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Last weekend my 43rd birthday coincided with the Cambodian national water festival AND the super moon! This holiday marks the end of the rains and the beginning of fishing season. Phnom Penh is flooded with over a million visitors from the provinces and the city transforms into a festival of celebration. The Tonle Sap river plays host to hundreds of long boats zipping down the waterway. With both Snakes and the Bushbaby free from work and school, we decided to pack our overnight bags and head up the river instead, away from the crowds and visit Siem Reap.

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We left before dawn on Thursday. The drive took us around 5 hours. Had it not been for google maps and their suspect directions, we’d have made it even sooner. (Note to self and others tasked with navigation while driving in Cambodia: if map suggests turning down a two track path, there’s most likely a much better route. Thankful we have 4-wheel drive and a sense of humor and adventure.)

There is a huge variety of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, catering to every single budget. I chose a lower-mid range (Tanei Resort, near the big circus tent) since we were going to be staying for five nights. It was one of the many new developments on the outskirts of the central city. A fabulous pool with a shallow end for kids, spacious, clean rooms and a private outdoor rain shower were highlights that drew me in. The food was fine, the instant coffee less so, but none of that mattered with the wealth of options available in town.

The week before, I had reserved a spot for us on the Siem Reap Food Tour. (A separate  post which is forthcoming.) It’s run by a couple who got a mention in a 36 hours NYT article a while back for their fantastic and super informative tour of the markets and a surrounding village. They were happy to cater to the fact that we had our Bushbaby along and switched things up as necessary. If you are interested in food, culture and the delicious ways in which they inform one another, steeping in one big ancient pot, this tour is worth every penny.

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Although the tour operators offered us tons of suggestions and dining advice, we had no problems finding great food and interesting shopping. It was fun to wind through the markets- which I found to be stocked differently than ones we’ve visited in Phnom Penh- nicer choices of fabrics for the ubiquitous though necessary breezy dresses and much better cuts. Colette was thrilled to find a talented henna-master Nepalese lady nestled into a stall of the night market. She couldn’t wait to return to school this week to show it off.

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We rose early each day with the neighborhood roosters and set off for the temples. Visiting Bayon and Ta Prohm one morning and Angkor another. The midday heat makes visiting temples in the afternoon a real test of one’s constitution. With the gorgeous pool back at the hotel beckoning and the knowledge that we will be returning multiple times in the coming years, it made it easy to honor that voice in our heads that kept insisting that this was actually meant to be a “vacation”. No need for a self-imposed death march. Back to the pool, let’s order up some frosty drinks!

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In the wee wee hours of my birthday morning, I left solo to catch the sun rising over Angkor. It was fun to be up and chugging through the silvery cool air of morning. Once I arrived at the temple those moments of peace and solitude were gone. There were hundreds of others eager to sop up that same experience. Tripod photographers had staked out all the best vantage points so I snapped a few shots and carried on exploring. I put my camera away for a good part of the morning, reminding myself to be present and sometimes expand my perspective beyond the Nikon’s viewfinder or an Instagram composition. With all of the frustration and grief in our world right now, it felt good to get lost in these ancient corridors, at liberty to stop and meditate when the mood struck.  It was a solid start to my new year. I was so ready for the last one to end.

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el poof de peru

IMG_5996As mentioned in the last post, we recently spent a long weekend with a dear friend in Lima. Seemed like a shame to get all the way there and not make it out of the capitol, but such is travel with a tot. Plus, our schedules were fairly taxed back in Santiago with holiday commitments so a long weekend was really all we had to spare.

Our friend lives in the Miraflores neighborhood which is perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean. We passed our mornings sipping flawless Peruvian coffee and looking out at the hazy horizon. I hear this is close to the number one complaint of those posted in Lima, the incessantly overcast skies. We were lucky enough to have the clouds break to blue a couple of afternoons during our stay. Though there for a short time, I didn’t mind the grey at all. I love that dreamy, muted palette.IMG_5726IMG_5684 IMG_5716 IMG_5700

I knew that the kitchens of Lima were highly respected in the worldwide “food scene”, but figured this was more of a play for tourism than an integral part of their culture. SO INCREDIBLY WRONG. Markets were bursting with table after table of reasonably priced organic fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, sprouts, coffee, chocolate. You name it, they had 5 different varieties. The thing that really stuck with me was that it didn’t seem like it was totally geared toward wealthy “food-y” expats (and priced accordingly). In my limited time to observe, there seemed to be a fairly decent mix of shoppers. IMG_5665 IMG_5661It was nearly torture to not give into my urge to fill every pocket, shoe and empty carry-on with multi colored heirloom beans and delicacies like quinoa flakes, cacao nibs, maca powder and adzuki sprouts. Lima is a food loving dietitian’s paradise. Oh, and from there we went to the craft markets. Could my heart stand another surge of this colorful and delicious inspiration?

IMG_5916Apparently not. Snakes! Grab the defibrillators and hand me the wallet! The Peruvian textiles had my mind spinning with projects more quickly than the money could change hands. If it wasn’t hand-woven, vibrantly dyed wools, it was baby alpaca snugglies and yarns. On previous visits, my girlfriend had ferreted out a few vendors who actually sold some of the fabrics raw by the meter instead of already committed to cushion covers or blankets. The ones we fell for had a salvaged edge on either side of the 12″ width. Perfect for an ottoman! IMG_5918After some quick calculations and conversions in my head, I bought around 5 meters. At six bucks a meter, it was taking shape within a reasonable budget. The next step was to figure out what to use for the stuffing. Something sturdy, preferably eco-friendly, maybe recycled/repurposed and ideally free. I read a few tutorials on line which all suggested buying a giant bag of beanbag filler from Walmart. WHAT??!? That didn’t check any of my boxes. “A giant bag of beanbag filler from Walmart”- just typing (then retyping) those words makes me feel filthy and evil, like those words and I just strangled a pod of dolphins in the great Pacific trash vortex.

So I didn’t go that route because I don’t need that on my conscience. I remembered from my super brief stint as an embassy worker back in September the insane amount of paper shredding that’s done daily. After checking with the appropriate officials, I was allowed to remove a big bag of fluffy shred from the recycling bin. IMG_5992It worked out perfectly! Moderately lightweight, very firm and if I ever need a handful or two of extra stuffing to fluff her back up, I have a good source. I made an inner box cushion from old fabrics to lend structure and keep things more contained. Zipped it all together on the machine and hand stitched the final seam. I am pleased with how it came together so quickly and simply. My Peruvian poof and other “big” purchase, a thick wool blanket turned rug, are perfectly vibrant reminders of our quick but memorable visit to Lima.IMG_5994 IMG_1828

 

down south

10405353_762981263763225_4960403498973053471_n Just back from a week in the rugged south of Chile. We booked the trip a few months ago when Snakes signed up to run the Patagonia Marathon. Though there were less arduous options, he decided to tackle the ultra, a 64K course (a hair under 40 miles) that wound itself through the foothills of the Torres Del Paine National Park. No words can relay the scenery, my photos will try. He’d been training for the past few months despite the thick smog and drizzle that inhabits (and inhibits) Santiago in the winter months.IMG_4618

We flew into Punta Arenas, a port city that sits along the Strait of Magellan. It’s about as far south as you can go on the mainland continent. We picked up the car and drove north for two hours along the “fin del mundo” highway before reaching our first destination, Puerto Natales. This gusty little town serves as a jumping off point for hikers to grab supplies and fill their bellies before setting off for adventures in the icy beyond. We’d been following the forecast for weeks in preparation, our teeth chattering their disappointment. Overcast, drizzly, snow showers, high winds predicted for every day of our week long visit. I hoped that Snakes would at least have “cooperative” weather for his 7 hour run. (Still can’t wrap my head around that.) I’m pleased to report, they were gloriously wrong. Brisk and invigorating, yes, but perfectly sunny every single day but one! What luck. IMG_5161 We started our first full day rising with the sun and joining a boat ride to nearby glaciers. Bushbaby would’ve preferred to stay back and spend the day at the swirly slide we’d discovered in town upon arrival.  Both Snakes and I were nervous we’d over estimated our daughter’s patience for things like a day long boat excursion. There’s a fine line to walk when yearning to explore a place where you may never have the opportunity to return and placating a 3 year old, all while respecting your fellow travelers. I’m glad we took the chance. IMG_5173IMG_5180IMG_5181 We chugged out into the river, pausing to admire a colony of penguin-like birds living in the rock ledges and retreating glaciers. In the cozy space below deck we played “UNO” while sipping hot tea offered by the tour organizers. After 3 hours or so, the boat tied off at a remote little dock to allow us an hour and a half long hike to stretch our legs, explore the lichen covered terrain and join the others for a photo op with the glacier. IMG_5227IMG_5230

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Our guide told us that just 10 years ago the glacier in the background of this picture extended all the way up to that rock. From where we are posed, visitors could reach back and touch it. The hike back to the boat was a little more difficult for the Bushbaby, but with a horseyback ride from mom and a few football carries and sack-o-potato holds by dad we all made it back to the boat in one piece.

As we settled back into our seats with grumbling bellies and a shiver in our bones we hoped for the best, since the appeal of UNO had long worn off. Regrettably, I’ve never been one of those amazing moms who travels with multiple courses of snacks and refreshments in my bag. We had some super salty airline peanuts since we’d already eaten our orange, so all was not lost. I noticed one of the crew moving carefully down the aisle with a full trey of what I figured was apple juice. No sooner did I look over at Snakes and say, “Wouldn’t that be amazing if that was whiskey? But of course it’s apple juice.” and 2 very generous glasses of whiskey poured over “glacial ice” were plunked down in front of us.

“Apple juice!!!” Coco was elated to quench her peanutty thirst. Luckily the guy showed back up with juice of some sort before she lost it. We were all teetering at this point and mommy’s whiskey was a welcome reprieve. IMG_5251

The final stop was for a hearty meatlovers lunch at a bucolic farm right along the waterway. Their main source of income must’ve been catering to travelers such as ourselves passing through every afternoon. Nothing existed in any direction except their modest farm with sheep, a hoop house and a blazing churrascaria attached to a room filled with tables and chairs. IMG_5290IMG_5267

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I hadn’t meant for this post to carry on for so long, but I guess it’s worth stating the obvious and saying that it has been a while. As usual, I’ve missed this. After lunch we all cozied back into the boat and returned to our starting point. IMG_5255

We had a four hour drive ahead of us the next day into the heart of Torres Del Paine national park. Our lodge was the ending point of the marathon which was taking place the day after. I was relieved we’d broken it up into a two day trip since after only four hours in the car I was having flashbacks from our vacation in Namibia, after which we’d sworn to reign in our vacation ambitions. IMG_5309 IMG_5315 IMG_5320

We settled into the lodge and scoped out the finish line. There was a 100K trail marathon (or something equally as terrifying) that was finishing up that afternoon. Snakes jammed his pack full of “goos” and laid out his gear for his departure time of 5am. They picked him and the other ultra runners up and drove them for two hours in the opposite direction, so they could spend the next 6-7 running back. There was very little race support in this remote locale, I imagined he could just stop and drink from rivers when the urge struck.

The bushbaby and I got a little more sleep then spent our morning poking around the horse stables and checking out the preparations for the post-race festivities, a massive lamb barbecue.  Around the time we were expecting our guy to cross the finish line, we settled in to cheer the other runners in and wait for ours.

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Snakes did it. He finished his final (or so he says..) ultra marathon. He was wrung out with exhaustion as you can imagine, but invigorated from the sense of accomplishment. He even managed to rally the next day to join us ladies for a horse ride and capture the below image which may actually inspire me to do holiday cards this year! Thank you all for reading and bearing with me as I work to resurrect one of my dearest creative outlets. IMG_5396IMG_5404

bus to wonderland

IMG_4128Last week we hopped a bus from the city center to Valparaiso, a coastal town just an hour and a half drive from Santiago. You may recognize it from recent news when the worst wildfires in the region’s history swept through the hills only a week ago. We considered canceling but decided that since the fires were controlled, the city could use our tourist dollars now more than ever.  I am so pleased that we stayed the course.

We have elected to go car free for now and are determined to make the most of public transportation options. We paid $10 for two round trip bus tickets, as Bushbabies ride for free. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and checked into the Fauna Hotel in the Cerro Alegre neighborhood. The top floor housed their restaurant which boasted one of the most impressive collections of succulents that I’ve ever had the pleasure to dine with. And then there was the view beyond.IMG_4081

The hotel was situated on a footpath which connected the street to a funicular, which means we were steps away from two very different neighborhoods. The funicular station had recently been renovated and had a HUGE (and pretty steep!) slide that took you from the arrival platform to the plaza below. My first impression of this jaw-dropping place was that of a magical but dangerous playground. Predictably Snakes and the Bushbaby nearly wore out the seats of their pants.IMG_4014IMG_3995IMG_4384We hired a city guide, Perro Tours, to take us off the beaten path and fill us in on the history and reason behind all of this astounding public art. (I’m not sure I ever got an entirely comprehensive answer.) He told us that much of it is the result of a recent festival of Chilean and Latin American street artists who came to the city to transform neighborhoods into open air galleries. Every corner you turn, every alleyway you peek into, every implausible staircase leads to yet another public square covered in bright mosaics or splashes of mouthwatering colors. I adore (and suspect will crave) this accessibility! Imagine if every time you left home your path was rainbow colored and lined with murals. Pure magic, right? Or would it be like everything remarkable thing that we eventually take for granted?  In time would you fail to notice?

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We returned to Santiago Friday afternoon, after a brief two night stay. There is so much more to explore. My mind still drifts through that seaside wonderland and with any luck will continue to do so until we have the good fortune to return.

 

 

the sweet magic of Portugal

Lisbon at duskBack in October, we took our second R and R trip to Portugal. Since the trip to Namibia we had revisited our ambitions and decided to trim the fat and keep things much simpler. Although this meant that much went unexplored, I am thrilled to report that our break was truly relaxing. (Disclaimer: my camera was stolen on the final day of our trip. I hadn’t downloaded even ONE photo of the hundreds I’d taken, nor had I kept a journal since my photos usually tell such a lovely story…sigh. The photos that remain are from Snakes’ point and shoot. Some pretty ones, but just imagine what was lost. Ouch. Or maybe let’s not and just enjoy what’s left.)river douro, porto

Lately, I’ve heard too many stories of parents spending the evenings of their vacations propped up in pillow-filled bathtubs or underneath bedcovers reading kindles or watching movies on iPads with spliced headphones so their babies can sleep. Having experienced varying degrees of this absurdity and defeat ourselves, I decided that if we have options, we are no longer renting hotels. With the help of websites like homeaway and airbnb, we were able to find some great apartments well within our budget.lisbon

Our first stop was a week in Lisbon. After a direct overnight flight from Luanda, we arrived predictably disheveled. We rented a place at the Baixa House. THIS is the way forward! They call themselves “serviced apartments”, which means that we had a gorgeous and comfortable 2 bedroom apartment that they straightened daily. While there to tidy, they also replenished our fridge with a simple breakfast of homemade yogurt, fruit, cheese and charcuterie. There were 3 mini-loaves of freshly baked bread hanging on our front door handle each morning. If only every day could start like this, nibbling at our leisure while paging through books to plot our course. Oh- AND there was a countertop espresso machine. Such a luxury! window shopping lisbon

Our itinerary was relaxed and it suited us all very well. Snakes had contacted a colleague at the Lisbon embassy and asked if they could recommend any babysitters. I know this sounds a little crazy, at least it did to me, but both ladies came very highly recommended from people that we knew personally. Both were college girls: responsible, confident and very friendly. Not really that much different than getting a referral in the states. Anyway, it afforded us a few nights on the town!

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Our first night out, we set off for the Alfama district, famous for being one of the few survivors from the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The buildings are ancient; streets, narrow and twisty, connected by steep staircases which rise endlessly between buildings to alcoves and courtyards on the levels above. Illuminated by gas lamps at night, it is hard to believe that people live their lives surrounded by such romance and crumbly beauty. I felt like my heart had been wrung out then stuck to my sleeve, so eager was I to sop this all up with every crust of my being- this sweet delicious sustenance, stay with me ever!IMG_3566

We ducked into a cozy and packed fado place (20 people max) for dinner, drinks and music. I could feel life surging through my body. I couldn’t remember a time where I felt so alive, so present, so grateful for my husband, our daughter, my mom, my dad, my sister, my in-laws (OH! Lord bless and kiss my in-laws!) and everything and everyone that had gotten me to that exact point right then. And then. Just as the warmth of my aperitif began to spread to my toes, the cook stepped away from her duties behind the counter and made her way toward the guitarist. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in. Her voice then flooded forth with the intimacy of pure emotion, a vast generational pool of yearning and sadness and loss. Fado music is a profoundly beautiful way to express heartbreak. The resonance hummed through our bodies, filling the restaurant and spilling out into those shadowy ancient streets just as others have done for centuries. I could’ve disappeared right then in a blissful poof. IMG_3543

Our Lisbon days were filled with hilly, glorious, rambling walks. We explored the city without much of an agenda, stopping at parks or plazas along the way to allow the Bushbaby to stretch her legs. A day in nearby Sintra, inhaling deeply the green and mossy air on our 5 mile hike (oops, wrong road) up the “hill” to the castles. Again, such beauty + such magic= such gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you life.

After a little over a week, which included two more nights out, equally as captivating and life affirming as the first, we took the train north to Porto. Snakes had registered to run the Porto Marathon, his 13th! What a powerhouse, that guy. He did well, finishing with a time of 3:28. The Bushbaby and I cheered him on as the race wound its way through town and nearby our apartment, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it out to the finish line as it was not obviously accessible by public transport and taxis were scarce. I was bummed but happy to welcome him back with a nice dinner. (Another bonus to renting apartments!)IMG_3487

Our second week of vacation in Porto was spent much like our first in Lisbon, taking full advantage of the freedom to walk around and explore as we wished. Such a quality of life! Highlights were a day trip to Coimbra, a tour of one of Porto’s namesake cellars on the other side of the river and some crazy delicious pulled pork sandwiches at an out of the way cafe. Because it was the end of the tourist season, many Douro River tours were closed down and we didn’t get the opportunity to chug down the river and admire the vineyards lining the hillsides while sipping one of their many tasty varietals. Between this and the lost images from my stolen camera, I’d say it’s reason enough for a return visit.

IMG_3584*****POST SCRIPT EDIT***** I was just informed that it was actually his 15th marathon.

 

the new style

Mid-August we hopped a plane bound for nearby Namibia for what I believe is our last “adventure vacation” for at least a decade, maybe more. I hate admitting that, but there are some universal truths about parenthood. This is one.  It’s time to tone it down. Ten days of bumping from town to town in a little VW on washboard gravel roads with a 1 year old belted into her car seat is NO ONE’S idea of a good time. Jaw-dropping scenery, roadside baboons and warthog families be damned, LET’S JUST GET THERE ALREADY!!!!!

This vacation was inspiring and refreshing in an exhaustingly different way. In the close quarters of a hotel room, it’s hard to get a respectable nights sleep. I don’t think I had one in those ten days we were gone. I just kept soldiering on. One drizzly morning, trying to get a nice early start for another 7 hour drive, I requested that we locate a cup of coffee before leaving town. Snakes actually had the nerve to say, “I’ll never understand people who absolutely need their coffee in the morning.”  I could smell the smoke coming out of my ears and if not for the fact that the Bushbaby had just dozed off again I may have started screaming, snarling then sobbing. Who says that to a sleep deprived, caffeine deficient bushbaby mama??? Seriously.We arrived Friday afternoon, picked up the rental car and immediately headed toward the dunes. The guide book had assured us that it was a simple 4 1/2 hour drive from the airport to our lodge. I hastily assumed the “quick route” was also the most direct which I plotted on the map. (Turns out I was wrong, though consulting the guide book after the fact, I learned that we’d taken the “most spectacular route”. So there was that.) The “direct route” (or most spectacular, as it were) took nearly twice as long. In fact almost every drive did. Just when you are about 20 minutes past the point of true exasperation, you’ve got about an hour more to go. Namibia is HUGE!!!! We spent one full day “hiking” the dunes. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, such a dramatic and lonely landscape. I would have loved to spend entire days watching the light and perspective shifting as the hours slipped on by. As it was, we arrived late, hiked in, snapped a few shots and returned to the lodge to “relax”. The next morning we left for a couple of nights in the coastal town of Swakopmund. From there we drove northeast toward Etosha National Park stopping for one night about an hour and a half south of the park. The next couple of days were spent driving around the park on a self-guided safari. It was a pretty cool experience but I think we were all past our limit for time locked in the car. Bushbabies need their freedom. She’s on the brink of walking and is incredibly eager to show it off to anyone interested in her antics. I made the mistake of letting her “car-seat surf” while we were ambling through the park checking out zebra, giraffe, oryx and elephant herds. Even though it was a temporary solution, you can imagine how compliant she was to be strapped in afterward. I should never have clued her in that there were other options. With our second R&R  just around the corner in October, we’ve decided to rein in our ambitions. Initially I was planning to visit friends in London, then Brussels and maybe swing through Paris for a few days where we could meet up with Snakes and continue on to explore Portugal for another week or so. Haha. That idea makes me laugh, then immediately look around for a place to lie down and take a nap. So we’ve decided to distill it to the most basic and direct: a straight flight to Lisbon, renting an apartment for the week then onward to Porto where we’ll stay for another stretch of time. I want this vacation to take shape around the loose structure of time and location. And the rock solid promise of a nice cup of coffee each morning.

there and back again

After a grumpy week of confused late night adjustments, I believe we have all recovered from our jet lagging travels. My wits are just now starting to return. I wanted to write while I was back in the states, but quite frankly, there was just too much to catch up with. The Bushbaby and I began our journey in mid-March with a 3 week visit with my sister and her family. I can’t imagine a softer landing. The french doors from the guest room opened to a generous Colorado sky and the snowy mountains beyond. America the beautiful, dressed in her modest and rugged heartland finery.

The air was cool and clean, a nearly consistent and perfect forecast in the mid-60s, low 70s. Daily walks through her foot-hilly neighborhood flushed our cheeks pink and challenged my low-lander lungs and muscles. I snuggled my little african bundle tightly into the stroller and marveled (AGAIN) over the things I’ve taken for granted in my life. Trash bins and public parks with cute little baby swings, countless places to just WALK. My God, how simple and lovely this life can be.

After 3 weeks of spicy baby salad greens, sweet cousin kisses & squeezes, rich creamy lattes and plenty of retail therapy, we said our teary goodbyes and flew into Michigan to reunite with Snakes and visit with the rest of my family in the Grand Rapids area. Since it was the Bushbaby’s inaugural visit, my dad took a few days off work to spend some time getting to know his newest granddaughter. He also arranged a SERIOUS pinball fix for us one evening at the home of one of his pinball buddies. Honestly, this guy had no fewer than 20 different machines, all in mint condition. I strapped Colette on with a forward facing Bjorn and played, uninterrupted, for about an hour. It is our greatest regret that we never bought a machine before coming to Luanda. It would have been money very well spent.

Many visits with family, friends in Detroit, a couple of old favorite food haunts, and the week flew by. We spent the final week in Bethlehem, PA with Snakes’ family. My MIL had arranged a big brunchy party for everyone to come and meet the Bushbabe that weekend we arrived. Though exhausting, it was a great way to pack A LOT of visiting into just a few hours. That week we managed to squeeze in a date (!), more shopping and visiting and a family photo shoot. Even though we promised ourselves to have a relaxing R & R, I wonder if it’s really possible. There is always something more to do, see and EAT.

As the week came to a close and our flight time loomed large, I could feel my anxiety building. Life is SO easy in the states. The ideas of “seeing the world” and “experiencing other cultures” (and learning so so so much about ourselves in the process) remain enticing. But when the lilac bushes are bursting at their seams, begging me to pick an armload and press my whole face into them and we’re stuck inside rearranging, weighing our luggage, organizing our stash of broccoli, asparagus, cheeses and miso paste, the reality of this life hits me. It’s incredibly hard work. Living so far from family, friends and the ease of familiarity.

I can’t think too much about what I’m missing now that we’re back, it’s a dangerously slippery slope. I need to find that little space where I am simply grateful for each and every thing. I need to take that “little space” and work on making it much bigger. I need to make sure I force myself out of the house every day. I need to find time for my studio. One year over. One year left. It’s getting better all the time.