MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Art inspiration while traveling January 6, 2014

Whenever we travel, I love to snap photos with my phone of interesting art, crafts, places. I look at these during the long gray winter days back home, to give me new inspiration and ideas for MotherTongues. I think traveling and exposing your kids to different ideas, cultures, music and art, open their minds and help them to become comfortable in cultures other than their own.

Here are some random photos I’ve taken during our last couple of trips to South Africa and Mexico. Now I’m inspired to go make something!

Labyrinths in nature:



Play spaces:








Brands we know, seen in a different light:



Local art:





Outdoor art:







5 reasons why I travel with my kids June 18, 2013


Exploring in Mexico

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

As I’ve said before, I love to travel. And I love to share this love of traveling with my family. We try different foods, we try learning new words, we learn about another culture. Here are 5 reasons why I love to travel with my kids:

1. When traveling in a country where the dominant language is not English, the kids soak up the language around them. This happens every time we visit South Africa – their Afrikaans improves within a week! – or when we visit a Spanish speaking country. Traveling helps them to see WHY we try hard to be a multilingual family.

2. Traveling reinforces the lesson that not everyone looks the same, eats the same food, believes the same, or enjoys the same sport. Wade Davis said: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”

3. Whenever we can spend a little longer time in another country, the girls make friends from all over the world. Instant pen pals!

4. Our kids are much more likely to try new foods when traveling than they would at home. I think travel opens up your senses and makes you more adventurous.

5. And lastly: I see the world differently through the eyes of my kids. What a priceless experience!


On inspiration, insight and ideas September 10, 2012

I’m back! We spent almost 2 months in South Africa this summer/winter, flew back to the US and moved 4 days later to Nashville, Tennessee. Our girls started new schools within a week, and my husband started his new job at Vanderbilt University. What a whirlwind!

My husband taking photos of the elephants in Addo Elephant Park (South Africa) in his Ubuntu t-shirt

I’m making new friends and contacts in Nashville, and trying to figure out our “system”. In Michigan, I knew where to recycle, where to donate, which farmer’s markets we loved, and we had our CSA that we belonged to for many years. In Nashville, they don’t take glass in the recycling: you have to take all glass to a special recycling place. I still haven’t figured out where to recycle batteries. The people I’ve asked, all said they just throw them in the trash. Not a good idea.

Regarding our language journey, I have found someone who gives Spanish conversational classes, and I’m looking forward to my first class tomorrow.

In between looking for a house to buy, and figuring out our new “system”, I feel like I’m finally ready to blog and implement some new ideas for MotherTongues. Whenever we travel, I always find new inspiration for MotherTongues along the way. This trip to South Africa and Botswana was no different. I’m looking forward to turning some of my new ideas into reality!


For the love of travel May 10, 2012

Filed under: Culture,Travel — Michelle @ 7:00 am
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I love travel. I know I say it (too) often, but it is such a part of who I am. We’re nurturing this love in our kids too. This summer, we will be going to South Africa to spend time with our family. We are also planning one week in Botswana – I can’t wait to see the Okavango Delta – and we are watching videos about Botswana together to prepare for our visit.

The photo above was taken in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, when we lived there in 2010 and attended a language school. The woman was carrying a heavy load, and I sensed she has a hard life, one we can’t even imagine.

When traveling, I love to eat the local food. New foods, new flavors, new smells: it all adds up to a “new way of seeing things” for me. And I love it.

What do you love about travel?


(Unusual) Places to Go April 5, 2012

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Wikimedia.

I watched the Emilio Estevez / Martin Sheen movie The Way this week. It is about an American ophthalmologist whose son dies while walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The dad (Martin Sheen) decides to complete the 500+ mile walk, and meets interesting people along the way, as he grieves his son’s death while walking. It is a wonderful movie about grief, searching for meaning and finding your community.

I would love to walk “the Camino”, as it is affectionately known by modern pilgrims, one day. Watching the movie made me realize that again. My sister has walked it, as well as other friends and acquaintances. It was a life-changing event for all of them.

I do wonder how many Americans know about the Camino de Santiago, and know that thousands of people walk it every year? It seems like it is well-known elsewhere, but not where I live in the Midwest. I wonder how many other places are revered by others, but unknown to Americans. Other pilgrimages or unusual travel destinations that I know of, is visiting John of God – the miracle man of Brazil, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru, and the more well-known Stonehenge in England.

There are so many places that I would like to visit. Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, the Maasai Mara in Kenya, Iceland, Tasmania, Morocco, the Panama Canal, the pyramids in Egypt… The list goes on!

What travel destinations or experiences are on your bucket list?


Mushrooming in Italy July 6, 2011

Filed under: Greener lifestyle,Travel — Michelle @ 10:03 am
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Image: Christian Meyn /

I recently went hiking in Italy with my mom and sisters. Part of the fun for me, other than spending time with my family who I don’t see very often since we live on different continents, was learning some new things about life in Italy.

We walked past lots of mushrooms, and I learnt that you need to have a license to pick mushrooms. In some areas, you can get the license only once you attended a basic course and passed a test. Each region has its own regulations, and also its own picking calendar (days when mushroom picking is allowed), as well as the quantity of mushrooms allowed per person (usually 3kg per person per day). Placing the mushrooms in bags is illegal: you must use wicker-type baskets for collection to ensure that the mushroom spores are distributed as you walk through the woods.

Each year about 40,000 people suffer mushroom poisoning in Italy, so it is very important to be 100% sure your mushrooms are edible. In Italy, you can take your wild picked mushrooms to the local pharmacist or doctor who will identify them free of charge. Our Italian guide for our hike, told us that if you don’t take your mushrooms to the pharmacy and your guests die from mushroom poisoning, you can get tried for manslaughter! Definitely an incentive to make sure about your mushroom’s identity!

Wild mushrooms are the main ingredient in fettuccine ai funghi – some form of which are on many local menus in the Italian Alps. I can definitely recommend trying it!


do we really need supersize everything? June 11, 2010

Filed under: Travel — Michelle @ 2:37 pm
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We’ve been in San Cristobal for almost 2 weeks. We’re getting used to city living i.e. walking everywhere, shopping only for what we need for the day. I think you observe more of your surroundings when you are on foot. I’ve been realizing how everything is smaller here – the cars, the plates (and servings), the apartments, the restaurants, the supermarkets. It has made me wonder: do we really need oversized everything, the American way? Do we need houses the size of palaces, or does it make us distant from our neighbors? Do we need such huge food servings, or does it turn us into unhealthy overweight people? Do we need such big cars, big supermarkets selling big containers of anything?

I think there is something to be said for a simpler way of living: using less, buying less new stuff, eating less (or throwing away less from our huge restaurant portions). The Swedes definitely have a great concept in their “untranslatable” word Lagom.


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