peace + love on social media?

Quite a contrast to my last post, when we were still in South Africa and having the time of our lives…

Now two weddings (Colorado and Germany), one puppy (Ellie), and one year of marriage later, I’m sitting at my desk trying my darndest to study for two upcoming exams, Neuropsychology and Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie (best translated as work and organizational psychology…?).


by Elizabeth Flores

Of course I wouldn’t be a student without the typical Facebook distraction. Today my blood has been boiling, however, because I am one of those that actually occasionally embroils herself in a Facebook argument. I know it’s usually pointless. I don’t usually get myself into these messes unless I think the person might have the potential to be swayed and I feel like I have enough knowledge on the subject to not make a fool of myself. If I’m honest, it may be partly due to the fact that I miss being able to sound eloquent and intelligent, presenting arguments free of fallacies…any platform I have for that here usually requires German rather than English. But anyway, I read a comment, I had to respond. The original post was talking about the ridiculousness of (trigger warning) the fact that Brock Turner, the rapist, goes free, after three months of jail, and no one seems to be that upset about it, rather calling him the “Stanford swimmer” or some such thing that minimizes what he did. The comment that someone left behind was that he is not a rapist, because by California definition of rape, he did not rape the victim, but rather *just* sexually assaulted her. He also didn’t believe that 1 in 4 women experiences sexual assault, rape, or attempted rape in their lifetimes. I don’t think this man knows what a comment like that feels like to someone who has been assaulted, let alone raped. It angered me that he did not do any kind of research, just left a comment, and then intentionally and vocally unsubscribed from the post, letting his words reek havoc as they would, not willing to answer to any kind of argument from the other side.

This isn’t the only issue that has resulted in complete polarization of commenters on social media. Athletes taking a knee at sporting events. Black Lives Matter. Iraqi and Syrian refugees. It frightens me that people can call someone they have never met all kinds of terrible things, write assumptions based on little evidence, post articles coming from “reliable” sources (someone’s mom’s blog), and get away with it, receiving likes, shares, reposts until the “information” melds itself into the subconscious.

With the presidential election coming up, polarization is a dangerous thing. I am grateful that, no matter the personal beliefs of my immediate family members, I am generally able to have a level headed discussion with them about the issues at hand, the pros and cons of party candidates. I am encouraged by the many young people I encounter who are able to see both sides of an argument and realize that, more often than not, the solution to a problem lies somewhere in the middle.

Bit of a ramble. I feel like 2016 hasn’t been the greatest of years in our world, and sometimes it leaves me down.

I have to hope that the leaders of tomorrow learn that choosing a side, rather than working together to find compromise, only spawns more animosity. Especially, I hope that Christians remember that Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers”, “blessed are the merciful”, and “love your enemies”. I hope they long for opportunities to practice what they say they believe. I hope they seek out ways to love and be a servant of all, not just those who hold the same views, are of the same political party, orientation, skin color, religion, or culture. 

Til next time, I promise it will be sooner rather than later…



Africa Day

Here’s an article that I wrote for the Fountain House Newsletter detailing an interesting outing from Cape Mental Health. Enjoy!

Robin, Fabian and I (the Fountain House Interns)were invited to attend the Africa Day event at Artscape in Cape Town. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, and walked into what was a more formal event with multiple speakers and a lot of different tables with information for us to check out. As an American who is just in her second week in South Africa, it was a whole new experience for me. We were invited, with various delegates from organizations and various countries, to eat native foods. While waiting in line, a Namibian named George introduced himself to us and told us that we had to try the caterpillars… hmmm… okay! I’ll try anything once! Fabian and I popped one into our mouths and quickly discovered that once was enough. Maybe if I didn’t know it was a caterpillar it wouldn’t have been so bad (it was kind of like a smoky beef jerky) but it was very dry and very crunchy and very caterpillar-y. After getting my food, I was told that next to the gray, mashed-potato-like “pap” was a mixture of vegetables and cow intestines. Again, I will try everything once and took a bite, but this I couldn’t stomach (pun intended). So I moved onto the desserts, which were delicious! My only regret is that we didn’t know there would be food, and had eaten lunch beforehand and couldn’t eat more!

We were asked to be seated and were treated to a choir of men, women, and children from Malawi. The music and choreography was incredible and I wished they would continue! Afterwards we listened to a speaker from Ghana, talking on the topic of integrating people who have disabilities into everyday culture. Her speech was short but poignant, and encouraged a hopeful future.

Fabian and I took this opportunity to walk around and look at the tables and the various information that they offered. We had the chance to speak longer with George, and also the Namibian Consul, Val. They expressed their disappointment that this specific event for Africa Day didn’t (or hadn’t yet) addressed the topic of xenophobia, especially in light of current violent events, as such a holiday would be the perfect opportunity to encourage unity between all the African peoples. We unfortunately had to leave, but based on what I read in the papers the next day, the topic did seem to be addressed at many events throughout the nation. As a foreigner, it is encouraging to me to see Africans with the dream of becoming a unified people, and I feel privileged to be able to witness a bit of history during my time here in Cape Town.



Mixed impressions of Cape Town

Hi there everybody!

I haven’t updated you all on our adventures in awhile. I’ll recap on Scotland soon, but for now; we’ve arrived in Cape Town and have had a whirlwind of a first few days.

We left Scotland at 9am on Friday morning, flew into Stuttgart for a fun but short BBQ and visit with Joh’s family and friends of ours, and flew to Stuttgart via London on Saturday morning at 11am. Our layover in London was 9 hours long, so we buzzed into the city for a good chunk of that time. It was my first time to actually be in London, not just passing through! Joh made sure I got to see everything, so we saw Westminster Abbey and the Parliament building, the London eye, and Buckingham Palace, all within 4 hours and with our loaded carry-on bags in tow. We took a snooze in St. James’ Park before heading back to the airport and the 11 hour flight all the way from the top to the bottom of the world.

After a long and groggy flight (luckily being able to sleep) we arrived and Birgit Schweizer from Cape Mental Health, where I am working, was lovely enough to pick us both up from the airport and take us to the complex where we are staying. It’s a whole different world down here, people. We drove past two different townships, where the majority of the extremely poor live and to our place, which has a fence and a security guard. To park on the streets here, people need to make sure they have nothing on their seats that looks worth stealing, otherwise the chances of it being there when they get back are next to nil. Security guys dressed in reflective neon will watch your cars in the richer areas of the city (ours is one). Going out at night by yourself is a no-brainer to people who live here—you just don’t do it. And it gets dark at 6 (we are headed into winter).

On our first day here, we went walking down to the Waterfront, through downtown, where we promptly and naïvely got swindled out of what cash we have. Although the harbor was beautiful, I was on edge the entire time and absolutely did not want to walk back the way we came, so after walking awhile along the water we took a cab back home.


It has struck me how intense the contrast is between rich and poor here. And just coming from a country where “rich” is not the definition that would be given Johannes and me, a couple on student budgets, I am appalled at the mindset I have somehow developed, that I am “poor”. On our budget, we are able to live in what I have now been told is the place “all the rich people live”, and rent a car for three months, commuting back and forth to work. Granted, it is making our bank accounts tighter than we are comfortable with, but we can afford to be choosy about where our food comes from, not just whether or not we have it.

Cape Town has a thing called “load-shedding”, which means that the electricity goes out for two and a half hours every day, and it varies by day and location. The first time it happened Joh and I wondered, and tonight we were plummeted into darkness as the schedule changed without warning. It was weird. But I liked it. We lit a candle and sat in the dark and talked without any distractions. Just this simple, forced-fast (if you will) of electricity suddenly made it into a prized possession; reminded me of its value (and sometimes of its harm when it overtakes our lives).

Safety: another thing we take for granted. One of the interns at Cape Mental Health, a South African named Robin, was astounded to hear that in Germany (and in the States), we don’t have high security fences around our homes/properties. The fact that one murder or one rape can hold the headlines for weeks or months on end in Germany had her jaw dropping open; such a thing wouldn’t really get a second glance here, it’s every day news. In the words of another intern, Fabian (who is German), “In Germany, if a crime occurs in a certain place, people will avoid it for weeks and months and be scared to go there. If you tried to do that here, you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere at all.”

I have a mixed feeling in my heart about what I have experienced here so far. On the one hand, it feels like waking up from a groggy sleep and into a fresh, cold blast of air. On the other hand, those groggy dreams were so warm and fuzzy. Ignorance is bliss.

And it’s not even that I was ignorant…it’s just that all this is so readily available and right outside the door that makes me wonder how in the world I, as a tiny, frail human girl, can possibly make a difference.

But raw life brings raw beauty with raw pain. The sunsets over the Lion’s Head outside on the balcony are so beautiful, the smell of the city is so new. I’m seeing stars I have never seen before, in a hemisphere I have never been to before, with a pretty great guy I am so blessed to have at my side. Still feeling a strange sense of not-quite-comfy here but I can’t wait to see what is in store.




Healthy Eating Habits

Staying slim and healthy isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially when your genetics are stacked against you (this girl!). But there could be ways you are sabotaging your health and fitness goals that might not even be on your radar – ones that are an easy fix. Check these out:

1) Drink lots of water. Often when we feel hungry, we’re actually dehydrated. Especially in the morning, I like to start my day out with a glass of water before eating my breakfast to make sure I’m hydrated before I start trying to fight that with food.

3) Skip the fruit juice. We are quick to think of fruit juice as healthy, but it’s actually loaded with as much sugar as any soft drink. Check this out:

  • Coca Cola: 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons).
  • Apple juice: 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar (9.8 teaspoons).

If you’ve cut back on soda and are replacing that habit with fruit juices, you probably aren’t going to see any progress! Juiced fruit lacks the fiber you would get from blending the fruit whole, so if you have to go for fruit, drink a smoothie instead. Unlike juice, it will fill you up and not leave you wanting more. More on this subject can be found here.

2) Skip the sugar. It takes some practice, and maybe you want to go cold turkey or might choose to wean yourself off of it, but the flavors of tea and coffee really stand out in a new way once you get used to not having an added teaspoon of sugar or two. If that’s too much for you, try adding some milk or almond milk and skipping the sugar.

3) Pass the salt on. Adults are actually only supposed to have a teaspoon of salt per day, and let’s face it…salt is hiding in everything (just like its partner in crime, sugar). Too much salt raises your blood pressure and significantly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke (Check out all the bad things too much salt does to you here). My fiancé spends every day in the cardiology ward with folks who could have prevented their own illnesses had they made dietary changes in time. So say no! Don’t touch the salt shaker when your food arrives either at home or in a restaurant, chances are it already contains way more than your daily dose. You may disagree, but the key is to wean your tastebuds off the need to salt every savory dish. Once you’ve done that, your tastes really do change, and things that once tasted perfectly normal now taste much too salty. Tips for a lower salt diet can be found here.

4) Say no to extras: cheese, mayo, creamy dressings. Most of the time you won’t even taste the difference, and there is absolutely no reason to be consuming the extra calories!

5) Eat until you’re satisfied, not til you’re stuffed. It takes our stomachs a little while to catch up to our brains. Eat slowly and don’t rush through your meal. If you still feel hungry after you’ve finished eating, wait ten minutes and see if you don’t feel full!

Any I’ve missed that have helped you? Feel free to comment below!

And remember:


Something green!!

A couple of days ago I came across a recipe for baked sweet potatoes and even more exciting, this recipe for Vegan Green Goddess Dressing from Kara Lydon over at The Foodie Dietitian. I was so excited to try it out today as I am cooking for the whole Gardiner family. It’s been so fun to have the opportunity to cook for bigger groups than just myself or me and Joh.

Here is the finished product! Let me tell you, we have a couple of hours before dinner and I am having to resist my desire to eat this by the spoonful out of the bowl…

Green Goddess Dressing

Apparently Brits don’t have black beans?! I went to three different supermarkets and no luck. So I am substituting kidney beans in this recipe for a loaded sweet potato

I am very much looking forward to dinner! And after that…Zumba for the second time with Kelsey. I honestly felt pretty ridiculous the first time around on Monday, but we burned about 500 calories each and had fun doing it, and it really doesn’t get much better than that!

Pros and Cons, but mostly Pros

As some of you may know, I have been having massive problems with headaches and vision problems for the past few months. It has had an impact on my schoolwork, and I had to opt out of taking a few exams this past semester due to not being able to read while studying.

After two MRIs of my brain, the docs have determined that one ventricle of my brain is swollen with fluid. Our bodies naturally create a lot of cerebrospinal fluid each day, and the swelling occurs when it isn’t able to drain properly. This condition is called hydrocephalus, and its symptoms include dizziness, chronic headache, depth perception problems, memory problems, and basic motor skills problems.

Unfortunately, the doctors found out that I could have this right before we left on our adventure. Originally they said that I should wait at least three months before getting another MRI to confirm that this is the case, but the symptoms are getting worse. I will likely have to have a surgery in which they will insert a shunt into my brain to drain the fluid. So I’m not sure what I’m to do. Go back to Germany for treatment? Wait it out and hope that less stress means less symptoms? Wait til after the wedding for the operation? If so, I won’t be able to drive while in the states in the time that I was counting on to get a lot done right before the wedding. It all seems so silly.

Anyway. That’s that for now. I’m going to talk about it with Joh when he gets home from work today. But I have been having a wonderful time so far here in Scotland. I have made some new friends already and can’t wait to explore!

We spent St. Patrick’s Day at the Three Sisters in Edinburgh. We arrived and stayed til the last train, hoping to catch Brian McFadden. He’s one of the singers from the boyband Westlife…swoon! My grandpa works overseas pretty often, most often in Ireland, and when I was 11 he brought me back a Westlife CD, and that’s how an American girl who would have otherwise been clueless became a diehard fan. Sadly our train left at 11:30 and he hadn’t even hit the stage. A fun time anyway! Dancing and singing with the best!

We got our faces painted by an extremely talented woman who seriously only needed 15 seconds and a flick of the brush to get these masterpieces onto our faces. We didn’t want to wash it off before bed.

My old man showed his age complaining about the loud partiers who were jostling him around…honey, it’s the biggest Irish pub in Edinburgh. On St. Patrick’s Day. What did you expect?! But he let loose shortly afterward. 🙂

The next day Joh and I hiked up the Campsie Hills. We didn’t want to stop and kept going so that our round trip was in total about 8 or 9 miles! It was so nice and peaceful at the very top. Joh decided to use the peat from the moor to have a mud mask. We saw loads of sheep all over the place. When we headed up a trail, there was an open gate and a sign, so we followed it. On the way back though, the gate was shut and the road was being used as a temporary pasture for three Highland cows!!! They were scared of us and we didn’t want to corner them, so we jumped over a fence, over a creek and into a sheep pen and waited until they passed us by, then jumped back over the creek, over the fence into the road and hopped the fence back onto the main road.

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On Friday we had our photoshoot with Kitchener Photography! I have been a fan of their work for a long time and am so glad that it worked out that we got to do our engagement shoot with them. I’m still waiting on the photos so those will come eventually, but for now, this is what we’ve got:


Dylan and Joanna were an awesome couple to chat with on the way up to Glencoe. We got to share some of the pros and cons of being an international couple, like the ever-present question of where we want to settle down…it was like hanging out with new friends all day. I’ll definitely post more about our time with them when I post the engagement photos! We were really impressed and I am so looking forward to getting the rest of the images!

Best til next time,



In transition

I left Mannheim today! In the transition phase between two journeys and it always feels a little bit like limbo. We’ve closed a chapter here and are about to start a new one, but haven’t yet.

The sun is shining so wonderfully today! I’ve made it to Stuttgart, where I will fly from tomorrow. Then it’s to London and up to Sherwood Forest (!!) where I will get to spend the weekend with awesome friends, new and old, at the Momentum conference.

The past weeks have really made it really clear to me how much I’ve been blessed with the friends that I have made in Mannheim. A year and a half ago I was nervous about moving to a new city (again) and the future was really unclear. Joh and I were taking time apart to find out what we wanted, university was about to start, I wasn’t sure if my German was up to par, and I had so many loose ends flying around, I wasn’t sure where to begin.

Fast forward and now I am halfway done with my bachelors, we are planning our wedding, I have an awesome group of friends from our small group, and am actually going to be missing Mannheim while we are away! The ladies from our small group (if anyone is interested, our church is called Haus des Herrn!) threw me a bridal party two weeks ago, and it was such a special time to spend with friends I know I will have for years to come. We went to the planetarium (I know…not exactly a bachelorette party activity…but my wish, thank you Damaris!) and then played this awesome game where my friend Krissy had recorded Johannes answering questions about me/us/our relationship. If our answers matched, I got to open a present!

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One of my bridesmaids, Dori, couldn’t be there but I know she had a hand in the planning…she had been very pregnant and just had a brand new beautiful baby girl, my “niece” and flower girl. Thank goodness they planned having a girl around my wedding, right? 😉 I look forward to seeing them tonight before they move to England. I am very much hoping that Joh ends up loving it there…two of my bridesmaids within a days journey?! I would be so spoiled. Currently one lives in Alaska, another in Florida, my sister in Nashville and soon to be Uganda, one in Scotland and one in Germany. And they are all honoring me by coming to Colorado for the wedding!

Last weekend I was at a retreat with even more women from our church. It was a really cool experience, and I was able to close a lot of doors through forgiveness to wounds of the past. Called Encounter, the retreat centered around experiencing the forgiveness, freedom, and joy that God gives us through his grace. At first glance it may seem awful to spend a weekend drudging up old baggage from all of our pasts. And not going to lie, it was a very draining time full of emotional highs and lows. But what a relief to decide to leave the past in the past! To forgive! It felt like a huge weight lifted off of my chest, like a great big part of my soul had been cleaned out, lots of old junk thrown away, and those places cleaned and prepared for all that is to come. I can’t wait!

Just a couple more things to do today and then tomorrow I’m off!



to Scotland and beyond…

“‘I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
‘I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!'”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Joh and I are on the brink of an adventure. It’s amazing how many little things go into planning something the scale of what we decided to undertake. We are currently in the middle of packing boxes, selling furniture, getting insurance straightened out, school things, plane tickets, train tickets, apartment rentals, and a million other things in order as we prepare to set off on the biggest of our escapades yet so far. Two weeks from now, we will be in beautiful Scotland, spending two months there for Joh’s practical year as a medical student. He will be working in a hospital in Glasgow, and we get to stay with one of my very best friend Kelsey and her wonderful family, YAY! I will be taking the time to study for a couple of classes I am missing by taking a semester off of uni, and I’m not sure what else yet! Considering doing a dance course or a French course, or both? What do you think? In any case, I am sure that Kelsey will be booking up our weekends with all sorts of fun things. I can’t wait!


A post shared by Ciera S. (@cierasunshine) on

After that we will be jetting down to Cape Town, South Africa for another three months. Just today I had a meeting with my professor about being my supervisor while I work at Cape Mental Health, an awesome organization that works with all sorts of people with all kinds of various disabilities, helping them to lead normal, integrated lives in their communities. I will be working there for the full three months and can’t wait to share all the cool things that they are doing in Cape Town! Joh is going to be working in the Groote Schuur Hospital about three blocks away.

Needless to say, there is a lot to do and a lot to think about, even though we’ve already crossed so many things off of the list. Not to mention…directly after we get back in August it’s QUICK, FIND AN APARTMENT and then off to Colorado and our WEDDING! Luckily, I like to plan and problem solve. Joh, on the other hand, gets easily overwhelmed with all the nitty gritty details of such a gigantic series of events. Understandable, as his last great big adventure away from Germany was a year abroad in the USA in high school, a good 10 years ago. I guess I’m a little more used to it. But it will be okay! One thing at a time! Wait, only two more weeks til we leave?!?!?!?!? Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things indeed.




I used to have a blog. I also used to have a journal. Over the past few years life has been whisking me around by the seat of my pants, though, and I haven’t had the opportunity to do much else than keep my family informed of the main bullet points.

Lately I was cruising my mother’s old blog though, and really appreciated how her sometimes small and concise, sometimes ranting and raving blog entries essentially captured the lives of my family from her perspective from 2003 to 2007. Her blog is an irreplaceable treasure, even though she may not have known it at the time. It also occurred to me I may have something to say worth reading, be it about lifestyle, being an expat, being half of an international couple, partner of a soon-to-be doctor, a foreign student, traveling, health, fitness…who knows! I’m learning as I go just like you.

So here goes! I’m not sure what this will look like. I’ll let it take on a life of its own. Let me introduce myself.

My name is Ciera. I am an American. 23, Nashville born, Colorado bred. But I have lived in Germany for the past four and a half years. Life brought me here quite unexpectedly and since then, it’s been a whirlwind. I expect I will write about everyday life, struggles, small joys and victories of being a foreigner…and probably my passions, learning, health and wellness, beauty, fashion, people, travels, food, and being an all-around citizen of the world. I’m engaged to a German. I’m stubborn and opinionated but I like to think I’m nice and that I am open to criticism. I’m currently fasting sweets and indifference for Lent. I study psychology. I get sick a lot and have anxiety. Sometimes I’m insecure. I love sunshine and flowers a good glass of wine (but who doesn’t?). Annnd… I’m looking forward to writing on this blog.