Reflecting in Bulgaria

Hello Bulgaria

Dobar den! A common greeting in Bulgarian and the sum of what I’ve picked up after a week here. Luckily, some French and Italian phrases are used regularly by Bulgarians so there is a smidge of familiarity. I had forgotten how disorienting it can be to enter a space where you literally can’t speak or read the language-not even one word of it!

Plovdiv has an excited, vibrant feel. We have been staying in the Old Town area and are surrounded by cute coffee shops, abundant street art, nice restaurants, art galleries, Roman ruins, museums, a large Mosque and the longest pedestrian mall in Europe!

Our cute neighborhood in Plovdiv

The city has been chosen as one of two ‘European Capitals of Culture’ for 2019, a European Union project meaning to, among other things, highlight the richness of the cultures of Europe, revitalize areas,  and boost tourism. It appears to be working! There is a lot of fresh energy and capital running through the city.

Today is our last day staying in the heart of Old Town.  We are spending a few days in a hotel to take advantage of some nice services and celebrate my birthday! Then we have one more week in an Airbnb apartment we found right outside of the city center.  There is supposedly a large market right in the neighborhood, so am hopeful for something interesting.

Feeling grateful and a little tired

I am so grateful for these past months of traveling.  Grateful for the support of my friends and family.  Grateful for a wonderful companion and boyfriend to travel with. Grateful to be able to fulfill this urge to wander and explore. This has been a great idea!

However, we are on our last month of traveling and feeling a bit travel-worn. Settling into Bulgaria has been more difficult than other places.  Even with all the vibrant energy, being a foreigner has started to take it’s toll. The weather is a little cloudier and rainier. Internet problems and dealing with little set backs are somewhat harder. It was difficult to become enamored of Plovdiv, our home for a few weeks, at first. We are a little grumpy and a little ready to come home to our friends and family!

We’ve since found the charm and are getting acquainted and getting some work done. But not before contemplating some changes in direction, including heading for warmer climes and coming home early!

After some serious prioritizing and reflecting on what are goals are at this point, we decided to stay our plotted course. Two more weeks in Bulgaria. A few days in Barcelona (would love more but we have stayed our welcome in the Schengen Zone!)  and a week in Morocco.

Have figured some things out along the way

I have decided I am not cut out to travel as a digital nomad indefinitely. Which is good to know! I like the contrast.  Leaving home and coming home.  Pulling up roots and putting them back down. Three to four months is a nice amount of time to travel. After that home starts to call.  Friends and family start to get missed a lot. I crave my own bed.  I want to plant a garden.

Home is Wisconsin. Home is also Hawaii. Hawaii hasn’t been home for as long as Wisconsin has, but it has those similar feelings and longings. Friends and family and familiar places which I miss dearly.

We have some things to celebrate! Pete and I have almost finished our book. Hooray! One of our goals was to write a book together while traveling. We are not quite, but almost done. Very soon you will be able to find our ebook, Moving to Hawaii to Teach-Your Study Guide online! Definitely before the start of next school year 😉

One of my personal goals was to explore and develop means of supporting myself while being location independent. I am happy to say I am currently working with my first client to help her develop her online presence to sell her books! It’s a trip and a learning experience.

A few favorites

  • Major City: Rome
  • Greek Island: Naxos
  • French Village: Eguilles
  • Italian Village: San Gimignano
  • Coffee: Cappuccino al banco anywhere in Italy
  • Sandwich: Croquette Monsieur in France
  • Salad: Naxian salad in Greece. Bulgarians, however, take salad making very seriously
  • Pubs: London-a great pub on every corner
  • Views: Santorini. Sigh. Although the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were also breathtaking
  • Overall aesthetic: Greek Islands.  Love the white and blue architecture

What now?

After a few months in the Midwest, Pete and I plan to return to Kauai and find a homey space to live. My goals are to write, tend a garden,  foster clients, sell my soap, explore options to keep teaching and of course, hang out at the beach.






Interesting research on digital nomadism


Kayleigh Franks of NHTV University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands has published a thesis on digital nomadism as part of her BS requirements. “Digital Nomads: the drivers and effects of becoming location independent” is posted up on Scribd. I discovered this through my weekly subscription to the always-interesting Digital Nomad Weekly newsletter.

From the Executive Summary:

The aim of this study is to explore the drivers and effects of becoming a digital nomad focusing on: contingency structure, lifestyle preference and social and psychological attitude. Firstly, a literature was composed in order to gain knowledge and insight on the aforementioned topic. Furthermore, three initial research questions were formulated to guide the research: 1. How digital nomadism differentiates from other forms of long-term travel? 2.What are the push/pull factors of becoming location independent? 3. What are the effects of becoming a digital nomad?

My weekend as a Buddhist Monk

I know Cain was raised in the Shaolin tradition. I just liked the pic.

A little bit ago, I went to live with the monks at the Amaravati Monestary just outside of London. For a weekend.

I unplugged for two days, leaving all the distractions and BS of real life ( minimal as they might be in my current situation ) outside and behind, and for two days worked on being mindful, being introspective, and listening to any advice my inner-self was willing to share with me. I was willing to set aside two days to try something different, to try something many, many others before me had done and claimed helped them increase the quality of their lives.

I was not disappointed.

No matter where you live, there’s likely a monastery or meditative retreat that could help you do the same thing within driving distance. Maybe more than one.

Some are big and you’d definitely notice them. Signs out front, clearly a special place set aside, a reserve in more ways than one. But other times you might have driven or walked past it on your way to Starbucks a zillion times and never known it was there. Not all of these kinds of places invite outsiders to visit, but lots do.

By “retreat” I mean a place you could go for a day, a weekend, a week, or longer. By “monastery” I mean a ( usually Buddhist, but maybe other variety ) place where monks and/or nuns are working full time on their personal development towards Enlightenment. If they’re open to the public, these places welcome newcomers who want to spend a day or longer unplugged. Both types are most commonly free, even if you stay for weeks, though you’ll be expected to participate in the routine – chores and meditation. Don’t worry, the chores are things you know how to do, and they’ll teach the meditation; they assume you don’t know anything.

When I say “free” I mean they don’t charge. They’ll certainly accept a donation if you want to make one, and there’s a kind of expectation that you’ll bring food of some kind, but if you’re not inclined to give back you could just show up and hang out for a week, working on your Enlightenment thing.

Just for clarity, in this post when I say “monastery” I mean that, or a meditative retreat that might be run by non-monks/nuns.

Unplugging – what you do there

Ever wish you could unplug?

Or maybe you don’t wish to, but you know in the back of your mind somewhere it’d be a good idea. Life is noisy or stressful, people are fucking annoying, the job is stressful, and you just want things to be -simple- for a short while. Your current daily thing is bugging the shit out of you, or maybe you’d just like to try something different. A stay-cation of sorts, but definitely something a little more mindful than bingeing on “Pretty Little Liars” on Netflix.

Your local monastery is the perfect place for this. Not expensive, not hard to get to, totally looking forward to you being there, and great for a little reset-button-pushing.

Question – Will they make me join their cult?

Answer – No.


They’re definitely not going to try to convert you. It’s not like that. You won’t have to shave your head, give up any possessions, wear funny robes, or anything along those lines. Part of the “work” a monastery does is make itself open and available to seekers looking to learn more about the monastic experience, or more about what they teach there, or just learn a bit of quiet mindfulness. They don’t give a shit about trying to make you join, or changing you or your life – a huge part of their universe is the idea that we all change ourselves, starting with making a decision to do so. They’re not looking to change you, only help you exactly as much as you want. And also, providing you a great environment to do this, if only for a weekend.

When I say “unplug” I mean exactly that. You can bring your phone, but most monasteries will expect you to keep it in your bag. Your Kindle or laptop… probably just leave those at home.

A quick aside – If this right here sounds like a deal breaker for you, you might be more in need of a break than you think. Just sayin’.

The belief is that during your mindful time at the monastery, you’ll be looking inward. You spend a lot of your regular day looking outward – answering emails, texting, watching traffic, cleaning up after the kids, making sure that project gets done, remembering to pay the electric bill, and so on. That’s all outward-directed stuff.

cord-unpluggedAt the monastery, they’re going to kind of insist you go inward. This is called “being mindful,” and for normal people with no training, this starts with leaving the laptop at home and putting the phone in Airplane Mode. And of course taking a few deep breaths, because just this can be a little stressful, eh?

Deep breath in. Be aware of your breathing. Hold it for a moment. Now let it out.

See? You feel better already.

What to bring to the monastery

Be cool and bring a bag of food. Their monastary website probably has some suggestions. Bring some comfy clothes you can sit around in. Leave the graphic t-shirts, sport coats, funny hats, and expensive shoes at home. Trying to be a fashionista at the monastery is a special kind of ridiculous. Bring comfy shoes, and a hoodie if you get cold. They might have location-specific rules depending on who runs the monastery – the one I stayed at wanted you to wear long sleeves – so follow those rules.

If you stay overnight, you’ll likely be doing something outside, so dress for this too.

You make the arrangement to stay, even if just for a day, ahead of time. You do this like you’d make any other sort of reservation – you call, or more likely message like email. I made arrangements with the “Guest Monk” through email to stay the next weekend.

Monastery Rules

A thing about “rules” at the monastery: part of the deal with providing you a pretty-much-free place to learn and try the mindfulness thing, giving you a retreat from your stressful life, is that you’ll be a good sport and follow The Program. What this entails exactly varies from place to place according to the traditions of whomever is running the place. As I understand it, where I stayed is pretty typical; The Program there went like this:

  • wake up at 4am, with the gong ( cooler than it sounds )
  • do morning stuff ( like S-S-S ) for an hour
  • attend morning meditation in the temple from 5-630
  • help with chores inside from 630-730
  • eat breakfast as a group
  • do chores outside until 1130
  • eat lunch as a group
  • do “mindful shit”
  • ( maybe no evening meal – you’ll be fine )
  • go to bed early enough so that waking up tomorrow at 4am doesn’t kill you

They’re going to expect you not to be on your phone. They’re going to need you not to yell, or otherwise interfere with other people trying to be mindful. Some places will insist you don’t talk at all, but at the monastery I went to this was not a thing; people talked all the time – just not about stuff like reality TV.

They’re going to expect you to pitch in with chores, to eat only at mealtimes, and not be disruptive to the routine or other people visiting or living there. They’re definitely going to expect you to come with an open mind, and an honest desire to give The Program a try for the duration of your stay.

If you decide at any point, anytime day or night it’s not for you, of course you can leave. Never a problem.

They’re going to expect you to sleep in the dorm appropriate to your gender, and not to flirt, chase anyone, or even talk or pay attention to that kind of thing. You’re not there for that, and you’re definitely not supposed to bug other people who are there to be mindful with your ham-handed attempts at flirting. Leave that stuff outside. If you come to the monastery with a sweetie, no PDA.

Doing the mindful shit

the-empire-strikes-back-luke-skywalker-and-yodaAll monasteries will have meditation as serious parts of the schedule. There might also be lectures about Buddhism or the mindful perspective. The chores you do will be simple, and also work to provide you with time to reflect and look inward.

The local rules are there to help reinforce the mission to be mindful, to look within. You’ll be up pretty early, so as not to waste the day, but to also encourage the feeling of “holy crap, it’s 9am and I feel like I’ve done a day’s worth of stuff already.” A good feeling. Meals are communal, and pretty simple. This helps you realize that you don’t need to make a production of meals or spend a lot to satisfy your body. The noon meal is huge, and filling, and it’s the last one of the day.

They’ll assume you’ve never meditated before, and will be happy to give you some instruction. Each place teaches slightly different variations. Whatever flavor of meditation they teach, if you’re not used to sitting still for 90 minutes and doing nothing, this will be hugely difficult.

We’re not used to this. We’re used to attending to the outside world. When things are quiet, most of us crave distraction. We hit Facebook or Reddit, find something to clean, or someone to talk to. We don’t care to be alone and quiet with ourselves because most of us weren’t trained for that. We’re thought that it’s not “productive time” and that it’s just being lazy.

Some of us have a definitely problem with being alone with ourselves. Meditation is specifically designed to help with this. It is definitely work, and it is definitely productive. If you work at stilling your mind, quieting the “monkey brain” that’s screeching inside all of us, amazing things will happen. I promise.

But working on this is a definite pain in the ass. It will be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. Even if just for an hour.

No one will expect you to be any good at it. They’ll gently remind you not to be hard on yourself, and when something breaks your concentration, just turn aside and start again with the blank slate. Or whatever. Part of this is learning not to be so hard on yourself, not to beat yourself up.

After a bit of time and effort, you’ll be able to hold that stillness for a few moments. It will be surreal. It will surprise you.

Then you’ll think of that next episode of “Pretty Little Liars,” you’ll chastise yourself for breaking mindfulness, you’ll remember not to chastise yourself, you’ll put the idea of Netflix aside, and this next time the stillness will last a bit longer.

In that stillness, sometimes, you’ll learn things. Very valuable, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful things. the quiet you’re striving so hard for will allow stuff to bubble up that the smarter part of who you are is trying to tell you, but can’t get across because of all the daily BS you immerse yourself in.

This mindfulness, as well as taking steps to physically remove yourself from a noisy and distracting life, unplugging and living for a short while at a place apart from that world, is what the monastic experience is all about. For a day, for a weekend, or longer.

Meditation will be a big part of this mindful practice. There will also likely be a relevant library on-sight, if that’s your thing. There may be gardens, fields, courtyards, or other places suited to quiet contemplation. There will be supportive people all around trying to do the same thing you are.

Ten minutes after I arrived, I got me some enlightenment

When Kim and I arrived, she immediately went off with some girl who’d spent previous time in this monastery, and helped her get settled in the women’s dorm… which left me by myself, moments after arrival. I sat in the reception area of this monastery, endeavoring to be quiet and respectful ( like I was supposed to be, right? ) waiting for the “Guest Monk” to come get me and orient me.

As the moments turned into minutes, still sitting by myself I watched people enter the main group area of the monastery, but no one came to tell me where to go, or what to do.

At first I fidgeted. Then I started to get really bothered.

I was shocked by how much this bothered me, and caused me to be anxious. And maybe it was the environment of the monastery itself, or the idea that I had set aside this time to learn about myself, but my first lesson hit me pretty hard in that moment, no meditation required:

Lesson 1 – as a matter of routine, I put an awful lot of stock in what I’m “supposed” to be doing, at any given moment. If I feel I’m failing at this, I’m immediately pretty hard on myself. The monkey brain starts chattering loudly.

What am I supposed to be doing? Am I missing out on something? Will I be reprimanded? Or worse, will people just quietly look at me and think “poor, dumb newbie. He just doesn’t understand this place.”

Where the f*** was the guy who was -supposed- to be here orienting me? WTF? I’m just sitting here!

Lesson 2 – I put an awful to of stock in what others “should” be doing to help me along in life, and in doing so I give up a lot of agency.

Lesson 3 – both of these things cause me a lot of stress

Lesson 4 – both of these things are -totally- my own decision. I could just as easily choose a number of other options: Just to not feel stressed. Just to relax and be patient. Or to stand up and go see what the delay might be, or even better – just go find somewhere to fit in. Or to read something, make better use of my moments than sitting, stewing, and stressing about what I -should- be doing, or what someone else -should- be doing to help me.


No meditation required, and ten minutes in I’d already learned some maybe-life-changing stuff about myself.

I could have had this epiphany anywhere. I could have had this realization at home while watching Netflix and texting on my phone while chasing Pokemon. But I didn’t. In all the zillions of moments I’ve had to myself, I didn’t learn all this there in front of the TV. I learned it within moments of sitting my ass in the chair of the reception area of the monastery.

To wrap this post up

I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you. My time at the monastery was very well spent. I’d be happy to talk with you about this, or answer any questions, or help you find a place you could check out for a day, or a weekend, or longer. Drop me a line.

If I’m not meditating, I’ll get back to you.

Such a puss, do not be.

When in Rome…

Um, I mean, when in Florence…eat like a Florentine!  Neither Pete nor I would call ourselves foodies but we do love tasting the local fare and cooking local dishes.  Florence does not disappoint with excellent options and availability of delicious and fresh food.

Cooking and preparing our own food is big part of our journey as we travel for an extended period of time. This not only saves us money but it gives us a great opportunity to hang out at local markets and specialty stores, which is a very pleasant cultural experience in and of itself.

Italy is all about the local markets. We are very fortunate to have a couple of morning markets right around the corner from the little flat we are renting here-see Pete’s blog post.  A wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies can be found, as well as cheeses like fresh mozzarella and parmesan.  A number of Italian meats like pancetta (a lot like bacon) and Florentine salami are a few of the other offerings-it is an amazing place to shop for the day’s meals.

Right up the street from the markets is a little shop called a foccaccaria. It is a bakery of sorts where we can buy, surprisingly, focaccia (Italian flatbread)!  And so much more. Other breads, pastries and so many delicious Italian cookies were behind the long counter. Meats, fish and fresh pastas could also be purchased. I’m working myself up to try the tripe, but for now am sticking with almond biscotti (twice baked cookies) and fresh raviolis.

One of the great things about this place was that even though we were packed in there like sardines, it felt very jovial.  It was clearly a meeting place for the community, as people walking in struck up familiar conversations with people already there. This was not a fast process, also.  It took about 20 minutes to make a purchase. Luckily we were not in a hurry and enjoyed the hubbub.

Another gathering place is the coffee bars.  Oh, the coffee bars! Stand at the bar and drink down your espresso or cappuccino quickly. Or sit down at a table (it may cost more) and stay all day.  Whatever your choice, the coffees are so so so good.  Anytime we go out now, it is a given to stop at a ‘bar’. There seems to be one around every corner.

My new favorite is the caffe corretto. It is a shot of espresso ‘corrected’ with a shot of alcohol.  Just sayin…

Check out this simple lunch I made. It’s a traditional Caprese Salad with spiral noodles added to make it the main meal.


The ingredients are fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, tomatoes, spiral pasta, olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of oregano.  Boil the noodles to taste and cool under cold water.  Toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat the noodles. Add spices and then other ingredients chopped in bite sized pieces. Super easy and super delicious!

This meal cost us just a few Euros to make.  It was also a fun cultural experience visiting the markets and shops to find ingredients. Now, if we can just learn to eat it in the slow manner in which it was conceived 🙂


A litte bit of home in a Russian banya

IMG_5952One of the things I miss most while being nomadic is my bathroom routine.  Having all of my favorite things set up the way I like them.  Electric devices like hair dryers and curlers. Not having to pack everything up every few weeks. And I am so limited in what I can bring along! Sigh.

What can I do when I’m feeling the sludge of the city and the weariness of being far from home? Luckily, Europe is not short on spas and bathhouses from many different traditions and I happen to love a good communal bathhouse.

In Paris I went to a Moroccan hammam and had a wonderful time steaming, bathing and getting a massage.  A hammam is an Arabic version of a Roman bath with a focus on water. They give you an amazing gel soap called savon noir to begin the experience.

Back in Chicago I’d visit a Korean spa as often as I could.  Also a focus on water, plus many different kinds of dry saunas at varying temps and with different organic materials thought to promote healing.  In addition this space has a movie and karaoke room.

Of course in Hawaii we would just go to the beach 🙂

The Russian Banya

The Russian banya has similarities to bathhouses I’ve been to and also some unique features I was delighted with. The banya is like a sauna, but the heat comes from water thrown on rocks to create steam. It’s not as wet as a steam room but much more humid than a traditional sauna.

The traditional treatment is called parenie and is a massage using a venik. A venik is a bunch of leafy branches, usually oak, birch or eucalyptus.

After checking in to Banya No. 1, I was lead to a lounge room and then a changing room. Everyone was very nice and seemed excited I was about to experience banya for the first time. I was given a locker and a towel and told to have a steam in the banya and then come out for some tea in the lounge.  I would then be called for my services.

Walking into the spa room, I was given a felt hat to protect my head.  I felt a little silly but was glad to follow safety protocol. I stepped into the banya and immediately began to sweat.

felt hat to protect your head in the banya

I then had a preview of what was to come.  Two other women were about to receive the parenie.

Parenie-Venik Massage

One of the benches was moved to the middle of the room and a eucalyptus branch was placed at one end and a foot pillow at the other.  The woman laid stomach down with her head on the eucalyptus. Another branch was placed over her head. She inhaled deeply and held the branch close to her head. The attendant (who looked like a wood gnome wearing the hat and brandishing the two large branches) first threw a few ladles full of water into the oven to heat it up. He held two large bundles of oak leaves and began shaking them over her body, drawing the heat of the room down to her.  He then flicked the branches up and down her body, taking special care not to miss her legs, feet and arms. Every now and then he would press the branches into her back and the backs of her legs.  He also freshened the eucalyptus branch around her head.  The whole process lasted about 10 minutes.

The other woman in the room told me the purpose was to increase circulation and vitality. She said it would make me feel like a ‘new born baby’. I was stoked. I had also read the essential oils from the leaves were therapeutic and I loved how natural it all was.

The next step was to step out into the shower room and have a bucket of cold water dumped over your head and then to take a plunge in a the cool dip tank. This is also to improve circulation. And make you scream like a lunatic.

My experience was very invigorating.  It was new and exciting. The eucalyptus branch was nice and fragrant over my head and I loved that the massage was done with tree branches. I think I did feel like a new born baby! I certainly had to take my time walking again as my skin was tingling and the rush of blood after the cold plunge was a bit dizzying.

Immediately after  I was led into a room with a hot stone table for my second service.  Scrubbed down with sea salt and honey and then led back into the banya to heat up again.  After showering I stepped back into the lounge to drink some tea, feeling pretty amazing.
The next step was a 30 minute massage. My masseuse was skilled, nice and very talkative. She had told me earlier that she was from Lithuania and they also have banya where she came from.  Before the days of modern plumbing, most villages had a banya where people would come to bathe.

We also spoke at length about the Brexit. It was hard not to get on that topic as many people living here from other countries are worried about their status and welcome-ness in the wake of the UK voting to leave the EU. I was actually more interested in hearing her stories and ideas and wasn’t totally focussed on the massage I was receiving. I’m pretty sure it was awesome!

Back out to the lounge for some tea and then my final treatment-a face and décolletage mud treatment. It was also great, laying on the heated stone slab.

One last heat up in the banya with a cold plunge and I was ready for lunch! I picked a few things ala carte-pancakes with sour cream, pickled gherkins and some cabbage. A shot of Russian vodka and I was out the door.

How this all works

How expensive was this you ask? Not as much as you would think. It was a bit of a splurge,  but for the $150 or so spent, I felt I got great value considering I had 3 spa services and a massage.

Many bathhouses have an entrance fee anywhere from $20-40.  For this price you typically get a towel, locker and use of the saunas, steam baths and showers for a period of time. Services cost extra and can be added on, or not.  In the hammam it is very common to bring in your own toiletries, so it doesn’t have to break your bank.

No Russian banya near you? No problem! Treat yourself in the comfort of your own home. The next time you have for a nice long bath, add some eucalyptus essential oil to the water. Or any oils, scents, salts you have on hand.  Oatmeal is also nice.

Experiment with making your own scrubs. Honey and salt is messy, but luxuriant and easy to obtain. Use it in your bath so its easy to clean.

Lastly, if you have the chance, check out a bathhouse near you. It’s a wonderful experience. More than just bathing, there is a social aspect which makes for very real, meaningful conversations and connections which go beyond the superficial. I focused mostly on the physical experience and benefits here, but could also write a lot about the healthy socializing. The bathhouse promotes health of the mind as well as body.

working as a digital nomad – semi-random thoughts


Internet is of course essential. “I need a good connection” is a simple phrase, but there are a few things that comprise this thought. It needs to be either free or amazing. With so many free options out there, paying an unknown company in an unknown place for Maybe Decent wifi is not really an option; too risky, as there is too much free all around. This means hunting. And hunting before that meeting or essential contact you have, because you have to know the wifi is good and stable before meeting time, right? Further, your free decent internet is often located in a loud-ass environment. So…  the hunt for free decent, quiet internet that won’t bounce you off after 20 minutes is kind of a thing. A hobby you get better at. There are apps to help with this.

VPN software is also essential. If you haven’t used it, it might not seem like it. But using free wifi is a little like putting your mouth on a public water fountain – eeeeeeew. I know that’s an ugh analogy, and the danger really is in the other direction with free public wifi: nefarious peeps on laptops, phones, or whatnot peeking into the network and watching traffic, leaping from machine to machine. Don’t be a lillypad for these guys – get a VPN. It’s an app you download ( onto the laptop or phone or whatever ) and turn “On.” Then you forget about it, and you’re an order of magnitude more secure. I use “Private Internet Access” ( no affiliation ) for about $35 a year and really like their service.

A schedule of continual movement makes working hard. If you take short hops, and here I mean if you stay in a place for just a few days before moving on to the next place, this really isn’t a schedule that’s conducive to getting work done. It seems like you spend those first twelve hours winding down and vegging, getting acclimated and having a pint. The last twelve hours before you leave you’re spinning up by packing, checking everything, traveling to the airport/train station/caravansary and going through that process. Another chunk of your time will go to finding the next place you’re going to stay, and making all those arrangements. All of this gobbles up more time than you’d think, even when you get good at it with practice. So vagabonding and staying put in laces for longer makes much more sense; this time to settle in is gold.

Savon de Marseille

Pete and I just left France.  Even as we sit at Starbucks in London, enjoying the familiarity of a large, 12 ounce cup of coffee, I already feel a bit nostalgic. We are here, waiting to connect with a good friend of mine who is graciously hosting us for the next couple of weeks.

But… for a few more moments, before I begin to embrace a new city, I’d like to take a few moments to remember France.  The south of France and Provence.  Specifically, ‘Savon de Marseille’ or ‘Marseille soap’.


I love how the soap is displayed-no packaging, stacked together by color and scent

Don’t get me wrong. There are so many things I love about France.  The beautiful country side, la patisseries, the wine, the people we met and certainly gaining an ear for and practicing my French.  These are just a few of the many wonderful things.

I do love soap, however, and Savon de Marseille is an excellent soap with a long history and beautiful presentation. As soon as I walked into Maison du Savon de Marseille in Aix en Provence, I was smitten.  It took all of my will power not to pack a second backpack full of soap. A few fun facts:

  • The recipe for Savon de Marseille is 600 years old
  • The original recipe is water from the Mediterranean, olive oil, soda ash and lye
  • Traditionally about 8 tons made at a time, mixed together in a cauldron
  • In 1924 there were 132 soap making companies in the Marseille area
  • As of 2000 only 5 remain
  • I love this soap

Also, I think it very possible that in a past life, I was a soapmaker in Marseille. Check out these facts. First, I make my own soap. Also, I used to sell my soap to people and made a living for a while doing this. And the biggest suggestion that makes it possible I did this in a former life-check out how I used to display my soap:

Marseille soap pic
This was on display at a farmers market circa 2012. All I’m missing is the stamp!


Whenever we travel, we look for little bits of ourselves in the unfamiliar. It’s comforting and encouraging to know for a fact from our own experience, that humans living far from us, are not really so different. The French love soap and have a 600 year old recipe which is still being used today! That is soooooooooooooo like me!

So the next time you find yourself in France, or any shop selling Savon de Marseille, please buy a bar or two.  You will be treating yourself and participating in a tradition spanning many generations.


stress, travel, and breakfast

This could be the title of my memoirs – “Stress, Travel, and Breakfast.”

Not the final title mind you, but the working title until I think of something cooler. This particular post is about how a breakfast of Kellogg’s Special K cereal helped ease The Crazy a bit while traveling.

The term “cognitive load” ( CL ) comes up in my field, when I’m designing screens/interfaces/flows through different online presences. CL is that amount of mental processing an experience sort of “puts” on you, the hoops it requires of you to figure it out and proceed forward.

Vegging on the couch watching “The Voice” is pretty low cognitive load, while defusing a nuclear bomb in a deep-dive suit while colorblind is a high cognitive load.


Remember “The Abyss”? I loved that movie.


For me lately, traveling seems to be somewhere in the middle of these two examples.

Ambient stress

While there is something liberating about giving up most of your stuff and wandering the earth for a year…   there are sometimes day-to-day pressures adding to the cognitive load of living like this.

In addition to the press of people, not knowing the language, subtle differences in everything from road design to cafe customs, to being on somewhat of a schedule in the smaller hops from place to place, this all stacks; there’s a bit of cognitive load here. And lots of times it’s ambient, in the background and definitely affecting you, but not too obvious.

I’m a grown man with lots of varying experience in stress, but even with a full night’s sleep some of the days lately have been a little bit stressful, with all these above elements sort of piling on. A fairly high ambient cognitive load, leading to stress.

This has interesting effects. If the CL and accompanying stress is high enough, I forget how to act in basic situations, and use normal tools. Tollbooths and spoons come to mind. You get much dumber, in the moment.


WTF is this?


In situations and experiences I design in my work, a user can always opt out of something if my design is imposing too much cognitive load. If I’m designing search interfaces, the short conversation after too much CL might be “Screw this; I’m using Google.” Wandering around Paris, it’s not easy to just opt out.

Well, I guess I could just stop what I’m doing, pull up a chair at any one of an endless number of cafes, and have a drink. At 10am.

Why not? I’m on walkabout.


Or…  I could take steps to reduce my CL, and up the things that make me calm. This is where Special K comes in.

While shopping for the daily food ( as one does, in France ) I came across a ridiculously inexpensive box of cereal that hadn’t entered into my conscious thought since childhood: Kellogg’s Special K. yes, the boring flakes you got when you really wanted the Tony the Tiger stuff. My mom bought Special K until I was, like, in high school.

I remember not liking Special K. I remember pining for Frosted Flakes. They’re Grrrrrrrrrrreat! after all. All these years for breakfast, I’ve never looked back.

But there in that store, that little voice I sometimes have in the back of my head said “Grab this,” so grab it I did. My little voice often makes sense. Or this may have been Kim. She also makes sense, much of the time.

And of course I loved the cereal.

It brought back memories of my childhood and my mom, or simple carefree times, and it was a much more powerful stress-reducer than you’d think. The combo of all those pleasant tone-setting thoughts and feelings in the morning before the day started really helped.

In conclusion

Stress can really be expressed as a kind of equation, I guess. Stress on the right side of the equals sign, part of it coming from some amount of cognitive load. You can lower stress ( the number on the right ) by reducing CL ( on the left ), but you can also add de-stressors at key points, kind of like negative values on the left. This works just as well, as getting rid of the stressors, the things that add CL, or just getting better at handing the stressors.

Not good with word-equations?

Find something that reminds you of good times in your childhood, and bring that back into your life somehow.



Top o the morning to you, from .ie

The longest air transit time of either of our lives, and we’re here. Where did Wednesday go?

We jumped from Kauai to Honolulu for a day with friends who were visiting there and for a final send off, then at sunset we parted at HNL, made our way through the lines ( a breeze with PreCheck ), a little relaxing and reshuffling of gear in the lounge that AA shares with JAL, and then up up and away.

We left HNL the evening of May 31 and arriving in Dublin the morning of June 2nd. We had quick layovers in PHX and CLT,. This was a lot of time in Economy Plus.

To simulate most of our trip so far from the comfort of your town – find two smallish padded chairs for you and your sweetie. Grab your iPads. Sit there for 24 hours. Every 6-8 hours, walk from one end of your local mall to the other, maybe sampling some food. Go back and sit down. Now and then for fun, go pee in your front coat closet.

The #onebag thing – I’ve managed to get my gear down to an even smaller bag, the Tom Bihn Synapse 26. This is a round-ish bag is about as large as a sophomore’s book bag, but not jammed as much with crap. Kim traded up from the Dueter when we figured out at the last minute all the things she couldn’t live without just wouldn’t fit. Instead she used the Osprey Farpoint 40, my original bag before the pare-down. It’s packed full, weighs more than a steamer trucnk and we think it’s heavy enough so that the RyanAir ticket people will just start laughing as we queue up.

Our Euros hard at work:

  • first non-food purchase: an electrical plug converter because our “universal” plugs are not-so-universal.
  • second non-food-purchase: a chocolate egg with a toy ring inside ( some assembly required, forbidden to sell in the US )

We crashed for a few hours after arrival, then got up and walked Dublin for a bit. At the moment we’re in the common room of our first place. Kim’s just missed Womens and Mixed sauna time, so I guess we’ll just catch up on mail and post some blog stuff. We could do this outside somewhere, on some vivid grass while drinking beer and singing loudly.

Maybe later  (^_^