Thursday, July 26, 2012


"Travel is intensified living." Rick Steves, Seattle Travel Writer

Along a canal in Amsterdam
It is years like this that define one's life, even if you don't know it while it's taking place. I'm currently sitting in our cottage in Hood River, Oregon after a whirlwind 3+ weeks of travel preceding our return to the USA. Damn, it’s easy to be home. Our last week in Europe was spent in Amsterdam, a perfect place to readjust and get ready to return stateside as we experienced a variety of weather patterns including thunderstorms, downpours (our rented flat’s basement flooded with 3 inches of rain during our stay) and clear, sunny afternoons. We also enjoyed the variety of foods, ethnicities and cultures of a diverse, big city. We stayed an amazing flat on the Prinsengracht canal, just 2 blocks away from the Anne Frank House, which had plenty of room, an outdoor terrace, big windows overlooking the canal and access to the deck of a small boat that sat on the canal just outside.

NEMO Science Museum
3 week old Baby Giraffe
We visited that city’s amazing Science Museum, NEMO (twice!), their world-class Artis zoo where we discovered a 3 week old baby giraffe and spent lots of time just people watching and wandering the canal streets. Nat’s brother, Colin the Elder, was a perfect tour guide by suggesting good kid-friendly venues to visit as well as walking us around some great areas, taking us to visit some local windmills, cooking some fabulous meals in our rented flat and guiding us all on an epic 50km bike ride on the outskirts of Amsterdam at the end of the week. By luck, we had some overlap with Nat’s sister and family who were returning from a holiday in Italy so all 4 cousins got to hang out and catch up for a few days. It was truly a wonderful end to our year abroad.

Brace cubs at Artis Zoo in Amsterdam
We left Amsterdam on Monday morning and after several hours at London-Heathrow, caught our direct British Airways flight to Seattle, arriving 9 hours later and just about the same time we left London due to the time change. At Seatac airport, Colin was immediately body-slammed by two of his best buddies from home and we were also welcomed home with a big tin of homemade chocolate chip cookies. We then spent the night at a dear friend’s house where friends whipped up an epic welcome home meal of pulled-pork sandwiches (Colin’s favorite) and the week has truly been one big party ever since, dining at friend’s houses and moving locations every few days while we made our way to Hood River, Oregon. A brief visit with my 80 year old step-dad and his wife in Bellingham was wonderful, a highlight being watching him fly his radio-controlled airplanes in a local field with amazing views of Mt. Baker.

Brace family bike ride
It is extremely difficult to summarize in a few paragraphs what this year has meant to our family. In a word, it has been intense and that encapsulates both the extreme highs and lows. When asked by friends at the dinner table the other night to describe our “best” and “worst” moment of our year away, it was hard to come up with an answer but both boys listed their new best buddies as their high and school as the low. For me the travel and new experiences was the high and missing my friends (and bathtub) was the low. Nat had a long list of highs (tapas, gardening, mountain biking…) and very little to say in the low department. For sure, it has brought us all different aspects of personal growth (maybe not as much for Nat who already has the innate ability to enjoy whatever he is experiencing). And although the boys say they didn't enjoy much, I know for a fact that they have grown exponentially as well. But we probably won't hear much about that for 15 - 20 years.

Prisengracht canal at night
This year in Spain was much different than I expected but so rich in a variety of experiences and so much exposure to different cultures than our 2 urban American kids were used to. A lifetime of memories for sure. But most importantly for me, I think I learned that it is not the life experiences to look for but slowing down and experiencing life, whatever it brings. It's not about the places you go and things you see but the people you meet and how you spend your time, the ability to stop and appreciate that which is right in front of you (or inside of you) the entire time.

We've made some amazing new friendships that I hope last a long, long time, learned some new things about what it's like to be the underdog, not understand what is going on. We've survived some tough times and seen and visited places most people will never get the chance to see. Epic for sure. I hope I survive the transition back to normalcy and ask for your help as readers to help ease me back to our lives in the Pacific Northwest. Although I am really looking forward to catching up with all my wonderful friends back home, and will enjoy sleeping in my own bed again, I don't want to give up on the adventurous life we've had this past year. I just need to remember that one can find adventure wherever they are and that if you just slow down and pay attention, beauty, quietness, nature, change, differences, occur on an hourly basis, wherever you are. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for letting us know that you were thinking of us. Although it was really hard for me to give up my support network while away, I don't think I could have experienced such tremendous personal growth unless I was forced to spend so much time alone and isolated from my friends back home. And now I know for sure, that life is good, wherever you are.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

European adventures

Before leaving Europe, we decided to squeeze in a few more last minute adventures. Boys have really become seasoned travellers now but I think we have the Apple company to thank for that (ipod technology). Don't know what we'd do if it weren't for "books on tape" (wow, isn't that an antique phrase?). We can plug them in (the boys, that is) and take them anywhere.

On top of the Arc de Triomphe
Our flat in Paris
We hadn't been to Paris in 12 years (since pregnant with Clark) and I can't say I have wonderful memories from there. I believe it was the first foreign speaking country I ever visited some 21 years ago and I remember my nervousness finding my way around this huge city alone on the metro with not so friendly people or waitstaff so I wasn't sure what it would be like. Either things have changed or my perspective has. Paris is just wonderful for kids, especially in nice weather as the city abounds with enormous parks filled with play areas and ponds, stunning architecture, delicious bakeries, and many fun transportation options, all easy and accessible. 

Boys in Paris

Pack 144 scouts in Paris
We arranged to meet our friends the Maclean's (from Seattle) at the very center of Paris in front of Notre Dame and although about a half hour late (we've become very Spanish), we easily found Brendan, waiting patiently for us. The kids were so excited to see their friends and we spent the day happily moving between famous monuments (Luxembourg Gardens, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tour) until nightfall. Sadly we missed the Eurocup final game (Spain vs. Italy) but were thrilled to hear that España made the win.

Floating the boats in Luxembourg Gardens

Outside the Louvre Museum
The next day we met up at the very crowded Louvre Museum to view the Mona Lisa but the boys much preferred playing outside, trying to scandalously collect coins thrown in to the fountains for good luck. We also bounced on the in-ground trampolines in the Tuileries Gardens nearby and then had a wonderful lunch out followed by a late dinner back near Rue Mouffetard.

Fun on the Bauteaux Mouche

Dining at Le Descartes
More touristy travels the next day, following a lovely Parisian breakfast of café au lait, chocolat chaud et croissants. We walked to the Pantheon and then the Catacombs but the line was too long so we opted to ride the Bateaux Mouche on the Seine while the Macleans headed to Sacre Coeur.

Swiss Alps
Boys hiking the trail
Friendly mountain sheep
Early the next morning both families hopped on corresponding trains to meet up hours later in the Swiss town of Zermatt where Collette had organized an amazing 5 day mountain hike from "hut-to-hut" in the surrounding Swiss Alps. It was beyond memorable with some wonderful (albeit strenuous) hiking and amazing vistas throughout. Highlights included being followed by sheeps and mountain goats, delicious food at the mountain huts and spending time with our Seattle buddies, the Macleans. Boys got along famously which made the trip that much more fun for everyone.  

Opa in the Alps
Opa's view overlooking the Matterhorn
On the third day of our hike we built a big cairn in Opa's honor on a hill near Schonbielhutte with a spectacular view overlooking the Matterhorn. The boys had fun building the tower and we buried some of Opa's ashes inside as well as scattered some on the surrounding hillside. We also picked some local flowers and grasses that he loved so well. It was a powerful memory and one I hope the boys treasure.

We are now happily ensconsed in Amsterdam, Holland where Nat's brother Colin the Elder has lived for the past 25 years. It is an amazing city of canals, bicycles and diversity with plenty of things to see and do. We are also getting a gentle welcome back to rainy weather as the skies have been cloudy and gray with rain bursts as well as sunshine.