Nos Vemos Mexico

It is June 10, 2018 and I am sitting in our casita in San Pancho, Mexico cursing the Mexican government for this crazy blackout they have forced upon us. For the last week our power has been going out at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and does not come back on until sometime the next day. Today, it is 11:00am and we still have no power. In the winter months this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the humid, rainy season is upon us and a fan would be so welcome right now. The cool breeze that normally flows through our house has halted leaving behind a still, sticky residue. Two showers a day does not seem quite frequent enough to rinse away the sweat and grime. We have returned to “air kisses” to say hello to friends because the normal cultural practice of cheek to cheek kisses is too sweaty and vulnerable to endure.

However, I didn’t sit down to write this blog so that I could complain about our power outages and sweat. My intension is to share news of our next adventure and some highlights of the past 18 months of our life in the region of the Riviera Nayarit. From Puerto Vallarta to Chacala we explored the many beautiful jungle hikes, beaches, and stunning vistas.

Mackenzie never has any fun

We also had the privilege to experience many cities further a field in Mexico, such as: Mazatlán, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Oaxaca City and Guadalajara. Most importantly, we met and spent time with some amazing people. People who like us, are seeking to experience life in the moment, arms wide open to whatever amazing adventures come their way.

Before I get too nostalgic and ramble on about the beauty of Mexico, I’ll start with our news. We are excited to formally announce that our next adventure takes us to Tucson, Arizona. We will be leaving our sweet home and community here on June 28th to start our northward migration. Jacob has accepted a full time job as part of the leadership team with the Tucson Tamale Company (if you haven’t tried these tamales you MUST! You can find them in Whole Foods, Natural Grocers as well as some other, smaller grocery stores. You can even order them online!). We are thrilled to help this family-run company keep their very exciting, forward momentum going strong. I look forward to finding a private psychotherapy practice to join once we get settled in our new home at the end of July.

We found two great schools for Mackenzie and Quinn. Quinn will go to a bilingual elementary school (Davis Elementary, how perfect is that?). In the end, She will probably be the best Spanish speaker in our family. Mackenzie will join a small, unique middle school (Paulo Freire Freedom School) where she will get to direct her own studies in a project-based, experiential learning community located on the Arizona State University campus. Luckily she will still have a regular Spanish class to keep up her skills too!

As for our highlight real of Mexico, I don’t really know where to begin. Today the memory that is in the front of my mind at this time of year, is one related to crabs.   Yes, that’s right. Crabs. The rain not only turns the dusty vegetation into vibrant green but it also brings out amazing flowering trees, huge toads and chirping frogs. However, the best part is that it signals the Mexican Land Crabs or Cangrejos Azules, to begin their migration from the Jungle Mountains to the ocean shore to find their mates.

I have heard hilarious tales of these crazy crabs hanging off door-frames in a sort of startling hello, sitting at the bottom pools, finding their way into toasters, and crawling into bed to snuggle up with whomever is sleeping there. The crabs are about the size of a dinner roll but their bravado is enormous. When you encounter them they often stand their ground, lift their arms up high and wide, and open and close their mouths like a hand puppet. The best stories are from people who describe the sheer volume of these crabs down at particular beaches in the area. One of these beaches is called Patzcuarito Beach and is the place Mackenzie and I ventured to one drippy morning last June, to collect our own story of Los Cangrejos Azules.

Like a scene out of a horror movie, the eerie scratching and tapping of crab claws moving over fallen leaves filled the air when we entered the overgrown, jungle path that would lead us to the beach. Peering through the palms and other foliage, we saw thousands of crabs moving like one giant organism through the jungle. With goose bumped-flesh and the flutter of anxiety in our chests we continued on our way along the shadowed path to the beach.

The normal smooth, flat landscape of the beach was lost to textured piles, mounds and sometimes hills of sand. The crabs had created little homes all over the beach. If you catch it on the right day, I understand you can witness the mass of crabs moving with synchronicity, all over the sand. What Mackenzie and I witnessed was the frequent popping in and out of their holes to find out what was disturbing their kingdom.

That is just one story. There are so many more and no way I can share all of them in this one single blog. Perhaps I’ll start writing them all out and share at a later date but for now I leave you with little flashes of my memories:

Looking out for whales on our Christmas Eve Whale watch. Amazing
  • Tacos Al Pastor with savory, thinly sliced, shawarma-spit-grilled pork tucked into handmade corn tortillas and topped with a slice of sweet pineapple for the perfect flavor balance.
  • Margarita sunsets with friends at Las Sirena’s and the numerous lost flip-flops due to forgetting how fast the darkness descends once that peachy sun plunks into the ocean.
  • The energy that buzzes in the jungle from thousands of years of ceremonies at the magical, fresh water pools near Alta Vista. The cool water cleansing more than the skin and the view from the pools of the surrounding rocks with their soft, river-carved curves, decorated with spiritual petroglyphs.

    Alta Vista Petroglyph Pools
  • The many, many days of beaching with friends, digging toes into sand, splashing in the waves, and infectious belly laughter.
  • Salsa dancing in Oaxaca.
  • Those itsy-bitsy ants and their love of secretly crawling up my arm headed for who knows where or why.
  • Mangos. Peeled like a banana, the best way to experience meaty, full-face bites with cheeks and chin that drip with the sweet juices.
  • The shock of giant iguanas that fall from trees because their even more giant brethren pushed them out. (ask me to tell you the story of the time one ran over the top of Quinn’s head! That was unexpected!)
  • Costa Verde International School: sweet bilingual performances, the most delicious school lunches on the planet, a 10-foot python slithering across the top of a wall and teachers wrestling it into a plastic tote to take it out of town.  Tales from our daughters of teachers saving students from scorpions, wasp nests and falling mangos.
  • Iguana poop that plopped in my soup. A direct shot from high above in a palm tree. I imagine he “high-fived” his buddy sitting next to him in the tree.

There have been times over the last 18 months when I was faced with the frustration of living in a foreign, developing country. Times when I have felt the pain of missing friends and family of wondering if I would ever find a family of friends in this community.  Many, many times of cursing the impatient drivers who dangerously pass a string of cars and the people who walk in the middle of the street even though there are perfectly good, empty sidewalks.

However, despite those frustrations, I fell in love with Mexico. I love the family-centered, rebellious culture and the warmth of people who would do anything to help you if you needed. I long for the music, the Mezcal, and the Mole of Oaxaca. Even though I probably complained, I love the loud, heart-stopping boom of fire cannons set off at 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00am every morning during the town’s eight-day festival celebrating their patron saint, Francisco.

I promise I’ll stop writing now and thank you for reading and sharing in our “Seize the Davi” adventures. In a way, this blog feels like a closure to a three-year adventure of travel and amazing experiences abroad. However, for Jacob and me our next chapter is just a continuation of this one and of the life we are choosing to create. A life that inspires us to keep thinking of ways to travel, stay curious and find joy everyday; especially those days when the power does not come back on until 3:00pm.

Viva Mexico! Que les vaya bien.

cobble stone street with multicolored flags hanging across.

You Are What You Speak

I have struggled with what to write, to find my voice for this post and tell the story of our lives in Sayulita for the last three weeks.  My block is partly due to the all-consuming news of the inauguration, Spanish language acquisition and because part of our story is about sickness. Stomach bugs, flu bugs and cold bugs (I’ve been down with the flu for the last three days).

As you know from my last post, landing in Sayulita was less than smooth. Turns out, according to some people we have met through the girls’ school, we are not the only family with a horror story upon arrival. It seems adversity is how Sayulita greets its new transplants. Our party hostel gave us quite the introduction to this beach pueblo and the wave of nauseous fear was unavoidable.  What did we do? Despite the numerous warnings that this is a busy tourist town, I expected a magical, peaceful vibe and this was not it. Will I like Mexico? Two days in and I was already puking and now, for the past three weeks, we have each been sick with something. Is it Sayulita? Is it back to school? Is it Mexico?

I decided its airline travel and back-to-school. There are many tourists and transplants here that traveled during the holiday break and unknowingly brought back bugs. I know it is not just Sayulita because I just read an article about the Norovirus ripping through the US. Ok, so each little bug makes the immune system stronger, right?

Mackenzie and Quinn stand in front of a blue wall with a big white fish painted on it.Other than sickness, we are also finding our rhythm. The girls started school and quickly made friends. We discovered that Quinn was in the wrong grade and moved her up to the second grade where she is thriving. Our house on the hill is an oasis and in the perfect location to get to most everything in town.  Sayulita has calmed to a buzz rather than a roar.  I discovered that the beach is gold and not just figuratively. There is a mineral in the sand that shimmers like gold when the sun hits it just right. Pyrite maybe?

Mostly our focus has been on language, not only learning Spanish but also thinking about language in general. Language is connection and division, survival and desolation, inclusion and exclusion. While walking home the other day the song, “People are Strange” by The Doors popped into my head. You know how it goes:

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger. Faces look ugly, when you’re alone. Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted; streets are uneven when you’re down. When you’re strange. Faces come out of the rain. No one remembers your name. When you’re strange, when you’re strange, when you’re straaaange.”

(its in your head now too, isn’t it? You’re welcome.)

I thought about this song, not for reasons related to the angst of my young adulthood, but for the fact that I cannot speak to the local people here on a level other than basic needs for food and shelter. I cannot really know the people and their culture because I cannot speak proficiently to the locals living it nor can I reveal my true self to them. There is so much richness that is missed when you cannot speak the language. While it is almost impossible to speak the language of every country, some statistics report that there are over 400 million Spanish-speaking people in the world. It is the second most widely spoken language after Mandarin. So then why, being a person from a country that shares a continent with Mexico, can I not speak Spanish?

Well, for one thing I chose not to learn it in high school or college when it was offered. Really, the time to learn a second language is not solely in high school; the time to start is in elementary school. When we are born, our brains are primed to learn any language, in fact, multiple languages.

English is the most widely spoken language in the world; so why should we become bilingual? For me, it is the simple fact that the ability to speak another language helps to develop relationships and empathy for a person of another culture. According to a study I recently read, proficiency with at least one other language can not only help keep your brain strong but creates an opportunity for your personality to be more open and flexible. This same study also looked at how language impacts culture and identity in German speakers versus English speakers.  Interestingly, in the Germanic language, the speaker often describes several events in one sentence and the verb for the main event is at the end. Often, this can change the entire picture that is being painted and, to fully understand, the listener must keep track of the whole idea. In general, this is how many German people view the world. They see the whole picture and take the long view when making decisions.

“Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth” ~ Mark Twain

Conversely, in English, the action of the sentence is right up front and superfluous information is very often not included or is at the end (the woman walked to the store before going to school). Many English speakers are action oriented or focused on the consequences of the action taken now rather than the possible outcomes down the road.

We are in Mexico not only to have the experience of living in another culture for an extended period of time but also to become functional with the Spanish language.  I wonder how the Spanish language impacts Latin cultures. We have discovered that many words used in Spain are not used in Mexico. I imagine this is true for many other Spanish-speaking countries as well. Additionally, how is the culture impacted when the country becomes influenced by another language such as English?

We knew upon arriving to Sayulita, that this is a Mexican beach pueblo highly impacted by Caucasian, English-speaking ex-patriots. In fact, I noticed that if we want to speak Spanish we have to search it out a little. While we are shopping or dining or conversing on the streets with a native person, they sometimes assume we want to speak English and often will begin in that tongue. We have to press forward in Spanish, even if it is broken and takes a minute to find the words, as sort of a message that no, even if we are Gringos we want to speak Spanish here in Mexico. That sounds crazy to me. While we were living in Sevilla, Spain, I was desperate to find someone who spoke English so that I could get medical treatment but here it seems I need to assert myself in order to speak Spanish.

On my first day of Spanish class, my instructor told me that from the start, we should establish ourselves as a Spanish speaking family no matter how broken it sounds. Otherwise, we will be boxed into the category of English-speaking ex-pats and it will be assumed we don’t want to try. On the other hand, I heard that the local Mexican people want to practice their English skills too. Their ability to speak English means more money for their families from tourism.

Back of man and woman at women's march holding a sign "the heart has no borders"It is no secret that there is much controversy in the US related to Mexico and immigration. The political sound bite “America First!” might sound good but I wonder if we can take a more German approach and see the potential pitfalls of cutting ourselves off from our Southern neighbors. Becoming a bilingual country filled with diversity (not that isn’t that way already) can make our brains and hearts more flexible, more open to seeing people as potential friends rather than strangers. I can’t help but wonder if anxiety has taken hold of our country. The classic behavior trait of a person who suffers from anxiety and panic is to isolate and close one’s self off to society in avoidance of those tense feelings in the body.   However, all this does is create more anxiety because the fear of the outside world has been built up to an unrealistic level. For me, I am striving to become bilingual so that I can talk to my neighbors and be influenced by the beautiful Mexican culture. I want to be able to integrate that into our life and raise children who are open to embracing all people and able to speak with ease, to at least 400 million people from a culture other than their own.

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is a direct reflection the character and growth of its people” ~Cesar Chavez


Home for the Holidays

We have been home now a couple of weeks. Our feet on the ground after three flights and 20 hours of travel from New Zealand felt really good. As we came in for the typical bumpy landing in Denver, Quinn was about bursting out of her seat, her eyes wide, breath held and body unable to be still. Several family members greeted us at the airport with joy and hugs. What a great way to arrive after thirteen months away. We went to dinner together and I watched as our daughters moved back and forth between their grandparents, Aunt and cousin fully glowing in the love they gave and received. It was really beautiful.

It was surreal to be back in Denver, both familiar and unfamiliar.  We woke up on our first morning home at my sister’s house. The first thing the girls wanted to do was ride their bikes (the first thing I wanted to do was drink coffee). Watching our daughters riding and running (Quinn needs some practice on her bike!) around the neighborhood, I suddenly saw how much they have grown. Maybe their growth was so very evident because of the juxtaposition of this scene with the image I have of them doing this same thing before we left. Maybe it is watching how gracefully they are navigating our reentry, Mackenzie speaking so maturely about our trip and Quinn exuberantly sharing funny tales. All I know is that our daughters have grown and not just in height.

So what is next? Well, Mexico. That’s right. Mexico. Sayulita, Mexico, a little surfer town north of Puerto Vallarta, to be exact. During our journey, Jacob and I continually spoke about our desire to fully immerse in the Spanish language and how important speaking Spanish will be for our daughters’ futures. Jacob and I both loved traveling in Spain, particularly the city of Sevilla (or Seville in English). While we were there, we daydreamed about staying for a year to continue to improve our language skills while the girls attended a local school. Because the international bilingual schools in Seville are expensive and about 20 minutes outside of the city, I began searching for a bilingual school in other Spanish speaking countries. We wanted a place that would allow us to walk the girls to school, live somewhere warm and somewhere with lakes, rivers or an ocean. Eventually, I found Costa Verde International School in Sayulita, Mexico. I have to thank Facebook for this discovery. Posts by a friend of a friend would often come up in my newsfeed and they were always of pictures of kids on the beach somewhere in Mexico. After a little investigation, I found out they were living in Sayulita. “What school is in Sayulita?” I asked myself. I did a Google search, read through the school’s website, requested enrollment information and then put the idea on the back-burner. Jacob and I just weren’t sure. We wanted to continue our journey. After all, we had only been traveling for a few months at that point.

As our year began to come to an end and we had made it almost completely around the globe, we knew we had to make a decision about the What’s-Next plan. I reached out to the school to find out if they had openings for the girls to start in January. We spoke to a family member who had recently traveled there and found out that her partner has friends living in Sayulita who also have a daughter Quinn’s age that they recently enrolled in the school. We found out that one of my friends has connections with people who are at this school and after talking to these various people, we began to feel more comfortable with the decision to go to a place we have never seen. However, it wasn’t looking promising. The admissions person wasn’t sure there would be a spot for Mackenzie to start in January. After receiving this email we spent the next few weeks tossing around other ideas of where to go and what to do. Could we delay until August? Put the girls in school to finish up their current grades? Was that a good idea for them? For us? Could we find temporary jobs? Should we find temporary jobs? We sat on pins and needles feeling the pressure to make a choice, the pressure to have an answer and wishing for the mail to deliver a package that had the solution. Shortly after an emotional meltdown, I received notice from the school that a space had suddenly opened up in Mackenzie’s grade and we could have the spot if we wanted it. Hallelujah! Our package came and with it the realization that we just didn’t feel finished with our personal journeys, with the opportunity to explore, with growing new patterns for our family, or engaging with another culture. So, here we are taking another leap of faith, trusting in ourselves, and for me, trusting in the Universe and our path.

We are in Denver until December 29th to reconnect with as many friends and family members as possible. We are getting our ducks in a row for the next chapter of our Seize-the-Davi journey. We have rented a cute little casita two blocks from the beach and a ten-minute walk from the girls’ school. I hope to keep writing and catch up on stories from the last quarter of our journey as well as share whatever stories we create while in Mexico.

Thank you for following, for supporting, for putting positivity, love, thoughts and prayers out into the Universe for us to receive. We have felt them all. I hope we always remember to seize the day. I hope we have taught our daughters to seize the day. I hope we have inspired others to seize the day and to follow your hearts because our hearts always know the answer that our monkey minds are trying to find. We just have to quiet the monkey long enough to listen and then go for it.

Hot Springs.NZ

line of stone Bodhisattvas holding a snake, forms the railing of a bridge leading into Bayon Temple

Scratching the Surface of Siem Reap

It was hot and oppressively humid the day we visited the Angkor Archaeological Park. The heat made it feel like we were moving in slow motion and actually, slower was better to mitigate any unnecessary sweating. We made the best of it and slathered on bug spray, donned our sun hats and billowy pants (at least the girls and I had the pants, I haven’t convinced JD to purchase them yet) and then headed into an amazing day of exploration. The going rate to hire a Tuk Tuk driver for the day is 15 USD. This includes the 7.5 km ride out to the park from Siem Reap where the driver will take you around to the sites you want to see within the 402 acres of the complex, wait for you while you explore and then take you back to your accommodation.

alert: USD is accepted all over Cambodia as well as their own currency, the Reil. This makes for a confusing buying experience when you pay with USD and get some of the change back in Reil. It also causes the exchange rate to be really poor. We figured we paid an extra 2.5% with every purchase.

The famous five tower Angkor Wat temple that is most associated with Cambodia is actually just one of the over 100 temples that make up this ancient city. You can spend days exploring this park, walking through temples and admiring the carvings embedded in the walls. We chose to explore the park for only one day and with just a little research we had our plan mapped out with our top three picks.

Angkor Wat view of five towers and lawn in front
Angkor Wat

Our first stop was of course Angkor Wat, which is the largest of the temples and is the most restored. The five towers that to me look like the buds of lotus flowers are actually designed to emulate Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Hinduism. The green lawns shimmered with magic brought by the millions of flitting butterflies and swooping dragonflies. The walls inside were ornately decorated with scenes of Hindu stories and hundreds of Apsaras, female deities, carved into the stone. I later learned that the Apsara figure is one of the most important symbols of Khmer culture. Jacob and I took turns climbing the steep steps to the upper most towers (the girls had to be 12 or older to go). There, we were able to get close enough to see the intricate details of the towers and follow the path around the top floor for long distance views of the grounds. My favorite view was pointed out to me by the giant figure of Buddha sitting in the meditation position looking out on the grounds toward one of the gates.Apsara deities carved into the stone wall at Angkor Wat

After we left Angor Wat, Lee our Tuk Tuk driver, drove us along the forested road to the Angkor Thom complex and to see the Bayon Temple. This temple is filled with towers, which have giant, carved faces of the Bodhisattva (a Buddhist figure that represents a person on the road toward enlightenment). We learned that during the rule of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge defaced many of the sacred statues and temples in the entire Angkor Park as part of the genocide and ethnic cleansing that took place. At the Bayon Temple, this defacement was very evident. Many of the heads of various figures were missing and there were large bullet holes in many of the walls. However, one step inside told me that the destruction did nothing to effect the sacredness of the space. Every stone and every smiling Bodhisattva face that looked upon us at each turn radiated with a quiet calmness.

Tree roots spill down the side of the ruins of a templeOur next stop was to Ta Prohm or the Jungle Temple. Locals also call it the Tomb Raider temple, as this was the temple that Angelina Jolie scrambled through for her movie of the same name. It definitely felt like we had been transported to an ancient time or a scene out of Indiana Jones (that one is more my speed). Nature has been allowed to run wild through the stone structures and I am so glad because the reward is the gloopy (Quinn’s word) roots that pour over the walls from trees that tower overhead. Moss and lichen adorn the walls and the smell of peppery earth fills the air. Here, too, there is a palpable silence of reverence that blankets the air and grounds (even with the many other tourists). Our driver met us on the opposite end from where he dropped us at the temple. As soon as we exited we were accosted by dozens of adults and children trying to get donations, sell us stuff or offer a Tuk Tuk ride,

“Tuk Tuk? Tuk Tuk? Hey Lady, Tuk Tuk?”

This was the first time we had experienced this level of begging and I’ll call it, one to one advertising. Like a little island oasis in the chaos, Lee waved to us from his Tuk Tuk across the sea people.

The night before our exploration of Angkor Wat we had planned to go into the park to experience the sunset that so many travel sites and people recommended. We made arrangements with our taxi driver from the airport to take us there but when he arrived at our hostel at 4pm, a huge black rain cloud had filled the sky to the north in the direction of the temples. So, as any good salesmen will do, our taxi driver convinced us to head to Tonle Sap Lake to see the floating village and the sunset from there instead. Oh, those moments when you know you have just been sucked onto the tourist conveyor belt can be just the thing you need to wake you up to find your travel legs again. We should have seen the trap a mile away but our three-month break from trekking had dulled our senses.

Nevertheless, there we were piling into a small fishing boat with a guide sitting at the front and at the back (not sure exactly why he was needed) and the boat operator. Because of the drought, the lake was actually really shallow and once we arrived to the village we could see several people wading in the water pushing their boats instead of motoring them. Even though we were ushered to a floating market and asked to pay $50 to buy a 50 pound bag of rice to give to the children of the floating school (we didn’t have enough cash so made a $10 donation instead) and then taken to the crocodile farm where our “tour guides” proceeded to drink 4 beers each and attempted to get us to join the party, despite these unfortunate surprises, the village was actually really beautiful. We learned that because it is too dangerous to be out on the water during the rainy season storms, the residents tow their homes into the jungle that surrounds the lake. For the rest of the year they bob around, their houses rising and falling with the level of the water; fishing and tourism their prime source of income (please don’t take me as insensitive to the needs of the children at the school but if your gut is telling you something is awry it probably is. Who knows how much of that $50 actually ends up going to the school because I know that bag of rice did not cost 50 bucks).

bright yellow cocoons inside a spiral basketOur last excursion into the cultural world of this region of Cambodia was to visit the Angkor Silk Farm that is located just a little outside of town. They offer free, guided tours to learn about the process of making silk (of course the end of the tour conveniently drops you at their silk shop with beautiful things to buy). The farm has several structures that are scattered around beautifully manicured gardens full of flowers and butterflies. Participants are only allowed to view two of the structures so that the silkworms’ exposure to humans and disease is kept to a minimum. The most interesting part of the process for me was to learn that the bright yellow cocoons of the silkworm actually hold the material needed for the thread. They are boiled to make it easier to extract the fibers. Sadly, if the worms were allowed to complete their metamorphosis and leave their cocoons, the fibers would be broken and therefore could not be made into silk. So, the worms are boiled in their cocoons (brutal, I know) and then after the fibers are removed, the worms are then savored as a nutty snack (the farm saves about 10% of it’s worms for reproduction). Our guide helped himself to a few and offered some to us; Jacob was the brave one. Witnessing the process from making the threads to then weaving them into fabric was truly educational and allowed us to have a further conversation with the girls about how cotton fabric is made as well.

Jacob holds a boiled silkworm in his hand
First this…
Jacob pops a boiled silkworm into his mouth
…then this







Our visit to Siem Reap was a brief glance at the surface of Khmer culture. Because of wars the Cambodian people suffer extreme poverty and live in cities and towns with little to no infrastructure. Witnessing their way of life opened up questions for me about whether or not this community can thrive in such a seasonal business that is tourism. The utter desperation of stall owners in the market, kids begging in the street and the Tuk Tuk drivers all piled up on the side of the roads unsuccessfully trying to drum up business was overwhelming to say the least. However, I feel very fortunate to have been able to see the amazing Angkor temple complex and learn a little bit about the spirit of the people that refused to be beaten as well as the strength of the spirituality that survived oppression.

yellow and black spotted butterfly gets nectar from white flowers

Ode to My Chin Hair

Barely had the bell of my 40th year rang

When from underground a wispy white beast did sprang

Stealth yes she was, she couldn’t be captured

I alone was no match for her slippery stature

Reinforcements called in

(A husbandly duty)

With giggling admiration of her unnatural beauty

Until finally was plucked from her den

Triumph! Oh Triumph!

To be rid of this goliath

I am the master of age!

No close of a chapter!

No turn of the page!

Not a month went by

(This beast is not shy)

Her tickle revealed by the wind

What? NO!

Into a giantess form she had grown

My earlier triumph now dim

Angered and spurned

Utterly confounded by her return

Thoughts flooded, “she must burn!”

Desperate, I snarled and snagged her myself

“No age of forty will put me on a shelf!”

I got you! I got you! I screamed from my cage

I glared upon her but away drained my rage

And the pride of the war I had waged

A door stood open a knowing emerged

 Emotional tirade I must purge

And from fear diverge

Right then and there to the beast I befriended

Temper tantrum now ended

My age I embraced as splendid

(but don’t get me wrong I still don’t approve

her presence I’ll will happily remove)



Oryx stands alone in front of a red sand due and blue sky

Namibia: Sand, Sea & Sossusvlei

When we left the green, grassy plains of Etosha and said goodbye to our last Wildebeest, I was not fully aware of the vastness of the desert lands that cover a large portion of Namibia. Some stretches of the landscape felt familiar and reminded us of Texas with its scraggy trees and tall grasses. Others, the tall red mesas and rocky ground looked like we could have been driving in Western Colorado, Arizona or Utah. However, as we traveled from Ethosha to Damaraland (an area that, after Apartheid ended, was renamed the Kunene region) and then on to the costal town of Swakopmund, we drove through deserts the like of which I had never seen before; deserts that make myths and fairytales.

Tan sand stretched in all directions with short bushes the horizon

Miles and miles of flat sand dominated the view out the windows of our trucks. The heat rising off the road tricked our eyes into seeing shimmering water on the horizon. As if in a storybook, I half expected to see figures traversing the barren sands on camelback.  In reality, the only tall object to break up the view was the occasional lone Ostrich with his fluffy black feathers blowing in the hot wind. Africa is one of those places where you have to keep pinching yourself as a reminder that you are indeed awake and not in a dream. One of my favorite images of our drive was on the road through the Kunene Region. We drove up and down dirt roads past random, single shacks made of driftwood and then, in the distance, we saw a woman spinning around and around; her billowy, brightly colored Victorian-style dress caught the sun with the hope that we would stop and buy one of the glittering crystals she had on display at her roadside stand.

The Kunene Region has over 45,000 ancient rock paintings tucked into the red, sandstone peaks; the most famous is called The White Lady and is found on Brandberg Mountain. Much of the time, the Desert Elephant is also found in this region. Their feet are wider than those of other elephants, which allow them to lumber through the sand and over rocks with greater ease. Sadly, we were unaware that they actually migrate long distances in search of water and move away from the heat of the Namib Desert in summer. Other than the elephant crossing signs on the side of the roads, the only evidence we saw of them were the broken trees left in their wake on the hike to The White Lady (it was a dangerously hot hike and should only be taken at daybreak during the summer or not at all).Elephant crossing sign with puffy clouds in the background

For most of our trip through Namibia, azure blue coated the sky; a blue equal to that of the famous blue of Colorado’s skies. However, as if passing through some invisible curtain, the sky suddenly changed to thick, gray clouds and the dry, hot wind became cool and sticky with moisture it had picked up from the ocean. We arrived at Skeleton Coast where the desert meets the sea. Low bushes growing in the sand were the only signs of vegetation we saw as we snaked through the dunes on black, salt roads. Swakopmund is a German colonial town that houses most of the people of this coastal area. We were told that more often than not the sky is overcast and gray but it rarely rains. There is a quaint, walk-able downtown with tons of tourist shops and cafes.

Walvis Bay, 20 minutes down the road, has a large wetland area where you can get your National Geographic moment and watch millions of flamingos munch on shrimp and algae; their zipper-like chatter fills the air. We watched them for what seemed like hours as they flew through the sky and landed with a run on the surface of the water. I had never seen them fly and so I was unaware of their gorgeous wings with a swath of pink changing to black at the tips of their feathers.Dozens of pink flamingos wade in water and fly in the sky

We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Swakopmund called The Alternative Space. This home, with its white washed walls and interior garden courtyard, was our oasis from our regular hot, dusty campsites. The description of the guesthouse on the itinerary from the travel agency said, “The Space is not recommended for persons who find pictures of nudity offensive”, which of course gave us a bit of a pause. In reality our hosts, Sibyle and Frenus, have a beautiful collection of paintings from local artists and their own photography adorn the walls like a gallery.   Frenus thinks of their establishment as one for the “upscale backpacker”; its aim is to attract those wanderlust people who no longer want to endure the smells and snores of hostels but also want to travel on a budget. It did feel like a luxury resort with the gorgeous spread of food provided at breakfast and the large, airy rooms with comfy beds. Our room was a sort of a “free-form” family room with no walls or door for the bathroom. A lovely claw foot tub sat toward the back of the room to signal the bathroom space and a single pipe with a shower-head hung down from the ceiling. It was liberating to take a shower out in the open with no doors to restrict your movement.

We left Swakopmund and drove back through the mysterious curtain into the hot desert. The road took us around Zebra Mountain where we watched a herd of zebras run next to the car and then across the road (remember that pinching yourself thing? Yeah, had to do it again). We landed at the Sesrium Camp just in time for sunset. Out of all the campsites, I think this one was my favorite. It was a large circle with a huge Camelthorn Acacia tree in the middle that quenched our thirst for shade. Our site was located on the edge of the campground and so we had an unobstructed view of the rocky field where Springboks quietly grazed in front of the mountains as the sinking sun washed everything in an auburn hue.Springbok grazing during sunset, red mountains in the distance

Sesrium is located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the main reason to visit here is to explore the red sand dunes that surround Sossusvlei and to see the ghostly trees of Deadvlei. The best time to venture into the dunes is either just before sunrise or sunset and many hikers climb to the top of “Dune 45” to take in the show. The sunlight at dawn and dusk paints the dunes in amazing purples, rusts and deep red and the acacia trees pop with lime green. If you have a bucket list, put this place on it. A 4 x 4 vehicle is a must if you want to make it all the way to Sossusvlei or for a small price, catch a ride with a large transport truck in the high season. We all piled into one truck, my Dad at the wheel, and bounced and slid through the dense sand — true four-wheeling style. I know my Dad was thankful for his expertise in driving through snow because we had a moment when we thought we were stuck and would be locked out of our campsite (I guess everything turns back into a pumpkin at sundown if you are not through the gates in time).

Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of these dunes. The wind blows the sand into artful designs and in some places, with the help of the long shadows creates the stripes of the zebra. Jacob and Mackenzie scrambled up and over several of the dunes to catch a glimpse of Deadvlei. I think Mackenzie could have cared less about seeing the skeleton trees.   She really just wanted to slide down a dune, which she did and then preceded to empty her shoes of the bucket loads of sand that had collected inside them.

red sand dunes at sunset, long shadows highligh the zebra stripes in sand
Zebra Dune (courtesy of Quinn)

Our last stop before heading back to Windhoek was in the Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari actually receives between 5-10 inches of rain per year so instead of a barren wasteland, it is filled with soft grasses, bright yellow flowering bushes and of course Acacia trees. The Kalahari also has its share of dunes and the locals call the space between them the streets of the Kalahari. We stayed at the Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch outside a town called Mariental. It was another cherished oasis and a free upgrade since the original booking was closed for repairs. We quickly found the outdoor patio, shade and cool drinks savoring our relaxation until it was time for dinner. The girls donned their swimsuits, jumped into the cool clean pool and rescued dragonflies and grasshoppers from drowning in the water. Springbok were of course in plenty and the owners of the ranch have even adopted one for a pet who came for a visit during dinner.

I am so very aware of how privileged I am to be on this trip and also to have parents who could come and share a piece of it with us. I love that I have a picture of my parents looking through binoculars into the game reserve searching for wildlife. I love that we shared the experience of the crazy rooftop tents, baboons, the scorching heat of the desert and the magical elephants. I love that I have a memory of watching them try to negotiate the overwhelming persistence of the sales people in the street and were duped (as was I) into buying too many carved nut ornaments. I love that they are home now telling their friends and family about their adventures with us (and hopefully getting us more followers… hint, hint.); proudly owning the Namibian stamp in their passports with the realization that they might need more stamps from other countries to keep it company. I know I do.

Mackenzie, Quinn, and Jacob riding horses in a line surrounded by red sand and green desert trees
Our last Safari
View from tower of Plaza España

Five Things to Love about Sevilla

As I made my way along the river that flows through the city of Sevilla, Spain to my morning Spanish class, I watched a flock of white birds alight across the shimmering water. The beauty of that scene filled me with love and gratitude for my presence of mind and for walking in the morning light on this river path, in this new city. River of Sevilla with Tower of Gold in background For me, especially in my work as a therapist, I have learned that remembering to be grateful for things in your day, even the simplest of moments, has a way of connecting you deeply to that moment.  It brightens the colors of the scene, sparks a feeling of happiness, combats even the darkest moments, or the moments when anxiety has a vice grip on your heart and lungs. Gratitude is powerful. I am grateful for gratitude and I am grateful for our time in Sevilla.

In thinking of the many ways to write about Sevilla, a simple formula comes to mind:

Five Things to Love about Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain (in no particular order):

1) The Orange Trees:

In each new city, I always find myself riding in the backseat of the taxi, Jacob likes to be brave and practice Spanish with the driver and I don’t mind managing the girls. The benefit of the backseat is that I get to listen and try to decipher the conversation while I watch out the window, taking in the scene of our new surroundings. As we ventured from the main train station to our apartment in the Los Remedios neighborhood, the orange trees immediately caught my attention. They line all the streets. They are filled with dozens of oranges. What do they do with all these oranges? Are you permitted to pick them and eat them as you meander down the sidewalk? What happens when they fall off? Is there a river of oranges that are smashed on the street or used like soccer balls on the sidewalks? What is it like in spring when the trees are blooming?orange trees in a park filled with oranges

I was certainly struck by the way they provide the perfect accessory to the city’s collection of Moorish buildings with their rounded roofs and walls accented with hand painted ceramic tile. Like glass balls in a Christmas tree, the bright orange fruit brings color and magic to the green leaves and branches. A walk down a sidewalk or path lined with these trees is like a scene from Alice in Wonderland. It is likely that the citrus trees also produce a bit of a hazard to the unknowing passersby. Jacob watched a woman leap to her feet from her peaceful sitting position on a park bench, after a large orange fell with a “thud”, mere inches from missing her head.

One evening, while we watched him make freshly ground beef for us to use for our dinner of meatballs and pasta later that night, a butcher answered my questions about these mystical oranges. I learned that in the spring, the city is filled with the sweet smell of orange blossoms. You can pick the oranges but it is not recommended, as they are muy fuerte (very strong). There are even some fruit sellers who pick them by the bushel and sell them at their stands for very cheap. I suppose you are paying for someone else’s labor and trained nose. When they start falling off the trees there are custodians out every day shoveling mass amounts of these fallen orbs to avoid the smell of rotten fruit from over taking the city. I did see the fun of using them for a game of kickball and it is impossible not to have a few dozen smashed in the street.

2) The Food

Of course you know I am going to write something about food! Really, I only write about it if it is worth mentioning. In some cities the really good fare is hidden in the expensive restaurants but in Sevilla, you are not required to break the bank in order to find delicious taste bud temptations.

There are many popular, traditional dishes in Sevilla. Some restaurants stick close to the original style while others have modernized versions or have new creations all their own. Spaniards throughout the country love their pork and Sevilla is no different. You can see whole legs complete with hoof (sorry my vegan and vegetarian friends, it’s the reality) of the coveted Jamón Ibérico hanging in the windows of the neighborhood carnicería or held down to a bar top by food-appropriate fancified vice grips. The bartender, chef or party hostess (yes, we have heard one does not have a complete kitchen in your home in Spain without this tool), slices the cured meat into thin strips that look very much like pancetta. It is served tapas style piled high on a stark white plate. Order it with a matching plate full of Queso Manchego, a bowl full of the local olives, a caña (small glass of beer) and wham! you are in business. Another of our favorites of the traditional fare is the Espinaca con Garbanzos. Now, neither Jacob nor I usually choose stewed greens of any kind especially not cooked spinach. However, if done correctly (some restaurants are better than others) the spinach has a great balance of smoky, savory spice while the garbanzo beans help keep the texture from being, well you know what cooked greens can be… slimy. How’s that for a description? Scoop it up on a slice of toasted baguette and the crunch completes the experience.

On our last, day in Sevilla we went to La Chunga and ordered another typical dish, Solomillo al Whiskey. Wow, you need to like roasted garlic for this one and if you are with someone you plan to kiss later, you better share. It is thinly sliced, grilled pork loin placed on top of roasted potato slices of the same thickness delicately glazed with an olive oil and whiskey sauce. Happily dropped on top are whole cloves of roasted garlic that you open up with your knife, discard their papery wrappers, and slather the golden goodness all over the meat before shoveling it into your mouth. Drooling yet?

The last food review, actually restaurant review, (there were so many great ones, but I had to choose) was our favorite, a must-go-to if in Sevilla, Puratasca. My favorite kinds of restaurants are those that are unassuming, simply decorated and allow the food to speak for itself without all the fanfare and starched service. Puratasca is one of these (they don’t even have a website). Hidden behind a large red awning, typical of many establishments around the city, in the Triana neighborhood, (tricky to find, I promise) is this little hole in the wall. You must make reservations or arrive RIGHT WHEN THEY OPEN for either lunch or dinner as they have about 5 tables inside. On warm days they have more seating outside.   We hustled (as fast as the girls allowed) to get there right at 1:30 when they opened for lunch. With no reservation, we were seated along side the bathrooms but really never noticed because for the entire meal, we kept our mouths full and attention on the fireworks sparking across our taste buds (girls included).small beer with cheese plate in the background

There are two dishes that pop into my brain as I remember our experience there: the simple cheese plate and the arroz meloso con setas, parmesan and white truffle oil. Anyone who knows me will remember that I do not like mushrooms. I won’t even go into my disdain for them, BUT this rice, made in the style of risotto was incredible. It was creamy but countered with the sharpness of the parmesan cheese, balanced by the earthy truffle oil and thankfully the setas were chopped to a size that their texture was not bothersome (one of the characteristics of mushrooms I do not like).  The cheese plate was a simple presentation of hard and soft cheeses of the region on a plate covered in butcher paper with a smear of berry jam and sprinkling of toasted walnuts. Classic, creative and just what I love.

3) Spanish Class

Language is incredible. You could dedicate your life and career to learning the origins of languages. How did the first languages split into the over 6,500 known spoken languages around the world? Like the first person to perfect the chemistry of a loaf of bread experimenting millions of times with different combinations and quantities of ingredients to finally reach into the fire and pull out bread. Then, sharing the discovery with neighbors who taste and request the recipe, perhaps improving on it and sharing it once again. This is language to me; a compilation of thousands and thousands of years of points and grunts that eventually developed into the chemistry of language of naming things, actions, and concepts paired with person to person engagement, throw in a little evolution and migration and you have languages.

When you cannot speak the native language of a country it feels like there is an iron wall between you and the people of that location. I can see where one might develop a sense of fear of those who speak a different language, practice different rituals, or live by different mores. To never fully engage in conversation, learn about differences or share areas of similarities, might drive one to create their own conclusion about a given culture positive and negative or might even prevent some from traveling at all. It makes sense, the frustration that comes from the inability to ask for the things you need or share the things you have to offer but finding a way to walk through that fear to the heart opening experience of new cultures and people for me, is worth a little anxiety.

Learning a language different from your own is no joke. I know there are those out there that say “oh, I learned to speak 5 different languages in a month! Just follow this easy recipe and voila…”. I’m not sure that is realistic for me and most people but I have found that by trying to learn and speak at least a little bit of the language in a given country opens people up to you who might otherwise have dismissed the interaction once the language barrier was discovered. Plus, you get to tell hilarious stories about your language follies. My favorite language mishap, and believe me I have MANY, has to do with the words mujer (woman/wife) and mejor(better). My ears can hear the difference but my brain struggles to differentiate between these two words when I try to use them in a sentence. I am constantly saying woman when I mean better. So, when the x-ray technician at the public hospital in Sevilla spoke to me very quickly, I managed to say “hablo pequito Español, pero mi esposa habla mujer”. Hopefully I did not insult her by saying that “my husband speaks woman”.

With all that being said, our choice to participate in a Spanish language program in Sevilla was an obvious one. We chose a company called Sevilla Habla. Not only did it fit our budget but they also offered morning and afternoon classes, which allowed Jacob and I to switch off attending class and taking care of the girls. The teachers were fun and also serious about why we were there. I have concluded that this is one of the best ways to meet people from all over the world while traveling. I suppose there is also the option to stay in a hostel but let’s face it after you reach a certain age sharing a dorm with ten other people just isn’t that fun anymore. Jacob and I would come together at the end of the day full of energy sparked by hilarious stories about class, the fun we had with the other students and our mistakes. The emersion class was the best way to optimize our retention by listening, thinking and speaking in Spanish for at least three hours/day. Obviously, it is not realistic to take a class in every country over our year of travel, our budget just won’t allow it but we can try to pick up a few phrases.   Who knows, since Jacob is the language guru of our family, perhaps he will be one of those people who learns to speak 5 different languages and touts the ease of it when we return.

4) Natural Rhythm

Sevilla is one of the cities in Spain that holds tightly to the siesta schedule. Locals use the two and half to three hour break in the middle of the day to pick up their kids from school, enjoy a leisurely lunch (it is the biggest meal of the day), and take 20 minutes to close their eyes and rest. My Spanish teacher made a point to discuss the misperceptions of the siesta in one of my classes, making it clear that it people do not sleep for 3 hours but rather take the time to regroup, be with family or run personal errands. The school day for kids runs from 9a.m.-1:00p.m. They take a siesta for lunch and then return to school at 3:00 p.m. dismissal is at 6:00p.m.IMG_1986

There is a misconception of Spaniards being lazy and to which perhaps the siesta contributes.  Does the definition of hard work have to mean a schedule of working 8-9 hours straight in a day?  To me, the siesta seems to allow for the balance between personal needs and employment needs. I would have killed to spend two hours in the middle of the day with my kids and husband and have my employer doing the same. There are some down sides to this way of life, of course.  I could schedule doctor appointment as late as 8:00p.m. Good for me, but how bout the doctor?  Typical dinnertime is anywhere from 9:00p.m to 11:00p.m. Eating that late is probably not very healthy but dinner is usually light, tapas style.  The possible downsides are really just a change in concept of how to organize a day and despite the late dinner in general, Spaniards seem to be pretty fit.

It amazed me how easily we slipped into this Spanish schedule. Before leaving for Spain, Jacob and I were warned about the late dinner times and how we would have to train our kids to stay awake if we wanted to go out. Maybe something slipped through our filtered water or is sprinkled on the all the food but the schedule felt so natural to us like we had lived there for years. The girls and I were typically in bed by 8:30p.m. in the states, but in Sevilla, 10:00p.m. for the girls and 11:00p.m. for me felt like the just right time to hit the sack.

5) Flamenco

Haunting. Impossible footwork. Improvisational. Deep, passionate expression of emotion. These are some of the ways to describe Flamenco. While I was in college, I took a beginning ballet class. As a break from the plies and rond de jambe our instructor brought in a flamenco dancer to teach us some of the “simple” rhythms with our feet and hands. I remember feeling completely befuddled by how she could hold one rhythm with her hands and perform a completely yet complimentary rhythm with her feet. My ability to dance is one area in my life in which I feel the confidence to express myself, but this style was out of my realm. Flamenco is not just baile (dance) it is the combination of dance including the clapping (palmas) and snapping (pitos) rhythms, guitar (toque) and voice (cante).   While the performers know which songs they will perform, they often improvise and feel their way through the performance together instead of following sheet music or choreography.

Some say Flamenco was born in the caves of Andulusia where performers were forced to hide their otherworldly, passionate displays of music and dance.  Now out in the open, there are many Tablaos around Adulusia and abundant in Sevilla who host performances for tourists. I have a feeling that these are the “pretty” renditions of the art, that if you were able to really engage with the Flamenco culture you would have an entirely different experience. Jacob was able to catch a glimpse of the more authentic, rougher and spontaneous Flamenco. He was invited to go with an Israeli friend from class whose wife was in Sevilla to train in Flamenco. He stayed out until 4am moving from one venue to another witnessing at least a little of the authentic Flamenco. Shoulder to shoulder with patrons of the bar, he watched all ages perform from the Flamenco trainee to the seasoned old women singing with the ghostly vibrato.

Toward the end of our time in Sevilla, we brought the girls to an evening show at Casa de la Memoria. Kids had to be at least six years old to attend presumably because the dancer expresses strong emotions often anger. I wish my Spanish were better; I would have loved to understand the words of the songs about oppression, love and death. Perhaps this was a show for the tourist but this didn’t diminish the spellbinding performance. Coming out my trance after a Cante Grande, I noticed I had been holding my breath. I turned to Quinn to ask what she thought and she responded matter-of-factly caught in her own trance, “I have no idea how she moves her feet so fast”.

Our experience in Sevilla is often our choice when we ask each other the favorite part of our trip so far and so to conclude, I write her a letter:

Dear Lovely Sevilla,

Thank you for your openness, your orange trees and beautiful river. Thank you for your playgrounds, your kids programs and Flamenco. Thank you for your twisty streets filled with history, the Real Alćazar de Sevilla and your horse drawn carriages.  The lively people and Churos dipped in hot chocolate. Park Maria Lusia and Plaza España.

Some day, somehow, we will be back.


View of buildings of Barceloneta from marina

Barcelona, the Blues and Bonding

Amy walking by a stand of different colored chili peppers and spices
Mercat Sant Joesp

We have been wandering the streets and parks of Barcelona now for almost 4 weeks. For those of you who have been here, you know this city is not short on narrow, twisty, alluring streets that take you past old gothic churches and lead to beautiful, secret little plazas dwarfed on all sides by old buildings. I am amazed to see the ornate iron on the balconies going up at least 6-stories high knowing this place influenced so many architects and designers. As I look up at the balconies, decorated with potted plants or laundry hanging out to dry, I enjoy imagining the lives that are lived in those tiny spaces.

At eye level, reminding me that it is indeed 2016, graffiti decorates many of the rolling, steel doors that lock up a business for the day or sometimes just the hour. In fact, I really have no idea how these businesses sustain themselves. There is no way to take the same route twice through the Gothic or El Born districts. How do people remember which twisty street that small boutique was on?  How do people keep track of the seemingly random closing times? Between vacations, holidays and siesta we had a hard time keeping up with each establishment’s schedule. Our friend advised us to always call before heading out to ensure they are open (something we keep forgetting to do!).

street art animalsOne thing I do understand and know for certain; I can feel the sense of community in this huge sprawling city and the sense of nostalgia that is creeping into my heart. Even in the chilly January weather, one can see Barcelonans and visitors sitting outside to enjoy the food, the scene and each other. Each restaurant or café has drawn the boundaries of their space on the plaza with heaters, tables and umbrellas. Sometimes it is difficult to tell one restaurant from the next, but who cares? It’s more about the ambience, and the ability to be a part of the community. The little butcher shops are loud with friendly employees chatting with the customers and customers chatting with each other. The Mackenzie in a rope tube on a playgroundorganized chaos of the bakery is a sight to behold as you wait in line, sometimes out the door, to purchase the still warm baguettes or our favorite, chocolate croissants. I still don’t know how the staff or other patrons keep straight who is next in line but I have never felt slighted or ignored. You can hear the echo of children’s laughter bouncing off the buildings while they play on the playground (found in almost every plaza), a signal that the importance of kids in the community equation is not forgotten. At restaurants, people seem to linger over their meals engulfed in conversation.  The wait staff leaves you alone until you signal your need for something.  Perhaps it is because they are not solely concerned about tips and possess an understanding that the food is secondary.

Quinn standing in front of fountain
Fountain at Park Ciutadella

Párc de la Ciutadella is a large park that is located just at the edge of the El Born district and Barceloneta.  It houses the zoo, several museums, fountains, a lake and many nature trails. The community feeling is palpable here, too. There are groups of people greeting each other with kisses on each cheek, chatting, playing music or just lounging in the grass. I don’t know why this seems so foreign to me as you can probably find this scene in many parks all around the world but for some reason it feels different here. It seems to come from the energy of creativity that I can feel as I watch the group of tap dancers in a raised pavilion trading rhythms with each other and the many different artists drawing crowds by their African drumming, juggling or unicycle riding. Maybe it is the group of young men doing tricks on their slack lines who take notice Mackenzie’s interest and convince her to hop on and try that makes community feel different and more approachable here.

Many of the artists in the parks are just practicing their gifts while others are trying to earn money. My favorite community-building entrepreneurs are the bubble-makers. These folks have made giant bubble wands out of two sticks connected by several loops of thick string. They dip the loops into their tub of soapy water and then gracefully pull it through the air letting the breeze make big beautiful bubbles that draw every child within a 2-acre radius to them. The hat of the bubble-maker sits nonchalantly on the dirt next to them awaiting the loose change of the on-looking parents, who are smiling at their children and sharing the joy of this scene with each other.Mackenzie and Quinn chase bubbles

These wandering observations get my mind to thinking about the people we love back in Colorado.  Like those conversations I overhear in the plazas as we pass through, I can hear myself engaged in loud conversations with my girlfriends over wine and tapas. The wish to be shopping with my mom and sister or sharing the amazement of Gaudi’s architecture with my Dad floats through my mind with each day’s discoveries. My youngest, Quinn, has been tearful the last couple of days. She says she is missing her family at home. Mackenzie is less expressive of her homesickness, but I know she misses her friends and family too.

The holidays could be the culprit of the blues; my kids have always been surrounded by lots of family at Christmastime. December 23rd marked the third-month anniversary of our departure; perhaps it is the “three-month blues”. My therapist persona speaks to me and reassures me that these cravings for home are a normal part of being away. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many songs written on the subject. Emotion rises and falls, this is its natural pattern. I haven’t read every travel article out there yet but those I have say nothing about this part. Maybe I’m weird. Maybe other traveling families do not experience these same emotions.

Are we are all getting sick of spending everyday together with no one else to provide different stimulation? However, even as I contemplate that question I have the laughter of Mackenzie and Jacob reverberating in my ears from their recent stop-in-front-of-each-other-while-walking game. Their bond is deepening beyond measure. I know Jacob is starved for this kind of connection after graduate school and work took up much of his time for the last 6 years. Travel articles may not talk much about the occasional feelings of isolation but they do talk about the family bonding, or “travel-bonding.” The constant togetherness with little or no break has given us time to build on the friendship part of the parent-child and sister relationships.   Planning itineraries, solving problems, sharing in amazements as a family has created a self-confidence in our daughters that is truly breathtaking to watch. They move through the metro, putting their tickets in the machine, leading us to the right station with heads high, shoulders back and eyes bright. Jacob and I share the knowing that we created this space for us all and that brings us closer too.

The world is not all butterflies and roses nor is it all wasps and weeds.

We can hold both the light and the dark. I can teach my kids to hold both too.  Hold both the desire to see Omi and Popa or Grandma and Grandpa AND the desire to walk through the amazing Sagrada Familia or the Catacombs of Paris. The lesson of living with ambivalence is priceless and strengthens our psyche. Right now, as I write this I am acknowledging the longing, holding it, comforting it and when my girls feel it too, I get to physically comfort that and then give our family a call; to reestablish those connections that fuel us and strengthen us.  Then we get to feel the excitement of our upcoming trip to Paris.  Make a plan of what we will see, where we will stay, people we will meet and what we will eat.  Maybe my longing is not so much to be home, but to have the people at home with us, sharing these experiences too.

the girls with Jacob sitting in front of a view of Barcelona
Steps of the National Musem
Bubbling fountain and a pigeon in flight

The Pigeon Party in the Plaza

Christmas tree decorated in blue and silver glass balls in middle of plazahundreds of pigeons in the grass and surrounding a fountain in a plaza







I was walking to the plaza in Arequipa, Peru and when we got there we saw one hundred million billion pigeons!  When all the Pigeons were walking around we didn’t know that they would all fly off in to the air and then land back down onto the ground. All those Pigeons were so excited for Christmas that I imagined they were having a party early.  They put up a Christmas tree.  They put ornaments and lights on it. Then they get ready for bed.  Then they go to bed and wait until Santa Clause the pigeon comes to put presents under the tree.  The pigeons have a wonderful Christmas morning.

Mackenzie in front of Eiffel Tower with Jacob jumping in

A Big Fun Trip to Paris

Part 1:

I went to Pairs with the money that our family gave us.   We had to go on a plane. The city we flew in to wasn’t Paris it was Beauvais, France. So we had to take a one- hour bus ride to get to Paris. When we got off the bus in Paris it was freezing. We had to wear two shirts, two coats, a hat, a scarf, two layers of pants and gloves but daddy didn’t buy any gloves. Daddy always had to hold Quinn’s hands to keep his hands warm because she was wearing fuzzy gloves.Mackenzie eating the last bite of the best croissant in the world Anyway, when we were walking we saw yummy treats in the window of a bakery, so we went inside and it smelled delicious. I told mama we should go in and we bought some plain croissants. They tasted amazing. They were a little bit sweet and very buttery. They made us forget that we were cold until we were done with them. After we were done with our croissants we had to go to the metro to get to our hotel. It was at least half an hour ride on the metro. When we got off we were at a stop called Porte de la Chapelle and it took about five minutes to get our hotel. It was clean and there was a shower and bath in one room and in another room there was a toilette. We stayed in our hotel for an hour and then we went to eat at a fancy dinner place. I got a small cheeseburger and so did Quinn. We also got very yummy French fries. After we got home we were all very tired so we went to bed.

Wall of bones and skulls in the Catacombs
Bones of the Catacombs

The next morning we had to get up early so we could go to the Catacombs. We had to take a metro to get to Catacombs.   For breakfast we got croissants, but they weren’t as good as the croissants we had on our first day in Paris. To get into the Catacombs there was a big line. Once we were at the front to of the line, there were so many stairs that I couldn’t count them. Daddy saw a sign that said there were about 130 stairs. When we were at the bottom of the stairs, it was dark and the lights were dim. It was very warm because it was 65 feet under the street. We were walking and we saw tons of creepy skulls and bones of 6 million people.

It was all wet and there were big puddles of water in the narrow walkway. We went in this room where it made you feel like there were ghosts but not mean ones, nice ones. I knew they were nice because I wasn’t scared.  To get out of the Catacombs, we had to go up eighty-three stairs instead of the 130, which I thought was weird.

Darkened ceiling of wispey shapes
Do you see ghosts too?

Once we were at the top of the Catacombs, it was time to head to the Metro to get to the Eiffel Tower. It took about 30 minutes to get to a stop where we had to switch trains and then it took another 30 minutes to get to the stop for the Eiffel Tower. When we got out of the Metro you could see the gigantic beautiful Eiffel Tower. It looked taller than a skyscraper. When we got to the line it wasn’t very long. We had to buy tickets to go on the tower. Once we bought our tickets, we had a choice to go on a short elevator ride or up a lot of stairs. We went on the elevator ride because mama’s knees were swollen. The elevator was fun because when it went up, it felt like I was flying when I looked out the window of the elevator. We didn’t get to go on the top because it was under construction but we still got to go to the 2nd floor.

When we got to the 2nd floor we could see miles away. I saw a big castle in the distance with a gold roof. Quinn saw another castle far, far away.   Mama said behind the castle was where our home in Paris was. That meant our home was a very long ways away. On the 2nd floor there was a balcony where we could see a little bit further than where we just were. I was so cold because we were up five hundred-nine feet! So mama let us go in a warm shop because there were a lot of shops on the Eiffel tower. It was very crowed but it was very warm. Then, we decided to go to the first floor of the Eiffel tower. We were afraid that if we took the elevator it would take us down to the bottom, so we had to take the stairs instead. It was five sets of stairs and a small platform over and over until we reached the bottom. It was exciting because there was loud music and a small ice skating rink. When we were on the 2nd floor we couldn’t hear it or see it. I wanted to go on the rink so Daddy said that if it was cheap we could go. So we went in the line to get ice skates. When we were at the front of the line we had to take off our shoes and tell the man what size we were. Then daddy asked how much skating was, the man said it was free. So we put on the ice skates with a little bit of difficulties but we managed it. Daddy and I were done first.

When we walked over to the rink, I asked daddy if he knew how to ice skate. He said it was his first time. When Quinn and mommy walked on to the slippery ice Quinn saw kids using chairs to help them stand up. She asked if she could have one too, so daddy went over to get a chair. There was only one left. Quinn got to skate with the chair and mama helped me learn how to ice skate. It looked really easy but it was so hard. I fell a lot of times but when I fell it wasn’t very cold.

Amy holding Mackenzie's hand while she learns to ice skate at the Eiffel Tower
Never skated on the Eiffel Tower, Woohoo!

Daddy and Quinn left because they were cold. After a little bit mama and I left too. Once we all took off the skates and put on our shoes on we headed for the elevator. It took a little bit to find it but we found it. It was very full when we got on. When we were at the bottom of the Eiffel tower Quinn asked if she could go on the merry- go- round. Mama said yes but that meant she wouldn’t get a treat later. But Quinn still wanted to go on the merry- go-round. I wanted a treat because earlier I saw a kid with cotton candy. Anyway, it was three Euros for one ride. Quinn wanted to go on the plane. Daddy thought that it was probably boring because the merry-go-rounds in Colorado had music and this one didn’t.

When the ride was over we walked to the candy shop I saw. When we got there I saw waffles and lollypops but I pointed at a big bucket with a little bit of cotton candy string in it. I told mommy I wanted some cotton candy, so mommy asked the lady if we could have some. The lady went over to the bucket and dumped a cup full of pink sugar into a tube and pressed a button. Then, the strings of the cotton candy started getting made and getting stuck to the sides of the bucket. Then she grabbed a thin stick that she used to twirl the cotton candy on to it. Soon, there was so much cotton candy on the stick it was as big as my head.

Mackenzie taking a bit of a huge cotton candy pop
Cotton Candy Breathing Mackenzie

I didn’t have to share it with anyone except when daddy ripped off pieces of it. When we got to the metro I was almost done, and I had cotton candy all over my face. When daddy was pulling out our metro tickets he didn’t see one of the kid tickets.  He kept asking if we had it in our pockets in a frustrated sort of way.  In the end, we had to go to a machine and buy new tickets. Once we bought the tickets we hopped on the metro. Again, it was a 30-minute train ride and then we switched trains and it took another 30-minutes. When we got off the metro it was a cold walk to our hotel.

When we got home, daddy said he had to go pick up some dinner. He said we were having some chicken. When he left Mama let us play on our tablets while she was taking a bath. I went in to see what she was doing and I saw that she was relaxing in a bubble bath. She asked me to get her a cup. Then she asked Quinn to get her some beer. She poured the beer into the cup and Quinn and I left to go back to playing on our tablets. A little bit later Mama asked Quinn to get her phone so she could have music but when mama turned on her phone it was almost dead. Mama looked around for a charger but there wasn’t one. Then daddy got home and Mama had to get out. I asked if I could take a bath after dinner too. Daddy said yes. He also said after dinner we could watch a movie. After dinner I got a bath and instead of beer I got orange juice. When my bath was over I saw that daddy and Quinn were trying to find a movie. Daddy said that there was The Lorax or Back to Nim’s Island. I said I wanted to watch Back to Nim’s island because I have watched The Lorax a lot of times and I had never seen Back to Nim’s Island before. The movie was about a girl named Nim who wanted to take care of endangered animals but someone wouldn’t let them stay on the island. Nim wanted to stay so she could help the animals. It was a very exiting and scary movie, but I still loved it.

After the movie it was hard to go to sleep because I was so excited for the next day. The next morning we got up, put on our clothes and then, when we were walking out the door, I asked Mommy where we were going. She said that we were going to one of the most biggest museums in the whole world called The Louvre.