The Return

The departure, September 2022

The return, July 2023

They all told us that the return would be hard. Like, really hard. I also assumed it would have stages, like a kind of grief. Perhaps we are currently in some kind of fog stage, wandering around sunny, beautiful Vancouver (yes, I know – it’s only an oxymoron ¾ of the year), wondering if indeed time has passed since we left.

And the stuff. How much STUFF we have! I of course wrongly assumed that our Olympics-honed packing regimen of pack/unpack would apply to the return home. But I somehow forgot that it wasn’t just our trip bags, but all of those niceties we squirrelled away, forgot that we needed – or wanted. And here they are, complicating things again.

I asked Emmet and Asa yesterday, "you just survived a year with only Legos. It was essentially your only toy (they brought others, but they slowly faded away) and you were happy with them. In fact, you looked forward to them each morning. Now you are surrounded by mountains of things to play with. Do you think stuff makes you happier?" 

To which they both replied matter-of-factly, “You can be happy with either.” I think that’s kind of the running script these days – you can thrive in all sorts of places, cultures, lifestyles, and environments. 

So we are settling in and wondering about time, how to tell our stories, who we are now, and how to apply who we are to our new context. I can’t say any of those thoughts are intentional right now. It’s more a blur: a slow entry, remembering how to be social, taking it one step at a time, trying to remember those feelings/perceived identities of freedom, stufflessness, flow, agency, flexibility, and often, seeing more forest than trees. Travel certainly wasn’t perfect, but there was a spaciousness that allowed us to be who we wanted to be, or at least have a throughway to that sensed vision.

So I think a final trip post deserves something of an overview of that forest, so here it goes.

10 countries

US (Orcas, Boston, Rochester, NYC, & Michigan at the end)

Thailand (Chiang Mai and surrounds, Pai, Koh Lanta, Bangkok)


Vietnam (Hoi An/Da Nang, Hue, Phong Nha, Hanoi)

Malaysia (Penang, Kuala Lumpur)

Taiwan (Taipei, Hsinchu, Tainan, Qilai Nanhua trail, Wulai, Yangmingshan) 

Sri Lanka (Negombo, Sigiriya, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Kandy, Ella, Weligama)

UAE (Dubai for a day/night!)

Italy (Florence, Venice, Bologna, Elba, Sorrento, Naples, Atrani, Siracusa, Noto Valley, Stromboli, Palermo, Agrigento, Sardinia, Rome)

Corsica (Bonifacio, for a day!)

All kinds of transportation (truly a Richard Scarry book)
On the rails: bullet trains, steam trains, subway trains, ferry-riding trains. In the air: large and small planes (20 flight legs!), gondalas. On the water: hydrofoils, ferries, kayaks, SUPs, motorboats, sailboats, rowboats, basket boats. On the road: buses, cars, tuk tuks, songthaews, pick-up trucks, taxis, bikes, bicycle rickshaws, electric scooters. Self-powered: walking, running, swimming, snorkeling!

Favorite moments (impossible to say, but let's try)
Asa: we had just arrived in Jaffna. It was sunset. We walked to the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil (Hindu temple). We looked at the temple and went in. We took our shirts off (the men/boys have to). We waited a bit and then looked around, saw the people praying, saw the priests use fire around the gods. We watched in one area of puja where they said prayers and rocked the god to sleep. Then they would walk to another god and do the same. We followed them to put all of the gods to sleep. [no photos allowed inside the temple]

Emmet: we had to return our scooter in Hoi An. We waved to an older woman who was farming the rice paddies. On our walk back on the trail through the paddy, we saw the same woman, but now one of her water buffalos was on the trail blocking our path. The woman motioned for us to go around it. And then, when we were on the other side, she invited me to ride the water buffalo. And I did and it was so fun! It wasn't too hairy, but very warm. 

Obie: we hiked to a small lake, accompanied by five elephants in a rural village outside of Chiang Mai. These huge creatures descended into the lake, seeming to love the feel of water and splashing. We bathed with them, washed these giants. It was a mix of awe, surprise, and humbling to be alongside these creatures.

Me: our first hike in Chiang Mai, through the steamy jungle, threatening monsoons, drip drip drip, fears of snakes (me) and tigers (kid) (I know, there are no tigers in the jungles of Chiang Mai, but fear is fear), whines of worry. And all of the sudden, the beautiful Buddhist temple of Wat Pha Lat emerges through the thick vines. And we realize the value of the unknown, pushing through, being together, awash in something akin to peace.

Chris: so many, but one of the first indelible memories: we had heard from a friend about a houseboat you could visit deep in a Thai national park. We had a longtail boat drive us for an hour up the long winding lake past increasingly remote jungly mountains. We finally arrived at a set of hand-built floating wooden houses and docks lashed together -- completely empty except for us (!). We spent the day with the owner who welcomed us, chopped the head off a fish of our choosing and grilled it for lunch, showed the kids waterslides and trampolines, and took us all in a boat deeper into the jungle to explore an abandoned Buddhist temple. Uncertainty, exploration, magic -- a perfect travel day. 

Places we might consider living in the future

Asa: Hoi An, Hue, Trincomalee, Jaffna

Emmet: Hanoi, Hue, Florence 

Obie: Chiang Mai, Florence 

Me: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Rome

Chris: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Rome also :)


So what now? We start our lives, slowly. We unpack and throw away stuff that doesn't spark joy. Emmet and Asa start day camp on Monday. Emmet and Obie leave for sleep-away camp in a few weeks. Obie’s friends threw him a surprise party the day after we returned, and he luxuriates in friends, newfound Vancouver independence, a new basement room in our house, and embracing the matured him. Chris is starting a new chapter of learning to code, while planning hikes and re-envisioning Vancouver life 2.0. I slowly emerge from my sabbatical bliss, put some professional feelers out there, and start my PhD program in the Fall. 

And for this blog? I think most of my writing energies will slowly be transferred to my intuition blog, so I might pop in here and there when the inspiration hits! Thank you for sharing in our journey. It’s been a grounding and important touchpoint for me to chronicle this time, stay connected with community, and jumpstart a certain writing/creativity that had been dormant in me for some time.

None of us know how this trip will impact us as we embark on our new-old life in Vancouver. But as Obie said to me in our last days in Rome, “I don’t know how this trip changed me, but deep down, I know that I am changed forever.” So we go with that. And as it feels like we are slipping into the banalities of life – the to-do’s and the weight of logistics and balancing acts – I believe it’s important that we keep the faith that we have been deeply moved by this experience, and to have trust that its teachings will appear when we need them most.

Snapshots of Three Kids in Time, on the Precipice [Rome]

I recently read a thought provoking but nihilistic article existentially making a case against travel. Always good to froth up how I see the world, and contradict our current life choices.

So cast your mind, instead, to any friends who are soon to set off on summer adventures. In what condition do you expect to find them when they return? They may speak of their travel as though it were transformative, a “once in a lifetime” experience, but will you be able to notice a difference in their behavior, their beliefs, their moral compass? Will there be any difference at all?

So will we come back changed, preferably in a positive direction? I hope so. But I don’t really know.

I have gotten much better on this trip with pauses, with stopping time for a second to reflect and watch the swirl of humans in my orbit against these changing geographical backdrops. As our trip comes to a close, I want to shine momentary spotlights on each kid, where they are in time and space, the process of becoming. Would they have evolved in the same way without this year? Maybe. Will there be a moment when we truly understand the impact of this trip? Who knows.

Please note as I kvell – there is nothing Pollyannaish in this post. As we get closer to the ‘end,’ we also endure many moments of impatience, projection of grumpiness onto each other, and I have no doubt that this will only escalate, particularly once the honeymoon of Vancouver ebbs. I find myself asking the kids multiple times a day: what do you hope to accomplish with this conversation? Are you finding it productive? See this real-life picture from day 1 in Rome.

Obie / On the Brink
As we wound our way through Roman cobblestone streets, Obie inquired about my university experiences abroad. Through markets and across bridges, we discussed my program in Kerala, how it changed me, and where he might want to travel as he gets older. I marvelled at this conversation, knowing that the reality of this possibility likely would not be as vivid for him if not for this trip. He listed off the places he might go, what he loves about discovering new places, what challenges he embraces and what he eschews, what educational tracks he might be interested in exploring. At this moment of precipice, between child and teenager, he is so aware of how he sees the world differently and how much he does not know. He does know it’s all about to change. High school, friends, independence. He started to see glimpses of the future, unfathomable and magnetic.  

Emmet / Discovering Passion
Emmet has always had a creative brain and a drive to achieve. He is more discovering in himself a disciplined passion that is uniquely him, sometimes frustrated that others are not as committed as he is. His creativity once encapsulated in Legos or building things from random trinkets or rocks is now blooming in concert with tech. Inspired by the architecture of the different places we have traveled, his brain is on fire with building – first a scavenger hunt app for worldschoolers, now an app where you can design your own city. He commits to their building everyday, longing for our often limited attention and support. He is constantly creating in his head, drawing on paper, exploring rabbit holes of functionality and design, inspired by the differences in architecture, monuments, art, and environment of the places we have traveled. He is beginning to know himself – how these drives can be all-encompassing and what tools he needs to find his own sense of balance.

Asa / Budding Confidence
What a day last week. For those of you who know him, Asa has struggled with shyness and engaging new people. He also is an unbelievable reader of mythology across cultures, connecting the colourful detail of myth with the religious philosophies that animate them. We had to shift him over to Greek mythology during this trip, as his knowledge of Hindu mythology was so intense that we couldn’t find any other books in English to support him. This week, he has shined in a way in which I have never seen him. On a tour with a lovely tour guide through the Capitoline museums focused on Percy Jackson (but really, Greek mythology), Asa was the star, sharing his knowledge, deepening the tour guide’s presentations. Our guide was enamoured. What was remarkable to me was the confidence Asa exhibited. He is usually the little one, standing behind his adept older brothers, extraverted Obie or articulate Emmet. For the first time, it was Asa – deep and thoughtful – graciously sharing his passion. We are seeing this time and time again, moments of boldness and the steady embrace of who he is. 


So have they changed? Have Chris and I changed?

I really don’t know. Will the kids struggle to re-enter a traditional life? Probably. Will it have been worth it? I’m not even sure what that means. I suppose at this point, I am just guided by faith. Which means take the next step, one foot in front of the other. Trust in what appears. Trust that they have enough love and grounding in each of them, in each other, to persevere. Trust that we all do.

So here we are, the end of the international part of this trip (I know, the US is international, but...).

Here are some photos of Rome, our final stop before our first step back into the world - to Michigan - to reunite with family, and then home to Vancouver.

Street/Random Ancient Things

Capitoline Museums
Colosseum + Gladiator Training + Roman Forum
Pantheon + Trevi Fountain + Vatican
Ikono Adventure
Final Date Night (including scooter ride) + Final Gelatos + Final Family Dinner 

Also, I bought a pair of Italian shoes that makes me so happy. So with all of this faith and spiritual and growth stuff, let’s remember that Italian fashion is everything.

Almost Last Stops [Palermo + Sardinia]

It is truly unfathomable that we are on the final legs of this trip. We had our last day in stunning Sardinia today, and it's onto Rome (our final stop in Italy) tomorrow.

People keep asking how we feel about the transition towards home. In short, it’s complicated! Here are a few of the many emotions I am experiencing:

  • Giddy: for some of the creature comforts I have missed (kitchen, food, soft couches and beds, reliable internet)
  • Can't wait: to restart a regular dance routine
  • Neutral: returning to Vancouver, with its combination of wonders (friends, family, beauty, food) and foibles (dark, long winters, the way its weather imprints on its personality), but buoyed by our resolve to re-pattern some of our old habits
  • Conflicted: the thrill of having personal space with the knowledge of how special, unique, and fleeting this time is – when the majority of our needs are met by proximity to and intimacy with each other / conflicted also to watch the kids apply this transformative year to their Vancouver lives, and/but will likely struggle in ways they can't foresee
  • Gentle dread: the growing list of real-life to-do’s, the balancing act of personal/spiritual fulfillment, family, marriage, making money, the loss of the spaciousness of travel
  • Wary of: getting again swept up the seeming significance of those to-do’s and the reprioritization of what is important
  • Peace: feeling grounded knowing it’s time to go home

Sardinia has been the perfect place to dig in before the anticipated chaos of Rome. It’s beautiful and wild, with terrain that feels sometimes otherworldly. We are based in the small town of Santa Teresa di Gallura, hanging out with our good friends, Nina and Steve. What a gift that they met us here. We explored local beaches and rocks, spent a day in Bonifacio, Corsica, and rented a boat to adventure around La Maddalena archipelago. 

Rewind a week back to the north/west side of Sicily: We had a great time in Palermo, though I think I might prefer to live there (or better yet, be a university student) and dig in deeper, rather than be tourists. Past its busy, edgy exterior, you could only just feel its underbelly of art, markets, family, food (gelato in a brioche, pistachio pizza, so much seafood). Palermo was thinking someone was yelling at you in Sicilian, gesticulating wildly, but then breaking into a big grin and giving you a fist bump. Always that edge. So much I didn’t understand. Yes, the driving was chaotic, but it just gave Chris fond memories of Asia. Yes, there was a lot of trash strewn all over the streets, but that just made it easier to toss our Airbnb garbage. 

We also went to the beautiful beach town of Cefalu (see Emmet's sand construction of one of the many volcanoes we have seen on this trip), Agrigento (ancient Greek temples), and the gorgeous Scala dei Turchi. 

Also, Asa turned 7 in Palermo!!! We had a day of pancakes for breakfast, a hike to a wild beach in the Zingaro reserve, sushi for dinner (with a sushi birthday cake), and general lavishing of love on this sweet, thoughtful, mythology-loving, existentially-aware little being.

Also, whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Onto Roma!!!

Coming Clean! What’s Professionally Next For Me...

The juxtaposition of our time in Asia and our time in Italy has been enormous and deep for far too many reasons to articulate. But one thing I am left with is this sense in Italy (and likely more broadly in Europe) of the importance of legacy. History and monuments and towers and art and dilapidated stone, crumbling but left intact. Everywhere we go there is an opportunity for our family to dive into the threads of the history that is told and retold, to learn about the plastered remains of Pompeii or the old paper mills of Amalfi or the underground histories upon histories of Napoli. [I won’t get into whose histories we are learning, but that’s for another day…]

In Thailand and Vietnam, where we spent most of our time, these stories were harder to come by, despite the rich histories and cultures. Is it simply that our poor Thai/Vietnamese skills limited our ability to dive into these histories? Less financial means to memorialize these histories? Or is there a different relationship to history and legacy altogether, retelling in different spaces, with different edifices, with different audiences, with different prioritizations?

In this midlife moment of pause, I’ve been thinking about legacy. There are some people I meet who have this drive, this animating force to erect vestiges of self that live on. And others content to witness those vestiges in their nurtured loved ones. And others who experience 'self' itself as illusory, all things moving in the mystical labyrinthian workings of the cosmos, less concerned about the calcification of the ego and its echoes.  

I am sitting here, bracketed in a corner of our Airbnb, as light streams over the Atrani hills. [Note for astute blog readers: we're actually in Palermo now – I wrote this while we were on the Amalfi coast.] Light here is a slow and beautiful thing to witness. As the sun rises in the sky, each portion of the interconnected houses built into the mountain becomes illuminated, the sun slowly sweeping across the valley. Asa and Emmet play Legos quietly in the corner. Obie and Chris sleep in the other rooms. I have my earphones on, immersed in my morning’s wanderings.

My relationship at this point in my life to legacy is tenuous at best. For a long time, I have played with the idea, leaving a particular stamp upon the world, in and beyond my family. I wanted to write a book or to leave a mark on a particular issue. And yet, I couldn’t find the right fit. It was like the draw to legacy was misguided, was not the creative force, an empty façade without the mountain holding it up.

Here’s what I’ve come to. For me, the drive towards legacy lacks both grounding and firepower. What I have come more in tune with over this trip is a magnetic draw to purpose, a clarity of something I have been drawn to throughout my life in different forms, in different moments of lucidity. I don’t care about this self, its temporary form, or the structures it leaves behind. I think for me it is much more a question of harmony or alignment. Like there’s this symphony or synchronization of frequency, weaving threads into a story of my life.

In the same way that having kids felt like part of this story, and I listened to that, so do I feel like various forces have coalesced around something simultaneously new and old: studying the experience of intuition. Intuition has always been a character in my life - often only a bit part and relegated to the wings. At this point in my own evolution, it has now taken center stage. 

So as far as what’s next for me professionally, here’s what I’ve come to:

  • I will begin an online part-time PhD in the interdisciplinary study and practice of intuition in the Fall.
  • I will continue my work in the organizational design/strategy world, seeking out a position based in Vancouver (likely an operational role in an academic institution), so I can nurture more local connections to the world and people around me.

You can follow my new blog - Into Intuition - as I dive into my explorations of the practice, experience, and deepening of intuition. This first post explains a bit more about 'why intuition' and how I ended up here. 

Peace and Ferocity: Living in the Shadow of a Volcano [Eastern Sicily + Stromboli]

Stromboli: the Most Active Volcano in the World
Yesterday we departed Stromboli, one of the Aeolian islands, after living on the island for three days and climbing the volcano two nights ago.

As you would imagine, this island is dramatic, the volcano very much playing the role of lead character. Black rock/sand beaches line the island set against white adobe houses, dotted with blue and red windows and doors. Our place was pretty sweet, with views of the water and the volcano, and a beach we could drop down into. 

The volcano looms eerily above. It is the most active volcano in the world, puffing grey smoke almost constantly, and spitting out fire every twenty minutes or so. But the only time you can witness these explosions is at night. The sun sets and you are privy to a fireworks’ show of red sparks emerging from its crater.

The hike up was not so bad – about two hours of steep uphill, but doable. It was a night hike, and as usual, our kids were the only kids on the guided hike (you can no longer ascend the volcano to the highest viewing point without a guide). As the sun began to set, we noticed a looming cloud threatening our remarkable views of the volcano. Alas, the gods of weather were not pleased that night: total fog-out as dusk descended. Oh well! We turned back to go down the mountain around 9:30 pm, got a peek about halfway down of the pyrotechnics as the fog lifted, and finally dragged ourselves into bed at 11 pm. We were beat.

The next night we did about a quarter of the climb again, up to a restaurant where you can eat pizza and drink wine on the terrace while watching molten magma spew out of the volcano. What magic.

Living – even only for three days – on a tiny island that is essentially all volcano is truly awe-some. I have always been an ocean person, awed by its enormity, mystery, power, and contradiction of quiet and ferocity. I have never felt that deeply for another natural phenomenon until my brief stint on this island. While I have visited other volcanoes, this one felt different. Alive somehow.

[And yes, it did inspire many conversations about what is life, is a volcano alive, what constitutes sentience, is there a spectrum of what we perceive life to be, etc.]

Residents of Stromboli basically live almost at the summit of the volcano; two miles tall, only the very top of the volcano is above water. It looms large, peaceful, and grounding, yet utterly unstable, dangerous, and wild.  

I recently read a 2021 New York Times article on Stromboli. The article cites an inhabitant of the island, who works with scientists to present and share their work: “… residents get to know the volcano, and its personality, as if it were a living thing. 'It’s strange. It’s like a person,' he said. 'You really miss it when you leave here. You feel lost.'"

I can’t explain it, but I really felt that.

Other Adventures in Sicily
Last we left our heroes, I was getting my feet wet in the transparent waters of Sicily. It’s been a minute over here! Before Stromboli, we spent a week in Siracusa, traveling to: 

  • Oritigia/Siracusa: lively market, crumbling facades, ancient remains of Greek/Roman theatres/buildings in Neapolis Archaeological Park, incredible cannoli and first sips of granite, touring an ancient Jewish mikvah dating back to the 6th century BCE. [When the Jews were forced out of Ortigia at the Spanish inquisition’s orders, the Ortigian Jews - 25% of the population at the time - covered the mikvah in dirt. It was only discovered in 1987!]

  • Noto: processions, art lining the long-stairways, markets, eating/drinking at the famous Caffe Sicilia for granita and brioche, and then a drive to a local beach, Spaggia Reitani, where we ate Italian sushi (with tomato and basil on top!)

  • Necropolis of Pantalica: now this was a doozy. Thousands of rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 13th to the 7th centuries BCE. Hiking cliffs. No one there. Spooky and exhilarating. Avoided the release of the looming thunderclouds. Freezing dip by Emmet and Chris in the river.

  • Taormina: reveling in our White Lotus fantasies, glitzy, an incredible meal, ancient theatre, eel sighting in the waters of Isola Bella

  • Catania: dropped in for dinner, what a cool city! Lively square, graffiti mixed with ancient, happened upon a Catholic procession – boys clothed in white, Virgin Mary paraded, tubas belting out their tuba sounds

Final Thoughts on Schooling Abroad
Most of you know that we were doing ‘school’ through a program called Self Design, which really meant that we were homeschooling since the program itself provided little support. Throughout the week, we would informally but consistently do math, daily writing, lots of reading, and then of course studying the places we explored (geography/history/religion/art/science).  We concluded our year of homeschooling about two weeks ago.

Another branch of the worldschooling community is unschooling (the world is your teacher / you follow the kids’ leads in their learning). We were not doing unschooling for a variety of reasons, namely not wanting the kids to miss a year of school and likely our less-than-radical personalities. That said, what has been interesting is that about a week ago, freed from the shackles of everyday ‘school,' the kids had an idea for an app while traipsing through the ancient (and largely un-signposted) Neapolis Archaeological Park. They saw an unmet need for worldschoolers around gamifying travel education and – on their own – worked together to create the concept for an iphone app, draw out possible screens, prototype it, and continue to learn coding in order to build it. The flame might die tomorrow or maybe it continues to live on. Who knows!

What is more interesting to me is that the kids found their inspiration on their own when we took the have-to out of school. I will never be an unschooler for a variety of reasons, but it does illuminate for me some of its potential: that the creation of space can reveal inspiration.  

That said, am I so excited to expunge from my resume the role of formal teacher and for them to be back in school next year????? Give me a ‘hell yaaaaaasssss!’