Coronavirus Life Lessons

The Silver Lining of Coronavirus

Walking the dogs through the woods
Exploring the woods (for a change) behind our house in Fourqueux, France

Before I say anything, let me be clear about one thing. The outbreak of COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) is a global tragedy. Thousands of people are dying and it’s just the beginning. Billions of dollars of value has been ripped out of the capital markets. People all over the world are scared for their health, their safety, their jobs and their loved ones. I am worried about my parents, extended family, and friends who are old enough to fear for their lives if infected. For some people though, there is a silver lining.

The Effects of Coronavirus on Our Family Thus Far

The outbreak caused an unprecedented chain reaction of events around the world for people of all ages. Living in France, we have experienced this first-hand:

  1. First, my business trips started to get cancelled.
  2. Second, Luka & Taj’s schools were cancelled.
  3. Third, given that it’s not really appropriate to move any sales discussions forward given what’s going on, work is a bit slower than usual.

In summary, I have much more time to spend with my girls, they are home from school, and I don’t have to travel. This is incredible! Last week I logged into a French website called Superprof and found an Art teacher to come to the house to work with Luka. She is the most artistically inclined out of all of us and truly enjoys drawing and painting. Unfortunately our normal weekly routine doesn’t allow time for her to explore it. Meanwhile, I have always wanted to learn to play the guitar and Taj recently has also expressed interest. So this Thursday, she and I have our first joint guitar lesson.

Yesterday we took the dogs for a walk through the woods behind our house, for the first time ever. Later that afternoon, I attempted my first Tofu Tikka Masala. It ended up in the garbage and the house smelled of Indian food all day but it was fun trying. Meanwhile, we wake up in the morning, eat breakfast together (without the rush of having to run out the door), we sit at the dining table and work together. I have some coffeehouse music on in the background, courtesy of Spotify, and I have to ask myself… isn’t this how life SHOULD be?

Nature is Sending us a Message

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, the way I see it, nature is sending us several messages:

  1. Slow Down – Maybe this is what it took to get us all to stop running to the airport to catch our next flight and to put down our phones to see what the last email was regarding, and to talk to our kids more instead.
  2. Saving the Planet Really isn’t that hard – Have you seen the satellite images of the air quality over China before and after the outbreak of Coronavirus? It is absolutely stunning. It CAN be done.Change in Airspace over Wuhan China
  3. Life is Fragile – The symptoms of this virus are similar to a flu or cold for those who are not in a high risk category. It could have just as easily been something much more deadly that affected a much wider population. Live every day like it’s your last and be the best person you can be.
  4. Take Better Care of Yourself – For those who eat a lot of junk food or who smoke regularly, this should be a wake up call. It DOES matter and the risk to your life is real. Use this down-time to start better eating habits and a regular exercise routine.

Take Advantage of This Opportunity

Today is March 16, 2020. As of now I think the outbreak of this virus has been very positive for our family. Again, I do not want to diminish the fact that millions of people’s lives are at risk. Many businesses are shut down and many people are concerned about being able to pay their bills. As an eternal optimist I would like to think that this virus will be contained within the next month or two given all of the precautions in place.

In the meantime, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the time this situation has given me to spend time with my girls and to enrich our lives with fitness, music and cooking. I recognize, however, how privileged I am to have this luxury, at least for now. When things return to normal, I hope we have learned a few things about how to have a healthier balance between work and family. Our dining table should continue to be our communal family workspace where we each retreat to our respective rooms or offices for video conference calls.

Lastly, I would like to thank those of you that told me that you really enjoy reading this blog and that you have missed it. It is inspiring to know that anyone cares what I think and have to say. You know who you are. Having the time to write this post is just another benefit of having a little extra time right now. Please be safe and let’s all get through this in the most positive way possible!

Is Meat the Next Tobacco?

With new generations focused on the environment, and new companies finding better alternatives, meat may soon become the next tobacco.

Meat Warning

At the time of writing, there are 61.8 Million posts on Instagram using #sexy.  The amount of posts using #vegan? 70.5 Million

Have we finally reached a tipping point in our evolution as a species where we might eliminate meat from our diets?

There appears to be a growing trend where going vegetarian, or vegan is becoming… well, trendy.  How did this movement gain this kind of momentum?  Why now?  Does it have the capability to change humanity and the world as we know it?

Trained Carnivores

Like most American kids, I grew up loving the staple items off of the “kids menu”.  Hot dogs, Chicken Nuggets, Cheeseburgers, Pepperoni Pizza.  Let’s just start right there.  Who decided that the kids menu should be comprised of the worst possible things we could put in our bodies?  My wife Sina served our 2 girls avocados and edamame as they were growing up and they love it.  Put a hamburger in front of them and they probably won’t touch it.  My mouth waters when I think of pepperoni and sausage pizza or a perfectly grilled steak with rock salt, but I also know that I’m killing myself every time I eat it.  There is a thin line between habit and addiction.  Could I stop eating meat tomorrow?  Yes.  But it would be very, very difficult.

Moral Conflict

We have eight pets in our house (cats and dogs) and we love them dearly.  We have never had a pet chicken, pig, lamb, or cow, but if we ever did I have a feeling it would be a lot easier to stop eating them.  I know in my mind that it’s bad for my health, bad for the environment, cruel to animals, but it just tastes so good!  I wonder how many other people out there feel this growing sense of guilt with each time they order meat off the menu.  The famous musician, vegan, and animal activist Moby does a great job of explaining this moral conflict in his Ted X talk in Venice Beach.

From Crunchy to Cool

Growing up we had that one couple in our extended family that were environmentalists.  Hardcore environmentalists were few and far between back then and so while their bumper stickers and eating habits were admirable, it seemed like more of a cult that I would never be a part of.  Since 2010 though, I have been seeing more mainstream discussions around becoming vegetarian or vegan.  In August, 2011, Bill Clinton was interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN where he indicated that one can actually reverse heart disease by eliminating meat from one’s diet.

The first time I really started to think about changing my eating habits was after watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives”.  The film explains that during World War II during the time that the Nazis invaded Norway between 1939 and 1945, the Norwegian people were deprived of meat since the Nazis saved it all for their armies.  The rate of heart disease and stroke plummeted during these years, and jumped right back up after the war.  This was the first time that it seemed real to me that I might have a lot more time to spend with my kids and grand kids one day if I actually stopped eating meat.

More recently I saw this meme from Richard Branson which really hammered my sense of guilt about what animals have to go through so that we can have the luxury of eating them.

Richard Branson Meme

More and more we are seeing global icons and influencers raising awareness of the dangers of meat consumption, its apparent destructive impact on the environment and inherent moral hypocrisy.

Gaining Steam

Earlier this year The Guardian published an article called The Unstoppable Rise of Veganism.  Forbes published a similar article discussing how the shift in focus around Veganism from its health benefits to the mistreatment of animals and devastating environmental impact has garnered significant support from the Millennial and following generations.  As stated in Philip Wollen’s very moving speech (which I highly recommend watching), there are now apparently 600 Million vegetarians in the world.  That is a staggering number, and as the internet will soon be accessible by every person on Earth, these people certainly have the numbers to influence the rest.

What’s Next?

Underage Sale ProhibitedIt’s truly incredible when you think about it.  Eating meat is something that humans have done since early existence.  I’m sure smoking tobacco goes way back as well, but look what has happened to that industry over the last few decades.  There will be just as many threatened companies sending lobbyists to Washington to keep the meat industry alive. Will we soon see Surgeon General’s warnings on packages of meat we buy in the grocery store?  Perhaps a photo of the cow you are about to eat, or the kids that don’t have enough food and water because of it? As with any cultural shift, those companies that don’t adapt and continue betting on meat will go down in flames (pun intended).

The most important step toward solving this problem is to make non-meat options more easily accessible and affordable.  You can get a burger at McDonald’s for $1, but try finding a salad for $1.  I’ve been living in Paris for the last 2 months.  Good luck trying to avoid meat here.  Particularly for those that are short on time, finding a quick bite that does not include meat is very challenging.

Another important step is to give meat lovers a believable alternative.  California-based Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat appear to have developed an alternative that has the look, the taste, and I would argue the moxie to compete.  It’s an exciting development for those of us that would stop eating meat immediately if we could replace it with something healthy and not notice the difference.

I have been accumulating a list of projects that I would devote my time and energy toward to help with education, the environment, and human and animal rights if I were financially able to do so.  It is my dream to one day sit around the table with the world’s most influential philanthropists and brainstorm about how we can shape the future for the better.  Making healthier, non-meat based food more affordable and more easily accessible is now on that list.

Models Among Us

Ashwin Kamlani

My love for photography and fashion have prompted me to launch a new personal project:  Finding and recognizing others that not only take the time to dress nicely but who have the courage to stand out from the crowd.

I developed an appreciation for many things that influenced my life.  I developed a passion for travel because we would visit India from the US every 2 or 3 years, normally on a different airline, giving me the unique opportunity as a child to get to know several European destinations during our stop-overs.  My parents were foodies, meaning that wherever we traveled (and even at home), we were constantly eating excellent food.  My mother’s love for cooking rubbed off on me as well.  Fashion, however, was not something that I developed an appreciation for until I married my wife, Sina.

Sina always looked stunning from the first day I met her and every single time thereafter.  It wasn’t long before we got together before she started guiding me to make better decisions about the clothes I put on, or she might say “showing me the light.”  The truth is that she has an amazing talent for combining colors, accessories and styles to create a look that fits the person and their body type.  So for me that’s the scrawny Indian guy body type.

Zara Skirt for MenI rarely question her suggestions and over time she has started to push the envelope with hot pink hats, and plaid suits that I never would have chosen in a million years because it looks like it’s out of the closet of a NYC pimp from 1972.  Recently she noticed that Zara was introducing ‘skirts’ for men, to be worn over pants… I’m not quite there yet.  I think it would make me look like a waiter, and frankly I’m hoping that fad goes away really soon.

Standing out isn’t easy.  I spent so much of my life trying to fit in, and I don’t think I had the mindset ten years ago to dress the way I do now.  It definitely takes some courage and Ashwin Kamlania sense of security about who you are as a person.  I get looks and comments all the time.  Some positive, and some sarcastically positive.  Being an entrepreneur has helped, since I didn’t feel like I had to answer to anyone or any particular company culture that might frown upon a more eccentric sense of style.  I don’t think I would work for a company that would pressure me to conform to be like everybody else.  With the exception of one or two people, I would like to think that my style is celebrated at Kognitiv, the company that acquired mine and where I have worked since.  You never know what people say about you when you’re not around.  It would be a lie for me to say I don’t care, but I guess I don’t care enough to not be who I am.

Waking up to the world of fashion and style has given me a new appreciation for other people that take the time to dress differently, or to express themselves through what they wear.  I travel all over the world for work and pleasure and I constantly see people who stand out from the crowd.  So in July while we were spending the summer in Mallorca I decided to make a project out of it.

I have always loved photography and it has been a hobby of mine since I can remember.  Today with all of the photo editing apps that are available almost any photo can be made to look professional and artistic.  So I launched a new Instagram feed called @ModelsAmongUs.  My goal is to approach people who I think look stylish and ask them if I can take a photo of them for my feed.

Lina Maria VelezAt first I was terrified.  I used to get nervous just being around an attractive woman.  Forget about approaching and speaking with one.  I guess being married to Sina has somehow allowed me to get over that to a certain extent.  It’s still not easy and I think a part of me wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it.  It has gotten easier since I started a few months ago but it still takes a lot of courage.  Lina María Velez from Medellin, Colombia was wandering through a street market in Pollenca, Mallorca and her yellow dress and hat caught my attention.  She liked the photo so much that she now uses it as her Instagram profile pic!

The age of Instagram has certainly helped.  Everywhere you go if you see an attractive, well-dressed person, chances are they are already on Instagram and it’s not a foreign concept that you would like to photograph them.  Especially here in Paris, there are people everywhere clearly taking photographs for Instagram.  The platform has created a swarm of amateur models.  Normally when I ask someone for a photo they already have a few poses that they are comfortable with and which they feel shows their best side.

One thing I have learned is that I have to act quickly.  I’ve lost count of how many times I thought about approaching someone and by the time I got up the guts to ask they were gone.  I feel like I have to approach people under the right circumstances:

  1. If she is with a group of female friends, is it rude to single her out and ask for a photo?  Does that send a message to the other girls that they don’t look as nice or aren’t dressed as impressively?
  2. If she is with her boyfriend or husband does he look like the type to take my request as a threat?
  3. Depending on where I am, will my approach make her feel uncomfortable?

IMG_9791Not everyone I approach is female by the way.  I ran into these two guys not too far from where we live here in Paris close to Rue Montorgueil.  I love seeing men that have taken the time to dress nicely.  It’s not as common to see and interestingly I think they get more attention on Instagram because of that.  These two guys were just strolling down the street and I asked them if I could take a photo.  They were happy to oblige.  For some reason I think men are going to be much less likely to say no than women, as they are less likely to feel threatened or uncomfortable.  This guy on the left is probably a model.  He had the pose and everything.

Anastasiya I met Anastasiya when I was in London for World Travel Market.  She was just walking by with her red coat and I asked her to take a photo.  As luck would have it there just happened to be a red wall right next to us (how often does that happen?).  Turns out that she is a model from Portugal.  My photo doesn’t hold a candle to the photos on her Instagram profile.  But it’s amazing how these people are constantly all around us and you never know because you never speak to them.  She was very nice and accommodating to drop all the stuff she was carrying to let me take a photo of her amidst the craziness of the trade show.

Zoe CollettiThe highlight of my project so far has to be this photo that you see to the left of Zoe Colletti.  Zoe was crossing the street with her mom in St. Germain.  I was crossing the opposite way with Sina and the girls and asked her if it would be ok if I take a photo.  She couldn’t have been nicer.  When we got home we discovered that Zoe is an actress and has appeared in films such as Annie (2014), which we have probably watched at least 20 times with Luka and Taj.  This is probably also my favorite photo so far in my feed.

I only have about 50 followers so far but hey, it’s a start.  I’m not really doing it to build a large group of followers but I think it would be really cool if somehow I can help people get discovered one day.  Right now I have my doubts about how real the possibility is of gaining a significant following in Instagram.  Five or six years ago when it first started, maybe, and even then with a little luck and publicity.  Today though it seems riddled with bots and Instagrammers who follow you in the hopes that you will follow them back and then they can unfollow you when you’ve forgotten about them.  All part of a ridiculous game to build up a large enough number of followers so that companies will pay you for sponsorships.  Making money is not my goal here.  I’m just doing it for fun and to recognize people that dress nicely.  If anyone has any good Instagram tips, I’d love to hear them.

Sina always says that if everyone took the time to dress nicely like people did in the first half of the 20th century, everything would be so much more beautiful and interesting.  She has a good point.  It may fly in the face of what’s politically correct today, in terms of not judging people by their physical appearance, but it’s one thing to judge people negatively for not dressing up, and another to recognize those that do.

Question: How would you react if a stranger approached you and asked if they could take your photo?


Assimilating into Parisian Life

Our first 2 weeks in Paris has been full of excitement and surprises

Sacre Coeur
Exactly 2 weeks ago, our lives changed forever.

Our plane touched down into Paris about an hour early, and the rest of the day went much more smoothly than we expected.  The gentlemen from Eelway Paris were waiting at the baggage claim as promised and collected our checked baggage.  They also agreed to take our carry on luggage for a small additional fee and so we were luggage-free for the rest of the day until our 2pm rendezvous with our new landlord to move into our new apartment.  The luggage would be delivered later that evening.  By the time we got out of the airport it must have been 10:30am, so we decided to Uber straight to the Eiffel Tower.  It was a crisp, sunny day and it felt like Paris was welcoming us with gorgeous weather.  After grabbing an unimpressive Pasta Bolognese and Croque Monsieur sandwich at a nearby bistro, we took a few photos in front of the tower and headed to our appointment.  We didn’t have to time to go up to the top, but hey, we live here now.  Surely we will go back in the next few days right?  (2 weeks and we haven’t gone back)

The apartment was a little disappointing at first.  The photos in the website made it look so bright and brand new, but in reality it doesn’t get much light at all and needs some work.  But now that we have settled in and Sina has worked her magic, it works quite well for us.  The only thing we feel like we miss is a clothes dryer.  My theory is that these buildings were not designed with exhaust systems for dryers and so we have to get used to crunchy clothes for a while.

The neighborhood, Bonne Nouvelle, is perfect.  The streets are filled with lively cafes and shops and it is mostly a local crowd.  It’s amazing though how one or two streets can make such a big difference in this city.  2 blocks to the left is prostitute-central with Chinese women walking around Strasbourg St. Denis.  The laws have changed in Paris around prostitution and the women are not allowed to call after you, or just stand around waiting.  They have to be walking around.  Who comes up with this stuff?  At one point we were actually considering an apartment literally right in the center of hooker-ville.  Of course we had no idea!  Thank goodness we decided on this one instead.

We are right in the middle of a two week holiday from school here in Paris.  Last week we signed Luka and Taj up for an arts and crafts camp here in the city.  We figured it would be a good way to start immersing them into the French language before they start school on November 5th and everything is in French.  Unfortunately, they found the one or two kids that spoke some English and befriended them so they could avoid having to learn any French.  The teachers also seemed to be excited by the prospect of practicing their English with the girls, so our plan was totally botched.  Tomorrow they start French lessons instead of arts and crafts camp.  Let’s see how that goes.  Sina is worried that the girls will leave Paris without learning French.  Being the optimist in the family, I’m not convinced yet.

So far, I am really loving life in Paris and have decided to really dive into a new life.  I joined a gym around the corner which is full of Technogym equipment from Italy, and my plan is to go each morning, 6 times per week.  So far, so good!  I have also been going crazy taking photos all over the city (photography is a hobby of mine), and took a photography class one morning here in the city.  An old industry friend of mine took me to an authentic French Bistro for lunch one day and we had an equally authentic 2 hour French lunch!  I’ve always said that I don’t like living in big cities but being in Paris has re-energized me.

Paris Day 1One of the amazing things about this city is that the entire city is beautiful.  In most cities, one can find little pockets of cool, charming neighborhoods.  In Paris it feels like the entire city is one endless cool charming neighborhood.  Every single building looks like something out of a story book and every single street is lined with local shops, cafes, restaurants and pastry shops.

Living here does have its challenges, and everything requires several trips and several conversations to figure out how it works.  2 weeks later and we still haven’t figured out how to get a prepaid sim card for our phones.  Sina has already mastered the art of “Amazoning” in Paris though.  The local mail man already knows us and has been duly warned that he will be making many visits to our apartment door.  Returns seem to be equally painless as they are in the US, so Amazon will not miss us at all over the next year it seems.

The neighbor from upstairs came downstairs one day to let us know he had received a piece of mail for us.  We chatted politely in the doorway for a few minutes but then it became painfully obvious that he was not going to leave anytime soon, so we invited him in to sit down for a few moments.  2 hours later, Sina and I were making faces at each other as if to say “Is this for real?” or “How do we get rid of this guy?”  Nice of him to stop by and all, but we had a long list of things to do to get settled in.  We certainly felt like the rude foreigners that didn’t want to adapt to the French social norms but man, this guy really liked to talk!

I have to say that so far in general, most people have been very nice here in Paris.  Of course once in a while we have come across someone rude but I think that’s true in any city.  The only problem is I wish people didn’t speak so much English, and surprisingly there are many people who also speak Spanish!  It makes learning the language more difficult.  But I for one am determined to learn it.  I am going to continue Rosetta Stone (I’m about half-way through now), and then there happens to be a language school one block away from here.  I am hoping that Sina and I can become proficient enough that we can start introducing it at home and help the girls along.

Working on European time has both advantages and disadvantages.  I don’t feel rushed in the mornings and after the gym I have a few hours to work without many interruptions before the US and Canada starts to wake up and things get busy.  It’s nice to have that time in the morning to do something personally fulfilling and to work more productively.  The downside is that there are emails and phone calls until I start ignoring them around 11pm, but I have been taking at least an hour or two in the evenings to have dinner with the family and read to the kids.  I haven’t taken any business trips yet, but that will start back up after next week.

It’s hard to believe we have only been here for two weeks.  It feels like at least a month has gone by!  My parents were here over this last week which was a nice surprise for us and the kids.  They are heading back to Miami tomorrow and it’s back to work in the morning.  We are missing our dogs and cats back home, but we installed a webcam so we can at least see our dogs asleep in their room each day.  We certainly don’t miss having to clean up all the pet hair everyday, but they are part of our family and it’s hard to be away from them.  I think we haven’t even begun to scrape the surface of the impact life in Paris is going to have on us, and I am excited to see what’s to come.

Paris: The Adventure Begins

Off to Paris
As we head to Chicago to catch our flight to Paris, I thought I would take a few minutes to begin telling you about the crazy week we had preparing for our 1 year move to Paris. If anyone is preparing to move abroad for a while, maybe we can offer some words of advice.

Tip #1: As you begin to clean out the refrigerator and freezer of items that have been in there way too long, don’t just feed it all to the dogs. I have a suspicion it may have been the tuna, but it could have easily been the chicken or steak… but I had to clean up doggy diarrhea off the laundry room floor a few times over the last 24 hours.

Tip #2: If you are married to a fashionista and therefore will be traveling with the maximum baggage allowance permitted by the airline, plan ahead. I spoke to the manager of the Charlottesville airport a few days ago and let them know a few days in advance that the Kamlanis would be arriving on Saturday with 12 bags weighing 70 lbs. each and 4 carry ons. A huge thanks to the United Airlines team at Charlottesville-Albemarle airport. Esme the supervisor, Anne and Randy all know us by name now and allowed us to drive the bags to the airport at 9am in our 2 cars and check in so that we could then go run a few last-minute errands and go home for an hour before taking an Uber back to the airport. Unfortunately today there was a UVA football game so we had to pay twice as much for our Uber.

Tip #3: Think about how to make your arrival as easy as possible. In Paris I found a service called Eelway which offers a service to pick up our checked bags even before they hit the belt at the baggage claim, and deliver them right to our door at our apartment in Paris. Do not wait until the last minute though, as they need a signed customs document for each piece of luggage, as well as pictures of each bag. They ask to receive all of this information at least 48 hours in advance, but they also ask for pictures of the luggage tags. I’m not sure how that is supposed to work… since nobody can have their luggage tags from the airport more than 48 hours before check in. I didn’t end up sending in the forms until we were about to take off for Chicago (which is already 7:30pm in Paris), so I’m not sure if they will receive the forms and get them into the hands of the team at the airport in time for our arrival tomorrow morning. I guess we’ll have to see when we get there.

Tip #4: Think outside the box. Our apartment in Paris is likely to be quite small even though it looks great in the photos. I doubt however that there will be sufficient storage space for our 16 suitcases. We will most likely have to try and sell our suitcases on Craigslist or Ebay after we settle in, and then look at buying new or used ones when we come back. If I make it back to Charlottesville after the winter, I’ll think about bringing back a couple of suitcases with me full of winter coats and other cold weather clothing.

Tip #5: Check school schedules. We didn’t realize until relatively recently that there are two weeks of vacation for French schools starting on October 22 nd which means there is only 1 week of school left after we arrive. Not to mention, in France the school week is 4 days. On Wednesdays there is no school and kids are given the day to explore extracurricular activities and enrichment. This is a really nice idea so that kids can be home with their families after school instead of using the time after school for art, music, sports, dance, etc. During the 2 week holidays, there are also numerous options for the kids to keep busy. We have signed up Luka and Taj for an art camp during the week of the 22nd and they will start school after the break on November 5th . This will give them some time to absorb the language before starting school. Since our kids have been in Montessori school since the age of 2, we found a 100% French speaking Montessori school in Paris. This way the lessons and materials will be familiar, yet they will have a great opportunity to learn French quickly.

Tip #6: Learn as much of the language as you can in advance. I have used Rosetta Stone before to try learning German so that I could keep up with Sina and the kids at home. I also tried learning some Hindi before our trip to India in November 2017. In both cases I only got about halfway through it before I either ran out of time or lost interest. I’ve been doing French for the last few weeks now and I’m about 30% through it. Maybe this time since we’ll actually be living there I’ll stick with it.

Tip #7: Load up on necessary Amazon purchases well in advance of departure. I left too many things for the last minute and was worried that not everything would arrive. I have heard that there are a lot of pickpockets in Paris. Apparently if you walk down the street while talking on your phone, someone may run by and snatch the phone right out of your hand while you are using it. In preparation I purchased the Blackrapid wander bundle, which attaches a wrist strap to your phone, making it more difficult for a would-be phone thief to successfully run off with your phone.

Tip #8: Sina makes fun of me for this, but I like to start adjusting to the new time zone in advance. So for the last 2 days I’ve tried to go to sleep a little earlier and waking up a little earlier as well. This works out well since by the time you board your flight overseas you’ll be tired enough to sleep through the flight and then wake up fresh in the morning upon arrival.

Tip #9: Make sure all devices are fully charged up and entertainment is downloaded. Luka and Taj have recently gotten hooked on ABC Mouse. It’s a great educational app with reading, math and science. After each activity they earn tickets which can then be used to make virtual purchases in the online for their avatar. Tickets can be used to buy all kinds of clothing from dresses to wigs to sunglasses, or they can head over to the virtual furniture store to buy cool things for their virtual rooms. There is also a virtual toy store. The only problem is that the app does not work offline! This has evoked significant disapproval from both Luka and Taj. With your ABC Mouse subscription, you do have access to a few other apps for math and reading that can be used offline, but the reading app only goes through Kindergarten level. For me, my Bose headphones recently stopped working in one ear, so I decided to try out the Apple Airpods. I have to say they are pretty nifty, particularly for doing conference calls while driving or just everyday activities. No need for any silly (and expensive) headphone adapters. But I just realized while on this flight that I will not be able to use them to watch movies on the flight from Chicago to Paris! I think Airpods can only be used with Apple devices. While the sound of the airpods is excellent normally, it isn’t nearly as good in the airplane as the Bose headphones were. Given the amount that I travel, I may have to think of other options.

It all seems so surreal! It was rough saying goodbye to all our furry babies this morning, our 2 dogs and 6 cats. Roger, our Goldendoodle is 9 years old and Velvet, our Husky mix is 11 years old. I really hope nothing happens to them before we get back in August. We would all be devastated if something were to happen and we weren’t there to be with them. Let’s hope for the best. We set up a streaming security camera in the doggy’s room so we can sneak a peak at them anytime we want. That worked well for us while we were in Spain over the summer. The girls were sad to say goodbye to all of their teachers and friends yesterday, although at the same time they’ve enjoyed the extra attention they’ve been getting from everyone leading up to their departure.  We will land in Chicago in about 20 minutes and then have some fun in the airport for about 4 hours before we head to Paris! Having fun on the plane and in the airports is one of the keys to making travel with kids just a little bit easier. These days there are so many restaurant options and things to do in airports that it’s easy to stay quite entertained. Ok, time to practice some more French until we tear up the Chicago airport!

The Confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh Will Erase Decades of Progress

While Hollywood is enforcing a no tolerance policy on sexual harassment, Congress is about to trounce the #metoo movement by confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the US supreme Court

Brett Kavanaugh
Photo Credit: Politico

We have seen a tidal wave of accountability recently when it comes to the actions and words of high profile individuals.  Roseanne Barr’s career was completely destroyed after she used the “N” word.  Kathy Griffin was blacklisted by Hollywood after participating in a photo shoot where she held a replica of Donald Trumps bloody severed head.  These are examples that show that today, one’s right to free expression does not make anyone exempt from severe repercussions for saying things that are widely regarded as offensive.

When it comes to high profile celebrities being held accountable for sexual misconduct, we have all witnessed an incredible reckoning of high profile producers and actors who in the past would have been allowed to continue their repulsive behavior, shielded by their fame and fortune.  In Variety’s article that summarizes how the #MeToo movement has “rocked Hollywood” they summarize many of the cases we have heard about from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey.  More recently the sentencing of Bill Cosby has sent a clear unequivocal message to the world that unwanted sexual advances are not acceptable and there will be consequences.

As the father of two young girls I have been encouraged by these recent events.  My girls are growing up in an age where women have the courage to come forward and speak openly about what has happened to them because the public is no longer having it.  The problem is that there appears to be a growing divide between the values of America, and the American political system.

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 United States Presidential election also sent a message to the female population of this country.  While it is indisputable that Trump is a pig (we have all heard the tapes proving it), about 25% of the US population were willing to let that slide, either because their desire for more money in the bank or their ignorant fears based in racism were more prevalent than their need to have someone in the oval office that exemplified the education, professionalism and social behavior that we all should aspire to.  I was truly hoping that Donald Trump’s victory was an anomaly.  I rationalized the results as a stroke of luck for Trump that not enough people felt compelled enough to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Senator Jeff Flake may have single handedly saved us from a confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. If he is ultimately confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, it would completely excuse him from holding down a woman on a bed and covering her mouth to mute her screams.  How is it possible that Hollywood is applying a more strict moral code to those who can succeed in show business than the United States government, made of individuals that we elect?

Kathy Griffon is fired by CNN and blacklisted from Hollywood for appearing in a photo.  Kevin Spacey’s stellar career is ended for his unwelcome advances.  But Brett Kavanaugh will occupy one of the most prestigious posts in our nation, having a say in what rights we have, what laws we must all live by?  CNN fired Kathy Griffon for fear of a decrease in ratings or public backlash.  Giuliana Rancic was fired from E! News for saying that Zendaya’s dread locks looked like they smelled of weed!  It is clear that the United States government needs to feel the wrath of the American public.  Our elected representatives also need to fear for their ‘ratings’ if they do not represent what is right.

What we are witnessing right now is a blatant display of white privilege.  Kavanaugh’s comments relied heavily on how accomplished he was, citing his excellent grades and being captain of sports teams as if that is either proof that he was not guilty of Doctor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations, or enough reason for why they shouldn’t matter.  It is painfully obvious to most that Dr. Ford has absolutely no motivation to invent her story and that Kavanaugh’s answers and behavior reeked of guilt.  Senator Lindsey Graham’s outburst at the treatment of Kavanaugh is a clear illustration of the Good Old Boy’s Network at its best, dismissing the actions of Kavanaugh as no big deal.

Perhaps the timing of this embarrassment is an opportunity.  On Monday, September 24th, I voted in the midterm elections.  I hope that the American media will use this opportunity to remind voters to use their vote.  We need to unleash a powerful message to the elected officials that are allowing this to happen that we will not allow our leaders to live by a lenient moral code.  Social media may be enough to pressure TV networks or Movie Studios to stand up for what’s right, but it’s not enough in Washington.

My Kids Don’t Like Reading: What we are doing to change it

When we were notified by our kids’ school that they were reading below grade level, we got serious about getting our kids to enjoy reading.

Family Reading

We received the dreaded email that no parent ever wants to receive.  Your child is reading below her grade level.  The first reaction is “What?  MY child?  Doesn’t know how to read well?  How is this possible?”  But it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for the reality to set in and for it to become painfully obvious how it is possible.

Our girls are 6 and 7 years old, and I have probably read them a total of 4 books.  More importantly, Sina and I do not model behavior that would lead them to think about reading as an option for spending their free time.  In today’s world of endless options for binge watching, once we are done feeding the family, bathing the kids, feeding the dogs, and taking a moment to breathe, the only thing we want to do is watch the next episode of (insert title of latest Netflix Original here).

That’s it… our dreams are shattered.  How will our girls ever grow up to be President of the United States unless they are intelligent, well-read, cultured… oh wait, I guess the bar really isn’t that high anymore.  Well how will our girls ever grow up to be the next Notorious RBG unless they are intelligent, well-read, cultured, strong, confident women? Then we remembered that they are only in 1st and 2nd grade, and that maybe it’s not too late to save them from becoming professional couch-potatoes.

I thought about what books I enjoyed when I was younger.  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was one that stood out.  After Tuesday afternoon’s ballet class I was on a mission to get my girls to start enjoying reading.  We went straight to Barnes & Noble and I found The Narnia Chronicles.  I thought that maybe if I read them something that they could get excited about, they would see that reading is fun.  “Bob Books” may be good to get them started with reading but the stories have no substance.  I also bought something that we could take turns reading.  The Narnia books are too difficult for their reading level, so we stocked up on several “Magic Treehouse” books.

When we got home yesterday I started to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to the girls.  I decided to skip the first book entitled “The Magician’s Nephew” which apparently was written later as a prequel because the guy in Barnes & Noble said it wasn’t very good, and I believed him.  I wasn’t going to take the chance of reading something boring to the girls and losing their interest.  It was hard enough to get them to sit still when I started reading.

It only took one chapter for them to be hooked, and they kept begging for more and more.  At one point Luka said “Papa I’m not sure if I want you to keep reading… I’m scared.”  That’s when I knew it was working.  I offered to stop but she insisted I keep going, and before we knew it I had read 40 pages and it was past 9pm.  They found themselves not wanting to go to bed, not because they wanted to watch yet another episode of My Little Pony (just kill me now), but because they wanted me to keep reading.

Today after I picked them up from school and as we made our way through the rain back home, they said “we know what we’re going to do when we get home!”  They were excited about continuing the story.  Before we continued though, we started to read Book 1 of The Magic Treehouse, each of us taking turns reading a page until we got through 2 chapters.  Then it was back to Narnia…  First with a big bowl of popcorn, then as I cooked dinner, then as we baked chocolate chip cookies and then as they had their bath.  As Luka was in her bed about to go to sleep, she exclaimed “Aslan is so awesome!”

It seems to be working, and the crazy part is that I’m enjoying it as much as they are.  Why did it take the email of doom from the teacher to wake us up?  I don’t know.  But hopefully it’s not too late.  Our impending move to Paris is a great opportunity to replace TV time with reading time.  We can get a fresh baguette or maybe some hot chocolate croissants, lounge in the Tuileries Garden and read a great book.  If it’s not too cold and rainy that is…

I also started to think about alternative ways that I might get my girls to practice reading.  I showed them ‘funny’ feed on Reddit and had them read the headlines (the ones that were appropriate for kids anyway!).  But I found the pictures and videos were too distracting.  I went onto Amazon today and bought the Amelia Bedelia books.  I remember thinking those were hilarious when I was little.  Are there any great books that you have found that your kids can’t get enough of? If anyone has had similar experiences, or has any advice, I would love to hear it.

Mallorca, Summer 2018

In 2008, I had the privilege of living and working in Mallorca for 1 year during my career with Meliá Hotels & Resorts.  I fell in love with the island and vowed that one day after I get married, I would return with my family to spend some time there.  After constantly hearing about me rave about Mallorca and its beauty, Sina agreed that it was time to spend some time there.  So we planned for eight months to spend the summer of 2018 with our girls on one of the most stunning islands in the world.

Mallorca has so much to offer.  Palma de Mallorca is a vibrant city teeming with nightlife and full of history.  The beaches of Mallorca are incredible, and each one has its own unique offering.  There are charming towns in the mountains and on the coasts that too many people never take the time to visit.

Spending three months in Europe changed our lives.  Even though Sina is from Austria originally, she has not lived in Europe since high school.  As an American, I believe there are things about the cultures in Europe that we should look at emulating.  In Mallorca, people work to live, they do not live to work.  They take the time to enjoy life and the phenomenal island that they call home.


The time in Mallorca was extremely valuable for us as a family.  Since I work for a Canadian company, I was able to spend at least some time with my kids every morning before people in the US and Canada started waking up around 11am to 12pm Spain time.  Granted, I usually had to continue working before and after dinner, but that isn’t much different when I’m at home on the East Coast.  The fact that the girls were on summer vacation certainly contributed to our ability to spend more time together.


As you get older, it can be difficult to have a close group of friends.  The people that I consider friends, from college or grad school, live all over the world and I rarely get to see them.  Here in Charlottesville, there are plenty of nice people that we enjoy spending time with, but that’s different than having close friends.  On one hand, there is a limit to how much people want to let you into their lives.  As an example, when someone throws a birthday party for their kids, it is typically limited to 2 hours and then it is understood that everyone is to leave.  It feels like “please come to my house so that my child can have a party but then get out.”  Maybe we just don’t fit in here.  In Mallorca, we felt like the friends we have there just ‘get us’ and we could sit around for hours just talking about life, love and happiness.


Here in the United States, our lives revolve too much around money.  I sit down in my seat on United Airlines and by default I’ve got the CNBC ticker tape in my face.  Ever day I open my mailbox at home and have to carry the armful of useless brochures and fliers to the recycle bin because of all the companies that bought my data in an attempt to sell me something.  Not to mention the spam phone calls I get from robots telling me about that business loan that I’ve been approved for, or the CIGNA health plan that they are selling.  More importantly, our work consumes our lives in this country.  This is very different in Europe.


For some reason, people in Europe take more time and energy to dress nicely, even if they are just popping out to the grocery store to buy some eggs.  Not everyone… but here in the United States you have to really look for someone who has gone out of their way to dress nicely.  It makes a difference when you walk down the street and people are fashionably dressed.  This does not mean they are wearing expensive name brands or fancy suits.  It just means they put some thought into combining colors and expressing themselves through fashion instead of throwing on the first pair of jeans or sweat pants they could get their hands on.

Personal Development

I don’t know why it took living in Mallorca for the summer to wake up and realize that I have been putting off doing the things that I really enjoy for far too long.  Photography, film making, music…  these are all things that I want to spend some time on each week.  Entrepreneurship is a great way to kill any chance of spending time on hobbies unless you can somehow incorporate those into your work.  Over the summer I was able to take some time and spend it learning how to mix music and beats in Garageband.  I created the mix used in the video above.  I wonder if one can be sued for copyright violations if the music is changed enough.  Comments anyone?  Since we have been back and the girls are learning to play the piano, I have also started to play a little bit each day and get back into the music I used to play when I was younger.


It was only three months, but it had a huge impact on our lives and our outlook.  It was difficult to come back home.  While we love our home and it was extremely difficult to leave our pets with house-sitters, something just didn’t feel right after we came back.  Sina and I are not the type of people to accept the status quo and we tend to follow our instincts.  So we have decided to move to Paris for a year.  I plan to blog about our travels and experiences over the next year.

The “Pretty” Problem

Girls are led to believe that their self-worth is measured by their appearance. But teaching girls not to think about their appearance is not the answer.

After reading a post by Angela Noel called “The Problem with ‘Pretty Girls’ & Princess” in Open Vortex Magazine I was left with conflicted feelings.  Angela describes her emotional evolution from being a pretty young girl that was frequently complimented because of her appearance, to having her self-confidence diminished through the unsolicited criticisms of her appearance as she got older.  She is not alone as people, particularly women, are constantly judged and measured in part by their physical appearance.  Angela also describes how she has to stop herself from complimenting her nieces because they are pretty.  Is that the solution?

There is clearly a problem in American society (and many others around the world) where women are made to feel that the only thing that matters is their appearance.  It is a cruel burden to place on anyone given that as we get older it is impossible to preserve youth and what our society deems as “beauty”.  I do like that Angela says as she closes her piece that the next time she compliments a girl she will think more about what she does, but she goes on to say that she will not think about what she looks like.  I wonder if this is an over-correction, and that we are trying to ignore a natural instinct to favor the things in the world that one finds more attractive.  It may not be a politically correct thing to say, but the way people look (and I refer to both their natural features in conjunction with their efforts to dress and groom themselves) influence the way people perceive and treat them.  This is true in our personal relationships as well as professional ones, and while some people might try to push those preferences out of their minds because of recent social pressures that imply that those thoughts are evil, those preferences will still exist subconsciously because it is a natural instinct.  Seeing something or someone who is pretty evokes an emotional response, and that is why we will spend our money buying the prettiest house, the prettiest clothes, the cutest dog or cat…  and yes, when finding a mate or even hiring someone, the person’s appearance does affect the outcome.  Aesthetics matter.

Kamlani FamilyWhy can’t we teach girls to be proud of their physical beauty, understanding that it won’t last forever… at least not in a youthful form, as one aspect of who they are as a person?  Instead of banishing the concept of a princess from our minds, let’s redefine what a princess is.  Sina and I teach our girls to put some thought into their appearance.  But we also encourage them to be strong and take calculated risks.  They are not afraid to get their hands dirty, or of what minor injury may occur if they climb a tree or rocks.  If they see a cockroach, they will pick it up and put it outside versus most men and women I know that would just step on it in fear.  They are bad-asses, and I love it.  We are attempting to raise our girls not to be afraid, and to own who they are.  What matters is what they think of themselves, and not what other people think of them.  That said, if they take the time to brush their hair and dress nicely, it is a reality that they will be treated differently.  That goes for men too by the way.

I have always been scrawny, and not what society considers to be desirable when it comes to men.  I too spent many years between the ages of 10 and 33 thinking that I was unattractive.  While it may not be as pervasive as it is for women, the images of men with 6 pack abs, large pectoral muscles, broad shoulders and chiseled arms that grace the covers of magazines and movie posters most certainly make most men feel physically inferior.  I can honestly say that over the years, my frequent but ephemeral attempts at working out on a consistent basis were driven 70% by a desire to be more attractive to women, and 30% by how it made me feel on a day to day basis.

After I married Sina though, she taught me to shed my self-consciousness, and that one should not try to live up to the aesthetic standards of society.  That’s because most people just want to fit in, and not be singled out.  I never noticed it before, but just walk through any department store or shopping mall and look at the mannequins in the men’s department.  Khaki pants, blue blazers, blue jeans… these are staple clothing items of the American male and if you wear them, you can’t go wrong.  You can choose from skinny, slim, tapered, baggy, or even distressed, but in general the colors and styles are just safe.  Why can’t I wear an purple pants with flowers on them without people questioning my sexual orientation?

Sina has made me more aware of how people dress and I have definitely noticed that most people in America prefer to go to the grocery store or even travel in sweat pants or leggings, and choose comfort over style.  This summer we spent 3 months in Mallorca and noticed a distinct difference in the way people dress, even just to go out and run errands.  Dressing fashionably and making an extra effort to look nice definitely makes me feel more confident in my personal and professional  life, and I suspect that more people would feel better about themselves if they made the extra effort to look nice even if they’re just going to the grocery store.

The focus of our parenting is on being good, honest people, learning as much about as many cultures and languages as possible, and not being afraid of anything.  But both Sina and I want our daughters to embrace their appearance.  While we do not want them to define themselves or their self worth based on how they look, we do want them to to be aware that how they look, how they carry themselves and how they dress does have an impact on how people perceive and react to them.  We believe that this will contribute to their being confident individuals that don’t feel the need to conform or fit into the crowd.

Paris – ETA October 14, 2018

It has been a roller-coaster 48 hours.  First, the elementary school with which we had a Skype interview at 5am EST accepted our girls!  We didn’t think that the interview went so well because at the end of the interview, they suddenly weren’t sure if they had 2 spots available.  This school was our first choice, because we really liked the person that interviewed us, and although it is bilingual, most of the classes are in French only.

Next, LODGIS (the real estate agency we are using) confirmed that the apartment we wanted was available!  We had read that finding an apartment in Paris was difficult, and until now it had been quite a frustrating experience.  The agency had requested copies of our passports, paychecks, tax returns, and more.  Before sending all of this sensitive information I read plenty of reviews about the agency and they all sounded good, so we proceeded.  Although the apartment is a little more expensive than what we had budgeted, it is within five minutes walking distance from the girls’ new school.

Last, the girls’ current school informed us that they weren’t going to make us pay the penalty for taking the girls out of school early.  What a relief!  They didn’t have to do that and we really appreciated their kind gesture since our kids have been there for 5 years.

The only problem is that the apartment isn’t available until October 14th.  So now what do we do?  We have tickets to leave on October 1st, should we change them?  On one hand, the girls would miss 2 weeks of school in Paris if we were to go later.  I feel like the sooner we get there the better, so they don’t get too far left behind.  On the other hand, we would have to rent an AirBnB from the 2nd to the 14th, when our apartment becomes available.  That’s a pretty major expense.

Not to mention… we don’t exactly travel light.  Sina’s passion for fashion means that we will be taking full advantage of our elite status on United which allows us to take 3 bags per person and up to 70 lbs each bag!  This factor must always be taken into consideration in our travel plans.  Leaving on the 1st means getting all 12 bags to another apartment somewhere just outside the city (there is nothing available within our price range in the city center), and then moving all 12 bags to the apartment again once it becomes available.

Traveling with 12 large bags can also put a crimp in our summer plans.  What if we plan to spend July and August in Italy or Greece?  We certainly can’t take the bags with us.  Maybe we will have to find a storage unit in Paris and come back for them before returning to the US in August.  Most people would think we’re insane for traveling with so many bags but it is a burden we have accepted as part of our lives.  We absolutely love  dressing up as a family, and so traveling with 12 bags it is.

I wonder what the future holds for us after this year.  It was a struggle to come back to Charlottesville after spending three months in Spain this summer.  Imagine how we will feel coming back after a year in Paris!  It gives us a bit of an uneasy feeling that we have a house in Charlottesville with our menagerie of pets that we love so much, and that we really don’t know where we will want to be as of August 2019.  Hopefully we will have some kind of epiphany before then and the future will become clear.

For the moment, we have decided to change our ticket to leave Saturday October 13th.  Even though the school in Paris will be less expensive than our school in Charlottesville, we will be spending significantly more money over the next year, so we need to save wherever possible.  Spending thousands of dollars to go 2 weeks earlier just doesn’t make sense.  So we have one more month to go to get our lives in order before we head to Paris.   Today I spent the morning running around from store to store, stocking up on a year of cat food (for our 6 cats) tick and flea medicine, air conditioning filters, batteries, light bulbs, and other supplies so that the house-sitters can easily take care of the house while we are gone.

It’s amazing.  2 weeks ago we had no idea we were going anywhere.  Now we have 4 tickets to Paris, a school, an apartment and house-sitters, and we can’t wait to get there!