J Simens.com

Guineafowl is to Turkey as Family Traditions is to Resilience

Thanksgiving sprouts

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important? Are celebrations like Thanksgiving good for us?

I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children so that potential problems are minimized?”

My Top Three:

  1. Family is the key!
  2. Knowing your ’emotions’ is essential.
  3. Family memories and family traditions build strong kids.

Do emotions help us make more ethical decisions?

I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their own emotions or tune into the feelings of others in their family or with peers, this is a considerable risk. If the child is unable to make ethical decisions, they are a risk to themselves and a risk to society.

If the child does not have a sense of “family,”  this is a huge risk. The impact of a strong family identity and the connectedness factor is often long-lasting, giving messages to the child that they are loved and accepted and belong to a broader network of people who matter.

It is my perception that no child is immune from pressure in our current, fast-paced, stressed filled environment so families have to be aware that at any time in their life a child might need help and support. They need to cope better with everyday challenges and be able to bounce back from disappointments. The concept of resilience is straightforward if you think about kids needing to thrive emotionally, behaviorally, academically and interpersonally. Families need to use Thanksgiving as a time to connect.

This is one of our favorite Thanksgiving memories

I can handle the first insult (according to my culture) but the second one puts me over my comfort zone.

It is Thanksgiving.

And we invited the guests.

And it was early in the evening.

But remember – First, you move me 1,500 miles away from where I call home.

Second, you invite a whole table full of your co-workers.

Third, this sets up the magic to make this a Thanksgiving that is memorable.

At first, when my husband suggested that we invite his co-workers from China who have never had a traditional American Thanksgiving to our home, I was eager. I had visions of everyone sitting around smiling and enjoying the feast I had carefully constructed.

Sunflowers, Pie, and Friends – what more does an expat need?

I was up early; the house smelled fantastic with the mixture of butter, onions and sage and a host of other things ready to be stuffed in the turkey. Then I tackled the homemade pies. Growing up in Kansas and spending hour after hour in my grandma’s kitchen, I can make a “mean apple pie” and the ‘absolutely must have’ pumpkin pie. Of course, through in an berry pie to make eveyone happy. I stirred, stuffed and muffed around the kitchen all day.

At 5:00 pm our guests were expected to arrive. At 4:45 pm everyone came right on cue but early! This should have been my first hint that this might not be a typical Thanksgiving dinner.

For you see my new husband was the BOSS

Yes, I had forgotten to factor in that perhaps our guests that I thought were so eager to come to Thanksgiving was, in fact, doing a “work obligation” on their day off.

At the start of the event, everyone just mingled around, and I started to relax. We exchanged names and polite words while my husband was eagerly getting everyone a drink. Then our first cultural mishap occurred.

The Chinese spokesman cleared his throat and said, “Mr. Simens, Thank you so much for having all of us here to celebrate with you and your fat wife.”

My husband looked awkwardly at me but his “deer in the headlight look” told me he was apprehensive of my reaction, wanted to wait, and intervene if he needed to.

As you know, I am well aware of cultural nuances, so I tipped my head and smiled. Pardon the pun, but I knew I was a big enough person to take this comment as a praise in China – a compliment and not an American putdown.

As we all settled down to the large dining room table, they asked me to explain each dish and tell them a little about them. This was more like the event I had in my mind, as a teacher sharing the joys and education of Thanksgiving.

Once a teacher always a teacher

I talked about the importance of corn bread, from the American natives “Indians” such as the Cherokee or the Chickasaw and the original recipes they had for these corn dishes. I explained how cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs that produce vines up to 2 meters or (7 ft) long. The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white but turns a deep red when fully ripe. Then I explained why we have both sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. I saved the best for last – the huge turkey. Then the observation that made the first “fat” remark seem tame happened.

“Mr. Simens, Wow, your turkey is as fat as your wife.”

“Let’s eat,” my husband said, trying to avoid any more discomfort.

Then the ‘Second in Command’ felt my husband just didn’t get the compliment, so he said, “Mr. Simens, We mean you are a very lucky man, you have a really big turkey and a really big wife.”

“Bon Appetite!” my husband tried again as he laid his hand carefully on my leg and patted my thigh. He was stroking my leg. Was he trying to comfort me or was he just getting into position to restrain me if I decided to lunge across the table at the company representative? Was he checking to see where the huge carving knife was?

I was only able to relax and start to enjoy the meal when I noticed everyone was eating. I hoped no one would talk with their mouth full of food (another American issue). I also wondered if there would be any burping. I then gave an inaudible Thanksgiving prayer – “Please don’t let anyone mention the word fat again this holiday season.”

Then I silently wondered what this group of people might be doing for Christmas. What might they say about a huge Christmas Ham?

I hope you and your family are creating Thanksgiving memories and better yet . . . Telling stories of Thanksgiving past so you can build up your child’s family emotion stories.

Please share one Thanksgiving Memory!

Notes: The Guineafowl made its way to Europe from Africa via Turkey. Therefore they called it ‘turkey.’


Our Your Predictions Off?


thinking child

What can you do when your brain doesn’t match your hand?

With two kids through a four-year college degree, I thought I had most of this ‘child-rearing’ figured out.  I do not.  I realize that half of what I have been telling my kids is possible wrong.  Or at least outdated. The world is constantly changing and nothing is for certain forever.

Are you OK with the notion that what your kids are learning in school may contradict what you learned in school? For some reason, that notion worries me!

Then I read this book – Yikes!

Samuel Arbesman’s “The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date” is very interesting and makes you think.  Most medical schools tell their students half of what they’ve been taught will be wrong within five years – the teachers just don’t know which half.

I think this also related to parenting. Some of the foundation of wanting your child to be ethical, kind and engaged will never change. But so many other things will have to change because things are changing rapidly.

Are you comfortable with scientific knowledge?

Are you comfortable with changes in scientific knowledge?  How did you handle the status of Pluto changing?  What about the age at which women should get mammograms? Facts change all the time.  For decades, we were convinced that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur.  For some people, they just don’t like this type of change.

Arbesman, a Harvard University-affiliated practitioner of scientometrics likes to look at how we know what we know.  He feels facts change in a regular, predictable manner and obeys mathematical rules.  Whenever I am faced with a mathematical rule I don’t understand I ask my children. One has a Master’s in Applied Mathematics and is very helpful!

They get this so much better than I do and they can break it down into bite size pieces so I really understand the rule.  Sometimes I watch the TV show, “Numbers” and then ask my children the hypothetical situation that was shown in the TV series.  Sometimes TV is spot on and sometimes the storyline doesn’t hold true to real mathematical rules.

Working with parents and change

I work with global parents, and there is always a lot of change in their lives.  Sometimes things so smooth and sometimes things just don’t go smooth. At times, there seems to not be any ‘rule’ to why things are done the way they are done.

When these families realize that there is nothing they can do about the changes then they decide they need to embrace it.  They are ready to move on to the next change they will have to cope with.

Arbesman states, “Once we recognize  facts change in a regular, predictable manner and they do obey these mathematical rules, we’ll be ready to live in the rapidly changing world around us.”




This book is on Amazon – Here.

Original Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lemaipictures/41766940/

946,080,000: Wow, that’s a lot of moments so dear!

Memories are what bind families together around the world. Memories shared are quality time spent with family. Memories are often all we have of past times. 

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose”, wise words from Fred Savage. He played Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years. 


It’s 1968. The Suburbs. And in each little house with a Chevy in the driveway and a TV in the den, there are people with stories…families band together in laughter, hope, love and wonder (season 1).  Its lack of laugh tracks and a single camera set up were revolutionary.

The Wonder Years set itself apart from other shows of its time, production-wise, with its single camera setup, use of a narrator, and complete lack of laugh track. “The Wonder Years [showed the television industry] that it’s OK to create a show like that—to take out the laugh track, to try different camera styles—to take a risk,” said Josh Saviano.

Resilience – one of the most common thread is the quality of time spent with family

Simens Wedding
Simens Wedding


Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear – How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights – in sunsets – In midnights – in cups of coffee – In inches – in miles – In laughter

How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? – Measure in love – Seasons of love


I am usually not one to talk much about my personal romances. Some things are private even if you blog about “home life” and “parenting.”

My first kiss was…

My first love was …

At times, it is hard to remember since Kevin has been a part of my life for 30 years!

At one time I did have a boyfriend younger than I was…

At one time I did date a basketball player …

I remember my first kiss with Kevin…

And I remember the last one…

You will see the reasons for my questions if you watch this film. I love the rainbow in the short movie.  Briand’s Apricot evokes forgotten memories. This movie is a film for the Dreamers, a film for the romantics and a film for film lovers.

APRICOT — A Short Film by Ben Briand from Moonwalk Films on Vimeo.

This year, the day we were to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary, we were apart. It did seem appropriate enough that I was with my flower girl from my wedding 30 years ago but not with Kevin.


I can’t imagine anything better than to be with my flower girl as an adult sharing the things that I love. We were at the Women in Tech conference in NOLA. Collision Conf 2017  was a great event this year. Imagine three women sharing all different backgrounds thriving at a conference. Amy, my flower girl, and niece is a graphic designer, Jackie – my daughter is a computer consultant and myself representing Families in Global Transition, we all found #Collusionconf a treasured experience.

Now back to Kevin, We had spent 946,080,000 seconds in love (not counting the three months we were engaged and the few shorts weeks before that when we met) There are so many things I remember about the last 30 years.

A visible record will provide some perspective

A few things stand out –

When we first decided we would start a ‘global life,’ Kevin wanted to give me a gift to symbolize our move from the USA to Singapore.  Of course, he bought me a lovely gem!  Little did he know that this simple tradition would slowly grow into a beautiful collection with so many International moves under our belts.  I am a firm believer that family traditions are a must for all families but vital for mobile households!  These types of rituals don’t have to be big or expensive – it is the simple traditions that keep a family strong.

When we made our first move from the USA overseas, I remember the excitement. We jointly made the long inventory list. We packed up many suitcases. We stuffed the air shipment full. We moved. We unpacked together and went shopping for our new home together. The last international move, I  updated the inventory. I left and went to the USA for the summer holiday.  Later that year, we packed up our home in Bangkok, Thailand and got it ready to head to Balikpapan, Indonesia.

On that our last international move from Bangkok to Balikpapan – Kevin sent the air shipment off to our son’s college. Kevin unpacked our home in Balikpapan. Kevin then meet me in the USA where I was still on vacation. I didn’t do much for this move.

But, our very last step was when we repatriated to the USA. Being a repatriate is very different than being an expat. We tried to consolidate all of our belongings so they would fit into our USA based home. The work before the actual move was a hard time. The actual move was smooth. We were going back to a fully functioning home, so we had no worries or concerns about the items being sent “home.”  We also could care less when the items arrived. It was a stressless move until the boxes showed up!

It is important that global families are flexible with what works best for them at that moment in time.

When we retired we packed up our expat life together and headed to the USA. We would not be returning to work. We were starting a new life of not “working.” I was excited.

When we first moved overseas, we went as a family of two to Singapore. We had long walks together, fun dinners with lively conversations and many talks about the upcoming trips we would be doing.  Two children later and 18 years with kids in elementary and high school, we are once again alone. When we left Borneo, we were again, a family of two.

Today we are enjoying long walks together, fun dinners and many talks about planning family vacations. Last year,  we jumped on a paddle wheeler and cruised around Emerald Bay. We cruised around Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. We looked at Vikingsholm, an excellent example of Scandinavian architecture which is a 38-room mansion.

This year we did a beautiful walk on the beach of Lake Tahoe, had champagne in front of the fireplace since it had snowed last night. Then we went to Soule Domain for a wonderful dinner celebration.

It is important that the adults in the family remain close, so the children benefit from the quality of time spent with family.

It had been a great 30 years!


For those family members that flew to the San Francisco Bay area for our wedding, I am glad you were a part of my memories.  We are lucky enough to spend our 25th with about 25 of our best friends in Bangkok, and I am thankful for those memories.

This year we didn’t get 30 of our close friends together, but we wanted to!  So plan to come to Tahoe on May 2nd next year, and we will invite you to our anniversary party!

For Amy and Jackie – thanks so much for attending Collision Women in Tech 2017 with me. Those memories are priceless!

Notes: Movie – APRICOT -A Short Film by Ben Briand
by Moonwalk Films
Winner: Community Choice Award
Voted Best Narrative on Vimeo by its users

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How Aware Are You, Socially?

I spend an enormous amount of my time trying to help children see how they fit in with their peers and how to understand what social clues are out there to know what behavior is acceptable. It is a fun but challenging job.


Some kids are quick to see the benefits of being socially aware others could care less. Children who come into my office are there to get help and support. It is not the branch of the school that deals with punishment. So often, kids think my office is fun, and we celebrate their strengths. I reflect on my work as a ‘party’ most days. In a  recent conference in Washington DC, I told them I had the best job in the world.

Where ever you are, celebrate with friends and family.  Join the crowd and use #WorldPartyDay to share on social media.

Since 1996, April 3 has been declared World Party Day.  Did you celebrate? One year, I did not, I was involved in two of my least favorite things in the world…travel in economy class and a phone notification that my mother was in the emergency room.  Yikes, not a celebration of any sort.

This year, I am in Roatan with my best friends, Pauline and Carol. We will be going to El Paso for the super baleadas to start our celebration. We are hoping to listen to Mickey Charteris talk about Caribbean Reef Life this evening.

Why #WorldPartyDay

“The idea of a worldwide party appeared as a work of fiction in Flight, A Quantum Fiction Novel, by American writer Vanna Bonta. The trilogy’s first book, published in 1995, ended with a countdown that was to take place on April 3, 2000, postulating that on that day the entire world would celebrate synchronously in elevated social awareness.”

Do you know this TCK?

In her early life, Bonta’s cultural experiences branched worldwide from her American-Italian-Dutch ancestry. Her father, a military officer, was raised in a small town in the American south. Her mother, a fine art painter, was born and raised in Florence, Italy. Bonta traveled the world with her family, living in Thailand as a young girl for six years when her father was stationed there as a diplomat.

Vanna attended an international school with children of many nationalities who practiced different religions. The experience fostered an understanding and interest in universal humanity, as well as an environment for learning four languages.

I love this massive worldwide phenomenon now in progress involves millions of individuals, organizations, and corporations around the world who are realizing a responsibility and ability to contribute positively to the collective future of Humanity and Earth.

Throughout April, I will be continuing the World Party Day theme!

I will be celebrating when we (a child and me) look into their social situation and can see what he/she can relate to and what they can do next. I look at social awareness as knowing ourselves in society and knowing what is going on in society. It is a two-prong situation.

So why do we need to be aware, because information about the society and its issues make us more responsible for the community? If kids are taught about social issues and problems, they will make an effort to do something about it, therefore improving society as a whole.

social awareness
social awareness

Do emotions help us make more ethical decisions?

Many of you know I work with kids and their feelings – big time. This is key to so many things in their life.  Do emotions help us make better ethical decisions? I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their own emotions or tune into the emotions of others in their family or with peers, this is a huge risk. If the child is unable to make ethical decisions, they are a risk to themselves and a risk to society.

There are a lot of social problems around the world. It is essential that more and more people be made aware of these issues so that we can fight them as a united world. Social awareness also makes the individual more mature and thoughtful when it comes to making important decisions for themselves or society.
Here are some of the more creative campaigns from around the world on social awareness.


Don’t miss the debut album from World Party Karl Wallinger’s insightful songs deal primarily with the responsibility of the individual to recognize and cope with the problems of the world. The song, World Party, is well worth a listen. Wallinger is a multi-instrumentalist, enabling him to demo and record the bulk of World Party material as a one-man band.

World Party Day or (P-Day) was celebrated in  United States, France, England, Africa, Italy, China, Korea, Vietnam, India, and Thailand. There is a simultaneous celebration of World Party Day that occurs in every continent of the world. The celebration has no religious or political connections. The theme of World Party Day celebrations is a “universal human right to fun, peace, and life.”

Global podcasts featured a variety of music and radio stations reading from the novel Flight.

The Quadrille Dance Parade is a fun event – check it out!

Kansas Day Jan. 29 – Do you celebrate your roots?

Kansas Day commemorates the admission of the state as the 34th in the Union ( USA) on January 29, 1861. Schools have been marking the anniversary since 1877 by learning more about their state’s history.

The Simens family of four have been celebrating Kansas Day for many years – Why?  I spent the first 18 years of my life in northwest Kansas.  It is part of me.  I wanted to keep this part of my history in my life.  I have held Kansas day parties in American Samoa, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Honduras, as well as in California, Hawaii, and Texas. BUT, I have never held a Kansas Day party in Kansas.

Words of Wisdom

Global families often wonder what holidays to celebrate. They wonder what should be important for their children to memories of or events around. Selecting holidays is never an easy decision especially in our cross-cultural families or our families that have lived in a variety of locations.  Whatever you choose to celebrate – make it a ritual.   Celebrate that holiday every year no matter where you are or who you are with at that time.

This year – we will be doing a take on the pioneers who lived in Kansas. Several of our friends in Roatan will be meeting us on the pier for “Pie” and “Beers.”  Thanks to Heather a friend from college, who told about this type of celebration and it seemed perfect for my annual Kansas Day party on Roatan.

Here is one of my favorite stories about Kansas, God, and a pet. (Sounds like a great country western song.)

God was missing for six days. Eventually, Michael, the archangel found him, resting on the seventh day.

He inquired, “Where have you been?”

God smiled deeply and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, “Look, Michael. Look what I’ve made.”

Archangel Michael looked puzzled, and said, “What is it?”

“It’s a planet,” replied God, and I’ve put life on it. I’m going to call it Earth, and it’s going to be a place to test Balance.”

“Balance?” inquired Michael, “I’m still confused.”

God explained, pointing to different parts of Earth. “For example, part of Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth, while another part of Europe is going to be poor. Over here I’ve placed a continent of white people, and over there is a continent of darker people. Balance in all things.”

God continued pointing to different countries. “This one will be scorching hot, while this one will be cold and covered in ice.”

The Archangel, impressed by God’s work, then pointed to a land area and said, “What’s that one?”

“That’s Kansas, the most glorious place on earth. There are beautiful rolling hills and prairies, rivers and streams, lakes, forests, hills, and the plains.” Then God Said, “This is Kansas, the center of America.

The people of Kansas are going to be handsome, modest, intelligent, and humorous, and they are going to travel the world. They will be extremely sociable, hardworking, high achieving, carriers of peace, and producers of good things. They will care about animals and have pets.”

Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then asked, “But what about balance, God? You said there would be a balance.”

God smiled, “I did have to put a few idiots in other parts of the world.”

Global Identity

I always wonder how strong my own child’s sense of identity or “where they are from” will be since they have spent all of their lives in chunks of four or five years on different continents.  As my one child said, ” I am 4% Australian since I was born there and lived there for awhile.  I am 25 % African since I have lived there a long time.  I am 25% American since I spend most of my summer holidays there. I am 45% Indonesian since I lived there so long. Of course, I am 1 % Thai since this is my home now.” He had decided to map his timeline by months so it would reflect the summer months he spent in the USA.

On another note, I wonder how he will introduce himself to peers in college? Or more importantly, will he be able to find that small of group friends that have grown up like him, a citizen of the world.



But seriously, You have got to love most titles of Country Western Songs!  Here are a few of my favorite:

Julia’s top 20 hits for any Kansas Day Party anywhere!

Please note these are not in any specific order, I just hit random and let the party begin!

1. Get Off the Table, Mabel (the $2 is for the Beer)

2. I Don’t Care if it Rains or Freezes, As Long as I Have My Plastic Jesus

3. I Just Can’t Get Over How You’ve Gotten Over Me

4. I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me

5. I’ve Got Tears in my Ears from Lyin’ on my Back in my Bed While I Cry Over You

6. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

7. You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’, Darlin’ – You Never Even Called Me By My Name

8. At the Gas Station of Love, I Got the Self-Service Pump

9. Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth ‘Cause I’m Kissing You Goodbye

10. It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long

11. Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreens, and I Cried All the Way to Sears

12. I Was Looking Back to See If You Were Looking Back to See If I Was Looking Back to See if You Were Looking Back at Me

13. Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well

14. Your Negligee Has Turned To a Flannel Nightgown

15. The Last Word In Lonesome Is “Me”

16. Walk Out Backwards Slowly, So I’ll Think You’re Walking In

17. And There was Grandma, Swingin’ on the Outhouse Door, Without a Shirt On

18. How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?

19. She Got The Ring, And I Got The Finger

20. They May Put Me In Prison, But They Can’t Stop My Face From Breaking Out

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What does tears, alcohol,and mama have in common?

My cowboy wears a Tom Nicks hat.

My cowboy wears a Tom Nicks hat.

These are the most used words in a USA “country” song. Did you know in the USA, Country music is the most advanced? It is if you are looking at reading levels.

The odds a Top 100 country song will refer to tears or crying are 1 in 3.23 The reference to alcohol is 1 in 5. The odds one of these songs will contain a reference to “Mama” are 1 in 7.14. The odds one will include a reference to the word “train” are 1 in 11.11, and the odds one will contain a reference to the word “prison” are 1 in 33.33.

I recently found another study that looked at songs that spent, at least, three weeks on the Billboard singles chart. The research used conventional measurements including the Flesh-Kincaid readability test, which considers the sentence, and word length as key factors. They looked at lyrics from 225 songs that topped the USA charts.

The sad news is the study found the average reading level was third grade – roughly eight years old in our educational system. They also discovered that the reading level has gone down in the last decade.

My music peeps might want to know how things ranked! Country music was the most advanced, with an average of 3.3, Hip-hop was last at 2.6 reading levels.

Maybe, way too many “yeah” and “oh” in quick succession in hip-hop.

Speaking of Alcohol

Why don’t you get a nice glass of beer and compare some of the highest songs to the lowest songs – and then tell me which one you’d rather have your child listen to or repeat the lyrics? The song that scored the highest, with a reading level of 5.8 was Country singer Blake Shelton’s “All about tonight”.

Shelton’s ode to hard partying, feel–good pills and red Gatorade might not be what I’d want my child to experience. I am not sure if “rocking all kinds of concoctions in our hands” is a phrase that I would have wanted my third grader to think about.

The second highest song was from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dani California.” Chaos in California is never fun to think about when you have a daughter living there.

Songs near the bottom were, Maroon 5”s “Moves like Jagger” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Let Me Hear You Scream.” If you are looking for a song that scored below a first grader’s reading level, you will need to listen to Three Days Grace “The Good Life”. I liked the chorus of this song: “All I want is a little of the good life. All I need is to have a good time. The good life.

Other bits of random information from the study:

  • Katy Perry had songs on both extremes – from the simple “Wide Awake” to the most complex “E.T.”
  • Smartest lyrics among pop artists – Mariah Carey
  • Smartest lyrics on hip-hop – Eminem

Changing my Music Standards

Will this study make me change my music habits? No. Will it make me wonder why songwriters have decided that they should be writing at an 8-year-old level? Yes. Does it worry me that our youth might get stuck in this level of reading achievement, as things around them remain so low. Yes. Am I super interested in seeing if other countries/languages have this same reading level in their music. Yes.


Notes: One study was done for SeatSmart – Andrew Powell-Morse. Methodology: made on findings based on reading complexity, not on metaphors, insightful observations or emotions expressed in the songs.

You can find more at: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2009/11/1-in-5-country-music-songs-refers-to-alcohol/



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The Zen in the Expat Thanksgiving

Family and Food - Two of my favorite things!

Family and Food – Two of my favorite things!

Being an American who has lived in many different countries, I have always tried to explain the USA holiday of Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays because it incorporates two things I hold very dear to my heart – Family and Food.

I like that it is not a gift giving holiday.

I like that it is not a religious holiday, people of all faiths can join in the celebration.

To me, it is a celebration of gratitude.

[Tweet “Gratitude in the best attitude. – Author Unknown...”]

I like the family traditions we have at Thanksgiving. I like that some things always stay the same. We always have turkey even if we have to pay too much for it.  My brother, Jeff who lives in Missouri is always amazed at how much you have to pay for a turkey in places like Indonesia, Nigeria, or American Samoa. Turkey’s are just not grown in many places in the world and when you have to throw in freezing containers floating around the world or air shipments – the costs are just sky high. I have been known to put a whole frozen turkey in a suitcase just to get one in the country we are currently living in at that time! Not much room in the suitcase for other items but well worth it for the family tradition.

I’ve made pumpkin pies from scratch in places where you can’t get our favorite Libby’s pumpkin puree. It is a several day process for me when you have to start with a whole garden pumpkin. I love the convenience, consistent flavor and texture of canned pumpkin even if it is mostly “squash’!

Some canned “pumpkin” puree is actually made from one or more types of winter squash, like butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, and Golden Delicious. These squash varieties can be less stringy and richer in sweetness and color than pumpkin. The USDA is actually pretty lenient with its distinction between pumpkin and squash.

Sometimes hard to find in July!Often in the summer on my annual home leave, I’d buy the Libby’s brand of canned pumpkin and throw it into our suitcase so I’d have my Thanksgiving pie!  Libby’s use a strain of Dickinson Pumpkins, with especially creamy flesh, that the company developed themselves. This variety of pumpkin resembles a butternut-squash, not the orange pumpkin we have for Halloween jack-o-lanterns.

Sometimes it is impossible to get Crisco in the countries we have lived in.  I like the crust of my pumpkin pie to be flaky.  I watched my Grandma Wright use Crisco (vegetable shortening), Flour, Salt, Water, Vinegar, and Egg to make perfect pies. This is the only way I know how to make a good pie. Ree, The Pioneer Woman uses a similar recipe. So believe it or not, Crisco has also found it’s way into my luggage.  So far I have only had to try and explain why I am bringing these items into a country one time.  By the time I got to pie crust . . . the customs official was waving me through the line. I am not sure what I would have said or done if they had taken my Thanksgiving stash.

My favorite Zen Holiday Story about giving thanks

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.

The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough
to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Giving thanks far away from family

Then: Bundle up it was always cold and drive across Logan County  to Grandma’s house. Over the river and through the woods and all that sort of stuff.

Now: Glad our child in is Hawaii enjoying a wonderful feast with a local family.  Glad the other child will be celebrating with friends  and family in Colorado. Glad you and Kevin have made the perfect Thanksgiving Feast.

At one Thanksgiving, it would have been our child’s first ever USA Thanksgiving. While living in college and not near family, I searched and searched for a restaurant that would deliver a feast to her college apartment. Most nice places have a buffet for important events like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years.  After hearing my ‘sad story’ about it being her first and only USA Thanksgiving in the USA and being alone my wish was honored.  The Briarwood Inn supplied a feast for my child. It is hard to know how much a person might eat at a buffet and there was no way to really determine that. My child reported that not only was it a feast there were tons of leftovers and that is what makes Thanksgiving special for a college kid.  Or all of us. Right.

Thanksgiving past and present 

I am grateful for all the Thanksgiving feasts I have had.  Starting with the ones at Grandma Wright’s Kansas farmhouse to this one in Incline Village, NV.  At first all my memories of Thanksgiving were only about family members. Often we had a whole room full of tables and family sharing the feast. Then it moved to Thanksgiving with college friends and on to Thanksgiving with international teachers. A few years of Kevin and I sharing the dinner with friends. Finally, my own family and an ongoing list of expats sharing the feast.

I wish I had taken pictures of the faces of people who shared my table at each and every Thanksgiving to have as a slideshow. Besides a whole host of wonderful people and their smiling faces, it would show some interesting things. It would show the massive tuna that the young teachers put on the BBQ in Samoa to go with the roast turkey.

It would show my Mom cooking gravy in a “fry baby” in Hawaii since my college apartment didn’t have a lot of kitchen items. All of our guests had to bring their own plates and silverware since we only had a set of three odds and ends. Our family will be missing our mother this year at the holidays but remember fondly how she so effortlessly made a huge meal year after year for all of us and any friends we wanted to bring along.

It would show the wonderful name tags my kids made one year. It would show the straw turkey Jackie painted with her Grandma Simens. It would show friends from around the world. It would show my family. It would show my quasi-families!

[Tweet “Expats create quasi-family for Thanksgiving”]

Enjoy your time with friends –  If you are an expat create a quasi-family and enjoy the holiday.


Zesho Susan O’Connell speaks about Thanksgiving and she does it well.

“The greatest gift is to give. We can give gratitude, we can give sustenance to body and mind, we can give fearlessness. The wheel of giving and receiving keeps our hearts open and warm. And a warm and open heart is the source of courage – the courage to sit still in the midst of our constantly changing, challenging lives. Wisdom emerges from this stillness — and informs the style and content of our giving. Give with no expectation of return. Give wholeheartedly, and if you realize you are holding back, give yourself kindness and understanding. Give each out-breath to the benefit of the world.

Oh Cr*p – will my global finds make my home look like a museum or Pier 1 Imports?

Indigenous Australian art or Australian Aboriginal art

Indigenous Australian art or Australian Aboriginal art

Let the fun begin!  We are finally going to have all our world treasures in one location.  My heart loves this, but my head keeps asking if my home will look like a museum or like the showroom at Pier 1 Imports?

I do know I need to make a gallery wall because I have a huge wall that is empty! Yeah. Kevin reminds me to do it well and do it ‘once’ so it is not something he continually has to fix or change. I’ve asked Houzz to help me so I am eager to see what options we might come up with.

I also know many of you guys have already combined your homes with lovely art so if you have any ideas, please let me know. Here are some of the wall things I will be playing with.


Picture Main colors matt Frame Size in INCHES
Ethnic Theme Height x width
Indonesian Dancer Gold/Red/ YellowOil Painting from Indonesia Tan Gold 48 x 39
Mother - Vietnamese lacquerware Red/GoldVietnamese lacquerware black Black and gold 20 x 16
Plants - Vietnamese lacquerware Red/Gold Plants




black Black and gold 24 x 18
selempang (Indonesian sash) in shadow box Antique

picture – selempang (Indonesian sash) in shadow box

black black 38 x 10
Antique world map White/tanOld world MapFrom Bangkok Tan wooden 27 x 23

Antique Kansas Map

Antique Kansas Map

Antique Kansas Map green wood 16 x 18

Spicy it up naturally


White/ red/greenArtist drawing of Indonesian Cooking plants/spices tan black 28 x 26

Singapore Palette

Singapore Palette

White/ red/greenDrawing from Singapore about famous Chop Houses tan black 20 x 31
 Africa -Animals By Jackie Purple/ Red Child’s artwork from Nigeria purple black 24 x 18

Indigenous Australian art or Australian Aboriginal art

Indigenous Australian art or Australian Aboriginal art

Orange/brownAboriginal Art from Western Australia none none 29.5 X 39.5 can go either way

Aboriginal Girl

Aboriginal Girl

Orange/brown Cross stitch of Australian Art none wood 18.5 x 17

Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal Art

Green/brownAustralian Aboriginal Art none none 18 x 24

Golden antique  door Africa

Golden antique door Africa

Gold – Antique Door knocker from Africa clear Gold 12 x 10

Two Men at the Lagos Market

Two Men at the Lagos Market

Black/ white/ red    Water color of two Men in the Lagos Market – African Art black wood 36 x 36

Ghana necklace Silver

Ghana necklace Silver

Black/ silverAntique Necklace Ghana, African art black tan 23 x 18

Ladies with Purses

Ladies with Purses

White – pen drawingLadies with Purses black wood 18.5 x 25.5

Thailand Wooden Carved Mirror

Thailand Wooden Carved Mirror

Wooden carved Mirror from Thailand mirror wood 35.5 x 32
 Looks a lot like the mirror above Carved Wood small mirror from Thailand mirror wood 18 x 14

Metal and pottery in shadow box (Africa)

Metal and pottery in shadow box (Africa)

Green/ silver pottery from Nigeria clear Green/ silver 25.5 x 12

Metal and pottery in shadow box (Africa)

MAN – Metal and pottery in shadow box (Africa)

Green/ silver Metal Man from Nigeria clear Green/ silver 14 x 12

Metal and pottery in shadow box (Africa)

Metal and pottery in shadow box (Africa)

Green/ silver Metal and pottery from Benin – Africa clear Green/ silver 15 x 14.5

We will talk about the Indonesian fishing baskets, the Nigerian baskets, the Ghana gourds and more in the next blog post.  AND don’t get me started on what the kids have kept as their world keepsakes!

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TCK’s doing good around the world: Volunteering Give and Get

Volunteer Story – Grant Simens   (published in Argentina)

March 12, 2015 by

 Written By – Grant Simens

                 There’s a gap between people. It shows  itself in a number of ways. From the problems being faced halfway across the world, to the private issues in the house next door; the gap between humans can separate you from taking on the challenges and problems of others. This trip, I found that was no longer the case for me.

                I spent the last six weeks in Cordoba, Argentina working at the Human Rights Office. New to volunteering, in general, let alone human rights, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is that two things are true.

  1. I love meeting new people and cultures
  2.  I wanted to have a positive impact in a community.

I would soon come to realize, my experience would not only do that, but far exceed my expectations in how much I’ve seem to grow as a person since I arrived.

Working in an office may have been the headquarters of our operations, but I soon found the real growth came from the work we brought with us when we left to go to our different placements around the city. My work entailed a variety of tasks. As a human rights group, it was our duty to acquire and follow-up on human rights cases to help in the best way we can legally. This meant for me, helping out at the Legal Clinic at Blas Pascal, and interviewing and interacting with the homeless people at Plaza San Martin. Cases were probably my favorite thing about the work. Being able to find and interact with people who need our help, and follow-up with them throughout the process of their case, really allowed me to care and try to help the specific people I’ve been tasked with helping. It allowed me to take on their problems as well and put a face to the paperwork we did behind doors. One often hear statistics about the poor and homeless, but for many people those problems feel far from home. So as a volunteer, starting out with a name on a sheet of paper, then moving on to face-to-face contact, and seeing progress being made, really helped that gap close for me. It let me be a part of the solution – a friendly face in an organization standing up for each person in need to help give them a voice. I will miss my cases, and the people I’ve become acquainted with, but I know I will be leaving them in good hands.

Other parts of my work here included helping initiate the ID program. In order to take care of government benefits in Argentina, you need a DNI (identification). For many people however, they cannot benefit from these programs as they do not have one. Either they were never registered, or they lost theirs (a common circumstance when living on the street). My task was figuring out and conducting a plan to get every client without an ID, a new one. Drawing up a plan, we dove into figuring out who we could help get a new ID, including getting a poverty certificate and taking their information to run through the process. Overall, I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken and glad to be leaving behind a plan to follow.


One other project I was proud to be a part of was sitting in as a representative of Projects Abroad at the Tumbando Rejas magazine meetings. This year, they are doing a larger issue including all the other NGO’s in Cordoba. I was tasked with attending meetings at Freire to help with ideas and relay information back to the office. It was great to meet so many outgoing people working together on a project across multiple groups.

Overall, I’d say I was thrown in the deep-end, when it cames to learning how to communicate in Spanish. I remember being tasked with talking to clients on the phone to tell them about their appointment. For the first one I created a script to read because I was so nervous. But for some reason, for the second one I had a burst of confidence, and decided to wing it, and was so proud of myself being able to come up with the words I needed to say. At first speaking in Spanish to clients seemed intimidating, but the human rights group gave plenty of practice in tough situations that eventually I found myself speaking with clients back and forth very easily after a couple weeks, which was a really rewarding experience.

I recommend future volunteers to get started right away and jump right into their work. It is definitely true that you get back as much as you put in. Also, to really invest in your placements, and try to get out of the office for personal work as much as you can, as it was very rewarding working with the people you are here to help.

As I said, there’s a gap that exists between the lives of others. If I were to be thankful for one thing out of this whole experience, working with human rights in Argentina, it would be for allowing me to close the gap between my world and the people I’ve come to help. I was brought closer to issues far removed from me, and yet, as I leave, I feel that they were my own. If only the whole world could experience something similar, perhaps we wouldn’t feel so far away from each other. Tonight I’ll be travelling thousands of miles away, but the people of Argentina will still be with me.