Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Cycle the Wave" charity bike ride

Thank you/muchas gracias for your support. I raised $930 with your help.
For those of you who have known me for a long time, you know that I am not new to biking. In fact, 18 years ago (gulp) I bicycled from Disneyland to Disneyworld in support of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as my mom was sick from cancer and it was a small way for me to help make a difference (I raised $10K for the organization which Microsoft very generously doubled to $20K and some of you on this mail supported me even then). But I don’t get out on my bike nearly as much these days. 

Karb and Sheryl
With new hats (& skirt)
bought from women
owned businesses
Neither my cool running buddy Sheryl or I spent enough time training but we psychologically committed to doing the “Burly Girl” loop (longest option at 60 miles/100km) and I am happy to report we finished both happy and tired. 5am wake up call, pick up at 6am, on the road/bike by 7am. It was clear that this was a special ride when as soon as we arrived at Issaquah High School (starting point) there was a large group of exuberant high school cheerleaders out to greet us and cheer us on. 

Sunflower in the urinal
"After riding like a girl, you
can have your cake and eat
it too."
The rest stops were well supported and staffed (no lines!) and there was even a group of cute Firemen handing out “Hot Tamales” candies about 20 miles in to the route. All the Honey Buckets were clean and decorated with flowers (!) and all along the ride there were people encouraging us along. The other biker chicks we met were all friendly and welcoming (and me being from Seattle, of course a girl from high school recognized me and said hello – yes, it had been almost 30 years).

Thanks again for your contributions and interest and please do think about joining me out there next year. Note that you don’t have to fundraise and there are a variety of options on ride lengths: 15, 25, 42, and 60. And those of you with daughters or nieces, it is a great ride for girls too!

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.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Rock of Gibraltar and Tarifa, one more time

Airstrip separating Gibraltar from Spain
Pillars of Hercules
We spent our last week in Spain visiting our favorite beach near Tarifa one more time as well as stopping off for an afternoon in the British-centric Rock of Gibraltar. We were fortunate to immediately find a tour that showed us the highlights of the place on an extremely muggy and hot day. These included St. Michael's cave as well as other boy-friendly attractions like tunnels, cannons and the ever present free-range monkeys (very friendly as long as you let them approach you). Our guide Paul gave us very interesting background info and history on the area and we ended the day eating fish and chips at Roy's Cod Place.  

Watching Spain vs. Portugal in the
Eurocup semi-finals
Clark monkeying around
The next few days were spent at the beach. Although it was almost windy enough to sail (lots of kiteboarders), Nat surprisingly wasn't tempted to get out on the water but we did build the requisate sand fort complete with 100 year wall and the boys spent loads of time in the pool, on the beach and in between the two. We watched the Euro-cup semi-final (Spain vs. Portugal) in the hotel bar along with 30 or so other rapid fans rooting for Spain (Spain won!).

Roman ruins of Bolonia
The next day we went to nearby Bolonia, which is an amazing place with Roman ruins next to a picturesque beach with white sand dunes along the southern coast of Spain. Gorgeous place, although the boys would have been happier staying at the pool.

The next few weeks will be filled with more travel before our return home to the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Although we're looking forward to the familiarity of home, it's certainly difficult to say goodbye to the life and friends we have made here.

Onward to Paris, the Alps and Amsterdam, and then Seattle....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Another tribute to Opa

O•PA  (MASC.) –S, –S




Cooking yet another paella

Oma and Colin the Younger
We just returned from a wonderful visit to Concord, MA to honor Nat's beloved father. Although the occasion was very sad, we had some wonderful cousin time, enjoyed their beautiful historic home and surrounds and spent time catching up with relatives and friends we don't get to see too often. As the Old North Bridge is right across the street, we also got in a litle bit of American history. 

Boys with Thoreau statue
at Walden Pond

Cousins: Schuyler (13), Colin (9),
Lava (11) & Clark (11)
We also got some down time to swim at Walden Pond, my sister-in-law and running buddy, Sarah and I, took some lovely runs thru the nearby countryside of Estabrook Woods and Great Meadows and the Brace siblings cooked up a storm (a new paella pan was even purchased at the local kitchen shop).  

Joyriding in Opa's tractor
Clark dumping grass clippings
in Oma's enormous compost pile
Uncle Stokley's famous pie
When you visit Oma, the first thing you do is "the Gulag" or chores she has set aside for your visit. The boys had great fun driving Opa's ride-on lawnmower and spent hours getting the yard spruced up.


Enjoy life! Make every moment count. Disfruta la vida! Hacer que cada momento cuente.
Opa knew how to make the best of his time on this planet. Whatever he was doing, he did it with his full attention and focus. Whether studying rocks, hiking in nature, building furniture, spending time with his grandchildren or enjoying a delicious meal, he savored every moment.

Take care of your body.
Cuida tu cuerpo.
It’s the only one you have and hopefully it will last you a long time. Opa had a lifelong enjoyment of physical exercise and kept his body in excellent physical shape. Besides exercising outdoors, he went to the gym regularly and worked out with a personal trainer. He enjoyed good food but knew how to balance it out with exercise and proper sleep.

Don’t judge others.
No juzgues a los demás. Acepta a los demás como son.
Accept people for who they are, not who you want them to be. Everyone has their own unique gifts and strengths and Opa always focused on the positive.

Enjoy nature.
Disfruta la naturaleza.
Opa enjoyed being outside in whatever capacity he could – whether walking, hiking, cycling, rowing, running or skiing.

Don’t worry about what other people think.
No te preocupes por lo que piensa la gente.Opa never wasted time worrying about what other people thought, he merely followed his own passions and pursuits.

Be open to new experiences.
Tienes que estar abierto a nuevas experiencias.

Opa didn’t start running until his 40’s and soon became a marathon and ultra-marathon runner. He started building furniture after he retired from MIT in his mid-60’s. He was always open to trying new things, be it food, wine or travel.

Take the time to slow down and smell the roses. Tómate tu tiempo para oler las rosas.
Opa always took the time to notice the plants, trees and flowers that surrounded him.

Give of yourself to others. Ayuda a
los demás.Opa assisted others by helping them train for a marathon, mentoring them at work or in his shop, and was always willing to offer a helping hand.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Winding down

Clean fish tank
Colin in the pool at friend's
abuelos (grandparents)
Well, our year in Spain is winding down as we only have a month left in our adopted country. After our week in Concord, we'll return for the last week of school and spend our final week in Spain relaxing, heading back to the beach, packing up the remainder of our things. Then it's on to northern Europe for few more adventures before heading back to the Pacific Northwest.

We'll fly to Paris on June 30th where we'll spend 4 nights before heading to Switzerland with some Seattle buddies to hike in the Alps near Zermatt for 5 days in "hut-to-hut" style which means hiking between mountain accomodations. Hopefully having friends along for the boys will motivate them to keep walking. Although we haven't done any formal training, as we have spent the entire year walking all around our hilly neighborhood I am hoping that we are in fine shape. After that, we'll take an overnight train to Amsterdam where Nat's brother Colin has lived for the past 25 years. I'm excited to spend some quality time in such a lovely city as we have a full week to get out and explore. We haven't been to these locations since I was pregnant with Clark and it will no doubt be a different experience with 2 energetic boys in tow.

Boys enjoyed the piscina (pool)
Hacienda de Hans
Fun in Pinos Genil
We enjoyed some lovely tapas and pool time this past weekend at the gorgeous hacienda of a friend who lives in nearby pueblo of Pinos Genil. He happens to be the grandfather of Colin's buddy Nelson who lives in Hood River and we met him last summer while we prepared to move to Spain. Turns out he lives in the same area that we were about to move to and also eerily coincidental, he works in Geology and knew Bill Brace (Nat's dad) thru work and reputation. A small world indeed.

Jardin de Nat
Overabundant cherry tree

Early crops
Nat now puts countless hours in to his blooming garden and the hard work is starting to payoff. We eat fresh lettuce nightly and have also sampled basil, chard and will soon have cauliflower and pumpkins. The enormous crop of potaoes might drive our landlord crazy later this year...

Buen amigos
Xavi and Colin
It's going to be very hard for the boys to say adios to their new best friends. Clark bonded from the beginning with Kylian, whose mother is French, Dad is German and who at age 11 already speaks 4 lanugage fluently. Their family reached out to us early on as new arrivals and have continued to be wonderful weekend companions ever since. And Colin gravitates towards our next door neighbor, Xavi, whose family is Spanish and who goes to the same bi-lingual school so is already fluent in English. They have spent countless hours playing video games, collecting InviZimals trading cards and sharing books.

Eurovision 2012
Another fun learning was the (some say tacky) annual Eurovision music contest which just took place in Baku, Azerbaijan a few weeks ago. Colin and I were captivated watching the semi-finals together and we both preferred Cyprus to the winner Sweden. And we even learned some geography along the way. Must admit, I had never even heard of San Moreno, which is a tiny country within Italy's borders.

In many ways, I have finally adopted to the Spanish lifestyle and culture - I have been known to leave the house at 11:15 (PM!) to go out for the evening, am more relaxed about not getting to places on time (Spaniards are not known for their punctuality) and can now easily drive in our crazy Albayzin neighborhood with no problem. But in other ways, I doubt I will ever adapt, no matter how much time we spend here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer has arrived

The gardens and foundains
at the Generalife

Ornate stonework
We have spent the last few weeks adjusting to life without Opa, enjoying the summer lifestyle Spain has to offer and spending time with our Granadian friends. Summer has arrived with a big change in the weather. Suddenly, it is very hot outside during the day and the air feels warm even in the evening. Lovely for being outdoors at night but a bit unbearable in the direct sunlight during the day. Shade is now a requirement.

Uncle Paul

My brother Paul and I
celebrating his 50th birthday

At the Plaza del Tores (bullring)
with his broken leg
My brother Paul turned 50 this month so planned a few special vacations in commemoration. As he enjoys motorcycle riding, he planned to visit us in Granada after a week long motorcycle tour out of Madrid. But 3 days before he was supposed to fly to Spain he broke his fibula (bone in his lower leg) during an accident on his motorcyle in Mexico. 

Uncle Paul and los chicos

Paul on top of the Alcazaba
Fortunately he was able to cancel the upcoming tour and delay his flight by a few days so instead came direcly to Granada, walking boot and all. Although not an easy place to get around what with all the cobblestone streets, stairs and hilly climbs, he hobbled his way around just fine. And his unhurried pace forced me to slow down and take the time to look around, walk at a very leisurely pace and stop and smell the roses so to speak, so was a good exercise in going with the flow. We enjoyed a relaxed day at the Alhambra where I got to explore the Generalife (hen-er-al-leaf-eh) for the first time and really appreciate the beautiful gardens and fountains there. And we had some amazing lunches out and probably the best food I've had all year. Not sure if it is just good luck or I am appreciating things more.

Book club

Book club friends
Fun with straw making kit sent
by Aunt Kate
I hosted my American book club the other night and 7 friends and I enjoyed an amazing potluck feast in our home and garden. It's the first time we've eaten outside but the change in the weather made it rather pleasant. No bugs either.

Olafur, Nat and Tom
Refugio Poqueira
Nat, our Icelandic neighbor Olafur, and a Canadian friend of his just spent 2 days hiking up and over Mulhacen, the highest point in Spain which is right near Granada in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. Although the trip was only overnight, it required some serious planning and acquiring the appropriate gear as it is always best to be prepared in the great outdoors, wherever it be. They took the bus to the jamon (ham) famous pueblo of Trevelez in the Alpujarras and after lunch climbed 1000 meters up to Refugio Poqueira where they spent the night before the summit the next day.

Taking a break
Summit at 3483 meters
Up and out by 9am, they climbed an additional 1,000 meters to the summit (3,483 meters) around noon time. They enjoyed the views for a spell and even greeted some juvenile mountain goats who were also "sumitting." Then they started the trek down; the plan being to traverse a valley beneath neighboring Pico de Veleta and meet up at the ski area some time that afternoon. When Anna and I didn't hear from them by 8 or 9 at night, we started to get a little worried and called the Refugio for a weather report but heard that the weather was fine and that cell phones didn't work that high up on the mountain. Finally, at 9:30pm I got a call from Nat as they had fortunately just gotten cell access.

Nieves (snow)
Mountain goat
Although they knew exactly where they were the whole time, there had been a slight problem with the maps. Since they never found the correct trail from the botom of the valley across to the ski area, they needed to walk out the length of the valley. Now they needed a pick-up from a trailhead in a completely different area which required many more hours of walking for them. Fortunately I had a pretty good idea how to get there having been there a few times before (mind you, the drive is about an hour away and along a very, very steep incline with sheer cliff drop-offs on one side so thankfully it was pitch dark). I arrived at said empty parking lot out in the middle of nowhere at 11:15pm and within 5 minutes I saw the lights of a headlamp exiting out of the woods and towards the car. There was Nat and his two companions, thirsty and tired, and looking a bit ragged, but completely safe and sound.

Memorial Service for Opa
The entire family is heading to Concord, MA to attend Opa's Memorial service on June 12th. We'll head back a few days early to get over the jet lag and help out Oma where necessary. Although it will be a sad affair, reunions with family and friends will be much welcome.