Being Human, Lifestyle, Travel, Uncategorized

Festivaling The Sh*t out of Rural France.

Many emotions these days.  Our year of traveling is coming to an end, at least temporarily as we have missed too many family events this year so weddings and holidays bid us home.  We are on week four of our 5 week homestay in France so the hectic life of travel from which a break could seem timely and appropriate feels like it is happening already.

We are living in rural France, in a small town with retired people, mostly from England.  Apparently, there were three bakeries in the town, but now we hardly experience a line at the only one that remains. There is no one to embarrass ourselves in front of as we clumsily order our beignets, baguettes and bonbons in French.  They answer us in English anyway.

The one restaurant sells us wine for 1 euro, or we get a bottle at the grocery store for 4.  Maybe the wine contributes to my feelings of sadness, or at least the anticipation of being sad.  I’ve already had some today.  But more on that soon.

This is not nor will be our home, but it is just the three of us, spending quality time together and loving life. One of us wakes early when one of the four dogs bark, before the sun even comes up.    Actually, it is just one dog, Patty.  He’s the barker, or the spokesperson for the other three.  We take turns making our way downstairs in the dark, feeding the dogs, putting on a pot of coffee and sitting peacefully, waiting until the sun comes up.  No one that we know or love will be up at this hour, so we read the news, or a book or nothing.  The other remains upstairs with Otto until he decides to start his day.

We might make it to the grocery store, where we are sure to see at least 2 people we know.  That is if we remember to go before 12 or after 2.  It closes for lunch.  A familiar face insists we go to his home for an aperitif, though when we ask for a time he instead gives us a series of confusing and slightly contradictory directions to his refurbished farmhouse.  Insisting that we can come anytime.  We know that isn’t true though, he is the chef at the one restaurant.  So we know he isn’t just always home available for our arrival.  We wouldn’t make it anyway.  We have tried to find his farmhouse using his directions – pass the garbage bins on the right, look for a new roof and it will be before the sign that says you are leaving town…we ended up leaving town.  We couldn’t find it.

We head to the bakery where we get a brownie and Otto gets a beignet or a lollipop.  I don’t even feel bad about it.  I’d be a worse mother if I deprived my son of the splendid offerings of a French bakery.  We just brush our teeth more often and allow more frequent visits to the playground to work off the sugar.  Did I mention the playground is in the backyard of an English restaurant, or should I say the restaurant?  They say “hello Otto.”  He tells them he will be heading to the swing set with a series of points, gestures and sounds, and they know that means bring him a chocolate chaud when its cool enough.

We get home in time to put Otto down for a nap, walk the dogs and start something in the slow cooker.  At night we light a fire, drink more red wine and watch a movie after the dinner is cleared and clean.   Did I mention how good we have it?

But the major event of our life right now is festivals.  We have been to three already.  We went to a tripe (gross) and beer festival, a chestnut and cider festival and just today we returned from a mussels and French fry festival. 

It was cold today.  We put on a sweater and jacket and could see our breath as we tried to find parking.  We knew we had arrived at the festival because we saw cars, like more than 5 parked in the same place.  There was also a tent.  And if we needed more of a clue the air smelled of a seaside village.  Inside the tent it was surprisingly warm.  We are beginning to see a pattern, a cheese table or two, a baguette table, three wine tables, one beer table and the line for mussels, French fries, oysters and sardines.

We found a picnic table and congratulated ourselves on being awesome enough to find this festival.  The wine was 1 euro.  In America we buy food but spend the most on wine or beer at festivals.   In France that would be impossible.

Otto, standing on the picnic table bench, dunked his French fries in mussel broth, while Kevin was gone finding cheese and then convincing the cheese lady to cut our cheese because we neglected to bring a knife.  I looked around and found the people to be the frenchest people I’d ever seen.  Baguettes were carried snuggly under arms, rose wine bottles corked but full in hands, berets on heads and people kissing people on both cheeks everywhere I looked.  I was absolutely, at least at this very moment, in France.

Kevin came back with the best cheese I’d ever eaten, we got another glass of vin rouge, Otto ate some nut bread and a journalist came over to speak with us.  He became extremely excited when he discovered our American accents.  He let us know we happened to be doing the “most French thing we could do.”  Apparently, that is going to a place where people gather together to eat.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that is the thing to do in most cultures.  He may not have heard anyway because he was too busy making kissing sounds as he brought his fingers to his lips.

Kevin said we should have brought our baguette from our bakery in our town. (In this time we have also become baguette snobs) The bread there was not as good, it was more expensive (an entire euro compared to the 70 cents at our bakery) and it seemed to be what all the frenchies around us did.  I said Kevin…there is a moules & frites festival at least every weekend in this area.  These people have decades of experience.  He looked around. Being the engineer that he is, he determined the average age of these festival goers to be 65 years old.  If they went to 20 festivals a year, which does not seem like a stretch, that is 1300 festivals.  This was our first one.  We will learn.  If anything, these people with their picnic baskets, rose wine and heaps of mussels give us something to aspire to.

We are home now.  Home as in the farmhouse in the countryside of France where all the English retirees go.   Otto is asleep.  The dogs are drying from their hike in the woods.  Kevin and I are listening to music and sharing a bottle of Bordeaux.  We may start a fire soon.

And I have a lot of feelings.  France has given us so much joy.  So much time outside, love for Otto, great food, too much food, the first glimpse of fall, hospitality from our English hosts and a place to settle at least temporarily.

I think when our hosts arrive on Thursday we will be happy to make them a warm stew to welcome them home, share a bottle of wine with them, thank them for their hospitality and flying the New York flag on their flag pole.  We will be sad to say goodbye to the dogs.  We will happily throw out some of our disintegrating summer clothes that we will no longer need.  And we will be ready to move on.  But not to finish.

The more of the world we see it becomes larger.  Though in the next second so small.  Kevin says at least a few times a month “we are all just the same.” I am excited to see family. I am excited to see friends.  I am excited to see our dog Rosie, snow and Manhattan.

I just wrote three paragraphs of a political rant about the reasons that I do not want to bring my son back to America long term.  However, this is a post about France.  My lovely family.  Dogs, wine, cheese and English people.  So I deleted it.  Instead,  I shall pour another glass, take out a map and January 1st, we shall carry on.

Travel

Awakening our Senses in Morocco

It is hard for me to talk about Morocco, to describe it easily or even understand my love for it.  Because it’s more of a love/hate.  Morocco is a land of magic.  Of colors, spices, odors, chaos, movement, and sounds.  I long to go back, but two days later find myself exhausted and ready to leave again.  It hovers, theoretically, over the boundaries of Europe, Africa and the Middle East though not literally.  Its magic lingers just outside my grasp and in other moments it is pushed so severely into my face- with watering eyes, I choke.  This is my Morocco.

A few years ago I went to Marrakech, 5 months pregnant, wide-eyed and ready to love it with the same vigor for which I have loved most of Africa I have visited.  I enjoyed the twisty maze of the medina. I stopped to wonder if I had ever seen Tumeric and Saffron in deeper colors than what laid before me in baskets on the medina tiles.  I closed my eyes as I listened to the sounds of the mosque Iman calling to its followers, letting them know that the time to pray is NOW.  Stop what you are doing loyal brethren, be still and pray.

Two weeks ago we stepped off the ferry we took from Spain to Tangier.  What a simple 1 hour 20 minute journey.  It seems like it should be longer to completely change worlds.  The ocean blue.  The sky clear.  And the medina within our sights up a hill in front of us.  We started to walk to our hostel in the medina.  The sun became unrelenting.  The hill steep and unforgiving with our bags.  Otto’s stroller had just broken in Portugal and was held together with KT tape, and he leaned to one side as he tried to avoid the sun.  Within meters, men approached us asking us where we were going, and then when we didn’t answer they wanted to know where we were from.  They tried to show us the way despite us telling them we knew exactly where our destination lies.  Then they asked if we wanted hash.  Visibly frustrated by our lack of agreeability, they become aggressive in their insistence to help.  In the only way a nonviolent person can be aggressive.  They further their helping claim by grabbing my bag off my shoulder.  When we finally arrive at our hostel, safely on the stoop, their assistance not needed, they demand a tip and finally when you truly convince them you won’t be paying for their assistance they say “fine, just give me a euro.  It feels yucky, uncomfortable and exhausting.  Kevin’ sees the positive.  You might get hustled.  But it will never be for more than 5 dollars.

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We find some rest when we finally walk through the giant purple door.  We look up towards the third floor, with giant colorful rugs hanging over the steps and the twisting staircase lined with colorful art.  I curiously check in each nook and cranny where I find comfortable leather chairs surrounded by piles of old books in the french language set below hanging red and purple lamps.  In an instant I feel at home in that I can imagine myself reading a book in that exact chair, drinking Moroccan mint tea without a care in the world.

We throw our bags down in our small private room of the hostel.  We go to a nearby restaurant recommended by the hostel owner.  It is big, it is empty and it is wonderful.  The owner insists we want to order the Moroccan soup, “do it, the babies love it…I have a man who comes here each day and gets a bowl of soup for his baby.”  We order the soup.  He was right.  It’s amazing and Otto loves it.  We have tagines and kebabs and we ask for the check.  The owner insists you must stay here for “at least three hours plus I made you tea.”  We drink his tea.  He is right.  We must stay here for three hours.  He carries Otto around the still empty restaurant looking at his boat sculptures and wooden fishes.  He writes the word for “diaper” down on a piece of paper in Arabic and directs us to a shop to pick up what we need for Otto. 

The Morocco that demands and hustles is overtaken by the Morocco that is kind and hospitable.  We go back to the hostel and make our way to the bright colored roof.   Moroccans know how to take advantage of their roof space.  We meet other travelers, we sit among plants and we appreciate the view of the ocean.  The sounds of yet another Muslim call to prayer begins and almost drowns out the children’s music class complete with drums clapping and laughter nearby.  The seagulls fly above, in pods of hundreds and the soft murmur of conversations all around me relaxes me in a way that even their offered hash could not.  The pink hue that overtakes the building, birds and ocean reminds me it’s almost sunset.  Later that night the thoughtful man who we met at the restaurant gives us clay tagine and couscous pots to take away to our hostel with the promise we will return it later.

The following day we take a shared taxi to chefchouen.  A surprisingly organized and advertised transportation option.  It has a destination sign and it will always be 7 dollars a person.  For a city/country where they refuse to use the meter and a 1 dollar taxi can often cost 6 or 7 this is a really comforting change.

The next two hours Kevin and Otto play in the back seat while I sit between two Muslim women listening to Arabic music in their headphones, that I can slightly hear.  No one speaks a word except for Otto who screams in regular intervals.  A few hours later we end up in chefchouen.

Chefchouen is less chaotic, cleaner and blue. Like really really blue. The small alleys are lined with rugs, colorful artwork and leather goods. Small cafes line the square. Outside of town is more bustling. With peacocks and orange juice vendors and many people offering you hash. There are tiny week old kittens everywhere and vendors constantly provide little plates of food and yogurt cups filled with water for their comfort. The mosque lets out and the small alleys fill. Women kiss Otto randomly, surprisingly and many times as we make our way from our riad to a nearby cafe.

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Kevin and I get hustled less.  We spend time walking around the tiny alleys taking pictures.  He of the blue and mountains.  Me of the blue and kittens.  Otto is overjoyed that he can run, zoom his cars and I am not screaming at him to watch out for donkeys.  It is relatively calm.

We discovered through social media that friends we made in Santorini the previous month were also in this blue city. It seems so random, but it makes sense because everyone wants a little piece of colorful in the mountains.  They are traveling with two tiny humans.  It is important when you travel to make connections but also to take advantage of any opportunities that your kids can have “normal” experiences.  Like playing with their little buddy friends.  So we met in the main square.  They ran, played, ran, overheated and basically became besties in less than 30 minutes.  Seeing the everyjlife was a highlight of our trip.

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Our hostel is quaint, fairly nondescript in character from the outside.  The owners are the kindest and most generous that we have met.  He puts children’s music on for Otto while we eat breakfast.  During which he runs out quickly so that he can return with a car for Otto he bought in the market.  When the time comes to leave Chefchouen he helps us with our bags and walks the 20 minutes to the taxi stand for us, making sure we are safely on our way back to Tangier.

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Morocco is really like no other country.  The litter and rotting fruits on the grounds of the medina sits below the most beautiful painted doorways.  The chaos of the alleys, with donkeys and scooters and yelling allows for even more of a relief when you find the inner peace of the riads.  It’s the place I am most eager to leave and then most eager to return. There’s magic here. It’s truly unlike anywhere else.

Even now, safely and comfortably in France, I long to go back.  Well as soon as my bedbug bites heal.

Travel

Super Birthday in Seville-City Tour

We had only one full day in Seville, Spain, and it happened to be my husband Kevin’s 31st birthday.  He also came to this city in 2012, a few months before we met with friends.  He had only good memories and told me that he wanted to take me to this city one day.

He and I are not huge gift givers.  Or rather we are huge with thought but small in expense.  Unless it’s a 5-course meal at a Michelin restaurant 😉 For my birthday we were in Nepal and he made sure that I made it to a monkey temple (the Nepali tradition), had momos, got me a great pair of elephant pants, a necklace with Buddha’s face and beads made from a volcano in Bali (that happened to erupt while we were there) and a small OM carved wooden piece.  He also found me the only french restaurant in Kathmandu so I could have a proper cheese plate, and walked about 5k in the dust and sun to get there.  I thought he had gone too far.

For his birthday I struggled with buying him anything.  First of all, he is with me all the time.  We share the same sunglass case filled with local currency and actually, he doesn’t really want for much.  I thought about buying him beard conditioner because he recently began growing a beard,  But realized that’s the equivalent of someone buying me a razor to shave my legs.  So I decided I would give him the best tour of Seville that I could.

1st STOP: CHURROS

Kevin was insistent that we had to have churros when we got to Seville.  In fact, we still need to because I royally screwed up the order.  I got up early and left him and Otto in bed while I ran the 10 minutes to a churro place he pointed out the day before.  I did not order chocolate like you should and was surprised that these churros were not dipped in cinnamon like they are at Disney land.  I went up to the window, bravely ordered “dos Churros and dos Coffee’s con Leche”.  She said “two?” and I confirmed “Si.” Seemed easy enough.  I quickly got my coffees and watched the churro maker make this giant swirling fried doughs bigger than a school bus steering wheel.  Then I saw him put one to the side.  A few minutes later he cut up the second one and added it to the first one and put it in a huge paper bag.  I thought “shit people order huge amounts of churros here.  Perhaps they are ordering for a company-wide meeting.”  Three seconds later they placed the giant infant sized paper bag in my arms.  I apparently had ordered “dos churros.” Crap.  This was the first part of Kevin’s special birthday and I am running home with 7 kilograms of fat cakes.  Bad, Kierstan

2nd STOP: BUYING SWEETS FROM CLOISTERED NUNS

This actually was our second stop and our sixth stop, because as it turns out it’s not that easy to find these nuns! When making this tour I wanted Kevin to sample a piece of everything Seville had to offer.  So, I learned about the nuns in the cloistered communities that sell sweets to support their order.  This sounded like a good enough reason to eat more sugar.  But then I learned you have to find a convent, find a special door, ring a bell, put money in a turnstile and then grab the sweets without ever actually seeing any nuns.  Because they are cloistered.

When I learned about this, I knew this would totally be Kevin’s jam. So off we went to the second stop.  Convent San Leandro.  Unfortunately, it was under construction and although we saw a pile of sweets behind a gate we were unable to get anyone to actually sell us the sweets.  But we got great pictures and we found a lot of happy feelings that we went to a church on his birthday, as I had gone to a temple and Otto went to a Cathedral made of bones.  This seemed really pertinent and special and we will continue this tradition maybe for our whole lives.

3rd STOP: MERCADO LONJA DEL BARRANCO

One thing Kevin loves its eating and drinking.  Okay, that’s two things, but its really only one thing when its all in one place and you can do it all together.  After a twenty minute walk through narrow streets and stellar squares, past gothic churches and tiny bistros we entered a really beautiful food hall on the river.  Unfortunately, we were a little early for it all to be open but we sampled 4 oysters, had white wine and Otto had a chicken empanada and a strawberry smoothie.  We could have eaten here all day but it’s pretty expensive and we had other places to explore.

4th STOP: CASA MORENO

This was Kevin’s favorite stop in my small tour of Seville. I prepared him by saying “You know, Seville has many new places for awesome trendy craft beer.  We are not going to any of those places.”   We followed a spaghetti bowl style maze of streets with pointing out the floor to ceiling windows and cobblestones.  Then we entered a small market selling meats and cheeses.

In the back was an even tinier area with a bar and one hundred pictures of bullfighting, the Virgin Mary crying, Jesus being crucified and post it notes from tourists.  This was all kind of weird but the man was nice, the others at the bar seemed like locals and Otto kept sending air kisses to the mounted bullhead and the crying Mary as if he understood they were in distress.  Weird, I know.  But, awesome. There were no chairs at the bar so Otto sat on the bar and Kevin and I stood.

We enjoyed two glasses of white wine that the owner chose for us.  A few minutes later we realized everyone was getting these tiny cheese and meat sandwiches.  The lady from the market side would give it to the bartender and he would put it in his tiny toaster oven and take out melted goodness all for two euros twenty(ish).  So obviously we got one of those too.

There are times when you travel and you really wished you spoke the language.  This was one of those times.  And it wasn’t an emergency like I was about to pee my pants and local people thought I was asking about the nearest metro.  But we were missing out on real local history and connection.  We decided we would learn Spanish and one day come back.  That is how much we loved this small marketplace.  Though he never asked if we could write a note.

5th STOP: CATHEDRAL DE SEVILLE

So this wasn’t so much a stop as a wide detour where we strolled slowly and took pictures.  Seville has the most beautiful parks, a ton of beautiful gothic churches and a palace.  We are not the type of people who spend a lot of time in museums or looking at cathedrals.  In Seville, there are lines that snake around corners for people who want to pay to see the inside of these massive buildings.  I hope they write a blog that I can read.  Instead, we walked around the buildings where the carvings on the outside are more beautiful than anything I have seen in the US.  Otto’s wrist waved enthusiastically at the dozen or so horses that stood outside waiting to take tourists to their favorite spots around the city.  We snapped our pictures, pointed at the carvings, gasped at the beauty and then got the F*** out of there!  As we skedaddled I thanked Kevin for not being someone who waits in line for hours to see churches.  The famous palace is right nearby there called Alcazar.

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6th STOP: VINO DE NARANJA SHOT

On our way to Kevin’s favorite restaurant from his previous trip, we passed this extremely touristy place with a million people standing outside drinking shots of some dark liquid.  Shots, crowds…we had to have one.  From our shoddy translation, I believe we had small strong glasses of orange-red wine.  This should be obvious after you pass numerous orange trees to get there.  I also now believe that calling it a shot is likely a gross inaccuracy and instead it should be sipped like Brandy.  It costs one euro twenty.  They were actually really good, in the way that it burns on the way down.

7th STOP: TABERNA COLONIALES

Apparently, when Kevin went here it was not a chain.  It is now.  But it is still a great little place, on a quaint square with a playground, outdoor seating and the fastest servers you will ever meet.  We ordered 4 tapas, 3 glasses of wine and we were out of there in 40 minutes flat.  That was with us waiting about 10 minutes for someone to bring us the check.  But the pork tenderloin with port makes it worth returning.

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8th STOP: LA ESCALONA & PLAYGROUND

This stop was not a planned stop.  Actually, the original plan had us going to a fancy hotel for a rooftop cocktail.  But Otto fell asleep in his stroller so we found a nearby square with five awesome restaurants bustling into the sidewalks.  A few didn’t have wifi, one was a bakery and the fifth was perfect.  Had paella for two euros sixty when Otto woke up, awesome cheap wine, cold beer, and great wifi.  I told them it was Kevin’s birthday and asked them about dessert.  They took me down to the pie case and had me choose which one looked best.  I chose a chocolate cake.  A few minutes later they came upstairs with a 31 in candles on two pieces of cheesecake.  I smiled at Kevin because this trip has been notorious for getting our orders incorrect.  However, after we told them how much we enjoyed the dessert they told me that the chef vetoed my choice and said to bring out the cheesecake because it was better.  We did not have big plans for this place we stumbled upon, but that seems to be the pattern in Seville.  Many amazing stops just waiting for your order.  Because we had such a great time here, and perhaps too much wine, we decided to let Otto play in the playground for an hour and then we headed back to the Airbnb.

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My husband’s 31st birthday may have ended at 5:00pm, with him watching Otto as I took a snooze in the park.  Actually it ended with watching tv in bed, eating a leftover cheese plate from the night before.  It may have consisted of one other adult and a 2 year old.  But I think it was full of adventure, culture, strangers and love.  And I think he would agree it was a damn fine birthday.  He is also very easy to please.

The Vagababy, Travel, Uncategorized

10 BENEFITS OF TRAVELING WITH A TODDLER

People always ask us if it’s hard to travel with a toddler.  Short answer, yes. Long answer, hell to the yippetty yes.

LIFE is harder with a toddler. BUT isn’t life also just damn hard?  Though that’s for a different post.  Perhaps living life on the road, 29 countries in 7 months, with a toddler makes for more challenges than if we were raising Otto in our apartment in San Francisco. But honestly, I don’t even think it would be that much different in terms of difficulty.  Sure we sleep in different rooms each night, take airplanes and ferries and buses as our usual mode of transportation and eat many different cuisines – but Otto also has routines, sleeps in the same crib every night and enjoys his staples of peanut butter, milk and yogurt no matter where we are.

People are usually not questioned about their choice to live life with children. People are generally in agreement that parenting is not for the faint of heart but you kind of just assume that a lot of people are going to do it anyway, even if it defies logic. I have never questioned my choice to live a life of travel with a baby.  As much as I loved sleeping in, fitting into my clothes and going to brunches that required hours of waiting patiently in lines….I was ok with the fact that we would have a baby because we promised to still live our lives normally.  

Much like the many benefits that outweigh the challenges that you find in more conventional ways of parenting, you also find traveling. In general, our travel is a richer experience because we have Otto.  Nightlife is virtually non-existent, relaxed airplane rides still happen but can’t be planned and fancy 4-course meals are a thing of the past. But we still find street food, go for morning runs, eat earlier to avoid the crowds and probably spend a ton less sampling the countries finest libations.  But we have also had experiences that far surpassed anything I have done pre-baby.   We lived on a sailboat for a week in Croatia, took him on a 5-day trek in the Himalayas and campervanned around New Zealand. Life does not stop with a baby.  And dare I share with you some benefits we have found.

REASON ONE: IT ALLOWS US TO SEE PEOPLE IN A DIFFERENT WAY

People surprise you when they see a baby. You really never know who is an undercover secret baby lover. We’ve had many a custom officer, whose interrogation tactics had us sweating while handing over our passports, see Otto and begin to speak baby talk and absolutely forget what they were saying to us and instead tell us about their grandchildren.

We have had large hairy Serbian men in their speedos, at the beach, smoking, enthusiastically help Otto find his matchbox car he buried in the sand and lost.

We have had little old ladies pull bananas from their purses to give to him.  Teenagers in Asia giggle and post his pictures on their Instagram. He had a little old man in Chile hold his hand for twenty minutes while waiting in line for a bus ticket and tell us how he used to be a teacher.  Maybe most importantly, he has provided a much-needed outlet for many a grandparent who wanted to talk about their own toddler grandbabies that live far away.

And we see cultures in a different way because we can get a glimpse into their parenting styles and traditions.  Honestly spending our baby’s first year in San Francisco, made us think that other people were afraid of touching Otto.  Either he had cooties or people just felt the need to bathe in a bottle of antibacterial soap before they came within breathing distance of my little cherub.  And this kind of sucked because all I really wanted was for someone to take Otto for a few minutes and give me a damn break.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight in South Africa when waiters would hold Otto in the restaurant and insist we enjoy our dinner.  Or in China when parents would gladly share their child’s noodles with Otto simply because he silently inquired.  Or in Nepal when lovely seven or eight year old children, playing in a group, would welcome him into their tribe and care for him the way I would expect from a nanny at home who we were paying generously.  Just because that is what they do in their culture.

REASON TWO: THE STROLLER LINE IS KEY

There’s this thing called a “stroller line”. Sometimes it’s literal but most of the time it’s figurative.  Many airports outside of the United States allow people with babies to go ahead. We have been handpicked out of lines where Otto was actually being a prince, shockingly, to be escorted through the customs line reserved for diplomats and state officials to completely avoid the masses.  People don’t care if you are slow, loud, dropping stuff or getting peanut butter handprints all over the place. With a baby you get a free pass.

Now we ask everyone if there is a “stroller line”. Waiting for ticket agents, lines at attractions or museums and even long waits at restaurants. We know, it’s terrible. But it’s a small perk and we will take what we can get.

REASON THREE: WE GO OFF THE BEATEN PATH

That is if the beaten path is our Airbnb to a cool bar or brewery to a fancy restaurant to a winery back to the Airbnb.

Now we seek out parks, green spaces that have grass where you can take off your shoes and run, playgrounds and pedestrian streets. We find the best places with gelato, the guy who sells balloons and old carousels that are still in operation and cost almost nothing.  We notice koi ponds, take a minute to wave to airplanes and we find little hills to zoom zoom our match box cars.

REASON FOUR: WE GET UP EARLY

Kevin and I were never big sleeper inners but it’s a lot easier to stay out too late when there isn’t much of a consequence the following day that a little Tylenol couldn’t fix. Now we can still make some of those same mistakes but we are going to get up at 7:00am because Otto doesn’t give a shit that our Airbnb host in Athens invited us to his rooftop full moon party at 10:30pm and insisted we do shots of ouzo.

On the bright side, we get to take advantage of early mornings where we have streets and tourist places entirely to ourselves.  We get some amazing pictures because we aren’t fighting crowds to get a good shot. Otto can run free down streets where a few hours later he’d get lost in the crowd. Then we head back by 7:30 or 8pm and enjoy a routine of a movie before bed with a bottle of local red wine.

REASON FIVE: ITS POSSIBLE WE ARE SAVING MONEY

This has not been proven, but we believe we are actually saving a bit of money.  Although we are buying diapers and an extra entree at mealtimes we can’t just keep ordering those cocktails or bar hopping until we get sleepy. We know that we can’t order an appetizer AND dessert. It’s one or the other because Otto isn’t going to sit that long.  

We also tend to eat more at the Airbnb’s because he isn’t interested in eating out three times a day.   And honestly, on the road, we can’t keep buying him toys and new clothes. We can’t physically pack it.  He gets balloons, matchbox cars, broken crayons and a few books.

REASON SIX: WE LITERALLY STOP TO SMELL THE ROSES

Traveling with a toddler forces us to slow down and notice things that we normally would overlook. When Otto’s walking there is no sense of urgency. Unless it is to jump or to do a cool spin in a puddle.  He will randomly go into a shop, appreciate a rock, stop to dance or wait for a shop keeper to give him candy. He wants to show us every bug, bicycle and dog-dog.

He makes sure that we stop to listen to live music and could care less that we are the only ones clapping when the song is done. He stands with the men in Bali who clean the bird cages in the temple. He finds street puppies and within 5 minutes we are sitting on the floor getting licked as a family. He can point out free samples at farmers markets, playgrounds that are sometimes rusty and will insert himself immediately into a game of football that the big kids are playing. 

He did not appreciate that there was garbage in the ocean in Montenegro. As 2500 people walked around the trash he noticed it and it forced me to take notice to and pick up the trash and throw it in the garbage. He reminds me every day that I do have the privilege of time and it is my own distorted beliefs to think I am so busy.

REASON SEVEN: WE EXERCISE MORE AND STAY ACTIVE

We walk everywhere. It’s not much fun keeping a kid locked in an Airbnb. So we just start walking. Even when we spend a lot of the day in cafes we usually find them in different parts of town so that he can get his exercise between them. We know that the more he runs the better he sleeps and it makes us so the same.

REASON EIGHT: WE PACK MORE INTENTIONALLY

Before I had Otto I definitely overpacked. I overpacked on weekend trips as well as in my purse as I left for work on any given day.  And this wasn’t a big deal, I am pretty strong and I can carry a lot:) The issues was that it did not challenge me to make choices, edit my life or be more intentional. I could just throw whatever I wanted into a suitcase as long as I could close it and then figure it out once I got to where I was going. What is even more ridiculous about this is that by not having to make any choices I usually forgot what I actually needed and felt forced to buy things while I was traveling.  

Because I’m carrying all of Otto’s stuff too- and frankly he requires more “stuff” than I require-it’s generally my belongings that get purged first.  But this has made me aware of what I absolutely require, not see my purging as a sacrifice and realize that I need a lot less to live my best life than I had previously believed.

REASON NINE: YOU ARE FORCED OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

When you have a baby its almost impossible to be a spectator or a wallflower.  He can scream, laugh out loud, or just generally bring attention to us whenever he damn well pleases.  Without consent, you end up dancing in public to reggae music because he loves Bob Marley, talking to strangers that he approaches and asking random people for a lot of favors. You change him and breastfeed him in the weirdest and most public of places. Security line people will hold Otto while we grab our belongings.  Nepali families will invite you into their houses, which means into their family, so you can change his diaper by the fire and check him for leeches. And sheepishly, we will look around for waiting accepting eyes, while he decides to throw a tantrum in the middle of a food truck park because you were an idiot and opened his banana.

You also meet way more people. We set up play dates on Facebook in countries that did not have a lot of playgrounds. We went to kid groups and library singalongs and basically tried to chat it up with any other parents in the hope they’d be our friends.  We shrugged our shoulders when he made it clear to another table he wanted their potatoes and they happily obliged. (By the way, it was those people that suggested we take a bus to Argentina from Chile, which ended up being one of our favorite memories and a blog post.) 

We also get asked a lot if people can take Otto’s picture or touch his hair.  Traveling with a baby has helped us see the kindness of people. We had a driver from the republic of Georgia pay to park his car and then find us in a crowded airport to return our sons “Lamborghini” at 4am.

REASON TEN: WE KEEP ROUTINES EVEN WHILE TRAVELING

As someone that really believes in the benefits of routines and traditions, Otto keeps our life on the road pretty scheduled.  Not in a bad way, but we get up at 7:30am and try to be in bed by 10pm.  We can’t skip breakfast because Otto has learned that it is the most important meal of the day.  We enjoy our early morning walks because if the sun’s out, Otto wants to be out and start the day. So we look up a coffee bar with good reviews and enjoy a takeaway cup while chasing him down side streets.   In a way, our life on the road is not too different than our life at home.  There is something comforting, sweet and familiar about that.

A BONUS 11th REASON!  YOU APPRECIATE YOUR KID IN A REALLY SPECIAL WAY

I do realize that any of these moments would also happen if we had stayed at home. But when I am exhausted, cranky and feeling stressed by the challenges of travel I look at my kid just going with the flow. When he surprises me by eating an entire bowl of curry. How he makes friends with old people and young people. When people have their hands out to beg, and I sheepishly walk by, Otto sees it as an invitation to hi-five. He deals with jet lag and delays and hours restrained on buses and planes. He takes naps in hostels, hotels, ferries and tuk tuks.  He makes toys out of plastic cups and rocks. He smiles for stranger’s photos. He loves the ocean and hiking the Himalayas. He didn’t even lose his shit when he got ice cold water thrown in his face on Thai new year. He barely complains about bug bites or heat rash or the heat or the rain or the cold. He can spot a banana from a mile away. He’s just a cool kid. Trying to deal with growth spurts, teething, diaper and heat rash outside of anything familiar and to do it with a smile on his face…teaches me a lesson in joy and patience.

Traveling with a baby can be really stressful, and we can actually add to that stress by wanting everything to go perfectly all the time.  If we insist on having his specific diaper brand from home, carrying around a medicine cabinet and convincing ourselves that our baby will only eat chicken nuggets, then visiting countries that are vastly different than our own will be a very stressful experience.  But if we take a different approach and decide that if the country we are going to has babies then probably our baby will find everything he needs- diapers, formula, yogurt, fruit, baby Tylenol etc. it allows us to really focus on the things that matter.  The new people, the beautiful geography, the conversations that bring people together and finding that awesome, though slightly rusty, playground.

Being Human, therapy, Uncategorized, Wellness

To Finally Live Authentically

To live life authentically.  To be authentic.  Authenticity seemed like the buzzword of my early thirties.  This rather grandiose and vague destination that would only be the result of lasting and enviable introspection.  You know, a lot like inner peace.  Though I could not quite define what it meant, or clarify what it would be like to achieve it, I wanted it.

Authenticity seems like a lofty concept, but on the other hand, an obvious choice for the woke millennial.  But does authenticity belong on a spectrum, or is a simple destination that would be obvious once I arrived? Perhaps I was inauthentic yesterday but now, who I am, is authentic, and I shall be so forevermore.  Can it be so clear?  Who could show me where this line was that I needed to cross?

While I was embarking on my own journey of authenticity, or perhaps simply trying to recognize it, I was seeing clients in my psychotherapy practice daily.   Their main goals were to control anxiety so they didn’t have to hide in the bathroom at work, or to break up with the boyfriend whose before explainable temper turned into assault or to get a promotion in a job they actually didn’t even really like.  It seemed that everywhere I looked well adjusted fabulous people were living lives of isolation, loneliness, worry, overspending and sadness.  There grasp of self was loosening at the expense of familiarity, comfort and control.  Their choices were not in alignment with their authentic selves.  They came to San Francisco with goals for success and balance and instead their best life was slightly out of reach.

I was also struggling during this time. I was sabotaging a good relationship, drinking way too much, dealing with insomnia and falling back into jobs I didn’t really like because it paid more.  This higher pay was somehow validating, though if I just spent less on crap I did not need,  I could have had more freedom to choose jobs that supported my purpose or spent more free time doing things I loved that were good for my mental health.  I was not living my authentic self.

“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.” Coco Chanel

But I’ll be honest, living authentically seemed like too lofty a goal for someone who kept cancelling her own appointments with her therapist. It seemed like a success in itself to get by each month in a city that can eat you up and spit you out.  Though I was living paycheck to paycheck and with numerous roommates there was this feeling that “I was making it.”  But was this the way I wanted to live?

Now at 37 years old, I can honestly say I am living life authentically.  The way that my family and friends see me feels very close to the way I see myself.  I have boundaries and I know my limits.  I don’t feel guilty when I can’t say yes to everything and in fact have taken greater pleasure in saying no, because I know I am protecting myself and my free time.  I am living a life that may not be supported by everyone, and parenting in a way that is unconventional but which I feel extremely comfortable about.  I am trying to read more, exercise more and make better choices for my body.  I am taking time daily to stretch! I am not having outbursts that I regret, nearly as often.  I look at my wrinkles, my grey hair and my stretch marks as inevitable and very clearly mine.  It does not mean that I don’t try to minimize them or cover them up but it also means I don’t waste my emotional energy worrying about something as out of my control as the natural ageing process. I am becoming more comfortable with having less and doing less.  I keep a gratitude journal, in my mind, not like, on paper.  Most importantly, I am very clearly happier.  

A personal inventory concerning the topic of authenticity a few years ago would probably have been just the thing I needed to find myself amid the self-created chaos and shame that was taking over my life.

Guiding my patients through their own inventory of their authentic self versus their current state of existence would likely have validated their current feelings of distress and naturally highlighted treatment goals and progress.

Your authentic self is you at your core. What are your values?  Are you truly happy?  What part of your life is being neglected at the expense of other parts?  What do you believe to be true?  And as a famous quote says “when you aren’t worried about being the person you are supposed to be and can finally be yourself” what does that look like?

Our authentic selves likely want love and affection, stable relationships that aren’t abusive and a healthy amount of validation.  We don’t want to nag the one we are with, make sarcastic comments to bring co-workers down or sleep with someone we know isn’t good for us.  We want to believe that our boss and our coworkers respect our opinions and care about our success.  Our authentic self-wants to pay bills on time, not keep secrets and put healthy foods into our bodies.  We want to feel confident in making friends and taking risks.  Just because our behaviours would suggest the opposite does not make these things less true.

In fact feelings of depression, shame and anxiety increase when we are living inauthentically.

That is where the therapy or coaching conversation should start.  Who are you really, at your happiest and most secure? How far are you from that person right now?   How do we get back to our most true, most genuine and most authentic self?  How will you know when you are living authentically.

Finally, when you are feeling slightly guilty for being so bougie that you have the privilege of even worrying about whether you are living your most authentic self.  I mean, on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am pretty sure that it can’t get much higher.  Just realize that when you get that in check you will find you have less crisis and critical moments that need urgent attention because you are getting your life aligned and living life more intentionally and peacefully.