify the Mind

Have a goal to practice Right Action, Right Thought, Right Speech and dedication to daily training of your monkey mind and you are on the path toward happiness and a life free from suffering. Most importantly, remember to have compassion for yourself and others as well as forgiveness of yourself and others. Sometimes the latter is the most difficult to achieve but I ask you, if you are holding a judgement or grudge against someone is that their suffering or yours? What would KK say?


We are all Monkeys
We are all Enlightened Ones

We all have suffering
We all have pain

We are all Monkeys
We are all Enlightened Ones

We all have love
We all have joy, compassion and anger
We all have the capacity for hate

We are all Monkeys
We are all Enlightened Ones

Who do I let drive the car?

~Amy D.


**the featured image is of the monks in Luang Prabang, Laos as they walk in the early morning hours for Alms collection or donations of food by the local people (there are hundreds of them walking it is really an amazing sight and so peaceful to watch).  The locals who participate in this practice do not eat or drink their own breakfast before first giving food to the monks.  The Buddha started this practice with the intention to remind the community to Give before you Get.**

Green dragon sculpture with long whiskers

The Beast Part II

There must have been a spotlight that reveled the location of my beastly nemesis.

A special light only beast tamers who prowl the streets of the Old Quarter in Hoi An, Vietnam can see.

Mackenzie and I had just exited a cultural show.  We stood on the curb laughing and discussing what we had just seen.

Suddenly, like magic a short woman appeared before me, thread in hand.

“Only 20,000 Dong very, very cheap. I make you look 10 years younger”

Shocked at the sudden invasion of my personal space, I stepped back only to be met with a wall of  tourists spilling out behind me in what seemed like the hundreds.  Most of them stopping to see what this lady was saying and trying to do. I became the encore show.

She was quick with that thread, there it was traveling along my chin with such deft, such incredible speed.

“Oh! So many long hair! I do this one for free” she shrieked.

Confused, I thought, “what is she doing?”

Then I felt the beast rip from my skin. How did it come back so fast? How many ARE there??

Now swarmed with onlookers, I felt heat flood to my face; sure I was turning as red as the string of cloth lanterns that hung above my head.

I tried to get away, I tried to run but she was quick on her feet. She had caught me in her threading web.

There was nothing to do but succumb.

We Are Not Done Yet

Treks through terraced rice fields and bracelet making with sweet Hmong women. Hundreds of monks walking in the peace of the early morning for Alms collection and a boat trip up the Mekong River through Laos. Meditation retreats, street food and the best damn fruit smoothies in Chiang Mai and possibly on the planet; these are just a few of the images that flood my brain when I think back over the last two months of travel through South East Asia.

Then, to sweeten our time in Thailand, we got to spend two weeks with Jacob’s Uncle Todd and Aunt Sherry in Chiang Mai and Phuket. Monk chats, Cooking class, elephant baths and countryside tours. Monsoons, Khao Soi, beaching and canoes; these are some of the experiences we got to share with two of our favorite people that we also get to call family.

I have so many stories to tell and have fallen very far behind in my posts. For those of you who are not following us on Facebook or Instagram, I thought I had better throw out a message to let you know we are alive and well and now into the last few months of our journey. Right now as I write this we are in Ipoh, the capital city of Perak in the country of Malaysia. Malaysia was a place we were told by multiple people and one stranger in Bangkok that we must see and I am so grateful we listened. We get three more days to explore this country before moving on to Singapore and then finally Bali for my birthday on August 30th. Two weeks in Ubud, Bali is just the gift we all need to rest and gear up for our trek in Australia and New Zealand.

This year has gone so incredibly fast and I can hardly believe all that we have seen and experienced. Thank you all for following our journey, reading our stories and sending us love both through spoken words and unspoken good wishes over the last 10 months.  We are not done yet and are excited for whatever this wonderful life brings us next.

I have many half written posts to finish so stay tuned. In the meantime here is my song quote for the day in honor of my sweet soul-sista Carrie Ann Nelson who just celebrated her birthday. I am continuously inspired by her and am grateful for our 29 years of friendship!

“The sun is shining, the weather is sweet yeah. Make you want to move your dancin’ feet”
~Bob Marley

purple lotus flowers growing in water

From the Mud Blooms a Lotus Flower

As soon as we landed in Cambodia I felt an energy that I couldn’t quite name until we got to Phnom Penh a few days later. I began to wonder if I was sensing a deep sadness or a kind of low energy from the people. We of course met plenty of service providers who were welcoming and friendly. They too, were drawn into the girls’ tractor beam and then opened up a little to tell us about their own kids at home. Our hosts at the hostel in Siem Reap were wonderful and friendly especially young Meng who is in year 11 and making decisions about going on to study tourism at the university. Maybe I was projecting this feeling upon the people because from the little I have read about the history here, I felt sad. I felt sad when I saw people begging on the street who were missing limbs or the entire bottom half of their body seemingly due to a surprise landmine that are still found in the jungles, leftover from when the Khmer Rouge was on a killing spree. My heart was ripped in two with each child we encountered who was begging or selling trinkets on the street; I can still hear their haunting, monotone song of “one dollar, one dollar, one dollar”.

Cambodia has a long, long history of war and devastation. I am positive the lasting result is a country full of people who are traumatized and attempting to heal from witnessing violence, the loss of their family members and culture. Their way of life and religion was all but wiped out at the hands of corrupt rulers, secret bombings by the US and genocide by the Khmer Rouge. The people are faced with trying to reestablish their stolen culture and heritage in a country racked with poverty, lack of schools and basic needs for survival. What I have learned in my 20 years of working in the field of Mental Health is that healing from trauma is beyond difficult when your basic needs are not met. The people here are still in survival mode just trying to find clean water, food, and a decent place to sleep. Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the luxury of good, public education in the US or the basic infrastructures we enjoy? Come to Cambodia and find out for yourself whether or not tax dollars are well spent on schools, keeping our streets and water clean and traffic organized and safe. Come and see the trash piled high on the sidewalk attracting flies, stench and starving people who pilfer through it. Come and see what happens when the government no longer cares about the people but only themselves.

While staying at our hostel in Siem Reap we met a lovely man who is from India but is now living in Thailand. We traveled with him to Phnom Penh. He was nice enough to help us secure a bus ticket and then Tuk Tuk to our guesthouse once we arrived. Not only did he help us to navigate our way but also provided great insight into Buddhist and Hindu symbolism and practices. While visiting the National Museum in Phnom Penh he shared with me the meaning behind the lotus flower in Buddhist culture. Before we spoke, I had a vague understanding that the Buddha was born from this flower but Raj told me that its symbolism is also about learning to grow out of the muck and the mud toward goodness and beauty. It is a reminder that there will always be bad, negative and awful things in this world but if you move toward the light, led by your heart, and toward goodness then you can provide that light and goodness for others to follow as well. I know this in my heart already but my faith in humanity has been shaken for a long time, longer than the beginning of our travels. So, for me, he came across my path as a little messenger to remind me how important it is to see the lotus flowers in the world.

I held onto this symbol very tightly as we spent our last day visiting The Killing Fields and learned more about the gruesome genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh that hold over 300,000 bodies is just one of these kinds of sites in Cambodia, there are many, many more. It is estimated that 1-3 million people of Cambodia were killed and dumped into these mass graves. No one whom Pol Pot believed was a threat to his mission was spared, not even babies. He rationalized his murder through slogans used for propaganda, one of them was “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake”. After we finished walking through the grounds the girls each said a prayer and made an offering of incense and flowers to the deceased souls and afterwards I had to sit down and let myself cry. I felt the pain of Cambodians, of the Syrian refugees fleeing their lands, the people of Istanbul, of Baghdad and all people who have lost their family members to violence around the world including my home country. It seems this slogan does not just belong to Pol Pot but it is also the propaganda of war.

However, this is not the end of the story. Underneath the scene of the woman picking through the pile of garbage, underneath the child begging on the street, the pollution, and the crazy traffic is a lotus flower growing out of the mud. What I know about trauma is that it takes great strength to survive and also to heal. I can feel the sadness here but I can also feel the strength. I can tell there is a movement of Cambodians who are saving their culture, who are finding their happiness once again and working toward changing the darkness to light even in the face of continued government corruption. I can feel it in the love that spices their food; in the sweet smiles we receive from locals relating to our family and in the Khmer artistry. My wish for Cambodia is to be the lotus, to find your thriving people again and lift them toward the light so they may see they are living in a field of lotus flowers.

A Prayer
Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
toward heaven
only you.
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening.

~Clarissa Pinkola Estés, The Faithful Gardner: A Wise Tale About That Which Can Never Die



yellow and black spotted butterfly gets nectar from white flowers

Ode to My Chin Hair

Barely had the bell of my 40th year rang

When from underground a wispy white beast did sprang

Stealth yes she was, she couldn’t be captured

I alone was no match for her slippery stature

Reinforcements called in

(A husbandly duty)

With giggling admiration of her unnatural beauty

Until finally was plucked from her den

Triumph! Oh Triumph!

To be rid of this goliath

I am the master of age!

No close of a chapter!

No turn of the page!

Not a month went by

(This beast is not shy)

Her tickle revealed by the wind

What? NO!

Into a giantess form she had grown

My earlier triumph now dim

Angered and spurned

Utterly confounded by her return

Thoughts flooded, “she must burn!”

Desperate, I snarled and snagged her myself

“No age of forty will put me on a shelf!”

I got you! I got you! I screamed from my cage

I glared upon her but away drained my rage

And the pride of the war I had waged

A door stood open a knowing emerged

 Emotional tirade I must purge

And from fear diverge

Right then and there to the beast I befriended

Temper tantrum now ended

My age I embraced as splendid

(but don’t get me wrong I still don’t approve

her presence I’ll will happily remove)



Herd of elephants run toward the camera from the bush behind

Just Say No to the Ride

Since we were unable to go to Johannesburg and Kruger National Park due to my rehabilitation needs and the girls’ school schedule, we needed to find an alternative animal park somewhere else to satisfy one last fix of the African wildlife. We decided on Addo Elephant Park, which is about 45 km from Port Elizabeth and seemed to fiBaby elephant reaches for water at a waterhole standing at the mama's feett nicely into our plans to drive along the Garden Route and stay overnight in one of the costal towns in the Eastern Cape. Addo is a national park a little over 1,600 square kilometers in size. Zebra, lion, Cape Buffalo, rhino and of course elephants are among the large animals you can see in the park. Hippo also live there but are found in an area of the park only accessible by 4-wheel drive. We heard that because of its size it is almost guaranteed that you will see all the animals. Unfortunately, we still missed the elusive lions but watched as a herd of about 15 elephants came charging out of the bush to drink at the water hole where we had front row seats. Our favorite character was the baby bouncing (and occasionally stumbling) alongside the mother with its trunk flopping around uncontrollably and exuding pure joy (actually we read that baby elephants have little control of their trunk for the first 2-3 weeks of life).

While planning our route, I read about Knysna (pronounced with the K silent) and Plettenburg Bay two coastal cities close to Port Elizabeth who are regaled for their beauty. I booked accommodation in Plettenburg or “Plett” as you would say if you were a local. I was also told to check out Knysna Elephant Park or KEP, which is located between Knysna and Plett. It is a privately owned elephant rescue program that also allows tourists to walk with, feed and ride the elephants. According to the website and the elephant caretakers we spoke to while there, KEP is a rescue sanctuary and their prime goal is to care for injured elephants and provide a safe haven for elephants from other game parks who are threatened for one reason or another, such as an aggressive older rhino who is on the attack. Once the elephants are safe and nursed back to health, they are reintroduced into larger, private game parks. These rescue elephants never see tourists. The elephants that tourists meet are the nine that make up their “resident herd”. One of the trainers was keen to make a differentiation between an elephant sanctuary and elephant park whose prime goal, according to him, is for tourism and profit.

Even though the option to ride the elephants was enticing, Jacob and I knew right away that we did not want to support this practice. Abusive training protocols in Southeast Asia has gained much publicity in recent years.  From my research, I learned that elephants are not built to be pack animals and their backs cannot tolerate very much weight. I also read that many elephant tours in Southeast Asia use saddles perched in the middle of the elephant’s back and the elephants are forced to carry one to two people on long rides for up to 12 hours per day with little water. There was a story in April 2016 of an elephant at Angkor Wat in Cambodia that collapsed and died of exhaustion.  The practice in Southeast Asia to train elephants for tourism as well as perform pack-animal work for farmers is called Phajaan or “the crush”. Baby elephants are stolen from their mothers and undergo this abuse and torture to break them of their “wildness”. Smugglers tranquilize the baby elephant so they can transport it and often they will shoot and kill other adult elephants that linger over the collapsed baby. The “trainers” will submit the baby to isolation, starve them of food and water and use bullhooks to beat and prod the elephant into submission. In Northern Thailand, there are now a few parks whose mission is to rescue and protect abused elephants.  These elephants are already desensitized to humans and the park allows tourists to get up close and personal but not ride them.

Knysna Elephant Park does not use saddles to transport the riders. Instead, they use blankets and riders sit at the front of the elephant’s body above their shoulders where their backs are stronger. Additionally, the rides there are only 15-20 minutes long, which is more tolerable for the elephants. However, I still did not want to support riding elephants even if their way was more “humane”. As soon as the girls saw the other tourists getting ready to ride, they challenged our ability to hold steadfast to our decision with immediate tears and protests about how we are unfair and horrible parents. However, we are not parents who cave easily just to keep our children from experiencing disappointment. You know me, I of course think it is valuable for kids to experience the breadth of their emotions as well as understand that the world does not need to bend to their every whim. That is how they will learn that they have the strength to tolerate tough emotions and make responsible choices. Actually, this event gave us the opportunity to talk with them about the controversy and why we were choosing to walk instead of ride.Jacob and Quinn walk with their elephant ahead of Mackenzie and Amy's elephant

Our walk with the elephants was magical. I did not envy the riders one bit because all they did was sit on top holding onto the elephant’s trainer. They missed out on the relationship we created with our walking partners, Nandi and Thandi (mother and daughter). The trainer who was walking with Mackenzie and me told us that Nandi and Thandi have never been willing to accept riders and the trainers are of the belief that they will not force an elephant to do a job they do not want to do. As we walked, we got to look into their eyes, put our hand on their warm, rough skin and feel the wiry hairs on their bodies and trunks. By the end of the experience the girls had come around and understood that this experience was just as good if not better than a ride.

Still, after our walk, the memory that the trainers at KEP all carried bullhooks floated to the front of my mind. I started thinking more about elephant abuse and the training required for elephants to allow people on their backs. I wondered if KEP’s stated method of positive reinforcement was really all they use and if so, why the need for bullhooks? I watched how the trainer, walking with Mackenzie and me, used his hook to sort of push Nandi back into her line; he also used a strong voice like you would with a dog so maybe the bullhook is like a leash. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology in which I learned all about positive reinforcement and how to get rats and pigeons to do tricks for me using food as a reward. I imagine this is what they do with the elephants as well but is this really humane? If elephants backs are not built to carry weight why do we think it is ok to put two adults up there even if their agreement is a bucket of fruit at the end. I then started to wonder about how much poking and prodding the elephants endure so that people can walk next to them? Is it really any better? I decided to ask Google about elephant abuse in Africa and guess which “sanctuary” came up in the feed? The owners of KEP also own and an elephant park called Elephants of Eden. In 2014 the owners were charged with and admitted to cruel and abusive treatment of baby elephants at Elephants of Eden but denied that the practice also occurs at KEP. Click to read for your self.

There are many businesses and organizations in the world that use animals in captivity to bring in money and raise awareness. It is pretty damn cool to be that close to an elephant or pet a cheetah but is my life going to be any less full if I just see these animals from a distance instead?  Is keeping animals in captivity the right method to bring about awareness and conservation?  Would people care as much about endangered species and land conservation if they didn’t get to see the animals in person and develop an empathetic connection?

Sally, the matriarch of the herd
Sally, the matriarch of the herd
These are multilayered, difficult questions and I really don’t have a clear answer. However, after all this research, what I do know is that if an elephant park or sanctuary offers elephant rides, it is best to steer clear.  These parks are keeping their “resident herds” well stocked, so to speak, which means that when a baby like Thandi is born at the park, they are “training” her early to be willing to allow people to walk and/ or ride her. True sanctuaries, like the ones in Northern Thailand, are rescuing elephants from establishments like these and offering a place for them to retire and have a better life not further abuse and hard labor.