Ten years. Six countries. One Family. But there's more to it than that.

And those three stars up there

Life gets in the way sometimes doesn’t it?  I’ve had this post in my head for two weeks now, but it’s been bumped aside by language lessons, preschool parents meetings, a toddler with a wonky foot that can’t be walked-on and too many trips to the doctor. Oh, and a round of Man Flu.   Then my husband threw out his back carrying the boy and I ended up with a sprained wrist.  Simplify that.

So with things settling back to normal, I daydreamt of the hours I would have today to write.  And last night I heard a wee voice, it sounded much like mine but couldn’t possibly have been, promising my husband 60 chocolate cupcakes for work today.


Nothing to do but type with one hand and run my electric mixer with the other. Cake batter is splattering across the windows.

You think I’m joking.

So I’ve been thinking all week about what our family’s values are.  It’s a hard task.  But a necessary one says Deb, who set me up to the challenge.   I’ve thought about them in the shower. While walking around the grocery store.  Cycled the long way to pick the boy up from school to give me extra time. I’ve googled lists of values. I read through them waiting to see what would jump out at me. Care? Empathy? Charity? Selflessness? Virtue? Discipline?

And it hit me one night when I was staring up at the stars.  3 bright stars, perfectly aligned caught my eye. I would look away and find I was drawn to them.  I went inside only to walk out again twenty minutes later and search for them.  I couldn’t stop staring. Is it Orion’s belt, or the span of Aquila’s Eagle? Perhaps the three stars of Taurus or the wing of Pegasus?  The Northern Cross of Cygnus? They stare back at me and I can’t understand why. But slowly as I stared at these three stars, pieces fell into place and I realised those things that my family values most and how they translate into what our values are.

I’ve tried to write them out here, but I am struggling – even without the mixer in my hand.  My writing just can’t do them justice. Instead I will share them as the weeks unfold.  But the process of searching for them, and even more  the realisation of finding them, was indeed hard work.  But I feel great.

There was an unexpected key in the front door a few moments back, and my husband has surprised me by coming home for lunch today.   He stared in with amazement at the gorgeous towers of my decadent cupcakes covering every surface of the kitchen.  I’d like to think he didn’t notice the chocolate batter sprayed across his CD collection.  “Wh–what in bloody earth is going on in here?! What are all of these?”

So much for impressing him with my culinary skills.

I explain. Um. Cupcakes. 60 of them. Like you asked for.

We stared at each other.  Me looking much like I’d swallowed a Cheshire cat.  Him with a blank stare of total daftness.


Huh? Sixteen what?

He doesn’t answer. He can’t choke any more words out out because he has tears down his face and is biting his fast to keep the giggles in.

Six. TEEN.

And it dawns on me.  I have made 44 extra cupcakes.

It’s a good thing laughter is one of our core values.


Home is where you pay your taxes.

We went Home for Christmas holidays this year – and when the holidays were finished we got on a plane and headed back Home, to where we are now. The whole time we were Home, all of our friends asked me when was the last time I was Home for Christmas, and if maybe we would go there again next year.

Confused yet?

Over the years I have learned to smile and nod and give the expected answer in hopefully the right tone of voice, keeping in mind what is expected depends on who is listening to you.

This has been our Home now for nearly 30 months.  Two and a half years in the same place.  Mould is beginning to grow, it’s been that long.  (No really, it is.  Big problem with mould over here, my bathroom has patches of black creeping out of the ceiling corners and even if I did know what to do about it, it’s a few feet out of my reach.  Any ideas?)

So as part of this ‘simplify your 2012’ project, Deb asked us to think of some things in 2011 that energized us.  And one thing that energized me was that we made the decision to set up our Home, Here.   To stop looking out the train windows at new places, to start saying “yes, I will buy that new frying pan because I am going to live here long enough to make it worth it”, to join the local sport association even though we have to commit to a year’s membership fees (a year!?), and to even start talking about buying a car.  Yes, a car.   A car narrows our Future down to a continent.

Accepting that we were staying put here really made me open my heart to this place a wee bit more.  It is a city built for families. Safe, clean, quiet. Activities. Sports.  Highly subsidised care for children in the years before they start school.  Green space. Rabbits.   One of the first and the few cities in the western world to declare itself debt and deficit free.  An international school for the boy, a new language to master, a fantastic economy with opportunities for me, amd lifetime job security for my husband.   Biggest indoor waterpark and pool  in this end of Europe and the largest hands-on science centre in the country. A cycling culture with bike paths connecting the entire city.  Two professional sports teams, both national champions. A planetarium.  A contemporary art museum.  Our very own 13th century castle.

A theme park that as more visitors per year than any other single European attraction aside from Euro Disney.  After  30 months I’ve passed through that ticket barrier 112 times.

So it seemed to make sense – where else would we go? What other city has more to offer than where we are now?  Of course we have our lists and we each have our sell-out criteria but when you write it out, anyone would have to be stupid to leave here. There was no place better in the world for us, no where that we could have possibly ended up was a better choice for us than this little non-descript city which caught us by accident 30 months ago. And it made me feel great.  

Yes, 2011 was the year that I discovered contentment and happiness with my surroundings.  Elated by the fact that my husband did as well, I was truly energized.  I danced around my kitchen like Freddy Mercury. I cycled those bike paths with energy. I started feeding my kitchen scraps to the rabbits.  I didn’t care that the boy kept me awake from 3am to 5am and wanted to go, again, to the theme park for the 113th time in less than three years.  Because this place here, was Home. I embraced it.

Four nights later I looked out my kitchen window and it hit me. For ten years, across three continents, six countries, eleven cities, we have chased it.

And this is it?

This is the Dream?

For Christmas I bought us a world map and taped it to the fridge.  2012 – back to the drawing board.


It’s not about me.

In some ways it really is that Simple – one girl set off on a trip, that became a journey which changed a career, that had a first date that became a marriage that turned into a family. And this is the house that Jack built.

I am a mom.  And we live abroad.  We live abroad until that abroad becomes Home and we pack it up and find a new abroad.  And so those are the two things that define me.  A mom, around the world.  And so I can’t write without facing those two things.

But this is about so much more than that.

It started with a challenge – a challenge from my friend Deb at Home Life Simplified to simplify your life in 52 weeks.   I stand up proud and I stand up tall and make no secret of the fact that I have not even read the details of her challenge.  I don’t even know what I am getting myself into.  But who can resist simplifying their life?  Not me.

So I joined Deb, to share the cobwebs in the corners my hallway ceiling, the piles of junk mail and supermarket fliers on my windowsills, the dead orchid in my living room.  Not to suggest that this is a housecleaning challenge.  But there are cobwebs in my memories, piles of junkmail in my career ambitions and a couple of dead orchids amongst my relationships.  Yes please, simplify this.

I attack change in my life the way I attacked cleaning my fridge today.  With energy and excitement, determined to scrub it all away and not be distracted by anything. To not give up when Unknown Sticky Gunk won’t wipe off with one swish of a j-cloth.  No, I promised myself and my husband that the fridge was going to look Brand New Again no matter how long it took, a good scrubbing and drying out to start the new year as we mean to go on.

Eight and a half minutes later with a puddle of water on the floor, the contents of my fridge melting on the table and three Unknown Sticky Gunk Spots not yet touched, I gave up. I finished off with a quick wipe, stuffed the food from the table in randomly and closed the door.  Done – fridge cleaned out for another two years.   It’s not that it was too difficult, or too icky, or too much of a job, but rather that I was bored. And so goes the rest of my life.

So I got to thinking about Deb’s challenge and wondered how it would work for someone like me. How do you simplify your life when your life is so non-traditional?  How do you make changes when your life’s foundation is always changing?

How do you even build that foundation to begin with?