3 Tips for Avoiding Overwhelm

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As exciting as the start of a new school year is, it can also be incredibly stressful and overwhelming. After my first few days of class, I’ve realized I am a little rusty at this whole school thing. I haven’t written an essay or read a textbook in over four months, even my handwriting looks sloppier! I am a born stresser– it’s one of my spiritual gifts actually. It doesn’t take much to overwhelm me, so I’ve had to learn how to minimize overwhelm in my daily life. Here are three practical steps I take when I have too much on the brain:
1. Do A Brain Dump- A brain dump is when you transfer everything in your brain onto a piece of paper or other device. I often find myself lying in bed at night unable to fall asleep because of the million future ‘to-do’s’ floating around in my head. But if I write all of those down onto a ‘note’ in my phone or a Post-it, I am able to relax, knowing I can address them again in the morning. Try it tonight- I promise you will instantly feel less overwhelmed!
2. Know Yourself- Are you more productive in the morning or at night? Do you thrive in silent or loud settings? Are lists helpful or stressful to you? Asking yourself questions like these helps you know yourself better and then set yourself up for success. If you place yourself in optimal situations, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to perform at higher levels.
3. Get Moving- This is the simplest, most common advice you’ll hear from everyone and their mom: Exercise clears the brain! When you exercise, you aren’t thinking about anything, just getting through the motions. Afterwards, though, you can look at your to-do list with more clarity and practicality. If I’m in a slump or feeling over-emotional, I try to get outside and get moving. Even though it initially feels like I’m wasting time I could be devoting to my tasks, I do it anyways because I am always ten million times faster and more productive after exercise than before.

I hope you’re readjusting well to school/work life friends! Can you believe it’s already September? I sure can’t. Christmas break will be here before we know it!

Question of the Day
What tips and tricks do you use to avoid overwhelm? I’d love to hear- lord knows I need them!

5 Tips And Tricks For Learning A Language

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I like to compare learning a new language to riding a roller coaster. One moment you are on a high peak, feeling totally fluent and able to conquer the world. The next moment you are in a low dip, feeling like a total impostor who can’t speak a single word! But the experience wouldn’t be as rewarding without both of these feelings. I’ve been through my fare share of German-related breakdowns, but I finally think I’ve turned a corner. I can form coherent sentences without a five minute delay, and understand 90% of other people’s conversations. But it certainly didn’t happen over night.

If you are learning a foreign language, I’m here to cheer you on! Below are five tips and tricks I’ve picked up along this roller coaster ride that have really helped me, and might help you too. Enjoy!

1. Utilize Movies, Books and Music- Watching one of your favorite movie in your desired language is really helpful! I like to watch Disney movies in German with German subtitles, so I can fully understand what’s going on. I already have a feel for the plot, so I can focus on the language with out getting too confused or lost. Dual-language books or children’s picture books are also wonderful tools. And lastly, listening to music can help with pronunciation and speed, plus it’s a fun way to internalize the culture!
2. Learn from Children- Children make the best teachers (read my related post here), because they don’t care about your grammar or accent, all they want is for you to play with them! Reading children’s books and playing games are great ways to improve your skills. Much of the time you are learning the language with them, and can discover new words and phrases together. Plus, is easier to take corrections from children without feeling bad.
3. Join a Club/Organization- This step has been HUGE for me! I joined a local church, and it is by far one of the places where I speak the most German. The people are super friendly and encouraging, and it is a safe place to fall down and get back up again! I’ve also joined a gym, and learned a whole new set of vocabulary through the work out classes. Join a club or organization you think you might genuinely enjoy, where you will meet like-minded people and improve your language without even noticing!
4. Find an Accountability Partner- In the beginning, I was terrified to speak German in public, so I stubbornly spoke English to everyone because I knew they would accommodate me. Until one day, a friend pulled me aside and said, “Micah, you have to speak German. That’s the whole point you are here and you’re only doing yourself a disservice by speaking English.” Talk about a wake-up call! I knew they were right, and from that point on I only spoke German because I didn’t want them to hear my speak English. Sometimes a little accountability, spoken in love, is the push you need to jump head first into the language!
5. Work with a Private Tutor- I took two years of German in a classroom setting, where I learned to read and write fairly well. I was tested on the grammar and vocabulary, but hardly ever spoke. Unless the teacher called on me or we had a verbal assignment, I did not intentionally practice my speaking skills. But when I moved here this summer, I met with a private tutor twice a week for an hour and a half each time. She spoke hardly any English, so we spoke German almost the entire time. I couldn’t sit silently and never raise my hand like in class, I had no choice but to speak. Private one-on-one tutoring may not always be an option, but if it is, I highly recommend it!

I’m rooting for you friend! If I could give you a hug, I would.
Question of the Day
If you could learn any foreign language by simply snapping your finger, which would it be?

Five Tips & Tricks for Au Pairs

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Hi there friends, thanks for stopping by to say hello! As you may know, I have spent the last three months as an Au Pair, or live-in nanny, for a Germany family. My main motivation behind this decision was to improve my German language skills and experience German family life first-hand. And although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting and camp counseling in the past, I’ve never been a huge kid person. That is, I’ve never had the burning desire to be a teacher, or felt the urge to hold the baby in the room. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve never played a huge roll in my life.

So when this opportunity arose, I was initially hesitant. A million doubts ran through my head. Would I be nurturing and loving enough? Do I even possess the ‘mom’ gene? Will they understand my broken German? But eventually, I realized there were more pros than cons, so I took the leap of faith. And guess what? I’ve loved it! I already know this was one of the best experiences I’ll ever have, and would absolutely consider being an Au Pair again for another family.

Have you ever thought about working as an Au Pair? Do you enjoy travel, learning about another culture up close and personal, and investing in children? If so, then this job may be perfect for you! Today I thought I’d share five tips and tricks I’ve learned through this experience for those of you who have been an Au Pair in the past, are considering becoming one in the future, or are just curious about the lifestyle. Enjoy!
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1. Give It Time. I tend to want everything to be perfect right now. Unfortunately, that’s not usually how life  works. Au Pairing is no exception. The first few weeks were a bit awkward and unfamiliar. I didn’t know the family’s schedule, household rules, or lifestyle. Even though they were incredibly hospitable and accommodating, I still felt like a guest. But slowly, things changed and I began feeling right at home. There is just no way around the fact that it takes time to adjust to a new situation and complete a transition. Be patient with yourself and others through the process!
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2. Communication is Key. This point seems obvious, but I actually really struggled with it for the first few weeks. I wish I had sat down with the parents the first day and clearly outlined my hours and responsibilities. Once we eventually did so, everything felt so much easier and less complicated. When I knew that my hours where 8:00am to 1:00pm and that my ‘household chore’ was to load and unload the dishwasher, I no longer felt guilty about spending alone time in the afternoons or not doing my own laundry. We also keep a weekly calendar of events to help us all stay on the same page. Communicating expectations and needs is key to a healthy and happy Au Pair experience!
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3. Learn How to Discipline. Initially, I was extremely hesitant to discipline the children in any way. I knew when they were clearly misbehaving or testing me, but it still felt strange to reprimand other people’s kids. Again, communicate with the parents about this subject, and ask for some guidelines. Chances are, they will tell you how they usually do it, and trust you enough to make discipline decisions when you see fit. When I found the courage within myself to discipline the kids, our relationship blossomed! They garnered a new respect for me, and I acted with more patience towards them! Discipline is a wonderful tool for everyone involved when used properly.
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4. Protect Your Alone Time.
I am the mother of all introverts. If I socialize for a period of time, I need to recede into my ‘cave’ for some serious alone time. At first, I felt guilty about leaving the kids, so I would sacrifice my alone time to play with them, even after my working hours were through. But eventually I realized that I’m no good to anyone if I don’t take care of myself first. I learned to say no and prioritize time to recharge, which ultimately benefitted everyone.

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5. It’s Okay to Say Goodbye.
As my time here draws to an end, I’ve begun dreading saying goodbye to the kids. Will they think I’m abandoning them? They are too little to understand the situation, they don’t even know what America is! But then I remembered the quote “It takes a village to raise a child” by Hilary Clinton, and realized that I am a part of their village. There are countless people who played a vital role in my upbringing who are not actively involved in my life today, but I would not be the same person without them. I may not see the final product or outcome, but I know I am a vital link in the chain. I have influenced their lives for the better in some way, and that’s pretty dang awesome in and of itself.
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^Selfie attempt number 12 million.

And there you have it friends, five tips and tricks I’ve garnered throughout my time as an Au Pair. This experience is never something I actively sought out or wanted to cross off my bucket list, but I’m so glad it fell into my lap. It has been better than anything I ever could have dreamed up myself. I feel so blessed to have worked with a wonderful family who treated me like their fourth child (probably because I still act like one), and who I know will visit me in California one day. I hope this post was helpful and informative, and don’t hesitate to comment below. Have a lovely week friends!
Question of the Day
Would you ever consider working as an Au Pair? Why or why not?

Amsterdam: A City Guide

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Have you seen the movie The Fault in Our Stars? In the film, the main characters take a trip to Amsterdam to meet with one of their favorite authors. They wander the canals hand in hand and fall madly in love, all to the tune of an awesome soundtrack. And honestly, I can’t blame them! Amsterdam is charming, chic and romantic. I didn’t have another person to fall in love with (insert tears here), so I fell in love with the city. Keep reading as I share more about why I enjoyed Amsterdam so much, and a few tips and tricks to make your visit equally as enjoyable!
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Why Amsterdam? How much time do you have?!  I could write about the reasons to visit Amsterdam for hours, but in a nutshell, Amsterdam is unlike any other city I’ve ever traveled to. It’s a mix of old and new, chic and industrial, energetic and peaceful. It is centrally located, well connected, and teeming with culture. Plus, who doesn’t want a pair of wooden clogs to wear around the house?IMG_7229IMG_7231IMG_6994

Transportation I took a five hour train from Hannover, Germany to Amsterdam Centraal station. From there, you can easily walk to most of the popular sights in the city center. Everything is very well marked with signs on nearly every corner. If you’d rather not walk, here are a few options:

  • Bike– Riding a bike in Amsterdam, although it is a bike friendly city, is still very intense (and this is coming from a girl who grew up driving the Los Angeles freeways). I almost got taken out several times while crossing the street! Plus, I am not the strongest bike rider, so I opted to pass on bike rentals. But if you decide to go for it, there are rental shops on nearly every corner that can’t be missed.
  • Tram- I mainly walked or took the tram. It coset 2.50 Euros per ride, so you may want to look into a day pass, which you can buy on board. The signage is clear and well market, and you can hop on right in front of the central station when you first arrive.
  • Boat- Travel by boat is not a major way to get from point A to point B, but I do recommend taking a canal tour. I took an hour and a half cruise through the main canals, and the captain pointed out sights and shared about their history. It’s a nice way to get your bearings and see things you might otherwise have missed.

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Accommodations It might feel impossible to visit Amsterdam with out declaring bankruptcy, but I promise it can be done! It is not a cheap city by any means, but there are always cheaper options. I rented a room in an apartment through the popular hosting website Airbnb. The place was twenty minutes outside the city center, and since everything is so well connected, I would highly recommend looking for something a bit further out to save some money. Also, many museums have discounts for kids, families, and people under 19 years old. You can buy tickets to several attractions online in advance, which saves time and money.
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Must See Spots
1. Anne Frank House– This is arguably the most popular sight in Amsterdam, and for good reason! The tour through the Frank’s hiding place and attached museum at the end are very well done. The line to get in can wrap around the block and stretch on for ages (like Disneyland!), so I would recommend checking for tickets in advance online if possible. I didn’t have tickets, so I showed up at 8am, an hour before it opens, and was admitted around 9:15.
2. Van Gogh Museum– If you are an art nerd like me, this museum is heaven! It is extremely comprehensive and interactive, and features not only a vast collection of Van Gogh’s work, but also the work of other artists who influenced him throughout his life.
3. Rijks Museum– The Rijks museum is right next door to the Van Gogh museum, and the building alone is a masterpiece! This museum features art, crafts, and historical objects from the years 1200 t0 2000. The famous IAMSTERDAM sign is directly in front of the museum, so be sure to snap an iconic picture perched atop one of the letters before heading in!
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What to pack I visited the first weekend in July (along with the rest of the world), and it was crazy hot. I seriously considered jumping into a canal for a quick cool down swim. So if you visit in the summer, be sure to pack a sunhat and sunscreen! Also, wearing comfortable walking shoes is always a good idea (duh, Micah).

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Anything Else? The majority of these photos were taken along the Prinsengracht Canal, the third and outermost of the three main canals. It marks the start of the De Jordaan neighborhood, filled with beautiful 17th century houses and shops. When you think of Amsterdam, this is the scenery you probubly picture. Be sure to take you time to wander through and experience the charming atmosphere. Lastly, don’t leave without trying a delicious Dutch pancake!
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^The leaning tower houses of Amsterdam!
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^Be sure to check out the Albert Cuyp flea market on Saturday morning from 9am-5pm.
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^The Rijks Museum.

So, after reading about this amazing city, can you blame me for falling head over heels in love? I may not be in The Fault in Our Stars Cast, but I definitely share their affinity for this beautiful place. So what are you waiting for, friends? Hop online and book a ticket to Amsterdam…or better yet, book two so I can come along!