Feathered Aspen


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A Retrospective

Ok.  Consider the following a stream of consciousness.  Stacy posted a similar list on her blog a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been sneaking a few minutes here and there to write my own.  I had intended to link a bunch of the stuff to old posts, but I only had the time to do a few.  Regardless, I’ve written about most of the things after 2009.

The premise is to study the past in order so that I may divine the future.

2003:  In the fall of 2003, I began my Senior year of high school.  I had just returned from a summer in England with family, and I was the captain of the XC Team.  Mick, my boyfriend at the time, dumped me, and I spent the fall with my girlfriends; meanwhile, I was applying to colleges and crushing on that boy (Joshua) in Humanities.

Best: living and breathing cross country; England; hanging out with Ashlee.  Worst:  being dumped.  Hindsight:  that crush is the real deal.

2004:  That winter, I was the captain Nordic Ski Team.  In January, I mustered up the courage to ask Joshua to a school dance.  Soon, college letters came in, and despite all the odds, I was rejected from four of the five schools I applied to.  Although it was a huge hit to my confidence, I was accepted to the University of Puget Sound, and it just so happened that Joshua had applied there in the fall for early acceptance.  That Spring, I didn’t run track and I ran my first (and only, so far) marathon at Grandma’s in Duluth.  In May, I graduated with a 3.94 (sorry, had to add that in, lest you think I’m a dummy for having been rejected from four out of five schools), and I worked all summer for FedEx on the night shift.  That August, my dad and Hannah took me out to UPS.  During Freshman orientation, I went backpacking with Eric and Matt who would become good friends for the rest of college.  Joshua and I broke up for 24 hours, and my first roommate was a bust, but otherwise, life was pretty good.  I moved in with Stacy, and we got along well, but we didn’t really become friends (until 7 years later?!).

Best: dating Joshua; marathon.  Worst: rejection; first roommate.  Hindsight:  make friends with Stacy!

2005:  During the second semester of freshman year, Caitlin and I became friends, and a group of us decided to live together.  In the Spring, I took an Outdoor Leadership course, and I got to go on a weeklong backpacking trip along the Washington coast.  That Summer, I went back to Minnesota and worked for FedEx and Mandy’s office, and then in the Fall, I moved back to the UPS and started living with Joshua (in a house with six other people).  I took my first Art History and Gender courses, and I fell in love with them.

Best: backpacking, classes.  Worst:  choosing a major that’s pretty much useless.  Hindsight:  graduate with a credential, not a degree.

2006:  That winter, I remember studying hard and weathering the dramatic ups and downs.  19 and 20 year olds are a lot like sixth graders:  they want to be treated as though they are adults, but in a lot of ways, they still act like children.  The kitchen was a sty, and forging new friendships while maintaining others proved tricky.  That summer, Joshua, Caitlin, and I stayed on campus and worked for Conference Services.  That fall, the three of us flew to South America and spent four months on the lam, learning Spanish, trying out WWOOFing, teaching English, and discovering the life of travel.

Best:  living with Joshua for the first time; TRAVELING.  Worst:  dysentery, 19 year old boys that smoke weed and don’t clean the kitchen.  Hindsight:  send e-mails with all of the information (don’t through the family into a panic).

2007:  Back in Tacoma, the three of us got an apartment in the Proctor District, less than a mile from school.  In January, I went to the Humane Society, and we adopted Oscar, a shy and wonderfully grumpy mutt who lives with us to this day.  By now, I had declared an Art History major (good sense be damned) and Joshua had declared a History major.  That summer, Joshua worked for Conference services while I worked at the Office of Accounting and Budgeting Services and took summer classes.  That fall, I became a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach For America, and I recruited like crazy, compelling 10% of our graduating class to apply.  Joshua and I were accepted in October, and every morning, we would wake up early and run, talking about our future in New Orleans.

Best:  Oscar, running with Joshua.  Worst:  not much!  Hindsight:  that teaching thing?  It’s not a bed of roses.

2008:  That Spring, we finished out our degrees and graduated with Honors.  Joshua proposed, I said yes (of course), and in May, we packed our tiny little Hyundai with all of our earthly possessions – including Oscar – and set off for the Bayou, stopping at the Grand Canyon and Taos along the way.  We stayed with Sarah for a couple of weeks, exploring the new city and dying from the heat, and then we flew to Phoenix for Institute.  Six weeks later, we returned to New Orleans for our first ever teaching jobs.  In the same school.  (Crazy right?)  Together with 9 other corps members, we were baptized by fire.  It was the worst year of my life.  We lost 10 students to gun violence.  Other students were put in prison for taking the lives of others.  It was unsafe, unhappy, miserable – no more so for us than our students – but vicarious trauma has its own teeth.

Best:  the trip down to New Orleans, spending time with Sarah, our little quarters near the Marigny.  Worst:  ‘nuff said.  Hindsight:  ????

2009:  During our second semester, the police were called onto campus 52 times.  Gun clips in the yards, abusive administrators, and urine in the closets.  But then.  Summer.  We drove back to Minnesota.  Flew to Athens.  We spent a month biking around the islands, swimming in the sea, and remembering the good things in life.  In July, we married at Afton Apple Orchard among our friends and family, tan and happy.  That fall, I returned to another slightly better but still terrible alternative school run by the RSD.  Joshua went to New Orleans College Prep.  We survived.  Joshua working harder than ever, and me – coping.  That Thanksgiving, we spent a short vacation in the Ozarks with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon.

Best:  GREECE, wedding, Ozarks.  Worst:  ‘nuff said.  Hindsight:  ????

2010:  I remember New Years as one of the highlights in New Orleans.  We ate a fancy dinner and watched the fireworks up on the levee, dressed to the nines.  That Spring break, I flew to Portland to visit Caitlin for a week, and we poked around the coast like old times.  And in May, it ended.  If you ask me now, I can’t tell you why we stayed.  It was so horrible, and I honestly don’t think I did any good.  But we did, and when we left, we felt like we were being born again.  Free to live life.  Free to choose a new path.  In June, we flew to England.  We met up with Ashlee, hiking the Wicklow Way and exploring Andalucia.  Back in England, we biked from End to End (and side to side), visiting our fabulous English family the whole way.  After dunking our toes at John O’Groates, we headed for Turkey and then India.  We spent a short time in Northern India with the Tibetans and zen travelers, and then we hopped a train and a bus for Nepal, a dream of mine.  We hiked there for a couple of months, meeting up with the Ps, rafting down the Kaligandaki, soaking in the Himalaya, and then we flew back to England for a couple of weeks of mulled wine and scones with family before heading back to Minnesota.

Best:  TRAVELING, rafting with the Ps, finishing teaching in NOLA.  Worst:  not much.  Hindsight:  DO IT AGAIN.

2011:  In Minnesota, I came down with pyelonephritis, and lost the 10 pounds I hadn’t lost travelling.  We lived in Ellsworth with Yvonne and Dave for a few months, and then we applied to our jobs here in Denver, driving down for interviews in March.  We were both made offers on the spot, and we took them, renting a place in the Highlands before we returned to Minnesota to pack up our stuff.  In April, we moved down to our two bedroom apartment.  We took a little road trip into the mountains and down to Mesa Verde, and then I taught summer school.  K and Stacy moved down, and they became our close friends.  In July, we got pregnant, and that Fall, I suffered through the heat and learning how to teach for the first time.  In November, we bought our house.

Best:  Colorado, spending time with family, getting preggers, hanging with the Ps and Devanes.  Worst:  teaching while preggers in the heat.  Hindsight:  you’re so lucky to have the Ps and the Devanes!

2012:  Just as I started to get the hang of teaching in a place where teaching is possible but never easy, Spring Break arrived and so did Lily.  My pregnancy and her birth really do mark one of the most momentous occasions in my life.  Those first months were hard.  K and Stacy were living with us (in between renting and owning), and their company made things a little easier.  Gradually, we started to get the hang of this parenting thing, and in the fall, we returned to work, dropping off Lily at a wonderful little school.

Best:  Lily, visits from friends and family.  Worst:  the first few weeks of breastfeeding, episiotomies…  Hindsight:  take a hypnobirthing class, or something.

2013:  That second year of teaching was easier, but still difficult.  More and more, I’d gotten the feeling that something in me wants to teach, but I’m not really sure if teaching wants me to teach, if that makes sense.  I poured myself into my friendships and Lily, and we enjoyed numerous visits from family and friends.  This summer, we took a road trip to California, and this fall, we began another year of teaching.  This year, by far, is the best year of teaching, and yet…  Well, we’ll see.

Best:  Spending time with friends and family.  Worst:  the Ps leaving.  Hindsight:  none yet.

Hopes/Goals/Themes  for the Future:

  1.  What I want more than anything is a strong network of family and friends.  Brittaney was here last week, and I practically salivated when she talked about having friends with children, people who they see on a regular basis, bounce ideas off of, and count on.  I would love to have a loving community in which to raise Lily.
  2. One thing I haven’t found is professional satisfaction.  In college, I loved art history, religion, and feminism, but since then, I’ve struggled.  Teaching has been a lot of good things, but it’s also been a lot of terrible things (I mean really, really horrible).  In some ways, it’s more bad than good, more stress and heartache than joy.  I really want to carve out a space professionally where I feel like I have something unique and good to offer, but I don’t have all of the answers yet.
  3. Kids.  Having Lily is one of the most rewarding and profound things I’ve ever done.  We want more J
  4. TRAVEL.  Like Stacy, I’d say this is money well spent and some of the best experiences of our lives.

And that’s about it.  I don’t know about predicting the future, but that’s what I hope for.  Any divinations you find with reading?  What about you?


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Big Ocean

 

Some photos from our trip in reverse order…
a

b

c

Good looking family 🙂

d

e

f

g

h

i

On the beach in Sonoma.

j

Love her face in this photo!

k

Bratwurst.  Mmmm… Mommy kisses Lily.

l

Big blue chair.

m

n

o

p

q

Pretty Cornerstone gardens.  Loved ’em.

r

The sparkly wishes 🙂

s

Adorable, right?!

t

Kills me.

u

v

Love this one.

w

x

Mesh clouds with sparkling crystal “rain drops.”

y

z

Tram ride in Benziger vineyard.

z1

Sauvignon Blanc

z2

Sleepy girl 🙂

z3

To the lighthouse 😉

z4

z5

z6

Walk along Bean Hollow.

z7

Tide pools.

z8

z10

z11

The experiences!

z12

Dude.  What is Dada doing?

z13

z14

z15

Got hit.

z16

Anniversary picnic.  Oh. My. God.

z17

z18

I always collect the white ones.

z19

Heirloom beans from Phipps Country Store, Goat Cheese from Local Artisan, Pescadero, CA

z20

Phipps

z21

Our favorite foodie village.

z22

Marsh walk with the big ole snake.

z23

z24

z25

Walking out to coast in Sonoma.  Gorgeous family 🙂


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California Coast

We’ve been in California for a week, and while a week on the beach does not an expert make, I’ve stumbled across a few truisms about California and the coast thus far:

1)      There is a thick blanket of clouds that cover the shore.  As you drive inland, the clouds abruptly part into blue sky.

2)      I did not bring enough warm clothing.  No matter.  You know how adverse I am to making a trip to the Thrift Shop 😉

3)      This place is an agricultural paradise.  Even prime real estate along the coastline is taken up by fields of artichokes, strawberries, and squash, and the interior hills are lined with grape vines and fruit trees.  Every grocery stop is packed with local produce, and there are farmers markets and roadside fruit stands everywhere.  Artisan cheese, fresh baked breads, oak-aged wines, and sweet, sweet strawberries every day my friends.

4)      People must love camping here, because there is nary a campsite available on the weekend.  Sure, we left looking for reservations a week to two weeks out, but still.  There’s NOTHING.

5)      California could break the bank.

Campsite = $35/night

(Oh and baby, if you’d like a shower, that’ll be quarters, please.)

Cheap Motel = $120/night

Gallon of Gas = $4+

Gruyere and Pancetta Sammie from the Farmer’s Market = $10

All Day Parking in San Francisco = $20

Herb Encrusted Artichoke Bread = $6

A Trip to the Thrift Shop to Stock Up on Long Sleeves, Sweaters, and Hats for the Family = $40

Two Loads of Laundry + Dryer = $12

Bottle of Benziger Syrah = $37

Not to mention the Exploratorium, a tour and tasting at the Benziger vineyard, and Fish and Chips.  I mean.  It’s fun, but it’s giving my pocket book a mini heart-attack.  Perhaps this is why I prefer travelling in developing countries?

When I last wrote, I left off with our industrious first morning in Half Moon Bay.  Armed with freshly laundered outfits, we struck out for Bean Hollow Beach, about 10 miles south of our Motel.  I forgot to mention truism number six:  California is not dog-friendly.  Most parks and beaches do not allow dogs, so we had to pick and choose our outings with Oscar very much in mind.  Luckily, we haven’t had to forgo many experiences thus far, and it’s been very cool, so when we do have to leave him in the car or pop up, we’re not concerned about him overheating.

Anyway, Bean Hollow happened to be one of those rare beaches that allow dogs, and so to Bean Hollow we went.  From the parking lot, we walked through tide pools and headland down to a wide, sandy beach.  There was really no question of venturing even foot-deep into the water, given the overcast sky, stiff winds, and our many layers, but we very much enjoyed playing in the sand with Lily, striking a few yoga poses, and laying on our backs, listening to the surf.

After a bit, our tummies began to rumble, so we packed back into the car and drove into Pescadero, our new favorite foodie village.  Since we had already splurged on a sit-down dinner the night before, we decided to grab a picnic to eat on the beach for our actual anniversary.  From the Farmer’s Market, we grabbed sun sweet strawberries, eggs, and salad greens, and from the Archangeli Bakery, we bought the aforementioned Herb Encrusted Artichoke Bread, Local Salami, and a Peach Pie.  That’s right.  We do picnics with style.

Back on the beach, we buried our faces in warm bread, wine, salami, and pie.  Lily was in heaven.  Herb Encrusted Artichoke Bread is her FAVORITE.  Joshua was in heaven.  Peach Pie is his FAVORITE.  I was in heaven.  Picnics on the beach are my FAVORITE.

Four Years.

Actually, I’m always a bit dismissive of our anniversary count.  When people ask us how long we’ve been married, I feel like that number is only half the story.  Really, it’s less than half the story.  This February, we’ll have been together for ten years.  That’s more than a third of our lives.

And how lucky am I?  I have this wonderful man who can stay up and drive all night, build basement apartments from scratch, manage a budget, and look good while doing it.  I mean seriously.  Have you seen this man in a fedora?

  1. He has skills.  This fabulous life of ours would not be possible without them.  But did you know that of the 30 hours that we spent driving in the car on the way out here, we probably talked for 25 of them (and I probably slept the other five)?  He’s that person I can talk to forever and ages and on and on.  My best friend.  The person I would pick out of a line up to spend the next day and the rest of my days with.

So yes.  I’m quite thankful for those four years and those ten years, and I’m looking forward to 410 more.  I just need to find that long-life serum J

Oh gosh.  I’ve been writing for ages and I’m still on that first day.  Hurry up!

Next day.  Another run.  6 miles is our length d’jour.  Along the coast past pianos and cliffs, surf and sand.  (I kid you not; one man has made it his life’s work to maintain outdoor pianos along the coast.  Something about serenading the whales…)

Drive down to the beach.  Lay in the sand.  Count pebbles.  Sort rocks by color.

Artisan Cheese Shop.  Sundried Tomato Goat’s Cheese.  Surrounded by foreigners, slow food, goats, and cheese decorated in pansies.  SAMPLES.

On to the Phipps Country Store where there are a hundred different heirloom varieties of beans.  Scarlet Ladies, French Horticulture, Fava…  Out back, the place is a garden paradise, complete with parakeets and kittens.

We drive out to the Marsh Reserve and go for a walk.  That is, until I see an enormous snake.  What did I say about predators?  Right-O.  We make a hasty retreat.

That night, we walk down to the beach from the motel with our dinner.  We listen to a man play the piano out in the open, and then we walk back and fall asleep.

On Saturday Morning, we wake up, shower, and head for San Francisco.  First, we head down to the Farmer’s Market on the Pier, where we buy overpriced sandwiches and salivate over all of the local fare.

After the market, we walk down to the Exploratorium and take Lily through the exhibits.  We have a blast playing with all of the sensory toys and tools and mirrors, and when we’re done, we feel exhausted and just a bit overstimulated.

From there, we take the Lonely Planet walking tour of the city.  Up through Chinatown, over to City Lights Bookstore, up and up to Cott Tower, down and over to Lombardi Street.  We walk and walk.  We stop at an old, classic, Italian deli for a sandwich, and then we keep walking.

By the time we make it back to the parking garage, Oscar’s tail is dragging, my shoulders are screaming from carrying Lily, and we’re silent.  Zero energy to even talk.

I ask Joshua how far he thinks we’ve walked today, and he says, “maybe four?”

He’s a lunatic.  We walked no less than ten, if we walked a mile.

We drive back to Half Moon Bay for our last night in the motel.  We pick up some olives and crackers along the way to accompany our dinner of goats’ cheese and wine.  That night, we watch some TV, while Lily sleeps between us.

On Sunday morning, we go for a run along the coast, pack up, and hitch the camper to the car.  We stop for some groceries, and then we drive.

It’s 45 minutes to San Francisco, and then over the Golden Gate Bridge.  From there, it’s another hour and a half to the Sonoma Coast.  Lily and I take a nap while Joshua drives through the hills.

On the coast, it’s cold.  We set up camp and then we take a walk over the dunes to the beach.  We’re bundled in every last layer we have, but it’s still cold, so we walk back.

Earlier in the day, Joshua had bought Lily a beach ball, and back at the campsite, she stumbles about the place, chasing after the ball and shouting, “bah! Bah! Bah!”

Joshua makes a fire and we have dinner.  Lily sits in my lap and watches the flames, growing sleepy and relaxing into me.

That night, I’m worried that we won’t be warm enough, but bundled into full bed with all of the layers, we’re toasty warm.  In the distance, I can hear the fog horn blowing.

The next morning, we sleep in until 9:30, and then Joshua jostles us out of bed and on the road.  We head in past Petaluma into Sonoma.  First, we stop at Cornerstone, a collection of gardens by avant garde landscapers and gardeners.  It’s gorgeous.  There are manicured lawns and pools with lily pads and leaping frogs.  One installation is interactive, asking garden-goers to write wishes on sparkling tinsel and tie it up with others.  Together, they glitter in the breeze.

I wish for a baby.

A magic hat.

A new pokemon card every morning.

To run again. 

I wish for peace.

Happiness.

Another installation boasts ephemeral clusters of mesh, sitting atop thin, stainless steel pillars.  The bottoms of the clusters are strung with crystals, casting colored light over cacti and gravel.

From Cornerstone, we drive to Benziger Vineyard, a Biodynamic farm with gorgeous vines, insectaries, and barrels upon barrels of biodynamic, organic, and sustainable wine.  We take a tram tour of the vineyard, learning about the grapes and biodynamic growing along the way.  In the caves, we walk through barrels of oak-aged wine, and we finish in the bar, tasting five different wines, a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, and Bordeaux.

It was SO much FUN J  Joshua and I actually do know a bit about wine thanks to my dad’s prompting and our own experimenting, and it was so fun to connect the dots between vine, grape, barrel, and bottle.  And for those of you who aren’t sure (I certainly had no idea), Biodynamic is a classification beyond Organic.  It’s a holistic approach to agriculture, and it caters to a pretty elite subset of consumers.

After the wine tasting, we drove down to the Sonoma Square, parked, and went for a run through the vineyards.  We even stumbled upon the Ravenswood Winery, one of our favorites J  It’s really crazy how many labels we recognized and how close they are to one another.

After our run, we walked around the Square and then got a snack from Whole Foods.  On our way back to the coast, we stopped at Goodwill and bought up as many long-sleeved and layering items as we could find.

Finally, we arrived back at the campsite just as the light began to fall.  We ate a dinner of fresh bread and soup, and then we fell asleep.

This morning, we’re off to a lazy start.  Lily has been spoiling herself with a good 30 minute long nurse in the mornings, stopping to give me kisses and toothy grins when time allows.  Joshua cooked up an egg and bacon breakfast, and Lily chased after her ball.

I nabbed an hour to write, and now I think we’ll go for a run.

Love, E


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Journal Prompt: Day Three

Have you ever seen a ghost?

No.  But I’ve felt pretty darn sure that I’ve heard one.  In 2006, when Joshua, Caitlin, and I went to Peru and Ecuador, we stayed on a farm in the Andes.  The place was quite remote, and although it has the trappings of an idyllic hermitage, it turned out to give us the heebie-jeebies (as well as a few medical conditions).  I could retell the account, but I decided to dig up our e-mails on the adventure and post them for your reading pleasure.

As for ghosts, it’s a topic that intrigues me.  It seems as though most people have a ghost story, and the ones I like best come from the most unexpected sources.  I would say that I am inclined towards skepticism, but then there’s that feeling…  You know when the hair on your arms stands up and your muscles still?  When you feel your breath go low and you try to quiet the beat of your heart because you’ve just heard/felt/sensed something?  I’m a skeptic, but I also like quoting my high school Humanities teacher, “suspend your disbelief.”

What’s your ghost story?

***

Subject: There once was a little amoeba…

Date: Saturday, September 30, 2006, 3:44 PM

From: Caitlin R Deede

 

Hello everyone-                                                                                                     Internet cafe, Loja, Ecuador

Background information:

1.We arrived at the Never Never Land farm just ‘outside’ of Vilcabamba on September 22. Definition of ‘outside’-one forty minute bus ride with at least sixty school children, one old man, and one perro caliente (dachshund). Temperature-roughly 95 degrees. Then, we embarked upon an hour-long trek off the beaten path in the countryside of Ecuador to find the farm. Shockingly, it is quite warm in southern Ecuador in the afternoon. Quite, incredibly warm.

2.Welcoming words from incredibly friendly, if not red-eyed, occupants of NNL farm: ”Take off your bags (sixty pound backpacks). Have a seat. We´re just trying to stay as high and drunk as we can until dinner.´´ Oh. Well. Ok.

3.Alrighty then.

4.Life on the farm: (A) The animals are wonderful (horse, donkey, cows, two cats, two dogs, four puppies, goat (cabra), lots and lots of sand flies (with a bite far worse than that of your ordinary mosquito). (B) Sleeping situation: I shared a small room with two other girls (Nicola, from New Zealand, and Ruth, from Wales). My bed, made of bamboo sticks precariously lashed together with twine, promptly fell apart, dropping me onto my face in the middle of our first night on the farm. Bam! It didn´t feel very nice. So, the next day: Ellie and I completely dismantled my make-shift ‘bed frame’, comprised of short logs nailed shoddily together, lowering it to a short stand to keep my mattress four inches off the rat-infested ground, and then chucked the left-over pieces of wood into the wilderness to destroy the evidence of our destruction. (C) Otros personas (que paises): Wales, New Zealand, Virginia, Montana, Minnesota, Canada, Ecuador, California. (D) General break down of day-to-day activities: wake up (whenever it pleases you), make breakfast, eat breakfast (note: most meals, although created from a diverse array of fruits, vegetables, lentils, rice, and honey, pretty much all taste the same), do dishes, change clothes, figure out what you´re supposed to work on for roughly two hours (sometimes, that means, read a book or pet Clementine, the affectionate orange cat), make lunch, eat lunch, do dishes, relax, bathe (a general term. ‘Bathe’ generally meant stand in the creek up to your knees and splash water onto your dirty self. Or, you could attempt to use the hot shower, entirely open to the public and give it your best shot to not flash anyone.), perhaps do some more reading or chatting, make dinner, eat dinner, do the dishes, sit around table and participate in some illegal activity or another, in other words, partake of the farm-wide glee in substance abuse. (Note-Neither Josh, Ellie, or myself ever partook of any illegal substances). Ahhhh…the life of liberty… (E) What I accomplished whilst on the farm: ‘Helped’, for one day, to recover an irrigation ditch filled with earth during a landslide. During this activity, I threw a rock over the ledge we were working on and fractured the main water pipe that provides the delightful people of Tumianuma (a nearby little city) with water. Alrighty then. No more water for those folks. The farm staff leading our project, Andreas, was not pleased. Lo siento. I also rode the horse (her name was Llegua), cooked a fair bit, managed to recieve upwards of seventy fly bites (concentrated on feet, ankles, and elbows), and saw my first ever scorpion in real life. Quick little devils.

Brief Anecdote:

There once was a little amoeba that lived on an organic farm in the wilds of Ecuador. Surrounded by beautiful papaya trees, tall wild grasses, velvety green avacados, and dark amber hills, the little amoeba floated happily down a small creek in the countryside. This creek was often used for drinking by local livestock and contaminated with decomposing food, dirty still-water, and animal feces.

SO. This little amoeba found it´s way into Joshua´s intestinal tract. OH NO! Combine the thriving, coniving amoeba multiplying in his intestines, Josh also worked for seven hours in the hot Ecuadorian sun and, subsequently, suffered from three days of serious heat exhuastion. Bed-ridden and feverish.

We decided, quietly, and in the deep of night, to cut and run. Get out. Find a place to take a shower. To eat real food that didn´t make us ill. Get Josh to a doctor. Wash our clothes.

We were at the Never Never Land farm for a total of six days. Six. Whole. Days…We are braver than you think.

Disease strikes:

a. Josh was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery. Took him to the hospital (the expression of the doctor´s face directed at Josh: How the hell are you still walking, white boy?) and got prescription antibiotics and anti-amoeba drogas (drugs). He is feeling much better now, slowly repossessing his ability to eat, and not immediately eject, food. He does NOT like pedialyte, should you ask, but can be coaxed into consuming an entire bottle if bribed with a snickers bar.

b. Ellie, today actually, was diagnosed with giardia. Also has ring worm all over her body. Took her to the hospital (expression of the doctor´s face directed at Ellie: What in the hell are all those little red patches all over your body?) and got prescription antibiotics. She will be entirely fine within the next five days. Has four medicines. Lordy.

c. I am feeling quite ok, thank you for asking, and am eagerly awaiting the on-set of my very own intestinal condition. Yip-ee.

What´s happening now:

We are now in Loja, Ecuador. Again. We arrived here on Wednesday, September 27. We spent most of last week and today, after taking Josh and Ellie to the hospital, convincing, in a professional manner as possible, several of the local English schools to pay us to speak and teach English to their young students.

It worked.

We are now quite comfortably situated with three teaching jobs. Ellie and I are going to work at San Gerardo School, settled in the green hills just above Loja, in the mornings, and study Spanish in the afternoons. Josh is going to work, in a more structured teaching environment, at the Washington English Institute in town. The director of San Gerardo, a tiny woman who speaks very rapid Spanish, has given us an apartment, for free, to share while we teach at their school. It is quite nice- entirely furnished with a complete kitchen, bathroom with hot water, and a televison. Windows overlook the city and the mountains. Ellie and I will also receive stipends for our time, enough to more than cover the expense of feeding three people for a month. Josh will be earning lots of dollars, and his money, I´m sure, will be put to good use. Such as: buying a dvd player, numerous pirated dvds (the only kind available), and paying for us to travel every now and then to surrounding cities and parks, so that we may see more of Ecuador (which is mountainous and green). I, for instance, would like to visit the jungle, where I may perhaps see a little monkey.

We begin work on Monday. We are moving into our apartment tomorrow. We don´t know how long we´ll be here. But, we are officially making a living in Loja, Ecuador. We have officially entered the season of winter (invierno) in Ecuador, which means: lots and lots of rain and storminess.

To sum up:

1. WWOOFing is sort of scary and not meant for everyone.

2. Amoebas are bad. And they hurt.

3. The only qualification to teach English in Ecuador is to be a native speaker.

4. Giardia is bad. And it hurts.

6. Always, always wash your hands and eat food you prepare yourself.

Sorry this email was so long. I hope everyone is doing quite well and enjoying the fall. Please take care.

Un abrazzo,

Caitlin

Subject: Quiste de Ameba Histolytica

Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2006 16:04:54 -0500

From: Joshua

 

Greetings friends and family,

 

Where to begin…oh where to begin. It has been quite a while since I last wrote and quite a bit has happened since then. So, brace yourselves and take a few minutes because this is going to be a long one, and one that brings you both tears of happiness and sorrow.

 

Quiste de Ambea Histolytica translate to… well to be honest I am not sure what it literally means, but the affect is something like sists of amoeba dysentery. Yes, to answer your questions and jaw dropping…I contracted dysentery. Even better yet I have contracted the sist kind, which supposedly is the worst kind…the kind that killed lots and lots of conquistadors. But never fear, after going to the sketchy/ scary military hospital where

doctor, who was dressed in a garb very similar to that of Mr. T, gave me several perscriptions to combat the amobeas that were slowly working to kill my inner organs. In short, I am doing quite well now, and my organs will be liberated from amobeas in couple of days.

 

Now, I am not the only one to have been struck by a deadly and infamous disease. Ellie has been having a little trouble of her own. Now her diseasesare nearly and neat as mine, but she does beat me in numbers. As I write

Ellie is currently plagued by ringworm (which is slowly covering her body), a yeast infection, and GIARDIA! For those of you not so familair with fancy outdoor diseases, giardia is this fun little parasite that takes up esidence in your gastro-intesinal tract and proceeds to give you violent projectal vomiting and diarrhea (and yes they are both projectile). However, we luckily, and perhaps borringly, caught Ellie=B4s Giardia before it progressed to the “violent” stages. She too visited the fun filled Ecuadorian Military hospital and now has several prescription medications to fight her ills.

 

Caitlin is healthy as a horse. (That Bastard)

 

Perhaps I should back my tale up a little… maybe start from the beginning (possibly answer your questions as to where we found our disease?) After our travels through Peru we arrived in Guayaquil, Ecudaor on September 19. Immediately we liked it here in Ecuador better than that of Peru. As my last e-mail informed you all, we began to grow weary in Peru from the constant pollution and gringo harassment. Yet, In Ecuador it is quite different. People are much much friendlier. After only being here for a few hours, we each had had several wonderful conversations with multiple Ecuadorians. People are just much nicer and curious. Rather than trying to sell us something, people will ask us where we are from, what we are doing here etc… Moreover, the pollution here, at least where we have been, is virtually non-existant. Also, there  are really no peddlers and beggers, and for the most part when we purchase various things we are given a fair price instead of always setting screwed. I don’t really understand why it is so different here. It was my understanding that thinbgs might actually be worse here than Peru because the Ecuadorian Government and economy is suppose to have

more problem; yet, it has been pretty good so far.

 

After flying into Guayaquil, we immediatly hopped onto a bus to the city of Loja. Loja is the capital of the province of Loja (the province in which he had planned to do all our farming), and is a fairly large, clean, and nice city. After a day in Loja, we then headed further south to the much smaller city of Vilcabamba. Arriving in Vilcabamba we thought we would be able to contact our first farm and catch aride there. However, after meeting a sixty year old man named Hans who lives on the farm, we learned we had to take yet another hour bus ride to the town, well four house that comprise the town of Tumianuma. (Interesting note: Apparently Hans is an infamous Maoist/ Anarchist that did a lot of crazy things in Germany in the 60=B4s and consequently has been wandering around south america for the past 20 some years. He was a pretty nice guy though.) Then from Tumianuma we had to hike almost another hour into the farm.

 

Now from here I don=B4t really know what to say. The farm, which is named Never Never Land, was well… a very …interesting place…. a place that didn’t fit so well with… well with my life. The farm is essentially a

hippie commune. a refuge of sorts for those societal misfits who feel that wearing sashes, listening to bob marley, reading Jack Keruoac, burning insense, and smoking lots and lots of marijuana some how makes them enlightened, somehow brings them closer to the world… closer to understanding the purpose of life. Now don’t get me wrong Kerouac and Marley had some ideas, did some interesting things… Yet… somehow this stoner cultworship/ hippie ecuadorian commune just… well… it just doesn’t seem to me like a way that actually does anything for yours or anyone elses life… I mean common people Keroac, Marley, insence, sashes come up with

your own damn ideas…is all been done before. So, to say the least we didn’t really like this place, nor did we get along to well the band of miscreants who have gathered there. Take for example Lucas. Lucas after a 5

years of college has yet to recieve a degree. HE claims college is easy, “you know, if I just sobered up every once, classes would be really easy, I mean it is just more fun, college you know if party a little…” later he went on to describe how one year him and his friends were drunk everyday from halloween until thanksgiving, just to see if they could do it.

 

Immediately, we could tell that Never Never Land was not going to be place for us. But we thought we would tick it out a few days and see if it got better, or had some hidden goodness. Regardless after the first day of working, I dug an irrigation ditch through a loandslide for eight hours, I got wicked wicked heat exhaustion and dysentery. The two worked together to absolutely kill me. I was bed-ridden for a couple of days, and I could

hardly move let alone make the journey out. All in all after about six days I was well enough to head out, and by that time we were stir crazy to get away from the hippie commune.

 

However, at this point we encoutnered a little trouble. We had hopped to stay on that farm for a least a month, and then move on to another farm. Yet, now, as we knew about this hippe communes we were a little bit wiser in finding a farm that would fit for us. Well… it turns out that most WWOOF farms here are either hippie  communes or require you to work 40-50 hours a week. Moreover, all places asked that we pay $10-20 a week for food. Needless to say, we were hosed. Up a creek without a paddle. I had dysentary, we had no home, and we still had another 2-3months left of our journey. We had no idea what we were going to do. (now is the point where you gushing with tears of sorrow.)

 

Well, as we had hit rock bottom…things took a turn for the better. Just like in the movies, Ellie and Caitlin were crying in a cafe (I was laid out with dysentery), and then Ellie looks up and on the wall there was a flier looking for native english teachers… Ellie thought to herself “hey, we speak english. We could teach english!” and like that God sent angels and rays of light from Heaven. It was truly angelic. And, since this is getting very long, to make a long story short… we are now going to be teaching English. The farming game is out the window.

 

Now, we are back in Loja, the city, and have found employment (yes we are going to be paid) for the three of us. Ellie and Caitlin will be working for the San Gerado elementary school, and I will be working for the

Washington English Institute. As it tunrs out there are all kinds of schools looking for native english speakers to help teach grammer and vocabulary, and most of all to help with conversation in perfecting pronouncation etc…

 

Moreover, the San Gerado school, whcih Ellie and Caitlin are working of, is partly paying them in the use of a beautiful and spacious apartment. So, not only will we be making enough money to cover food etc…, but we also have a permanent place to stay for the next two months (we plan to travel throughout the rest of Ecuador in December before we come home). Now is when you weep with tears of happiness.

 

So, afters some bumps and a few ups and downs, we are doing quite well. We are healthy, at least on our way to being healthy, we have good place to live, and we have really cool jobs for the next two months.

 

I suppose I will sign off here, this is getting quite long, as I warned you it would be. Any how… If you have any questions let me know. I have internet access here in the city so I’ll check my mail ever so often, and I’ll keep you posted on how the teaching goes.

 

I hope all is well with all you.

 

xoxoxo,

 

Josh

 

P.S. Ellie too picked up her diseases from the wonderful Never Never Land farm.

 

P.S.S. For those of you not on Ellie and Caitlin’s email lists, they have started a photo-blog at http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/llama-lovers/ youshould check it out.

 

Subject: Sicklings

Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2006 16:21:44 -0500

From: “Ellie M Kuhne”

 

The bus ride from Loja to Vilcabamba winds along the Podocarpus National Park, a reserve reknowned for its rainforests, Andes mountains, lagoons, and wildlife.  After forty-five minutes and a few small villages, Vilcabamba appears low in the valley.

The three of us arrived in Vilcabamba on the 22nd.  After a few phone calls, vague directions, and a quick internet search, we boarded another bus for the even smaller village of Tumianuma.  (I would like to add that the number of people squashed onto the bus was nothing short of incredible, and that, yes, there were chickens.)

From Tumianuma, we followed an older German man, Hans, who said he knew the way to Never Never Land.  The journey is breathtaking.  The mountains are yellowed with brush and the river-fed valley is green with flowering cacti, fruit trees, and grasses.

Breathtaking and hot.  From Tumianuma, we walked for nearly an hour along the mountainside.  We saw Hans to his home, and from there we walked another 200 meters to a swinging log bridge above the river.  On the other side, a beautiful Husky with one brown eye and blue eye greeted us and led us up to the farm.

Never Never Land consists of three (almost four) buildings.  The first of which is the kitchen, a small, square building with no refrigerator and no running water.  As you progress from the kitchen, there is a sink with a hose (where I spent hours doing dishes), and a series of stone stairs which lead to the patio and `the downstairs.´  Behind the downstairs house, a shower head dangles from palm trees, and sheets are strung up to allow for privacy (supposedly).  A steep dirt path then leads you to the poop shed and `the upstairs,´ which is comprised of three sleeping areas and a small courtyard.  The property is nestled in a deep valley and a river traverses its entirety.

Our first night at Never Never Land was a harbinger of treats to come.  We were informed that, with the addition of the three of us, the farm would now be sleeping seventeen, a statement shortly followed by another, far more telling statement, `so yeah, we´re just trying to stay a little bit high and a little bit drunk until dinner.´ After a little pep-talk amongst the three of us (`well, I guess we´re just going to have to adjust´), we prepared ourselves for our first day of work on the farm.

The next morning, Josh, Caitlin, Andreas (the hired farm-hand), two other WWOOFers, and I set out to dig an irrigation ditch.  With a machete, two shovels, a pick axe, and two heavy stone-breakers, we worked on the ditch until lunch in the wet heat.  It was hard work, and all of us were sweaty and incredibly dusty when we were done.  After lunch, Josh went back with Andreas, while Caitlin and I helped clean the living areas.

That night, Josh got really sick.  During dinner, he was weak with exhaustion, and afterwards he excused himself for the night.  That night, Josh´s skin was incredibly hot to the touch, and he had severe diarrhea and nausea.  The next day, while some of us picked zapotes, lemons, and oranges, and Caitlin joined Tina on her midwifery rounds, Josh lay in bed with a fever and diarrhea.

I´ve never been so worried about him.  His eyes were glassy, his cheeks were red, and he was desperately homesick.  Meanwhile, the inhabitants on the farm continued to smoke pot multiple times a day, drink abusively, gossip bitterly, and lay around, allowing others to do all the work.

All of this would have been enough, but there was more.  I am convinced that Never Never Land has bad energy, spirits, sour karma…  Whatever it is you want to call it.

I have never suffered from insomnia (except for when I was very young) and neither have Josh or Caitlin, but none of us could sleep.  When I did sleep, it was a half-waking dream state.  I heard whispers and footsteps.  When I was awake, I was rigid with fear, because I had the very real, very lucid sense of someone being in the room.  Every one else who slept in `the upstairs´ also had terrible dreams and trouble sleeping.  A month earlier, a group of four girls had left after three days, claiming that the place was haunted.

The farm has a sordid history.  Tina´s son was murdered four years ago on the property and he is buried alongside the river.  A few years ago, a man went to rob the farm after every one had left the premises.  As he was about to break into the house, someone within began to bang against the walls, screaming and writhing.  Terrified, he ran away.  He swore that he could see Tina`s son running after him.  To this day, the villages of Quinara and Tumianuma believe that the farm is haunted.

The property was given to Tina by one of the first gringos who moved to Vilcabamba.  He was a fruitarian, fasted frequently, and prophesized.  His follows believed that he was the reincarnation of John the Baptist, as did he.  His prophetic writings are stored in `the upstairs,´ and apparently the area also served as their ceremonial center.

There is more.  Tina has just gone into remission after a bout with cancer, her grandson died from Leukemia, two of her husbands cheated on her, her latest husband was in a bus crash where everyone died, and she herself is having an affair with a married Shaman (who´s wife happens to be a very good friend of hers).

Long story short (sort of):  we needed to get out of there.  Caitlin and I went into town to call a couple other WWOOFing farms, but most of them required upwards of 40 hours a week, and none of us had that in mind for our `semester off.´  We decided to stay for the rest of the week at the farm, and then go to Loja to regroup.

That was the plan, but Tuesday night I woke up sweating with fright.  I swear to you I heard footsteps and someone open the door, but when I looked, I heard nothing.  The next morning Josh and Caitlin asked me why I had been so afraid, and I told them about the footsteps.  They were silent for a moment, and then they both admitted they had also heard footsteps.  We had to leave.

The next day we packed our bags and left.

Unfortunately, our bad luck had yet to run its course.  When we got to Loja, we brought a lab a sample of Josh´s feces for a stool test.  Drum roll…  Josh has amoebic dysentary.  Thus, we herded him down to Loja´s military hospital for a very questionable consultation where he was given a prescription for antibiotics.

Then, two days later, I was sitting in an internet café minding my own business when I all of a sudden pooped in my chair.  I had no control what-so-ever.  So, I did what any sane person would do after they had pooped in a public establishment:  I got up and I ran.

I´ll spare you the rest of the gory details, but suffice it to say that I got a stool test and I have…  Giardia!  And a yeast infection, and…  I´m breaking out all over my body in these strange red dry spots (I´m not kidding you, I have upwards of thirty of these little guys).  Josh and Caitling think I have the grand-daddy of ring worm, but the doctors at the military hospital are very intrigued by my case (I had six of them ooo-ing and aaaa-ing over my skin).

Ok.  Now for the good news.  After three days of a very nerve-wracking search, Josh, Caitlin, and I have been hired to teach English.  Caitlin and I are now employed by a very ritzy private school just outside of Loja, and Josh is juggling a couple offers from two other English Institutes.  Caitlin and my salary consists of a beautiful, clean, furnished apartment (with a kitchen and a bathroom) plus fifty dollars each a month, and Josh will be making somewhere around 250 a month.  So.  Life is sweet.  We are actually getting paid to speak our native language.

Signing off for now,

Lots of love and happiness to all,

Ellie

 


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12 Days of Christmas: Over the River and through the Woods…

Christmas was a whirlwind, so a photo-journal will have to document what I am to weary to catalogue:

1

On Christmas Eve, a sick Lily opened a few gifts while leaning back against mom and having photos taken by Grandma (and dad).2

Opening the gifts was as much fun and playing with them once they were opened.

3

On Christmas morning, Joshua and I tried to go for a run, but it was just to darn cold, and we lost steam less than a 1/2 mile from the house.  Instead, we got dressed and relaxed with Papa Tim, Granny Joette, and Auntie Sarah.

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And we opened some more gifts.5

Some good toys 🙂6

Lots of fun 🙂7

A telephone from Auntie Sarah.8

Auntie Sarah and Dad have the same expression:  JEALOUSY.

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Some kisses.

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Irish cream and coffee…

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The requisite family photos (above:  Gaetano, Joshua, Sarah, Ellie, and Jacquelyn)

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The kiddos (Joshua, Sarah, and Gaetano)

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Papa, Joshua (thank you, good sir), Sarah, Gaetano, and Joette

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The whole fam (except Lily, who’s napping).

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Cousin JoJo came over.  Lily perked up, but JoJo was not impressed. (Dixie and Shannon in the background.)

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JoJo soaks up some Joette love.

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Joette, JoJo, me, and Lily.

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Got your nose (and mom’s necklace).

We were toasty warm despite the chill outside, and Christmas morning was filled with catching up, opening gifts, and sipping coffee.  It was so nice to see everyone!  Lily was still feeling sick, so she was not her usual cheery self.  Gift opening and Christmas greetings were a bit overwhelming, and she spent much of the morning napping, crying, and blowing snot into mom’s velvet dress.

In the afternoon, the three of us (and Thibodeaux and Oscar) piled into the car with Auntie Sarah, and we drove to Stokholm, Wisconsin, where Nana Yvonne and Grumpy Dave live.

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It was quite the drive.  Truly “over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s house” we went.  So much so that we had to take a little pitstop so that Marge could barf (seriously.  Only it was Sarah, not Margie.).

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But is sure was pretty.  By Pepin in the little town of Maidenrock, we looked out over bluffs down to the frozen lake below.  I don’t have a picture of the whole thing, but here’s a photo from the web:

The place is absolutely beautiful.  Unfortunately, some f***ers (you’ll pardon my french) have set up camp along the river and are fracking oil, injecting nasty chemicals into the ground and contaminating the water supply.

Of course, Evil People (oh excuse me, corporations) always put a positive spin on raping the earth.

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Finally we made it to Nana and Grumpy’s.  They live in a perfectly stunning little farmhouse outside of Stokholm, and the two of them have made it very cozy and charming with tons of Nana’s artwork, lots of photos, and good colors.  Nana even got Lily an old-fashioned wooden high chair to eat at the dinner table.  Clearly, Lily approved of Nana’s good taste.

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After a good long nap in the car, Lily was a smiles again.

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She spent some time on Daddy’s shoulders.  You can tell she’s feeling better but still sick.  Her eyes don’t quite open when she’s not feeling well.

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Cuddles with Auntie.  Sarah bought Lily her Christmas outfit.  My favorite part is her little red socks 🙂

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Nana made fried tacos for Christmas dinner.  They were delish 🙂

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The blue-eyed Minnesota genes.

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My good looking husband.

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Mom and Lily on the couch.

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Oscar cuddles with stuffed Oscar.

I’d like to say that we spent the rest of the evening as we usually do, drinking wine, playing games, and opening gifts.  But Lily had other ideas.  Midway through Yahtzee, she started to squirm in earnest, and I spent the rest of the evening trying to comfort her.  It’s so nice to see everyone, and it’s hard being so far away from family, but the go around at Christmas is difficult.

I find myself feeling guilty (cracks about Catholic, midwestern guilt appreciated here) the whole time.  I feel guilty that our jobs have taken us so far away from family, guilty that a 19 hour drive back to family and a change in climate and routine has made Lily sick.  I feel guilty that we aren’t spending enough time with everyone and that they don’t get to see Lily at her best.  I feel guilty that the culmination of a long, very cramped and very stressful car ride coupled with strange beds, a sick baby, and too much time spent driving to and fro has made me cranky and anxious.

I love Minnesota, especially in winter, and I’m not being sarcastic.  I know most people are when they say that.  I’m one of those rarer breeds who love the winter because I love snow.  I love the weak, pink light that the sun makes as it descends below the flat, cold skyline.  I love the swish of my skis against icy snow and running when my breath makes puffs of steam in the air.  I love how ice crystals form on my eyelashes and the flyaways that have escaped my hat and neckwarmer.  I love the contrast of bare branches against all the white.

And I love my mom.  I love how she makes every space that she lives in a home.  Her hodge-podge furniture that she’s found (for free, mostly) and saved, the fabrics that she’s found (for free, mostly) and salvaged, and the artwork that she’s made or discovered (for free, mostly) creates this collage of earthy colors, homey vignettes, and well, spaces that just speak “Eunice.”

I love how she cooks.  It’s probably one of the first things that I tell people about her.  When I’m trying to describe my mom, I explain how she cooks.  You know that cliche saying about how “Indians used the whole animal”?  Well, that’s my mom.  If you were to look in the fridge or the pantry and ascertained that there is absolutely nothing in there (oh sure, maybe some rice, an apple, a few wilted fronds of kale, one small head of broccoli, the heel of a loaf of bread, and the back end of a wedge of parmesean) and what is left could not possibly be assembled into anything that remotely resembles a palatable meal, my mother is here to prove you wrong.  She’ll whip up a meal with her trusty iron skillet, and it will be sublime.  It always is.

I love sitting down and making art with my mom.  I love that she’s always making something: music or soulful conversation, art or food.  I may tease her, because frankly, going “meta” all the time can drive me bonkers, but I love that my mom has made a life that speaks for her.

I love my dad.  He gets me, or at least he gives the impression that he gets me.  He might think I’m off the charts or something, but I feel “gotten” when I’m with him.  He laughs at my acerbic observations and just generally makes me feel far wittier than I deserve.  He asks great questions without me feeling like I’m being interviewed, and he always seems interested in the answers.  He’s smart and loving, and he treats people well.  We can talk and talk, and we love to run together.  He lets me know that he’s proud of me for things that feel like, well, duh, normal.  And when he lets me know that he’s proud, it feels pretty nice like, well, I guess I am pretty cool.

Ironically, I think his opinion matter more than almost anyone’s to me, and yet, I can’t remember the last time he’s given it.  I think dad just wants to see what I’ll do next, and he doesn’t need to lead or influence behind the scenes.  Maybe that’s the teacher in him.  He did his part; he did the best he could, and now he’s content to see me use the things I’ve learned to make something new and different.

I love Mandy, her conversation, and her will.  I love how she gets excited and knows exactly what she wants.  I love Eamon and how he wears his hat cocked to one side and his pajama pants way too short.  I love how he sit next to me on the couch and puts his head on my shoulder.

I love Hannah.  I love how she’s forging an identity all her own, and even though she loves people to pieces  she won’t let them push her around.

And then there’s Joshua’s side of the family.  They’ve welcomed me with a generosity and familiarity that is humbling.  Papa Tim and Granny Joette are constantly providing.  Their time, skill, and care are such steady forces in our lives.  Nana Yvonne and Grumpy Dave have a special place for each of us in their homes and hearts, and every time I spend time with them, I am reminded again how well they have loved their families.  Their priorities are very clear.

So of course I want to share all of this with Lily.  I want her to have relationships with these wonderful and important people, and I want her to “get” Minnesota.  But it’s hard.  We’re still figuring it out.

30In the meantime, we’re living out of overflowing suitcases and abiding by a master schedule so that we can spend time with everyone.

That’s all from Stockholm, where the men are hard of hearing, the women wear “progressive” lenses, and the children are snarky.


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Sports and God

The morning after England lost to Germany in the Round of Sixteen, the news played a montage of forlorn football fans crying into their beer and smearing their face paint with their heads in their hands. The camera panned to one man who looked up wearily and said, “I don’t want to talk.” In another scene, a man held a droopy English flag that in blue painted letters said, “Flag For Sale.” In commentary, sports broadcasters admitted defeat: “apparently, we’re not half as good as we thought we were” and “it’s over. We’re out. Down and out.”

One classic photo captures two fans standing in the bleachers decked out in festive capes, hats, and face paint. Their shoulders are slumped and they’re looking dejectedly over at their ecstatic German rivals, screaming, hugging, and kissing in the glory of their victory. The headlines below announce, “We Were Mullered” and “If the Few had defended us this badly, we would all be speaking German now” with an almost masochistic relish.

We departed the hungover, listless city yesterday morning, and Joshua and I couldn’t help but wonder if defeat goes down a whole lot differently here in the former British Empire than it ever would in the United States. Had the New Orlean’s Saints lost the Super Bowl, we’re certain the Times Picayune headlines would have focused upon the referee’s credentials, poor calls, or suspect loyalties. Alternatively, there would have been a shocking reveal of an illness, disease, or blight that brought key players to their knees in the hours preceding the game. Perhaps the Sports section would have gladly relinquished the largest headlines to whatever ecological or political disaster was happening next in an effort to share the soured limelight.

In the span of three hours, we managed to see the news coverage in all of its forms: in the morning, as the Naylor-Rolls were preparing for their school day, we watched the equivalent of Good Morning America. With instant and slow motion replay, we relived the more agonizing plays in the match. Fans and critics alike called for the resignation of Fabio, the coach, and still more blinked dazedly at the camera, hoping this was all a bad dream. Once we had said our goodbyes, we hefted our (now lighter) packs onto our backs, and followed Rosemary to the car. On our way to North Greenwich Station, we watched as fans pulled in flags that had hung like banners and confetti from every window and fencepost, and on the subway, we picked up discarded tabloids and newspapers shouting their displeasure in bold headlines.

In February, the Saints and the Colts fought it out in Miami. The Saints prevailed, and New Orleans erupted into a party, parade, and second line all at once. Fans who had followed the travails of the Saints faithfully since their inception wore Brees jerseys and held beers in both hands while they danced to impromptu brass bands and blaring radios. Policemen patrolled the streets with their windows rolled down, giving thumbs-up signs to partiers and celebrators. In the French Quarter, the streets were packed from end to end and side to side. Everyone was dressed in gold and black, and nearly as many were well on their way to inebriation.

The next week, school let out early for a formal parade, and the four mile route was lined with eight to ten rows of fans on either side. When the floats came by, the football players were wearing crowns and Mardi Gras beads over their jerseys, and they threw stuffed mini-footballs, cups, and beads at their screaming, delirious fans. The party didn’t stop until Mardi Gras was over, and months later, the Saints jingle still brought people almost to tears.

I know what you’re thinking: I’ve succumbed to hyperbole. But I haven’t! This is my purely journalistic eye-witness account! While the period of mourning or celebration may be regionally distinct, the marriage of sports and mass hysteria is not. It’s a religion complete with worship, community, and gods, and the devotion it elicits is on par with any fundamental or Pentecostal service. I’m just lucky enough to see it unfold on both sides of the pond.


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Minneapolis to London

Joshua and I stayed up late, packing all of our items in strategic arrangements. We planned on checking Joshua’s backpack, so we carefully wrapped all of our containers over 3 oz. in plastic bags. Joshua padded the handle of rum with his clothing for the next six months. If it bursts, we will smell like a walking distillery (actually, seeing as it’s rum, we’ll probably smell like drunken pirates.). In the end, we removed the brain (the top detachable part of the backpack), and when we weighed the backpack on the scale, it came to 49 pounds. Mine weighed just under 30. When Joshua wasn’t looking, I snuck a bottle of nail polish, a bottle of dry shampoo (which works, but has the unfortunate side-effect of making the hair next to scalp look like an 18th century powdered wig), and two extra novels (The Mermaids Singing and Bel Canto).

For our last dinner, we went out with the Kuhnes to Good Earth. Despite a minor mishap with a bottle of water (Grace is my middle name), and an airconditioning hub that kept humming as though we were ready for lift-off, the meal was very tasty. Hannah had Spicy Thai Chicken with watercress, hot peppers, and peanut sauce. I mention this, because I treated myself to a significant helping by slyly jabbing bites with my fork while she wasn’t looking. I am very clever. Joshua had a pea and lettuce soup which was also fabulous. Soup is harder to steal surreptitiously, so I had to settle for the sips he allowed me.

We said our good-byes to Mandy before we went to bed, because she had planned an epic run for 4 o’clock in the morning. Hannah, Eamon, and I poked each other in an affectionate manner for most the evening, and I made my last phone calls. Saying adieu to my cell phone was about as bittersweet as you would imagine: all sweet and no bitter.

The next morning, Joshua and I woke up at six, showered, printed out our itinerary, and ate a bit of fruit. We said goodbye to Hannah and Eamon, and hopped in the car with all of our luggage. At the airport, we made our last goodbye to my dad, and elegantly lugged our packs and bikes to the Continental counter. As I had feared, there was absolutely no shot in hell of my bag fitting in the overhead compartments, so we relinquished all of our bags. Our bike boxes cost an additional 100 dollars a piece, but both our packs were free (so I needn’t have feared at all).

Our first flight from Minneapolis to Houston was on a tiny plane with only three seats per row. Fortunately, I suffer from zero flight anxiety, and I believe I slept through take-off. In Houston, we had a meal of Jamba Juice and Panda Express, and I continued with my in-flight reading. Upon boarding the next plane (with 9 seats per row), Joshua and I discovered that we would not be sitting next to one another. I was situated between a man and his wife, and when I offered to switch with one of them, the man curtly explained that they preferred it this way, and nary a word the two did speak (for 9 hours). I finished my book (The Mermaids Singing), and then I watched four in-flight films. When In Rome was bad, Bride Wars was worse, and Leap Year was no better the second time around. The Bourne Ultimatum was redemptive, and Matt Damon is yummy.

We landed in London at 630 AM. Once we had disembarked and reunited, Joshua and I made our way through immigration. At the baggage carousel, we found that our carefully taped bike boxes had been opened and inspected. Although their tape job was not nearly as pretty, it had been re-taped, and nothing appeared to be missing. Joshua retrieved our backpacks, and we
loaded our luggage onto a trolley. Once we made it past customs, we hopped onto the Heathrow Express and made it to the central terminal. A man next to us had just returned from his hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and he was packing a large container of holy water with him. I must admit that although I do not immediately assume the worst of people wearing traditional Muslim apparel, I did give his hazardous material packaging a few second glances. In the end though, he was very friendly, and he told us all about his hajj.

Once we had arrived at the main terminal, Joshua withdrew 300 pounds and went to find our bus route to Feltham station. Naturally, our bus stop was the furthest from the terminal, and we had to relinquish our trolley. Joshua loaded his 60 pound pack onto his back, I loaded mine, and we carried the bike boxes between the both of us. Between the boxes slapping our legs and my palms digging into the boxes, it was an altogether unpleasant experience. At Feltham, we transferred to a train going to Waterloo Station. Joshua and I stood near the doors, and each time the train stopped, we hopped off to make room for people to leave and enter. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at Waterloo, loaded our boxes onto another trolley, and made our way to Waterloo East. In about 10 minutes, we boarded another train headed toward Gillingham. At Charlton Station, we again disembarked, and then we began our half mile relay to David and Rosemary’s. The day had warmed to about 80 degrees, and by the time we got to their door, we were very sweaty and weary.

After showers and a two hour nap, we were a bit refreshed, and Rosemary treated us to some snacks and tea. As the day progressed, the rest of family slowly trickled in, and at 7 PM, Sophie and Owen took us on a little tour of the neighborhood. At Charlton Station, Jessica joined us, and we journeyed on to see the Thames.

Back at the house, Rosemary had made dinner, and we sat down to stuff our faces with Pasta Primavera and vegetables. By 9 PM, Joshua and I were pooped, and we went off to bed.

Saturday, June 26

The next morning, Joshua and I woke up and shared breakfast with the whole family. It was just warming up, and everyone was quite happy to eat in the sunshine. After a face full of cherries and numerous comments over the unusually nice weather (and just as many digs at England’s usual weather), we headed off for Greenwich on a double decker bus. In Greenwich, we walked to the pier and bought tickets for a slow boat into London Tower Bridge. The boat ride was lovely, and we were able to see many major landmarks on either bank of the Thames. As we got closer to our destination, we passed a man-powered barge race headed upriver. Near the back, the Englishmen were tubby, sunburned, and drinking beer. Near the front, they grew gradually fitter, slimer, and more serious. At London Tower Bridge, we returned to land.

The seven of us passed by the medieval architecture (the site of Ann Boleyn’s execution) and through hoards of tourists. Tower Bridge was lovely, and when we crossed, we had a lovely view of inner London. On the other side, we sat on some steps near the river and had a picnic of sliced vegetables, bread, and cheese. Back on the path again, we passed Southwark Cathedral and headed to the Tate Modern.

Once in the art museum, I pulled Joshua from room to room, exclaiming over each piece with sighs and shouts: de Chirico! Dali! Bacon! Klee! Picasoo! Braque! Kapoor! Mondrian! Caldwell! Kline! I have to say, museums are much more fun when every piece is a major milestone in art history. David generously let us use his membership card, and we were even able to see some of the special exhibitions.

Back on the ground floor, we met up again with the Naylor-Roll family and decided to part ways. Joshua and I wanted to head toward Parliament, and they were ready to head home. Outside of the Tate, we headed across the Millennium footbridge and arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral. From there, we made our way to the Houses of Parliament for a classic photo of Big Ben.

Past Westminster Abbey, we walked through St. James park and arrived at the gates of Buckingham palace. After a few more photos, we headed back up the Mall, through the triumphal arch, and into Trafalgar Square. After miles of walking, we were a bit weary, so we stopped into Marks and Spencers for a box of grapes and a candy bar, and then we hopped on a train headed to Charlton Station. On the way back, the gently swaying train lulled me to sleep.

Back at the Naylor-Rolls, we feasted on Indian take-out and played a game of Monopoly. At 11 PM we called it a day and rolled into bed.

Sunday, June 27

This morning, Joshua and I hitched a ride to Greenwich with Rosemary. To make it back to the house, we ran through Greenwich park and stopped at the observatory where the Prime Meridian is marked. From the top of the hill, we could see the whole of London as fit English men and women biked, hiked, and roller bladed by. Back at the house, we showered, dressed, and headed out again. David, Sophie, Joshua and I walked the scenic route to Greenwich via the Thames footpath past the Millenium Dome and through various neighborhoods. At Cutty Sark pub, we stopped for beer and fizzy water with french fries. Rosemary, Jessica, and Owen met us there, and once we had finished, Joshua and I continued on to Greenwich village.

By the time we arrived in Greenwich, Joshua and I were starved from our 3.5 mile run and 5 mile hike. In the market, we found cheap, delicious food. I had Ethiopian chickpeas and vegetables served over couscous and Joshua had a steak and cheese sandwich. We ate everything in park just to the side of Trinity College, and when we had finished, we head back over to Greenwich park and walked the 3 miles back home.

On our way back, we heard screams and groans coming from inside the houses, announcing the travails and successes of the English football team. In the end, there were more travails than successes, and German trounced England 4 to 1. Everyone is a bit sad now, and listening to the sports commentators on the TV is almost funny. Their voices are so weary and disappointed, it’s as if the whole team died, rather than lost.

For now, our feet are aching from the nearly 20 miles we’ve covered in the past two days. Joshua is sleeping in the other room, and I’ve found a minute to catch up on my posting. Owen is sitting next to me, mapping out an intricate “something for someone to try out.” He and Eamon seem to have a lot in common. The other day, Owen was showing Joshua his maps, and Joshua asked him where he would most like to visit. Owen thought for a moment and then answered, “Uranus.” Joshua laughed and asked him where on this planet. Owen responded, “the Exosphere.”