Spoiler Alert: I didn’t take this picture. It was done on a special camera used by our tour guide. Another spoiler alert: this picture is misleading. In person, the Northern Lights did not look even remotely as spectacular as advertised. Instead, they were quite mild, far less colorful, and to the untrained eye could have easily been mistaken for city lights.

Nine-out-of-ten times, the picture doesn’t do justice to the landscape and it’s often impossible to capture what we’re seeing, but this picture not only captures what your eyes can’t see, it also enhances it, makes it better. Granted, everyone’s experience with the Northern Lights is different (could’ve been the location, time of year, etc.) but the night of my viewing, they didn’t quite live up to the expectations.

The same is often true for our online presence. What we post is often just a small glimmer of the lives we’re living, a chance to offer up our best selves, not the ones full of insecurity that we keep safely hidden behind the curtain.

What’s better? Fake it to you make it or being authentic? Doctored or natural? Slightly misleading or brutally honest? I’m not sure. The lines are blurry, but if you want certainty, you’ll spend a lifetime searching far beyond the beauty of the Northern Lights.

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Suitcase. Backpack. Laptop bag. That’s it. Three bags, in them goes everything I’ll need for a year, covering all seasons. As a minimalist, I find comfort in having my things broken down to simple necessity. Here’s a breakdown.

Clothes: Two pairs of shoes (running/all-purpose &Vans). Flip flops. Jacket. Hoodie. Gloves. Winter hat. Scarf. Six pairs of shorts (two casual, two running, one hiking, swimsuit). Six pairs of pants (black, khaki, gray, two pairs of jeans, pajama bottoms). Twenty + shirts (short, long, collar, button-up, etc.) Dozen pair of socks and underwear each. Belt.

Accessories: Phone. Laptop. Mouse. Kindle Fire. USB stick. Headphones. Various charging cords. HDMI cable. Umbrella. External hard-drive. Portable charger. External speaker. Headlamp. Spare batteries. Electrical converters. Two notebooks. Pens. Sewing kit. Small backpack. Toiletry bag. Electric shaver. Razor and spare blades. Medicine. Toothbrush (plus spare). Toothpaste. Floss. Shampoo & Conditioner. Body Wash. Lotion. Sunscreen. Sunglasses. Towel. Spare pair of glasses. Box of contacts. Reusable bags. Book to read. Water bottle. Snacks.

Coming up next . . . Iceland

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My first theater experience was, in a word, incredible. Come from Away is one of those entertaining shows that pulls no punch and hits on all emotional levels, mixing sadness and joy so effortlessly that you can’t tell if your tears are from laughing or crying. For those of you not familiar, Come from Away tells the true story of how during the events of 9/11, thirty-eight planes were grounded in Newfoundland, Canada, where for a five-day period, the entire town of Gander opened up their arms and homes, providing food, shelter, clothes, and entertainment for thousands of strangers stranded during one of the world’s most tragic and uncertain times. It is a story of hope and kindness, showing the beauty that unfolds when people come together.

My first reaction, no way could that happen in the States, especially in today’s political climate. My fellow Americans would never show such open and unselfish kindness to complete strangers. But then again, people surprise you. Sometimes we all just need a reminder of our capacity for good. Come from Away did just that for me. Proving that even during the worst of times there is still potential for our best. We just have to be willing to give it.

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Summer, as it always does, flies. This has been a busy one, equally divided between three countries (the past, present, and future all tangled into one). Goodbyes in Qatar, followed by hellos in Canada, and, of course, a return trip home to Michigan. New experiences mixed with old. Toronto. Lindsay. Ottawa. Haliburton. Algonquin Provincial Park. Niagara Falls. Lovells. Traverse City. Glen Arbor. Clear Lake. Topped off with a childhood favorite, Mackinac Island. Don’t know where I’ll be next summer, but I’m sure it’ll be here before I know it and gone twice as fast.

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You know that feeling you get when you’re about twenty pages into a book and you’re finally all in, committed to the story, the characters, and where it’s going. Life is like that too, especially when you move to a new place. At first, it’s strange. Unknown. Exciting. A little scary, which only fuels the excitement. Sometimes it grabs a hold of you right from the get-go. Other times you have to warm to it. Or maybe it’s just not for you, no matter how much time and effort you put into it. Then it’s time to move on. Doha was an easy place to fall into. It had all the comforts of home, while also being foreign enough to keep it interesting. For an expat, that’s all you need.

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What I love most about England, and Europe as a whole, is how effortlessly it blends the new with the old. Nothing depresses me more than the modern-day, mall-sized sprawl, where they paved paradise to put up a parking lot, and nothing lifts me more than to walk down a cobbled street or quiet country road in the middle of nowhere with dry stone fences to keep in the sheep or stroll through the ruins of some forgotten castle. The Romans left us their roads. And the way we’re heading, our legacy will be our plastic. I’ll take the roads any day, even if they are bumpy and uneven.

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Sometimes you travel alone, sometimes you travel with company. My mom has read and heard about my travels for many years now. This time she got to experience it herself. In London and the Lake District, we got to retrace some of the steps of my last visit (with my 96-year-old grandfather who hadn’t been there since WW II) while also forging some of our own. It was a fitting place for her to get her first stamp on her brand-new passport. Traveling is all about taking that initial step. After that it’s easy and addictive.

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Everyone should go to Nepal at least once in their lifetime. The natural beauty will inspire you. The rampant poverty will humble you. The friendly, welcoming people will soften your hard edges. And the crowded, polluted streets of Kathmandu will give you pause. You can’t go there and feel nothing. Most venture to Nepal just to say they climbed the world’s tallest mountain and in doing so they miss the whole point of exploration. You go for the sake of going, not the sake of arriving.

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You don’t have to be religious to be awed by places of worship. The closest thing I have to religion is art. All it requires is an appreciation for anything beautiful. Like, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, a marvel of architecture and design. Creativity is after all, humanity’s ambitious attempt to reach the divine, to be our own creator or gods, to create something greater than our individual parts.

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We see things in black and white, winning and losing. But there’s a third option most don’t consider. Walking away, leaving the game unfinished, and starting over. There’s no losing in giving up the fight or finding a new beginning. Only peace and serenity. Sometimes, hitting reset and returning back to zero, life’s humbling starting point, is the only way for us to get closer to the divine without actually dying. Otherwise we grow stagnant.

Starting over can be a terrifying experience, but after that initial step, comes clarity and purpose, only forward motion as you move towards your true calling, your purpose. Zero is the blank page of a 500-page novel; the starting line of a 1,000-mile journey; the nervous silence before an initial hello that results in a 50-plus-year marriage. Don’t be afraid of zero, embrace it.

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